Who Was That Masked Stranger?

Like a lot of people around the world, I’ve been wearing a mask for a few months.  I used to always wonder why people from Asian nations wore masks and now I know.  Most people are wearing them to protect other people from catching the coronavirus.  The masks most of us wear aren’t going to protect us from the virus, but it can prevent the other person from you if you happen to have the virus and since you can be asymptomatic, it makes sense to wear a mask in public places.  It’s weird for all of us to have to wear these masks covering our mouths, but if it can slow the spread of the virus it kind of makes sense.

Well, it makes sense to most people. Some like this gentleman in Florida, seem to think putting on a mask is some kind of conspiracy.

There is a movement taking place where wearing a mask is not something you do out of safety, but out of weakness. R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things magazine caused a stir in May as he shared his thoughts on the issue.  In one of his widely shared tweets he said the following:

Just to reinforce. Talked to my son in Seattle. The mask culture if fear driven. Masks+cowardice. It’s a regime dominate by fear of infection and fear of causing of infection. Both are species of cowardice.

Just to make sure people got the point he added the following tweet:

By the way, the WWII vets did not wear masks. They’re men, not cowards. Masks=enforced cowardice.

To say that all of this caused a stir is an understatement. Many, many people responded to the series of tweets with a lot of righteous anger. That response must have rattled Reno because he not only deleted the tweets, he deleted his entire Twitter account. So much for being manly.

Wearing of masks is not unheard of in America. During the 1918 Flu Pandemic, there were people who wore masks and those that didn’t. Cities such as San Francisco and Seattle had ordinances requiring people to wear masks. Just as there were recommendations and laws were in place back then, there were people that opposed such a requirement. San Francisco had something called an Anti-Mask League.

Reno is a Christian, and he is presenting a view about what our faith says about wearing masks.  In his view, Christianity is supposed to be strong and not weak.  It isn’t cowardly and fearful, but it should be daring and bold.

But is that a Christian view? In the second chapter of Philippians, Paul lifts up Christ as an example of what it means to be a Christian.  Paul says:

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

 

To live as a follower of Jesus, means being willing to be humble and to live for other people.  We aren’t wearing masks because we are scared, we wear them to protect others.  Since someone can be asymptomatic, wearing a mask stops the virus from spreading to others. If we are follower of Jesus, we aren’t being cowards, but caring for the other.  Wearing a mask protects my 86 year-old mother from getting the virus.  Wearing a mask protects the person at the check out at the grocery store.  Being a Christian is as much about living the faith than it is talking about faith.

One day, we won’t have to wear these masks and I will be happy.  But for now, I’m going to wear the mask because when we wonder if Jesus would wear a mask, all I need to do is look to Philippians to know the answer.

Comfort Foods

Comfort foods.  We all have them.  We have something that we like to eat that makes us feel good inside.  When you’re having a terrible day or you feel under the weather, having your favorite meal or drink can be a bit of a pick-me-up.

My comfort food is shrimp fried rice.  I think I love it because it harkens back to simpler days when I was young. I remember eating shrimp fried rice as a kid and the best place to go get that dish was a Chinese restaurant in my hometown of Flint, Michgan called Kenjo’s.  It was just at the edge of downtown and I remember we would go there at times to have lunch after church.

These days when I have a bad day, I will still order shrimp fried rice.  At the age of 50, life is not as carefree as it was when I was 10.  Getting a good dish of Shrimp Fried Rice especially when life seems to be going sideways, makes me feel good.

Comfort food makes us feel good. Comfort food is….comfortable.

Sometimes in life we need comfort when we feel beaten up by life.  Or when we are grieving the loss of a loved one.  Comfort is even found in the Bible.  Comfort, comfort my people, God says to the people of Israel in Isaiah. That message is a balm to the Israelites who at the time of the writing are in exile, far away from their homeland.

But for Christians, comfort can be something that keeps us from taking part in God’s work in the world.

It’s so easy to want church to be comfortable.  We want to meet our friends and listen to the choir or even sit in our favorite pew.  As humans, we love the familiar.  We don’t want to have to face our fears.  We don’t want to fail. It’s much easier for us to stay in our comfort zones where things are familiar and things are safe.  But is that what God wants for us? Did Jesus stay in a comfort zone?

In the tenth chapter of the book of Acts, Peter is called to go and preach the gospel to a Roman soldier, a gentile named Corneilus.  At first, he isn’t crazy about this.  He believed the revelation of Jesus Christ as Lord of all was a message that was for Jews and not for Gentiles like Corneilus.  God had to show him in a dream that yes, going into all the world preaching the good news and making disciples to was something God wanted shared with everybody.  None of this was in Peter’s plans.  But he listened to God and decided to go and visit Cornielus.   Peter had to get out of his comfort zone and it’s a good thing he did.  His message to Cornielius touched the Roman and his household and the Spirit moved among them.  Peter realizes that the gospel belonged to these Gentiles as much as it ever did to him.

Peter got out of his comfort zone.  What about us? A friend shared a quote attributed to Pope Francis that I’d like to share:

“The Holy Spirit annoys us. The Spirit moves us, makes us walk, pushes the church to move forward. [But] we want the Holy Spirit to calm down. We want to tame the Holy Spirit, and that just won’t do. The Holy Spirit gives us consolation and the strength to move forward and the moving forward part is what can be such a bother. People think it’s better to be comfortable, but that is not what the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit brings.”

The Holy Spirit comes to our lives and communities of faith in wind and fire and as comfort food.  And that terrifies us.  We don’t want the Holy Spirit sending us to do unfamiliar things.  In some ways we want to be like Bilbo Baggins, the famous hobbit in JRR Tokien’s novels who was content to live a simple and comfortable life.  But then life comes crashing in literally and he is pressed into service because the world was in danger and his help was needed.

Our own world is in danger.  We have a pandemic that is flaring up again putting millions in danger.  We are dealing with the long history of police going after people of color.  Race relations are at a low ebb.  What is God calling us to do?  And are we willing to follow even when we don’t want to and wish the Holy Spirit would shut up every one in a while?

Comfort is great when it comes to food. When it comes to churches? Not so much.

To the Church at Lake Wobegon

Dear Friends and Family of First Christian Church of St. Paul:

Last week in the immediate aftermath of the killing of George Floyd I decided to go for a walk. We live in North Minneapolis.  It was a nice sunny day, perfect day for a walk.  “Be careful,” my husband Daniel said as I left.

Later that evening, I was chatting with my mother. As we finished our phone call to say goodbye, she asked me to be careful.

Be careful. This has been my reality since I was a kid. My parents were telling me to be careful ever since I was a teen. Growing up in 1980s Michigan, my parents were always concerned about me, not that I was doing something reckless, but because I was a young black man. Even now when I’m 50 years old, some loved one is always telling me to be careful. This is how African American men ( and even African American women) have to live. Black mothers worry when their sons go out with friends. They worry they will get in trouble with the police or worse.

George Floyd was seen as a threat. He had a target on his back on that Memorial Day when he met his end on a Minneapolis street. For far too long, too many African Americans have been viewed not as a fellow human being, but as a threat, worthy of being killed.

Before I go any farther I have to say the following: I believe America is a good nation. I know there are good cops that care about their communities. I know there are good white people. I know that we aren’t living in a time of segregation like my Dad did growing up in Louisiana in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. All of this is true. And yet, a middle-aged black man is dead, again because of the color of his skin.

What’s infuriating is that George Floyd was a gentle giant, a committed Christian who moved to Minneapolis a few years ago from his native Houston in search of a better life, dies at the hand of a cop who had a long history of complaints and for some reason remained on the force. He was engaged to be married and he never got the chance to walk down with his love.

But what is upsetting and frightening is that it could have been me. It could be me. Floyd is only a few years younger than I am. I pray that it never happens, but it is not out of the realm of possibility.

And then there were the riots. Coming from Michigan as I do, you learn about the Detroit riots in 1967. It’s no surprise to African Americans and other people of color that Minnesota is not an idyllic place. Racial disparities are among the highest in the nation. That said, I would have never, ever thought there were going to be riots like what I’ve seen in the past few days. To say that Minneapolis is burning is as weird as saying Lake Woebegon is burning, but it has happened.

So where do we go from here?

That’s the rub. Talking about the problem of race in America is always a challenge because you have those who want to live in denial that there is a problem (and that includes some African Americans) and those that think there are racists under every bed. But I think as Christians what it means is that we live our lives with God’s table at the center. The Restoration Movement which gave birth to the Disciples believes strongly that the Lord’s Table is for everyone. Now when Alexander and Thomas Campbell were making their argument about the communion table they were informed by the internecine battles within the Presbyterian Church. If you didn’t believe the right way, you couldn’t have communion. The Campbells believed it was God, not an interpretation of a creed, that invites us to the table. God wants to be in a relationship with us and God desires that all us be in relationship. So in light of all this, we have to live a life that welcomes everyone into a relationship with each other and God. We have to be communities where people from all walks of life are welcomed, united in Jesus Christ.

Relationship means listening. Listening means being vulnerable. Relationship is rooted in reconcililation. It means living a sacrificial life and opening yourself up to dissonance.White Americans have to be willing to listen even when what you hear goes against what you know or experience. That’s hard to do because we all come with our own experiences and biases. It’s hard to listen to something that doesn’t jive with what you believe. But I think White Americans have to do that because we can’t change until we hear the stories of African Americans that might not be the story you are used to.

But in that relationship there also needs to be grace.  Far too often, having a conversation on race become stilted out of fear that something will be said that is offensive.  The thing is, if we are going to have an honest talk on race we will stumble and say something that might come off as offensive.  It means making mistakes, seeking forgiveness and moving on. It means African Americans should show grace to their white sisters and brothers understanding that we are all sinful and all in need of God’s grace.  The racial reconciliation is messy and that’s okay. It will be messy.

As an African American man, I am honored and blessed to be the lead pastor of this congregation that doesn’t just have diversity as a value, but we live it out. We come from various racial and ethnic backgrounds and yet we are in a relationship with each other. But even here, we have to be willing to listen deeper and make space for grace. Because those unsettling stories are there just below the surface and they need to be brought forth and dealt with.

Second, we have to be involved in the work of reconciliation. Our Presbyterian sisters and brothers wrote in the Confession of 1967, that God’s reconciling love breaks down barriers, the Church is called to fight for reconciliation:

God has created the peoples of the earth to be one universal family. In his reconciling love, God overcomes the barriers between sisters and brothers and breaks down every form of discrimination based on racial or ethnic difference, real or imaginary. The church is called to bring all people98 to recieve and uphold one another as persons in all relationships of life: in employment, housing, education, leisure, marriage, family, church, and the exercise of political rights. Therefore, the church labors for the abolition of all racial discrimination and ministers to those injured by it. Congregations, individuals, or groups of Christians who exclude, dominate, or patronize others , however subtly, resist the Spirit of God and bring contempt on the faith which they profess .

I am reminded of the parable of the Good Samaritan. We’ve heard the story of the man traveling down the road who ends up beaten and left for dead by robbers. Two religious people see this injured man lying at the side of the road and pass him by. For whatever reason, they didn’t stop to offer help. Finally, another man comes by, a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along, but this man didn’t care about whatever animosities kept them apart. He takes the injured man and places him on his donkey to the nearest inn. He even tells the innkeeper to keep a tab that he would pay back when he swung back that way again. The Samaritan got involved. He could have said this was none of his business and moved on, but he didn’t. He got involved.

The same thing needs to happen now. I said in a sermon four years ago, in the aftermath of Philando Castile’s shooting that the only way these killings of black people by police will stop is when white Christians, white Americans step up. This is not simply a problem for African Americans but it is all of our problems. It’s an American problem and most of all it is a spiritual problem.

The past few days have left me angry and sad. As a community and as a nation, we have a lot of work to do. We need to start talking But I have hope in Christ. I have hope in the Christ that died a horrible death, suffering with humanity and freeing us from the bonds of sin. Ultimately, I have hope because, in Jesus Christ, the evils of racism will never have the last word. Let’s pull up a chair to God’s Table and start talking.

 

In Christ.

Dennis Sanders, Lead Pastor

Blood Cries Out

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When I was 13, I remember going to the credit union with my mother.  Mom was busy talking to one of the tellers while I waited near the door.  I was just kind of keeping to myself not really paying attention to what was happening around me.  Most people who knew me, saw me as someone who was quiet and probably too sensitive emotionally. I wasn’t really a threat to anyone.

Little did I know, someone did think I was a threat. A security guard came up to me and asked what I was doing.  I was a bit surprised and before I could answer, my mother came up and said sternly that I was with her. She learned that the security guard came up to me because another teller was basically scared of me. As we left the credit union, Mom was mad at the teller who saw me as a threat.  She was also a bit upset at me for not being more aware of my surroundings.

I look back at that event and I see how naive I could be.  I had grown up in the years following the civil rights movement of the 60s.  Growing up in mid-Michigan in the 70s and 80s, I grew up not knowing a lot of the open racism that was so rampant in American in the decades before I was born.  My father grew up in Jim Crow-era Louisiana in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.  He knew about how you could be the judge because of your skin.  Because that wasn’t the world I grew up in, I didn’t understand that anyone could see me as something to be feared.

Like many people, I’ve been made aware of the horrific murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25- year old man who was murdered by two white men in Georgia who thought he was a burglar. Greg McMichael and his son Travis saw Arbery running in their neighbor and believed he was fleeing from a crime scene.  The reality is that Arbery was jogging.  Something that the two men should have noticed, but didn’t.  The McMichaels took off in their truck with guns and long story short Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed.

Now, I truly believe things are better for African Americans than they used to be.  I can do things that my Dad wasn’t able to do because of segregation.  I think our nation is in a better place than it was circa 1955.

But better doesn’t mean perfect.  While the rampant racism that defined the American South for decades has receded, it is still present.  Arbery is part of a long line of African American men that have died at the hands of white Americans in recent years.  The ghost of Jim Crow still haunts America.

In the last day or so, the phrase “blood cries out” got stuck in my head.  That phrase comes from Genesis 4:8-11, the story of the brothers Cain and Abel.  Cain kills Abel and when God asks Cain where is Abel, Cain replies dismissively. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God responds by saying the following:

 “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.

Abel’s blood cried out from the ground. God heard the cry of the victim, Abel, and wanted Cain to face the justice of God.

In the book of Deuteronomy, a law stated that if the body of a person was found in a field and no one knew who killed the person, a group of people determined which city the body was closer to. Representatives would sacrifice an animal as an atonement to God for the sin of murder. It didn’t matter that they themselves didn’t do the crime. What mattered was that it mattered to God. Blood was crying out from the ground and it needed to be answered. Taking this crime seriously meant they cared about life.  If a city refused to do this, it sent a message to God about how they viewed life.

Ahmaud Arbery’s blood cries out from the Georgia soil.  The McMichaels have been charged with murder.  We know that temporal justice is at least beginning.  But what about the justice of God?

I don’t have an answer.  What I do know is that all of us must care.  To ignore this, to avert our eyes, means we don’t hold life as sacred.  To ignore it is to say that the color of one’s skin determines their worth.

Arbery’s killers will face trial, but in a way, we are facing trial as well.  How will we respond to the justice of God who weeps over the blood crying out?

Brighter Days Ahead

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Since there isn’t a lot to do in these days of COVID, my husband Daniel and I went for a walk Sunday.  We walked up and down one of Minneapolis’ many parkways. We were walking back towards our car and past a number of houses on the parkway.  Maybe a block or two from our car, we saw someone- probably a child- wrote in chalk on the sidewalk.  The writings were all positive sayings that really spoke to the times.  One of them seemed bold in saying “brighter days ahead.”

It was an interesting saying to make at this time. All around us, it feels like brighter days are never coming again.  All around us, we hear people getting sick and people dying and dying and dying.  We have no idea when this crisis will end. We have no idea how long we have to keep our distance from each other.  We don’t know when the virus will dissipate. In my own life, I had just heard a few hours prior of the surprising death of young colleague in Oregon, who died of a heart attack.  It didn’t feel like brighter days ahead.

I think about trips to the grocery store or Target and seeing the bare shelves. People are taking toilet paper, eggs, and bread because they don’t know if there will be a time when they can’t leave their houses.  The people don’t think there are brighter days ahead, those empty shelves are a sign of fear.

When I was in college, my church group would sing a song that began, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.”  I didn’t know it then, but the phrase was from Lamentations 3:21-23.  Lamentations is an interesting book because it is written after a devastating event.  The writer searches for God in the midst of the chaos and they move from utter helplessness to a sense of hope.  Things are still horrible, but they have hope.  They trust God is faithful and never gives up.  They believe even though the environment around them is bleak.

Daniel showed me a performance of the St. Olaf Choir in Norway.  They sang a song by Kim André Arnesen called “Even When He is Silent.”  The text was found at a concentration camp after World War II:

I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining. I believe in love, even when I feel it not. I believe in God, even when He is silent.

Someone who very well may have faced death at a concentration camp still believed in God even though life would tell you God isn’t there.  That’s hope.

I think that is what we have to have these days.  Brighter days ahead is not a nicety to make us feel better when life is crappy.  It is lighting a candle in the darkness, believing that whatever evil seems ascendant and in control will not ever have the last word.

We believe in life even when there is death all around.  Because we believe that in Christ there are brighter days ahead.

 

 

 

So is brighter days ahead just a nice trope to

 

 

Buried with Christ

There is an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Dr. Beverly Crusher notices people on the Enterprise are vanishing. She learns that she has been zapped into some kind of pocket universe that is collapsing around her. She has to find a way of getting out of this dying universe before it was too late.

As Americans adjust to this altered life in the shadow of the coronavirus, I feel at times as if the world I knew, the world all of us knew until a few days ago is collapsing around us. Little by little, we can’t watch our favorite sports team, or go to church or even go to our job. My husband asked me a few nights ago when do I think we will forced to “shelter in place” as people in the Bay Area are having to do. In normal times, I would have said that won’t happen to us. I can’t say that now. In a few days we could be forced to just stay in our homes.

All of that brings about a strange feeling; a feeling I couldn’t initially put my finger on. But then it hit me: it felt like I was being buried. First government authorities said no gatherings under 500. Then 250. Then 50. Then 10. Some parts of the United States are now under lockdown. People can’t leave their houses except to get groceries or gas. I get it that this is needed. I know we need to do this to “flatten the curve.”

And yet I am filled with sadness. People are shut up in their homes. Businesses stop. Jobs lost. People die.

It’s not the end of the world, but the end a world. It’s the end of the world we used to know and it feels like…death. We are buried.

It is interesting that the COVID-19 outbreak is happen during the season of Lent, those six weeks where we join Jesus on the road to Jerusalem where he will be totured and executed by the state. Being buried feels like it would have on that dark Friday we call good so long ago. You feel the coffin sealing shut and being lowered into the ground. You can hear the dirt piling on top of the coffin, telling you that you are not ever getting out.

In Scripture, Jesus’ body was placed in tomb and the stone rolled in front of the tomb. There was no way of getting out now.

I think about the disciples in the days following Christ’s death. In Luke 24, the Risen Christ meets two disciples who still believed Jesus was in the tomb. They didn’t have any hope that they would see Jesus ever again. They had to feel a sense of hopelessness. Nothing good was coming around the corner.

Right now, I know no one can tell us that things will turn out fine. They won’t. At least not for a while. There is no vaccine. No treatment. It won’t be over in a few days or weeks. It could be months. Maybe even a year. There is no way to be optimistic here at all. It is bad news all the way down. We are buruied and we aren’t going to get back up.

So no, I’m not optimistic. But I am hopeful.

I have hope because even though Jesus was buried, shut up in a tomb, we know Jesus didn’t stay dead. He rose from the dead and defeated death. The loss we feel, the sense of death is not forever. No virus can win forever. We have hope in Jesus Christ and we believe death will never have the last word-even when we are shut up in our homes, even when it feels like death is on the prowl. It is that hope that we must hold on to even when our world slowly dies. We can rest in the hope that death can’t win. Colossians 2:12 remind us that we are buried like Christ and like Christ we are raised. Baptism is a reminder of this. When we feel buried, we know that Christ was buried.

We need that hope because we need to share it with others who are not just losing their “freedom,” but losing their jobs because of the coronavirus and the economic harm that is coming will be brutal. We need hope because there are dark, dark clouds on the horizon.

My mother loves the hymn “Because He Lives,” by Bill Gaither. It might seem a bit syrupy, but I think the chorus speaks to me right now:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

Tomorrow is not looking great. But the Christ that was buried arose from the dead. At a time like this, that is the hope I hold on to.

Not My Problem

This morning, a visitor showed up for worship. During the passing of the peace, I came over and introduced myself. By the time the sermon began, the visitor was gone. I realized how he talked about church made me think he was planning to worship with the church that rents out space with us, which is a bit more conservative.

But I still felt bothered that this man left. It reminded me of the visitors that have come to the church and then never decides to become a part of our congregation. In both cases, I blame myself. I start to wonder if I wasn’t nice enough or not friendly enough. I even wonder if I am bad luck for the congregation since we have not had visitors that want to stay and be a part of our community. I try to write letters to let them know I enjoyed visiting them and that I truly care.

But I’m starting to think this really isn’t on me after all.

I know my aspergers can make me come accross as uncaring at times, but I’ve worked hard to be caring and respectful. I’ve done what I can to welcome people. At the end of the day, I can’t be responsible for how they respond. I can trust that God will work with them, but I can’t change their mind unless they are willing to change things.

I tend to make myself responsible for everything and everybody. But I can’t change people-unless they want to be changed. I’ve been trying to meet with a friend who says they want to get together to chat. I’ve contacted the person with dates to meet more than once and I never heard back from this person. This has happened to me with other people again and again. People seem to “ghost” me a lot. I do get upset about that. At the end of the day, however, they have to make the decision to contact me; it is up to them. If they want to meet with me, great. But, they have to have to the balls to contact me. That’s what grownups do.

For a long time, I’ve blamed myself for visitors not staying at church or letting friend take advantage of me. I can’t allow that to happen anymore.

Roll the Bones

One of my most memorable experiences in seminary was taking a class on the book of Job. That book has always fascinated me in the fact that Job loses so much in what seems like a short period. He loses his fortune and more tragically, he loses his children and his health. His friends came by and they all have a debate on why all of this was happening. Did he do something wrong? Where was God in all of this? Why did this happen?

There was a tragic sense of irony in that the professor who taught us had to deal with the death of his wife after a long illness during the class. As we were learning about Job’s questioning, the professor had to face his own tragedy as well.

I’ve been thinking about the “hows and whys” we all deal with in our lives. Why did he get cancer? Why did she die? Why did they lose their baby? We can’t help but ask why tragedies happen and no matter what, we wonder why bad things happen to you and the people close to you.

Suffering is a part of the human experience, but that doesn’t mean we never ask why suffering exists. I think the question is also part of the human experience.

I’ve been thinking about this in light ofthe recent news of the death of Neil Peart, the drummer and lyricist for the Canadian rock group Rush. Known as one of the best drummers ever, his death from brain cancer was especially tragic because he had already suffered such profound loss in his life. Within the space of a year, Peart lost his daughter in car accident in 1997 and then lost his wife to cancer months later. He retired from drumming in 2015 only to discover his diagnosis of brain cancer months later.

Peart was known for incredibly profound lyrics, which was a welcome oddity in the rock world. One of those profound lyrics is the 1991 single “Roll the Bones” from the album of the same name. The point of the song is that bad things happen, they just do. Life is random. We never know when our luck will run out so Roll the Bones, take a chance at living. “We go out in the world and take our chances, fate is just a weight of circumstances, that’s the way that lady luck dances, roll the bones.”

When I was younger, I would have been bothered by that line of thinking believing it was godless. But age has made me think life is far more random than we want to believe. I think God is present and moves in our lives, but God is not a master puppeteer making sure everything works out. Because life is random and circumstantial, we might not want to take risks. Why should we try to live in this very scary world where your plane can get hit by a rocket?

But we are called to live our lives. As people of faith we know that we are profoundly loved by God, no matter what happens in our lives.

Which reminds me of the obituary of one Ken Fuson. Fuson was a journalist who worked for many media including the Des Moines Register. He died on January 3 at the age of 63 from cirrohsis of the liver. He wrote his own obituary which included a ton of wry humor. But midway through the obituary, he talks about his gambling addiction and his faith in a world where he dealt with pain and illness. But instead of railing against the unfairness, he expressed the presence of the love of God:

For most of his life, Ken suffered from a compulsive gambling addiction that nearly destroyed him. But his church friends, and the loving people at Gamblers Anonymous, never gave up on him. Ken last placed a bet on Sept. 5, 2009. He died clean. He hopes that anyone who needs help will seek it, which is hard, and accept it, which is even harder. Miracles abound. Ken’s pastor says God can work miracles for you and through you. Skepticism may be cool, and for too many years Ken embraced it, but it was faith in Jesus Christ that transformed his life. That was the one thing he never regretted. It changed everything. For many years Ken was a member of the First United Methodist Church in Indianola and sang in the choir, which was a neat trick considering he couldn’t read a note of music. The choir members will never know how much they helped him. He then joined Lutheran Church of Hope. If you want to know what God’s love feels like, just walk in those doors. Seriously, right now. We’ll wait. Ken’s not going anywhere.

Despite all the sadness in his life, he had a sense of joy that seemed to withstand what life threw at him. It was unfair to get a liver disease even when he didn’t abuse alcohol. But instead, he witnessed the incredible of love and grace of God. He rolled the bones and let life happen, good and bad, knowing that God was with him and loved him.

Job never got answer from God about his suffering. But he knew God was present. So we should the life God gave us with boldness and be willing to take chances, knowing that whatever happens, we are loved by God.

Why does it happen? Because it happens. Roll the bones.

Soto Voce, Revisited

Photo by Maria Krisanova on Unsplash

Two years ago, I wrote that I was ready to write about religion again. But I don’t think I was ready yet because I didn’t write as much. I had also wrote less about politics for a long time.

I tend to be someone that is hypoemotional, meaning I don’t always feel emotions, even though my body is emotional, if that makes sense. I’ve gone through traumatic experiences and yet appear calm and in control. Over a few years, I went through a number of traumatic experiences that really left me afraid to express what I was thinking. It even affected my writing of sermons, leaving it really hard to write a sermon. I just lost the joy of writing and looking back, it felt as though someone had stole that joy and in some ways that is exactly what happened.

But something has happened as of late. Turning 50 last October made me start thinking about making changes. I feel more like writing about everything. I’m still not totally back to form like I was six or seven years ago, but I feel like I’m moving towards some emotional healing. I’ve been able to do some writing beyond blogging, doing some freelance writing. I even want to do a podcast on politics or religion or even both.

I’m not going to say everything is back to normal, because it isn’t. There is still some fear about writing. There is still emotional pain. But I think healing is happening, letter by letter and word by word.

All Is Forgiven

I’ve been preparing for the sermon for this coming Sunday and I’ve been reading and thinking about the text: Mark 2:1-22. The very first story is the story of the four men who went up to the roof and lowered their friend down to where Jesus was healing. Everyone always focuses on the extreme faith and love on the part of those four friends. But what made no sense, is when Jesus sees the man being lowered, he doesn’t immediately make this man walk. I mean it was as plain as the nose on one’s faith. Why Jesus feel the need to say this man’s sins are forgiven?

Maybe it was because the man himself wondered if his predicament was because of the result of sin. Does it mean that he sinned and became a paralytic as a result? Probably not. But think about this man’s situation for moment. We don’t know if this has been his condition since birth or it happened later, but you can wonder why you are in this predicament. In John 9, Jesus meets a blind man and his disciples wonder if he sinned or did the man’s parents sin to make this man blind. Jesus says neither. But when you are in this condition, you might be more aware of your sin than other times in one’s life.

What matters is that Jesus saw this man, saw the awesome faith of his friends and told the man what he needed to hear: that he was forgiven, that the burden that he carried was no longer his.

There are lots of people in our midst who are weighed down with guilt, sin and sadness. The question for us today is not that we can forgive their sins, but can we bring them to Jesus in the same way that this man’s friend did? They were willing to help their friend even if it meant tearing up a roof to get their friend to be healed by Jesus.

As Christians we are called to share the love of God with our friends and neighbors. A friend recently said that in many cases, the people that we meet are longing for forgiveness. Bring them to Jesus can help them realize a sense of grace in a world that is graceless.

Now, that might sound odd to some because especially in mainline Protestantism, there has been a move away from forgiveness towards justice. There is a need to focus on justice issues, but there is also a spiritual side of life where people just want to feel a sense of grace, to know they are forgiven. Sometimes that is even more important to people than a physical healing.

So as we prepare for Sunday and we meet our friends, know they are carrying burdens. How can we bring them to have an encounter with Christ? How can they experience forgiveness from Jesus?

Sometimes forgiveness feels more important than healing.