Moneyball and the Future of the Church, Pt. 4 | …In the Meantime

So, as we fret and fume over the “demise” of the Church and the “nones” phenomenon (the increase in those who say “none” to religious affiliation), as we wring our hands over the “attack on Christmas” and Christianity and the assertive atheists in our midst, here are some thoughts — hard truth, and gracious wisdom from David Lose – a preaching teacher from Minnesota.

Moneyball and the Future of the Church, Pt. 4 | …In the Meantime.

What do you think?  How do you respond?  Afraid? Hopeful?

Pastor T

Waiting

So, I was thinking that I hate waiting – for anything.  I hate waiting in line, waiting for my food to come, waiting for the car ahead of me to turn.  I hate waiting for water to boil and toast to brown.  You might think that makes me particularly impatient, but I’m not sure I’m any worse than anybody else. (OK, my family and those who work with me might argue, but just ask them to wait for something and we’ll see who is pot and who is kettle).  My resistance to waiting is perhaps partly due to my personality, but I think there are certain cultural pressures as well. It has been drilled into my head that being late for meetings, for dinner, for anything at all is not just unprofessional, but simply bad manners.  We live in a fast food, prepackaged, just-add-water world.  Messaging is instant, social connections are virtual and constant, phones are in our pocket all the time.  We don’t have to wait so we don’t like to wait – for anything.

Some of the most painful waiting I can remember was part of my childhood experience of Christmas.  For me, days actually got longer each passing day in December. The days until school let out for the break and the actual dawn of Christmas Day moved by at a glacial pace. Time passed more slowly, the earth seemed to slow its rotation just to torment us all.  Christmas Eve was an endless, sleepless affair where I actually believed morning would not come just to taunt me.  Each week we went to church and there was that wreath – an assembly of five candles that would mark this slow passage of time. As I boy, I’m not sure I liked that wreath.  It kept yelling at me to “Wait!” Each week one more candle would be lit signaling how far away from Christmas we were. What it took me time to notice was that it also marked how much closer we were to the celebration. As I grew up, I came to love that slow march that moved ahead and looked back; that honored both the distance traveled and the road still ahead. I came to enjoy the journey instead of thinking only of the destination.

Maybe that is why not just as a pastor, but as a person who struggles to make my days count and to find peace int he journey of life, I am such a curmudgeon about the cultural rush to Christmas. The anxiety, anxiousness and anticipation of Christmas takes over life before Thanksgiving.  It is measured in dollars spent, gifts received, and in capturing some special memory that is often better than the reality it tries to recreate.  In all the rush and hustle, we miss the journey, the path, the way we have come and the destination ahead.  Waiting is an essential discipline for tending our souls.

The inability to wait and to only live by the goals we set, the schedules we keep, the deadlines that rule us robs us of the peace and contentment that come from experiencing and embracing each moment of the journey. That is why waiting is essential.

Advent is a counter-cultural season.  Advent refuses to rush to the carols, it rejects becoming but a prelude to a holiday.  Advent will not allow us to speed through the journey just to get to Christmas.  Advent forces us to wait, to pause, to look and listen.  Advent calls us to look ahead at the road we travel and to look back at where we have been so that we don;t miss any part of the journey.  That is a lesson for life, and a lesson for impatient people like me.

Chill out world, Christmas will come. Wait for it.  For now, enjoy the journey. Light a candle in the darkness and wait for the light.

Pax Christi, Pastor Tim

 

Giving Thanks

So, I was thinking that giving thanks is harder than it sounds. Now that does not mean I don’t favor giving thanks.  With G.K. Chesterton, I am well aware that at the least “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”  It is too easy to live each day taking the “daily bread” God showers upon us for granted. Gratitude is the antidote for slipping into a sense of entitlement.

But, I maintain that giving thanks is hard. The difficulty is partly cultural. It is not lost on me that the day named for the practice of giving thanks has become but a prelude to the “Black Friday” that follows. We try to give thanks for a few hours, but by midnight we will have turned from gratitude to anxiety over what we need to get and what we do not yet possess. After all, there are only so many shopping days to find the things that will make everyone happy – for a day or two.

Black Friday rises from our preoccupation with tomorrow without remembrance of the past and attentiveness to the present. Worry about the future, anxiety over what is not yet, is the seed of sin and all matter of evil. As C.S. Lewis, has the demon Screwtape say in one of my favorite books,  The Screwtape Letters, “Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.”  If you can get us to fret over tomorrow, we are undone.  If we can give thanks, we have an antidote. Is it a coincidence that Madison Avenue wants us to zoom by the gratitude and love of the past and present so we can worry about Christmas as soon as possible?  I think not. 😉 

Giving thanks can also be hard because I find that saying, “Thanks be to God for the table full of food” is such a short distance from “Thank God I’m not starving like those who have nothing.”  Giving thanks for abundance when so many suffer scarcity tweaks my conscience.  It darkens my festive demeanor – and it should. Abundance, from a biblical perspective, is from God and for all, not just the privileged few. I’m not sure that gratitude means giving thanks for my personal affluence. Justice makes giving thanks hard.

But what makes giving thanks the hardest for me is that I have heard people throughout my life give thanks in circumstances I do not understand. When I heard someone say “I give thanks for my cancer” the first time, I was dumbstruck. Since then, I have come to understand a little more fully what they mean. The discipline (and yes it is this, not a feeling or a thought) of giving thanks is something we must apply to everything in life – even our pain and suffering.  This is hard. Henri Nouwen, one of the wisest spiritual teachers of the last century says: “Grateful people are those who can celebrate even the pains of life because they trust that when harvest time comes the fruit will show that the pruning was not punishment but purification.”  Can we say thank you for our pain and brokenness? Perhaps only by knowing that this is precisely where Christ meets us.  But it is still hard.

As difficult as it may be, gratitude is an absolute necessity in our world.  Without it, contentment is impossible and we are a very discontent lot. Gratitude that leads us to contentment makes us less afraid of the future. Gratitude that leads to contentment opens our hearts so we can share our bounty and help provide abundance for others. Gratitude that leads to contentment acknowledges the pain in our lives, giving God a chance to transform our teas to joy.  Gratitude that leads to contentment lasts more than a day and it changes the world.  Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Pastor Tim

The Prerequisite of the Common Good – Jim Wallis | Gods Politics Blog | Sojourners

So, I was thinking about what I might say about our post-election world, I read this blog by Jim Wallis.  While I might have said similar things differently, his thought, as always is worth pondering.

The Prerequisite of the Common Good – Jim Wallis | Gods Politics Blog | Sojourners.

God & Hurricanes

So, I was thinking that the landfall of Hurricane Sandy, a monstrous storm that is wreaking havoc on the eastern third of the nation, has no doubt yielded some theological reflection about God’s involvement and purpose.  I was, sadly, correct.  At least a couple of pronouncements have appeared revealing God’s punishment by hurricane agenda.  Thankfully, some saner heads have spoken as well.  Father James Martincontributing editor at America Magazine and the author of Between Heaven and Mirth and The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything” has concisely tweeted: “If any religious leaders say tomorrow that the hurricane is God’s punishment against some group they’re idiots. God’s ways are not our ways.”

But, I was also thinking, that a simple dismissal of God’s involvement in destructive acts of nature may not provide a great deal of hope or spiritual meat on which to chew. I mean, does not the wind blow and the storm rise out of God’s creation?  Psalm 78:26 says “(God) caused the east wind to blow in the heavens, and by his power he led out the south wind.”   Does that mean that God causes hurricanes?  Or is it just the case that hurricanes just happen and God has nothing to do with the matter? A faithful answer needs some nuance.

First, I think we can say that God does not “cause” hurricanes in the same way that I cause my teeth to get brushed in the morning.  Simple cause and effect thinking is a bit to simple to describe the workings of God.  God does not choose to send a hurricane any more than God gives someone cancer or causes a plane to crash.  God is not a button-pushing computer operator or a string-tugging puppet master.  The psalmist (and many other biblical writers) talk about God causing wind to blow poetically, applying human characteristics to describe something that is divine.  If we push the language too far we have understated the divine nature of a God who we can’t explain so easily.  Job learns about this in his argument with God.  After accusing and arguing God of causing his disastrous life for no reason, God speaks to Job out of a whirlwind (nothing human about this) saying, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.  Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” (Job 38:1-4)  Well, Job couldn’t answer and neither can we.

When we see a hurricane with such devastation approach, we can absolutely say that this is part of God’s creation.  In the mystery and grandeur of God’s providence (the creation and on-going sustaining of life), hurricanes and earthquakes, and even disease and tragedy can occur.  That is not the same as saying that God causes it to happen as some kind of divine temper tantrum.   If rain can fall, hurricanes can happen.  We can even cry out like Job and ask “Why would you let this happen?” You’ll likely get the same answer Job received, or just silence.

If we understate the divinity of God, we ask questions that have no answers or we make wild claims about a God who acts with fury and revenge as motives – just like us.  However, we can also underestimate the humanity of God.  When we do this we look in the hurricane for God in the wrong places.  The better question is, “Where is God in this?”  For that we have some answer.  The central revelation of God for us is Jesus Christ crucified.  The cross tells us unequivocally that God is with us in the midst of suffering as our partner, our companion, our Lord.  So, instead of thinking about some far off being throwing a thunderbolt at New York City (that is Thor, not God in Christ) I imagine that Christ is in that mess wearing a firefighters coat, or shivering in a now unheated flat with a fearful mother and her kids.  God is with us:  that is one of the central claims of our faith.  We do not proclaim God is against us (See Romans 8:31-39).

So, does this mean that Hurricane Sandy is not an act of divine judgment?  It depends upon what you mean by judgment.  If you mean God has conjured up a terrible storm to punish people who disagree with me about certain moral, political. economic or environmental issues.  Then, no way. God cannot be controlled by our causes and we should always be careful about claiming God is on my side over against somebody else. The next natural disaster might destroy your house.  Then what?  If however, you have some sense that this awful storm seems to drive you to your knees to pray; or to acknowledge the power of God and your powerlessness, then maybe some judgment is happening.  An event like this seems to me to have a real capacity to announce what we Lutherans, among others, call “the Law.”  By this I mean the way the Word of God can remind us of our finitude, our limits as human beings when we stand against the storm.  We humans can get full of ourselves.  We can go for long periods thinking that we are in control and we have a plan for everything; that we are hot stuff.  A storm like this comes up and reminds us that we are not in control and we are actually, quite small. It can remind us that life is fragile and that we all will die.  That is the Law.

But the only purpose of the Law is to open us up to receive the good news – the gospel. Faced with our own limits, God comes as one who somehow does sustain life even in the midst of fatal storms.  In the midst of death, God comes as the firstborn of the resurrection, announcing life.  In the midst of human suffering, God is with us.  Through the Spirit, God will bring — has already started in fact – to manifest signs of new life after the clouds depart.  It will come in the form of rescue and relief workers; shipments of needed supplies.  It will come in the form of financial help to clean up, rise up, build up once again.  You can begin that process through Lutheran Disaster Relief, who is already at work. That is what God does in the middle of a disaster through the work of the Spirit.

That’s just what I was thinking today about God & hurricanes.

Pax Christi, – Pastor Tim