Written in Stone?

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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 agree with Sarah Huckabee Sanders

One of the challenges of blogging about an event a few days after that event is saying something new or different.

I am going to assume you’ve read or heard or both about the Lexington, Va. restaurant that refused service to Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

I am not going to wade into the specific event or arguments on either side of it.

Instead, I want to lift up one sentence from Ms. Sanders’ tweet. This sentence is

Her actions say far more about her than about me.

I agree with this. I believe this is a true statement not only for Ms. Wilkinson and Ms. Sanders, but for all of us.

My actions say more about me than about you, or anyone else.

Your actions say more about you than about anyone else.

Do you agree?

By the way, IF this is true for others, it is also true for you. It is not something you can just choose to use to explain away other people’s actions.

But if you do, then, well, that says more about you than about them.

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.

Rights v Right makes wrong

Having the right to do something does not necessarily make doing it the right thing to do.

Case in point: Jacyln Pfieffer was allegedly fired from her position as a teacher at Aloma Methodist Early Childhood Learning Center. Further, she was allegedly fired because it was learned that she was living in a lesbian relationship.

The discussions about this that I’ve seen, and been part of, on social media, tend to end up with people on either of two sides of this polarity

  1. The ECLC was within its rights as a religious organization to fire someone engaged in conduct they believe to be immoral; and
  2. Ms. Pfieffer was a victim of discrimination.

I am not taking sides on that polarity.

Knowing a little about Church-State matters, I expect the ECLC, related to its host Church, may well be perfectly within their rights to have fired her.

Even if they were within their rights as a religious organization, though, I think they blew it. They failed.  They did not represent Jesus well.

This is stronger language than I usually use on this blog, but this is serious business.

Whatever your position on sexuality and orientation and same-sex marriage, if you are a Christian, I assume you would agree that we (Christians) represent Christ, and therefore God.

I think you would also have to agree with this: whether we approve of someone else’s behavior/orientation/lifestyle/fill-in-your-preferred-term-here,we are commanded to love them. All of them; friends, enemies, strangers, etc.

Christians do not get to choose whom to love and whom not to.

But we do, according to the law, receive some leeway according to our religion, in choosing whom to employ and whom not to.

I believe that choice is far better made before hiring than after.

So, even if you fully support Aloma Methodist ECLC’s decision, you must agree that they would have represented Christ better had they been open upfront and refused to hire Ms. Pfeiffer in the first place than to fire her.

I don’t know where the law places the burden of proof. Should Ms. Pfieffer have self-identified as lesbian in the hiring process?

How self-disclosing are you when you apply for a job?

No; from my perspective – and it would be very, very hard to sway me on this – it is on the church-affiliated organization to be very, very clear during the hiring process what their moral expectations of employees are.

If Aloma Methodist ECLC presents itself as representing the God we know in and through Jesus, they owe it to the world around them, the culture in which they serve, to love the other. If this means anything, it at least means treating them with respect.

Simply put: I’m pretty sure that if Jesus wouldn’t allow a lesbian to work for him, he wouldn’t have hired her in the first place.

Go, thou, and do likewise.

Which Jesus are we talking about?

jesusThe other day I was involved in a thread discussion in a United Methodist Clergy group. The subject of that discussion is irrelevant for my present purposes. If you really feel the need to know, ask me.

In this discussion, a friend – no, an acquaintance – no, a colleague – maybe – a fellow UM clergyperson wrote this: “If you do not follow the rules, then you have lost all integrity.”

Whoa, I thought. I am, apparently, and have always been, low on integrity.

This won’t surprise those of you who know me, but I push at rules.  Over the years I have come to respect the need for rules, and the benefits.

I still have within me, though, a desire, an urge, to push against the rules, the norms, the status quo.

Which is one of the reasons I read as someone who, according to my colleague, has lost an integrity.

In my reading of the Gospels, Jesus is almost constantly breaking rules. When I was younger and more of a mind to break rules just because they were rules, I read Jesus this way, too.

And it is possible to read the gospels this way.

I have grown up. I know longer believe that all rules were made to be broken.  I understand the benefit, even the need, of rules and standards.

As a matter of fact, I now tend to read Jesus as having this same kind of attitude toward rules.

I will probably always tend to read Jesus favorably to the way I understand and work in the world.

If Jesus matters to you, I expect you do this, too.

You may suggest that we ought to interpret our own lives in terms of Jesus rather than the other way around.  I would agree that this is an admirable goal. In fact, it may be a good way of identifying true disciples.

But I am pretty sure that before we proclaim too loudly that we are more like Jesus than someone else is, we do well to investigate which Jesus we are comparing ourselves to. More often than not, I fear, we will find that we will find ourselves looking down on others by comparing them to the Jesus that we have made look an awful lot like the ideal version of ourselves.

Jesus Loves Everyone Except Greg Hardy

Just when you thought it was safe to watch professional football again, Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys sign Greg Hardy to a 1 year contract.

We couldn’t be more excited.

We couldn’t be more outraged.

If my facebook newsfeed is any indication, everyone loves @DaleHansen‘s commentary on this incident. “Is there no line you won’t cross? Is there any crime you won’t accept? Is there no behavior you will not tolerate?”

Great questions, Dale.  As we approach Easter, here’s my answer:

All of Greg Hardy’s behaviors are included in Jesus’ willingness to give up his life to reconcile humanity with God.  While we’re at it, all of your behaviors, and mine too, fit in that list.

Should Greg Hardy be punished for his behaviors?  Should you? Should I?  We have a criminal justice system to weigh those questions and mete out answers.

Perhaps if we are so opposed to violence, we can find other things to do with our time and money than support the NFL.

Or at least we can admit that we look elsewhere for moral exemplars.

I absolutely believe that professional athletes (like TV sports commentators) do well to consider they are role models whether they like it or not.

As a parent, and especially as a pastor, I am also a role model. Whether I like it or not.

One of the roles I must model is that of forgiveness.  I have no business talking about a savior who offers not only forgiveness but transformation if I don’t model the same.

A long time ago, someone wisely wrote “Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2)

BTW, Greg, if you read this, I apologize for the title.  To be clear, I fully believe Jesus loves you.  I apologize for the way we are treating you.

Thinking without thinking

We had a fascinating discussion yesterday at our Lenten Wednesday Lunch Study.  As you might expect, the discussion really got me thinking.

We were talking about being righteous. Specifically about whether or not we are. Righteous, that is; whether or not we are righteous.

Of course, the talk quickly moved toward our being righteous “in God’s eyes.”  This, many Christians understand, is the work and gift of Jesus.

God sees us as righteous thanks to Jesus’ life and sacrificial death on the cross.

Good news, right?

Yes, except that thinking of ourselves as righteous tends to get us into trouble.  (See “self-righteous”)

On the other hand, refusing to recognize that Jesus actually opens this opportunity to us, leaves us as miserable sinners, condemned always to fail.

How do we carve out space in the middle – acknowledging AND accepting this good gift from God – to understand that, thanks to Jesus, we are (first) seen as righteous by God and (second) actually grow in righteousness as we follow Jesus?

I’ve got a few ideas, and invite yours as well.

  1. We must keep in mind that the righteousness that indeed becomes ours is given – offered freely – to us.
  2. In would likely help if we focused more on recognizing everyone else as someone who has been offered this gift even more than remembering that we (ourselves) have been offered the gift.  In other words, practice this: every person you see, think to yourself “God sees that person as righteous through Jesus’ gift.”
  3. Take some time each day to reflect on the ways God has worked in your life that day.

Does Distance Matter?

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How far is too far?

Walking back from a visit to the Elementary School we have adopted,  a discarded plastic drink bottle lay in the sidewalk.  I should have picked it up.

I didn’t.

I almost did.  I usually do, but here’s the deal:  after seeing that and thinking I would pick it up, I scanned for other litter.  There were several other things nearby, say, within 5 yards of the sidewalk.

I didn’t feel like walking that far out of my way to pick up that trash.  I figured that if I did, I would somehow be obligating myself to police the entire area.

To avoid the obligation of picking up ALL TRASH, I picked up no trash.

Litter-wise this is a fail, but not an epic fail.  I could very well have picked up any or all of the trash, or some amount in between and have done better than deciding to walk by it all.

Life-analogy-wise, this was, I think, an epic-fail.

Feeling paralyzed by the thought of all the good that could, that should, be done around the world is not, I believe, an acceptable excuse for doing nothing for anyone.

I cannot reach the needs of everyone, but I cannot allow that to keep me from helping meet the needs of some.

Does distance matter?  It seems to: mission trips are all the rage, and some of this is energized by the desire to help those who are far away.

Ideally, travelling great distances to serve others ought to motivate, energize, and catalyze us to be more attentive and responsive to needs nearby.

The cynic in me wants to observe here that all these mission trips we’ve gone on have not done a great job of energizing us at home.

My unwillingness to pick up a single piece of trash reminds me not to lay my cynicism on others.