Lament

Lament

I posted the following on my Facebook page in September, 2016.  Someone reposted it today.  I feel like I could have written it today….

Lament.

“Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament.” Psalm 5:1

For months, I’ve read many posts about issues ranging from gay marriage to the presidential election to the state of the United Methodist Church to whose lives matter (and, apparently, whose lives don’t). And, for the most part, I’ve remained silent.

Frankly, I’m a coward. If I take a stand, on almost any issue, I know it will outrage and offend some, and I will be attacked. While I’m sure I have “friends” who will support whatever position I might take, I also know I will lose the support of others – including men and women for whom I’ve been, or am currently, their pastor. I guess I haven’t been willing to take that risk.It’s just social media.

And, yet, ideas/opinions/perspectives/positions on social media seem to spread like wild fire – spinning quickly out of control. Standing for one thing seems to automatically imply being the enemy of something else.  When did we become so venomous?

So, while I am still a coward, and I still hesitate to lay all of my cards on the table, I will publicly admit my lament.

I lament for our fallen and broken world.

I lament for the families of young black men who have died unjustly. I lament their loss and their grief. I also lament for the many honorable law enforcement officers who feel unfairly vilified.

I lament for the deep and widening divisions in our country, as I see exemplified in this election. I lament the ugliness I hear from the mouths of people we are called to trust and respect. I lament the fear and uncertainty I feel for our future.

I lament the millions of refugees, who have lost everything and need new beginnings. I lament for immigrants – legal and illegal – who leave their homes and travel dangerous journeys, risking their lives, in order to find work to support their families.

I lament the terror we carry in our hearts as a result of night-club shootings and pressure cooker bombs.

I lament our fear and mistrust of one another.

I lament racism.

I lament the state of my church, which is so deeply divided.

I lament for those who have felt, and still feel, excluded and condemned by the Church because of their sexual orientation.

I lament for those who have been labeled bigots or narrow-minded because they are conservative, and who sincerely want to obey God’s Word.

I lament our inability to love and respect one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

I lament the myriad ways we vilify those we disagree with.

I lament for our inability to be civil, to speak respectfully to one another, to disagree without disparagement – that we seem incapable of bringing our issues to a common table and seek solutions rather than assign blame.

I lament my own cowardice – fearing to take stands and to pay the consequences.

Feliz Dia de Los Muertes (or, for the gringos, “Happy Day of the Dead!”

Feliz Dia de Los Muertes (or, for the gringos, “Happy Day of the Dead!”

While many in the U.S. will observe today as Halloween – a night for Jack-o-lanterns, costumes, parties, and “trick or treating” – our neighbors to the South will be observing a much more ancient tradition called “Dia de Los Muertes” – the Day of the Dead.  The Day of the Dead, originating in Mexico and observed to varying degrees throughout Central America, is a special celebration for honoring loved ones who have died, in hopes their spirits will return for a visit.  Families build altars in their homes, as places of loving remembrance, and they visit cemeteries for family feasts, and to decorate family tombs and grave sites.  Day of the Dead celebrations often include parades, feasts, decorations, and colorful skeletal costumes.

Probably, the most familiar image, to most, from the Day of the Dead is the “Sugar Skull” – images of skulls or skeletons, decorated with elaborated dress and beautiful flowers.

I’ve heard some say the Day of the Dead is evil, or morbid, or, at least, weird.  But, I love it!  If you ask me, Halloween is weird!  Whether Halloween is an opportunity to adorn a different persona, or self-indulge in parties and candy, or, at worst, glorify evil, it’s all a bit strange to me.  But, I think the Day of the Dead is kind of beautiful.

The Day of the Dead embraces death as an inevitable part of the life experience.  The Day of the Dead keeps the love and memories of the deceased alive in ritual form.  The Day of the Dead celebrates life!  The Day of the Dead imagines the distance between the material and spiritual world as being rather thin.

And, frankly, though the Day of the Dead traditions arose from the indigenous peoples of Mexico, aspects of the traditions feel very Christian to me….

  • We believe Christ has conquered death, and opened the gates to eternity.
  • Hebrews 12:1 says we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,” which I understand to mean the souls and spirits of those who have died in the Lord.
  • We believe in honoring the “saints” who have gone before us, and on whose spiritual shoulders we stand, whose lives deserve to be remembered.
  • We believe life is a gift to be celebrated fully.

No, the Day of the Dead is not, technically, a Christian holiday.  But, it is a rich cultural tradition, celebrating life, death, and the life after death.

In ancient times, Christian monks would keep the skull of a deceased and decomposed brother on their prayer desk, as a reminder of their own mortality.  Can you imagine praying, with the hollow eye sockets of a deceased brother staring at you?  Tibetan Buddhists sometimes meditate with prayer beads in the shape of tiny skulls, sometimes carved from yak bone, for the same purpose.

Death is a reality we inevitably face.  There’s just no escaping it!  Though Christians believe we will live forever, none will do so without passing through death.  While death is an enemy, in that it is the end of our earthly existence, it is also a defeated enemy, in that it is not the final ending of our eternal existence.  Really, death is nothing more than a transition from life to more life.  In some ways, death is akin to birth, passing from one existence to the next.

Dare we also say death can be a friend?  After all, death, if we will embrace it, reminds us that each and every day is a gift and blessing.  Death is a reminder to live every day on earth to the fullest, and strive not to waste even one.  And, death is a promise that when the struggles of this life are over – and some of us struggle a lot – there’s a better life waiting for us on the other side.

Feliz Dia de Los Muertes, mis amigos!

Kneeling Isn’t a Sin

Kneeling Isn’t a Sin

I should confess, from the start, I don’t watch professional sports.  I’m not into it.  I actually have some strong objections to professional sports, for a number of reasons.  But, for now, and for the sake of this particular conversation, let’s just say, professional sports aren’t my thing.

But, I’m aware, especially with the release of the new Nike ad, starring Colin Kaepernick, of the controversy surrounding professional athletes kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem.  Though the “kneelers” have many supporters, there are many others, including our President, who are deeply offended by their actions.  Everyone, on both sides, seem to have strong feelings, for or against.  Few, are neutral!

While my point is NOT to debate the rightness or wrongness of professional athletes  – or anyone else, for that matter – kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem, it only seems fair to begin by attempting to objectively explain both sides of the debate.

At the start of the 2016 season, NFL.com quoted Kaepernick, saying, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.  To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”  To Kaepernick, and others who have followed his lead, kneeling is an act of protest against the unfair treatment, and killing, of African-Americans by an unjust system of law enforcement and criminal justice, and the expression of their First Amendment right to free speech.

From the opposite perspective, encouraging the NFL to require players to stand for the National Anthem, in May, 2018, Fortune.com quoted President Trump saying, “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there, maybe you shouldn’t be in the country. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem.”  I’ve heard other’s, of similar perspective, argue that kneeling during the National Anthem is a direct offense and assault on all who’ve fought for our country, and the freedoms we all enjoy, including professional football players.

My point, here, is not to argue for either side of this debate, or the rightness or wrongness of this particular form of protest.  A brief study of the facts will demonstrate, incontrovertibly, racial discrimination does, in fact, exist, in our law enforcement and criminal justice systems, to shocking degrees.  If you don’t believe that is true, study the facts.  Like I said, the facts are undeniable.

But, the facts aren’t really the point, are they?  Something about the act of taking a knee deeply offends some Americans – I mean, REALLY offends!

Some players who kneel have thoughtfully articulated their motives and intent.  Kneeling, thus far, is not a violation of NFL policy.  Kneeling, doesn’t break the law.  In fact, it doesn’t even seem to have significant impact on game attendance, viewership, or profitability.

But, it sure does make people mad!

So, yesterday, after a sermon on discipleship and spiritual transformation, I was asked my position on the kneeling controversy, and if my denomination has an official position for or against it.  I have to imagine this person wasn’t listening to my message, if kneeling was the topic on his mind.  It’s not the first time I, as a pastor, have been asked my opinion on this.  Usually, the person asking is against the players kneeling, and assumes I am too.  And, asking me, as a pastor, implies the “asker” assumes the act must have some theological significance.

In other words, if it offends, it must be a sin.

It’s not.  It’s not a sin.  Kneeling, during the playing of National Anthem, may be offensive to you.  It may even be “wrong.”  But, it’s not a sin.

Whether or not professional athletes kneeling during the National Anthem is the “right” expression or venue for protesting this particular issue isn’t for me to say.  As a white man, who has never experienced the particular injustices being protested, I have no right to judge or condemn the rightness or wrongness of the particularity of the protest.  Arguably, if the act has offended, it’s achieved it’s purpose.  The question is whether those offended will condemn the act, or willingly listen and learn about the reason for the protest.  And, will the protest lead to real societal change?

Christians – particularly white, patriotic, American Christians – offended by players kneeling, ought to keep in mind Jesus’ awkward relationship with the authorities of his day.  Jesus offended, with frequent regularity.  The religious leaders – the Pharisees and Sadducees – were constantly offended by Jesus’ actions, by his teachings, by his lack of respect for their religious practices and traditions, and even their positional authority.  You may recall Jesus treating the political rulers, Herod and Pontius Pilate, rather dismissively, saying he was the King of a heavenly kingdom – which happened to be invading the Earth!

Though Paul taught about maintaining peace with political authorities, he also said, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  (Ephesians 6:12)  In essence, earthly governments and laws can be evil, and evil must be exposed and resisted.

The entire Book of Revelation is a deeply-coded protest against Caesar and the Roman Empire.  I’ve no doubt Caesar and his supporters would have been deeply offended, if they just could have figured out what all those colors, numbers, and beasts represented (them!)!

And, like Jesus, in New Testament times, offending the governing rulers often led to dire consequences!  Offending those in power, and in the majority, often does.  Maybe, that’s the point players are trying to make.

But, we live in a different place and time.  We live in a nation of laws, intended to be just.  We live in a nation that allows, and supports, freedom of speech – even when it offends.  When injustices occur, in our nation, public protests result; like it or not.

So, what is the appropriate Christian response to NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem?  There isn’t one.  But, may I, humbly, suggest the following…

  • Remember, the Bible always sides with those who are victims of injustice.  Whether you agree with this particular form of protest, or not, learn about the injustice it is protesting.  Don’t allow the offense of the protest to blind you to the reality being protested.
  • Remember the Bible’s teachings about not judging, allowing for diversity of opinion, and even loving your enemies.
  • Remember, the Bible affirms the sacred value and worth of every person – even the person who offends you.
  • Remember the biblical teaching on humility.  You might be wrong.
  • Remember, patriotism is not the same as faith in Christ.  While you may deeply love your country, love for the Kingdom of God is something entirely different.  Our primarily allegiance is to a heavenly King and his laws.  What offends you, politically, isn’t necessarily a sin.
  • And, perhaps this is an opportunity to reflect on how the values of professional athletics align (or don’t) with the values of the kingdom of God.  Maybe, from a Kingdom perspective, there’s a lot more sin to be offended by in professional sports, than whether or not a player stands for the National Anthem!  But, that’s a conversation for another blog.

Perhaps some advice, for Christians, from the Book of James, is a good way to close… My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,  because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

Have I offended you?

Blogging silence, hard questions, passive aggression, and the Jesus-litmus test

Blogging silence, hard questions, passive aggression, and the Jesus-litmus test

If you follow my blogging, you may have noticed my recent absence from the blogosphere.  Following daily blogging through Lent 2018, I intended to continue blogging weekly.  But, a couple months back, I hit the proverbial “writer’s block,” and simply couldn’t think of anything worth blogging.  Or, perhaps, if I’m honest, I haven’t been in the right mental/emotional/spiritual “state” to write much worthy of public consumption.  Though I’ve opened my blog-site, attempting to write numerous times, words I was comfortable expressing just wouldn’t come.

Why?

As I’ve shared in previous blogs, the February 14th tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School deeply affected me.  Though I’ve worked through most of my theological angst, I think, I’m still wrestling with thoughts, ideas, and questions I haven’t before.  I’ve never believed in easy answers.  But, my previous questions – ABOUT EVERYTHING – haven’t usually been this complicated.

Then there’s the daily news coming out of Washington D.C.  Though I’ve never been a fan of our current President, and doubted his competency for office from the start, I’m increasingly shocked and outraged by his words and actions, on a daily basis.  I don’t understand how he gets away with saying the things he says, and doing the things he does.  I’m especially shocked by how so many “Christians” are so quick to defend him, his words and his policies, and so quick to condemn those who question him.  In recent weeks, my shock has turned to anger.  Some days, my shock and anger gives way to doubt and despair.

Then there’s the state of the United Methodist Church – the denomination I serve.  For decades the UMC has been divided over issues related to human sexuality and how we relatedly understand, interpret, respect, and enforce Scripture.  Since 2016, a group called the “Commission on a Way Forward,” has sought to discern a way to keep the UMC united, and to find a “way” for us to avoid schism.  While I deeply respect many who served on the Commission, and appreciate their efforts, I’m deeply disappointed by the blunders and suspicion following their report to the Council of Bishops.  Though I’ve long believed in the biblical value of unity, as clearly espoused by Jesus, I’ve become increasingly doubtful – and sometimes despondent – that we’ll a find way to remain united.

I’m also wrestling with finding my prophetic voice.  As a pastor, I’ve mostly focused on “spiritual” things – church programming,  preaching, prayer, Bible study, “doing” missions – leaving prophetic speech to others.  Frankly, sometimes, I was just cowardly.  I’ve always respected prophets, but haven’t wanted to be one!  But, increasingly, I feel called to speak – for women, for immigrants, for people of color, for the LGBTQ community, for justice and fairness, for decency.  But, speaking out has consequences.  Learning how to deal with those consequences, without retaliation, is a test of patience and love.

And, I’m wrestling with the institutional Church.  There’s no secret the institutional Church in America is increasingly irrelevant and rapidly in decline.  I’m increasingly wondering how much the modern institutional Church has to do with the Church Jesus intended.  When I read the New Testament, I read about a family-like community, gathered around a living, risen Lord.  As diverse communities of mutual love, sharing, and service, they experienced the presence of the living Christ amongst them, and in each other.  Focused on the Lordship of Jesus, the early Church sought to be an alternative, radically-inclusive, counter-cultural society, equally welcoming and honoring men and women, rich and poor, young and old, saints and sinners, Jews and pagans, leaders and followers, converts and seekers.  In the early Church, lives were radically changed by the Holy Spirit.  The Church of the New Testament, as I read it, strived to love, in word and deed.  I don’t read about denominations, or institutional preservation, or building debt, or annual budgets, or advertising campaigns, or growth strategies, or music styles, or calendars, or church-management software, etc.  In the New Testament, I read far more about “being” the Church as a reflection of Jesus, and not so much about “doing” Church business.

In other words, during this blogging hiatus, I’ve been wrestling.  I’m still wrestling.

“How do we speak honestly, confidently, truthfully about who God is and what God does in this world of ugliness and violence?”

“What does it mean to be a faithful follower of Jesus?  What do we stand for?  Who do we stand for?  How?  What do we speak for, or against?”

“What does it mean to be the Church?  Who is the Church?

“What does it mean to hope, and what can we hope for?  Who, or what, do we entrust that hope?”

“What does it mean for followers of Jesus to be ‘in’ the world, but not ‘of’ the world?”

About the time I wrote my last blog, I realized how many of my posts have a negative, critical tone.  Over the last year, as I’ve learned about being an Enneagram 9, I’ve become painfully aware of my passive aggressive tendencies (a common trait of 9s, who tend to avoid face-to-face conflict like a plague!) – an ugly trait I was previously blind to.  Blogging became a forum for saying those things I’ve struggled to say, and allowed to internally fester.  Blogging became a place to express frustration and anger I’ve suppressed.  While I stand by everything I’ve written, I don’t want to be passive aggressive in any aspect of my life.  My blogging ought to be a healthy and accurate reflection of who I am in the pulpit, standing in line at the grocery home, at home in my boxer shorts, or chatting over coffee at Starbucks.

Though I’m wrestling with loads of hard questions (for me) these days, I don’t claim to have many answers.  Though I don’t claim to be absolutely “right” about much of anything, I’m increasingly convinced that we are wrong about MANY things.  The litmus test for me is Jesus…

“What did he say?  How did he say it?”

“What did he do?  Why did he do it?”

“Why did he come?  Who did he come for?”

“How did he love?  Who did he love?”

“Who did he welcome and who did he turn away?”

“What does he expect of me?”

“Where is he now?  How do I find him?  How do I see him, and hear him?”

“What does he feel about the current state of the Church and the world?  How do I find out, and what do I do about it?”

What does he think about our current political and cultural divides?”

“If he returned today, what would he affirm and what would be condemn?”

I’m fully aware that you might have a different litmus test for right and wrong.  I’m fully aware that you may conclude different answers to my questions than I have or will.  But, here’s my challenge.  If you claim to believe in Jesus – and claim to follow him as Lord – make sure you actually do.  It may be a lot harder than you think.  Study what he said in the Gospels, especially the Sermon on the Mount.  Rather than drawing your own conclusions about what is right and wrong, find out what Jesus said is right and wrong.  Before you take a stand, study what Jesus stood for.  Before you condemn or criticize, find out what Jesus condemned and criticized.  Imitate him, as authentically as you possibly can.  Until you’ve thoroughly read, studied, prayed, and meditated on the words, teachings, and actions of Jesus, assume you might be wrong.  There are no easy, simplistic answers with Jesus!  And, after fully submitting everything to Jesus and concluding you might be right, be humble enough to know you might still be wrong.

So, perhaps that explains my blogging silence.

Am I back?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Only time will tell.  If and when I do write – as with every other aspect of my life and ministry – I intend to do so as faithfully as I can to who I believe Jesus to be, and who I believe he is calling me to to be, and to say and do.  One thing I can guarantee – I won’t do it perfectly.  It’s hard to keep my flawed humanity out of Jesus’ way.  May I suggest the same is true for you?

 

 

Bikini Bike Washes

Bikini Bike Washes

An attractive young woman, wearing a minimal bikini, is washing motorcycles, while the (male, and not so young) bikes’ owners sit back and stare.  Actually, the oglers outnumber the bikes being washed.  And, I don’t think they are ogling the bikes.

I’m having my motorcycle serviced today, at a dealership, and waiting while the work is done.  It’s a Saturday, and the dealership is as much a biker hangout as a place of business.  A band is playing.  Burgers and beers are free.  There are as many “hanging out,” as there are shopping.  But, I suspect shopping is the hope of the dealership, and the motivation for its generosity.

And, in the midst of the action, a young woman in a bikini is washing dirty old mens’ motorcycles, while they sit back and watch her work.

As a pastor, I know I live in a bubble.  This isn’t my normal world.  There aren’t many bikinis in my world.

And, I’m an advocate for treating women with the dignity and respect they deserve, not as objects to satisfy men’s desires.  Many men aren’t.

But, in light of the recent “Me too,” movement, I’m surprised and saddened.

You might be thinking.  “She chose to do this.  She’s getting paid, and probably tipped!”  I’m sure she did, and I’m sure she is.  I don’t know why she took the job.  But, I doubt it’s because she enjoys washing bikes or being ogled by old men!  I doubt this is the fulfillment of her career-goals.

Maybe she needs the money.  Maybe she doesn’t have many other employment opportunities.  Maybe she believes her beauty is her only asset.  Maybe it’s the only reality she knows.

Part of me wants to offer her a beach towel to cover up, and to tell her, “Yes, you are beautiful.  But, you’re so much more than your physical beauty.  You have a heart.  You have a soul.  You have talents, and abilities.  You have potential.  You have value – and your true value is not your ability to turn men on.  You are a beloved child of God, and you deserve better than this.”

Part of me wants to apologize.

I won’t.  I don’t know her, and I might sound like I’m judging her for her choice.  She doesn’t need that, any more than the ogling.  Maybe that’s cowardly.  I don’t know.  But, I won’t.

So, while I won’t be talking to her, I’m writing this for all of the women and men who might read this.  If you think this is worth sharing, I hope you will.

Ladies – you have inestimable worth, beyond your physical attractiveness.  Men may, or may not, find you physically beautiful.  Men may, or may not, find you sexually desirable.  Men may, or may not, pressure you to comply to their desires, or demands.  Regardless, your body, your beauty, and your sexuality is your own, and you have a right to decide how you use it.  If you want to wear skimpy bikinis and wash men’s motorcycles, fine.  It’s your choice.  But, I doubt you really do.

Your body and your beauty is certainly not all you are.  You deserve to be treated with utmost respect.  You deserve to know your value.

Men – just because there are women who are willing to wash motorcycles in bikinis, or present themselves in other overtly sexual ways, doesn’t mean they want to or enjoy it.  Yes, beauty is appealing and enticing.  Yes, lust is a difficult drive to master.  But, that young woman you’re staring at, is someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, and maybe someone’s mother.  She has a heart and a soul.  She has a story.  She has dreams.

And, brothers, we degrade both women and ourselves when we objectify them.  You are more than your lust.  You are more than your animal instincts.  A large part of being a man is the way we view and treat women, and how we practice self-control.

Men, let’s be good men.

Please remember, she’s more than an object.  She’s more than your object.  She a person, just like you.  Treat her with the same respect you would want for mother, sister, wife, daughter, or yourself.  Treat her with respect, even if she doesn’t ask you to.  Treat her with respect, even if she doesn’t know to respect herself.  Treat her with respect, because she deserves it.

 

 

How the Birthday Cake Ruined the Church…

How the Birthday Cake Ruined the Church…

In my half-century of life, a lot has changed (and is constantly changing) in our world.  That’s, of course, a ridiculous understatement.  The world is changing more rapidly and more radically with every passing day.

Though many of those changes involve science and technology, let’s consider something a bit more basic – a birthday cake.

A century ago, or more, if you wanted a birthday cake, you ground the grain you grew and harvested, collected eggs from your own hen-house, milked the cow, and hoped you still had the ingredients you couldn’t produce, purchased on your last trip to the general store.  After mixing the ingredients, yourself, you might have needed to chop some wood to heat the stove to bake the cake.

A half-century ago, to celebrate a birthday, you went to the neighborhood grocer to buy the ingredients you needed – flour, sugar, eggs, milk, baking powder, etc.  You took those ingredients home, mixed the batter with an electric mixer, and baked a cake in your electric or gas oven.  I can still remember a particularly delicious chocolate cake my mom made, with thick, rich frosting.  It wasn’t pretty, but it was sooooooooo good!

Then came a simpler way.  Rather than buying individual ingredients, cake mixes and canned frosting could be purchased.  You still baked the cake yourself, but the process was so much simpler, less time-consuming, and required less knowledge or skill – just dump the mix in a bowl and follow the directions on the package.

Then came the grocery store bakery.  There have always been bakeries, of course.  But, grocery store bakeries were cheaper and move convenient.  Now, instead of baking, you could buy a ready-made, beautifully decorated cake, in the color and flavor of your choice, and even have a custom birthday greeting added for no additional charge.  No time, effort, or skill required.

But, the problem is, everyone doesn’t like the same flavor of cake.  Some people are on diets.  Some are vegan.  Some are lactose intolerant.  Some are avoiding gluten.  Some have food allergies.  Some prefer more basic flavors, while others desire something  more exotic.  And, aesthetics matter.  We don’t want to eat something that looks mass-produced.  We want a nice presentation.  So, we order designer cupcakes, on-line, catering to multiple wants and needs, packaged in special boxes, and have them delivered to our office or home.

We’ve shifted from creators, contributors and cultivators, to consumers (and, sometimes, critics and complainers).

This scenario is replayed over, and over, and over.  We used to make coffee, at home, in a percolator.  Now, we order ahead for a grande soy latte with whipped cream and an extra shot of espresso, hot and ready for pick-up in minutes.  We used to wait in line at movie theaters, hoping tickets were available when you got to the window, knowing you might not get great seats.  Now we order our movie tickets ahead, selecting from a variety of viewing and listening options, choosing our specific reclining, leather seats, with no waiting at the theater door, and with plenty of time to purchase a much wider variety of beverages and snacks than just basic popcorn and soda.

The list could go on and on and on.

Notice how we’ve moved from basic commodities – cake ingredients, coffee beans, general seating – to being served by others, with little-to-no personal effort, and much higher levels of expectation for personalization, specialization and convenience.

I suspect, when we made our own cakes and coffee, we accepted certain imperfections.  I remember sitting on the front rows of movie theaters, just glad to have a ticket, or settling for a different movie because the show I wanted was sold out.  I think, we used to be generally more accepting, and assumed the burden was on us to make things better if we weren’t satisfied.

If the cake didn’t turn out right, bake another one.  If you don’t know how to decorate a cake, ask your neighbor for help.  If you don’t like chocolate cake, hopefully you’ll get vanilla next year.  If you made the coffee too strong, add some milk.  If you want to get a ticket to the show, get in line earlier next time.

We don’t think that way any more.  We want it customized.  We want it perfect.  We want it pretty.  We want it easy.  We want it special.  We want it NOW!

We’ve become spoiled, critical, demanding, and impatient.

We’ve become consumers.

As a pastor, I see numerous ways this shift has negatively impacted the Church.

If you follow the same general timeline I shared about birthday cakes, there was once a time church consisted of the many and varied contributions of the members.  Repairs to the facilities were performed by member craftsmen.  Sanctuaries were cleaned and decorated with home-grown flowers collected and arranged, paraments sewn and embroidered, washed and starched, pews polished, holiday decorations made and displayed, all by the members.  The music was generally the best efforts of the church’s best musicians.  Some member typed the bulletin on a typewriter, usually including a few typos.  Somebody arrived early to turn on the furnace or open the windows.  An usher swept the front steps.  Somebody baked the communion bread.  Parents and grandparents took turns teaching Sunday School, leading and planning Vacation Bible School, and working in the nursery.  Members taught Sunday School classes, and took food to the sick and homebound.  Members gathered regularly for home-cooked, church-wide dinners.  “Elder” members made the decisions, prayed, and dreamed of starting new ministries and building new buildings.

EVERYONE gave what they could, as the Lord provided.  EVERYONE took turns, doing what needed to be done.  EVERYONE did their part.  And, when it was necessary, if a need or problem or deficiency became obvious, someone stepped up to do it.

Church was the gathered service, gifted-ness, creativity, and contributions of the members; sometimes as good as the delicious home-baked bread served at communion, and sometimes as terrible as grandma’s arthritic attempt to play the piano.  Every gift was given and appreciated with love, for what it was – an offering of service to the Lord.

Now, church has become a place to be served.  Though we still depend on volunteers, the message from many is, “Don’t ask or expect to much.”  The even-greater message is, “I come to church to be served.”  I want to sit where I want to sit.  I want to sing songs I know and like.  I want the volume set according to my tastes.  I want to hear messages relevant to my life, that fit neatly into what I already believe.  I want to attend when it’s convenient.  I want the temperature adjusted to my comfort.  I want to drop my children off at the nursery, or Sunday School, or VBS, or the youth group, and have others entertain them.  I want someone to make sure I am safe.  I want lots of programs offered for me and my family, so that I can pick and chose what fits into my schedule.  I want a good parking space.

Even serving often seems self-serving.

Rather than expecting church to be the place to serve and contribute, many expect church to serve them and contribute to their own needs, wants and desires.  If I don’t like something, I’ll complain, or at least grumble.  If I don’t like the current sermon series, I’ll just stay home.  If I don’t like the music, I’ll come late.  If I don’t want to give or volunteer, I’ll let others take up the slack for me.  If I’m not interested, I won’t show up.  If I hear another church has more to offer my family, without asking so much, I’ll just go there instead.

Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy cupcakes and lattes.  I appreciate convenience.  I like to be served.  I, too, have high standards and expectations.  Even as the pastor, I want things at church to be done well.

I’m not questioning our appetite for excellence.  I’m challenging our consumeristic expectations and demands.  If you want something to be excellent, then YOU make it excellent.  And, just because the world is willing to cater to your demands for convenience and customization, don’t bring that expectation to church.

Church is a place to serve, not to be served.

Church is like a birthday cake, baked from scratch, from pure, fresh ingredients.  We are the ingredients – the flour, the sugar, the milk, the eggs – lovingly mixed together and baked by our heavenly maker.  The final product might not be everyone’s favorite flavor.  It might be a little lopsided.  The icing might be a little un-even.  “Hapy Birtday” written in frosting, might not be spelled exactly right. But all in all, the ingredients can potentially combine to create a delicious offering for the world.  An offering for the world – not us!

Church is a place to serve, not to be served.

Maybe we need to learn how to bake cakes, from scratch, again.

The problems with belly buttons

The problems with belly buttons

The problem with belly buttons is, we all have them, but some are far more presentable than others.  As someone who knows to keep his belly button hidden from public view, I feel comfortable making this judgement.  Most belly buttons should be kept covered.

But, to further add to the complexity of the issue, we may not all agree on what constitutes an attractive, exposable belly button, versus one that needs to be covered.  Belly buttons come in such a wide variety of shapes, colors, and sizes – among other miscellaneous and varied distinctions.

Some are cute…

baby

Some are muscular…

six-pack-abs-burn-fat_51

Some are attractive…

innie 2

Some, well…

fat-hairy-belly-22220070

Some are innies…

innie

Some are definitely outies…

belly20button-outie.jpg

Some are decorated…

tattoed.jpeg

Some are hiding something…

femeie-insarcinata

Some are darker…

black.jpg

Some are lighter…

belly-habits-10.jpg

Some are proudly displayed…

Child_pokes_own_navel_with_finger

Some are tastefully kept out of sight…

old

What’s the point of all of this silly belly button talk?  EVERYBODY HAS ONE.  Whether your’s is clean or dirty, hidden or displayed, cute or ugly, there’s nothing unique or special about having a belly button.  I have one.  You have one.  We all have belly buttons.

Years ago, while I was traveling in Mexico,a friend pointed to a Volkswagon Beetle, and asked, “Do you know what we call those?  El ombligos, or belly buttons.  Everybody drives one in Mexico.”  And, it was true.  Every police car, taxi, rental car, etc. was a VW Beetle.

I’ve also heard the expression, “Belly buttons are like opinions.  Everyone has one.  But, like opinions, most are better kept undisclosed.”

And, that is my point.

There is a difference between information, preference, and opinion.  Information is based on objective fact.  Preference is based on personal tastes.  Opinions are judgements, likely based in bias, prejudice, even ignorance, but are stated publicly as universal truths.

And, have you ever noticed how often opinions are shared in the form of criticism, insult, slander, grumbling, or gossip?  Doesn’t the Bible say something about that?  And, have you ever noticed how stated opinions never leave much room for disagreement?

Opinions are not facts.  They’re just opinions.  Everyone has one already.  Like most of us don’t need to share our belly buttons with the world, you very likely don’t need to share your opinion either.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing accurate information, or even your personal preferences, if stated as such.  We can agree to disagree about preferences.  We can even disagree about certain information, until we check our accuracy with Google or Wikipedia.  But, stated opinions often do far more damage than good.

I remember being taught, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.”

I also remember Jesus saying, “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.”  Perhaps that could be said as, “Share your opinions, only to the degree that you are open and interested in hearing the opinions of others.”

Yes, you have opinions.  Congratulations.  So do I.  You likely have strong opinions.  Me too.  If you want to know mine, ask me, and I MIGHT share mine with you.  I might.  I might not.  If I want to know your’s, I will be sure to ask you (but, please, don’t hold your breath!)

Oops.  Did I just show you my belly button?