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Self-Examination

Life on Monday’s isn’t always ideal. Monday for many is the worst day of the week because it comes after two days away from work (for most) and Monday begins this endless cycle of work and responsibilities. To quote a line from the Carpenter’s (They are before my time but I still like their music) “Rainy Days and Monday’s always get me down”. In hopes to try and remedy this blue feeling one of the things that I want to begin on this blog in 2008 is a post for every Monday that gives us hope, nourishment and encouragement for the week ahead and life in general. This week I want to post from a book I picked up last week, this book is not the usual kind that sits on my shelves but I was intrigued so I bought it. Joel Osteen’s “Become a Better You”. As I have read through it I have found myself quite surprised at how easy it is for me to pick up this book and enjoy reading it. The following I found to be profound and now I share it with you.

“Here’s the key: The dream in your heart may be bigger than the environment in whichyou find yourself(limited environment). Sometimes you have to get out of that environment in order to see that dream fulfilled. Consider an oak tree. If you plant it in a pot, its growth will be limited. Once its roots fill that pot, it can grow no further. The problem is not with the tree; it is with the environment. It is stifling growth. Perhaps you have bigger things in your heart than your present environment can facilitate. That’s why, at times, God will stir you out of a comfortable a situation. When you go through persecution and rejection, it’s not always because somebody has it in for you. Sometimes, that’s God’s way of directing you into His perfect will. He’s trying to get you to stretch to the next level. He knows you’re not going to go without a push, so He’ll make it uncomfortable for you to stay where you are currently. The mistake we make at times is getting negative and sour; we focus on what didn’t work out. When we do that, we inhibit the opening of new doors.(Page 16)”

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This morning for church I read this letter and said that I would put it here.  Enjoy the read.

by Rabbi Michael Lerner      Editor, Tikkun

Every year, Americans spend billions of dollars on holiday gifts that will quickly be discarded or put into a closet where it will be little used. Many will end up in a junk pile sometime in the next few years, further polluting our environment.
Meanwhile, the production of these goods will use up natural resources that could be used to help provide housing, furniture and clothing for the poor of the earth, or which could be preserved for future generations.
For years I’ve run “holiday stress” groups and heard first hand about the depression and despair that afflicts tens of millions of Americans, either because they can’t afford to purchase the goods that are advertised in the media and set a standard of consumption beyond their means, or because they purchase and deepen their personal debts, or because they don’t receive the quality or quantity of gifts that they’ve come to believe reflects how much they are really loved. But there are better ways to show love besides giving things.
The shopping frenzy between Thanksgiving and Christmas  effects everyone—I’ve seen it undermine Chanukah as well as Christmas, and afflict those whose only connection to the holidays is the purchasing of material things.
Ironically, buying things has never been part of the essence of this season
The central message of both Chanukah and Christmas is the affirmation of hope for a renewal of goodness in the midst of a world that is increasingly dark and fearful. For the ancients, that was expressed through holidays of light—burning the yule log or lighting candles as a sign that even while the days had grown shorter and the sun seemed to be less available, we believed that it would return.  Chanukah taught the world that a small group of people (the Maccabbees) could fight the overwhelming power of the Hellenistic empire, and triumph. Christmas brought the message that a little child, always a symbol of hope, could bring love and kindness to the world, with tidings of peace and generosity.
This year, we need to get back to those messages of hope. In a world in which our Senate has just signaled, through the confirmation of an attorney general who couldn’t muster the courage to acknowledge that waterboarding is torture, that the Bush Administration need not respect international law, and in which our Congress keeps spending hundreds of billions of dollars to fund a war that the vast majority oppose, and in which our presidential candidates are unable to commit to bringing all the troops and advisors out of Iraq before 2013, there is a desparate need for ordinary citizens to experience of hope for a world of peace, generosity, and ecological sanity.
Unfortunately, that spiritual message gets lost when our attention gets submerged in the frenetic buying that our consumer culture mandates.
Generosity and gift giving is a terrific thing. The Network of Spiritual Progressives has proposed that as a society we ought to try a strategy of generosity for ending terrorism and providing homeland security– by launching a Global Marshall Plan. Lets dedicate 1-2% of the Gross Domestic Product of the U.S. each year for the next twenty to ending domestic and global poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, inadequate health care, and repairing the global physical environment.  That will do far more to provide us with security than dumping trillions of dollars into militaristic adventures like the war in Iraq and the proposed assault on Iran that only further inflame hatred toward the U.S. and promote more terrorism.  We should be insisting that anyone who wants our political support endorse that kind of a plan for societal generosity.
And in our own lives, we could commit to spending not more than $100 on gifts for the children in our lives who may have been so overwhelmed by media expectations that we can’t yet wean them from societal materialism. But for everyone else, give a gift of time. Send your entire guest list a copy of this article and then offer them four hours of your time—to provide childcare so they can go out for an afternoon or evening, to paint their apartment or house, to shovel their snow or help them with gardening, to teach them or their children some skill of yours, to do shopping or errands for them, to help them clean their garage or arrange their papers or books, and you can think of much more.
Time is more scarce and more precious than goods—so this is a gift that shows real generosity.  And not using up more of the earth’s resources is a gift to the earth’s environment that will yield fruit in the years ahead.

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I just started reading Brian McLaren‘s newest book, Everything Must Change and I am loving it. For the past several months this blog has acted as more of a message board than anything that even resembles an actual attempt at a conversation. So in an attempt to write with more substance I am going to start writing about what I come across in Everything Must Change.

I thought the format for this discussion might have three sections: (1) Excerpt from book, (2) Dialogue, mostly with myself, (3) Questions. My hopes are that we can dialogue together.

EXCERPT (the following excerpt was spoken by Claude a peace activist from Burundi, to a group of other peace hungry citizens from around the region of East Africa, Rwanda is one of those places)

“Eventually I realized something. I had never heard a sermon that addressed these realities(i.e. death, hatred, distrust, poverty, suffering, corruption, injustice). Did God only care about our souls going to heaven after we died? Were our hungry bellies unimportant to God? Was God unconcerned about our crying sons and frightened daughters, our mothers hiding under beds, our fathers crouching by windows, unable to sleep because of gunfire? Or did God send Jesus to teach us how to avoid genocide by learning to love each other, how to overcome tribalism and poverty by following his path, how to deal with injustice and corruption, how to make a better life here on earth-here in East Africa.” (19)

DIALOGUE. When I read this I was using the stationary bike at a local gym, and I had to stop just so that I could process this. What I have observed of the Christianity of the Western World is that it has become nothing short of a self serving life philosophy. We look for churches that fill our needs, and when that church no longer meets our needs we move on to the next one (and sometimes as pastor’s because we have at times been fooled into thinking that numbers are important we keep trying to fill those needs and in doing so perpetuate the never ending cycle of self-serving Christianity). The thing is that if that is the case, that we are always looking for a church that meets our needs, or rather “feeds us spiritually” we will not have any time to look beyond ourselves, unless we are forced to. I think that it is only when we look beyond ourselves that Christianity becomes real and authentic. When I read the above section, and tried to put myself in that situation hearing the crys of children and the sight of mothers hiding it was terrifing to me. It wasn’t so much that the visual of this happening was terrifing, but rather that this was and is happening in the world, while I have for the past several years enjoyed my white chocolate lattes, supersized meals, entertainment on the silver screen just to be distracted from the hustle and bustle of our everyday.

I have a sneaking suspicion that if we were the ones experiencing the above mentioned, our first responses would be to pray. We read the narratives of scripture, like Daniel in the lions den, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and we read ourselves into those narratives because we believe that God cares. For them their prayers is a sign of hope and faith, but for us in the western world their prayers have become our permission to wash our hands of any responsibility to help. Because after all if they have prayed then God will handle it. The words, “What can I do about something happening half way around the world” become our non spoken motto. Our Christianity must be anything but that. I write about his because I see what is happening and I cannot help but feel helpless. What can I do, a pastor of two small parishes in the desert? What can we do? Seriously I could use some answers!

QUESTIONS. If our Christianity doesn’t have an effect on the society around us, does it even matter? What is a Christianity that doesn’t affect society, really about? What is our personal hope for heaven at some point in the future, if people are experiencing hell every single day all around the world?

 

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Where do we go to find the Imago Dei (the image of God)?

I read an article in Sojourners Magazine titled “The Hungry Spirit”, thinking that it was going to be an article about the first beatitude “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). It turns out that it was not directly written about the that particular text.

The article is about the photography of Sebastio Salgado, a photography that creates “a religious narrative of poor people across the world.” Salgado uses his camera to tell the story of the human condition. The poor. The displaced. The helpless. The hopeless. In his Exodus project he “traces the human face, the Imago Dei, against the background of time, livelihood, and continents.”

In Salgado’s current project Genesis he seeks “out places that are still as pristine as they were in primeval times, places that provide hope…” I wonder if the word ‘primeval’ here is used to indicate the time when everything in the world was pure, green, hopeful, without pain, without tears, without suffering, a time in which the Imago Dei could be seen without having to look through the muck of oppression that comes with the civilizing of humanity. Ironic isn’t it. The more civilized and advanced we become the more isolated, the more, that less is done to help those that need our help. Any help.

Commenting on his new project Genesis Salgado says, “We exploit the entire planet to live as isolated individuals.” He continues “It’s very complicated to have hope, but there are spots of hope around the world”. Genesis seeks to find these places of hope. What I might add are places of holiness.

Don’t we all look for places of hope in our lives. Or even realities of hope. Experiences of Hope. People of, and people that hope. A real kind of hope, and not a well wishing sentiment.

Perhaps places of hope are the places where the Imago Dei is found. Hope, through the human endeavor to end suffering (of all kinds). Hope, through fighting for the survival of our planet. Hope, through human relationships, even broken ones. Hope, through music. Hope, through art. Hope, through families. Hope, through friends. Hope, through communities of faith. Hope, through forgiveness. Hope, through grace. Hope, through revelation. Hope, through Yahweh.

Hope in that which is rooted in what the Imago Dei reflects and represents. Can it be that the Imago Dei is more accessible to us than we ever thought possible. Because maybe the Imago Dei is found in places of hope, places that provide hope.

This past Friday we held a memorial service for Carl, an elder in my church. He was a great guy. He always had a smile on his face, always had a joke to tell. His prayers were passionate and his singing joyful. We miss him already.

After the Memorial Service a group from the church wanted to eat lunch so we headed down to our local mall. I had mixed feelings about going, given that I was on crutches and in pain from my ACL surgery just days earlier. One of my parishioners, Linda (a nurse) had the bright idea to get a wheel chair from the mall customer service desk. So we did. So on i hopped and it was a great relief for my knee that by this point in the day was throbbing with pain.

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As I was wheeled around the mall, a mall which by the way I have been to countless times. I noticed that people starred, or at least tried not to stare. They looked on as though having sympathy for my situation. The ice cream vendor wanted to give me free ice cream, not just a sample but a free scoop. After finally choosing a place to eat, while standing in line a lady with a big smile asked, “Is the food good here? I have never eaten here.” She continued to talk. Never before had anyone engaged me in a full conversation. I think the wheel chair, or what the wheel chair represented moved the lady into a conversation with me.

As I thought about this incident over the weekend, I kept wondering what the wheelchair represents. A loss of life, less independence, sadness that I could not walk. I dunno. But it seems to be the case that for those that were looking at me being wheeled around thought something. The thing that got to me the most was that it took me being in a wheelchair for people to begin to care about others. What does this say about us? What does this say about me? When was the last time I took the time to initiate a conversation with a perfect stranger?

I have noticed that some blogs have a side bar with music that, that particular blogger is listening to. I don’t have one of those, so I decided to post on it. I purchased the Linkin Park “Minutes to Midnight” on a whim, never really having listened to it and I must say, I am really enjoying it.

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This album serves as a bit of a social commentary, ok ‘a lot’ a bit of social commentary. My favorite song at the moment is “Hands held High” which discusses the war going on right now. Here is an excerpt from the song:

“For a leader so nervous in an obvious way stuttering and mumbling for nightly news to replay and the rest of the world watching at the end of the day In their living room laughing like “what did he say?. Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.”

Not only is it a commentary, but also like a prayer. Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen. Talk about the book of “uncommon prayer”. This songs seems an odd place to find a prayer, but aren’t our lives filled with prayer,even uncommon prayer. What makes a proper prayer?

SEX GOD.

I don’t know about you but growing up in what was a fairly conservative home, those two words(SEX, GOD) were not used in the same sentence, EVER! Unless of course the sentence read,

“God says, DON’T HAVE SEX!”

Some of you might know exactly what I mean. A few weeks ago I was invited to share a few words of encouragement for a high School Baccalaureate, in which the speakers preceding me, made it a point to tell the graduates, among other things to NOT HAVE SEX (until they were married of course). I won’t say whether I agree or disagree with the speakers, even though I do agree.

But I will say that I don’t know that I would have used

the method

they did

to get

the point across.

I don’t think that you can tell someone not to do something, without giving them something to do(Look at Ephesians 4:48). For too long the Christianity which i have been associated with(and gathering from the Baccalaureate) and the other mainline Christians life has become a stark ‘black and white’ contrast when it comes to sexuality. If you do it you are bad, if you don’t do it you are good. I know that statement is overly simplistic but that is how the message came across, and at times still does.

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Rob Bell’s newest book SEX GOD: Exploring the Endless Connections between Sexuality and Spirituality talks about just those things. He gets into the gray between the black and white, which then becomes even clearer than the Black and White guidelines. I will post some more about the book later.