29 September 2010

Reflection: "Overheated Rhetoric"

The following post is a copy of what I wrote for our church newsletter in October. Though I don't usually post things of this nature here, I've been wanting to respond to the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" for awhile but struggled to do so in a way that didn't mirror back the anger and ugliness of those who were screaming about it. This doesn't come close to fully capturing my thoughts and feelings on the matter, but to be honest, I feel better for at least publicly saying this much. Just keep in mind that the original audience for these remarks was the small United Methodist congregation I serve in semi-rural Oregon.
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Dear Friends,

I became increasingly dismayed during early September over the inflammatory rhetoric around the planned Islamic center near ground zero in New York. Provocative comments made by pundits and politicians alike were more calculated to sway votes and influence primary elections than to engage in honest dialogue about religious freedom in America. What was most distressing were the number of Christians who publicly engaged in “Muslim bashing,” making disrespectful—even hateful—comments about Islam and those who are Muslim.

Imagine someone who is not Christian, who has never attended a church, but who has friends or co-workers who are Muslim. Imagine someone who is not a Christian but has heard that Jesus taught his followers to love God and to love all people. And then imagine how hypocritical it would sound to them to hear people who call themselves Christian uttering mean-spirited, hurtful, inflammatory words about people who are Muslim, calling them “evil” and equating Islam with terrorism.

In our adult study this fall, “When Christians Get It Wrong”, Adam Hamilton has reminded us that many non-Christians are driven away from Christianity because of the insensitive, critical, judgmental, and mean-spirited things said and done by people who claim to be committed Christians. He also says simply, but I think correctly, that “the most powerful form of Christian witness is what we do when we express authentic love, compassion, mercy, and kindness toward others.”

Last Sunday at our youth group gathering, I shared these words from the book of James: “With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so…the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” (James 3:9-10, 17).

As we head into the mid-term elections next month, the overheated rhetoric will fill more and more of the airwaves—and little of it, if any, will be “peaceable, gentle or full of mercy”—even from the candidates who claim to be committed Christians. But we have a choice, my friends. We can choose to embrace the way of Jesus by not engaging in such destructive discourse. We can choose to use our words to express genuine kindness and concern for others—even to those with whom we disagree. And may we be careful that we do not “curse those who are made in the likeness of God.”

On the journey with you,

Jeremy

27 September 2010

Meditation: "Letting Go of Outcomes"

"There is no way to peace. Peace is the way." --A.J. Muste

"The paradox is that you are more likely to get outcomes when you let go of getting outcomes: it frees you from the ego's grip." --Parker Palmer in the Christian Century

"For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."  --Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew


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Dear Friends,

The quote above from an article by Parker Palmer really messes with my head. More than I probably even realize, I'm all about outcomes. I'll have a vision in my head of what I want--for my own life or for the church that I serve, and I'll throw that ultimate goal out into the future. And then, as a hopelessly left-brained person I will start formulating a plan, which often involves lots of list making. Then I get busy working "the plan" to get to the desired outcome. It's almost like a wrestling match--I'm grappling with my life and circumstances to try to achieve exactly what I think I want.

This is a very logical way to approach things, of course. Set some goals, line-up the steps to get there, and then relentlessly work to accomplish those goals until the desired outcome is achieved.

The thing is, I don't always get there and even when I do, they journey isn't always very enjoyable.

What I hear Palmer saying is that the outcome we project into the future is less important than the present, less critical than today. In his case, he's reflecting on his desire to become a writer, which emerged in his 20's. Rather than focus on an outcome that would "prove" he'd become a writer--say, getting a book published--instead he simply spent time every day writing. It was his faithfulness to the daily discipline of writing that made him a writer because (well "duh!") writers write. They don't necessarily produce books. It was his faithful commitment to that daily discipline of writing--irrespective of outcome--that eventually brought him the outcome he had stopped trying to achieve--he published a book.

This is true in the life of faith, too. We don't suddenly wake up as people who perfectly love God, neighbor, and self. If that's the outcome we desire, if the goal of the Christian life is to be made perfect in love (a very Methodist phrase), then our task is to try to love God, neighbor, and self the very best that we can--TODAY. And then we do it again the next day, and the next day, and the next day. And, eventually, by God's grace we just may discover that we have come very close to the outcome we stopped trying to grasp at in the first place. As Palmer says, somewhat negatively, "the faith journey is less about making a big leap of faith than it is about putting one faithless foot in front of the other, and doing it again and again. What happens as you walk that way is sometimes transformed by grace."

I pray that as you open your hands to let go of predetermined outcomes, God's grace will guide you, day by day, in the direction that will bring you life, and life abundant.

Blessings, Jeremy

07 September 2010

Meditation: "Blessing Hands"

"Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel." --Jeremiah 18:6b

"A leper came to [Jesus] begging him, and kneeling he said to him, 'If you choose, you can make me clean.' Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him..." --Mark 1:40-41

"Take my hands, and let them move, at the impulse of thy love." --from the hymn, "Take My Life, and Let It Be" by Frances Havergal


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Dear Friends,

One by one, they came extended to me. In pairs or singly, palm up or palm down--they were offered to me. Some were offered hesitantly, even shyly. Others were presented eagerly, confidently. Some were crooked with age and others straight and young. They were rough and calloused, they were soft and warm. Some were adorned with jewelry, others bore nothing but freckles and their God-given hue. There were scars on a few (one had part of a finger missing and another was encased in a cast) and, if not scars, then deep lines full of stories.

"May God bless your hands, that they will move at the impulse of God's love." And then the sign of the cross in oil, gently traced in the tender skin of the palm or across the veins and fine bones on the back of the hand.

Last Sunday during worship, as I blessed the hands of our congregation, I was surprised by the lump growing in my throat as more and more hands passed beneath my own. I felt keenly aware of the humanity of each person. I felt acutely the vulnerability of open, extended hands. I was completely overwhelmed by all that those hands have touched and done and suffered over each lifetime. Those hands have cooked and cleaned and cared, those hands have cradled babies and caressed loved ones. Those hands have worked hard, given rise to blisters, to support a family, to build, to plant. Those hands have created beauty, with paint, with fabric, with music, with words. Those hands have held guns in far off lands and held hands as life ebbed away. Those hands have helped and healed and, in some cases, hurt others. Those hands have prayed and clapped and been offered in love. So much life in those hands, all those hands I was blessed to bless.

Have you seen a time-lapse photo before? The kind where the camera shutter is left open capturing the blurred motion of the subject (like stars moving across the night sky, tracing their path in light)? I thought, "All these hands...What if it were possible to take a time-lapse photo of each pair of hands in motion throughout its lifetime, and then merge all the images into one?" I am certain that, if we looked closely enough at that blurred image, we'd catch a glimpse of God.

Look at your hands. Look closely, carefully.

"May God bless your hands, that they will move at the impulse of God's love."

Blessings on you,

Jeremy