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Considering Technology

February 23, 2018

So I’m going to rant a little today.

And no, it isn’t going to be about guns– at least not in this post.

I’m going to rant about the internet. Well, not the internet, per se; but some of the effects of the internet, some of the unintended consequences we’re facing, that I’d guess most people don’t even think about.

First of all, let me say that even though I was born before personal computers became a ‘thing’, I was a pretty early adopter. In about 1981 at a family reunion I became aware of the very first Apple computers, the ones you had to program yourself. A family member had bought one, another family member was working on a degree in computer science– this was my first exposure to the world of computers. My sisters got an Atari for Christmas soon after that and in my college courses they were beginning to appear. Unfortunately I didn’t have a knack for writing code nor the patience to acquire the knack; but once PC’s came along, I was all in. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have made it through seminary without a PC and today I have a laptop, a smartphone and a Kindle that I use all the time, all in different ways.

So when I started working at the library I was shocked to discover the number of people who don’t know how to use a personal computer. I was even more shocked when I discovered that many of those people are my age and younger, that it isn’t just elderly people who are computer illiterate (in fact, many people older than me do very well with computers. My parents are both internet savvy and my mom is even on Facebook.)

What’s even more shocking is the way our social structures have changed in response to internet use. You can’t apply for a job without going online. You can’t make an appointment to visit a friend in jail without going online. You can’t apply for social security benefits, unemployment benefits and many other public services without going online.

I know this because, as an Information Services Assistant at the library, it is a big part of my job to help people use our computers. And a big part of that job is helping people with those particular categories of computer use.

Now, you might think I’m making too big of a deal about this. After all, it’s easy, right? You just show someone how to log into the computer and they’re on their way, right?

If  only it were that easy.

First of all, to do anything on the internet you have to be able to read, and read pretty well. Then, you have to have an e-mail address. Yes, Gmail is free and easy to sign up for– that is, if you know what a username is and a password is and can create a username and password that you’ll remember. Because to apply for a job, or make an appointment to visit your friend in jail, or file unemployment or file for social security benefits on line– which you must do– you have to have an account.  An account requires an email address.

It’s the job thing that gets me. It’s no wonder people have trouble getting jobs.

A guy came in to my library yesterday and he said, “I’ve been hired at [local restaurant] and I need to fill in an application on line. But I don’t know anything about computers. They told me to come here and you’d help me.” Okay, that’s part of my job, and I’m more than happy to help.

But here’s the thing: many people who don’t know how to use computers lack that knowledge because they never had the privilege of learning how to use one. Perhaps they struggled in school and couldn’t get the hang of technology. I’ve noticed that many of the people who are computer illiterate have trouble reading. Perhaps their school didn’t have the funding to acquire computers, so they never really were exposed to them. And a lot of people who haven’t been exposed to technology are afraid of it.

But there comes the day that they are trying to get a job, maybe they got laid off from a job they’d had a long time, from back in the days when you could get a job by filling out a paper application; and as I said they don’t have a computer or an email address or a smart phone and they’ve been living their lives just fine without all that stuff. So they come to me, knowing nothing, needing to fill in this application right now, today!

If you have used computers all of your life you forget how complicated they seem when you first sit down at one.

The man I was helping yesterday was trying to get a job as a dishwasher– a dishwasher— and had been promised a job but had to fill out the online paperwork. And, God bless him, he had no idea. He had no email address or any idea of how to create one. He had no idea how to find the employer’s website, even though he had the address; he had no idea how to find the job application page, he had no idea how to go about this process that was far more complicated than it needed to be. He kept saying to me, “I have the job, I just need to do the application on line, they told me I have to do the application online and I can start work tomorrow.”

No shame in being a dishwasher. My kids have both worked as dishwashers. But it shows a lack of respect for a person’s humanity when a person applying to be a dishwasher must fill out an online application before they can begin working. It shows that the company’s convenience is more important than the human being they’re trying to hire.

This man needed someone to sit with him and walk him through this process and I could not do that. And I had other patrons come in and I tried to balance helping him and helping them but finally I think he got frustrated and left. I felt that I had failed him.

But even though perhaps I could have done more, it really isn’t me, or the library, who failed him and many others like him. It is a system that has a one-sized-fits-all way of doing things, making no allowances for those who can’t or don’t understand technology. It is a system in which the odds are stacked against you if you didn’t have the privilege of growing up around computers or being an early adopter when they came along. It’s a system in which human resources are limited in favor of technological resources.

Tech is great. I use it every day. I am lucky enough to be unafraid of technology, I am lucky enough to have the background that enables me to use my different tech items. But as we go ever forward into a more and more tech-dependent world, we must be intentional about not leaving people behind.

 

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A Day in the Life (Mark 1:29-39)

February 4, 2018

This lectionary year, as you probably know, we are going to be travelling through the book of Mark. Now because Lent and Easter is fairly early on the church calendar the journey won’t necessarily be in order all the way through because during that time we’ll be looking ahead to the end of the story—although as I see it it’s actually the end and the beginning at the same time. But that part of Mark is for another day, and today we’re still in the first chapter, still at the beginning of the story, watching and hearing as Jesus begins his ministry.
I really like the book of Mark, although all of the gospels have their own things to offer; but for me Mark has a real appeal because of its sense of urgency. Mark is the shortest of all of the gospels, and by all accounts was written first; Luke and Matthew drew from Mark for some of their content but Mark was first off the mark (so to speak.)  Mark doesn’t beat around the bush, does it? Not a lot of detail, not a lot of unnecessary fluff to fill it out, Mark basically hits the high points of the story of Jesus, and you’d better pay attention if you want to keep up! One of the most common words used in the book of Mark is “immediately”—Jesus and the disciples are always immediately doing something as if one event in the story leads to another with barely enough time for us to catch our breath. This gives the book a sense of urgency, as if it’s vitally important that the writer get these stories to us as quickly as possible so that we won’t miss anything.
And if the entire book of Mark is a quick retelling of the life of Jesus, the first chapter that we’ve been hearing about over the past few weeks is like a preview of what’s to come, almost like a movie trailer you might see that pulls you in and makes you want to see the whole movie. Just in the first chapter you see Jesus
…being baptized by John
…being tempted in the wilderness
…calling the first disciples
…teaching in the synagogue and healing a man with a demon
…going to Simon’s house and healing Simon’s mother in law from an illness
…healing after sundown on the Sabbath
…going off to pray and then going out to the rest of the villages
…healing a leper
Lots of action in this first chapter of Mark, isn’t it? Beginning with only a short bit about John the Baptist and his ministry, it’s clear that this book is all about Jesus; and through all of this Jesus is established in his ministry and begins to make a name for himself.
As I indicated before I read the scripture, the passage from Mark that we read last week and the one we read today take place on the same day. We see in these two segments a sort of “day in the life” of Jesus. His day begins in the synagogue: he is preaching, with authority, and then he heals a man with a demon. Immediately, the text says—in other words, as soon as they left the synagogue—they went to Simon’s house, possibly looking for something to eat. Only Simon’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever, so Jesus goes and heals her.
It’s important to note something here: since we found Jesus in the synagogue at the beginning of the day, we know it is the Sabbath when this series of events takes place. It is the Sabbath as he teaches, it is the Sabbath as he heals the man with the demon, it is the Sabbath when he heals Simon’s mother-in- law. Later that day, after sundown, many people come to him with their own demons and illness and afflictions and Jesus ends his day healing them. Late into the night he must have worked, because it says the whole city came to see him—even if it was a small village it would have been a lot of people to heal. The passage ends early the next morning when Jesus goes off by himself to pray; the disciples come looking for him wanting him to continue with the healing but Jesus tells them it’s time to move on to other villages; “this is why I came.” he says.
Mark immerses us in the life and ministry of Jesus from the very beginning, highlighting the kinds of things that become his signature activities, laying out for us in no uncertain terms the ways that Jesus’ ministry is a manifestation of the kingdom of God. Mark also wants us to understand the connection to the source of Jesus’ power: when Jesus goes off by himself to pray, it isn’t just that he needs to rest and recharge, but that he needs to reconnect with the One who makes all of his actions, all of his healings and exorcisms and miracles possible. Travis Franklin, on the website Ministry Matters, puts it like this:
While these passages don’t carry the drama of the feeding of the five thousand or Jesus walking on the water, they do share in a subtle way the connection between the works Jesus does and the source that empowers such work. This is an important connection for Mark, because he wants us to realize that the kingdom that Jesus has been sent to express is a direct revelation of God and God’s activity in a hurting and sinful world. In all of these ways Jesus embodies and proclaims the presence of the kingdom of God.
“This is why I came,” he said.
You see, the miracle stories by themselves aren’t important, and the stories of healing by Jesus of many people from their demons and illnesses by themselves aren’t important unless we make the connection to why Jesus does all of these things and how he is able to do all of these things. God wanted to make it plain to all humanity that God is present and active in the world, a world that God created to be good but that sin and evil were and are working hard to destroy.
Interesting are the responses in this first chapter of those who are the first witnesses to Jesus’s ministry. In the synagogue, the people are amazed at his preaching. The demon challenges Jesus—but responds to his authority. Simon’s mother gets up and serves Jesus. The people come out of the woodwork to be healed by him, desperate for what he has, desperate to be freed from whatever burden is breaking them.
There is power in the relationship between Jesus and God the Father; and Jesus is unrestrained in his demonstration of that power. The only place he is cautious at all is when the demons recognize him and he orders them to keep quiet; and this seems to be only to keep his true identity from getting out too quickly, so he can build the ministry God has in mind rather than the people making him into something else. But the power is there, the relationship is there; people eventually hear him talking about God as Father, they see him going off to pray and they begin to make the connection between these things and the power that Jesus so clearly has. The power that is necessary to recreate the kingdom that was so good in the beginning. The power that can make all people whole once again, restored in body, mind and spirit.
The power is there for us to and the agent of this power is the same. Jesus Christ is the one who brings that power among us, Jesus is the one who shows us how to access that power for our own healing and wholeness. Jesus Christ shows us the way, through the stories in Mark and the other gospels, shows us the way to be restored and to help restore the kingdom of God to the goodness God created it to have. There is power in our faith—the power of love, the power of compassion, the power of tenderness. Just ask anyone who has faced a serious crisis in their life, but was able to tap into the power of love that sustained them through it. Just ask anyone who has felt the healing power of a hug when they needed it, who has known that people were praying for them and has felt stronger and more able to cope because of it. A good portion of the power that Jesus accessed was God’s love for the humanity that God had created; and that’s a power that is available to us if we will just receive it. And, it is a power that we can easily share with others, if only we will.

A new year is here!

January 8, 2018

Happy New Year everyone!

I’m just a little late with that greeting, I know; here it is January 8 and we’re well into the new year. (Though it may be awhile before we all remember to write 2018 instead of 2017!)

There are two times during the year that I feel that I have a fresh start: in the fall, at the time when I started a new school year for many years; and at the turn of the year, when the Christmas season is over and it feels like a blank slate, a new year full of possibilities and hope. Of course I know it won’t all be great– I have my ups and downs just like everyone else– but just the idea of a new year, a new beginning makes me hopeful for good times to come.

The beginning of the new year is an especially good time to examine our faith and our spiritual connections and rededicate ourselves to our faith. A new Bible study or a new spiritual practice can be helpful in getting us on track. I discovered Art Journaling last year and I hope to find ways to use it to enhance my spiritual life this year. New mission initiatives are also good ways to engage our faith; if you know me you might not be surprised to hear that I have a new idea for mission– watch this space for more information!

However you practice, whether you keep up with something you’re already doing or begin something new, I hope 2018 will be a year of spiritual vitality for you. And if you want to dialogue with me about this, please feel free to comment!

Peace,

Rev. Sharon

Abraham Study: Ishmael and Isaac

June 29, 2017

I am a couple of weeks behind with the Abraham Study, so let’s catch up. Two weeks ago the chapter was about Ishmael, the son that Abraham had with Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian servant. Last week the chapter was about Isaac, the son that Abraham had with Sarah, his wife.

As the story goes, God promised a son to Abraham and Sarah; but they are old and Sarah gets impatient. They have recently lived in Egypt and acquired an Egyptian woman to serve Sarah, and Sarah decides that it is through Hagar that the son will be born. She seems to imagine that Hagar will give birth and just turn the baby over to Sarah to raise. Abraham is uncertain but when Hagar goes to him he sleeps with her and becomes pregnant.

This is where Sarah’s plan goes awry. Hagar now has status over Sarah because of her pregnancy, and the story indicates that she taunts Sarah with it. So Sarah tells Abraham to send Hagar away. Again Abraham is uncertain but does as Sarah asks. Hagar is sent into the desert, where God tells her to return. She goes back and Ishmael is born. Thus, he is the first born son.

Eventually Sarah becomes pregnant and Isaac, the second son, is born. Conflict arises once again between Sarah/ Isaac and Hagar/ Ishmael and Sarah once again demands that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away. Abraham is uncertain once again, but God tells him to do what Sarah says.

It’s interesting to note that here the Jewish scriptures, known by Jews and Christians, have one story, but there are other stories about what happens to Hagar and Ishmael. Of course the Christian tradition has the story that Hagar and Ishmael are sent away into the desert, where they nearly die of thirst. But God hears their cries and gives them water and then promises that Ishmael will be father of a great nation.

The other story is quite different– Abraham takes Hagar and Ishmael to Mecca and settles them there and even revisits them later. In this version there is a continuing relationship between Abraham and Hagar and Ishmael.

How does this story and our understanding of Ishmael as firstborn son inform our understanding of Abraham? To begin with, it seems likely that Abraham has some real affection for Ishmael because he is the first born son. At that time birth order was quite important, and the eldest was the heir of the father. The story implies that Abraham was born because Sarah went against God’s intent and that Isaac was intended as heir to God’s covenant with Abraham rather than Ishmael (the Jewish/ Christian traditional reading. One way or another Hagar and Ishmael are taken care of by God.

At this point I find Abraham to be a rather ambiguous character. On the one hand he seems to have this one-to-one relationship with God; on the other hand, when Sarah tells him to send Hagar away he does it. Regretfully, perhaps, but he does it. This seems to be at odds with his reputation as a man of great faith who took up stakes and moved his family at God’s behest.

We don’t hear much more about Ishmael in the Jewish/ Christian scriptures. At one point Joseph is given to “the Ishmaelites” by his brothers. Islamic tradition views Ishmael as a prophet and an ancestor to Muhammad. Over time the Ishmaelites became associated with the term “Arab”.  In Islamic tradition Ishmael seems to be seen as the link to Abraham and, as first son, a reason that Islam should be considered the ‘true’ or ‘primary’ religion; he is at least a partial source of division particularly between Jews and Muslims but also between Muslims and Christians.

For notes Bill Lindsay’s notes on the chapter about Isaac, click here.

 

Abraham Study– week 3 “Birth”

June 8, 2017

I am behind a week in writing about our study Bruce Feiler’s book, “Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths.” Sometimes life intervenes! So this is from Wednesday, May 31 and I’ll be writing about last night’s (June 7th) discussion later in the week. The lessons for May 31, June 7 and June 14 are led by Bill Lindsay, so I am including his notes in the writing for these weeks. Thanks Bill!

The chapter for May 31, called “Birth” is the first of two in a section that are about the historical Abraham and the question of whether or not he really existed, if it can be proven, and if it matters. To me, this is part of a larger question that encompasses the whole of scripture– what do we know, what can we prove, and does it matter? For Christians, answering this question runs the gamut from Biblical inerrancy– every jot and tittle is true and authentic in its authorship (God, through Moses and others) to the idea that the Bible is just a good book which, because it can’t be proven, carries truths but isn’t true, per se. 

To many people the question of the truth of scripture is very important. Some will read the Bible stories about Abraham and believe he was a real historical character. Some will see that there is no physical evidence and understand Abraham as a mythical or composite figure, borne out of centuries of oral tradition and helpful as a anchor for the faith, but not a real, historical figure. Either way, even though Abraham isn’t provable– as Avraham Biran says in Feiler’s book, All we know about Abraham is in the Bible …  In the ground , there’s nothing… But remember , archaeology cannot prove or disprove the Bible . I follow Albright , the founder of our field , in that the Bible as a book of divine inspiration needs no proof . At the same time , you can neither do archaeology in biblical lands nor study the Bible without being aware of the discoveries . 

The Bible is a book of stories, a mix of oral tradition and written history– though maybe not “history” as we in the 21st century think of it. When we read the Bible and study the ancestors of the faith, we do so from a place and time so far removed from its happenings that it can be hard to process it, it can be hard to know how it applies to our lives today–if it even does.

And yet there are truths there. Abraham is a figure of faith that we can look to in order to understand our own. In Christian and Hebrew texts we come upon Abraham as an adult, with little background information other than his father’s name and the fact that they all migrated from Ur to Haran over a number of years.

Muslim texts have more detail. Abraham’s father carves and sells idols, and people worship him. He is of the polytheistic age and forced Abraham, who even as a young boy didn’t believe in the power of idols, to sell them. Abraham is reported to have mocked his father for worshiping idols; he was threatened with stoning and was reportedly thrown into the fire for his alternate beliefs but was saved by God.

Abraham is the first monotheist– the first to insist that there is only one God. Abraham is also the first, if we believe the stories, to be martyred. There is no question why this man, this Abraham, became so important to three major religions of the world and remains the ancestor to us all. So the question becomes for each of our traditions, how can we each honor him without dishonoring the faith traditions of the others?

 

Religious or Political?

February 15, 2017

I am chagrined to realize I haven’t posted on this blog for quite awhile– since October, in fact. Between then and now quite a bit has happened– not only Advent and Christmas, but also the Presidential election and inauguration and the aftereffects of this transition.

I mostly avoid directly commenting about politics on this blog in the spirit of keeping religion and state seperate (though I have been accused of “spewing liberal lies” in my sermons– you can read them and judge for yourself here). However, I happened upon an article today about Charleston SC public schools which opened by pointing how difficult it is to completely separate politics from other aspects of our lives (in that case, public education.) The same thing is true, I think, about politics and religion; in fact it was theologian Karl Barth who was widely credited with saying preachers should write their sermons with the “Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”

For tax purposes, preachers are forbidden from publicly and from the pulpit endorsing candidates for public office. I think this is a good rule and one that I follow. We aren’t forbidden as far as I know, however, from pointing out when the policies of our elected officials are dangerous or damaging to the country or its citizens. When that happens it becomes an issue of justice as much as politics, and justice issues are a preacher’s bread and butter (so to speak.) This is where Barth’s quote comes in.

You see, preaching about Biblical issues without talking about current events leads to sermons that are quite hollow. Yes, it is good for congregation members to hear that they are loved by God and live under grace and forgiveness; but there comes a moment when we have to ask what that means. Preaching salvation only seems dangerous to me because it can lead to a very self-satisfied, self-centered faith, a faith that in the comfort of our own safety forgets about the injustices all around us– injustices such as racial inequality, homelessness, and poverty. These are very kinds of things that the prophets speak against in the Old Testament and Jesus challenges in the New Testament.

Take, for example, this week’s lectionary passage from Leviticus, a book not only of the Old Testament but part of the Torah (the first five books of Jewish scripture.) Leviticus 19:9-10 says 9When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. In these verses God speaks directly to the problems of hunger and poverty by instructing the people to leave grain and grapes on the edges of the field and on the ground so that the needy can come behind them and gather what they need to eat. It is a way of making sure that they are provided for– a method not too different than our SNAP program here in the United States. SNAP is the program that used to be known as “food stamps”– an allowance for the poor and needy that can be used for food and necessities. SNAP is paid for by our taxes, and I’m glad to offer this support because I have no farmland for the poor to use for gleaning as most of us do not; in this way the poor can “glean” from my tax dollars.

Another example of resistance to injustice is found in the Beatitudes of Jesus, where we read “blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are the poor, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the poor in spirit. In Jesus’ world it isn’t the powerful who will receive blessings but the powerless– and if that’s not a political statement, I don’t know what is! In the kingdom of God injustice will be ended, and the poor, the meek, the hungry, all of those who face oppression and injustice today will be satisfied. The single mom who has to choose between paying the rent and feeding her child will be lifted up out of her suffering; the homeless man will have a safe, warm and dry place to live.

As a preacher of the word of God I cannot ignore these teachings; neither can I not pass them on to my congregation. God loves us, yes! But as the people of God we have a responsibility to care for the ones in our midst who cannot care for themselves. Is that Biblical? Yes. But it’s also political.

 

 

 

 

 

When Did Civility, Tolerance and Respect Become Bad?

October 19, 2016

This morning a Facebook post from a good friend caught my attention. It was a series of pictures of her oldest, who runs cross-country track events and recently won a race. What I appreciated was the message that went along with the pictures: “This kid keeps winning his cross-country races but what makes me prouder is that he waits and congratulates each person across the finish line.”

In a country obsessed with winning and being the best this image stands out to me. In a country embroiled in a very ugly and contentious presidential race, this practice of congratulating others for making it across the finish line stands out to me. In a time when it is acceptable and even applauded to call our opponents names like “loser” and “deplorables” this stands out to me.

Perhaps other elections have been this ugly and stooped so low. I don’t remember any in my lifetime in which the rancor has been so public (however, I know from history that there have been plenty of ugly races.) But the glee with which the civility of our public discourse has been eroded is disturbing, and we should all be embarrassed by the tenor and tone of debate that has occurred.

I won’t rehash what has been said. That isn’t my purpose here. But I am concerned for what happens after the election is over. Will we all be able to move on with our lives? Will we ever be able to recover from the lines that have been crossed and the particular brand hostility and viciousness that have polluted this election cycle?

Some of us are hurt and angry, afraid that we are being left behind. Some of us are hurt and angry that the American Dream that they have been promised seems to have disappeared. Fear and anger go hand in hand, and if not addressed can be deadly.

In his daily devotions last week, Father Richard Rohr calls us to picture ourselves before the crucified Jesus, and recognize that he became all of the things that we fear: nakedness, exposure, vulnerability and failure.  All of that anger we feel because we are afraid is exposed in Jesus on the cross. All of the disappointment we feel because we feel left behind is exposed in Jesus on the cross.  Like a great wound, when anger, disappointment and fear are exposed they can be dealt with and allowed to heal. We find that we no longer need to lash out in anger and we no longer need to fear the other, the future, our finitude because it no longer controls us.

To return to my thoughts about this election season and the damage it is doing to us individually and as a nation, a line in a Washington Post article caught my attention today as well: There are certain qualities of heart and mind that allow for self-government — civility, tolerance and mutual respect. I am afraid that we are losing these qualities because instead of being encouraged to heal ourselves of our anger and fear we are being encouraged to wallow in it and to lash out– which may satisfy for awhile but in the long term will only do more damage to ourselves and our country as a whole.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t speak out against injustice. Injustice must never be tolerated. But if we lose our ability to speak the truth in love, with respect, with tolerance and with civility we risk losing the very basis of our society. And that, my friends, would be a terrible blow not only for us but for the whole world.

 

 

 

A Walk to Remember

April 8, 2016

32They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. 

DSCN3537 A walk can be good for the soul. A walk in the woods especially. When I am feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated by life and all that I have going on, I head for a wooded trail and walk awhile, which I find clears my head and reenergizes me. One of my new favorite trails is at Doe Run Lake park near Covington and Independence KY, which travels the perimeter of the lake. It isn’t “wilderness” like the Great Smoky Mountains national park is, but it is the next best thing. Just enough up and down to feel I’ve had some exercise, just enough quiet to quiet my mind.

The walk to Emmaus might have had a similar effect on Cleopas and the other disciple. It was the day that they had discovered the reality of Jesus’ body being missing from the tomb, and with everything going on it must have seemed like a good idea to hit the road. Maybe they were going home. Maybe they were going to share the news with other disciples who weren’t in Jerusalem. Maybe they just needed to clear their minds, find a way to recharge their spirits after all that had happened.Whatever the reason, there they were, on the road to Emmaus.

As they walk a stranger approaches and asks what they are talking about. They sadly tell the tale: their leader and teacher, Jesus, had been put to death three days earlier; they had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel, but it seemed that that was not to be. And now they had heard he had risen from death and they were just not sure what to make of this story.

While they were walking they didn’t expect to see Jesus. They didn’t know him when they did see him, at least not at first. But they opened up to this sympathetic stranger about all that had happened, sharing their sorrow and confusion with him. Then grief turns to joy as they break bread with Jesus and realize it had been him all along. in their joy they rush back to Jerusalem, their steps more sure, their mood not somber, but excited. It was a walk to remember, full of joy, astonishment, excitement and hope. Hope for a new future, hope that their dreams weren’t dead because Jesus wasn’t dead, but alive.

In times of discouragement, disappointment and grief we might not expect to see Jesus either. And yet, if we pay attention, we might see him anyway– in the face of a stranger who asks if we’re ok; in the face of a loved one who hugs us and lets us cry without trying to fix us; in the quiet solitude of a wooded trail where we can speak quietly or loudly with God, sharing our sorrow as the psalmists so often did. We feel his love, we feel his comfort. We know we’re not alone and we realize that hope and joy await us in our grief process. We see that new life is possible.

 

5 Reasons to Go to Church

January 18, 2016

Over the years as I have been involved with church and religion, the question has continued coming up, “Why should I go to church?”

Most of the time the question is followed by “I can worship God just as well at home.” Or sometimes “Church doesn’t do anything for me.” Or even, I don’t like the music, the children are loud, or the preacher’s sermons put me to sleep! These days it seems that more and more people are using these or other excuses for not going to church or being involved in a religious community.

But there are good reasons to go to church, even today. And so I have put together what I see as the top 5 reasons to go to or to be involved with church.

5. Discipline  Not discipline as in “punishment” but discipline as in “practice” or “mastery.” We go to church because it helps us to know what it means to be human, to learn how to be compassionate people in the world, and to have opportunities to practice being compassionate human beings in the world. It is possible to learn and do this on your own, I suppose, but it’s easier when we practice among people who can hold us accountable. Better yet, do both– have private devotionals and group study, to maximize your learning power!

4. Learning about ourselves and others– and God  At church we have opportunities to study and discuss theological and spiritual works with other people who are interested in theology and spirituality too. Many people in congregations have a wealth of knowledge to share or a thirst for the kind of knowledge you have. Learning is more enjoyable and easier when done with others, and it gives us a chance to get to know them on a deeper level. Also, during prayer time we hear what our neighbors are facing– the job loss, the divorce, the sickness– and are able to offer our support and share our struggles and receive support. Bible studies and sermons help us learn about God working in the world, and hearing the stories of how our ancestors in the faith encountered God we also learn to understand our encounters with God.

3. We are moved outside of our comfort zone  Just the act of going to church may cause you to step outside of the normal, everyday routine you’re used to. Getting involved in Bible study or mission activities or fellowship groups can shake things up for you, help you see the world in new ways, change your way of thinking about the world and the human beings around you.

2. Good food abounds!  I’ve never been to a church that didn’t have good food and good cooks. From potluck dinners to ice cream socials church people know how to share the best of their culinary ability. Congregations might make food the focus of their ministry, hosting a weekly or monthly dinner that the whole neighborhood or community is invited to. By sharing our food we share ourselves, growing in faith as we go.

1. Good people abound as well!  Yes, there may be drama in church and yes, sometimes people aren’t as nice and compassionate and loving as we might like. From outside of the church we might see them as hypocrites; but from inside the church we realize that they’re good people who struggle sometimes, just like everyone else. When we spend time with someone on a mission trip, at dinner before choir, in a Bible study we come to know them, sometimes better than we know our own families. They might even come to feel like family. We see where we have things in common. And we might see God working in their lives, helping them to become better people– and helping us to become better people too!

Sure, it’s easy to not go to church, easier than it was in the mid-20th century when going to church was just what you did. It’s easy to stay at home on Sunday morning, or go to the lake or to a ball game; it’s easy to point fingers at people who go to church but who seem so unpleasant sometimes. It’s easy to let the world convince us that it doesn’t matter it we don’t go to church. Still, I encourage you to go, and see just what we might find good about going to church.

Walking through Darkness to the Light

December 23, 2015

The following is a reprint of an e-votion I wrote several years ago.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of great darkness—on them light has shined.                                                                Isaiah 9:2

 

At it’s best, the holiday season can be a happy time, a joyful time, a time of wonder and magic. Christmas is a time of celebration, a time when we remember the birth of the Christ child and how his presence changed the world forever. Christmas is also a time for giving to others, to the special people in our lives; we buy presents and bake cookies and generally do things for other people to honor them and show our love for them. It’s a great time to go caroling with friends, to visit people we haven’t seen for awhile, to go to parties and gatherings, and in general have a merry old time.

But for some people the holidays are not so merry. For some people the holidays are a reminder of what they’ve lost:   a loved one, a friend, a spouse. The tragedy of loss may have happened long ago, or it may be recent—I think of the families of the hikers who are lost on Mt. Hood—but the pain the same. For some people the financial stress of gift giving sucks the fun right out of the season. Everywhere they look they are encouraged to buy, buy, buy! and they end up doing so—even if they can’t afford it. And there are other people who don’t know why Christmas is celebrated, but only know the Santa part, who are missing out on the real source of joy that we as Christians feel. For these people and many others, the holidays may seem like a dark time, a time of sadness and stress rather than happiness and joy.

We all walk in darkness from time to time; but somehow if we’re walking in darkness at this time of the year, when it seems like all of the people around us are ridiculously happy and merry, it can be even tougher. It’s no wonder that suicide rates rise at this time of year, that domestic violence rates go up, that alcoholism and drug abuse rates rise. But there is hope. Hope is the reason that people find joy in the Christmas season—hope for the future, for our future and the future of all who suffer—hope that came to us in the form of the baby Jesus and who lives in each of us even now, 2000 years later. For those who are suffering or lonely, Christ teaches us to pray for them and visit them, to give of ourselves to them. If we are the sad ones, we may find that visiting others who need us will bring the hope and joy to our hearts that we’re missing. And if people are walking in darkness because they haven’t heard the Christmas story, Christ sends us out to them to tell the story of our experience with the good news of Jesus Christ—so that they too may have the hope and joy that comes through him.

If you are lonely or suffering and in need of prayer and fellowship, I encourage you go to a Christmas Eve service. Or visit a neighbor. Or call someone. Or write to me and I’ll pray for you. Let’s light up Christmas by giving of ourselves and giving Christ to others.

God of miracles, I look to your love at this time to bring the joy and love to my heart, and to give me hope for the future. Help me to share this hope and joy with others so that they may move out of the darkness and into the light. Amen.