Monday, November 12, 2018

Doesn't Work for Me: My Thoughts on That Yoga Sermon

On Halloween this year, a friend sent me a link to a sermon and asked my opinion. My first response, was, literally, "This is a REALLY LONG SERMON!" I don't know what would happen to me if I ever preached an hour long sermon, and I am in no hurry to find out.

So, John Lindell is my neighbor, my colleague, and my brother in Christ. I have never met him, but have heard a whole lot about him, and listened to several of his sermons before. I would encourage you to view his entire sermon yourself, as I have.

At first, I responded to my friend directly, offering my opinion in a private message, and was going to leave it there. But this week the sermon went public, especially the section in which he says "yoga is diametrically opposed to Christianity" and "idol worship," which is very clear and very hard to interpret in any other than a condemning light. Several of my friends are talking about it on social media and in a few individual conversations with me, wondering what I think.

So, here's what I think.

Now there are a lot of specific things in the sermon that I could address, but let me just say this...

The version of Christianity represented in the sermon does not work for me. This theology is very particular and rigidly defined, very certain. For example, the preacher here is very clear about thinking open-mindedness is bad, and instead we should guard our minds with some kind of "mind gate" that God has provided us (though I did not find reference to such in the Bible).

Now, I understand how well this rigid version of Christianity works for many people. Right and wrong are very clearly delineated; there are no questions, no doubts. And there is a  kind of comfort there, knowing what the precise rules are and knowing what will happen if you don't follow them. And of course, this theology of certainty works for many, many people; for evidence, all you have to do is count worship attendance numbers.

But it doesn't work for me.

And the reason it doesn't work for me is that my relationship with God is by faith, not certainty. I believe that it is by grace that we are saved through faith, not because we are clear about "right" and "wrong" and always follow the rules. My faith in God is hope for things unseen. It is the not knowing for sure but doing it anyway. I simply cannot relate to God with such certainty, fitting neatly into clearly defined, unyielding theological boundaries.

And here's my biggest lament in all of this. When this version of Christianity is presented as "the only way," and people reject it because it doesn't work for them, they end up rejecting Christ altogether. And that breaks my heart.

I cannot tell you how many people I've spoken with who have described the church they rejected, and who have heard me reply by saying, "Well, actually I reject that version of the church as well. It doesn't work for me, either!" But having never been told there are other ways to do it, or rather having been told that all the other ways to do it are wrong or heretical or demonic, they just walk away altogether.

So although I could very well address this sermon's indiscriminate proof-texting, the switching translations of the Bible from one quotation to the next without mentioning it in order to make his point, the playing on people's fears, the lumping of respected world religions into the same category as ouija boards, the complete omission of all the stuff Christianity has actually stolen from other religions over time, the disconnect between his in-depth knowledge of the topic and his admonition to avoid it, and more, I will not.

Instead I will just say, this version of Christianity is not for me. And if it's not for you, either, then come on over to Campbell UMC and experience an alternative. And if Campbell doesn't work for you, then by all means let me know that so we can sit down and talk about what exactly you are lookng for, so that I can help you find it.

Personally, I am much more upset about Rev. Lindell's remarks about scary movies and TV shows than I am about yoga! I sure hope none of his congregation enjoy "The Haunting of Hill House" as much as I do. That is some good television; I highly recommend it!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Boy, The Boss, and The Bully (A Creative Re-Telling of "David and Goliath")

The Bully is bigger, stronger, and has more stuff than just about anyone else. But The Bully does not use his privileged position for the common good, but rather for selfish purposes.

Plus, The Bully is loud. Like, really loud. His favorite thing is to stand up in front of people and shout things. Most of the things he shouts are things about how much better he himself is than anyone else, how big, how strong, and how much stuff he has.

As our story begins, this is what The Bully is doing. He is technically representing a "side," but he really doesn't care about one "side" or the other; all he wants is for people to know how great he is. That is his only agenda as he stands (literally) in the gap between the sides: that everyone notice him.

And they do.

The Boss certainly does.

Now, The Boss is old, and getting older. He has started to forget things, and to act in unusual ways, doing things that make the people around him make meaningful eye contact with one another, shake their heads, and look worried.

And as The Boss slowly drifts away from rationality, it kind of scares him. He becomes desperate to hold on to what once was. This makes him irritable, grouchy, and just plain mean. He becomes unreasonably defensive, and does so astonishingly quickly, and his companions often walk on eggshells, trying not to upset him.

The Boss has heard the Bully, and The Boss is ticked.

Which is when The Boy shows up.

The Boy is fascinated by conflict, drawn to it like a moth to a flame. He is bemused by The Bully, secretly impressed by his bravado. The Boy is also quite arrogant, puffed up with a braggadocious confidence born of youth and previous successes.

And The Boy has figured out how to strategically yet casually drop these success stories into daily conversations as often as he can. This, by the way, infuriates his older brothers, who would rather he just stay home and do his chores. Even his dad seems to conveniently forget about him from time to time.

The Boy has heard The Bully, and The Boy is energized.

He asks, "What's the reward for taking out this guy? Like, what's in it for me if I decide to take this loser out?"

"Well, The Boss would love it, I'm sure," comes the reply. "Probably cut you in on a pretty big slice of the action!"

"Let me at 'im!" says The Boy.

When The Boss gets wind of The Boy's bluster, he calls him over. "You can't take this guy," he says. "You're just a kid."

The Boy's smile is almost a sneer. He drops some knowledge. "That guy? He's nothing. A piece of dust. I've killed literal lions with my bare hands. Ain't no thing."

The Boss is impressed. "Go on, then." But then The Boss shakes his head, coming out of a foggy daze, and seems to remember that he's supposed to be in charge here. So he starts to tell The Boy how to do the job. But The Boy won't have it.

"Look here, Boss. It's my way or no way at all. Hear me?"

And he goes up to The Bully. Now The Bully has been standing there, shouting. Like he does. And when he sees The Boy coming up to him it kind of catches him off guard. "I'm hurt! I'm insulted! This little puppy coming up to me, thinking he's got something? Bring it, scrub."

And The Boy thumps his own chest with equal machismo. "I will bring it, you big loser. Did I mention I killed literal lions with my bare hands yet? Well, I did. So there."

And by the sheer force of his toxic masculinity, so surprising to The Bully who usually corners the market on that particular commodity, The Boy knocks over The Bully. And while he's down on the ground, The Boy walks up to him and kicks his teeth out before he can get away.

Then he picks up the teeth and strings them together on a little piece of twine that he wraps around his neck so everyone will be sure to see that it was him, The Boy, who kicked out The Bully's teeth.

And when The Boss saw it happen, since he had already forgotten their previous meetings, he asked his buddy, "Who is that kid?" And his buddy, not wanting to upset The Boss by reminding him that he had, in fact, already met The Boy, feigned ignorance.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Dare We Use Data?

I wonder if the General Conference could make a data-informed decision in February?

(For those who may be unaware, the United Methodist Church has called a special session of our denominational  decision makers to decide what to do about same-sex marriage and the ordination of people who are gay.)

I don't think the decision should be completely based on data, of course, but at least data-informed. We talk about the need for data-informed decision making all the time, so why not at General Conference as well?

There are data on the views of United Methodists about same-sex marriage. Pew Research says that 49% favor, 43% oppose, and 8% don't know. Here's that info: (click this.) I am not aware of any data on UM views about ordination of people who are gay; if you know of any, please share them.

But that's not even what we need at this point, is it? It seems to me that we need data on a different question - for lack of  a better term, "compatibility."

What I'd like to know, as a delegate to General Conference, is an answer to this question: "How many United Methodists want to remain in a denomination with people who view marriage differently than they do? And how many do not want to remain in a denomination with people who view marriage differently than they do?"

Those who would stay in a denomination with people who see things differently have been labelled "compatibilists" and those who would not have been labelled "incompatibilists." I embrace these terms for the sake of brevity.

Here's my question, then. Is anyone aware of a poll, undertaken with sound scientific structures and procedures, that asks that question? I know that a few Annual Conferences did informal surveys last June, but have there been any legitimate polling organizations working on this? If we had that information, it sure seems like we would be better equipped to make a data-informed decision in February.

I have a hypothesis, of course. I think the majority of us, maybe even two-thirds, are "compatibilists." I do think that percentage would vary by age. I think that percentage would vary by region, as well. However, my informed opinion is that overall, United Methodists are mostly "compatibilists."

But that's just my opinion. I would LOVE to have some data to either back that up or not.

Our views on same-sex marriage are quite diverse, as I have written about previously. It isn't a matter of just yes or no. So that's not really the question to focus on, I don't think. The key question is compatibility, and I really would like to have some data behind our decision.

Friday, October 12, 2018

School Bus Stop: A Moment

The school bus stops, northbound. A dozen cars behind, a dozen more (including me) southbound. All stop.

Lights flash, stop sign out, door opens.

The bus driver begins applauding.

Just clapping his hands, looking out of the door with a bit of a smile.

In a rush, the kid dashes from the porch, hood up, backpack bouncing. Practically flying down the driveway, eyes up, smile radiant.

The kid leaps, plunges, soars up the steps.

The bus driver holds up one hand, the small grin now a full out, mouth wide open, smile of pure excitement and joy.

The kid smacks his hand with the most epic of high fives, turns, and walks down the aisle to find a seat.

The driver, smile lingering, eyes in the mirror.

Door closes, stop sign down, lights off.

The bus pulls away, the cars begin to move again.

A minute, maybe a minute and half total. Nothing to it, really. And yet what an amazing impact it will have on the rest of the day.

For that kid, for that bus driver. And for me.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

When Anger and Fear Run the Show

I have had my mind changed so many times in my life that I have lost count. And most of those times, my mind was changed by someone dropping a truth bomb that opened my eyes to a new way of looking at things.

I remember one such conversation, must have been twenty or twenty-five years ago, with a good friend who also happened to be very conservative. He taught me something I've never forgotten.

I told him, "I don't understand how you can be a conservative Republican and also a Christian."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Well, I believe followers of Jesus are supposed to work for the common good, help people in need, feed the hungry and all that. So I don't see how you can vote for politicians who don't want to do those things."

"Okay, I see what you're saying," he replied. "But actually I also believe followers of Jesus are supposed to help those in need, feed the hungry and all that. Yes. I'm with you."

And here he paused and gave me a look that let me know he was about to truth-bomb me. I braced for impact.

"I just don't think it's the government's job to do that. See, I believe that job is done most effectively by individuals, churches, and non-profits. And that's why I'm a 'smaller government' guy, actually. If the government is smaller, we have lower taxes, and if we have lower taxes, it frees up more of my money to use in order to help people in need more effectively."

And here I remember the distinct feeling of understanding something I had actually never thought about before. It was a pretty cool feeling, to be honest. I truly understood my friend's perspective, and could appreciate how he saw things.

We both wanted to work for "the common good." The only point of disagreement was how much of a role the government should play in doing that work. He was conservative, which means he thought that role should be smaller, whereas I was a progressive, which means I thought the role should be more significant. And so we could actually have a rational and respectful conversation about where along the spectrum of governmental involvement would be best for our community, our state, our nation.

Now, I share the story of that conversation in order to say this: We're not there any more.

If we persist in viewing politics as an ongoing conversation about how much government involvement is good for the people of our communities, our states, our nation, then we are kidding ourselves. That's not what we are doing any more.

The foundational political spectrum used to be from right to left, from conservative to progressive. It isn't that these days. Far from it.

The foundational political spectrum is from fear and anger on one end to rationality and respect on the other. And just lately it feels like the "fear and anger" end of the scale is leaning dangerously.

Fear and anger are powerful, and spread easily. There is a way in which fear and anger can be good things, but the movie "Inside Out" taught us nothing if not what a disaster it is when fear and anger are running the show. And is there any doubt that fear and anger are running the show these days?

Fear and anger manifest in malicious, jeering tirades in public.
Fear and anger manifest in horrific insults hurled thoughtlessly at others.
Fear and anger manifest in broken friendships and family members who no longer speak to one another.
Fear and anger manifest in a zero sum game of "us" and "them" thinking, in which there are clear winners and losers and as long as you are a winner then everything is fine.
Fear and anger are being modeled daily for us by our elected leaders in appalling, immature displays.

And ultimately fear and anger run out of ways to manifest that are not physically violent, and reach a tipping point. How close are we?

And we are all being infected by it. As a pastor, I sense that people are generally exhausted. So much energy is being consumed by the fear and anger all around us that it leaves nothing for anything else. Even the really good stuff that we know is really good and we ought to be doing but just don't have the mental, spiritual, or physical energy to do it.

This is not intended as a partisan post. No one has exclusive access to fear and anger in this bizarre season we live in. I hope nobody reads it from one "side" or another. I am legitimately worried that we are headed somewhere none of us want to be, and nobody has the energy to stop it.

With a truth bomb of his own, Abraham Lincoln concluded his second inaugural address, "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

It is to this day one of the most amazing political speeches in history. I still believe Lincoln's ideas are possible, in spite of everything. "Yes. Yes I'm sure I do," he told himself encouragingly.

There is an antidote to the infection. A sure-fire cure for what ails us. And we all know what it includes:

Honesty. Integrity. Compassion. Humility. Rationality. Respect. Grace. Love.

May God grant us the energy to resist the anger and the fear and advocate instead for these.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

MLB Playoffs

It's playoff time again, and I kind of have a rooting interest this year. I'd really like to see Moose and Lo Cain get another ring, so I'm on board with the Brewers.

And as it turns out, my formula for picking a team for which to root also works this year! In the past, when the Royals or the Cardinals don't make the post-season, I have based my rooting interest on the team with the lowest opening day payrolls.

Here's the list, according to this site.

American League:
Red Sox -  240 (the highest in MLB this year)
Yankees -  173
Astros -     164
Indians -   142
A's -          82

National League:
Dodgers -  191
Cubs -       189
Rockies -  147
Braves -    122
Brewers -  96

(Those are rounded to the nearest million, by the way.)

So see there, my chosen team is also the lowest National League payroll! How about that? Works out perfectly. So other than the Brewers, I'll be rooting for the lower payroll of whichever two teams are playing.

The total of the list above? That would be 1,546,000,000. That's one BILLION five hundred forty six MILLION dollars. Also kinda fun is to realize that the San Francisco Giants spent $213 million dollars (second highest in MLB) to miss the playoffs and end up with a 73-89 record.

As I say every year, these dollar figures are mind-boggling. I fully acknowledge the reality of how many global issues could be solved if this money were shifted to other purposes. Yes, indeed I get that.

And at the same time, ... well, it's baseball! So go Brewers!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Depleted


We took a year off from foster care when our daughter was a senior in high school, and always said we would do the same for our son. We want to be present for the senior year, attend all of the performances and go visit colleges, and just basically be here. Fully here.

We told the case worker back in the late Spring that was our intention, and she was on board. The court schedule delayed the transition a little while, since we didn’t want to move them before a long-term decision was made about their placement plan. But other than that delay of a few weeks, we have known all along that this transition was coming.

And yet …

Knowing that a foster placement is leaving is one thing; grieving the transition is quite another.

It is especially difficult this time, it seems. These two have worn us down. We are depleted. The energy it has consumed to care for these two boys for these nine months has left us very little with which to focus on anything else. At least, not very well.

The level of chaos and disruption that their past trauma has brought into our home is hard to describe. And their past trauma follows them everywhere, bringing the chaos and the disruption along the way. It’s a particularly nasty kind of frustrating; just when we start to think there are signs of progress, like they might be “figuring it out,” things shatter, and come crashing down.

Their subconscious sabotage of all things functional is maddening. Like we are living an alternate reality. And it’s exhausting.

We are depleted.

So this one doesn’t feel at all like a foster parent “win” for us. Twelve years and twenty kids, and we have enough experience to have seen pretty much everything, and there have most definitely been “wins.” But right now, not so much. Words like defeat, failure, surrender … these seem more fitting.

The boys’ behavior is so erratic, so chaotic, that it is impossible to predict what will happen now. There may be a “honeymoon” for the new foster family, during which things seem to be on track. And I hope and pray that it stays that way and they find a forever family there.

And it is just as likely that the one will disappear into the deep sorrow that defines his identity and the other will lash out from the uncontrollable rage that lurks in his heart, and it will all come crashing down. Again.

This morning I knelt down and looked into the three year old’s eyes. I said, “We are gonna have a good day today, right?”

His sweet and sincere “Yes Daddy” will linger in my memory.

Then we did three deep breaths, like we do every morning, and he went into the room to greet his teachers.

And now it’s not even that I don’t know what to feel, it’s more like I just … don’t. Like the emotions are so conflicted that they’re cancelling each other out. And we’re just left void. Blank.

Depleted.