Pharisees get a bum rap…

I think that Pharisees have gotten a bum rap.

Just think about it. When someone is called a Pharisee today, the implication is that they are harsh, legalistic–and, worst of all, judgmental. Especially judgmental towards anyone who doesn’t agree with their beliefs and perceptions.

In some cases, that’s true–and unfortunate.

But in the best sense of the word, we need Pharisees! A true Pharisee is someone who works to preserve the traditions–who helps us see the foundation on which we have built. They are the ones who keep us from “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” If the church had no Pharisees, we would be blowing back and forth with every new idea that comes along. Pharisees help us look at those new ideas and struggle with whether they are indeed new revelation and spiritual growth–or whether they are just a fad.

The problem is that sometimes Pharisees are too much like the rest of us! Their goal–that of preserving the foundation–is an important one, but the tradition may become more important than the goal…and that rigidity may keep them from seeing the new light that God wants to share (just as we may find ourselves so determined that God calls us to change that we ignore our foundation.)

We need each other. We need the Pharisees to keep us grounded–and they need those of us who are willing to change in order to challenge the church to accept God’s continuing light and revelation. Learning to live together from these differing perspectives isn’t easy, but if we can learn to see the value in each others’ understandings…to listen to each other…to value our diversity and yet work towards the common goal of God’s community of wholeness and reconciliation, then we can bear a powerful witness!

Let’s join together…

A place at the table

There’s a wonderful (and challenging) new hymn that I love that starts out “For everyone born, a place at the table…”

This last weekend my faith denomination took what I believe to be a God-inspired leap into making a place for everyone at the table in the church in the USA (following the same decision made in Australia and Canada), allowing for same-sex marriage where legal and commitment services where marriage is not legal…and also allowing for the ordination of all who are called, regardless of sexual orientation. This is an issue we have been dealing with (or, in many ways, trying not to deal with) for the past 40 years.

Yet I also find that when we open the table to individuals and groups that have been marginalized in the past, there are often others who feel that they have been pushed away from the table…that there is now no place for them.

That hurts…and yet I also understand their perspective.

At times we have wanted this issue to be settled by legislative fiat. At other times we have wanted prophetic guidance from our leader so that we could basically say, “God said it; that settles it.”

But because we believe we have been called to be a prophetic people rather than merely a people with a prophet, we were called to struggle together.  Part of that struggle has taken place during this last year of preparation by individuals and congregations. This past weekend we came together to determine the future.

We listened to each other…truly listened,  hearing the pain of those who did not see this as God’s will for us as well as the passion of those who have sensed full inclusion as where God is calling us. We shared conversations and formal worships as well as briefer moments of blessing during the deliberations.

And Sunday morning the delegates chose to recommend changes in church policy for the USA church for full inclusion.

There was no outburst of joy from those who agreed with the decision, even though there were many who now feel truly included for the first time in their lives. I think that perhaps of the pain they have suffered, they were also sensitive to the pain this decision inflicted on those who did not agree with it.

And yet…we sang together “They will know we are Christians by our love.” All of us.

I know there is a lot of work of healing and reconciliation to be done. I know there are some who will find it impossible to walk with us because of their understanding of scripture and where they sense God calling them.

Yet I hope and pray that we will be able to find ways of walking together in love…of sitting together at the table…God’s table. We will only be able to do that by God’s grace…by allowing the Holy Spirit to gently move in our lives–as it moved in our assembly this weekend–reminding us that the two greatest commandments deal with love…love of God and of neighbor.

May all find a place at the table.

A prayer for peace

God of all people…

Many of us find ourselves weeping today at yet another example of our inhumanity towards each other. Many innocent people found themselves in harm’s way and their lives changed forever because of actions they had no say in.

We pray for them…for peace…for healings–both physical and emotional. We pray for courage  as they start new life journeys.

We pray for the first responders…those who rushed toward danger out of their training and desire to help. They also suffer when they are unable to bring the healing that is their goal.

However, we also pray for the perpetrators.  We do not know what caused them to see violence as a solution to any concerns…or that allows them to see other humans as pawns or as weapons to be used to attain their goals.

We pray for justice, for we know there can be no healing or peace without justice.

May it be so…

Amen

Books Are for Burning?

I suppose in some ways this post should go in my “Book of the Month” pages, but because I want to do more than simply review a book, it’s going here.

Recently I came across an article that suggested that there might be wisdom in revisiting and re-reading some of the books we were required to read in high school. Most of the books on the list I knew, although there were some I was not familiar with, and I decided to follow this suggestion.

Front Cover

The first book I decided to re-read was one that I remembered being very intrigued by–Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. My memory of it was that it dealt with a time when firemen did not put out fires but instead had the responsibility of actually burning books…that one fireman ultimately rebelled against doing that and found himself joining a community where each individual basically was a book–focused on remembering the words for some future time. I really didn’t remember much beyond that.

As I read it this time, however, there is so much more to it!

Yes, that is the basic story, but it’s also a cautionary tale. What happens when we decide we’re tired of struggling with hard issues? when we no longer want to worry about unpleasant news? when we want to be “entertained” all the time? What happens to those “uncomfortable” people (i.e., writers) who insist that we engage with philosophical questions? with issues of how to live? with questions of what life is all about?

What happens when we become blind to the world around us? And what keeps some people from falling victim to that blindness so that they are able to raise uncomfortable questions for the rest of us that cause us to open our own eyes?

One statement Bradbury made jarred me: Fill your eyes with wonder…live as though you only had ten seconds left to live. (Slightly paraphrased.) What would I do if I lived that way? What would I see? How would I react?

I’ve heard other versions of that statement–suggesting that I live each day as though it were my last, since we never know how much time we will have. But to live as though I only had ten seconds? What would I want to see? to say? What wonders would I regret seeing? (And how would I define what is a “wonder”?)

If we ever reach the point where books are for burning, I hope that I would find myself part of the community that seeks to preserve instead of destroy. What book would I be? I don’t know…that’s a question to ponder!

The truth shall make you free

I’ve grown up with this statement from the Bible–“…the truth shall make you free”–and I believe it. But getting to that point is sometimes so very difficult.

It’s so much easier to pretend that everything is okay…to keep forcing down unpleasant truths and memories. Problem is…they won’t stay forced down. They’ll find ways of making their presence known–sometimes with physical illnesses, sometimes emotional ones…sometimes in inappropriate or unacceptable behaviors.

Sometimes things get buried so deeply in our psyches–because they’re so painful to have to deal with–that they fester for years, kind of like a boil. But eventually the time comes when the boil has to be lanced–whether we make the intentional decision to lance it, or whether it just reaches the point on its on when it has to burst. Hopefully we can make the decision so that we can have at least some control on how the lancing takes place.

It’s a difficult process–and yet, when we finally reach the point when what was hidden finally forces its way to the surface, there can be such a sense of relief. That doesn’t mean that healing has immediately taken place–depending on the situation and how long it’s been buried, that may be a lengthy process. But almost invariably, there’s a new sense of freedom and release, even if one knows that there’s a long journey still ahead.

“You will know the truth…and the truth will make you free.” While Jesus was talking to (and about) his disciples when he said this, it’s a valid statement for all of life. May we all come to know the truth….and then be free!

Teaching Our Children

My stomach tied itself in knots yesterday–and while they are loosening today, the knots are still there…as they are for other family members as well.

We had a significant situation to deal with yesterday, a situation that I know other families have to deal with. Teenagers can always be challenges!

But we knew there was something underlying this situation–something foundational that was creating the difficulties this loved one had…and in a loving confrontation, we began to finally get at it. I’m sure there’s still more work to do, but I think we made a significant start.

But as we were talking through the situation–and as the tears were flowing–I wondered. What are we teaching our children by the ways we treat them?

It’s a long story, but because of life situations, this child spent much of the first few years with a different side of the family…and the message received in that situation was basically “Might makes right.” Violence was the solution to any problem–and that message was internalized. I think for the first time, this child realized that the way they were treated was wrong wrong wrong…and is beginning to understand that violence only begets violence. Right now the child knows the words; we’re hoping and praying that the words can be lived out in actions before the child has backed everyone into a corner with no options.

But I wonder… How many more children learn the lesson that “Might makes right” because of the ways they are punished when they are too young to know any better? How many children learn that it’s not safe to tell what’s happened to them because if they do, something worse might happen? Even when they finally move into a safe environment, those early lessons have sunk deep roots into their souls…

What are we teaching our children? Whatever it is…it will either come back to haunt us–or help us create a future of hope for all children.