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.

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?

om, I feel your pain!

One year, even after at least half a dozen people had checked it, we published and mailed out a flyer with the schedule of our Holy Week events.

It included, and I wish I was making this up, a line that said our Maundy Thursday service was on “Wednesday, March….”

How could so many people all miss something like that? I don’t know how it happened, but I can assure you this: it happens. To the best of us.

Can I admit here that I enjoy, just a little, finding a typo or other issue in a publication – especially if the book came from Oxford or Harvard or some other incredibly respected institution.

Reminders that everyone makes mistakes help me stop beating myself up over my mistakes.

Call this burying the lead, but this post is, if you haven’t already caught on, inspired by the reports that the tickets for tonight’s State of the Union included a misspelling. “Union” was spelled “Uniom.”

And, of course, this mistake exploded around social media and late night comedy.

Which, likely, has some people feeling defensive for the President.

I feel for everyone here; I enjoy getting laughs at things I post, and sometimes those laughs are at someone else’s expense.

But here’s the deal: the real problem, as I see it, is neither the type nor the jabs for laughter’s sake. No, the real problem is that many of us are more than willing to laugh – we share, forward, retweet, when “the other side” slips up, but we get all bent out of shape when someone we support is the object of any ridicule or humor.

Maybe it is ok to enjoy a laugh about a mistake made by someone you don’t like or respect. But if it’s ok for you, try not to get bent out of shape when someone else is laughing at someone you like and respect.

 

Loving Las Vegas

A hand reaching out of a puddle in the forest.I’ve never been to Vegas, but after the mass shooting there last night, they’ve been on my mind and heart this morning. Enough that I posted this to Facebook this morning:

Praying for #LasVegas, and for a country that can seemingly agree on nothing except that we should pray.
Maybe that’s the best place to start.

Of course, sharing such a sentiment gets “likes” and positive comments.

And, then I read this post from my friend Jared Slack:

the fact there we’re all secretly hoping Stephen Paddock (Vegas shooter) is a by-product of our political/religious rivals is the problem.

After that bounced around in me for a while, I realized a potential shortcoming of my post.

I left it too easy for us to end up just praying for the other. Sure, “others” like victims, victim’s families, friends, residents of Las Vegas, the shooter and his family, friends, etc.

But if all we all agree to do is pray like that, for the other, whoever the other might be, I think we give in to remaining caught in this tragic cycle of simply agreeing to pray.

What if we moved a step further?

What if we invited God, in our prayers, to help us see the steps we, ourselves, can make beyond the impasse of only agreeing that we can and should pray?

If we remain in our place, disagreeing with so many others about so much, and only willing to agree to pray, I believe we find ourselves in the place of the Pharisee in this story from Luke 18

Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust: “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”

I hereby commit to continuing to pray for Las Vegas, victims, victim’s families and friends, Stephen Paddock, his family and loved ones.

I further commit to finding, meeting, interacting, and listening to some of the “others.” for whom I am praying. Let’s call this reaching out.

When I reach out, the place for me to reach out from is the recognition that something or some things about me and the way I view and move in the world might be part of the problem.

I am reaching out not only to help, but for help.

2017 version of Community Bathrooms

community bath 1 (2).jpgIn 1982, I made a conscious decision to move away from a dorm with semi-private bathrooms to a dorm with community bathrooms on each floor.

And I never looked back.  Ok; the bathroom set up wasn’t the reason I chose the other dorm (It helped they had installed air-conditioning over the summer).

Community was different in dorms with community baths.  Not in a creepy way, but in a way that comes sui generis from sharing tiolet, shower, shaving, washing space with a larger number of people.

We had challenges from time to time. I don’t actually remember having my stuff stolen while I was in the shower, but it may have happened. I also don’t remember stealing anyone else’s stuff while they showered. That may have happened, too.

But what I do remember happening was the shared vulnerability of such common spaces had the effect of each of us treating one another with at least a modicum of respect.

So, as a few of us chatted over coffee this morning, and remembered the days of community-bathroomed dorms, someone said, “I bet they don’t have those any more.”

Oh, but we do.

I don’t know if colleges do, but I contend that social media is the community bathroom of 2017. Except that, not realizing it, many of us have not yet learned to treat others with the modicum of respect deserved when an eclectic and random (you might have chosen your roommate, but you didn’t chose who got to live on the floor)

It took us some time to adapt to sharing the space of the community bathroom.

But not as long as you’ve been on social media!

Does God agree with you? with me?

20160617_144150In the face of all the many disagreements, and further, in the face of what seems to be a lack of ability to communicate in civil and well-intentioned ways, I thought this morning of these words from Isaiah 55:8-9
My plans aren’t your plans,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
Just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways,
    and my plans than your plans. (CEB)
Do you suppose that when God says, in Isaiah 55, that God’s thoughts and ways are not ours, God is referring to everyone? I have to admit that my usual first read of that passage is that God is referring to my enemy/opponent/anyone who disagrees with me.
 
To be fair, though, I have to admit, though it sometimes takes me a while, that God is, in fact, saying this to ALL of us.
 
(FULL DISCLOSURE: I do not have a second thought on my agenda for which this is the setup. Not that I never operate that way, but I am not this time)

Conditioned to Blame

Just a few months ago I posted about our tendency to blame.

Working on Sunday’s sermon, I had a further thought along these lines.

blame 1-6-16We have been conditioned to blame the government.  More specifically, we have been conditioned to blame those we view as “against us,” but I believe there has been a growing tendency for at least 30 years, to blame the government.

Not very long after Obama succeeded Bush as president, some people started complaining about his vacation practices.  How many days he vacationed. How expense it is for the US President to go on vacation.

Obama supporters, of course, immediately rush to his defense.

Which was odd, because some of them had spent much of the years 2001-09 whining about how much vacation President Bush took.

Not to be outdone, I have no doubt that some of Bush’s staunchest supporters have since been leading the charge opposing Obama’s vacations.

Can we all just get a grip and acknowledge that If you are President of the United States, you don’t actually get vacation?

But we have a felt need to blame someone, and for the last several decades the government, at every level, has been an easy target.

But let’s set aside government for a moment: can we just admit that we are all generally eager to cast the blame at someone, anyone, besides ourselves?

I am working on a sermon series about conflict between faith and science.  As I began to prepare the first sermon, I was struck with the realization that much of the perceived conflict between the two is related to our need to blame.January.png

Want to know more? Come Sunday, January 10th, to Euless First United Methodist Church. We worship at 8:30 and 11 am.

 

US Christians Demand Religious Freedom…

for everyone!

I have long said that Christian are at our best when we are advocating for the rights, liberties, fair treatment of others.  I suppose I am willing to allege that this is true for everyone, not only for Christians.  But I especially want Christians to own it.

I think it represents Jesus far better than getting all whiney about our own rights, liberties, or fair treatment.

To be fair, people can advocate for their own rights, etc., without being whiney.  This is just my opinion: but US Christians seem to go whiney awfully quickly if we feel our rights, etc. threatened.

Just look at all the fuss we’ve been making over the persecution of Christians around the world lately.  I believe we would make a better case AGAINST persecution of Christians and FOR following Jesus if we opposed all religious persecution.

Speaking of which, I don’t know if you noticed, but a case of religious freedom was argued before the US Supreme Court yesterday. Samantha Elauf was 17 when she applied to work at an Abercrombie and Fitch store.  She was rated as a very good candidate.  Her rating dropped when management found out she wore a hajib – a traditional headcovering worn by some Muslims.  This dropped her rating enough that she wasn’t hired.

I don’t know how the case will come out.  The report I heard indicated that most of the Justices, in oral arguments, sounded like they leaned in her favor.

I have heard Christians lament about not being allowed to wear cross necklaces to work; shouldn’t we be just as concerned for the religious liberty of others?

Getting past labels and first impressions

On our way out of a meeting, I struck up a conversation with the new guy.  This had been his first meeting, and I’m not sure he felt like it went all that well.

He had raised a dissenting voice more than once.

“I’m really not a negative person,” he said after a couple minutes of interaction.

A thought hit my brain lightning fast: “Then you might try saying things that aren’t negative!”

The filter held.  Just a minute or two later I realized I had a potential blog topic.

If you don’t want people to think of you as negative, don’t say negative things. Well, that’s a pretty short blog post.  Maybe I could flesh it out a little.

Fleshing out such a seemingly clear and straightforward concept quickly caught me in potential hypocrisy.  Sometimes I spout negative ideas or points of view pretty darn quickly.

Am I a negative person?

What’s more, I just began reading Wiser, a book about “Getting Beyond Groupthink.”

We need people willing to stand, to share, to question, against the status quo or the dominant direction of thought a group takes.

Do we need negative people?

Is there a difference between saying something negative and being a negative person?

Of course there is.  And I had quickly dropped this “new guy” at the meeting into the “negative person” bin of my categorizing mind.

I was ready to leave him there.

But, then, I pursued conversation.  As he and I will be serving together on a committee for at least the next year, I didn’t want to leave it at “the new guy is just negative.”

Sunstein and Hastie (co-authors of Wiser), write about the danger of groupthink.  Spending time only with people who tend to agree with you and who tend to side with you on issues has the effect of making you -individually, and as a group – more extreme.

If there is one thing we need no more of these days, it is people at the extremes.

It would do us all good to spend time with people we don’t agree with on everything.  We practice listening, and we practice saying things in ways that can be heard by someone not already on the same side of the fence we are.

Then, perhaps, none of us will be judged by the first words out of our mouths.