Thursday, December 15, 2011

Jehovah's Witnesses at the Door

I had a very pleasant conversation with some Jehovah's Witnesses this morning.  I posted about it on Facebook and got slightly rebuked by the owner of the house we are housesitting.  His comment was that he had finally gotten them to go away and never come back by telling them he was a pastor and openly gay.  Now he was afraid that my hospitality would have them ringing his doorbell again.

This just didn't set well with me.  I know that people always look for ways of brushing off JW's and Mormons.  We just don't want to get into it with them.  But are we really acting in a Christian manner just to come up with a way of offending them to make them leave?

Is it very loving to purposely offend someone?  I don't think so.  In thinking about the situation, I think Jesus would have talked to the people.  Jesus would have looked for a way to love them and to engage them.

And also, although I am secure in my faith, I am not haughty enough to think that I have all the right answers and that I do not have something that I can learn.  I also look at this as a way of sharing my faith with them.  I don't see how that can ever be a wrong thing.  If we are so certain that they are wrong, then aren't we honor bound to share our truth with them also?  (No, I do not advocate pounding people with the Faith Hammer.)

I remember some "Christian" who talked about how having Gays come into the church would be a sign that the Holy Spirit wanted that person to speak the TRUTH to the gays.  I wondered if the Holy Spirit was bringing the gays into the church to speak the TRUTH to the church.  How do I not know that maybe there was a word of truth for me in what these women were saying?

Actually, I have great respect for JW's; what they do is not easy.  How many of us would go from door to door knowing that we would probably be subject to ridicule or even have the door slammed?  I would love to have a congregation that was willing to put legs on their faith and go out into the world.  That takes more faith and more courage than we find in most pews.

I am glad I had the opportunity to speak to these two kind ladies.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Another of THOSE nights

Well, it seems to be one of those nights were everything is going through my head and nothing seems to want to slow down enough to let me sleep.

The biggest problem lately seems to be the problem of finding a job.  Two weeks before Christmas is not a good time to be job hunting.  Also, jobs within the church as about as plentiful as compassionate republicans.  It just gets so frustrating to think that ten years of college is just sitting here playing CastleVille.

I did, at least, get the glass unpacked.  Now I am able to make some things.  At least if feels like I am doing something!  Otherwise I just sit here and feel like life is futile.  We don't have MSNBC so I have not gotten upset about all the crap that is going on in the world, but it still feels like no one in the world is happy.

Christmas is coming but I really am not looking forward to it.  All it seems like is a conspiracy to show just how little money we have.  They talk about giving huge gifts but most of the gifts this year will be the "Thank God we can be together" type.

I am still batting around the idea of leaving the church behind.  It really has not been a pleasant journey for me.  I know I keep saying that, but I really don't see any way out.  I know that I am supposed to live on God's time, but that is becoming harder and harder to do.  And I also feel like I am trapped here.  How can I start a new career path at 47?  I am still trying to pay off the school loans from my previous foray into school.

I am so far at the end of my rope I feel like I just need to give it a good swing and let go.  I don't really know what else to do.  For those of you out there with a good job, thank the Lord.  If you are working part-time with no benefits, ask how this came to be and let's all do something about it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Get Out in the Wilderness! Advent 2 B

They say that the way something starts gives you a clue as to what you can expect for the rest of the journey.  And in today’s gospel reading, we have the very beginning of the gospel of Mark.  And the way that Mark begins the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God is by telling about John the Baptist.  Doesn’t this seem kind of odd to you?
We would expect the gospel to jump right in and give us all the good stuff about Jesus.  We would expect Mark to start telling us all the deep theological stuff.  And if we don’t get right to the Good News, then at least we should start with the birth story of Jesus.  But we don’t get this.  We don’t get a birth story of Jesus.  To start the story of the Good News of Jesus Christ, we are sent…out into the wilderness!  (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?)
And when we get out into the wilderness, we don’t find what we think we should find.  We get out into the wilderness and we find John.  Now, in biblical times, there were a lot of strange things, but John was strange, even by biblical standards.  We are told about his dressing and eating habits not as some kind of interesting sideline, but to let us know that this guy is weird!  John is not someone most people, even in Biblical times, would choose to associate with.  John was a fringe person.  Again, we are being told to not search for Jesus in the usual places.  We are not sent to the temples, we are not sent to the palaces.  We are sent out into the wilderness and sent to see the lunatics.
But why?  Why do we have to go out and see the lunatics?  So often we seem to assume that we are sent out to see the people in the wilderness so we can help them and bring them back with us.  And yes, one of the reasons that we go out to those who are in the world is to spread God’s love to those who need to hear the Good News, but also, we go out into the wilderness to be blessed.  We are not going out to John to bring John to the church.  John is never going to be in a church.  So if we don’t go out to John because John will never be a “good member,” then we are going to miss the things that we can learn from John; we are going to miss the blessings that only John can bring.  And we will not find John by sitting here hoping John comes in the doors.  John is never going to set foot in the building.  The building is just not big enough to John.  No, to get the blessings that can only come from John, we have to go out to John.  And to find John, we have to go out into the wilderness.
So the question becomes, for St. Augustine’s, what does a trip into the wilderness look like?  Often, we want to claim that because we are older or we have been at it for a while, that we do not need to go out into the wilderness.  But that is just not the case.  John does come into the temple to do the baptizing.  We are not told to wait until Jesus wanders into town.  We are sent out there, out to the weirdo John.  The story of Jesus begins with John out ranting and raving in the wildness; eating weird things and wearing strange clothes.
Wildernesses can be just about anyplace.  Wilderness can be someplace way far away or it can be someplace nearby viewed in another context.  I worked in a camp for a few summers.  Walking the trails during the day, we got to know the trails pretty well.  Got to know some of them so well that we would go running down them, at night, with no flashlight.  We got to know the trails well.  But once, I was taking a group of kids on a night hike and I stepped off the trail.  And I dropped about a foot down the side of a hill.  I suddenly was in a wilderness.  I had to figure how to get back on the trail and get the kids with me back on the trail.  (Oh, I would not leave anyone bring a flashlight on a night hike!  Well, after this event, I would ALWAYS carry a flashlight.  Well, this and the situation of running into a tree at night.  But that is a whole different story.)  I went out expecting to give the kids an experience they had probably not had living in the city, and I learned the lesson of carrying a flashlight!  I learned that I was responsible for these kids and it was negligent of me to not have a light, just in case!
Wilderness was something that was right there, just beyond the well-worn path.  So often when we think of wilderness we think of things like the jungle, or Borneo, or Detroit.  And all of these places can be wilderness, but again, how do we here in Mason, we who may not have the money or the health to travel to far-flung Jackson to find Jesus in the wilderness.  How do we find wilderness?
A colleague of mine came up with a wonderful idea for an outreach project.  It involved going out to the wilderness of the Mini-Mart!  She had suggested that her congregation make Christmas stockings for the people who worked on Christmas Eve at the local mini-marts.  That they could bring a stocking to the people and sing them a carol.  It was not a big thing, but it was a way of saying that the Church was thinking of these people who had to work.  And it was not to be done as a way of dragging people into church.  It was to be a gift of love to those in the wilderness. 
You see, the wilderness does not need to be that far away.  It can be the people working at Meijer.  It can be the folks in the bar.  It can be at the coffee shop.  The thing is, in trying to find Jesus, we can’t just sit in the temple—we have to go out.  Mark, in the gospel, reminds us of that.  The story of Jesus starts with John in the wilderness.  The way to find the love of Christ is to be out in those scary, uncomfortable places; encountering people who stretch our comfort levels.  If we are searching for Jesus, we need to go out into the wilderness.
It doesn’t take a whole lot, but it is something that WE have to do.  We can hold a door open for someone.  We can let someone go ahead of us in line.  We can smile at someone who is frowning.  We can reach out to those who may feel that the world has forgotten them.  Especially at this time, when so many things are telling us to have a Holly Jolly Christmas, some people may feel all alone.
During this second week of Advent, Mark again sends us out, out into the wilderness.  In Advent as we await the coming of Christ, we are also called to search out Christ in our world.  Wherever those places may be.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

It's a Train! Advent 1 B

I got a joke for you:  (I will use Germans, since I am of German descent.)  There were two old Germans out arguing one day.  The one German said, “Those are deer tracks!”   The other said, “No, those are moose tracks!”  They stood there and argued and argued over who was right.  The question is, “Who WAS right?”  Well, we’ll never know, because they got ran over by a train.
In our gospel reading for today, Jesus is talking all about signs.  Jesus is talking about looking for signs of the coming of the end.  It may seem weird that we would be talking about the end of the world at the beginning of the new church year.  And it may seem weird that we would be talking about the end of the world when we are starting Advent, the time when we are anticipating the coming of Christ to the world.  But weird or not, that is our reading for this Sunday. 
Jesus tells us to look for signs in our world.  He uses the things that the people would have known, things like the fig tree.  Jesus uses the natural progression of the tree to help people realize that the coming of the messiah will occur within the workings of daily life.  He tells the people to look to things and try to read the signs.  But the thing that we miss in the reading for today is the part that happens just before today’s reading.  You see, the disciples were looking at the wonderful buildings and temples in the city, and although they looked big and beautiful, Jesus was saying that these buildings would tumble.  The signs that the disciples were to be looking for would not be found in the temples where the people would expect to find the signs, they would be found in the wilds, where they would be least expected.
Jesus would not be found in the temples.  The messiah was not to be held in the glorious buildings.  And looking for the savior in the established places would be futile.  The places where the savior is SUPPOSED to be will end up in an empty search.  The buildings will fall, and the people will still be searching.
The poor old Germans in joke were searching.  But they were searching in the wrong place.  They were searching moose and deer, but they were not looking in the right place.  They were looking at the tracks that were obvious to them, but the obvious tracks were not going to lead to the end the old Germans desired.  Looking for deer and moose by following train tracks led to a disastrous end.  And Jesus would point out that the most obvious ways of searching are not necessarily the best ways.
Anyone who has gone hunting knows that looking for the trails of deer or other game requires some knowledge of the animal.  The person who is tracking has to be aware of the subtle changes that surround them.  They have to be aware of the broken branches and the leaves that have been eaten.  It is by following the subtle signs, not the big glaring tracks of steel that will lead hunters to they quarry.  All that following the large, man-made tracks will do is scare the animals away and lead to dissapointment.
Granted, Jesus does talk about some big signs; “The sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light;” but these are still the natural signs.  These are the signs out in the world.  We have to be out of the building to be able to see the signs Jesus speaks of.  We have to be out in the wilderness to see the subtlety of the changing of the fig tree.  The buildings will fall apart, but the signs of Jesus coming are not found in the buildings!
For the people of biblical times, this would be a surprise.  You may remember I have said that the Messiah was supposed to be a warrior king.  The Messiah was supposed to come in and clear away all of the peoples’ enemies by a show of force.  To the people of biblical times, kings, leaders, rulers would all have palaces and great monuments; and it would be in these monuments that the king would be found.  So for Jesus to be telling the people that the great temples will fall and that the Messiah will not be found there is quite shocking.
But for us, this should not be too surprising.  We, the ones who know the story from our vantage point two-thousand year in the future should comfortable with this.  We should know not to look for Christ in the “usual” spots.  We should be used to finding the tomb empty.  We should be used to finding the King eating with the tax collectors, beggars, and prostitutes.  We should be comfortable with the idea of the Son of God being born in a stable.  We should know – as a part of our being – that we need to look of our Savior “outside” of the expected places.  But so often, we find ourselves in the place of the old Germans, we are looking for moose and deer but end up following the train tracks.  Now granted, the train tracks are easier to follow, but those old Germans are never going to find what they are looking for.
So often we are surrounded by people who think they have found the right signs, and they are very willing to do all kinds of things to follow those tracks.  They are willing to spend two weeks sleeping in a tent to be the first to purchase their savior.  They are willing to spray pepper-spray on others in order to grab their savior out of the hands of another.  They are willing to put those around them in jeopardy just so they can get what they feel they deserve.  But I have trouble believing that our Savior is going to be found on an X-Box 360 or appear on a waffle made with the $2 waffle iron, the acquisition of which sent three people to the hospital.  I have trouble believing the Savior will appear in the Summer House in the Alps or the Winter House in Cancun.  I have trouble believing our Savior will appear in any monument we build to ourselves, even if we say we are building it to the glory of God.
The problem with the “expected” tracks is they WILL always lead to SOMETHING.  Who knows, maybe the old Germans will convince themselves that trains are actually moose and deer.  But just because they call the train a moose, doesn’t make it a moose.  Just because we have been told that church is a place we are to find comfort, doesn’t mean that our search for Christ should end when we are comfortable.  We can try to convince ourselves of this, but then we are left trying to chew on a train instead of having venison.
Christ calls us to look for signs.  Christ calls us to search.  But Christ calls us to look for the signs in the wilderness.  Christ calls us to look beyond what our world would tell us.  Christ is not found on the cross.  Christ is not found in the tomb.  Christ is not found in the palace.  Christ is not even found in the comfort of the maternity ward.  We find Christ in the wilderness.  We find Christ on the fringes.  We find Christ in those places that most of society would choose to avoid.
In searching for Christ this Advent, where will you search?  What wilderness are you being drawn to?  The tracks you are following; will they lead to Christ or to a train wreck?  Christ is calling us to him.  Christ wants us to find him!  Christ will give us the opportunities we need if we will only search.  The search will probably be difficult, but I am sure the results will be worth it!  And if our search ends up sending us headlong into an on-coming train, then I am also sure Christ will be there to help us back on our way.

Crafts for the Gay Man!

I know that I should come up with something of my own, but this is too good not to share!


Friday, November 25, 2011

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Christ the King

Well, we have made it to the end of the church year.  Today is Christ the King Sunday.   This is the day that we celebrate the reign of Christ over the world.
Since we so often hear how America is such a Christian country, I figured I should be able to just look around and see all kinds of signs that Christ truly is the King.  But for how much I looked, I had some difficulty finding any sign that anyone truly believed that Christ was the king.  People were crabby.  Drivers were mean.  No one seemed to care about anyone except themselves.  For being such a Christian country, we seem to be so far from living our Christian heritage.
Why do we, and I am not just talking about us gathered here this morning, but all of us in this “so called” Christian country, have difficulty showing to the world just how Christian we are?  If Christ really is the King of our lives, why is it so hard to see? 
One of the big arguments our Jewish friends have is exactly that question:  If Jesus was the Son of God; then why isn’t it more obvious in the world?  And I really think they have a point.  As a friend of mine always asked, “If being a Christian were illegal, could people find enough evidence to convict you?
I think one of the problems is with the whole “King” thing.  We don’t have a whole lot of experience with kings, and often the experience we do have has more to do with Elvis as the King of Rock ‘n Roll or Michael Jackson as the King of Pop.  Quite often, when we think of King, we think of someone who is out in front, out seeking popularity.  We may think of some of the tyrants from third world countries, but we probably have the most experience dealing with the King as showman.
When it comes to Christ the King, Christ OUR King, we don’t have a showman.  We don’t have someone who is out seeking fame; we don’t have someone who is out there trying to dominate all the things, quite the contrary.  We have a King who is a servant.  We have a King who is not seeking the limelight.  We have a King who is not out seeking popularity; and to us, this can feel odd.  In our world, the things that we are TOLD are important are those things that are constantly seeking our attention and seeking our adoration.  We are told our politicians are important because they are always on TV.  We are told celebrities are important because they are always seeking our adoration.  We are informed by the media that these people are important, and that we are supposed to follow their leads. 
But our King, Christ the King, is different.  I think if Jesus were in the world right now, we probably wouldn’t hear much about it on TV.  He wouldn’t be making the headlines.  He wouldn’t be on the 11 o’clock news.  I don’t know if he would even make it to the morning talk shows.  Jesus didn’t make it onto the radar of the leadership of Biblical times until the end of his ministry.  And then, when he did make it into their consciousness, it wasn’t in a positive manner.  No, I think Jesus would more likely be one of the Occupy Wall Street people than one of the politicians.
Now, you may wonder why I would say that.  Well, look at what Jesus says to the sheep and the goats in today’s parable.  Jesus does not separate the sheep from the goats by how much they have acquired.  Jesus does not separate the sheep from the goats by the size of the house the creature has.  Jesus does not use the usual, or worldly, methods of separating the sheep from the goats; Jesus’ method of judgment is a challenge to us.  Jesus’ method of judgment is a challenge for us to move beyond the expectations of the world and move on to something quite incredible.  Jesus’ method of judgment asks us to look beyond caring for our own needs and reaching out to care for the needs of others.
Our world tells us to look out for ourselves.  Our society holds the “lifting yourself up by your bootstraps” in high regard.  Our world seems to think that if you are poor, unemployed, or have some kind of disease, then this is your own fault and you are getting what you disserve.  Our world keeps telling us that the people who are industrious are the ones whom God helps.  You know, “God helps those who help themselves!”  (Actually, this is not in the Bible at all.  It is most often attributed to Ben Franklin, but more accurately came from Algernon Sydney in 1698.)
But this is so opposite of what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel.  When Jesus lifts up the sheep, he doesn’t praise them for being frugal; he doesn’t praise them for not creating dependent deadbeats.  He does not praise them for helping those who help themselves.  What he does do is praise the sheep for helping those who were in need.  He praises them for feeding the hungry, for bringing drink to the thirsty, for visiting those in prison.  (What we need to remember about visiting those in prison, this wasn’t just a social visit, prison did not supply for those in prison.  It was up to visitors to bring supplies for the in prison.)  He tells the sheep that when they helped the least in society, that they were, in fact, helping Jesus.  This is no, “God helps those who help themselves,” this is God looking with gladness upon those who reach out the hand of love to those around them.
On Christ the King Sunday, we are once again reminded that the way of the world is not the way of Christ.  We are reminded that our King is not a showman or someone seeking fame.  We are reminded that we are to be followers of Christ and that we are to reach out to others in Christian love.  We are reminded that when Christ looks to us, Christ is not interested in what we have acquired for ourselves, but what we have given to others.
What ways can we reach out?  How can we feed the hungry?  How can we clothe the poor?  How can we become the people of God out, in the world?  How do we trust in our King more than we trust in our own bootstraps?  We claim Christ as our kind, but do we really believe this?  This is the tough part.  Do we trust that we can give?  Do we trust that God will care for us when we step out in faith?

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I have been thinking about all the hoopla surrounding Occupy Wall Street.  I was thinking about the 1% carpeting the protesters in McDonald's applications.  I have seen postings about how #OWS is just a bunch of whining babies.  And I keep getting more and more offended.

My first thought:  If these people had jobs, good jobs,  would they be out protesting?  Obviously the "Job Creators" are not creating jobs.  If they were creating jobs, the people would not be out protesting.  And not just any jobs, but jobs people can take pride in.

Secondly:  Are McDonald's applications being used because the only jobs that are available are at McDonald's?  If minimum wage jobs are the only thing that economy can produce, then we are really in some trouble.  If our economy can only produce low-pay, no insurance jobs, we are definitely on the downward slide.  When I hear people say, "I work two jobs I hate because I don't want to whine," it saddens me.  Is this all we have to look to?

Thirdly:  If this is what the 1% think we desire, they are sorely mistaken.  We want fulfillment from our jobs just like they want fulfillment from theirs.  I know I would be willing to work at a lower paying job if I could feel that I am DOING something.  Handing overpriced lattes to affluent soccer moms is not my idea of fulfillment.

Fourthly:  If the 1% think we can afford medical insurance on part-time pay, they are WAY out of touch with the world.  Or that we want to work two part-time jobs to make ends meet.  We like to have healthcare just like they want healthcare.  And working part-time for McDonald's isn't going to do it.

Fifthly:  We like to have vacations too.  We are even happy just to have some time at the lake, we don't need to go to Rio or the Riviera.  We are happy to have a tent or a hotel, we don't need a luxury spa resort.  We just want to have a good time at our working class vacation spots with our family and not have to worry that the vacation will push the budget over the edge.  Who can enjoy a vacation when every expense must be fretted over.

Sixthly:  I have ten years of college!  What a waste to be putting that education to work making sure the "upside-down caramel macciato" is exactly 170 degrees.  I can, and have, worked minimum wage jobs, but I would hope that in the greatest country on earth I could find a job that allowed some of the "American Dream."

Showering the #OWS people with McDonald's applications may have seemed like a funny idea to some people, but it just goes to show how out of touch some people are.  People want jobs with dignity and that have worth; give these jobs to people and they will work them.  People would not care that the richest people have their toys if we knew we had the basics and a little extra to make life pleasant.  Yes, I could work at McDonald's, but I would get very tired of it very soon and I would probably end up throwing a McHeart Attack into someones face out of frustration.

Is this all we have to offer as "The Greatest Country?"  If so, how pathetic.

Friday, November 04, 2011

New Place

Well, we are in the new house.  And it is starting to look more like a home.  The bulk of the boxes are now in storage.  The glass room is getting set up.  Pretty soon I will be able to start making CHRISTMAS STUFF!!  (Well, I have been making some Christmas stuff for a while, but now I can get back at it!)

Now I can start looking for work around here.  I would like to find a church, but I am not so sure that will happen.  But that also means that I can start looking for calls across our great country.  Actually, I would prefer to find a call in the southern part of the US, but we will see.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Little Halloween Treat for Y'all!

Happy Halloween!

Well, we are sitting in the living room surrounded by boxes.  As is the case with clergy folks, there is a large amount of boxes containing books.  But they are here and we are here and the apartment keys have been returned.

So we are in our new house.  I am sure in a short while it will feel like home.

I hope to find some kind of call.  I keep threatening to quit the whole church thing, but we all know that is not going to happen.  I do sometimes wish I could just be a pew jockey, but I know that I would not be happy for long with that.

One of the nice things about the new city we live in, it is a university town!  And the sight seeing have been nice!  College boys are just so pretty!

Have a great Halloween, y'all!

Quick Update

We are 99% moved.  I am currently sitting in a living room full of boxes; mostly boxes of books.  These need to go upstairs, but not quite yet.  We have some final cleaning and all the hanging clothes to bring back and then we turn in our keys and a HUGE check to the apartment complex.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Playing With Naked Men (NSFW)

 Well, I have been getting things boxed up to move.  But when I need to stop because I am getting frustrated with the process, I have been playing with my stained glass program.  I have said before that finding male nude stained glass patterns is neigh on impossible.  So I have decided to do it myself.
 It is fun to do!  And hopefully I will be able to actually be able to make some, if not all, of them.  They are all works in progress and are learning experiences as I try to figure where to put glass seams and how to use different colored glass (or same colored glass) to create effects.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Move Nears...

Well, this is the last week in the apartment.  We will be moving on Saturday.  It will be a good thing, we will be in a house, in a smaller city.  The metropolitan area is really getting to me.

Moving sucks.  There really isn't any other way to put it.  And trying to do it as cheaply as possible means we are going to be doing it ourselves.  We currently don't have a whole lot of help.

I am moving more and more in the direction of finding a secular job and doing supply as needed.  I kind of like the thought of being a pew jockey.  The thought of being able to go to church and leave and not have to worry about anything else is quite attractive.  Forget about the petty intrigues of the congregation.  Forget about being the "Resident Holy Dude."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Moving Begins (Again)

I really hate moving.  Not only the act of packing all of one's stuff up into boxes, but the process of winnowing down the "stuff."  The act of throwing the stuff away or giving it away or selling it is, in some ways, an act of death.  It is realizing that some of the dreams that were held for life are no longer going to happen.

And lately it seems, the deaths have outnumbered the new births.

I am packing up my glass stuff right now.  It just seems to remind me of pieces that I have not made that I want to make.  It reminds me of the things that have gotten broken in other moves and wondering what will get broken in this move.

Then there is the anger that the move has to happen at all.  That homophobia is still rampant in the world is just crazy.  But it is homophobia that is at the base of this move.  And it just seems as if no one really cares that it is there.

I feel paralyzed.  I am doing Sunday church wherever I can, but that doesn't bring in a whole lot of money.  I really cannot look for a job until we move, and that won't be for another two weeks or so.  And so I just sit here and try not to get overwhelmed.  So I guess I vent on the blog and hope that I don't scare too many of you away.

I have posted a couple of my latest projects.  I am quite proud of the angel.  I think the Santa is kind of fun too.  I hope the pictures make up for the bummer that this blog seems to have become.

I hate doing then "When I _____, then things will get better..." but I hope that after the move things will get better.  Hopefully things will not feel like they are in the constant state of limbo that they have been for the past 5 months.

Well, sleep well all.  Hug someone and tell them you love them.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Do as I do

Proper 24 Year A        1 Thess 1:1-10             The Rev. Benton Quest

I have a confession to make: The last time I preached on this Sunday’s scripture, I had the best AND the worst reviews that I have ever received from a congregation. When I meet with former congregants, often, the conversation will get back to this sermon. They either comment that they still remember the sermon or they comment that they still cannot believe that I would ever have done such a thing. So with that in mind, I have decided to give preaching on this scripture another go and see what happens!
Last time I preached on the epistle reading, I was trying to come up with a way for the people of the congregation to directly experience the hypocrisy of one’s words and one’s actions. I was trying to impress upon them what it looks like and feels like when someone’s actions are in direct violation to their words.  How I demonstrated this was to stand up at the pulpit, light up a cigarette, and proceed to tell people about the evils of smoking. Needless to say, it made quite an impression. Many people understood the point I was trying to make. As I said, I was told that it was one of the best sermons they heard, but there were some who where so upset that I would even think of smoking in the pulpit! What kind of example was I setting! “THINK OF THE CHILDREN!”  Some threatened to never come back.
But you know what? Even these people who got so upset about the whole incident demonstrated exactly the point I was trying to make: When our actions and our words are in conflict, people are far more likely to remember our actions rather than our words.
In our reading from First Thessalonians, Paul discusses what it means to model behavior for the people. He talks about how he and his companions went among the Thessalonians and how, now that they had been among them, the Thessalonians have begun to imitate the behavior they had seen. Paul and his companions went among the people of Thessalonica, acting in the name of Christ and showing the people what it meant to live as a Christian.
This reading represents one of the more difficult reading to preach: How do you preach about grace when the reading seems to be lifting up the wonder of works? Paul was telling the Thessalonians, and is telling us, that works are important. Works are what the world sees and what the world uses to judge us. Works are the fruit by which we will be known. As the song says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Probably more accurately, “They will know we are Christians by the love they see us demonstrate.”
Now here lies the tension: We are told that we are saved by grace through faith, not works. So it is God’s good grace and pleasure to save us, not some form of repayment for the works we do. We don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love. There is nothing we COULD ever do to earn God’s love. However, how we act effects how others perceive God and how others respond to God’s good gift of grace.
Just like it would be hard to believe a lecture on the hazards of smoking given by a person puffing on a cigarette, it is also hard to believe that God is important to some people when you look at their lives. When we claim to be Christian, people begin to look at our lives to see what difference being a Christian actually makes. When we claim to be Christian, our children and our grandchildren look to see if we are being true to our word.  Would the people we encounter on the freeways or in the grocery line know we are Christian by our interactions with them? Are we practicing what we preach or are we doing the Christian equivalent of telling them to not smoke while waving around a lit cigarette? If, to the world, our lives appear indistinguishable from the lives of anyone else, why should anyone consider being a Christian? I personally think it does make a difference and I hope that difference is evident in my life.
How does your Christianity play out in your life? As a seminary classmate of mine used to say, “If being a Christian were illegal, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” When people look at your life, are they seeing God’s love as something that is important or are they seeing it as something to be used when necessary and forgotten when convenient?
For most of us, we learned our faith from those around us. We learned our faith by watching our parents, watching our grandparents, watching those who were close to us. It was through these people that we learned what it means to be people of faith and what it means to be Christians. It wasn’t through something that we read in a book. It wasn’t through some well thought out theological treatise; it was through the one-to-one interactions with other Christians that we came to faith and continue to grow in faith. And it is through interactions with US that others come to faith and grow in faith.
All of you who are parents and grandparents, the faith you leave to your children and grandchildren has so much more to do with what you do than what you say. Your children and grandchildren are watching WHERE you place God in your lives. They are watching the prominence or lack of prominence you give to your faith. Just as the Thessalonians watched Paul, our children and grandchildren are watching us. They notice if and when we go to church. They notice if and when we pray before meals. They observe how we handle our finances or what we say about people when those people are out of earshot.
Even if our children are long gone, we still continue to teach by example. I remember things older people in my church did as I grew. I remember which people seemed nice, and which to avoid. There were people who were just nice to be around and others who seemed to be constantly scowling. In this way, in the way these people conducted themselves during something as simple as coffee hour, these people also taught me about faith and about what it means to live one’s faith.
Are we committed to our faith? Do we live out this commitment in our lives? Do we hold our faith out proudly or do we hide it away? Do we say one thing in Church and something totally different on Monday morning? If Paul were writing to us today, to the Floradians, would we be commended on our risking persecution to live out our faith? Would we be commended for being a model for other people?  I would venture that these could be some tough questions to answer. But, I think that if we delved into why the questions are hard to answer, we might learn some things about our person faith.
I think the extent to which we are uncomfortable living our faith is the extent to which we have forgotten God’s love. We forget that our worth has already been established. We are free to model love because we have first been loved and we have been loved totally. When we forget this love, it is then, that we begin to model behaviors we would rather not have those around us copy.  When we forget that Christ loves us so much that he would die for us, it is then that our behavior can take some embarrassing turns.
We, as followers of Christ, are to pattern our lives after Christ, and that means we are to live a life of service. Although we don’t earn our salvation through our actions, our actions are a reflection of the salvation we have already received. We are role models to our children, our grandchildren, our families, our co-workers, and those around us. How we live out Christ’s love in our lives can greatly effect how those around us live out the love of Christ in their lives. As Paul explained, we look to Christ as an example, but others are looking to us.
Now this could weigh very heavily on us. We could walk away from this whole thing feeling like it is our fault if people don’t fully experience the love of God. We could feel like our ever action is under a microscope. But that kind of overly self-conscious existence is not what a loving God would want for us.
The life of example is really not that difficult. When we bring the love of Christ deeply into our lives, we can’t help but have that love show through. It is not some kind of show we have to put on, it is a way of living our lives as a celebration of extravagant love God has for us. It is a way to celebrate the gift of life we have been given. This gift of love is freely given to us; how we live this love is our gift back to God. How we live it is our gift to our family, friends, our congregation, and our world.
Our example is our legacy. How we live our lives is our gift to our children, our grandchildren, and those around us. The example we set will stay with the people we encounter, especially with our children, for the rest of their lives. But we are not alone. We also have our role models. We have Christ as our mode. We have the Bible to lead us! And we have each other to support us along the way.  We do not earn salvation through our actions, but our actions tell the world the story of Christ. 
As individuals, what story are you telling?  Are you telling the story of love and forgiveness?  Or are you telling the story of grudge and judgment?  As a congregation are you spreading the truth of Christ to those in the world?  Or are you maintaining a safe distance from those around?  I know you to be a very kind and considerate congregation.  I have been luck to experience your hospitality on many occasions.  I just pray that your kindness and caring is being released into a world that needs to experience Christ’s love!
Well, no cigarettes this time through, but I hope that we can see that we, when we call ourselves Christian, represent Christ to a world looking for truth.  And it is through our actions that the love of Christ is spread, throughout the community and from generation to generation.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Rejoice in the Lord

There has been an interesting thing floating around Facebook the past week.  It was a sign that read, “What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?”
A friend of mine responded that she would be a lot skinnier!
Yah, I would be a lot skinnier, too, but I also would be sitting on the floor, or maybe even on the grass.  I would be twiddling my thumbs being totally bored.  Or maybe I wouldn’t even have thumbs to twiddle.  I would be walking everywhere, barefooted.  But I would have a parking place at Meijer, near the door, to park my non-existent car!
Part of our problem as people in America is that we forget how truly blessed we are.  We bemoan our situation while talking to our friends and family around the world as we sit in our kitchens drinking our coffee from Brazil.  We get so used to having the miraculous around us that we forget that each of these people and each of these things are a real gift.
As I said, one of the downfalls of being so richly blessed is that we forget what we have and we begin to look for more.  We begin to look at the blessings of others and want those blessings for ourselves.  But the problem is that when we look at the blessings of others, we stop rejoicing in the blessings that have been given specifically to us.
Probably most of you know that I have had some trouble rejoicing the past few weeks and months.  My former congregation closed.  An opportunity for a congregation fell through due to bigoted thoughts on their side.  Nick’s daughter has had some major medical problems which entailed trips to Tampa.  Now we are looking at moving, again, which is always so much fun.  And in the midst of all this “Yuck” stuff, Paul, in the epistle reading, is telling me to “rejoice.”  And to make the situation worse, not just to rejoice, but to “rejoice always!”  In the midst of moving and family hardships, I am supposed to rejoice.
I look at Facebook posts from friends and see pictures of their trips to Italy.  I hear about seminary classmates with thriving congregations.  I hear from former congregants about how wonderfully the congregation is doing.  All these things come into my life and seem to point out how I have failed, not how I should be rejoicing.  But even with the world showing me my failures, Paul is telling me that I need to REJOICE!  And Paul is not just telling me, Paul is telling us all!
Being part of a small congregation can also have that feeling.  We hear how good the large churches are doing.  We hear how these large congregations have all kinds of programs and all kinds of people.  We hear how they have building funds and too many kids for the Sunday School program.  We hear these things and then we look around as see the remnant gathered here and wonder how we should rejoice.  We gather here and wonder why we should rejoice.
But like I said, rejoicing is a tricky thing!  We are so often surrounded by so many things to celebrate that we become complacent.  We forget that, for us, this congregation IS the right size.  We forget that we have gifts to offer that larger congregations do not.  We offer care and support at a level that is not possible in a larger group.  When someone is gone, it does not take a couple of weeks to notice!  We are able to respond quickly and we are able to respond with our whole heart.
The world tells us that “bigger is better,” but Jesus seemed to like the smaller, more intimate groups.  He surrounded himself with his twelve friends and this small group changed the world.  Jesus did not go out and build a mega-church with a professional choir and a youth program staffed by child psychologists, he worked with the people who were around him and helped each use their gifts for the glory of God!  He taught them to truly rejoice in what they have received.  He helped his followers to find the blessing in what was there, and then helped them to work toward God’s vision of the Kingdom.
In my former congregation, I kept hearing people bemoan the fact that “we are too old.”  Which was quickly followed by, “We need young people.”  We were being the church with the older people, and we were doing okay.  We were not doing “Mega-Church wonderful” but we were surviving.  But, in terms of the Facebook post I mentioned earlier, we were not thanking God for the gifts we had.  We were not rejoicing in the Lord!  We had something there that the world needed!  It may not have been all the new and improved gadgets.  It may not have been a ton of kids running up and down the aisle.  (Although a few people would have had a stroke if that happened!)  It was not the Mega-Church model that is lifted up as the way things are supposed to be.  But what we did have is what I called “Grandparently Wisdom.”  We had a view of community that is becoming more and more rare.  We had something that we could provide to the world; something that the world was sorely lacking.
Here at St. Swithin's, we also have “Grandparently Wisdom!”  And that is something that we can share.  We are exactly what God wants us to be.  We need to rejoice in that!  We have a loving community that supports each other.  In a world where indifference and self-service is the norm, we can show those around us a different way.  We can rejoice in our small congregation!
But we need to NOT get caught in the opposite trap; we need to rejoice in what we have and in what we are, but we need to remember that God is not done with us yet!  We also need to be rejoicing in what we are becoming!  We can be given the gift of a guitar, and we can rejoice in that gift, but unless we spend time practicing, the gift is not going to come of much.  We can enjoy our own music, but it is in sharing that music that the gift grows and the rejoicing is spread!
That is the balance point we need to find:  We need to rejoice in what we have and what we are, but we also need to rejoice in what we are becoming!  We need to learn, daily it seems, to rejoice in the giftedness that we are while waiting in anticipation of what God has in store.  Will I ever be Howard Hughes rich?  Probably not.  But I am also not starving.  Will I ever be Robert Schuler famous?  (Just a side note, how famous is Robert Schuler?  The computer did has his name in its dictionary.  My last name it claims is misspelled.)  Probably not, but I have good folks who tell me that I have touched their lives.  Will St. Swithin’s ever be a Mount Hope Church?  Probably not, but would you really want to?  Will St. Swithin’s ever be St. Peter’s downtown, again probably not.  However, we are not called to be those things. We are called to be St. Swithin’s and to be the best St. Swithin’s we can.  We are called to pray; to pray for ways of bring the gift that is the congregation of St. Swithin’s to the community.  Paul tells us, “if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  Focus on the great gifts we have been given!  It is in celebrating our giftedness that we spread Christ’s love to the world.  And it is in seeing our rejoicing that attracts the attention of the world.  Our society is craving joy.  It has bought the idea that joy comes from money or power, but Christ tells us that true joy comes from love; God’s love for us and our love for one another.  This is a gift we can give, no matter what our age, no matter what our financial situation.  Loving is something that we all can do and something that we can all strengthen.
Rejoicing in the Lord becomes self-reinforcing.  The more we rejoice, the more things we find to rejoice in!  The more we rejoice in the wonder of the world, the more wonder we find.  As we thank God for the gifts in our lives, the more gifts we find waiting!  We can look at others and long for the gifts they have, but we then lose sight of our own giftedness.  I am about to break into a scene from “It’s A Wonderful Life” here.  “You see George; you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away?”  When we long for what is not, we neglect what is here.  When we forget to rejoice in the Lord, we miss the great love that surrounds us.
We are lucky that God continues to bless us, even when we don’t rejoice in our giftedness.  God continues to shower us with gifts, even when we long for the gifts of others.  But know that as people and as a congregation, God is here and God is at work!  You are exactly what you are to be, but thankfully you are not all that you will be!  We can rejoice in the lives that we have and with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, we can let our requests be made known to God.  

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Surgery Dilemma

I heard something on the radio a few weeks ago and it got me thinking:  What would you do if you knew you had to have a surgery that would save your life but would permanently diminish your intellectual capacity?

Sometime I wish I could have that surgery.  I would like to know what it feels like to consider a 12 pack and NASCAR a good weekend.  I would like to know how it feels to be able to get mine and walk away leaving everyone else to fend for themselves.  I would like to know what it was like to really not care at all what was happening in the world.  I would like to know what it was like to be content knowing that I am taken care of and that everyone else who is still struggling deserves it.  I wonder what it feels like to know that God loves me so I am going to heaven and the rest of you will rot in hell.

I long for some surety in life.  I long for things to be black and white.  I am sick of caring.

I think I would have the surgery.  Right now, I crave a simpler life.  I crave one where I just need to look out for Nick and I and that is it.

Oh the thoughts of a wide awake brain in a tired body.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Reply to a friend

This is a response to a VERY good friend asking me why I hate rich people.  I have not sent it to him yet, not because I think he is right, but I value his friendship too much.  But I figured I could post it here.  I might still send it, but I am going to let it sit for a while.

Why do I hate these people I do not know?  Well, I don’t hate them.  I am frustrated with them.  I am frustrated that no one will admit that George W. got us into a two wars that were not funded.  I am frustrated that we had a budget surplus and a temporary tax cut was given to the affluent and now we are deficit, but to return the temporary tax cut is called a tax increase.  I am frustrated that I cannot afford insurance.  I am frustrated that Nick has pains, aches, and all kinds of things but we cannot afford insurance for him.  I am angry that jobs are going over seas and none are being formed in the US.  I am angry that I hear, “You just need to work harder.”  I have 10 years of college and I have been working as hard as possible to stay employed.  I am not a slug.  Nick is not a slug.  To suggest that we are in the situation we are in because we are trying to leach off of society is offensive.

Compromise means that both sides will not get everything they want.  Yet, I hear the Republicans being the party of “No.”  If GOP does not get exactly what they want, then they say “No!” and blame it on the President.  When given something that might be good for the country, all we hear is “We don’t want to give the president a victory.”  It is not the president’s victory, it is a victory for the nation.

I hear politicians complaining that after they spend $200,000 on their family of 6 they only have $400,000 left.  $400,000 left for what?  I would gladly pay taxes on the $6 million the guy makes if it meant that when I was done I had $400,000 left over!  What do I have left over after all my taxes and payments?  I am farther in debt than before.  If getting $400,000 of disposable income means that I have to work harder, tell me what that job is.

The job creators out there are not creating jobs.  They are sending jobs to other countries.  Check out the graph I sent on FB, the Koch brothers are becoming richer and richer, but they are not adding jobs to the economy.  Places like HP are hiring temp jobs which don’t involve any kind of benefits, no kind of security.  It is impossible to even get a vacation, not that we could afford it.  While working temp, you try to take a vacation, you end up losing your job.  You have it nice.  You have a stable job.  You have benefits.  You have the luxury of looking at people like me and calling me lazy.  Whether you say it directly or not, to have the comment, “Why do you hate all of these people that you do not even know? Is it because they work hard and are successful?” appears to imply that those of us who are unemployed are not willing to working hard.  I have worked hard and I am still unemployed.

So when I hear the Tea Party talking like it is all my fault, I get angry.  When I hear people say that the unemployed are lazy, I get angry.  When I hear about rich people getting breaks because they are rich (i.e. capital gains tax rates) I get angry.  If the rich were actually making jobs, I would not get angry.  But when I hear about oil companies making record profits while taking tax breaks, I get angry.  And if you look at the crowds in Occupy Wall Street, I am not the only one who is angry.  I look at what is happening and can hear Marie Antoinette saying, “They have no bread? Well let them eat cake.”  It is easy when you have a stable, well paying, job to say that everyone else needs to work harder, but that is really not a fair statement.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Think it then DO it! Proper 21 A

Well, you know what they say:  “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”  But from what I have seen, they have just repaved the road to Hell, so it is much smoother now!  But before that repaving project, that road was bumpy enough to knock out your fillings!
But isn’t it true; the whole thing about the road to Hell being paved in good intention?  So often we have such good intentions to do things, but then, in the end, nothing happens.  We may have good intentions to feed the poor, but unless we go out there and do it, the poor still go hungry.  Or, if you are like me, you have good intentions of sending out that birthday card or Christmas card, but even though I may actually BUY the card, the card still sits on the desk, waiting to be sent.
We say that it is the thought that matters, but I think that is just to make us feel good.  If it was, indeed, only the thought that mattered, then there would be world peace, no hunger, no violence, and droopy pants would be a thing of the past.  But, like I said, I think this is just a way to allow us to not feel guilty about those things we are not doing.  “You know, I didn’t really didn’t get the present, but it’s the thought that counts!”
I think another way we Christians say, “it’s the thought that counts” is “I’ll pray for you.”  Now, I could get in trouble for saying this, because I do believe that prayer is important and I do believe that God does answer our prayers.  But, as most of you know, I believe God uses us to answer peoples’ prayers.  I believe that God uses us as God’s eyes, ears, hands, and heart in the world.  We now have the privilege of being able to go out and spread Christ’s love to all those who need to feel it.  Hopefully our prayer doesn’t just end with “God bless Freddie;” hopefully we are looking for ways that we can personally reach out to Freddie and be a blessing to Freddie.  And if we can’t be a blessing directly to Freddie, then hopefully we can find another person for whom we can be a blessing.
Yes, I believe that prayer is a good thing, but I don’t think prayer is just something that should end with our head bowed and our eyes closed.  Prayer should move us to raise our head, open our eyes, and search out those places where we can become prayer in action.  Our personal prayer to God and our congregational prayers and petitions should move us to search out those ways we can bring God’s grace to the world.
When I think back to the road to Hell, like I said, before they fixed it, it was really rough!  It was enough to knock your car out of alignment and to bounce your fillings around in your head!  It was nasty!  And if we think about it, this is the way our lives and our world can become if we are just full of good intentions.  We say we will do something and then we get distracted into something else.  Well, while we are off doing that something else, the task we said we would do does not get done.  The pothole we said we would fill gets left empty.  If enough of these potholes are left unfilled, soon the whole road becomes impassable.  And, although the intent to fix the pothole may have been given in total sincerity, when the task is left unfinished, sincerity doesn’t matter; the road is still impassable.
So what are the things that we have every intention of doing, but we just never get around to doing?  What are those things that we could be doing that we just don’t seem to find the time for?  And really, I am not trying to shame you or find things that are beyond your ability.  I’m not going to tell you that you need to be going to Haiti to help rebuild the country or that you have to join the Peace Corps to go teach in Ghana.  Not that those are bad things to do.  However, we need to realistic here and admit that for the most part, these things are just beyond our abilities.  But just because these things are beyond our abilities, this does not leave us off the hook.
The one thing that we ARE asked to do as Christians is to love. And this is something that we all can do.  We may not get around so well, but we can love.  We may be busy in our life, but we can love.  No matter what is happening in our lives, we can love. 
What I find sad is so often, what we see in our world today are people who say they love others but are, in fact, quite unloving.  We see people claiming to be Christian but then act in ways that are not loving or Christlike.  We see those who claim the mantle of Christ but are unwilling to help their neighbors in need  Christ speaks of feeding the poor and caring for the needy but so many, in the name of Christianity, want to blame the poor and the needy for their suffering.
This is probably as close to a political sermon as I will ever get, but I think that we, as Christians need to be willing to speak out for those things that we feel are right and true.  We need to be willing to speak our faith and to follow through on those words.  We need to love the world as Christ has loved us.  We need to forgive as we saw in the gospel reading of a couple weeks ago.  We need to forgive as Christ forgave us.  We need to love a God loved us.  We need to show the world the peace and love that we have found so that maybe the world can find some peace and love somewhere.
I see in our world today a place where we as Christians can do more than just say good things and then go out and do whatever we please.  I see a world where we can speak the words of Christ and be the people of Christ.  We can say that Christ loves the world, and then go out there and love the world.  We can be a little kinder to the people on the roadway.  We can smile at the person checking-out our groceries.  We can donate food to the local food pantry.  We can give our kids a call and just say, “Hi.”
Paul tells us that we are to be of the same mind as Christ, and that also means we are to do as he did.  Although I do not believe that we are redeemed by our actions, I do believe that it is through our actions that the living Christ is brought to the world.  We won’t do it perfectly.  We are going to make mistakes.  Some days we will say one thing and do the opposite.  Some days we will reconsider what we originally planned and go do those things we should.  But hopefully, as a community of faith, we can remind each other to be the people of Christ that we are called to be.  We may not change the world, but we can be an influence to those around us.  And who know, maybe our actions will start a trend that will, in fact, become the change we would like to see in the world.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Ahoy!  Happy International Talk Like  Pirate Day!

funny pictures-'Xcuse meh... I wuz told there wuld be wenches an rums?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Well, some changes happening

I guess I should know better than to think I will be left twisting in the wind.

It seems that a colleague of Nick's is in need of a house-sitter.  This colleague will be gone for a year and we will (most likely) be watching his house!  We will have to keep the yard up and the snow shoveled and pay the utilities.  This will give us time for me to find a call without having to rush at the first thing that is offered.  Not ideal, but much better than living under a bridge.

I guess I continually hope that I can find a church that will be fun and fulfilling.  I talk a big talk about leaving when things go south.  But so often, things seem to go south.  I keep hoping to find a community where people want to have some fun, enjoy life, be a voice of love and tolerance, and make a change in our world.

We still get to deal with no insurance, but I think that puts us in the majority.

Hopefully I will be able to sleep tonight.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chapter 7: The Saga Continues

Well, I got a pretty decisive answer from the larger church today:  There is nothing in this area for me.  So after waiting four months on the assumption that I was going to have a call, we are back to where we were four month ago.  Only this time we do not have a savings account to fall back on.

As Nick and I were discussing options, my mom called.  She asked how things were going.  I told her that we had enough money to get us through October but then we were broke.  She said, "I don't know what I can do for you."  (Now, remember they have a bedroom in the basement of their house; but for Nick and I to move in would "kill Dad.")  So once again, I feel abandoned by the church and I feel abandoned by my family.  Those things that we are to count on during times of trouble are not there.

Frankly, I don't believe what I have preached anymore.  I know I have said that in the past, but it is getting harder and harder to bounce back.  The logical person in me says that all this talk of peace, love, and a loving god is purely a way for us to avoid the terror of our mortality.  Yes, we are going to all pass into nothingness and this will all become a cold cinder a degree or two above absolute zero.

Thanks to the blow ups of last March., I feel even more distant from my family.  They say that I don't interact and then when I do, I get yelled at.  Now that we are again approaching a cliff, I can't even confide in my family.  My mother gives a nervous laugh when I say anything, and my siblings don't care.  Again, we need to rely on the generosity of friends.

And I just got the note from the larger church telling me that my insurance was going to be up at the end of September but if I wanted to pay $400 a month, I could have insurance.  Oh joy!  Where am I going to get that money?

I posted something about trying to find a job and had a "friend" say, "Why don't you ask Obama, he is supposed to be making jobs."  Using my plight as political fodder is not ok.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Late Night Spleen Venting

Well, I have now had about 4 hours to process this stuff, and I am still upset.

I am upset by all the misinformation that is flowing around in the world..  How even though the people of this congregation liked me as a person, I had to be bad because I was gay.  Yes, I am gay so I must not like children.  Or I must like children too much.  All of the bile that so-called Christians put out there.  Sorry folks, I am not into children.  But if Glen Beck says it, then it must be so.

I keep trying to think of what I can do instead of this clergy thing.  It really is a very difficult vocation.  Everyone thinks they can do it better, but no one wants to.  All they want to do is tell you how you are doing it wrongly.

I really just want to be in a church where we can have a great time living in a really incredible world we have been given.  All the drama is just really over-rated.

But since I started doing the church thing, it has just seemed to be one crisis after another.  I feel like I am becoming too good at dealing with crisis.  I also have to wonder if I don't create the crises.

Probably  will be more processing later today.  If you all (the five who read this!) get sick of it, I understand.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Homophobia is Alive and, well...

Well, we are back to where we were in mid May.  Only now, we have gone through all of our savings.

The church that I was waiting for decided that they didn't want me.  Oh, they thought I was a nice guy.  They liked my energy and enthusiasm, they like my sermons...  So what is the problem??

"We want someone with a family."  What do you mean by that?  "We want someone who like kids."  What do you mean by that?  "People with children will not want to bring them here."  A-HA!

Now, the fact that I am gay was never hidden from these people.  In fact, even before I was even considered here, the board was informed that I was gay.  They said that it would not be a problem.  Well, obviously it was.  And now, since people were not honest enough to admit their bigotry, we are in the same desperate situation we were in in May; except this time, we do not have the back-up savings to rely on.

I am angry, I am hurt.  I feel betrayed.  I want to hurt them.  I know I should forgive them, and I know that I will not seek any retaliation, but I am still pissed.

Faith says something will come of this; logic says it is all fucked.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Proper 19 A     September 11, 2011     Matthew 18:21-35       The Rev. Benton Quest
St. Swithin's in the Swamp

It has been a weird week for me.  My usual pattern for writing sermons is on the Monday before I am to preach, I look at the scripture readings and just let them sit in my mind.  Then, as the week unfolds, I often find themes emerging which usually find their way into the sermon.
Well, this week, all the themes seemed to be quite troubling.  The gospel reading for today has to do with forgiveness; forgive, forgive, forgive!  God has forgiven us and we are to forgive others.  Even when we think we have forgiven enough, we are to forgive some more.  Forgiveness, this is one of the basic tenets of Christianity!  Christ came to the world to bring us forgiveness from our sin.  Forgiveness is one of the things we profess in our creeds.  We have been given the gift of forgiveness and through this gift, we are to reach out and forgive others.  However, when I look at the world, it seems I see anything but forgiveness.
We seem to have become an angry society.  People don’t talk to each other anymore.  All that people do is point fingers and make outrageous accusations.  People claim we are a Christian nation, but then these very same people go out and act in a decidedly un-Christlike manner.  You would think having so many Christians around would mean that forgiveness would abound.  You would think that if we claim to be a Christian nation, that we would be a nation of peace and love.  If someone who knew nothing about Christianity were to look at our society, would they believe that Christ came to the world to spread forgiveness to all people?  Or would they believe that Christ came to the world to make the world knuckle under and say “uncle?”
Then we throw into the mix all the talk and TV shows about the 9/11 tragedies.  We see how anger and hatred can be manifested into acts that can only be described as “pure evil.”  Now please her me:  I am not saying that the people who participated in the events of 9/11 were evil and I am not saying that the Muslim faith is evil; I don’t believe either of these things.  I do believe, however, that combined effect of these people fanatically following a fringe belief created something that was truly evil.
So this is the whole “weird” thing; we as Christians are tasked with trying to spread the joy, peace, and love that IS forgiveness while being surrounded by just about anything EXCEPT joy, peace, and love.
If we claim to be a Christian nation, why doesn’t forgiveness abound?  A recent Gallup Poll places the percentage of Americans who claim to be Christian at 78%.  You would think that with that many people claiming the mantle of Christianity, forgiveness would be the rule as opposed to the exception. I truly believe that the people who claim the mantle of Christ do so honestly and faithfully.  But I also know that we are dealing with people; people who make mistakes, people who get caught up in the trials of life, people who forget that they are not only to say they are Christian, but are to truly be FOLLOWERS of Christ.  I personally believe that Christianity is the true and perfect faith, it just happens to be professed by a whole bunch of flawed people.  And with flawed people comes a flawed expression of faith.  And with flawed expressions of faith comes the need for love, care, and forgiveness.
Why do we find extending forgiveness so difficult?  We must assume that the only reason Peter asked how many times he needed to forgive was NOT so he could make sure he exceeded that amount but so he could be sure he did not forgive too much!  We only ask questions like the one Peter asks when we are trying to avoid doing something.  I can imagine someone asking how many times they really needed to floss their teeth, but I cannot imagine someone asking how many times they had to kiss their husband or wife.  Forgiveness just seems to be something that is hard for us humans.
And why is that?  For the most part, it really doesn’t cost us much to forgive someone.  We may protest saying that is could cost us a whole lot of money, but if we take the money thing away, we still have a lot of forgiving that is not happening in the world.
You see, when we forgive, we give up our right to revenge.  We have all seen this; two brothers fighting.  One says, “Ok, I forgive you!”  And as soon as the other turns his back, the first (and usually younger) brother proceeds to take a pot shot at his older brother.  The younger brother really didn’t forgive the older one; he was just looking for the right time to get his revenge.  This seems to be the state of the world today; we never really forgive anyone, we just look for the right time to get revenge.  Although we don’t call it “revenge” anymore, now we call it “closure.”  But whatever we call it, revenge does no one any good.  It is only in forgiveness that we find peace.
Let’s go back to the fighting brothers.  So the younger one takes a pot-shot.  Now, if the older one does not forgive, what happens?  Right!  He smacks his younger brother.  Then the younger brother finds his opportunity and another pot-shot is sent to the older brother.  If someone doesn’t find the strength to forgive in this situation, we will soon have two bruised boys on our hands.  And if allowed to really continue, the outcome could be that the brothers never talk again to each other, or worse.
We may feel that by forgiving, we are admitting weakness.  But forgiveness comes out of a position of strength.  Forgiveness is something that we give.  And I think that is where we get tripped up; we feel that something has been taken from us, and then we are expected to forgive without any kind of revenge or apology.  We feel justified in holding a grudge because in our opinion something had been taken from us.
Now, forgiveness does not say that the forgiven act was right or justified, it just says that revenge will not be sought.  In the gospel reading, the master did not say that the slave was right in getting so far into debt, but in forgiving; the master was giving up his right to get repayment.
Forgiveness may not be easy, but it is what we are asked to do as Christians.  We are to place our need for revenge aside and allow the love of Christ to infuse the situation.  We are to put aside our hurt and move forward in the strength that we receive from God.  We need to look to our Lord in faith and then move on, trusting that in Christ, all will be well.
Who do you need to forgive?  Right here, right now, what revenge can you release to God?  Who can you forgive?  Holding this anger cannot be pleasant, so Christ tells us to let it go.  You don’t need an apology.  You don’t need to tell the person, “I forgive you.”  Just release that need for revenge and give it to God.  Know that God looks favorably on our willingness to forgive.  And the more we forgive, the easier it becomes.
I think forgiveness is the gift that we give to ourselves.  The anger, the betrayal, the need for revenge that we hold are those things that make us bitter and prevent us from fully living the life God has intended for us.  When we let go of those thing, we release the energy we were using to seek revenge.  When we forgive, we have more joy with which to celebrate the life that God has given!
Wouldn’t it be nice if we who take the title of Christian would be willing to forgive with the same forgiveness that Christ lavishes upon us?  I believe we try, but I also believe the troubles of the world distracts us from our goal.  And when we get distracted, it is then that we see the troubles that have been plaguing our world.  But just because we can’t be totally forgiving all of the time, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  Part of the reason we join together on Sundays is to remind ourselves of status as Children of God.  And why we gather, is to hear the story of Christ and to be reminded of the great forgiveness we find in his life, death, and resurrection.  And finally, we come together so that we can be sent out.  We go out into a world that has forgotten the wonder of forgiveness; and through our actions, we bring forgiveness to our hurting world.