“Approve of Him”?

I’ve recently seen a spate of Facebook posts, political emails and opinion columns saying the writer can’t (and we shouldn’t) “approve of the President.”  I would suggest this is a fundamentally flawed approach…

Saying this suggests we should hate or dismiss the man for what and who he is.

Really?

And yet, as a minister, I and many of my peers constantly preach and demonstrate we love all of our neighbors no matter who they are or what they believe.  No matter what their race, income, nationality, immigration status, marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  Jesus taught that we are to love each other without judgment, without preconditions.

That includes the President, too.

So, I cannot approve of him, nor disapprove of him.

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Going Too Far

Some thoughts regarding the push to get advertisers to drop sponsorship of Megan Kelly’s new show in advance of her first broadcast tonight, in which she interviews a conspiracy theorist who’s said some really vile things about Sandy Hook and its victims…

In a Huffingtonpost article, Emily Peck says…

“We unleashed this monster, and sometimes it’s a great weapon for social justice and sometimes it’s people censoring and sometimes it’s both.”

I know people who were very close to some of the Sandy Hook victims, and others who were deeply involved in ministering to the survivors. And so, I know that conspiracy theorists like the crass and hate-spewing blabbermouth Ms. Kelly interviewed (to be broadcast this evening) should not be given a chance by anyone, let alone competent journalists (of any political stripe) to spread their hateful and hurtful poison.

But I think the author of this article is right. Trying to shut down the broadcast of something, because we have PREJUDGED it to be abhorrent is censorship, and will ultimately do more harm than good. We don’t yet know how she will portray this guy or his message.

We can go too far, and this is such a case.

They Started It!

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

– The “Second Great Commandment” – Matthew 22:39

In a recent interview with Sean Hannity on Fox, Eric Trump said that those who oppose his dad “are not even people” and then proceeded to criticize those who are calling his father names, and making all sorts of vile accusations against him.

I’ll have to admit, it’s really hard for many to take such ire seriously.  After all, no one has ever accused our current president of being a high-minded politician.  And, all of us (even his most ardent supporters) can easily recite quite a long list of derogatory phrases he has used to label those he sees as enemies.  He’s a master at the craft of name-calling and the memorable insult, we all know it.

But, does that justify our own insults of him in return?  And, does our own insulting of him justify his supporters (and him) re-insulting us back?  And, does their re-insulting of us in response to our insulting of them after they insulted us justify our re-insulting them back again?  And, does our re-insulting of them for re-insulting us after we insulted them for their insulting us justify their re-re-insulting us again?  And…

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Another Step in the Journey

Well, today is my last day as Minister for ARK Community Church. In a few minutes, I will hop in my truck for the long drive out there for my last service as their minister.   (It will actually be a potluck brunch of some sort, I’m told!)

I’ve been told to not prepare anything for the service, and that’s all I know. Although, just to be safe, I’ve prepared a couple of points to speak about – if the right moment arises.

Mixed emotions: I’m sad to leave, and I know many there are sad to see me go, but it was time to move on – for them and for me.

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“America First” has become “America Last”

For those who’ve followed this blog (or my ministry) for the last several years, I think you’ll agree that I try to strike a balance between my own beliefs and views (which are clearly rather Progressive); and emphasizing the importance of listening-to those who have different perspectives.  And, I believe this is imperative if we are serious about our faith: we must make a determined effort to really understand where others are “coming from.”

As I see it, we’re all in this together.  And, we cannot make progress towards a better future for all UNLESS we all believe together that it is a better future.  But, there comes a point where the line between reasoned debate and outright insanity is crossed.  That has happened repeatedly in the last few months, and isn’t going to end any time soon.  Even so, I have tried to differentiate between the actions and beliefs of our demonstrably incompetent and self centered president; and the well founded anger and doubts of many who support his administration.  Anger and concerns which many of us on the Liberal side of the spectrum actually share.  There is much more that unites us than divides us, even now.

But for me, this decision of the president’s to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord is the last straw.  (This article from the Weather Channel does a good job of summarizing what this will mean for us.)

Now, for those who have questions about Climate Change, fine: have questions. Ask them. Ask lots of questions. And when well informed folk respond, listen.

But the president’s decision goes far beyond that: it not only flies in the face of unequivocal scientific research and findings; but also puts the USA at odds with the ENTIRE WORLD.

No good can come of this in an environmental, economic, political or diplomatic sense. It isolates us from our allies and economic partners.  It removes us from our former status as a respected world leader.  We are well on the way to becoming the bully with a big stick whom others will have to join together to knock back into line.  It is hard to imagine a worse decision being made by any past, present, or future president – short of starting another global war.

I’m always happy to engage in reasoned dialog on the issue of Climate Change.  But, it is not a left vs. right issue, but a right vs. wrong issue: do we listen to what ALL reputable scientists are telling us? Or, do we subscribe to the conspiracy theories and “research” promulgated by a tiny band of deniers whose motives and qualifications are for the most part highly suspect?

For this country to remain strong, for it to retain it’s position as a world leader, requires more than just a large economy and an oversized military.  Other countries will eventually eclipse us on that score, and even sooner than we might think.  Such leadership solely through raw power cannot endure.  For us to remain a leading nation in this world requires us to lead in other ways.  Sadly, the current administration and leadership in Congress does not understand this, and is leading us down a path from which we will take decades to recover, if we ever do.

Sermon: It is Hard to Say Goodbye

Saying Goodbye is essential to our walk with Christ. It is essential in our relationships with each other. And, is essential in our own growth as living, loving, spirit-filled human beings.

We all say goodbye in many ways and in many different settings: the death of a loved one; the loss of a job or a retirement; College Graduation; the birth of our first child; the end of a relationship. All of these mark the end of one chapter in our lives and the start of another.

Saying “Goodbye” recognizes that something we value, something that is essential to who we are right now, is ending.

Most of us have had to say “Goodbye” to loved ones who died. And someday, those we love will say Goodbye to us when we die. With death, all that we are slips beyond human grasp. All that is left of us here in this world are the memories of those who knew us – good memories and bad; memories that those who love us will carry with them as they move forward into their own future.

Death means saying goodbye to those we love.

The loss of a job or a retirement is another way of saying goodbye: it marks the end of a way of life or a career. We must say goodbye to the friendships and the community and sense of self that are all wrapped up with that position. We are no longer a teacher, or a manager, or a police officer, or a writer – or a preacher. Part of our identity dies, and will never come back again in exactly the same way.

Leaving a career means saying goodbye to a big part of how we see ourselves, and what defines our place in this world.

College Graduation is another way of saying goodbye. …Yes! School is done! But what now? Get a job?? Be responsible?? Rent an apartment and get a car??? OMG, I have to “adult” now??!!  …Nah, I’ll just move back in with my parents!

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Lost But Not Forgotten

This image is of my daughter taking a bow after dancing to the song “I Will Follow Him” in a talent show at our church in October of 1995.  I pulled this from one frame of a shaky and out of focus video of the performance, shot by a very poor videographer (me), using a video camera that was old and tired even then. The video’s quality has not been helped by its later conversion from VHS to DVD and then (recently) to MP4.

Despite the faded and poor quality imagery, my memory of her performance that day is sharp and clear, and always will be.   She was only six years old at the time.  She selected the song by herself and used what she’d learned in her Ballet lessons to choreograph the dance on her own.  And, she selected her outfit for the performance – a red “twirly hoop dress” – all by herself, too.

She did a fabulous job, and kept her composure even when an excited toddler ran on to the stage during the dance.  The congregation let her know their appreciation with a rousing ovation and cheers.  She did great.  I was a very, very proud father that day.

But, it is also a memory tinged with sadness.  A few years later, our relationship was destroyed in the death of my first marriage: I was shut out of her life without any choice or voice in the matter, and know almost nothing of her life since.  I doubt that this rupture will ever be healed.

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An Open Letter to Rev. Franklin Graham from a “Small Church” Pastor

I absolutely agree!

Trinity's Portico

Dear Frank

Can I call you Frank? This is just pastor to pastor. Feel free to call me Peter. Anyway, I have to say I was flattered when I learned that your Decision America Tour took a detour off the beaten path to call upon us “small community churches.” We are nothing if not small. We seat 30-40 on a good Sunday. And we are a century old fixture of our small community. Most often we are overlooked and overshadowed by mega-churches and politically influential religious voices like your own. We don’t hold a candle to an auditorium filled with the music of a one hundred voice choir led by professional musicians. We probably will never be recognized in any nationally syndicated media. After all, we don’t do anything really “newsworthy.” We just preach the good news of Jesus Christ; love one another the best we can (which sometimes isn’t…

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Those *^*%&$ Artifacts

The past is the framework upon which our present is built. So, by appropriating the past of another for ourselves, we are often stealing or destroying their future.

For the last several years my alma mater, Andover Newton, has been wrestling with the issue of repatriation of the significant collection Native American Artifacts it has accumulated over the last two hundred (or so) years. The process has been heavily criticized by many because it has been extremely slow, with little apparent progress to outside observers.
 
And yet, as my fellow alumnus, friend (and awesome minister) Rev. Virginia Child pointed out recently: the reality is that the effort to restore even a single artifact to its rightful present day caretakers is a far more challenging and convoluted process than it would seem. While we usually know where an artifact came from and who originally gave it to the school, identifying who should be the caretaker can be quite a challenge, as this article about a controversy over the repatriation of the remains of an ancient Wampanoag leader demonstrates.
 
So, while it is frustratingly slow, Andover Newton’s determination to be careful and sensitive in the repatriation of each of these artifacts is to its credit. It would be much easier to simply hand them to the first group that shows up with something resembling a valid claim. But, such an approach would only continue and aggravate the long ago injustices that created the present situation.
 
This same type of controversy is an often intractable aspect of far larger conflicts we see in so many places: Israel/Palestine; the Progressive/Conservative battles in the US and elsewhere; the tensions between China and many of its neighbors; North Korea; Black Lives Matter; the controversies in many of our Southern states right now over flying the Confederate flag and the placement of statues and memorials venerating Confederate heroes and events; and the representations of Native Americans in sports team names and logos.  In each case, tensions focus on questions of “Who owns our past?” And, “Who has control over the narrative of what our past means?”

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Sermon: Powerful Witness

We are called to witness, not to win. We are called to testify to the Gospel of Christ through our lives: our individual lives; and through our life together as a community of faith…. This is our powerful witness.

The Lectionary theme this week is “Powerful Witness”. And, our readings from both the Book of Acts and the Gospel of John both reflect on this in different ways.

In Acts 2, we see a community united under the guidance of the Apostles. They are enthusiastic about their newfound faith; and they share it in profound and moving ways. The boldness of their faith is a powerful witness that liberates their neighbors.

But in John 10 we see a community (from several decades later, actually). Here, they are metaphorically represented by the sheep huddled together under the care of the Shepherd. With the last of those who actually knew Jesus now gone. The people feel lost, exposed, and don’t know where to turn to find protection from the dangers that are all around them. They are looking inward. They are not looking outward any more. Their call to bear witness to the Gospel has been set aside.

But, at the end of this passage, Jesus says to them, “I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be liberated, will go in and go out, and will find pastures.   … I came to give life with joy and abundance.” They’re being reminded that because they have entered into the Shepherd’s flock, they are already liberated: They must go out, and they must find new pastures. The pasture is a place where they will find sustenance, and where they can be heard as the Gospel, which flourishes within them, breaks forth.

The community we see in John wants to sit passively under the protection of the Shepherd. But instead, they are told they aren’t going to be allowed to sit there in the sheepfold and be safe. They have to move, they have to leave and go forth. The Apostles may be gone, but the Gospel is still here; and will not allow them to be silent. And yes, the thief is coming to steal and slaughter and destroy (that is their intent). But Jesus is already here, and will instead give life with joy and abundance. The thieves were defeated before they ever got there.

Now, the Acts 2 church is young and open to radical change, to trying new things. But in John, we have a more mature community. The Acts 2 community is clearly a powerful witness to those around them; and we are told that the Johannine Community (the community in the book of John) will be as well. In both cases, the promises are there, and will be fulfilled. They shall both be powerful voices for liberation; perhaps (like in John) in spite of themselves; even with the Apostles now gone.

We see a movement between these two readings, from the enthusiasm of youth to a more mature, more cautious perspective, born of experience and the inevitable losses and disappointments that we all encounter in this life. With more maturity, we can better anticipate the struggles that lie ahead, but that also means we worry more, that those struggles will be too much for us.

A friend and fellow minister recently expressed his feelings about trying to make progress on the many social justice issues that he and all of us here, care about so deeply. I’ll summarize what he said…

“My experience has been that for most people it’s hard to stand up and publicly testify about issues such as gun violence, equal rights, war, poverty, etc. Most people lack the confidence, commitment or conviction it takes to stand up and speak out for justice on a regular basis. They don’t want to offend[. They don’t want to] come off as taking sides on an issue. It’s divisive and risky, even if you have the time. Still, there is always hope, and the struggle continues.”

His perspective is borne of hard experience, like that of the Community in John. They, and he, and we, all know how tough it is to be a witness at all, let alone a powerful one. You feel the resignation in my friend’s words: as he sees it, people just aren’t in it for the long haul, it’s too hard. It is hard.  It is a struggle. But, the hope never leaves.

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The Civil War, Slavery, and Black Lives Matter

The above video from Prager University provides a really good overview of the issue of Slavery and the Civil War.
 
A question to ask: many in the South at the time claimed they would be more supportive of Emancipation if it weren’t for the economic cost of giving up their slaves. So, what would have happened if the North had paid for freeing the slaves?  The cost of doing so was said to be far too high at the time, but I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t have been as costly as the war that resulted.

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Sermon: Redeemed

…our flaws and our failures are not counted in God’s judgment of us. What counts is our willingness to do what is right, even if we don’t succeed. … It’s the Heart that matters, not the Head…. God judges our hearts.

gettyimages-660179780-1024x566This morning, I thought we should tie up some of the loose ends I’ve left from our last two sermons.

Two weeks ago, in the sermon “Very Good” we learned that God sees only the goodness that is an inescapable part of who we are; and which God deliberately put into us at the very beginning. All are just as loved by God as we are; and all anyone needs is a revelation of this Love; a love which heals us from all of our iniquities.

Last week, on Palm Sunday we remembered that we’ve all betrayed Jesus, even God betrayed him. And that we cannot help but muck things up, because muckiness is also a part of who we are.

In other messages I’ve given here, we’ve talked about how – because we are conscious of ourselves, and have the freedom to choose right from wrong.  Then we must have the right to fail. This is also part of who we are. And, we not only can fail, we must. We must  have the freedom to fail, and will, even though we don’t want to.

These messages are somewhat at odds with each other. Two weeks ago, we talked about how we are all, in our heart of hearts, “Very Good” and that God sees the goodness in us, and is determined to save us for that reason.

But last week I said we are creatures of sin, we are always making choices that increase our separation from God. This seed of corruption is buried deep within us: and is a very necessary seed.  If we are to be worthy of Love, and not simply puppets of the Almighty, then God must allow us to be able to distance ourselves from God. We must have the right to fail. We must have the right and power to betray others, even betraying the Son of God himself.

So, how do we reconcile all this? Yes, we are, ultimately, Very Good: beloved children of God. And yet, we killed the Son of God through the sin that is part of who we are.

And, how does this all tie into our hope for redemption, for our salvation which is promised by virtue of Jesus’ Resurrection?

First, let’s begin by talking about sin.   When we refer to “sin”, what are we talking about?

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