We once invited several families with children my son’s age over for dinner. Once everyone arrived, we all went into the room where the kids were playing. But guess what, we dads saw our kids playing together with the cardboard blocks!
Well, as good fathers, we had to participate. Didn’t we?
While preparing this message, I remembered that when he was younger, my son would play with big cardboard blocks. And, once he built something, he’d often knock it down and start over, and over, and over.
When you’re two, play is not about being the biggest, nor the best, nor any other measure of success or superiority. It’s about playing, about imagination, about stacking blocks. It was also about playing with someone. Blocks were a favorite pastime with Mommy and Daddy, Grandparents, and friends.
Playing with someone was fun. Our participation – being with him in his play – was the point. There was no goal, no purpose other than enjoy playing … together. It was about relationship.
Continue reading “The Most Pernicious Idol of All (IV)”
…We are not alone, [and] we are called to live that reality out in meaningful ways. We are to bring the Good News to all. No one is alone: no matter who they are, what God they worship, what color their skin is, their politics, the size of their bank account, what language the speak, where they were born, how able their bodies or minds may be, what gender they identify with, and no matter whom they love. God loves us all unconditionally: no prerequisites, no expectations, no limits, and no end.
So, how do we live out the reality of this infinite Love of God when we can’t gather together in the ways that have been essential to the life of our church for so long?
Let us pray… … Lord God, may your peace and Holy Spirit fill us this morning. Open your scriptures to us, and may I clearly communicate what you intend us to receive. May your Word take root and flourish within each and every one of us, and through it may we be strengthened and transformed by your unconditional, living, and limitless love for each and every one of your children. In Jesus Name, Amen.
As I read this morning’s scripture (Acts 2:1-19), I imagine the disciples huddled in that Upper Room. They are no longer afraid, but Jesus’ last command is to remain there, to “shelter in place,” until they receive the promise of the Creator. So they wait, separate from those who resumed their normal lives after the turmoil and death of that first Easter week.
I’m sure they mourned. I’m sure they prayed and planned. They must have wondered about Jesus’ promise and his commission to be witnesses there in Jerusalem, then in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of all the earth. How would this Great Commission be fulfilled? They waited.
And there our church sits. All of us are gone. We’re waiting. Only Pastor Tom is there this morning, all alone. We have quarantined ourselves from our neighbors and friends. But like the disciples, we know we must soon move on to something new.
Continue reading “Sermon: Not Alone (Pentecost)”
The Gospel is very clear and very explicit on this: It is we who must change to include others. They are not called to conform themselves to our standards.
There’s been quite a furor in the news recently (as noted in this link to a column on CNN) about two lawmakers in Mississippi who are invoking what they call “The Billy Graham Rule.” They are using it to shut women out of the political process in ways that are what I’d term antediluvian: resorting to tropes and portrayals of women that we know to have never been respectful, let alone accurate, and which have the effect of oppressing and excluding women from public life; keeping them under the control of men; and treating them more as property than as persons worthy of respect in their own right.
Continue reading “About the Billy Graham Rule”
There’s been quite an outcry against Virginia Governor Ralph Northam
(D), just as there was a couple of weeks ago against Florida’s Secretary of State to be, Michael Ertel
(R). In both cases, both men – and both quite a few years ago – did some things that were at best ill-advised and insensitive at the time, and which are now seen (rightly) as very racist.
In looking closely at the careers of Governor Northam and Mr. Ertel, we see men who are very focused on a just and fair political system for everyone. We see men who have been taking principled stands against those who would undermine our political systems in the name of power and advantage.
Continue reading “There But For The Grace of God Go I”
In thinking of the alleged crimes of SCOTUS Nominee Brett Kavanaugh, I find myself wrestling with a thorny issue: one that has been seen over and over again in the long list of sexual predators who have been revealed (or accused) in the recent past.
To begin with, let’s get one thing perfectly clear. Any sexual crime, no matter how seemingly minor it is (or was), nor how long ago, nor whom the aggressors (or victims) were, is precisely that: a crime. It must be treated as such. It is NOT something to be swept under the rug, nor hidden, nor ignored. Those who are the victims of such crimes – no matter how fragmentary and disjointed their memories seem to be – must be heard. They must be treated with respect, with compassion, with impartiality, and without prejudgment as to who they are, or how valid or invalid of a person (or victim) others may portray them to be.
Frankly, any victim of oppression must always be presumed to be telling the truth – until proven otherwise. Our first and foremost duty is to immediately see them, hear them, and protect them, They must be kept safe, and feel safe, from further aggression by either the original oppressor / abuser, or from the attacks of others.
And that leads me to my main point, which is a twofold concern.
Continue reading “Sexual Violence and Redemption”
This is an essay I wrote a few years ago (with a few minor edits). Given how fractious and judgmental our interactions with others have become, it seemed helpful to share these cherished memories of a lovely – if eccentric – friend….
– Pastor Allen
Although I may not have a lot to say about my ex-wife, one quality of hers that I admired was her ability and willingness to reach out to others from all walks of life. Today, I’m particularly remembering the friendship she initiated with “Old George”.
Old George was a bitter, foul-mouthed old man who lived in a very cheap apartment near the center of Rochester, MN in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. (I am not denigrating the owner of that building, who had a personal mission to provide low cost housing for those who in Rochester had no other place to go, but that’s a story for another time.)
He spent most of his time in and around the downtown of our hometown at the time: Rochester, MN – or at the nearby Apache Mall. He rode his old bike each day to and from his apartment. He always dressed the same: a worn and heavy coat apparently made from lambskin which was held closed with an old rope tied around his waist. Completing his outfit were rarely washed worn pants, a flannel shirt, and old shoes.
Continue reading “Loving the Unlovely: Old George”
I enjoyed working as a dishwasher in my teens, and still do. Nowadays I’m often the first one of our family to get out of bed, and use my time alone in the kitchen for finishing up any dishes not done the night before, as well as cleaning the counters & stove top, emptying the dishwasher, putting things away, etc. It’s relaxing; and a meditative, creative time & activity for me. (I’ve written many a sermon or blog post in my head while washing dishes, including this one!)
Some part of me – as with most people, I suspect – really enjoys making things neat, clean, and well ordered. When all is done, there’s a sense of accomplishment. We’re ready for a new day. All is right with the world.
My wife and I have this little private joke, which seems to happen at least once a week: As I’m finishing with my morning kitchen cleanup and putting away the last dish – excited at the prospect of having everything DONE in just a few more seconds, I’ll hear a light “thunk” behind me and turn around to see her placing a dirty glass next to the sink. She chuckles and walks away. I chuckle, too. Sometimes I’ll be a little dramatic: “Oh God, NOT AGAIN!!!”
Continue reading “That Last Dirty Glass”
The people of Gaza have made it clear that all they want is jobs, food, adequate sanitation and healthcare, a safe place to raise their children. They want some hope for their future; something more than the hopeless and meaningless lives they now have.
The recent events in Gaza are distressing, to say the least: thousands of Gazans attempting to cross the border into Israel, protesting the inhumane conditions in Gaza. Scores of them murdered by members of the Israeli Defense Forces. Many of us have seen the videos of IDF soldiers cheering when a sniper shoots a protestor. We’ve seen people in Israel celebrating the slaughter of their Palestinian neighbors.
This whole situation is disturbing on multiple levels.
For one, many Jews (not all Jews) are seeing and treating their Palestinian cousins as animals: celebrating their deaths, taking their land, murdering and imprisoning those who resist or protest, giving no credence whatsoever to any of the concerns and voices being raised in protest to how Palestinians are being treated by the Israeli State, blind to the injustices that they themselves are visiting upon their neighbors. They’ve become indistinguishable from the genocidal regimes and individuals that were responsible for the slaughter of tens of millions of Jews in WWII (and before).
Continue reading “The Need for Humanity in Israel, Gaza, and The West Bank”
In 1 Kings chapter 2, the Hebrew Bible speaks of the bloody purge commanded by King Solomon at the start of his reign. One of the young King’s targets was Joab.
Joab had been David’s most capable commander: ruthless, zealous, and without an ounce of compassion. He seemed to be intensely loyal to the Monarchy, but that did not necessarily mean he was blindly obedient to the King. For instance, a few years earlier he had killed David’s rebellious son, Absalom against David’s wishes; and he killed a rival (and his own cousin) Amasa, whom David had appointed to replace Joab. Finally, when David died, Joab made the mistake of supporting a rival claimant to the throne, David’s son Adonijah, instead of David’s [apparent] choice, Solomon. Not a nice guy, to say the least!
Once he became aware that a purge was taking place, Joab fled to the Tent of the Ark of the Tabernacle, claiming Sanctuary as others had done before him – including David himself. Upon hearing this, Solomon ordered his new General to kill him anyway; and so Benaiah went into the Temple and slaughtered Joab there.
The modern “Sanctuary” movement embodies this same concept: we can (and should) offer sanctuary to those fleeing injustice. On the other hand, we cannot (and should not) provide sure sanctuary to those fleeing justice.
In my little New England hometown of Lincoln, Massachusetts, this very question is on the ballot in this coming weekend’s Town Meeting: shall we as a town adopt a resolution declaring we are a “Welcoming, Safe Town which resolves to make all residents, workers and visitors feel safe and secure regardless of immigration status.”
Continue reading “Compassionate Sanctuary”
Our current economic and social imbalances rob people of their dreams, and it is dreams that we need to have hope for the future. Our dreams embody our hopes; but if there is no hope then all we have is our nightmares.
The “Starman Tesla” we’ve all heard about in the news has caused quite a stir. Elon Musk’s launching of his own personal Red Tesla Roadster into space with “Starman” – a Spacesuit-clad dummy – at the wheel has captured the imaginations of many, producing innumerable new internet memes.
On the other hand, a fair number of Progressives and those involved in social justice have pointed to this as a prime example of the imbalances in today’s economy and society. They say that Billionaires like Elon Musk are throwing away money when they do things like this. They feel that this is another example of how out of balance our society is – too much money at the top, and not enough for people to meet basic needs, even for many who once saw themselves as “middle class.” And yet, going too far down that path can lead to error – as it did with Judas the Betrayer of Jesus.
Even so, they have a point: our society is out of balance.
Continue reading “Starman Dreams”
We are all valid. We are all wonderful. We are all unique. God made it so.
I came across this fascinating video yesterday. It was created last year by Hillary Diane A. Andales, a teenager living in the Philippines, to provide an easily understandable explanation of the theory of relativity. Her video was the winning entry in the “Breakthrough Junior Challenge” of 2017.
What I find most fascinating about this video is its relevance to many of the battles we see being played out in the media and other forums within this country, and around the world, every day. The focus of these battles always seems to center on the question of “Who is right?” Ultimately, they are battles over the question of who’s reality is THE Reality. But, Ms. Andales’ video forces us to ask ourselves whether such battles are worth fighting at all.
Continue reading “Who’s Right? It Depends…”
We cannot be our own judge.
“No, I am not a racist.”
The problem with self-declared exonerations such as our president recently gave is that they’re meaningless. (And no, I’m not saying that he or his administration is meaningless – far from it! But, judging the meaning of the current administration is not the subject of this posting.)
Here’s the issue: statements such as “I am not racist” originate from our own point of view. They are an expression of how we see ourselves. And of course, we are our own heroes in the reality show that is our life. So, no – we’re certain that we’re not racists. We’re not misogynists. We’re not bullies. We’re not evil. Those are negative words, about nasty things – everybody agrees they’re nasty, but we’re not nasty – so no, such nasty, negative, sad terms are not labels that can be applied to us.
In proclaiming our guiltlessness, we ignore that we cannot provide a valid and balanced judgment of ourselves with regards to the accusation that we are racist. That judgment must be left up to others, to those who are the victims of racism. Our racism (or any oppressive behavior we may exhibit) can be only identified by another, not by ourselves. We cannot be our own judge.
Continue reading “I’m Not Racist?”