Written in Stone?

balance business cobblestone conceptual
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A funny thing happened on the way to a memorial service. I don’t even remember what we were talking about, but a granddaughter of the deceased said, “well, it’s not written in stone….” In that moment, I made a connection that seemed so obvious I was at once wanting to think more about it and also wondering how I hadn’t thought of it before.

The idiom “written in stone” obviously refers to something written permanently; unchangeable.

The most obvious and best known example of which is, of course, the 10 Commandments. Think Charlton Heston or Mel Brooks, but we’ve all got imagery in our minds now, right? Those commandments were etched in stone. Literally carved. Permanent.

The 10 Commandments seem to be the go-to source for law and rightness. We’ve fought over putting them up on courthouse lawns and teaching them in public schools. Some people want you to think they are the foundation for western law.

All of this came flooding to me as we walked toward the sanctuary for the memorial service. All this was inspired by the simple phrase “written in stone.”

And then, just a split second later, I also realized this: Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was.

He didn’t cite any of those 10.

Jesus went to Deuteronomy 6:5, which says

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength. (CEB)

and that wasn’t enough. He wasn’t going for 10, though. He added this, from Leviticus 19, saying this one “is like it:

you must love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18, CEB)

So, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he didn’t go to something that was written in stone.

I am still wrestling with what this means, but I really felt I had to share it with you.

Stretching Exercises

DD-05142016-0O1A8857.jpg“Does the Bible say rain used to come up from the ground instead of down from the clouds?” I was asked this morning. The idea rang a bell in my memory, so I did a bit of searching to corroborate the pieces of memory I felt forming.

A subset of Christians, and I think it is a small subset, holds the view that there was no rain before the flood, the preparation for which we find beginning in Genesis 6. A very short version of this understanding starts with an interpretation of Genesis 2:5-6.

before any wild plants appeared on the earth, and before any field crops grew, because the Lord God hadn’t yet sent rain on the earth and there was still no human being to farm the fertile land, though a stream rose from the earth and watered all of the fertile land—

Then, God hadn’t yet sent rain, and rain isn’t mentioned until the flood story, some claim there was no rain until the flood.

I’m not interested in supporting web traffic to this particular site, but I found a young-earth creationist site that explains this position as held by some. Moderately supportive of the idea, this site withholds endorsement. A summary of their reasoning for non-endorsement is that some such claims

stretch Scripture beyond what it actually says

I could not agree more.

Not stretching scripture beyond what it actually says is a real challenge for all of us. I am pretty sure stretching scripture is one of those things we are faster to identify in others than in ourselves.

How do you keep from stretching scripture beyond what it actually says?

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.