For the children

I am a follower of the one who is called the Christ. He was someone who love and spent time with the marginalized…the outcast…those who were considered “less than”…and that included children.

One of his strongest statements about children was this (as stated in Luke 17:1-2):

Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (NRSV)

“He said to his disciples, “Hard trials and temptations are bound to come, but too bad for whoever brings them on! Better to wear a millstone necklace and take a swim in the deep blue sea than give even one of these dear little ones a hard time!” (The Message)

I’ve been thinking about that the last few days…and have been reminded of a question often asked: “Is it good for the children?”

As we look around ourselves today, are our actions good for the children? Not just the children in our own homes…our own communities…our own nation…but all the children in the world.

What kind of environment are we leaving them? One in which they can breathe? in which they can delight in the diversity of creation? in which they can be safe? Or are we destroying the world around them?

What lessons are we teaching them? To cherish each other and to see each other as brother and sister? or to be afraid of someone who looks, speaks, loves, or worships differently from them?

Are we teaching them the importance of peacemaking and conflict resolution? Or are we teaching them that “might makes right”? that hatred is the strongest force in the world? that their lives are less important than vengeance…or oil?

We’re not going to be perfect. But we have the power to do better…and we must. Otherwise there will be no world for our children to inherit.

Among the redwoods…

I spent last weekend at a retreat out in California–at a retreat center among the redwoods. The retreat was focused on spiritual formation…extremely intense, but a wonderful experience.

Part of our activities included focusing on four core spiritual formation practices: the prayer of examen, lectio divina (praying the scriptures), centering prayer, and holy attention.

Holy attention calls us to awaken to the reality that God is present wherever we are. It acknowledges that everything in the universe is sacred.

We had time to go out among the redwoods…to find a place to sit (or walk) and pay attention to what we saw, smelled, felt, heard…. We were invited to journal if desired–or just to sit and pay attention.

There was a place that had been calling to me ever since I had arrived at the campground, so that’s where I headed. As I sat (for a while) and took in the scent of the trees, the quiet (and noise) of the surroundings, I felt that the redwoods were singing to me…

The Song of the Redwoods

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Come play with us—
                Frolic in our branches.
                Bask in the warmth of the life-giving sun.
                Learn the songs of our noisy friends.

Then—
                Allow yourself to be nurtured,
                                Connected to our roots.

And then,
                refreshed…
                renewed…

Go into your world
                to start a new grove.

 

What is church?

If you’re like me, you grew up believing that “church” was meeting with like-minded believers in a specific building on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night–and sometimes every night if there was a series or revival going on.

But what if that’s only a part of what church is?

And what if that’s not even the most important part?

What if “church” is more about our relationships with everyone we meet…whether they share our beliefs or not?

What if “church” takes place at work…on the playground…at a restaurant…in a bar?

What if “church” doesn’t have to have its own building but could be happy meeting in someone’s home…or a rented building…or a park?

What if “church” meant using the money we so often spend to keep the lights on and the air conditioning and heating running and used it to feed the hungry…help provide homes for the homeless?

What if “church” meant sometimes going to jail in order to protest injustice? Or getting together to write letters to (or call) members of Congress to push for less spending on unnecessary military might and more to meet social needs?

Yes, meeting together to worship with like-minded believers is important. But it’s important because it gives us renewed strength to go out and actually “be church” in all the other places and situations we find ourselves.

What if “church” meant we were really willing to pray this prayer…and live it? How would our world be different?

Mission prayer

Practicing Christian…believing Christian?

I was recently at a retreat where our presenter, Jane Vennard, talked about the way she described herself in the forward to her book Fully Awake and Truly Alive. Her description intrigued me, and I’ve been thinking about the meanings of the descriptions she used.

She describes herself as a “practicing Christian” rather than a “believing Christian.” A first response might well be, “Then how can she describe herself as a Christian?” But as I’ve thought about those words, the more sense they make…and are words that I want to claim as my own descriptors.

While others might have different reactions to the choice of words, here’s how they strike me.

Describing oneself as a “believing Christian” has been the default for many of us for many years–and is perhaps the simplest way of defining oneself. That means that there’s a specific list of beliefs that we agree with. It doesn’t necessarily require anything other than saying, “Yes, I believe that…I agree with that.” It allows me to sit comfortably in my pew (or chair) on Sunday morning, nodding my head in agreement, and then going back home until the next time the church doors are open.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to identify as a believing Christian…but I think it’s incomplete.

To be a “practicing Christian” is harder. It’s not that there is a specific list of beliefs that I have to agree with. Rather, my focus is on trying to emulate the example of the one we call the Christ…being with people…listening to them…bringing healing when possible…sharing good news…and all the other things that Jesus did when he walked on this earth. Beliefs may (or may not) grow out of these actions–but if I am working at being a practicing Christian, then my relationships with the people I meet will certainly have more in common with the kinds of ministry Jesus brought.

Ideally I can be both a practicing and a believing Christian…if my beliefs call me to actions that emulate the One whose name I claim. But if it comes down to a choice between them, I will choose to be a practicing Christian because I think that is much more in line with the challenge given to us in Matthew 25:31-46 (this is The Message version):

When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.”

Then those “sheep” are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?” Then the King will say, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”

Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, “Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.”

Then those “goats” are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?”

He will answer them, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.”

Sounds of silence…

When I was in college, I loved a song by Simon and Garfunkle–“The Sounds of Silence.” In it, silence was presented in a negative way…as a cancer that grows…as something that separates people.

But silence can also be a profoundly powerful experience.

I just returned from a weekend contemplative retreat…an opportunity to use silence as a way of “going deeper” in a community that is taking a spiritual journey together.

We had opportunity to come together and share with each other verbally–but we also had significant time to choose not to have to speak. That didn’t mean we ignored each other…far from it! We discovered there are other ways of communicating, ways that often say more than our words do.

When we did talk, we discovered that taking time to intentionally consider our words meant that what we did say had the opportunity of being more meaningful.

But perhaps more importantly, we had the opportunity in the silence to listen for the voice of God…a voice too often drowned out in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

And we heard that voice in many ways…in the songs of the birds…in the gentle breeze…in the smiles and hugs we shared with each other…and yes, even in the words that came to our minds as we intentionally listened for them.

 

Easter Monday prayer

Risen God–
We have just celebrated a day of new life…new hope…
of love…unconditional love.

And yet…
around us we see hate…
fear of “the other”
that says it is fair and right
to murder and destroy.

The risen Christ
says that life conquers death…
that love conquers hate.

Give us strength
to live that way…
to be living examples…
to bring comfort to those who mourn…
and peace to a war-torn world.

Help us be Easter people.
Amen.

Easter blessings

Easter cartoon

I saw this cartoon on Facebook and thought it was a fun way to think about Easter. For those of you who may not be familiar with Schrodinger, he was an Austrian physicist who created a hypothetical thought experiment. It involved placing a living cat into a chamber with a hammer, a vial of acid, and a small amount of a radioactive substance. If there was any decay of the radioactive substance, a relay mechanism will trip the hammer which will break the vial of acid and cause the cat to die. The observer doesn’t know whether that decay has happened and so doesn’t know whether the cat is alive or dead…so, the cat is both alive and dead until someone looks in the box.

So…what about Jesus? Dead or alive? or dead and alive? or …?

We know he died. And we also know he is alive–whether that is a physical life, a spiritual life, or life in us. And so that’s why I am amused at this cartoon…I hope you are, too.

But regardless…I wish you Easter blessings of peace and joy…and hope!