Celebrate the New Year with Cheese

Cheese 2019

Black-eyed peas, greens, cornbread, pork, pomegranates, noodles, cakes  are considered some of the lucky foods to eat for New Years. Mmmm Good!

The Wrights are adding a big block of cheese to our menu today…
It’s not just because I’m a cheesehead -not the NFL Packers kind – just a lover of cheese (goat cheese), but because of an event that happened on New Year’s Day 1802.  

January 1, 1802, Baptists of Cheshire, Massachusetts, sent a giant block of cheese to President Thomas Jefferson.  The big cheese (a 1,200 pound cheese wheel) was delivered by the Baptist pastor, John Leland to the President as an expression of “thanks” for his stand on religious liberty for all – even for the irreligious and non-religious.  

“Religious Liberty” meant something different to them then than it does to many in the U.S. now.  It seems to me that some today define religious liberty as “freedom to impose my religion on everybody.” It seems that some religions are “more equal” than others.

Baptists in the days of Jefferson and Leland would not recognize many Baptists and other evangelicals today in regard to their views on religious liberty.

In the days of Jefferson and Leland, Baptists were among the discriminated class.  In many communities, being Baptist or anything other than the state-approved religion, was grounds for persecution and imprisonment.  Yes, the Puritans had sailed to these shores seeking freedom of religion, but freedom of their religion only.  

Do we have some Puritans hanging around today?  

Are Evangelicals today, the discriminating class?  

As Francis L. Hawks wrote in Ecclesiastical History, 1836: “No dissenters in Virginia experienced for a time harsher treatment than Baptists.  They were beaten and imprisoned, and cruelty taxed ingenuity to devise new modes of punishment and annoyance.”  

Baptist John Leland, who pastored in both Massachusetts and Virginia demanded not just toleration, but equality.  

Are we demanding equality for all religions? Shouldn’t we be? 

Back to the cheese:

*Pastor Leland enlisted the ladies of his Baptist congregation to concoct the giant cheese. 

*Leland, a passionate abolitionist, also carefully made sure no slaves were used to make the cheese.

*Jefferson’s policy to refuse gifts while in office led him on January 4, 1802, to pay Leland $200 for the cheese.  (about $5000.00 in today’s dollars!  Wow.  That’s a lot of cheese and money!)

One other thing from that New Year’s Day, January 1, 1802.  

Jefferson wrote a letter that day.  From that letter we get the phrase, “wall of separation between church and state.”  The letter was addressed to a different group of New England Baptists.  Baptists from Danbury, Connecticut were concerned that their religious liberty was at risk because of a government that sanctioned one religion over another.  Their religion was not the sanctioned religion. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

 Baptists were the minority, the outcasts, the heretics.  

So it was party time for the Baptists when  Jefferson, an outspoken proponent of absolute religious liberty for all, was elected President.  Danbury Baptists wrote a letter to the President expressing their delight in his election and hope for his assistance in disestablishing Connecticut’s official religion. 

Jefferson composed his reply to their letter on the day he received the cheese from Baptist pastor John Leland.  I wonder it the “religious freedom cheese” reminded him, “Oh, I forgot to respond to the Danbury Baptists!”

Anyway, in this letter, Jefferson stated:

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State (emphasis mine).” 

I love that wall.  

I appreciate that wall. 

Without that wall it could be my religious views that are considered heretical and illegal.

Think about this history when you see government sponsored religious displays – whether it is a cross in a public park, or religious slogans on government property.  

Ask ourselves the questions: 

Have the persecuted become the persecuting?  

Why have I turned God into the God of my tribe?

 On this New Year’s Day, I will enjoy a chunk of cheese with my black-eyed peas  and contemplate these words from Catholic Mystic, Nicolas of Cusa, “God is an infinite circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”

I worship a God who is inclusive enough for all and appreciate a country established on the principle of liberty for all.

Advertisements

“A Kinder-Gentler Nation and Person”

bush-service-dog-casket-today-main-181203_9de5b5e8b8fb1b3fdd67537267a2cc5a.1200;630;7;70;2The above pic is of Sully, the service dog who belonged to President George H.W. Bush.

 

On August 19, 1988, George H.W. Bush received the Republican party’s nomination for President of the United States.  In his acceptance speech, he called for a “kinder, gentler, nation.”

On November 30, 2018, “43” (George W. Bush), in a phone call, said to his dad, “41,”  “I love you.”  And President George H.W. Bush replied, “I love you, too.” And those were the last words he ever spoke. 

Our 41st President led the country, led his family, led his own life, with kindness.  Sure, there were moments of unkindness.  In the final days of the 1992 campaign, President Bush, running for re-election,  unleased this remark against candidate Bill Clinton and his running mate Al Gore, “My dog Millie knows more about foreign affairs than these two bozos.”  

The voters didn’t buy it.  Clinton beat Bush 43% to 37%.  Third-party candidate Ross Perot swung the election with 19% of the vote.  

But kindness prevailed.  In a handwritten note to Clinton dated January 20, 1993, Bush wrote, “You will be our President when you read this note.  I wish you well.  I wish your family well.  Your success is now our country’s success.  I am rooting hard for you.  Good Luck – George”

Kindness and humility.  General Colin Powell said of President Bush (41), “…He was a man of great humility.  He was humble.”  “Bush,” he added, “was a product of his parents, who told him, you know, ‘Don’t show off George; just always remember, you’re humble, you work for people, you serve people.’”  

His parents’ teaching  took.  Bush was so self-effacing that he hated to use the personal pronoun. “Don’t be talking about yourself,” his mother instructed him.  

Maybe humility and kindness are teammates.  Maybe my failure or refusal to show kindness reflects the pride in my  heart – a sense that I’m better than others and that they deserve to be treated unkindly.  I mean if they didn’t deserve it, I wouldn’t treat them unkindly, would I? At least that’s how we justify our unkindness.  Unkindness and put downs go hand in hand.  

“Kindness” is a spiritual trait.  It is used over and over again in the New Testament:

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be the children  of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to the ungrateful and evil” (Luke 6:35).

“…and be kind to one another, tenderhearted…” (Ephesians 4:32).

“clothes yourselves with kindness…” (Colossians 3:12).  

“Love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4).

Jesus’ yoke is called “chrestos” (the Greek word for “kind”), in Matthew 11:30:  “For my yoke is easy (kind)…”  It does not chafe. It does not irritate.  No splinters, no callouses from Jesus’ yoke.  

W.E. Vine defines “chrestos” as “mild, pleasant, in contrast to what is harsh, sharp, bitter.”  

Kindness needs to be the calling-card for Christ-followers. 

Kindness, though, crosses all religions.  Kindness knows no race, religion or gender.  

It is universal.  It is internal.  

Christians call this the indwelling of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).  

Buddhists call this maitri – a kindness to oneself that then leads to a kindness toward others.

Take a close look at rude, unkind people.  What we might see behind their bullying behavior is a deeply insecure person.  People with low self-esteem often hide their own insecurities behind a mask of superiority and meanness. 

Maybe we need to be kinder to ourselves before we are kind to others?  

Meditation helps me do this.  In meditation, I can sense God’s love and kindness to me (In Loving-kindness Jesus Came).

From that place of kindness within my spirit, I can embrace in concentric circles, in ripples of kindness, those that I love dearly and deeply, casual friends, strangers, then finally, I can let that ripple include someone who has hurt me.  

All can be objects of the kindness that resides in the spirit within – in my true self.

It’s Christmas time.  The season of giving and all of that.  If you’re looking for ideas on what to give, here’s one: 

“Kindness is a gift everyone can afford to give.”  

Thank you President Bush 41 for the ripple of kindness.  

Jesus and Yoga

yoga 2

“To yoga or not to yoga,” that is the question. 

It’s at least a question that I’ve been asked a half-dozen times over the last few days.  The questioners had been told that yoga was demonic – and that yogis would be opening themselves to demonic power. 

(Just for clarification, a “yogi” is a person who practices yoga.   It is not referring to Yogi Bear, Yogi Berra, or Yogi Tea).

I’ll start with a quick answer to the question:  “I’m not good at yoga, but I am definitely good with yoga.”

Now, let’s upack why I’m good with it.  

1.  I have grown weary of Christians being known more for what we’re against than what we’re for.  Let’s see, just in my lifetime, there has been rock music, movies, cards, wine, dancing, long hair, tattoos, swimming with the opposite sex, kissing someone before you are engaged, reading “Harry Potter” or “DaVinci Code.”

Have I missed one?  Probably.  You can add your own.  Well, Yoga, for some people, is on the list.  

Each of these activities, we were told, can lead to your spiritual downfall. Wouldn’t it be nice to be known what we’re for – love, kindness, goodness.

2.  Because yoga has Hindu roots, a lot of Christians condemn it.  Two things here -First,  “All truth is God’s truth.” – Thank-you, Augustine.  Just because something does not have a “Christian” label, doesn’t make it untrue or unChristlike.  The universal Christ is much bigger than our culture.  Second, will the good folks who condemn yoga based on its Hindu roots have a Christmas tree in their house in a few weeks?  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, and other sources, that Christmas tree in our living rooms has its origin in pre-Christian worship of trees and pagan customs.  Throughout history, Christians have taken something from the culture and re-framed it, re-interpreted it, giving it new meaning as a symbol of Christianity. 

Maybe people are doing that with yoga.  Why not? Christmas trees and yoga.  I like them both.  

3. Is yoga like the meat offered to idols which Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 8:1-8? Maybe so.  “Can I put this meat that had been used as a sacrifice to an idol on my sandwich?”  That was the question asked by Christians in Corinth.  

Here’s Paul’s answer:  “We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no God but one…Food will not bring us close to God.We are not worse off if we don’t eat, and we are not better if we do eat,” 

“But,” Paul adds, some people’s consciences are so weak they can’t separate the meat from the idol.”  So, to them, Paul seems to say, “Don’t eat the meat.”  To others? “Pile it on the sandwich and enjoy.”

Maybe there are some “weak consciences” when it comes to yoga. Maybe for Paul, and others, yoga is just fine.  

4.  The term “yoga” is from the Sanskrit word yuj, which has three meanings:

  1. To “unite” or “yoke” as in uniting/yoking together our mind and body and spirit. 
  2. To be aware.  Nothing exists except awareness.  
  3. To have control or focus.  

Those things don’t seem too scary, do they? In fact, they sound kind of spiritual – not too different from the spiritual disciplines many of us have been taught.

See how these expressions of yoga fit with our connection to Christ:

a.  It is God’s purpose to “bring everything together in Christ, both things in heaven and things on earth in him” (Ephesians 1:10). Yoga recognizes and releases the interconnectedness between our mind, body, and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). 

b.  Awareness. Oh my goodness, I need this.  How many distractions there are in life! The notifications buzzing, ringing, vibrating on my phone.  Non-stop news.  Incessant talking. 

I need something that helps me tune out everything except my awareness of the present – of my breathing – of the peace that comes from being still. 

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Yoga helps make that real. 

c.  To have control or focus.  Wow. I need that, too.   I need to control my thoughts, my desires, myself!  Isn’t that kind of a part of the whole Christianity thing?  

“I discipline my body and keep it under control so I won’t be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27 – Paul was a sports fan).

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).  

Yoga can help us move toward a sense of union with God…

…union with ourselves.

…union with all of God’s creation.  

Yoga can create an environment in which I intensify my awareness of:

….wow, I’m tight!

…my breathing.

…God’s presence in me and love for me.  

You know that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” thing (Matthew 26:41)? Yoga helps make both strong.  It combines both to make both strong.  

I’m good with that.  

 

Hate in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

Mr Rogers_BowersI read yesterday that the hate-filled act Saturday was committed in the neighborhood in which Fred Rogers had lived.  His home was three blocks from Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill.  It was there, in his Squirrel Hill home, where Mr. Rogers chose to die.  

It was there, in this neighborhood, that Robert Bowers chose to take the lives of as many worshippers as he could.  Eleven people died.  

Two men.  Two ways of living.  Both basing their ways on Scripture.

Robert Bowers’ profile page included this bit of Scripture, commentary and doctrinal statement:  “jews are the children of Satan (John 8:44) — the lord jesus christ is come in the flesh.”  (Does he not realize that Jesus was a Jew?)

How many times do we see people use Scripture to justify hate or hateful actions? How much hurt has been inflicted on others in the name of Jesus?

Mister Rogers also included  Scripture in his life.  He followed Jesus and built his life on the love of Jesus, “…the greatest thing we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.”  Mr. Rogers’ theological messages could be traced to Jesus’ idea of neighbor.  

It was a radical idea.  We find it in his story of the Good Samaritan.

It’s about being kind. 

It’s about helping people in need.

It’s about sacrificing for others.

But it’s about SO MUCH MORE!!

It’s about loving instead of hating.  It’s about:

being kind to,  

helping people who, 

sacrificing for, 

the ones who are hated.  

Robert Bowers hates Jews.

In Jesus’ day, Samaritans hated Jews and Jews hated Samaritans.  

To the Jews, there was no such thing as a “Good Samaritan.”  It’s like there’s no such thing as bad chocolate.

In the chapter before Luke’s record of Jesus’ story of neighbors and neighborhood, he writes about James and John suggesting to Jesus that they call down consuming fire from heaven on a group of Samaritans (Luke 9:51-56).  Jesus rebuked them.  That’s not how Jesus rolls.  

The very Samaritans the disciples wanted to kill, are held up in Jesus’ story as role models on how to live. The ones who were hated were the ones, Jesus said, had it right – had eternal life.  

Jesus’ neighborhood is different.  

Jesus told this story as an answer to a question posed by an expert in the Law of Moses:  “Who is my neighbor?”  At the end of the story, Jesus turned it around by asking the expert, “Which of these three (the two religious leaders or the Samaritan) proved to be a neighbor to the man in need?”  

I’d love to have seen the look on the expert’s face as he had to state the obvious, “The one who showed him mercy (compassion).”  The Message translates it like this: “The one who treated him kindly.”    

Kindness.  Mister Rogers invites us to dream:  “Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.”

In the neighborhood of Squirrel Hill we see two men.  Two ways of living.  Two ways of seeing and treating others.

Mister Rogers and Robert Bowers.

It’s easy to love Mister Rogers more than we love Robert Bowers.  How would Mister Rogers treat Robert Bowers?  Would Mister Rogers follow his own philosophy and help Bowers know that he is loved and is capable of loving?   I think so.

A dear friend and wise woman gave me a note Sunday after service in which she said,  “I am reminded daily that God loves the man who killed 11 Jews just as much as me.”  

She’s a good neighbor.

I want a neighbor like that.  I want to be a neighbor like that.

 

 

Here’s Looking at You Kid

The Look

“Home Improvement,” the T.V. show starring Tim Allen, was a family favorite of ours in the 90s.  And it’s the closest I get to actual home improvement.  “The Look” is the name of an episode in the series.  The premise is that women have found a way to make the men in their lives melt in fear with a “look.”  

Tim gets the “the look” from his wife, Jill, after spending $4000 on Piston season tickets.  

Wilson, the behind the fence philosopher, explains that “the look” has been around for centuries and believed to have been the reason women wear veils at their wedding.  “The penetrating stare of a bride could weaken her husband and render him impotent!”  Yikes!

There is power in “the look.”  

God looks at us.  

What is God’s “look?”

In  my  mind I’m singing the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song, “The Look of Love.” 

Don’t know it?  Take a listen: 

In my youth, it was Dusty Springfield. 

Today it is Diana Krall. 

“The look of love is in your eyes” is how the song starts. 

So, what is God’s look toward us?  What does God’s look look like? 

Is it a “Home Improvement” or a Bacharach look? 

Too many of us in church world have been told that God’s look toward us is a look of anger, judgment, disappointment.  Maybe that’s why we don’t want God to look at us.   We’ve been told God doesn’t like what he sees.  Have we been misinformed?

When Jesus looked at the “rich young ruler,” the writer says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him” (Mark 10:21).  I like that.  

“Let me look at you,” a loving relative says to a child.  Do you hear, in the phrase, encouragement, love, acceptance, pride?

When God says, “Here’s looking at you, kid” it is a look of  love.

“You look marvelous,” says Fernando Lama – the Billy Crystal character.  

The writer to the Hebrews describes God’s throne (kingdom language) as a “throne of mercy/grace” – not a throne of judgment and punishment and lectures.  

How we think God looks at us shapes how we look at the world.  Mark Matousek writes in Psychology Today that, “You learn the world from your mother’s face…The mother’s gaze, or the father’s (if he is the primary caretaker), determines more than you might realize about how you come to see yourself, your place in the world, and the moral nature of people around you.”

Does a mean look create mean people?

Does a kind look create kind people?

How we think God looks at us shapes how we look at ourselves, others and our world.  

In his book, The Church of Mercy, Pope Francis asks, “Do you let yourself be looked at by the Lord?” He continues, “God looks at us, and this is itself a way of praying.”

I don’t think I’ve done that enough  through my life.  Praying, for me has been, telling, listing, begging – but not sitting and looking and being looked at.  

“The Look”. God’s giving it to us.  It is the Look of Love.  See it.  Reflect it.

To Celebrate or Not

Columbus Day

“In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…”

So begins the first line of the poem a lot of us learned in school about the man who got a day named after him – today.  Columbus Day.

Columbus was presented as a hero.  A Christian hero at that!  And Christians warmly embraced him. I had a book in my library for years that extolled the virtues of Columbus: The Light and the Glory.  Just look at his name!  Christopher Columbus.  We can’t miss the “Christ” in there, can we? 

“Christopher” means “Christ-bearer” and Columbus understood his name as his destiny to carry the gospel(good news) of Christ to far-off lands.  Sounds honorable, doesn’t it?

Christopher Columbus.  The man who discovered America with the purpose of telling people about Jesus.  Who wouldn’t celebrate this man?

But, as Paul Harvey used to say, there is “The Rest of the Story.”  And it’s not pretty.  Not honorable.  Not worth celebrating.  

What we celebrate reveals our character.  Paul tells us that “Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness” (1 Corinthians 13:6)…

“isn’t happy with injustice”  Common English Bible

“does not rejoice at wrongdoing”  English Standard Version

“is not happy with evil” Good News Translation

“does not delight in evil” New International Version

I don’t celebrate Columbus but I do think we should study and learn from him.  Here’s why:

*Let’s be clear,  Columbus did not discover America.  People were already here.  You can’t  discover lands where people are already living.   But that’s what Columbus, much of Europe, early American colonists and the USA did.  The operative word here is “people.”  Columbus and other “discoverers” didn’t see the inhabitants of this land as “people.” 

“Savages”  “Pagan”  “Enemies of Christ,” but not “human.”  It’s easier to dominate, hurt, and kills someone when that someone is dehumanized.  Seeing someone as less than we is the essence of racism.  

Even if someone wanted to credit Europeans with “discovering” America, the prize would go to Viking explorer Leif Ereicson  who “found” the New World 500 years before Columbus set sail.

BTW – Columbus didn’t land on the higher 48.  He landed in what is present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  

*Columbus discovered America like a meteor discovered dinasours.  Columbus was awful. 

Columbus initiated the two greatest crimes in the history of the Western Hemisphere – the Atlantic slave trade and the American Indian genocide.  Bartolome De Las Casas, a former slave owner who became Bishop of Chiapas described the exploits of Columbus and his troops, “Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight as no age can parallel.  My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature that now I tremble as I write.”  

*Here’s the clincher.  This is really tough for me to understand.  The treatment of the indigenious people was not justified primarily by race, but by religion.  Spanish colonizers, relying on Pople Nicholas V’s papal decree, enslaved people because they were “enemies of Christ.”

Typically, after “discovering” an island and encountering the people living there, the Spaniards would read aloud – in Spanish – what came to be called “The Requirement.”    What’s up with that? Did they intentionally not want the people to understand what was being read?   It went something like this:

“I implore you to recognize the Church as a lady and in the name of the Pope take the King as lord of this land and obey his mandates.  If you do not do it, I tell you that with the help of God I will enter powerfully against you all.  I will subject you to the yoke and obedience to the Church and to his majesty.  I will take your women and children and make them slaves…The deaths and injuries that you will receive from here on will be your own fault and not that of his majesty nor of the gentlemen that accompany me.”  

Christopher (Christ-bearer) Columbus wanted to take the “good news” to the people.

I don’t think they heard these words as “good news”.

“Convert or die.”  “Convert or become slaves.”  That’s one way to grow a church.  

Columbus used the name of Jesus as a rationale to cheat, rob, rape, enslave and murder people who had been made in God’s image.  

Schools in Germany are required to teach the holocaust, so that they will never repeat it.  

So, let’s not celebrate Columbus.  But, let’s learn from Columbus and other periods and persons that tell stories of injustice so that we will grow, mature, and truly:

  •  “form a more perfect union,”  (from Preamble of the U.S. Constitution), and
  • represent the person of Jesus.

“You Smell Good”

Smelling

 

“You smell good.”

 … is what the little girl told me.

My time with my lunch buddy was over.   As I walked out of the school building I saw, among some students eating their lunches outside, a 4th grade girl who attends the church I pastor. So I stopped by to say “Hi!”   I sat across the table from her. We talked school, Halloween costumes, her hair (“She did it herself!” chimed in a girl sitting next to her). I wasn’t surprised.  Her grandmother is a hairstylist.  

 While we were talking I felt something on my left arm.  I looked over and saw that the girl I was sitting by had her face pressed against my shirt.

She looked up and said, “You smell good,” and put her nose back on my arm.  

“Well, thank you,” I said.  “You’re a very nice person.  I’m glad I smell good.”

I love so many things about that.

A kid’s honesty.

A kid’s unreserved expression.

And, I love that I smelled good – not sure if it was my cologne or laundry detergent. But, with her honesty, I don’t think she would have hesitated to tell me if I didn’t smell good.  

I talked Sunday about:

– “sin as the violation of shalom” (Cornelius Plantiga, Jr, Phd; Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be).”

  • sin as the failure to do “good” – “kalon” – “good” – It means “that which is beautiful.”   

“If anyone, then, knows the good (kalon) they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17).

Sin is failing:

to do the beautiful thing,

to say the beautiful thing,

to think the beautiful thing.  

“Good” is how God described creation (Genesis 1:31).  It was  “shalom” – it was how God wanted things to be. 

“Good” is what God has shown us to do (Micah 6:8).  The “good” that God has shown us is to act with justice (fairness), to love mercy and to walk in humility with our God.

“Good” is how God wants us to smell. 

Beautiful.

Beautiful not in clothes or cologne, but in 

Character and 

Conduct and 

Conversation.

Yes, I’m glad that something about me smelled good.  I left the school hoping that the most important things did too.