Not against religion

I just can’t take it anymore. The next time I hear someone say “Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship,” well, I don’t know what I’ll do, but I won’t remain silent any more.religion.jpg

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve said this myself! I’ve said lots of things. only some of them have been recorded.

But I’m a paid religious professional. You could assume I am responding defensively. I don’t think that’s it.

This last time I heard the “relationship, not religion,” talk, a few days ago from a Christan band member at a concert, I finally realized what’s wrong with the comparison.

They’re getting religion wrong.

The word “religion” occurs famously one and only one time in the Bible. That’s once in the King James Version, the NIV adds a few more. But the KLV, NIV, and NRSV all agree that James 1:27 includes the word “religion,” and the verse – I’ll share the NRSV – says this:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

The band man – I didn’t catch from the video exactly who was speaking, defined religion as being about rules and laws and guilt and shame.

If that’s religion, I’m against, it too!

Oddly, the same person who prefers to think of being a Christian as about relationship, not religion, recognizes that relationships can be harmful, but not that religion can be good.

Maybe he hadn’t read James?

That’s more likely than that he is opposed to caring for widows and orphans and learning to keep oneself unstained by the world.

 

 

I don’t always agree with me

Tom Wright, I believe, said something like, “I believe I’m right 2/3 of the time. The challenge is that I am never sure exactly which 2/3 that is.”

I’m pretty sure I agree with him about this. What I mean by that is that I recognize I am not right about everything.

On the other hand, everything I think I understand or believe, I also believe I am right (or correct) about. One can’t affirm that one is right about something and at the same time claim to be wrong about that, after all.

Global DisasterBut, then, I’d also have to admit that I don’t always agree with me.

That is, when I consider the way I understand and believe some things now, I can see how my perspectives have changed over the years.

This may be news to some of you, but I do not see the world, understand the world, believe exactly the same things about the world, as I did when I was, say, 25.

I don’t always agree with me.

Thankfully, I have learned to give myself some grace in this, because sometimes it is hard to grasp. On some things I’ve changed quite a bit.

The biggest challenge I feel in all of this is I often wonder how the 54 year old me would communicate with the 25 year old me. This is a challenge because the way I remember the 25 year old me, I wouldn’t (then) have wanted much to do with me (now).

Many of the changes I have experienced as growth would have seemed, to the 25 year old me, as compromising my faith. Or maybe even abandoning it.

So, as I have aged, I have changed in these two ways:

  1. some of my beliefs have changed
  2. I have more grace for understanding, or at least remaining in relationship with, those with whom I disagree.

I would really, really like to think I’ve always extended such grace to others. But since I’m not so sure the younger me would have extended it to the older me, I really can’t say.

Do you always agree with you?  Do you have grace for those with whom you disagree? Do you have grace for yourself on things (beliefs, perspectives, opinions) on which you have changed?

Is God like this?

When I climb the stairs in our house to check on our kids, I usually don’t announce myself. It’s not that i want to catch them doing something they shouldn’t be doing. I would just as soon catch them doing something they should be doing.Man-Walking-Up-the-Stairs 2

In fact, I would prefer the latter.

But I still show up unannounced. And regularly, I surprise them.

And sometimes, they are (or one of them is) doing something they wouldn’t be doing if they knew I was watching.

I recalled one time, having just surprised them, that children learn much of their understanding and ideas of who God is and what God is like from their early relationship with their parents.

Which has made me reconsider my stealthy approaches.

I don’t want to give my children the idea either that God is sneaky or that God operates by surveillance. These seem to me to be training them to live by shame, or the avoidance of shame.

I don’t get the impression that this is God’s primary posture towards us. In fact, in Genesis 3, right after the incident with the serpent and the fruit, God is walking in the garden, we are told.

NOT sneaking up on the humans.

And the man and women hear God coming and hide.

God calls out to them, giving them the opportunity to approach God, to come to God, to enter a conversation with God. And God does NOT shame them.

I’m going to be more careful  abotu how I approach my children.

 

 

 

Who am I to tell you…?

question.jpgCan I admit to you here how much I hate being treated like I don’t know what I’m doing?

Except, of course, when I am admittedly a novice or rookie.

But: I’ve been at this pastoring thing for almost 30 years! So when someone approaches me – especially when they condescendingly share that it’s from the Holy Spirit – that I need to change this or stop doing that or start preaching this other way/topic/etc., I really, sometimes, want to scream.

So far, I haven’t scream in the face of anyone who has so intended to bless me.

You see, that’s the problem: in most every case (if not EVERY case), the intent is to bless, not to curse. The condescending tone belies the fact that, and I have to believe this, most everyone is really just doing the best they can.

Sometimes, someone else’s “best” includes advising me on something I have compiled a good bit of experience, prayer, reflection, and study on. So it hurts.

On the other hand: there are areas outside – even WAY outside – of my expertise on which I readily offer unsolicited and probably suggestions and insights.

Hopefully I don’t do so with any condescension in my voice.

Because, more often than not, I’m just doing the best I can.

Knowing When

as in: Knowing when to say what you’re thinking, and when not to.

Call center operator

I called 6 times before an actually person picked up. The message I received the first five times indicated I had called outside of business hours.

Business hours began at 8 am. I started calling at 8 am.

I cannot tell you how ready I was to lay into this unwitting employee when she finally answered the phone. A variety of versions of the script was rolling through my head.

Even so, that was secondary. What really mattered was the point of the call: getting a medication question answered for someone important to me.

The person who answered, as it turns out, was incredibly helpful and understanding not only in helping me solve the problem, but also in helping me understand the problem.

So much so, in fact, I decided not to bother with my lecture about being available to answer the phones the very second posted business hours begin.

Punctuality is a pet peeve of mine, and leaving an answering service on 4 minutes into the work day is not a good business practice.

Taking really good care of customers (or patients, or congregants, or visitors) IS a good business practice. It’s more important than punctuality.

Had I begun the conversation with rage, frustration, anger, condescension, it could have derailed the purpose of the call.

I think it is also a metaphor. Our denomination, the United Methodist Church, is on the precipice of division. Incivility dominates our denomination at least as much as the culture around us.

At least some of this, I believe, is because we don’t let less important things go in favor of more important things.  We are all sometimes Martha, and distracted by too things. (Luke 10:38-42.

Not aimed at you

young-girl-cryingOnce I noticed the little girl crying, I could not not think about it.

Being at an elementary school to meet with a 4th grader I mentor, I was sensitive to the little girl’s privacy and space. Had this happened at the church I pastor, I wouldn’t have felt the same nudge to maintain my distance.

After all, at least two teachers had stopped to talk with her.

Her situation wasn’t desperate or an emergency, but I still could not really focus on anything else. After all, I’d just preached on our “participating in Christ’s suffering” in Philippians 3. Part of what Paul is writing about, I argued, is that we must be willing to feel.

And, oh, was I feeling. So I was praying.  But I wasn’t willing only to pray, so I decided I would ask a teacher.

I caught one of the teachers on lunch duty and asked. Of course, I started with, “I realize this may be none of my business….”

“She’s homesick.”  Then the teacher added, “and she sees these tables (where I was sitting) other parents come to see their kids, and it doesn’t help.”

I was an adult there to visit a child. Not my child. Yet, my actions, to a homesick little girl, could add to her feelings of homesickness. But my visit wasn’t aimed at her.

Almost every time there is a disaster somewhere, and someone gives thanks for being spared, someone else replies with some version of “Why are you thankful? Are you saying God struck down the people who weren’t spared?”

To be fair, with almost every disaster, it is a matter of minutes before someone somewhere casts judgment, and claims God sent the disaster.

But most of us, in expressing thanks, or in simply trying to do something good (like visit a child at lunch), aren’t aiming our intentions at you.

And I’ll try to remember this next time I’m the hurt or grieving one and I observe someone experiencing joy.

Because we all get to live both sides of this one.

 

Yes, Caesar, whatever you say, Caesar

veterans-dayWithin limits, of course.

If you know me at all, you can imagine how confused I was to hear this yesterday at our church’s Veteran’s Day Luncheon:

Note the order here: the nation was telling the churches to celebrate this day.

I reacted, but controlled it. Someone else had the floor. This gave me time to figure my response.

The State doesn’t tell the church what to do!  How dare they? Who do they think they are. The wheels of thought spun inside me, measured by the knowledge that I was surrounded by people, many of whom had served in war, and at least some of whom don’t have exactly the same ecclesiology I do.

As the speaker concluded, she shared that this description of the history of Veteran’s Day came from The United Methodist Church.

My thoughts took an abrupt turn, but not full 180.

Promoting and enduring peace and honoring those who offered themselves to the cause of freedom and justice were certainly worthy values that I could encourage, even lead, my church to uphold.

I’m still nonconstantinian, but I have realized that maybe there is more left to render to Caesar than I thought before yesterday.