Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Who Cares?

No, this is not a cry for help, no attempt to get someone to say, "Don't jump!  I care!"  I know who cares in my life.  I am doing great.

This is about my inability to write.  In the end, my motivation drops because, really, who cares?  I have participated on Facebook, but these days I just don't bother.  I don't really care about your horn toots, why should you care about mine?  In fact, can I say that I am sick of your horn toots?
"LifeGroup meeting tonight!  These people really want to grow in God!"
Woopty friggin' do.  I guess you're really religious if you caption it on Facebook.
"I voted today; it feels so good!"
Seriously?  Can't you just vote and go about your day without the selfie and note?  If someone asks you if you voted, feel free to tell them, but why the voluntary admission?  My all time favorite is when a pastor will tweet or post, "Great time at church today," or, "Love worshipping with my church family."  To me, that's like a chef saying, "Wow, what amazing lasagna I made tonight."  Or a director talking about how great an experience making a film was.  I'll notice if a grip says it was great, the director seems to be tooting his own horn.

Fortunately, I don't have any friends or acquaintances who divulge more intimate information.  No "I had a massive dump a minute ago, thought I'd never stop wiping," or "I've got the best wife in the whole world, she really brought it last night," shows up in my newsfeed.  If they ever do, I am cancelling my account; someone else can take care of all the church's Facebook stuff.

All this to say, I guess I'm too old for this culture.  I don't feel the need to tell my friends where I am - you know, "checking in."  I don't feel the need to take a picture of my lunch and put it on the web (although I am tempted to share a picture of my stomach contents when they come up).  I got all the, "Hey Mom, look at me!" out of my system when I was in grade school, no need to continue.

I do, however, have serious thoughts that I would like to share.  I want to explore how it is that certain churches can publicly support certain politicians and no one associated with the ACLU or the Justice Department gets upset.  I want to explore how it is that certain "one-party states" are drowning in debt and ruin while other semi-"one-party states" (like Texas, which has both parties but statewide offices have been dominated by one of them for 20 years) seem to be thriving.  I want to explore what is right in our culture and what might be wrong, to discuss how free stuff might not be the best way to help people, whether through the church or through the government.  I am tempted, at times, to share truth with ignorance, like with the recent resignation of a nationally known pastor: the church is now dissolving, and many are ignoring that the multi sites were always going to go it alone after his departure.  He said that years ago.  I want to step into the ignorance and to say, "Let's be fair."  I don't even like the guy.  What I do like is truth.  In the end, I don't make the comment because in the end, it doesn't really matter.

With all the avenues for expressing our opinions, it seems that our opinions have less weight.  Does anyone really believe that the news channels want to know what you think?  They just want you to feel like you matter to them, when you really don't because there's no connection, no relationship.

So, what does this have to do with the blog?  Well, I suppose it is the fact that, while I have something to say, I doubt anyone cares to hear it.  Of course, only my family read this blog, and they care to read.  I suppose the struggle is that I don't think it is worth the exercise of writing it.  Who cares?  Whether I get the ideas out or not, they still exist - in me.  So...why write?  I will if I can, but for me, the value isn't in getting it out.  Most of the time, it is enough that I have thought it and shared it with the Lord.  After all, who really cares about our every thought or opinion?

Probably only the one who cares about the sparrows.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cool Christians

One of the great past-times of Postevangelical Christianity is to make fun of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity.  We're not talking about people laughing at their own foibles, oh no, we're talking about people - Christians mind you, little Christs - laughing at other Christians who are deemed "not cool."  It is easy, really.  So you get "Stuff Fundy's Like," "Stuff Christians Like/Say" (Isn't it cool how they replace the "bad" word with Stuff, but I totally thought the "bad" word anyway!) "Rachel Held Evans" (who has painted herself into a corner by declaring how much she wants to leave the crazy Christians in Evangelicalism, only that would leave her with no material for her writing and probably a much smaller audience), etc.  A friend recently linked to "The 5 Top-Worst Christian Videos in the Universe."  Can I just say - I have a hard time believing these are the worst Christian videos.  Are they inherently wicked or harmful?  NO!  The worst videos are probably the ones that everyone is sharing and liking, the sharing and liking of which is a test of your faith.  Or how about a bunch of popular videos espousing lousy or dangerous theology.

Even the website that lists these videos acknowledges the truth within the songs.  In fact, they seem to like most of the songs in and of themselves.  The ideas expressed are not singled out for ridicule, the people expressing them are targets for ridicule from their fellow believers.  How dare they be corney!  Don't they know that the 11th Commandment was, "Be cool in thy ministry, that it might be liked in social media."  Yes, there's nothing quite as bad on the internet as videos of well-meaning people singing about God in cooky ways.  And we eat it up, don't we Christians?!

This is a problem within the American church.  The highest goal for many today isn't living for God and serving Him by following Jesus.  It is about being cool and accepted.  As Jesus Himself said, "Blessed are the cool, for they will not be bothered by the hot shame of social judgment."  When we have claims of people not being good enough, not doing cool things - as if Jesus needs cool people and cool videos - we are getting away from the gospel of grace.  I'll take breakdancing harmonizers in suits and shoulder padded dresses over "cool" productions any day.  Have you considered that there were people watching two of these songs, at least, and that the top three videos were not just the people on the screen, but the ones filming as well.  Laugh at them if you will, but more than one person felt that what they were doing was worthwhile.

Sadly, the creators of the FaithIt.com felt it worthwhile to make fun of them.  I found the About section on FaithIt.com, and it sounds like a site with a wonderful purpose.  Unfortunately, their humor section does not seem to keep their desire for inspirational subject matter.  Not that I'm judging, I know we all get it wrong.  It just saddens me to see the church of popular opinion gathered for worship at FaithIt.com, where the lepers have been put in their place.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Glipses of Others at the Gate

I believe the Lepers' Gate to be a place of messy grace, where the perfect and holy intersects with the spoiled and ordinary.  Today, I read a couple of posts at kimberleysuchta.com that embody this idea quite perfectly.  The first was To All the Girls Who Didn't Say No, the second is a follow up called Grace is Dangerous.  Here is a woman who understands what it is to stand at the Lepers' Gate.  I praise her parents for showing her the way through their example.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Approaching Christ

"As Catholics, we fully participate in the celebration of the Eucharist when we receive Holy Communion.  We are encouraged to receive Communion devoutly and frequently.  In order to be properly disposed to receive Communion, participants should not be conscious of grave sin and normally should have fasted for one hour.  A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord without prior sacramental confession except for a grave reason where there is no opportunity for confession.  In this case, the person is to be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing as soon as possible (Code of Canon Law, canon 916). A frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance is encouraged for all."
- Guidelines for the Reception of Communion, Today's Missal, Volume 81, Number 2.  (emphasis mine)
This post is not about Catholicism, I am just using the guidelines here because the Missal was shared with me and I was intrigued by the wording.  I know of several churches and denominations that have this attitude toward Communion, or the Lord's Supper as I was once "schooled" to call it ("this is a Baptist church, son, communion is what them Catholics call it."  Oh, the many ways a Baptist pastor can be accused of branching out into Catholicism.  Yes sir, you figured me out, I am trying to change all these fine Baptist folk into Catholics.)  Many churches feel it is their responsibility to watch out for those who would dare to participate at the Lord's Table.  I have known churches that required you to be a born again believer, some that require you to be a member of that denomination or convention, others that require you to be a member of that specific church!  We've really gone to the funny farm when fellowship at Jesus' table can be withheld from like-minded people because they are members of different churches.  I find all of it strange and aggravating.  What is more, I find it unbiblical.

As we go back to the Gospels, we see that Jesus served the very first New Covenant meal to his disciples, men who would desert him later that day.  They didn't even understand what was going on, they were too worried about who was the greatest, and they were too busy lying about their faithfulness to Jesus.  They certainly didn't recognize the "body" in the sense that close communion proponents understand it.

Speaking of body, I notice that Jesus didn't turn the bread and cup into his body and blood.  This meal wasn't a participation in His crucifixion, which had not happened yet, but was a symbol for the disciples of the New Covenant and of their life in Jesus.  He gave them this meal to observe until He returns.  I don't see a hint of sacrament in what He is doing, but that is beside the point of this post.

I think most people who hold to a closed communion base their position from 1 Corinthians 11, particularly verses 27-30, "Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.  But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.  For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep."

Now, what is Paul saying in these verses?  Where did he say, "Churches must guard the bread and cup from those who might not be worthy of it?"  News flash: you are not worthy of it!  No one is worthy of the cup and the bread, not in and of themselves.  We approach Jesus by grace through faith, and we approach His table in the same manner, not based on our righteousness - how well we've kept from sin or our proper membership, but based on Jesus.

So, my first point is that there is no such thing as good enough for the Table, but my second point is that if there is any judging going on, it should be the individual, not the church.  Here's where I am coming from: verse 28 says "a man must examine himself."  The action of a church closing the Lord's Supper off to a specific group is the church judging others.  Why does the church do this?  I think it is based in a good desire, to save people from judgment, so that they won't "be guilty of the body and blood of Jesus." - v.27

I understand, but I don't agree.  Personally, I believe people should be allowed to eat and drink judgment to themselves.  Who knows, by eating the bread and drinking the cup (which Paul tells us is the proclamation of the Lord's death in v. 26), a person might actually hear the proclamation and respond.  I know, from my own experience, the power of participating in the Lord's Supper as a degenerate sinner.  The action of taking and eating, taking and drinking, spoke to my soul.  The best thing that can happen by having an open Lord's Supper table is that people will come to know Jesus as their savior.

What's the worst thing that can happen?  According to 1 Corinthians, a person can become weak and sick, and perhaps die.  They can die being "guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord."  Tell me, is the fate of the unrepentant sinner who dies without faith in Jesus, but who has not eaten the Lord's Supper, somehow better than the same sinner who has eaten the Supper?  From what are these churches saving these people from?  (It is possible that they are trying to protect the integrity and purity of the Table, in which case I say balderdash - they're eating at it.)

If a person does eat and drink damnation upon himself, one of two things will happen.  Either he will eventually experience salvation, in which case this little thing Jesus did on the cross and in the tomb will take care of any judgment and damnation, or he will die in his sins, which is exactly where he will be if he doesn't participate in the Lord's Supper.  Where is the harm in participating?  I think the only harm is in not participating (I am ignoring the fact that Paul was talking about how the church treated one another, and viewing 1 Cor. 11 from the argument of those who close communion).  Jesus' forgiveness of our sins works at His table just as well as anywhere else we may go, don't you think?  When I think of the Lord's Supper, I am reminded of Isaiah 55:1, "Ho!  Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat."

That is grace.


Monday, February 10, 2014

A Tale of Two Gates

One is huge - easy to enter into the warmth of the church and the welcome of the congregation.  The other is small - designed to keep you out in the cold and apart from the congregation.

One is decorated beautifully and protected from the weather.  The other is plain, exposed to the elements.

One requires something of you - wholeness.  At least, you can't have any of the problems we are worried about.  The other requires something as well - illness.  This is the gate for those whose illness keeps them away, that makes them unclean.

One is so beautiful, you want to get close and inspect every inch.  The other is plain, an afterthought even.

When I think of the big gate, the front door, with its designs and the special care the Hjemkomst Center has taken to protect the intricate designs from the ravishes of the weather, I think of things like Facebook - where everyone shows their best, where we glow with all that we are doing and how cute our kids were today.  The Lepers' Gate is for those who scan the images and posts on Facebook, seeing so much glory and feeling so much inadequacy.  I think of things like our focus on successful churches that are the "it" place to be in your town, whereas the Lepers' Gate are those uncool places where the worship music is mixed with poor sound quality, the pastor's sermon is unpolished and lags at times, where the less than fashionable are sent to languish.  I think of our focus on success, of having it all today, whereas the Lepers' Gate is where those who know there has to be a better life somewhere else must gather, because this life has robbed them of joy.

Funny, God calls His people to be holy, which means "set apart."  Yet we spend all our time trying to be part of the group.  We want to be like everyone else around us, we want to be accepted and found "cool."

We make gates like that front door for ourselves, though we claim they are for God.  Yet, it is Jesus who touches lepers and makes them whole.  Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." (Matt. 5:3&4)  It is fitting that the Lepers' Gate allowed room for the host to be passed to the diseased - I am pretty sure it is the gate where Jesus is to be found.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Grace Unsought

A wedding in St. Paul, MN, put my family in a part of the country we have never visited.  Wanting to make the most of this opportunity, I managed to convince my wife that we should visit Fargo, ND.  It was only four hours away, and who knew when we would be in the upper midwest again?  "Why do you want to go to Fargo?" was a regular question from the locals in St. Paul.  The answer, as many things seem to be, was convoluted.  In the beginning, it was because, well, it's Fargo - the inspiration for the Coen Brothers' movie, the land of funny accents.  As I looked into Fargo, though, I discovered that it had a pretty decent looking Air Museum, a Children's Museum, and a full size Viking ship!  In the end, we only had time for one activity in Fargo, and I figured the Viking Ship was the most important (no offense to the other sites, but the world is full of Air and Children's Museums).

The Viking Ship was at the Hjemkomst Center, which, humorously, is in Moorhead, MN, not Fargo (So we never actually had to go to Fargo, but we stayed there anyway).  Hjemkomst is Norwegian for Homecoming, and it celebrates the dream and work of Robert Asp.  In the 1970s, Robert Asp decided to build a full-size Viking longship and to sail it back to Norway, the land of his ancestors.  Mr. Asp worked through the summers, milling the wood and building his ship.  He didn't stop, even when diagnosed with leukemia, and he eventually sailed the Hjemkomst on Lake Superior.  Sadly, he died that winter, but his children kept his dream alive and sailed the Hjemkomst to Norway during the summer of 1982.  I came because of the ship, but was mesmerized by the story and inspired by the man. Seeing that ship was worth the drive and extra day on our journey.  It would have been worth the trip if it had just been sitting in a tent with nothing else in the Center, but it wasn't the only thing to see.

Outside the building, on the grounds of the Hjemkomst Center, is a replica of the Hopperstad Stave Church in Vik, Norway.  A college professor named Guy Paulson built it, combining his love for wood-carving with his ancestral heritage.  I must admit that, at the time when I was grabbing our coats to brave the freezing temperatures outside, I wasn't exactly excited by the prospect of the church.  To me, it was an add-on, an "also ran" - I was there for the ship!  I quickly came around, though, as we took in this marvel of craftsmanship.  The structure of the church is gorgeous - the columns, roofs, beams, everything about it is beautiful.  Then, you get up close and you see the carvings, each piece a work of art.  You can mark the ages and the religious feelings of the ages through the carvings and other art, which Dr. Paulson meticulously copied.

The tour did not last nearly long enough, as everyone was freezing and ready to return to the Center.  We hurriedly went up to the apse and looked around.  It was perfunctory, as the real artwork was behind us.  But then, off to the right, cut into the exterior wall, was a small little window, which I believe the guide told us was called the lepers' gate.  From the outside, it is stationed on the ambulatory, a covered walkway where lepers and other undesirables could congregate and participate in the mass.  I was at once awed and repulsed by the lepers' gate.  It represented a dichotomy to me; it was an avenue through which those who were isolated could receive grace, yet also a barrier - part of the isolation from the community.

I had not gone to Moorhead to see the church, least of all the lepers' gate.  Yet, once I saw it, I couldn't stop thinking about it.  It has stayed with me since that trip, and I have not been able to shake it.  I loved the dream and the triumph of the Hjemkomst - Robert Asp's story inspires me, but the lepers' gate haunts me.  It is this haunting that inspires this blog.