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April 1, 2019, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents


Last week’s lectionary text was Jesus’ story of the Loving Father, also known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Who can forget the last line of that great story which calls us all to the party of forgiveness, where those we thought were dead are alive again, and dad is urging the righteous to let it go and take a turn on the dance floor.

Sometimes those we had given up for dead come wandering back into our fields again. Sometimes the tumor begins to shrink. Sometimes the brakes stop us just before impact.

Other times not. Other times the loss happens. We are devastated and left to scrounge around for the pieces of what formed our lives, like the family returning to the concrete slab where their home used to be, searching for something, anything, that might bring them the comfort of the familiar.

The season of Lent may not be for everyone.  But it is especially designed for anyone who has felt the full force of a loss that feels beyond     redemption. Without saying too soon that everything will be all right, Lent provides the stillness we need to look at those broken pieces that used to fit so well together and begin- just begin- to wonder about how they might be rearranged and put back into a new place.

Having experienced only a small fraction of the loss others around me have endured this year, I am still reminded of the very first steps in that process of piecing things back together. The Bible tells us that after Satan had finished tempting Jesus, the angels came and ministered to him. I think this is what happens with us too.

We may or may not have known someone who has had a miracle cure delivered just in the nick of time. But, I’ll bet we have witnessed the astounding miracle of the power of angels, gathered to offer healing. Some of those angels fly in from across the country at a moment’s    notice. Others spend the whole day before the funeral dinner slaving away in the kitchen. Look at that one angel braving rush hour traffic to    deliver half a dozen meals-for-one to a home still fresh with grief. And I may be mistaken, but I could swear that the room in the restaurant- the one reserved for the grieving family- is somehow filled with so much laughter it’s hard to make yourself heard.

Lent isn’t always sad. But it does take loss seriously. And what it lacks in easy assurances it more than makes up for in faithful angels who hear the call to gather around us, who minister to us and who promise to stay for as long as it takes, maybe even until  the first glimmers of Easter  begin to slice through the darkness.

 

Shalom,

Rick

 




March 1, 2019, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents


God Words

Some words are unmistakable in their meaning. Baseball, daffodil and lawnmower come to mind, especially during these days of longing for spring.

Other words can mean almost anything. A few weeks ago in worship we talked about the word ‘love’. It’s not only a splendored thing, it has so many meanings. What comes to your mind when you hear the word college? Or restaurant?

A few weeks ago a group of us were introduced to a way of describing the second kind of word- the kind with many meanings. Our leader called them “God Words”.

Those of us who use the word ‘God’ invoke    wildly different and often contradictory images. When a young person (or an older person for that matter) says with great fear and trembling,  “I don’t think I believe in God anymore”, I try to   remember to say something like, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in. I may not believe that God either.” Sometimes that frees us up to talk about other ways to think of the same word.

A God Word is a word that has so many meanings people who use it are often talking right past each other.

Some examples? A person stands up in a church meeting and says, “We need more diversity” Most likely more needs to be said about what that person means by diversity. Privilege can be a God word. Some people use it suggest being part of the one percent- the elite. Others are talking more generally about the opportunities one group of people has simply by virtue of who they are- not because of what they do. Whenever the word “growth” comes up in a conversation it might be a good idea to ask, “What do you mean when you say growth?”

Hearing the decision made this week by the United Methodist church to retain its current ban on gay clergy and same sex marriage made me think of the God word “church”.

For me this word is golden. It has always communicated two things: the unmerited love I received as a little kid who would often get the giggles in worship and, as a bigger kid, who was absolutely certain I had a better answer than anyone else to solving the world’s problems; AND the unequivocal call to extend love to others- ALL others- by offering    hospitality and working for justice.

This is what church means for me. But I fear that for so many- and now maybe even more- church is another word for describing that place where we get to belong and you don’t. Which means that, for those of us who love the church, our work is cut out for us. Let’s do our best to make church a “God thing” more than a “God word”.

Shalom, Rick

 




February 1, 2019, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents


“On Ainslie Pond”

Anyone who has visited Christian Temple over the past six months has seen a new geographical feature winding its way through our playground- the Christian Temple Pond. Or maybe we should call it the “Ainslie Pond”.

While the origins of this new Catonsville body of water are still mysterious it presence is very real. Once in that space there were parents slipping their toddlers into the chairs for their first swing set ride. Now there is a pond surrounding a twin A-frame work of modern art painted fire engine red.

The pond seems to be fed by water oozing out from the railroad ties at the top of the swing set bay. While the source is difficult to pinpoint the runoff is strong and steady, running through the cut we made in the sidewalk and cascading down the hill where it is once again absorbed into the ground. Some people pay a lot of money for such landscaping.

Possible sources of our new water hazard?

Some would say an abandoned water line that once serviced the Carriage House that sat half way up the hill is the culprit. Could be.

Others wonder if there once was a water fountain for thirsty boys and girls in the middle of the old equipment- a water fountain that had been capped until last year? Longtime Catonsvillians say no.

A few neighbors say they remember a drain pipe that poked out of the hillside just above where our pond has formed. The drainpipe could have been capped when they renovated the playground and dug out the swing set bay twenty years ago. This sounds interesting.

But just about everyone who sees the pond and ventures a guess as to its robust and very steady runoff down the hill will conclude their favorite theory by making reference to 2018 being the wettest year on record. Especially since the pond was born in July, the wettest month of 2018.

“We did get a ton of rain this year. Maybe all that rain still needs a place to go.”

So, while our brightest and best lean into solving this riddle we have a pond at our church. On the one hand it is a nuisance and a liability. On the  other maybe our natural baptismal pool can be seen as a metaphor for what lies at the heart of what we believe as Disciples of Christ: God’s grace is mysteriously given to the world and fills the low places of our lives until our cup runneth over.

If you haven’t seen the Ainslie pond yet, “Come, walk beside its still waters, and see how Moses wasn’t the only one who brought water from the rock. But you better hurry. Our pond won’t be around for long.

Shalom,

Rick

 




January 1, 2019, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents


January, 2019

Blessed or lucky? The distinction is important, don’t you think?

September, 1957 was when the musical West Side Story opened and those nine African American   students bravely walked into Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. These important national events explain why the world didn’t pay more attention to the birth of Charlie and Susie’s fourth and final child. How lucky was I to be born into such a family and at such a time. Lucky, not blessed.

A few years later, summer of 1966, while our family was vacationing in central Illinois the phone rang in my Aunt Lynette’s house where we were all playing cards. The voice on the other end delivered the news that my dad would be deployed to Viet Nam. A month later the Air Force decided my dad had served his time in conflicts overseas and allowed him to retire instead of shipping out. We all felt so lucky. Lucky, not blessed.

In April, 1968, we shook our heads in sadness when Walter Cronkite told us of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the evening news. But we were gathered in front of the TV in our home located in a bucolic all-white subdivision where life pretty much went on as usual the next day- while the nation’s capital just up the road    began to tear apart at the seams. We were lucky. But we weren’t blessed.

How lucky are most of us who are reading this? Where we were born, who surrounded us in our early years, who took an interest in us in the classroom, who forgave us when we didn’t deserve it, who saved for our college, who decided to go to seminary the same year we did, and all the calamities that could have happened to us, but didn’t. Lucky, yes. But blessed? I don’t know.

As we look around us in January of 2019, we see beauty everywhere. But we also see so much misery. How do we suppose the refugees who were forced to leave their homes with no real place to go rang in the New Year? I wonder if the Florida family that lost their little girl this year while she was standing at her hallway locker stayed up all night to see the ball drop. Were there any celebrations this New Year’s Eve in Paradise, California?

Life unfolds for all of us in so many ways. Sometimes we get lucky. Other times not so much. But, in the midst of our lives let’s all be careful when we use that word “blessed”. To be granted a blessing implies a grantor of some kind- which is fine when things go well, but a little harder to reconcile with a loving God, when things go south.

And while we are being careful with our language this year, there’s nothing that should stop us from BEING a blessing to others who are lucky enough to cross our paths!

Shalom, Rick

 




November 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents


So, what do you think? Would Jesus be on Social Media?

He would have tons of followers were he to choose to post; regularly liked and retweeted. Can’t you imagine the video meme going viral? The one of a lonely widow dropping a coin into the money box unnoticed by all the big givers wearing their phylacteries and fringes? Caption anyone?

Or what about the way Jesus had of turning a phrase? “You have heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemies. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Attached is a GIF of a Roman Centurion emerging from the Jordan River baptized, while Peter holds his helmet.

Jesus caused quite a stir without social media. Imagine his message being only a click away.

On the other hand…

I’m not sure Jesus would have been too big on selfies. While he had a way with words, the gospels suggest that he didn’t rant too often. His best work was done in rather quiet out of the way places. And it only took him seven words to change the course of history.

As Forrest Gump would say, “I’m not sure about all of that.” But what is clear to me is that the saving work of the Gospel is more about what we do than what we say- or what we post.

While angry (mostly white) men work themselves into a lather on a Saturday morning over what they are watching on their screens, gentle peace-loving men and women quietly gather to worship their God and take comfort in the Sabbath. While a sleep deprived president gives in to his early morning paranoia and goes for his phone to launch hateful words into an already charged atmosphere, a 75 year old lifelong Republican is off to the bakery to load up his minivan with day-old loaves of bread that will soon find their way into lunchboxes all over the city.

This isn’t a rant about Social Media. I enjoy my birthday wishes way too much go to there. It is a blessed thing to be connected with people we don’t often get to see.

But it does occur to me that there is a purity to acts of justice done while no one is watching, including the web. And the last thing Jesus would want would be for his followers to be absorbed in their screens while the world around them is falling apart.

Those who follow Jesus are called to do justice, love kindness, walk humbly and leave the rest to God. In the meantime let those of us on either side of the aisle who are particularly troubled by this president’s words not despair. Some of God’s best work has been done with less than stellar leaders in power. Just ask Pharaoh Ramses, Kings Saul and Nebuchadnezzar, and Pontius Pilate. They were no match for the grace of God.

Now more than ever, Shalom,

Rick

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