The Teeter-Totter Connection

Teeter Totter

Have you seen or read about the “Teeter-Totter Wall.”  You had to look fast because it was only up for 30 minutes.  

 

In contrast to the tensions that we feel surrounding what’s happening at the wall, seeing a teeter-totter through the wall with kids of all ages cooperating and connecting, made me smile.  And that can’t be a bad thing.  

 

The teeter-totter was designed 10 years ago – yes, you read that right – 2009 – by Ronald Rael, an architecture professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and Virginia San  Fratello, an associate professor of design at San Jose State University. It was installed July 29, 2019.

 

Not everyone liked the teeter-totters.  Brandon Judd, the president of the National Border Patrol Council and a border control agent gave this commentary: “Stunts like this do nothing but try to paint a narrative that frankly is false and try to get the public sentiment on their side.  They don’t work in the real world and don’t know how the real world goes – frankly, they shoudn’t be doing this.”  

 

I get what he’s thinking and saying.  But his statement makes me consider the question, “What is really real and what is false?”

 

Maybe he’s wrong and Carole King was right when she sang “Only Love is Real”.  “Everything else illusion,” she wrote.  Maybe all this hate, violence, racism, fear, economic deprivation, is not who we are.  Maybe they are imposters who have stolen our true identity.  

 

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), was a Doctor of the Church – not the M.D. kind, more like the PhD kind.  The Catholic Church gave the title of “Doctor” to those who made a “significant contribution to theology or doctrine though their research, study, or writing.”

 

Check out this “contribution” from Doctor Thomas: 

 

“All things love God.  All things are united according 

to friendship to each other and to God.”  

 

“Come on Dr. Aquinas.  Get real. Don’t be so naive.  That’s not how the real world is or how the real world works,” some may think.    Well, maybe the premodern saint and sage is on to something. Maybe the mystic recognized what science tells us today:  “There is an interconnection of all things.”  And, if all things are interconnected, isn’t there wisdom in seeing all things as friends?  We have science and spirituality teaching us, drawing us to look beyond the surface to the core.  At that core we find connection.  

 

Sesame Street gave us “The Rainbow Connection.”  

Why not a Teeter-Totter connection?  

 

Look again at the above picture and let it remind us that we are all connected.

 

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Kissing Goodbye…

Joshua and Shannon

I read with sadness last week that Joshua Harris and Shannon Bonne were splitting up (I didn’t see the word “divorce”in their announcement).

Joshua is the famous author of the influential book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”

The mega-hit had mega-influence on teenagers and college students.  The book, a love manual for a generation of conservative Christians, was foundational in youth and college ministries as leaders sincerely worked to help those under their care to build healthy relationships.  

It didn’t work out so well.  Josh began to have regrets about the advice he had offered.  In 2016 Josh participated in a documentary called “I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”  In 2018, Josh released a statement disavowing the concepts in the book and calling for a stop of its publication. 

This morning, I read this from Josh, 

“The information that was left out of our announcement is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus.  The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away’.  By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”  You can read Josh’s full statement here. 

I kissed dating goodbye.

I kissed marriage goodbye.

I kissed Christianity goodbye.

While these announcements have sent shockwaves through the evangelical community (and garnered a lot of criticism) the waves I’m feeling are ones of understanding and sadness.

I understand the deconstruction. It has been a necessary but sometimes painful part of my spiritual journey.

I am sad about their break-up but absolutely respect their decision and approach to their future relationship. I don’t know them.  I don’t know their story.  I don’t judge them.  I am for them. 

Maybe Josh, Shannon, my wife Denise and I are learning some of the same things – we’re just taking different paths in the education process.  

*I’m learning that “formula faith” is empty and dangerous.  You know, the “if/then” formula.  If you do this, then you will get this.  If you put a $100 bill in the offering plate then you will get $1000 back. That’s called the “prosperity gospel.”

Well, there is also “prosperity dating”.   If you stay a virgin until you’re married (Josh took it further by suggesting boundaries of no kissing, no holding hands, no being alone together before you tie the knot) then God will bless you with a good spouse, great sex and a lifetime of marital bliss. 

When the “tit for tat” way doesn’t pan out, we not only question the “way” but we question the goodness of God.  

*I’m learning that legalism is lethal and fear-based faith is scary.  Josh relates in an interview with SOJO that he and his staff started to “recognize a lot of legalism and really unhealthy patterns.”  

*I’m learning to trust the inner voice of the spirit within. Shannon puts this so well in her Instagram post when she says she was taught in her fundamentalist conservative church  “that my heart was deceitful above all else and therefore, someone else knows better what’s best for me” – describing a culture of authority figures knowing more….

We’ve been taught to listen to others but not taught very well, if at all,  how to listen to the divine image of God within us (1 Corinthians 2:11-13, John 10:27).

*I’m learning that deconstruction is not just ok, it is good.  Is deconstructing what Jesus did?  “You’ve heard it said…but I say to you.”  Or, exchanging old wineskins for new ones that can hold the new wine of his way? 

But deconstruction is hard. Do you know how hard it is to question and challenge what our culture of family and church has taught?  It’s gut-wrenching stuff.  Our world seems to collapse.

Josh says that he’s no longer a Christian.   Josh goes on to say that “by all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not not a Christian.” I so get that.  I have felt the same way.  How many times have I said, “Well, if that’s what being a Christian is, I’m not one.”  

What is the measurement of being a “Christian?”  Is it Christ? Maybe? That kind of makes sense.  The early Christians were “followers of the way” (6 times in the book of Acts).  

Maybe a Christian should be defined as a person who follows in the way – the pattern – the values of Jesus? 

I admire Josh and Shannon.  They are expressing publicly, at high risks of being judged and ostracized, their spiritual and relational journeys. They didn’t have to do it.  They could have kept it to themselves.  But by doing it like this, they are helping others like us. 

I hope for Josh and Shannon a steady move through the process of de-construction toward re-construction in which they discover a religion that indeed “re-aligns” them with the God of love in them.  

 

All You Need is Love

Paul All You Need is Love

The theme of my sermon Sunday  (July 21) was The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love”.

John Lennon wrote the song in the context of the conflicts of the 60s – the Vietnam War, Racism, Gender Discrimination, on and on.  

Beatle John’s solution?  Love.

Paul wrote his love poem, 1 Corinthians 13, in the context of the conflicts of the church.  There were, in the church, factions, divisions, comparisons, competition, categorizations – “I’m better than, more spiritual than, closer to God than – you.”

Apostle Paul’s solution?  Love.

The Love Poem of 1 Corinthians 13 was not written to be read at a wedding – although it’s a pretty good fit – it was written to be read at a fight – a relationship fight, a church fight, a community fight, a country’s fight. 

Love.  How can we love the “other”?

I got a clue from a rock – a talking rock.  South of Springfield, MO, where I live, is an attraction called “Talking Rocks Caverns”.   

Do you think they’re using “talking” as a metaphor?  Have you ever heard a rock talk?

Jesus says if we don’t recognize and respond (eulogeo – bless, speak well of) to Jesus as King of a new kingdom, then the “rocks will cry (an urgent scream) out” (Luke 19:40).  

Talking rocks. Shouting rocks. 

The Psalmist says there’s a concert in the fields.  “The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are carpeted with grain.  They shout and sing together for joy (Psalm 65:13).

Shouting Rocks.

Singing Sheep and Grain. 

There’s a lot of shouting and singing going on in nature.  An actual “rock concert”! 

How does that help me love?

Jesus teaches us to find God incarnate in this world.  Holding up the bread at the last supper, he said, “This is my body.”  

Paul writes that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen” (Romans 1:20).  

God can be seen in things if we want to see.  

In rocks. 

Even in people.  

“In the least of these” (Matthew 25:31-46).  

According to Paul, all of humanity are God’s “offspring (genos – from God’s genes)” (Acts 17:28).

Does spirituality teach us that we can see God in people and pebbles? I’m thinking, “yes.”

Science seems to teach us the same thing.  In case there is any question, I did not do well in science through school.  English, Literature, Philosophy? I loved. Not so much for science. But, I’m now I’m reading scientists who sound spiritual!

Go figure.

Science and spirituality both agree that we are all one…that we all come from one God – unless you believe that God is a white-bearded old man living in the clouds.  But if you see God as “spirit” (John 4:24), as Universal Being, Cosmic Mind, the unity of the uni-verse makes sense.  

“Universe” – “uni” means “one.”  “verse” is from the Latin “vertere”  and means “to turn.”  

Universe means we are turned into one.  

We are one.  One unified reality.  Science tells us that if we look closely enough at any person, plant or rock, its basic structure, the atom, is nothing more that a collection of spinning energy vortices – in everything.   

I don’t get that at all.  What I do get is this: Despite our apparent separateness, there appears to be one energy source from which we all arise.  Whether you call it the “Higgs Boson” or God, science and religion both agree that it’s real (Well that concept is a bit too “out there” for some people of faith to accept.) 

There is a supernatural, mystical connectedness between everything…

…even with those with whom I have major disagreements and differences.

Why should I bother with the “other”?

Why should I care about those over there?

Why should I try to walk beside those on the other side?

Why should I be with those with whom I disagree? 

Why not walk away from those who think a different way? 

Because we’re connected.  

Another guy much smarter than I, Tom Chi, said, in a Tedx Talk that “societies that deeply adopt this idea are the ones who over time deepen their level of consideration, deepen their level of expression, deepen their level of understanding, for each other.”  He goes on to say that “this is actually something that is literally true.”

Since the connection is true, the unity is a reality, I need to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bonds of peace (Ephesians 4:3).

 

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.

 

 

Embrace the Questions

asking questions

After church service Sunday, a 20-something guy told me that when he was 12 years old he asked his youth pastor a question: “Why does God allow children to suffer?”  

(The topic Sunday in our “S*&! Christians Say” series is a common answer to suffering: “Everything happens for a reason.” So we talked about suffering.)

Now really, who hasn’t asked the same question?  Or who has not at least thought the question?

The 12 year old  was shut down.  Put down.  “That’s a dangerous question,” he was told.  “Questions like that show a lack of faith.”  

That has been the experience of a lot of “churched-people” – which is why many of those people are now “de-churched.”

 Maybe it is still the experience of people today.  

Churches have a reputation of being a “no question” zone.  Yes, questions lead to:

…answers

…discovery

…mystery

…and trouble.  

Just ask my 20-something friend. He still remembered the experience of being shut down. Anyone who has dared to ask questions has likely been told one or all of these things:

“These questions show a lack of faith.”

“Questions are a slippery slope.”

“Just accept what I tell you as truth.”

What we hear is:

“Sit down and shut up and you’ll learn something!”

We walk away thinking, “Believing is so much easier before I started thinking.”  

I mean, really, we’re told to read our Bibles everyday.  So we do.  Immediately we are faced with two creation stories that don’t line up!  We write down the question: “Why is mankind  created after the animals in chapter one, but before them in chapter two.?”

We keep reading and meet a talking snake:

Write it down:  “A talking snake?  Really?  Is this history or some kind of fable?”

We go on in Genesis and  find a man looking for a mate among the animals.  

Ok,  that’s disturbing.  “What kind of “Find your date/mate” plan is this?”

We keep reading…We get to the famous children story, Noah and the Ark. We’re shocked in multiple ways.   First there is the horror of a God who, in a fit of rage, drowns babies and toddlers along with their parents.  

Write it down: “Is this ‘Biblical Parenting’?   God, The Heavenly Parent, gets so mad at his children that he kills them so he can start over with new kids.  Really?”  

More questions: 

“Why do parents decorate their newborns’ rooms with a ‘Noah and the Ark’ theme?  What’s so sweet about this story?”   I wonder if parents have even read it.

“I thought the animals went in two by two (Genesis 6:19)?  What’s up with Genesis 7:2-3 that says there were 7 of each pure species and two of each impure species?  Why the contradiction?”  

“And this was written before the Law.  How’d Noah know which animals were “clean” or “unclean”?

So we take our list of questions with us to church the next Sunday and hand them to our pastor or student leader. As they read the list, they start sweating. Mumbling something about having to go preach or something, they run away. 

What does it say about a religion when that religion is afraid of questions?  

Maybe it says we’re not much like our founder, Jesus.  He loved questions.  He asked a lot of them (someone actually counted and found 307 questions) and he answered a few of them. 

 Why?

Why did Jesus ask more questions than he answered?

What does that say about him?

What does it do to our understanding of spirituality that Jesus is more “The Question Man” than he is “The Answer Man”?

Maybe it says we’ve lost our childlike spirit which Jesus seems to insist we keep (Matthew 18:2-4).  Someone else counted and discovered that children ask 289 questions a day!

Peter Abelard (1079-1142), philosopher, theologian, poet, wrote, “The key to wisdom is this – constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question, by questioning we arrive at the truth.”

There is no need to be threatened by questions.  Asking them or being asked. 

 I don’t know everything and I know I don’t know everything. I find value in reaching out, learning new things,  hearing new perspectives. My purpose is not to preach but to understand.  To listen, to love, to live like Christ and to ask questions of myself, of others, and of God.   

 

Keep the Lent in VaLENTine’s Day

AshHeart

Two worlds merge this Wednesday, February 14 – Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday.  Maybe a better word than “merge” is “collide.”

Two worlds collide.

Indulgence and Deprivation

Feasting and Fasting

Chocolate and no chocolate

Yep, the number one day for giving chocolate falls on the same day people start giving up chocolate for the Lenten season.

This hasn’t happened since 1945, 73 years ago.

So, what do we do?

Do we use chocolate to make the sign of the cross on our foreheads?
Do we use ashes to make a heart instead of a cross on our foreheads?

The Archdiocese of Chicago released a statement that the “obligation of fast and abstinence must be the priority…”.

Maybe it’s not a matter of either/or.

  1. Both celebrations are about love: love for God and love for another.
  2. Both celebrations are opportunities to focus on the one we love – obviously something that shouldn’t be relegated to one day or season of the year.
  3. Both provide an opportunity to acknowledge the ways we have drifted, or turned away from the one we love and correct the course of our lives.

Lent is partly about giving up something during the Lenten season – the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  Well, what if we gave up something for Valentine’s Day?  You know, give up those behaviors that irritate our partner and chip away at the relationship.

*Bodily Quirks – nose picking, gas passing, air burping, teeth picking… You get the idea. Give ’em up.

 *Bad manners – leaving the toilet seat up, leaving an empty toilet tissue roll on the holder, bad manners at the table, forgetting or choosing not to say “Please” and “Thank-you.” Remember the “love is not rude” line from 1 Corinthians 13?  Well, it really isn’t.

*Being a slob – Clothes in the corner, dishes in the sink, papers piled on the cabinet.  Slobbishness is defined differently by different people. See if you all can use the same dictionary. And then, when there’s a pile, pick it up.  When there’s a mess, clean it up.  When there’s a splatter, wipe it up.

*Half-listening – You know.  Our partner is talking and we’ve got one ear tuned in to them and the other ear tuned in to the T.V.  Give that up.

*Listening to respond instead of listening to understand.  I do this a lot. I need to give it up.

Two celebrations that seem contradictory can be complimentary.  VaLENTine’s Day.

Now, I’ve got to start figuring out what to do about Easter – which happens to be on April 1!

“The Good Ship Jesus”

Slave Ship Jesus

 

One of the most popular church songs during my teen years had these lyrics:

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus; there’s just something about that name.”

Master, Savior, Jesus; like the fragrance after the rain…”

The song was one of the hundreds of holy hits put out by the Gaithers – sung in churches all through the South.

The song reminded us of many attributes of Jesus.

Jesus:  Love, kindness, justice, gentleness, humility.  These are the words that come to my mind when I think of Jesus.

But how about these words?

Jesus:  Horror, suffering, injustice, slavery, torture.

The name of the first slave ship to kidnap Black Folks and take them to America was…are you ready?

“The Good Ship Jesus”

Yep, there was a slave ship named “Jesus.”  A place of suffering, injustice, slavery and torture, named after Jesus.

“The Good Ship Jesus” was captained by Sir John Hawkins.  Hawkins was considered to be a “religious gentleman” who insisted that his crew “serve God daily” and “love another.”  Worship services were held on board twice a day.

I’m pulling out my hair, right now.

A “religious gentleman”?

“Serve God” by enslaving people?

“Love another” except people of another race, I guess.

That was 1562.

Let’s move forward 300 years and look at and listen to Frederick Douglass – America’s most famous abolitionist.  According to an article in the January/February 2018 issue of Christianity Today, Douglass escaped slavery when he was 20.  Standing on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay one Sunday morning he cried out, “I am left in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God save me!”

“I will run away…God helping me, I will.”  He did.

Douglass settled in Bedford, Massachusetts.  In 1841 he became a lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.  His assignment was to convince the American public of the immorality of slavery and the necessity of the anti-slavery cause. Douglass had a catchphrase.  You know, a catch-phrase is a well-known statement or phrase from a famous person or character, like these:

Harry Carry – “Holy Cow!”

Jack Buck – “That’s a Winner!”

The Terminator – “I’ll be Back.”

Han Solo – “May the Force Be With You”

Sheriff Brody in Jaws – “You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat”

Here is Douglass’ catch-phrase – a line he repeated in almost every address:

“Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible differences.”

In the Appendix of his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Douglass condemned “corrupt, slaveholding women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity.”

Quoting from the Christianity Today article, “As Douglass knew from direct experience, the cruelest slaveholders were also often the most ardent church goers. ‘The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus.’”

Douglass continues with words that break my heart, “The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master…The slaveholder…covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.”

Douglass lays it out there pretty plainly doesn’t he?

Here’s our “come to Jesus” moment:

What “infernal business” are we covering with the “garb of Christianity”?

Is there a difference between our Christianity and the Christianity of Christ?

What are we doing that Jesus wouldn’t do?

What are we doing to which Jesus would never attach his name?

I’m pretty sure Jesus would not want a slave ship to be named after him.

How did people in the past, who called themselves “Christians,” do things that, today, we so easily and readily recognize are nothing like Jesus?  Is anyone else besides me asking, “How could they have done that?!”

What things are we doing today, that people in the future will so easily and readily recognize are nothing like Jesus? Will someone in the future ask about us, “How could they have done that?!”

Jesus gave us some pretty good guidelines, which if followed, will keep us from today’s version of naming a slave ship after Him.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

“As you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.”

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will live.”

“Do not neglect the weightier matters of justice, mercy and faith.”

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

“…he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor…to set the oppressed free…”

So, by our lives, by our values, by our words and actions, what characteristics do people who know us attach to the name of Jesus?