Why I stand with Planned Parenthood

I want to thank the many Facebook friends who commented and shared by recent Facebook posts on why I, a conservative christian writer, am standing with PP against Trump-care. One of friends pushed back with a link to an organization that claims PP’s statistics are inflated and that they are only interested in providing more abortions. This bit of fake news was rebutted by the many women who shared personal stories of how they had been helped by Planned Parenthood, and even given the medical care that they needed to successfully become parents. It hit me as I scrolled through these comments that acts of genuine kindness are rarely reported because of privacy concerns. Stories need to be shared. Hope triumphs over hate.

Trust the Process

The salvation of our souls is a process. Paul describes it this way, “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). There is a death process, where we release our hold on the things of this world. There is also a mysterious life process, or resurrection. We have to trust that these two processes are linked. If we let go, we also take on. The dying can be an old selfish way of seeing the world. I might have been raised with racial stereotypes or with a competitive attitude about life. If I can let go, God has a process that will fill me with love for others.

I find myself thinking of a caterpillar spinning a cocoon and beginning their transition to butterfly-ness. The caterpillar has to trust the metamorphosis process. Why should he let go of his old life? He was happy feeding his face, munching across the magnolia leaf. Every butterfly that we encounter has made the same choice, to let go of their old life and trust the process. Do we have the courage of this little worm?

Often our default approach to life is to doubt and to be impatient. We know that there is a process for everyone to share the road. If we follow the traffic laws, we can arrive safely at our destination. Yet we speed. If we encounter a detour or construction, we swear. We start looking for ways to use parking lots and shoulder lanes to get ahead of everyone else. The opposite of trusting the process is to look for questionable ways to obtain our own ends. We break the rules. We circumvent processes put in place to help everyone.

Sunday, June 25, 2017
Pentecost 7

The Church's stand on Healthcare

We simply want healthcare that is:

Universal — this means that every resident of the United States should be covered to a basic standard without exception.
Equitable — this means that coverage should extend equally to all medical conditions. The cost of a preexisting conditions should not be born by the victim. The reproductive process should be insured irregardless of gender, personal choices about sexuality, or the religious beliefs of others.
Affordable — the final cost of healthcare to the individual should be based on income. It shouldn’t be dependent upon where one lives or the type of work one does.

For the Next Generation

You are never too old to be mindful of the next generation. When the Bible tells us an incredible story of this elderly couple, leaving their home and immigrating to a new land at eighty, and then becoming parents at a hundred, and then learning how to use Pinterest and Snap Chat at a 120… the point is not how old Abraham and Sarah are. The point is that the next generation always matters.

Angels come to visit Abraham and Sarah. Their message, “God is not done with you yet.” I don’t think God is ever done with anyone of us. The move that Abraham and Sarah make to Palestine, and the birth of Isaac and Ishmael to this retired couple, are not things God did to make them happy. He brought about these miracles so that future generations might have a home and a place to prosper.

We in the boomer generation have a hard time remembering that everything is not about us. Sometimes God uses us for purposes that go beyond our lifetimes. I do not have, nor does it look likely in the future for me to have, grandchildren. Yet, I am passionate about the future. It is why the Paris Climate Change Accord really matters. It is why I want to see that democratic process is upheld in our country and that political polarization gets reigned in. It is why immediate tax relief matters little to me, but social justice is everything.

If we want to laugh with Sarah this morning, we have to accept her passion for the next generation. We may not be able to birth that generation, but we can become involved in seeing that they get an education that is better than the one we received. We can’t offer them a less crowded world, but we can work towards one that provides food, housing, and justice for all.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Pentecost 6
Father's Day

Three things about Creation

As I begin the summer, with all of its activities, I always refresh my commitment to spend some of it simply enjoying creation. This year I hope to continue my pursuit of elusive butterflies and their caterpillars, which I photograph and post to my Facebook page. Learning which caterpillar becomes which butterfly has helped me to appreciate the complexity of God’s creation. Where before I saw woods and meadow, now I see habitat, biodiversity, and adaptation. This is a spiritual maturation that Genesis 1 and Psalm 8 encourage. What lays ahead of us should be a season of wonder.

Genesis gives a simplified, non-scientific, account of the beginning of life on earth. I think it is silly to pit this ancient text against modern understandings of how the world works. Genesis is a gift given to us to inspire awe about our world. We see God declaring everything good; both the darkness and the light, both the sea and the dry ground, both our home turf and the dome of heaven. We are free to explore all of this and to become wise. Evolution and other scientific discoveries, allow us to understand the ongoing dynamics of biology. Knowing these things helps us in our fight against life-threatening pollution and climate change. Only a fool would think science and religion are enemies.

Sunday, June 11, 2017
Trinity Sunday
Pentecost 2

Try not to fall for Dumb Idols

Idolatry is a big thing today. I visited Edmonton, Canada a few years back. They have this big silver thing in the middle of town. It’s a reproduction of the Stanley Cup that their hockey team has won a few times. Pittsburgh gets one of them things every once and a while. We try not to make an idol of it. How are we doing?

Ever since Mohamed Ali people have been saying, “I’m the greatest.” Most have been less deserving than Mr. Ali. You may have someone over you at your workplace who thinks that they are the greatest — it has a way of making them a lousy boss. Many people today work for a business that wants them to idolize the company — that is — to sacrifice your thoughts and your family time for its ends. No job should do that.

There are people both commoners and politicians today, who are making an idol out of their political party. They believe that any end that advances their agenda can be justified — whether it means gerrymandering voting districts, or spreading rumors about an opposing candidate, or giving their unqualified relatives and friends a position in office, ahead of those who know something about governing. Political crap and idolatry is ruining American democracy. If we want them to stop it, we best start calling it what it is, idolatry.

Face it, though, from the moment we are born, we are encouraged to worship false idols. As a child, I was taught that people who had lighter skin were superior — I had to unlearn, with great embarrassment and difficulty — the idolatry of racism. Some of us were led to the false idols of alcoholism and drugs. Some of us took on compulsive addictions like pornography and endless hours of computer gaming.

Paul writes in I Corinthians 12:2:

Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Pentecost 1
Day of Pentecost

Where is the Soul of the Church?

Just before he was betrayed, captured, and crucified, Jesus warned his disciples that he would be leaving them. In his extended prayer (John 17) Jesus reveals a key concept: just as God was present in the world through Jesus, so also, Jesus will continue to be present in the world through his Church. In John 17:13-17, Jesus says that his Church will be in the world, but not of it. How do we understand Jesus? Simply, he was a man who was in the world, but not of it. He was fully human, but also fully divine. He was a citizen of heaven, yet also a resident of first century Palestine. Imagine three over lapping circles: The top circle represents Jesus’ divine nature (fully God). The bottom left, his life and physical presence among us (fully man). The third circle represents the world he came to save (John 3:16). Now that Jesus has gone back to heaven, his church takes over the bottom left circle — we are now the physical presence of Christ in our community. God is still on top, overlapping our circle. The world is still to our right, overlapping the church and, through the Holy Spirit, the divine circle. The soul of the church lies where the three circles over lap. Note that this Soul is not in the safe part of the circle with the majority of the church’s programs and concerns. It is out in the dangerous intersection of our holy God and the chaotic world.
Sunday, May 28, 2017
Eastertide 7
Ascension Sunday

Future Goals

One of the effects of the church growth movement and our current loss of membership is to bring to the fore experts who emphasize goal setting. I like the wisdom offered by Robert M. Persig, “To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top.” As we look for shalom, we’ll keep coming back to this basic concept that inner peace can’t be located elsewhere. It’s not in a future goal, like a paid off mortgage. It’s not over on a Hawaiian beach or up in heaven. Have you ever hiked a wooded path with a friend and just talked and found the conversation to be satisfying? Shalom is in that moment.

Connecting with the Athenian Philosophers

The Bible is a big book, but much of it is repetition. God speaks common sense in triplicate. But, real self-revelation from the divine is doled out very sparingly. To compensate for this, God has gifted people in every era and location to be storytellers, artists, musicians, and dancers. Wherever an inspired work helps people to live more wisely, to seek for healing in their relationships, and to grasp that there is something beyond this material world, there the voice of God is heard. By being both multicultural and multilingual, God does an end run around our tendency to associate religion with our pet dogmas. When the Apostle Paul paid to visit to Athens, he stood in very spot where Socrates had taught some four hundred years before. Paul made a point of complimenting the Greeks for their diligence in pursuing both philosophy and religion. In his mind the search for shalom was a universal activity something that both united and challenged all human beings. He said, “[God] is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’” (Acts 17:27-28). In our world of polarization and religious fanaticism, we need to once more speak about the common grace that God gives to all nations.
Sunday, May 21, 2017

Running From Easter

Who are these guys and why are they going to Emmaus? Recent archeology puts Emmaus at 19 miles from Jerusalem (160 stadia), not seven (60 stadia).  This agrees with some of the oldest texts. Early scribes dropped the one hundred stadia, perhaps because it seemed incredible that someone was trying to walk that far, in sandals, without GPS or an MP3 player. These dudes were motivated.  Even though the women were saying, “Jesus lives,” they were hitting the road, hard. I guess witnessing a crucifixion does that. Especially when you are afraid of being tarred with the same brush.

 

Sunday, April 30, 2017
Easter 3
Communion

Spreading Shalom

What was Jesus’ first word to his friends when he came to them the evening of Easter? It was Shalom. This is a word that means more than just peace. Wholeness, healing, living a life that has integrity and consistency. Shalom speaks of God’s providence. It means that we are fruitful in our work and loving in our relationships. It means that we have our material needs met, and that we can care for the needs of others. Further, it means that we have this for eternity.

Jesus showed the disciples his hands and side, so that they would know it was him. He had risen from the dead and he wants us to know that there is shalom on the other side. The disciples and women had carried him into the dark, cold, gave on Friday. They saw him alive on Sunday. He showed them that there was a new pattern; life-death-and life again. He said one word, shalom.

Then he gave his disciples and his friends the command that they carry shalom out into the world. He sent them into world that only knew this pattern; life-suffering-death. He gave them good news. There is a new pattern; life-suffering-shalom-suffering-death-shalom. Shalom is the word. It blesses us. It blesses others. When we encounter people suffering in this world, we bring them shalom.

Jesus then gave to his disciples one additional meaning for shalom. Shalom is forgiveness. Shalom is the promise of healing in our relationships. Shalom is the promise of peace between the broken factions of our world. Shalom embraces the ISIS terrorist and the sister who stole money from you. Shalom embraces the boss who abuses his office and the child who is sent to school without lunch money. These are Jesus’ words:

Sunday, April 23, 2017
Easter 2

How did you come to Easter?

John tells us the Easter story through three very different sets of eyes. Peter, Mary, and John represent three people who come to accept that Jesus is alive via three very different routes. As we look at each one try to find the one aligns that best tells your own faith journey.

Peter’ day begins with Mary Magdalene pounding on his door. “Wake up. I know you’re in there. Wake up!” She tells him that someone has stolen Jesus’ body. He is off and running. He is now responsible for what is left of the Jesus Movement. Since Jesus died, the women and the disciples have been depending upon Peter to get them out of Jerusalem and safely to Galilee. He is their leader. Don’t think of Peter as impulsive. Having been through what he has been through this week, he is a changed man. A defeated man. People who have had their hopes dashed tend to become real pragmatic. He has probably spent the whole sabbath packing and planning how to go north by way of all the back alleys.

Then Mary is there saying that Jesus’ tomb has been robbed. He runs to see what she is talking about. He knows that half of the crew won’t leave town with him until he investigates and sets this latest problem to rest. So he comes to the tomb and sees nothing. It takes the rest of the day for him to accept the Easter story.

Many of us are like Peter, accommodating the good news bit by bit. We stick to the practical and depend upon others to explain things to us. We may not describe ourselves as religious. But Peter gets to be a part of the Easter story.

Sunday, April 16, 2017
Easter Morning

Being Judas

If you read John chapters 12 - 13 and Matthew 26 together, you get a much fuller picture of Judas. It’s almost too good of a snapshot for Judas’ motives and ours line up. Judas values money, security, and always being seen to do the right thing. Hey, those are my values too. While it may be convenient to say “the devil made Judas do it,” or that it was fate, this isn’t biblical.

 

Like a prosecuting DA, we must lay out a case based upon the facts. Unfortunately, Matthew and John have a different order to their stories. But the character of Judas, and its implications for our own propensity for betrayal, has veracity.

 

The events are as follows:

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Friendship and Risk

Jesus is friends with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. It is a relationship that exceeds the one he has with the twelve disciples. The intimate phrase that Martha uses when she calls Jesus to come to Bethany is “the one whom you love…” The disciples don’t question Jesus’ love for Lazarus. They simply think that going to a village two miles away from Pilate, Herod, and the Sanhedrin is insane. Love for our friends can be insane. 

I suspect that Jesus has known these people from childhood. I am currently working on a novel about this friendship titled “Bethany’s People” (look for it in Lent of 2018). John’s Gospel has Jesus going frequently to Jerusalem; and Jesus doesn’t go as a tourist. He seems to know the place like a native. Bethany is only two miles from Jerusalem. It was Jesus’ habit to stay there. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017
Lent 5

A Fair Witness

In the classic Sci-Fi book, Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein imagines a world where people train to become “fair witnesses.”  A fair witness is prohibited from speculating or repeating what they haven't seen for themselves. They only speak about what they know from direct experience. For example, when asked to describe the color of a house seen in the distance, the fair witness responds, “It’s white on this side.” 

 

The blind man who is healed and made to see by Jesus is a “fair witness.” When asked by the Pharisees to explain how he came to see, he says, “Jesus put mud on my eyes. I washed. Now I see.” The Pharisees don’t like this. Mud hasn’t been approved as a treatment for blindness by the FDA. Nor was Jesus a healer they could believed in. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017
Lent 4

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