Jul
14
2013
0

The Importance of Gathering for God

Let’s face it, we live in an age of isolation.

These days, even when we’re surrounded by people, our heads bend into our palms as we so often prefer typing to distant others, over speaking to the faces in front of our own. Retail outlets are closing down, due to the  ease of buying and receiving at home, verses the strain of sitting in traffic and standing in line behind others in the middle of town.    We don’t even need to sit around a table anymore to play a game of cards or scrabble—the apps are right there in the left column of our facebook homepage! Self checkout lanes.  Online video rentals.  And if you get hungry, King Soopers delivers!

And, friends, we’re even communicating in isolation right now—myself, alone, typing and you, alone, reading.

These trends don’t stop with the ordinary, but mix just as thoroughly with our experience of the extraordinary—with our experience of God—as people lean more and more toward personal spirituality, and away from church membership.

Just recently, I wrote about the benefits of this personal spirituality, and the fact of God being everywhere, leaving anywhere as not only a suitable, but holy place of worship. And my heart still holds true to that fact; but, today, I’d like to touch into the reasons why being personally spiritual during the week, and together in spirit on Sunday, are equally as good for our lives, and our relationship with Life, as a whole. In fact, I do believe that these two things, together, are not only equally good, but equally necessary for the health of our spirit in relationship with the greater soul of God.

This Sunday, we all gathered together outside for our service. The wind blew our readings around, we sang sort of clumsily to songs of praise on a boombox, some were asked to come up and receive recognition for their work, embarrassed to be dragged into the spotlight.  There were definitely some awkward moments for us all as we fumbled around out there, and it didn’t go all that smoothly; but it went well, because we went to that place together. And that fact, alone, is what makes Sunday worship what it is. That’s what makes the time holy.

As a semi-reclusive, slightly dorky writer and reader, I definitely understand the inner-strain of being around people in large groups, and the relief felt when once again alone; but being a pastor and a friend to God, I also understand the overwhelming importance of all of us coming together in one place to stand side-by-side in a moment set apart. Even when those moments don’t flow as smoothly as we hoped. Even when we feel stiff and strange rising to shake hands during greeting time. Even when we feel we surely played a fool in each one of the conversations we shared over food and coffee, afterward.  And I can understand this, not just because it’s my job, but because of the very real and beautiful need that exists inside each one of us to connect with the greater Life around us, and give ourselves up to God, together, to celebrate the holiness which gives breath to our daily lives while we live every other moment off on our own.

It’s a time of commemoration, celebration, recognition. A time of lifting our voices loud with the voices of others to sing in joy for the life we’re blessed to live, and the for the Life that brought us here. I don’t mean to trivialize , but we come together for moments of worship for the same reasons we feel driven to invite people over for a birthday. We might love that person turning 9, or 17, or 49,  and we might be in extraordinarily deep relationship with that person every other day, on our own; but when it comes time to commemorate, recognize, and celebrate that life, we add into this personal relationship by gathering together with others to share in the joy of our experience of that person. And we do the same for God each Sunday.

Gathering sometimes awkwardly with the people around us for this reason not only lifts up our love for God in larger, clearer, longer recognition than we can normally give, but it also keeps us connected with the life around us, and sustains inside of us the knowledge that though we live in isolation in so many other ways, we are never alone—not in our personal lives, and not in that inkling we feel in our soul telling us there’s something more to this life, past our experience of the typical.  When we unite in body, we unite in mind, strengthening the personal urges we feel privately in our soul into something larger, something shared, something moving while alone, and powerful in plurality.

Anyway… I hope that makes some sense. I’m glad we got to talk about in here; but I think I’m going to lift my eyes up from this box, and head outside. There are people waiting for me, past my door.

God bless you, take care, and celebrate the life inside of you with the One who gave it, with all of your heart, all of your strength, all of your soul, and all of your mind, in all ways you can; because that holy Source Of All Things that gifts us with this vital breath we pull into our lungs and let out through our lips is something to commemorate. Something to recognize. Something to celebrate. Something worthy of the worship of our souls.

 

 

 

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Jun
28
2013
0

Tips for Talking God

… You’re sitting at the table.  Coffee and dessert plates lie scattered between wrists, partly empty. Conversation is becoming more and more open through the night,  moving from skirting around small talk to dabbling in the deeper stuff. To keep things lively(?), someone mentions a recent headline about the corruption in the Vatican.  The others shake their heads, grunting disapproval in some way or another through a bite of pie.  *Ugh* You just wanted to enjoy the syrupy apples.  Words quiet for a moment, until the person across your plate looks up from a sip of their half-caff and mentions God. From the safety of a cautious distance, they quickly mumble something about their belief, or lack of belief, or hate of belief…

Can you feel it? That tension rising up the sides of your neck, and through your throat, and up into that very tiny strip of nerves traveling the back of your scalp, just at the sound of the words?

Your heart thumps a little harder. Your thoughts scramble, then you do your best to clear all of those feelings away. All in just a handful of ticks on your watch.  You swallow, then look to that person and say________________________.

…Been there, right? At that very table!

This kind of anxious scrambling hits us all, of course.  And it doesn’t, in any way, signify your lack of faith or relationship with God, or your inability to express your thoughts logically, and clearly, and (most importantly) soulfully. This reaction in no way shows us these conversations are in some way bad, or dangerous, or threatening.

What these feelings do reveal, is the excitement rising in our hearts over the thought of God, and what’s been mentioned.  They show us the importance of the ways those words connect to the innermost parts of our lives. These awkward feelings twisting our brains in these moments,  show us the very deep and visceral passion that dwells foundationally within us, as Christians, regarding our love of God, and our hope to give that love back the best we can, whenever the opportunity pops up here or there.  And a lot of times, it’s so much, we just don’t know what to do with it. These feelings being so very real, and so very critical to our understanding of ourselves and the life around us, we feel there’s just too much at stake;  so our pulse pounds hard against our ribs, and our breath grows light.

…And that, dear friends, is a beautiful thing.  And definitely nothing to be afraid of.

But there’s something else all of this reveals along with this heated inclination in our souls.  Each of these things together show us the benefit of being prepared.

Now, yeah, I hear ya. You’re right: you can never predict what a person will say, and where the conversation will go, so how on earth are you supposed to “prepare?” You can’t just come up with some kind of rote list of one-liner responses you feel will certainly trump all doubt a person might ever feel in their life toward the existence and love of God.  You might be able to anticipate some classic phrases, but it’s impossible know, before hand, the intimate places a person will speak from, in a conversation about the Holy or lack thereof. The beauty of these conversations is they can go anywhere. When talking about God, you’re talking about the Infinite, so there are infinite thoughts to be shared.

But what you can do, is assure that you prepare yourself to better approach these conversations, so that the exchange shared across those smeared plates of half-eaten pie can be as life-giving as possible for each of those faces around the table.  So that the words spoken between minds and souls can truly be a conversation, rather than an argument.

I’ve listed some helpful tips for “talking God” that might lift you up and carry you along through these often tense moments more healthily when you will (and the keyword, there, is “will”) find yourself sitting at that table again in an unexpected minute on a later day…

Tips for Talking God

1) Listen.

This is the first and most important thing to remember when entering into a spiritual discussion (and any discussion with another person, really). If you’re hoping to find some common ground (which is the only way we really share between each other), you need to know where they stand, so you can meet them there and set out to walk along together, for a while.

2) Respect each word.

Too easily we fall into black and whites: “I’m right. You’re wrong.” At the end of the day, it’s better to acknowledge that we’re each coming from an equally human perspective. The wisest of philosophers, poets, authors, and scientists are sure on one point: we don’t know Jack.  Only what we call “God” knows the full truth of absolute reality.  Remember that it’s not “you” verses “them,” but both of you working on a team–together–sharing personal thoughts and experiences to gain a better sense (in our equally limited view) of where we stand together in the mystery of this beautiful and mind-blowing life.  Acknowledging the other’s statements, and commenting on the ways you can make sense of them (and possibly even identify with them), helps the other know you’re in this to actually explore and discuss, rather than aggressively persuade.  Respect shows partnership, and that’s what keeps a good conversation moving into mutual mind expansion.

3) Be informed.

I know it’s close enough to impossible to spend every night reading deep into the bible by book light. I know it’s difficult to finally follow through with heading over to Barnes&Noble to pick up that cool looking paperback about the oppression of women in the Old and New Testament; but whenever you can,  it’s good to find some time to look into these things. It will give you a fuller sense of the religion you follow, it’s roots, it’s problems, it’s usefulness, etc. Many, many, many non-believers strangely tend to know more about religious history and the development of the church than most church-goers. The points they bring up are valid, so it’s good to be capable of being in dialogue about the things they pinpoint. This way, you can provide a layer of spirituality, love, and faith lacking in the straight-academic stuff they read awhile back.  Being an informed “insider” helps the other know you’re not blindly following the herd, but willfully and consciously walking with the shepherd.

4) Don’t get defensive.

Like I said up there, this is some sensitive stuff. Stuff that makes up the core of who we are in the world. So, sometimes, we feel if we can’t answer a question, all of our beliefs will be destroyed and our world will come crashing down. Understandably, this makes us feel just a wee bit defensive.  A good way to get rid of that conversation-destroying fight-or-flight reflex, is to remember that not being able to answer a question in no way erases your relationship with God.  This actually opens the door for you to deepen that bond. That connection. Acknowledge you can’t answer, with the other. This helps them remember you’re rationally minded.  Then, in later moments,  let yourself explore the questions it brings to your mind and soul… either through some reading, some thinking, or maybe even a talk with your pastor.  Being sure in your faith means being sure of God; and being sure of God means you are sure more exists in this universe than you can ever possibly imagine. You don’t have all of the answers, and you’re not supposed to.  Let yourself not know. Don’t be afraid when it inevitably happens, and allow yourself to grow.

5) Have fun.

These conversations can be some of the most interesting, entertaining, breath-of-fresh air moments you’ll experience in your life, if nurtured into what they are: a time of sharing, a time of understanding, and a time of connection. Let your thoughts be free, and your chest be easy. In a lot of those moments sitting that table, we each find some good times laughing at ourselves and taking a deep breath, celebrating the complicated and amazing existence we’ve been blessed to experience in this crazy, confusing, awe-striking life.

 

I pray the next moment you share the words from your soul over coffee and pie, that you leave that table with a smile on your face and warmth in your heart;  I pray that the angst of your passion and excitement quickly transforms to comfort and ease, leaving you open and relieved to give and receive what’s inside; I pray that you spend that time with that person lifting each other up and helping each other along; and I pray that you really enjoy yourself, and God, and that person, as much as you possibly can in these short minutes we’re so blessed to be with each other through the hours of our lives. Amen.

 

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Jun
06
2013
0

Finding God With Your Toothbrush

A lot of people think spiritual experience is stuck in religious experience.  Does this feel true to your soul?  In fact, religious experience and spiritual experience are two separate pieces of our life with God. They often come together in worship (hopefully, anyway… otherwise we’re lacking some passion in pulpit and pew), but we can gain a sense of God—of the greater Life surrounding us and within us—anywhere we go, in anything we do, because God is everywhere we go and in everything we can possibly see, or touch, or hear, or feel.

In short, when we perceive, we are experiencing God. The only question is, have we opened our minds—opened our souls–to realizing and feeling that truth through the minutes of our lives? No matter where we stand, no matter what we do, if we open ourselves to an experience of Life in this way, we are in the midst of a spiritual experience.

Religion exists only for the sake of helping us do just that. It’s there to lend a hand in opening our minds to this type of moment with God, when our busy schedules just clutter up our days too much with stuff that distracts us and pulls us away from this kind of realization.  The ritual of religion is a friendly tap on the shoulder as we run around with our minds in a whirl, reminding us to stop and take a second to breathe, and to look; but we are not dependent upon the rituals set up by others to expand ourselves in this way.

People are the creators of ritual. God is the creator of life. This being true, we can create ritual on our own, in our individual lives (and, in reality, I believe we’re called to do this as true and dedicated seekers), so that in our own time and places, when the altar isn’t packed with passionate pastors and parishioners preaching and praising, we can allow our hearts to open and be filled with the glory of God and the beauty of the life God’s created all around us.

And, if you’re wondering, this ritual we create in our lives is pretty easy to make.  Plain and simple, it’s an act of noticing.

We can notice God anywhere we stand, because God is there, in front of us and within us, always. You can notice God right there, in front of you, as you feel goosebumps spread over your skin at the sound of your favorite song, in the car. You can find God while you work in the yard, spreading mulch for your trees or bending down to prune your garden.  You can find God while you’re brushing your teeth, washing your face, shaving your legs, combing your hair! All it takes, is a ritual of opening your mind to notice.

So don’t be deceived. As important as it is to gather for worship together, as a community, our experience of God is never limited to a single place and time.

Wherever you go, whatever you do, be with God. Notice God. Because God is there, and all it takes is setting aside a moment to focus and see.

 

 

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May
23
2013
0

Tending the Fire

Our experience of God is one of relationship.  This spiritual connection defines our relationship with Life, and as a result, who and how we are with each little piece of it: the people we meet, the grass and dirt we walk over, the other creatures we make eye contact with as we pass by.

Considering this relationship we share with God, we see to it just as we do with each little piece (romantic relationships, friendships, environmental upkeep, care for those in need)—moment by moment, action by action, word by word.

In short, it takes maintenance. Without repeated contact and care, there is no relationship, only the memory of one. Our relationship with God (with Life) asks our constant connection and focus. It requires the care of our heart, and when we care deep down about something, it’s always in our thoughts. It’s the shadow of all of our movements.  It goes with us to all places, even when we’re away from closest contact.

This week after Pentecost, we’ll be discussing the ways we tend to our relationship with God (with Life), and how that tending is so much like the heat we continuously work to sustain/maintain in a fire.  The ways we can’t just walk away from what’s been built… or it will either die, or spread irresponsibly out of hand. The ways we must always maintain the shape of it, rotating the burning sides in and out, to keep the flame and heat in balance and in a continual burn. The ways we need to add new substance to the heat, so what started it all doesn’t eventually just smolder into cold ash.

We tend to our relationship with God by rendering loving reverence to the Life in all things—in all of those tiny bits that make up the Whole; and this weekend, we’ll explore some of the ways we do this together, as we keep the fire of Pentecost alive in the church, and continue on in our friendship and love with the Spirit of Life in all.

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May
08
2013
0

The Christian and the Atheist: Uh Oh

I was online the other day, casually skimming through pictures and comments made by friends and family on facebook, and I saw something that made me pause. My brow crunched down a little harder than usual, and I became far more afraid for the future of the church than I have in most other exchanges I’ve shared.

This post doesn’t trace the usual pattern for “The Christian and the Atheist” dialogues, but draws far more concern for the state of spiritual/non-spiritual relationships, in my opinion. The following doesn’t come from conversation, but a single post.  The content was more disturbing because it didn’t rise from the normal voices of anti-religious statements, but from a very typical, very compassionate, pregnant mother of two, never known for being outspoken against the church and church goers.

The joke (below) was posted, along with a picture of a high-looming, ominous/damning “St. Peter” overshadowing an “Everyman” standing wearily hunched over with briefcase in hand.

[From tribe.tribes.net]

A Pagan dies and, to his great surprise, he finds himself standing before some pearly gates. The Pagan asks, “Where am I?”

Peter says, “You’re at the gates of heaven.”

The Pagan says, “But I don’t believe in heaven.”

Peter frowns at him. “You’re one of those Pagans, aren’t you?”

“Yes. I believe I’m in the wrong place; I’m supposed to go to Summerland.”

Peter says, “Sorry. We took over Summerland, and it’s temporarily closed for remodeling.”

“What should I do now?”

Peter says, “Well, since we don’t allow Pagans in heaven, you have to go to hell. Sorry. Just follow that path that leads downward and to the left.”

The Pagan walks down to hell, where the gates are standing open. He walks in and finds beautiful meadows, happy animals, and clear streams of water.

He walks on in and begins exploring, and after a few minutes a courtly gentleman walks up to him and bows politely. “Hello, I’m Satan. You must be the guy that St. Peter phoned me about. Are you a Pagan?”

“Yes, I am. What’s going to happen now?”

Satan says, “Well, the fishing’s pretty good, if you enjoy that sort of thing. There’s a little refreshment stand down the road. And I believe the Pagan meeting grounds are right over the next hill.”

Suddenly, a hole opens up in the sky above, and a yawning chasm opens directly underneath it. The stench of sulfur fills the air. Hundreds of screaming, tortured souls drop down into the flaming pit, which immediately closes up with a thud.

The Pagan, hardly believing what he just saw, asks Satan, “And what was THAT ???”

Satan rolls his eyes. “Oh, just ignore them. They’re Christians; they wouldn’t have it any other way.”

I’m all for a good joke, made in lighthearted humor— and I believe this one was actually made with lighthearted intent… BUT… (and this is where the “uh-oh” comes into play). What does this tell us about the popular perception of Christian belief and practice? Some really… REALLY… bad things, friends.

I believe you’re likely an engaged and intelligent person, passionate about your beliefs, if you’re taking the time to read this; so I don’t feel there’s much need to explain why this is such an apparent display of the negative beliefs about Christian practice. But just to briefly hit on a few: the evoking of the hell image, immediately associated with Christian condemnation; the idea of “Satan” being represented as a more rational and levelheaded figure in comparison to the damning “St. Peter”; the reality of discrimination coming from Christians, against people of other belief systems; the impression that Christians are hell-bent on sending themselves and others to pits of sulfur… (and so on).

This impression of Christians is one based on the negative consequences the loud and very vocal Christian fundamentalists– bent on social discrimination and threats of hell against the general population—have brought to the health and sustainability of the Christian faith.

And it tells us some important things:

One, is that we have a lot of cleaning up to do, when it comes to the mess our more kooky fundamentalist counterparts bring to the Christian spiritual path. The messages of hate and judgment passed around so abundantly by these folks have done their damage, and there’s a lot of healing to be done.

The other, is that we need to be always mindful of these messages being passed around by fundamentalists, and make just as strong (though not as arrogant) an impression toward the opposite,  as we experience and interpret life with  others. While fundamentalists condemn love, women’s rights, and free-thinking, we’re called to stand up for the understanding, compassion, social justice, equality, and open-mindedness Jesus worked so hard to teach while he was alive…

As the fundamentalists keep their eyes and minds set on hell (and so often direct others that way), we’re called by Christ to remind people of the beauty and value of life, and the renewal of spirit we find in growing close with God and each other.

As the fundamentalists tell men and women they can’t love each other, we’re called to remind each other of the value of love, and the acceptance of all in the heart of God.

As the fundamentalists condemn struggling women trying to make their own moral decisions about their bodies and future, we’re called to be a voice of calm and support as they decide on their own way, hoping the best for them in any circumstance, without judgment.

It is sadly true that fundamentalist Christians are destroying Christianity. People are being driven away in hordes from the Christian faith, by the spreading of erroneous beliefs fundamentalists claim to be the teachings of Christ, all the while showing the exact opposite of what Jesus lived to show the world. Fundamentalist action is often, indeed, Anti-Christ behavior, and will work to destroy the work of Jesus and the disciples, if left unchecked.

As Christians seeking the love, acceptance, and peace found between God and our fellow man/woman (all of those things Jesus taught us to teach and experience in this life), we stand as the keepers of those things. The protectors of those things.  As Christians passionate about their beliefs, and faith, and as people bound in the hope of connecting us with God to make this world a better place, we need to stand strong. RISE UP. In peace, let’s work together to just as obviously show there’s a whole lot more to being a Christian than the loudest yellers mislead people into believing.

Let’s do whatever we can to keep our belief and the teachings of Christ alive in the world, by living as best we can to reflect the love and understanding of the gospels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by Deer Park UMC in: General | Tags: , ,
Apr
17
2013
0

The Christian and the Atheist: On Discrimination

There’s always powerful dialogue to share between spiritual seekers and the spiritually dejected. Have no fear! We’re all just people talking to people, and the more we share with each other, the more opportunity we create between opposite views for mutual understanding. Here’s an interesting thread I found, shared on the topic of sexual discrimination.

Just to give you a little background, it’s become a popular Facebook fad, through the use of Pinterest, to post a lot of anti-God messages in bold font, from Atheist organizations.  A pic was recently posted (in light of recent Supreme Court activity), depicting “God” (of course shown with a white hand pointing a stern finger out from a white robe) sending a lightening bolt down to the earth. The text read along the lines that there are better things to believe in than an “invisible God,” because “God” discriminates against open marriage and true love. Below, is the full exchange of thoughts shared between the Christian and the Atheist on this pic and the subject of “biblically-based” sexual discrimination. (All exchange has been approved for sharing on the basis of anonymity.)

[In response to the lightening bolt pic]:

Christian: I’d say the ridiculousness of that thoughtless judgment has more to do with visible people, than with “God,” wouldn’t you?

Atheist: In the name of?

Christian: That doesn’t make a direct tie to God, just a sad and mistaken association. I could go around doing crappy things your name every day, and that doesn’t make you a jerk. It makes me a fool.  ;)

Atheist: But I do say crappy things… Proudly… And I’m putting them in a book soon… That’ll be proof that I said them.

Christian: Biblical literalists are funny. I agree. That’s a group of regrettably vocal fundamentalists, who tend to yell louder over the larger crowd. Strangely enough, biblical literalists most often don’t know the actual origin or context of the scriptural texts they’re reading, and are largely unaware of the hundreds of violations against Jewish law they commit every day, while they pick only one of the hundreds of Jewish codes for ‘healthy living’ to squint over (codes which applied very specifically to very specific social and environmental circumstances). There are laws listed in the biblical texts about things like the size of the hole you’re supposed to dig to bury your neighbor’s livestock if it dies on your property. Issues that existed for nomadic peoples living in the desert, thousands of years before industrialization. People pick and choose what they want to highlight most often as a result of their already-held personal philosophies about life (which, depending on how close to objective they’ve tried to become, are either guided by reasonable thought and general goodness, or thoughts clouded by and drawn toward unjust social philosophies of hate). That’s kind of the way it goes in religion. No matter which one you’re talking about.

[6 likes, end of conversation]

As an afterthought, these conversations aren’t presented as a way of proving the “Christian” right and the “Atheist” wrong. This is simply an example of the ways we share, the thoughts behind different viewpoints, and the ways those thoughts can be exchanged in healthier, more life-giving ways. Conversation is destroyed when we anchor spiritual/religious dialogue in a “me” vs. “them,” mentality. Let yourself be informed, let yourself be sure enough of your thoughts and beliefs to exchange them with others without the fear of losing them in the process, and without a need to push them as some kind of conversion tactic. Engage your beliefs with those who don’t have them, not for the sake of preaching, but for the sake of connecting, hoping that in this connection, a more balanced, and non-fundamentalist view can be known and understood quietly and rationally, between all of the fanatical clatter.

Take care, have fun, enjoy the life and minds of others, and let yourself be.

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Apr
03
2013
0

Who Cares About the Pope? (Considering our Methodist Connection)

Our Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Methodist Church recently welcomed the new pope in his call to Christian service. I was slightly surprised by this—being a protestant denomination we have little connection to contemporary Catholicism—but our response, as a church, follows a flood of words and greetings from all over the world, both welcoming and unwelcoming, so I didn’t exactly set my pajamas on fire, either. There’s been a lot of hubbub over Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio becoming Pope Francis. This change has sparked a massive amount of talk about God and the church from mouths and minds typically silent and removed from spiritual expression. So that’s a good thing.  As well, as followers of Jesus’ teachings, the Church as a whole—regardless of its differences in denominational identity—is called to do God’s work in the world, and we do this as one, no matter what rituals and backgrounds fill our different sanctuaries.

I’ve included some excerpts (below) from our the Statement of Welcome issued by the RMCUMC, to keep you guys in touch with your own denomination, and how we, as a group of seekers growing together in God, have looked into all of this.

Some things to think about:

The Pope stands high (both literally and figuratively) in the world. Many of his actions—again, doesn’t matter the denomination you belong to—-will be branded as “the Christian way,” and his overall effect and influence on the world will be understood by most as the “Christian impact.” This is, of course, a slightly shaky situation for those of us who walk and love and roam around together below, not as easily seen, but working just as hard to live well in God and follow the call of Christ. When the pope does something amazing, this not-so-accurate connection might seem pretty nice… but when the wrong stuff happens in the name of God, we will have get our hands dirtied up at times, cleaning up the messes left behind.  It might be a good thing to keep in touch with what Francis is doing with people. If not for us, then for those outside of the church who could have questions about how this reflects our Christian mission, and bring them up to you at an unexpected moment over coffee.

Francis is already being labeled someone who fights hard in the cause to uplift the poor and downtrodden. This is excellent, and a focus that’s so desperately needed from a position of power capable of doing deeply impactful things on a large scale across the globe.  However, he’s also known for his conservatism on issues regarding equal rights for all adult people in loving and committed relationships, and on issues concerning women’s rights and practices of safe sex. These are ups and downs good to familiarize yourself with, as a Christian in discipleship, in order to keep your own spiritual focus clear and strong in the face of these right and wrongdoings.

Keep in touch with the actions of the larger church… Doing this will help refine your own actions as a Christian, as we journey along together with other seeking souls.

In God’s Love,
Pastor Laura H.

From the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Methodist Church:

*Welcome

United Methodists and other Methodists offered prayers and warm wishes to Pope Francis, the first pope from the Americas, who now will set the tone for the Roman Catholic Church’s ecumenical relations with other Christian traditions.

*Hopes for Christian unity

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, the United Methodist Council of Bishops ecumenical officer, said the election of a new pope matters to United Methodists and others in the Christian faith because Jesus called his disciples to work toward unity.

She noted that today, there are an estimated 43,000 denominations within the Christian faith, but that just adds to the urgency of the call for ministering together.

United Methodists around the world have long joined with Roman Catholics in shared ministry and worship. For more than 40 years, United Methodist and Roman Catholic leaders also have conducted dialogues on topics ranging from public education to Holy Communion.

Most recently, United Methodist Bishop Timothy Whitaker, now retired, and Roman Catholic Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., completed the seventh round of the dialogues in 2012 with a paper on Eucharist and ecological stewardship.

Swenson said relations between members of the Methodist movement and Pope Benedict XVI were good. On one ecumenical trip to Rome, Swenson gave the previous pontiff a copy of “Three Simple Rules: The Wesleyan Way of Living” by United Methodist Bishop Rueben P. Job.

She said she hopes that the relationship will deepen under Pope Francis. She hopes the denominations can continue to work together on issues of global migration and a shared focus of both Catholics and United Methodists: ministry with the poor.

*Significance of Jesuit roots

Noted theologian Stanley Hauerwas said it’s even more remarkable that the Catholic cardinals elected a Jesuit than that they elected a non-European.

Hauerwas is Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at United Methodist-related Duke Divinity School and Duke Law School in Durham, N.C.

“That he’s a Jesuit says so much about his commitment to the poor, and that he’s taken the name of Francis — in recollection of St. Francis of Assisi — clearly gestures that the Roman Catholic Church not only serves the poor, the Roman Catholic Church is the church of the poor,” Hauerwas said.

If you’d like to read the entire welcome/article, here’s an address so you can find the information on our RMCUMC website: http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=5259669&ct=13021863

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Written by Deer Park UMC in: General |
Mar
29
2013
0

The “Good” in Good Friday

Good Friday is a strange holiday. Some really bad things happened on this day; and it just seems so odd and contradictory that we call it “good.” I understand the reasons religion has stated:

(From Clay Willis (@biblestudy.org)):

“Some say [the term comes] from “God’s Friday” (Gottes Freitag); others maintain that it is from the German Gute Freitag, and not specially English (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VI, 1909).”‘

Some attribute the “good” in Good Friday to an idea of “sacrifice.” That today was “good” because it was the day Jesus “died for our sins.” This is all religious stuff built up around what happened, and the latter quote is kind of a theologically-loaded phrase that a lot of people repeat without thinking about what exactly the words might mean.  But don’t ever let yourself, as a thinking, spiritual person, believe there’s only one explanation you’re supposed to buy or proclaim as a Christian. This phrase people so often use alludes to later theologies about this idea that Jesus was offered up as a “sacrificial lamb” to cleanse the rest of us from the ‘sins of our souls.’  This is an idea. Like any other. And one that connects to a theory that God somehow made some kind of deal with humanity, without us knowing. Forcing Jesus’ death, so God could let “himself” forgive us.  Your beliefs are your beliefs, and this is certainly a valid spiritual thought, like any other. But, as a pastor hoping that we each actually think about our beliefs, and fully process what we feel, I beg you to always, always, always, whenever you find a familiar Christian phrase pop to mind, or to your lips, ask yourself: What does that even mean?

It’s healthy for your soul, and for your spirituality, and for your surety in religious faith to do this; and it’s unhealthy, and growth-stunting, and God-limiting  to do otherwise.

I personally don’t move in the direction of the event of Jesus’ death alluding to a sacrificial ‘deal,’ of sorts.  (And that’s okay. And if you don’t either, that’s okay, too.  We’re all still very much devoted Christians.)  I believe God can forgive us in a moment. God exists independently of our theology. God has the power to know us and love us with or without physical things happening in ritual.  This was one of the foundational teachings Jesus shared with us, during his time in the world. And personally– from the God I actively know, and love, and experience in this world, myself, in my most intimate moments of spiritual connection–I don’t think God would have required the death of his most brilliant teacher and effective soul-saver in order to be okay with God’s own creation.

Tragedy happened the day Jesus was crucified. One of the worst tragedies our world has ever known.  That’s one thing we can know for certain. People got too caught up in themselves and a need to maintain their status and power, and decided to kill a good man for teaching people to feel God in a way that was free, and individual, and independent of the confines of religion.

What I believe is “good” about this day we remember, is that Jesus had the courage to stand up for what he believed in. To stand up for what he taught people about God, even when he knew they’d kill him for all of these things. He followed through with his call from God at the risk of the greatest pain and peril a person could possibly receive at the hands of another. He did what he did, for God, and for us. And that’s a beautiful thing. A good thing.

Good Friday is a day to remember Jesus, and to think about the ways we treat similarly revolutionary souls. People who move us away from our habits for the sake of bringing fresh life to our souls and minds. For the sake of bringing us closer to each other, and to a clearer sight of God. People who rattle things up, because we need to be sometimes shaken. People who say things that make our hearts jump into our throats for a moment. People who stun our minds, and make us wonder for a second if we should be angry or overjoyed at the words they’re speaking.

Good Friday is a day to wonder in what ways we still crucify; and in what ways we still follow. In what ways we hold up the courage within ourselves to do what we know in our hearts to be the right thing—especially when we know no one else will do it; and when we know most will stand against us, as we stand up for what we believe to be true, and good, and holy, and right.

God bless you, tonight, and every day. God bless the courage of Christ. God forgive those who did what they did, on this day so long ago, out of fear and selfishness.  And God, please help us to do as Christ did, and to be wise enough to hold ourselves back from repeating the actions of those angry mobs.

Tonight, let’s lift up the life of Christ, and repeat it, as best we can, in ourselves. …And let’s welcome the resurrection—the new life—that comes to us as a result of everything Jesus said and did in his life to bring us closer to God each day we’re blessed to be alive.

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by Deer Park UMC in: General |
Mar
25
2013
0

The Christian and the Atheist: On Belief

A lot of Christians are hesitant to speak with atheists or agnostics in real conversation, without feeling a frantic need to covert the other, or to justify their own religious beliefs—without feeling attacked and an urgency to defend themselves.  Don’t let these barriers and anxieties hold you back from the invaluable experience of exchanging honest words.  Climb the wall. Build a door, and let it stand open wide.

It’s important for us to be in dialogue with each other—-to share ourselves and connect with the lives around us—regardless of our differences.   Differences in view make it all the more necessary for us to be willing to mention and point out the things we each see in front of our eyes. This sharing of sight from different angles only broadens our perspective and widens our experience of the world.

This post and those to follow, reveal pieces of this kind of sharing between different (anonymous) Atheists and Christians,  with a hope to keep believers and nonbelievers naturally connected, and to help the church stay vitally in touch with the lives, the thoughts, and the issues crowded outside our sanctuary doors.

Some of the Christian perspectives shared here are my own, in response to different conversations; though additional Christian responses will be included  as this thread continues.  Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas, too! Each one of these posts are absolutely open to more words!

 

Atheist:

Trust me, I wish I was raised with religion and truly believed, and had a church and a pastor and lived within that orb… I just can’t… I can’t buy it… I can’t believe it…

I learned to question things. Even if it’s something as small as a child’s lie. I refuse the open and spontaneous explanation.

 

Christian:

I don’t talk about this stuff too much, because I don’t ever want to come off like I’m trying to persuade the person I’m talking with into seeing life the same way I do. Most of my friends and family being atheists and agnostics, I definitely respect the reason and thought behind those perspectives.

Anyway …with this those disclaimers out of the way(!) ;) I’ll just respond in saying that what each individual person believes is very complicated—regardless of the umbrella-term they place over their thoughts—and usually not the same (as much as Christians might often suppose this is true). What you don’t believe in as an atheist (agnostic?), I might not believe in, either.  Same goes for any other Christian who sits down to worship on Sunday.  No anthropomorphic, white-bearded, man-deity sending people callously off to “hell” for loving each other. No flawless book scrolled in magical,  golden ink that contains only historical fact and universally applicable/justifiable thoughts and actions. Slavery exists and is justified in biblical text. Women are marginalized and objectified. Murder, rape, and banishment recur frequently.  Reasonable people understand this text at one moment as isolated in its historical and cultural context, and in another, for its value as a sacred, spiritual guide for the present, realizing that side-by-side on those pages are both beautiful truth, and traces of the past perspectives of the ancients.  A ninety-year old woman—lifelong church-goer, very much devoted to her love of God and the teachings of Jesus—once shared at a bible study that she (like many who identify as Christian) didn’t believe Jesus (the man’s name was actually Yeshua) was born from a virgin, knowing it was a common ancient cultural practice to signify the people who’ve made a great impact on the lives around them, by attributing virginity to stories of their birth—in this, expressing the purity they found in the life of that figure. She pointed out from academic sources that similar birth-stories are told about Alexander the Great, Lao Tzu, The Buddha, etc). Not a stone was thrown. Not a torch set to flame. Not a cruel word shouted. Her thoughts were accepted, considered, appreciated, and absolutely still very much classifiable as Christian.

Anyway … it’s just different for everybody. Really the most dangerous myth is the belief that all belief is the same.  I could list a lot of things many Christians don’t believe,  past all of that stuff up there;  but I don’t want to bore your head into rotting and growing gray like that guy who drank from the wrong cup in Last Crusade! ;D

But just know that when you say you don’t buy it… I understand; and a lot of very deeply devoted and spiritual Christians don’t subscribe to a lot of those same things, either.  What I do believe is that we’re surrounded by life. And that life is a lot bigger than each one of us. The totality of all of that life together—that Whole of the energy of all moving matter—I believe that’s what people call “God.”  After this, how people interpret God…what they imagine of God… what they experience of God… well that changes from religion to religion, person to person.

Having doubts…having different thoughts…having different interpretations… that’s all a part of living as a person in relationship with the Life all around us and inside of us. To be a spiritual person is to question.  And in my opinion, it’s best not to try to limit the Unlimited with definitions using the speck of consciousness contained inside our subatomic skulls. Confining the idea of God to the barriers of our understanding only lessens the awe of the beautiful mystery of Life.

So… anyway, those are some of my long-winded thoughts. lol Sorry to make you scroll down so much! I definitely have a lot of interest in the subject and am always down to get into some good discussions, just as long as you know I’m not doing it as some kind of desperate attempt at trying to convert you…

Your thoughts:

 

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Mar
14
2013
0

Holding Each Other with the Love of God

The other day, I read a story about a policeman in Afghanistan who gave his life to dull the blast of an explosion, by embracing a suicide bomber who walked up to a group of people with the hope to kill many. The blast killed this man, Murad Khan, and several others.

I don’t usually involve stories about political upheaval in spiritual talk, because religion and politics should coexist like water and oil; but this was a moment when the two undeniably soaked each other through, and I couldn’t help but feel something move in my soul when I read the words.

The act, itself, was full of so much love and so little self concern, I couldn’t help but be drawn to those healing truths of Jesus’ words and life that we get together to think about each Sunday.  The physical movement this man made to help others, while knowingly losing himself, haunted my mind—his walking up to this person who intended so much harm, and wrapping his arms around his body, the way so many of us do when we show we love someone.  So many more would have been taken from this world if he hadn’t done what he did, and it made me think of how much we let ourselves do the same with those around us. Whether Murad Khan was a Christian or not, this was an act of Christ.

All of us who identify as Christian, we’re so often confronted with people we know intend harm. We’re so often surrounded by negative thoughts, and feelings, and emotions, aimed to breakdown the trust and care  so many of us have worked so hard to build up between each other. This man made me think of the ways I love my “enemies.”  He made me wonder how many times I’ve let myself walk up to those people, and give back love for the sake of those outside of myself.  He made me wonder how well, and how clearly I’ve been able to see myself in the eyes of others, and know that their life is my life, and my life is theirs, because we all live as streams of consciousness combined together in larger mind of God.

This week, let’s remember this man…and in seeing what he did, find a reflection of the love inside of ourselves, so we can share it, and give it, holding strong to value of the life around us in the face of all things.

 

 

 

http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/09/world/asia/afghanistan-police-self-sacrifice/index.html?hpt=hp_t1

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Written by Deer Park UMC in: General |


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