Piece of the Puzzle

random musings on whatever…

Tag: Christianity (Page 1 of 5)

Making America Great Again

Have you ever wanted to be important? We want to feel needed. We want to feel like we are making a difference in the world. As kids we might dream of being the best at our favorite sport, sinking the winning shot in the championship game. Maybe we dreamed of being admired like a doctor or lawyer or maybe we dreamed of being president, someone with a lot of power. Maybe we achieved some of our dreams of importance and maybe those dreams still linger with us. As adults we still want to matter and make a difference in our lives.

But when we think of importance, when we dream of greatness, we also have to ask ourselves what exactly that means. How do we measure greatness? Is the wealthiest person great? Or is power and influence the critical factor? And who benefits from our desired greatness? Do these dreams come from pure selfishness or do we want to help others? Greatness and its motivations seem to be a hot topic in our country. Some people say they want to “Make America Great Again” but then act out of racism, sexism, homophobia, and a disregard for the poor and disadvantaged. Does being great mean making everyone else miserable? Just what does it mean to be great, to be important?

In the ninth chapter of the gospel of Mark, Jesus’ disciples were debating this very question, arguing amongst themselves about who was the most important of their group. And Jesus tells them how to be great in his eyes: become a servant for others. Greatness has nothing to do with wealth or power. The greatest are those who put the welfare of others first. Cultivating peace and justice; being kind, considerate, and compassionate; acting in the interest of others and the common good… these are the things by which we should measure greatness.

This is the way we are called to live if we choose to follow God’s path and live by God’s wisdom. True greatness is measured by love. We can say God is great because God is love. God loves each one of us without condition. If we want to be great, Jesus tells us, then share that love with those around you. Be a servant and welcome the children and the vulnerable. Love. By welcoming the vulnerable we welcome God. When we love others, we love God.

What if we used love as a measure of greatness everywhere? What if “Make America Great Again” meant: let’s see how loving we can make our country? What a great place that would be! Imagine people outdoing themselves to help others. Imagine people competing to see who can create the most efficient and impactful programs. Not to put money in the hands of the rich but to feed people and provide health care, to end racism, to help victims of abuse instead of blame them… and on and on. What if the greatness of our country and our government was measured by love? Not military power or wealth, but how much it helped people – all people, but especially the vulnerable and oppressed. That is the place I want to live in.

Let’s all have a great (loving) day!

Note: This reflection was originally published in my church newsletter. The church website is www.phoenixchurch.org.

Doubling Down

Doubling down is a betting term that involves taking a risk for increased reward. It can also mean to become more tenacious or resolute. In the Parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25:14-30, we can find examples of both. In the parable, a rich landowner entrusts funds to three servants and then goes away on a trip. When the landowner returns, he finds two of the servants have invested the money and doubled it. The third servant buried the money, neither gaining or losing. In accounting for his actions, the third servant basically calls the landowner a tyrant and says he buried the money out of fear. The landowner gives the third servant’s money to the first two and then has the third servant banished, declaring that the rich will get richer and those that have little will lose it.

The first two servants in the parable took a risk, invested their funds, doubled the money, and were rewarded by the landowner. In a way, they doubled down and it paid off. These first two servants are often portrayed as the good guys in this story because we almost automatically interpret the landowner as analogous to God. In this view the first two servants took risks with the gifts they were entrusted with and multiplied them. To be willing to take risks on behalf of the Divine is not a bad lesson.

However, what if the third servant is right? The landowner concludes the parable with the declaration that the rich will get richer but this isn’t what Jesus teaches us elsewhere. Jesus consistently teaches that God will humble the powerful and lift up the poor, that wealth is more problem than virtue. So, what if the landowner really is a tyrant, not meant to represent God at all in the story but instead meant to be just what he is named as – an unfair and dishonest business person? Then, the third servant becomes not the lazy servant but the hero of the story because he refuses to use the money he was given to participate in the systemic evils of the economic system. And, when called to account, he doubles down. He becomes more tenacious and resolute even though it costs him all that he has. What if acting in the manner of this third servant is really what it means to live in the kin-dom of God?

We always come across those forks in the road where we have to decide which path to take and we have to struggle with the indecision and fear, much like I imagine that third servant did. We have to struggle a little to hear God’s call for us. Perhaps this parable is telling us that to follow God’s way of love, to live in the kin-dom, is to face our fears and walk through them, even knowing that things may or may not work out as we want. Because it’s the right thing to do and because, well, what if we spoke truth to the world and it did work out? What if we created new life where before there was death? What if we created a flourishing, abundant world of love, peace, and justice?

God’s kin-dom is a way of life, a way of living into the future. There may be delays and distractions. There may be failures along the journey. But there is also the promise of new life, the promise of something always waiting to be born again. Jesus’ own story doesn’t end with death but with resurrection. Let us be kin-dom people, putting our trust in God and walking God’s path boldly, walking tenaciously and resolutely through our fears into the promise of new, abundant life. Let us be the seeds from which God’s kin-dom of love and justice grows.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, November 19, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Called to Serve

Jesus calls his followers to be servant leaders: to lead others by serving them, by doing for them, by acting out of concern for their well-being. This leadership model reminds me of Martin Luther King, Jr’s statement that no one is free until we are all free. By calling us as servant leaders, Jesus asks us to work on our own freedom by freeing others from whatever injustice holds them down: racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, violence, poverty, and on and on. Until we can free our neighbors from these evils, we cannot ourselves be free of them.

This is the vision of a world free of injustice, filled with love, peace, and hope. It’s what we mean when we talk of the kin-dom of God. But is such a world really possible? I trust in God that it is. If we can envision it we can build it. When we begin to live by the principles of the kin-dom (love, justice, and peace) then the kin-dom begins to exist within each of us. Born within our hearts, the kin-dom begins to grow in the world.

We answer this call to be servant leaders by humbling ourselves in the service of others and not worrying about what we get out of it but serving out of compassion and concern. This type of leadership by example is sorely needed in our “me-first” culture. Jesus’ call to servant leadership stresses the equality of all, that we’re all equally important in God’s sight. It also acknowledges that our true leader as Christians is Christ, God’s word of love to the world. Above all else, we are led by Love.

There are also temptations and dangers when we start to think of ourselves as leaders. We can fall prey to hypocrisy, not practicing what we preach. We can get attached to the power and the praise, becoming all show and no substance. We can also give in to greed, serving only those who can give us something back. A strong relationship with the Holy Spirit can give us the strength and courage we need to help us avoid these kinds of temptations as we answer Christ’s call to work for a justice filled kin-dom.

As followers of Christ we are called to be servant leaders, to serve where, as Frederick Beuchner says, “the place of our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” By beginning to build the kin-dom within ourselves by opening our hearts to the strength of the Spirit and by offering ourselves as God’s servants in the world, we can make God’s kin-dom a reality. We are called to serve. How will we respond?

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, November 5, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Out of the Ashes Interview

I did an interview about my book, “Out of the Ashes,” with the local NPR station that is airing today, Nov. 6, 2017. See http://wmuk.org/post/wsw-out-ashes-church-where-questions-can-be-asked.

Reclaiming Our Faith

A healthy spirituality, our relationships with God, Creation, and each other, is so important for a healthy and vital life. In our relationship with God we are “given” our faith as children. We’re taught certain ideas and concepts about what we should believe and how we should think and act. However, as we live our lives, we sometimes find ourselves harmed by these concepts or we simply can no longer make sense of what we were taught as children because it doesn’t match our life experience. When this happens, we can either cling to our beliefs, becoming fundamentalist, or we give up on our faith altogether. However, there’s also a third way.

Beyond the given God there is also an “ungiven” God, a hidden and mysterious Divine Presence that we can’t quite ever know fully. There’s always something new to be learned, some new revelation to be discovered. When the given God doesn’t make sense anymore, we can reclaim our faith by going in search of this ungiven God. We can try to find more meaningful understandings of the Divine and our spirituality. But, because what we’ve been taught is so deeply embedded in our psyche this can be a difficult journey. It can seem very threatening when we are presented with challenges to how we have always understood the world. However, if we choose to take on this mission, there are several steps we might consciously consider that can be helpful:

1. Name our hurts. It’s important to tell our stories and name out loud what has hurt us or what no longer makes sense to us. If we can’t name it, if we can’t express our doubts and concerns, then we can’t get past them.

2. Understand our hurts. We need to deconstruct what is bothering us. What doesn’t make sense? How does it conflict with our life experience? How does this make us feel? It’s important to explore both the logical and emotional aspects.

3. Let go of the beliefs that hurt us. We need to give ourselves permission to let go of what is no longer useful or healthy for us. This can be very difficult as it might be scary or even feel like a betrayal of our upbringing. Ritual might be helpful in letting go. It might also take time. Think of letting go as a process, not as a one-time decision.

4. Reclaim our faith. It might be easier to let go if we’re aware that there is something else waiting for us, that there are other valid ways of understanding the world and the Divine. This step is our search for those understandings. In addition to letting go, we might ask what was good about what we were taught? What is worth hanging on to? We can also learn about new understandings by reading books, talking to spiritual leaders and our peers in our spiritual community, and by reflecting on our personal experience. We might even dive deeper into how our religious tradition has understood whatever issue we’re trying to let go of because often religious traditions can have more than one way of understanding something.

Spirituality is an important part of our human experience. We have a choice how we react when we are confronted with crises of the spirit. Don’t give up on your soul but embrace growth, the never ending cycle of resurrection, of letting go and being re-born.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by a discussion I led at a church retreat in October 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

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