Pastor’s Blog

Don’t Harvest to the Edge of the Field

Who would expect that a sermon on the Leviticus admonition not to harvest all the way to the edge of the field could give insight on how we work! Well, Maggie’s sermon—and her example about how she “harvested” all the work and did not leave work for a co-worker—certainly convicted me. I know that it is better to share the work and to include others in the process, but sometimes it becomes easier to do it myself.

And if Maggie’s sermonic nudge wasn’t enough, this week on Facebook a Christ Crossman ex pat living in TX posted a quote from Baden Powell: “When you want a thing done, ‘Don’t do it yourself’ is a good motto for Scoutmasters.”  

The harvesting all the way to the edge in terms of work is not intentional, but it does tend to creep up. I remember at one church I served, I recognized that a second worship service was needed. I was given approval by the PTB to begin the earlier service provided that it not cost the church anything extra. I managed to do it. Here at Christ Crossman, as we have moved to include more technology in what we do, especially in worship, I have taken those tasks on myself—not because I wanted to do them all, but because everyone else was already wearing so many hats, I couldn’t bring myself to add work to their plates.

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, had some advice for God’s chosen, somewhat reluctant leader. Instead of handling all the people’s problems himself, he should appoint leaders to handle most issues, bringing only the most serious for Moses to deal with.

Responding to Maggie’s implied question of how am I not giving someone the opportunity to serve and to work with a purpose, I first say, “Oh, my. Mea culpa.” Forgive my thoughtlessness, O Lord. Forgive my arrogance, O church.

Exodus 18:23

 If you do this and God directs you, then you will be able to endure. And all these people will be able to go back to their homes much happier.

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Relentlessly Kind

Like many of us, I was raised with the admonition, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” So I have been silent in this venue for a bit.  Being silent, however, can sometimes be construed as giving silent agreement to words or actions that may be unjust, harmful, or demeaning. How do we navigate this divisive time in our world when it seems that it is now okay to say anything about anyone whether or not it is true, helpful, or insightful?

This week I saw a video[1]of Lady Gaga who, I am learning, speaks and acts from a deep center of faith and commitment to justice. Along with the Dalai Lama, she talked of how important it is for us to be “relentlessly kind.” Instead of “pointing fingers at where we think the bad guys are,” we need to forget the labels and act out of our common humanity with kindness.  This is not the same thing as allowing injustice or hatred to go unchallenged. It does mean to remember that we are all children of God whether we agree or not. As Willimon writes in Fear of the Other, “The Other may be regarded by us as Other, but is never an Other to God. The Other may be an enemy to the United States, but God is not an enemy to the Other. The Other may hate us or God, but God loves the Other.”[2]

Where and how can I act with relentless kindness today, tomorrow, and every day henceforth?

Micah 6:8

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

    and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

    and to walk humbly with your God?



[1]http://www.indystar.com/story/news/politics/2016/06/26/dalai-lama-lady-gaga-urge-kindness-indy/86247112/

[2]Willimon, William H. (2016-04-05). Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love (Kindle Locations 831-833). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.

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The Lord Is My Light…

“The Lord is my light, my light and salvation, in God I trust, in God I trust.” Thus begins one of the psalmists in a poem/hymn about facing moments when we feel assailed or set upon. Some of those moments come upon us suddenly while others creep unnoticed into our presence until we are engulfed.

Many years ago, I noticed that I had a tendency to have a good bit of difficulty with my life during the month of February. During one of my upper-class years of college, I made a declaration that February would not defeat me that year. I cannot remember any specifics about what I did differently. I think simply taking note of the darkening of my spirit helped me face it and keep from being overwhelmed.

It was not for many years that I ever heard about S.A.D., or seasonal affective disorder. Also known as the winter blues or blahs, and other names, it is believed to be partially caused by the lack of daylight hours and the tendency to be less active during the winter months. Some treatments involve sitting with source of bright light, and intentional increase in physical activity.

This week we will begin a series of services looking at our version of S.A.D., or Spiritual Affective Disorder, exploring some of the ways that we can engage with the light of Christ in common everyday activities that can become spiritual practices for us.

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what we truly celebrate this season

Sharing what I wrote for a young adult friend facing a deep loss:Back in college, I read a bit of Paul Tillich, a 20th century theologian, who wrote about God as the ground of our being. That image has stayed with me through the years. It has brought m…

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what we truly celebrate this season

Sharing what I wrote for a young adult friend facing a deep loss:Back in college, I read a bit of Paul Tillich, a 20th century theologian, who wrote about God as the ground of our being. That image has stayed with me through the years. It has brought m…

Read more →

There are stories, and then, there are other stories

A couple of Sundays ago, as we have been exploring how even an old tight-fisted, hard-hearted miser like Ebenezer Scrooge can find redemption, we took a look at how our memories can become fuzzy over time. The community of family and friends around us can help clarify what we remember, but there is a danger in blindly trusting a version of the story without checking it out.

Usually it is the victor’s side in a confrontation or war that tells the version which gets accepted as truth. Here in the United States, we have grown up with one primary story of how our nation was founded and expanded. That conventional account leaves out a great many of the darker details. The people who were on the “receiving” end of those omitted or de-emphasized events often experience further trauma as they try to reconcile their own stories.

Recently, I have had to work hard at reclaiming real stories from alternative versions offered by others. This is difficult work for me since my memories were challenged fairly often by my mother who said things “didn’t happen,” or “didn’t happen that way,” creating a tendency to doubt my own story and allowing it to be discounted, though never really forgotten. The psychological concept of dissonance describes what happens in a case like this. The person who experiences dissonance often seeks resolution or harmony by choosing to give assent or allegiance to the “side” put forth by the ones with whom she or he wants or needs to be accepted even if that runs counter to what he or she really believes is true. Correcting this tendency takes hard work and often creates conflict.

We have seen this at work lately in the world in our political system, in the very real case of the Dakota pipeline, in Black Lives Matter, and in so many other situations. In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, as Scrooge confronts his memories, he begins to make connections in his mind with his behavior in the present. He begins to rue shooing away the caroling boy to whom the smallest copper coin would be a fortune, turning away the gentlemen who sought his assistance for the poorest, and treating his clerk so harshly. That he begins to regret his actions is important; he is not quite ready to go into full-on atonement, but cracks begin to form in the hardened armor of chains in which he has protected himself.

Where do those cracks need to occur in our own lives? Where do they need to be widened? What is the story that needs to be rightly told and known? How about the story of why we celebrate the birth of a particular baby so long ago? What if, instead of telling the story that the world was evil and needed to be overcome—keeping us at odds with the world, we tell the story of how God comes to remind us of what we have forgotten: who we are, whose we are, how connected and in relationship we are to be with all the creation?

Well, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

John 3:17

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

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The Game’s Afoot!

From a few folks who raised the question about how to reach out to the community at Christmas time, to the dream team who brainstormed ideas, to the whole staff who took those ideas and began to shape them, to Mallory who had a vision of how things should look and work, to the folks who set up stations and donned costumes, Christmas Is Afoot! was brought to life, and powerfully so! This is the way to work together, to build something beautiful and meaningful in order to welcome our community. As always, there were a few hitches along the way, but we got our giddyup going and overcame them. I am so proud of all of you, of all of us.

The title of the event came as a reference to when Sherlock Holmes would say to Dr. Watson, “The game is afoot!” as he dashed out the door to pursue clues. In a way, we were saying to our community, “The games afoot! Let us go out to see the ways that show how God has come among us!” The Creator of all that is has come among us as one of us, reaching out hands and feet to draw us close, to welcome us in to the expansive, eternal heart of grace and mercy.

This is the story which finally began to draw the old miser Ebenezer Scrooge out from behind the closefisted, churlish, and ungenerous walls of his counting house and of his heart. The chains he had fashioned began to become tenuous as he visited his past. This week brings him closer to the possibility of life and hope.

It is to this gleam of life and hope that I will cling. Into the darkness, a great light has shone.

Isaiah 9:2

The people who walked in darkness

   have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness

   on them light has shined.

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The Game’s Afoot!

From a few folks who raised the question about how to reach out to the community at Christmas time, to the dream team who brainstormed ideas, to the whole staff who took those ideas and began to shape them, to Mallory who had a vision of how things should look and work, to the folks who set up stations and donned costumes, Christmas Is Afoot! was brought to life, and powerfully so! This is the way to work together, to build something beautiful and meaningful in order to welcome our community. As always, there were a few hitches along the way, but we got our giddyup going and overcame them. I am so proud of all of you, of all of us.

The title of the event came as a reference to when Sherlock Holmes would say to Dr. Watson, “The game is afoot!” as he dashed out the door to pursue clues. In a way, we were saying to our community, “The games afoot! Let us go out to see the ways that show how God has come among us!” The Creator of all that is has come among us as one of us, reaching out hands and feet to draw us close, to welcome us in to the expansive, eternal heart of grace and mercy.

This is the story which finally began to draw the old miser Ebenezer Scrooge out from behind the closefisted, churlish, and ungenerous walls of his counting house and of his heart. The chains he had fashioned began to become tenuous as he visited his past. This week brings him closer to the possibility of life and hope.

It is to this gleam of life and hope that I will cling. Into the darkness, a great light has shone.

Isaiah 9:2

The people who walked in darkness

   have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness

   on them light has shined.

Read more →

Hard Decisions

As a certified administrator and interpreter of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I find a lot of insight in thinking about the different ways we have of seeing and interacting with the world, taking in information, and making decisions. When I work with an individual, group, or a couple who have taken the indicator, I always try to be clear that the MBTI simply measures a few scales by how a person answers the questions. It cannot tell someone how brilliant they are, how well adapted or not they are, or even how intelligent they are.
In explaining the scale of how a person makes decisions—thinking or feeling, both of which are rational functions, I often refer to a group exercise sometimes known as “lifeboat triage.” The group is told that they are the survivors of a shipwreck, riding in a lifeboat with some supplies. They are far more days away from land or rescue than they can possibly survive on those supplies if all are to share equally. On board the lifeboat, the members vary in age and ability. What is the group to do? Share equally until all die equally before hope of rescue? Or does the group make decisions on who shall survive? This is where the triage comes in. How does one decide who shall survive, or who shall die first?
This is not an easy exercise for anyone, but a “thinking” type who makes decision on an objective basis might, just might, be able to reach decisions more easily than a “feeling” type who makes decision on a subjective basis. They each have the same information but they will weigh it according to different criteria. 
In case it seems to be simply an exercise for a group to explore, let me remind us it is not. Recently, I heard someone dealing with a tough decision about an employee who is not, and has not for a long time, performed up to the standard of the job, so much so that other colleagues have had to bear the brunt of the employee’s incompetence. On one hand, protecting against the squandering of resources is an important stewardship.  On the other hand, the employee has a family for which to provide.
Justice may be blind as she weighs out the determining factors in the case, but how does mercy bear on the matter? This is not an easy decision to make. I say this as someone who tends to operate more by the mercy factor. I have tended to live with the uncomfortable consequences of a situation rather than force a “just” conclusion. I admit that at times matters become more complicated because of this tendency. Sometimes, I have wished that I could just not care about how a decision would affect another person so I could just make it and be done with it, but that is not how I am made.
How do justice and mercy work together? How can they walk together? I do know that it is important for them to remain hand in hand. Justice without mercy is cold and hard. Mercy without justice can be slippery without resolution. For now, I do not have the answers. All I know is to pray for wisdom, and for forgiveness.
Leviticus 19:15
You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.
Psalm 51:1

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

Micah 6:8
What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?
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All SHALL Be Well

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
I know I wrote using this quote from Julian of Norwich only a few months ago, but this is my lifeline, my call, and my mantra just now. I wear a chain with a silver möbius strip around my neck. Julian’s words are etched into the silver. I find myself fingering the twisted circle as I think and pray. This reminds me that I am a small finite part of this divine dance of God’s grace and love. The entirety is much larger than I in so many ways. 
This past Sunday, our district superintendent, Cathy Abbott, preached in worship at Christ Crossman reminding us that our greatest call is to align ourselves as closely as ever we can with God’s will–not my will, but your will, O God, you who call us to do justice, to love mercy/kindness, to walk humbly with you. If our hearts are aligned with yours then we will seek this path in all our relationships. Still, there is no guarantee that we will not make mistakes, that we will not mishear, that we will not misjudge our steps. What is our recourse? With the psalmist, I cry:
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning.
More than those who watch for the morning,
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.
Thus, it is not a simplistic statement of faith. Rather it is a deep abiding affirmation that our beginning, our end, and our present are within the God who stands with those watching in the morning. Look, there is our hope. See, there is love. All SHALL be well!
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