Of Mice and Men and God

Tonight we watched the movie The Tale of Despereaux. It contains some wonderful lines, mostly narrated by Sigourney Weaver. 

“If you know anything about fairy tales, you know that a hero never appears until the world really needs one.” When I heard this I was reminded of the Old Testament (yes, that's how my mind sometimes works). In Judges the nation of Israel keeps getting saved by God, then eventually turning from him only to be oppressed by their enemies until they cry out to God who then raises up a hero at their darkest hour to save them. Gideon. Samson. Deborah. Unfortunately, the cycle kept continuing. But God kept raising up heroes. Even before then there was Noah, Abraham and Moses. All unlikely heroes. But all willing to be used by God. And God kept doing it: David, Elijah, Elisha, Daniel. When the Israel needed a hero, God put one on the scene. And when the world was at it's darkest, Christ was born. Again, an unlikely hero. Born in a stable. The "illegitimate" son of a carpenter and a teenage girl. Yet, the Son of God. And Savior of the world. 

Which reminds me of a few other lines from the movie:

"Do you think there's a bit of light somewhere in the world? I think there is; you just need to know where to find it." It's also about bringing the Light to others. We're all prisoners to sin. We all need hope in the darkness.

"The story said she was a prisoner but that wasn't totally true because she had hope and whenever you have hope, you're never really anybody's prisoner."

"Ok, remember when we said that grief was the strongest thing a person could feel? Well, it isn't. It's forgiveness because a single act of forgiveness can change everything."

I like it when fairy tales carry wonderful snippets of truth. 


A Dread Pirate, Maybe, But...

I am no Westley.

I am referring to the farm boy who becomes the Dread Pirate Roberts played by Cary Elwes in the wonderful movie, The Princess Bride.

Westley loves Princess Buttercup. He sees in her what she likely doesn't see in herself. While she treats him like a lowly farm boy who deserves no respect and is only there for her beck and call, Westley serves her with love. No matter how she treats him, Westley always responds to Buttercup's requests/demands by saying, "As you wish." One day Buttercup realizes that whenever Westley says that, he is really saying, "I love you." And, of course, Buttercup realizes that she loves him, too. Westley's persistence in responding to Buttercup out of love prevailed.

But as I said, I am no Westley.

If I am treated poorly, I too often respond in like. Even to my wife. Maybe especially to my wife. For some reason it's easier to respond kindly to a stranger who treats me poorly, but when it's someone I really love I can sometimes be vindictive. I expect to be treated the way I think I deserve to be treated (which isn't often how I really deserve to be treated). If a request inconveniences me, my thoughts turn to "Why can't she see I'm busy, too" rather than "I would love to serve you, my sweet bride."

I desire to be more like Westley. I want to not let my own selfish thoughts get in the way of saying "As you wish" and being able to love others in a way that they notice it in what I do--especially my own princess bride.

In many ways, Westley is spot-on in understanding what Jesus meant by loving our neighbors (without the romance part, of course). That selfless servitude is exactly the same sort of action (love) that will show others we are Christians. This is how we are called to live. Not to tell others we are Christians by our words, or show others we are Christians by our necklaces or bumper stickers. We are to live in such a way that they see we follow Jesus by the way we treat others, by our actions that follow when we say, "As you wish."


Lectio Divina, Spiritual Practices and Heresies

During most of the year, our church rotates between an "informal" and "formal" schedule. On formal Sundays we have a more "typical" worship experience with singing, communion and preaching. On informal Sundays we typically have more of a teaching lesson separate from the worship service (but still biblically based lest you worry about that), and our worship service we call "Jam & Bread" (as we just have singing and communion--along with the normal Psalm reading, confession, scripture reading and other liturgical elements).

 Our informal Sundays this fall are focused on a "Re-Root" theme. Our church is five years old and we're taking time to remember (and teach some of the newer members) about our new monastic roots. Each informal Sunday there will be a lecture, a dialogue and an experience to choose from. The lecture was on "The Rule of Benedict," the dialogue was about "What it Means to Be a New Monastic" and the experience was on"Lectio Divina." My friend Pete was supposed to lead the Lectio Divina, but as he is homebound now in a wheel chair--at least for a few days of getting used to things--I lead the experience for him.

 I'm knowledgable in Lectio Divina and have led some exercises on it before, but as with many spiritual practices, I'm more knowledgeable than I am experienced. But that's why they're called spiritual practices. They take time, coming back and doing them again and again, in order to provide space for encountering God.

Lectio Divina (meaning "Divine Reading") is an ancient form of praying the scriptures in a way that you encounter God and hear His voice (for more information, here is our church's information on Lectio Divina). It was a privilege to lead a group through tonight's Scripture reading and see the different ways God speaks to people through the same passage. And in that, hearing God speak to me as well.

In searching for a resource our denomination used to have for Lectio Divina, I came across someone's blog bashing our denomination for using Lection Divina (not that most of those within the denomination necessarily use it, but our Department of Christian Formation at one point had resources for it). The person was warning against the use of Lectio Divina because when you do the method, your repeat a specific text four or five times, typically. Apparently to him, the repition of Scripture violates Jesus' commandment: "But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. (Matthew 6:7--I quote the King James Version as the writer of the blog did). First, I don't think reading or saying Scripture aloud more than once is "a vain repetition." Second, I don't think the "heathens" would repeat any portion of scripture anyway. Third, we don't repeat scripture in Lectio Divina to be heard by God, but rather to create space for us to hear Him.

The author was also anti-Lectio Divina because it is a "Catholic" practice. Of course, the practice predates the reformation to a time when there was only one church--albeit a "catholic" one in the "universal" sense of the word. While St. Benedict is often credited as the founder of Lectio Divina, it is well-rooted in ancient Hebrew practices of repeating and meditating on the Torah.

Too often I come across people who shun some practice of the church today because it is "pagan," "Catholic," or "unbiblical." I have heard people say practices such as lighting candles, using prayer labyrinths, playing instruments other than an organ or piano have no place in the church because they aren't mentioned in the Bible. And they may not be. But plenty isn't mentioned in the Bible that is still acceptable to these same people: sitting in pews, listening to sermons, singing anything that's not a Psalm, wearing suits and ties and Sunday dresses aren't mentioned in the Bible. But many of us cling to those actions.

Sometimes we are fearful of things we don't understand. Too often we have biases against practices our faith doesn't normally do (especially if we're "Protestant" and the practice might be "Catholic"). We don't understand that things like Lectio Divina have been used by faithful followers for well over 1500 years (in many cases two - three thousand years or more when rooted in the Jewish traditions). Too often we get tied in our own modern traditions while ignoring spiritual practices that have been around for millennia.

But we do these spiritual practices not to be "religious" or "spiritual" but to slow down and take the time to be with God, acknowledging that we desire to create space to encounter God. The ancient Hebrews knew this; the early Christians knew this. Too often we think we know better than they did. We have much to learn (for more information on these ancient practices look for the Ancient Practices series that Phyllis Tickle spearheaded).


Seeing What's Around You

My good friend Pete (that's not him in the photo...just a guy from a stock photo) was in an accident last night. He was biking home from work yesterday and an SUV hit him. Pete was driving north; the SUV was going south and made a left turn into Pete's lane. He saw it coming, but it was too late to do anything to avoid it. He's in the hospital with a two broken bones on one leg and a broken knee on the other. I biked up to the hospital to spend time with him this afternoon, hoping that wasn't bad karma to bike there (as I don't believe in karma, it didn't matter much; I got home safely).

Minneapolis has been ranked the best city for biking in (unless you live in Portland, Oregon, which claims to retain the title). We have good trails and decent bike lanes on the roads. Many people commute by bicycle. Many more frequently bike for exercise or just to get around the city. I like to bike as much as I am able, and even with all the bike lanes and trails, it can be scary. Most motorists don't notice you. And many of the ones who do are angry at you for being a nuisance to traffic or something.

I don't know what happened--if the other guy though Pete was going slower than he was; if he just didn't see him. I think far too many drivers don't pay attention to what's going on around them; they only pay attention to their own vehicles. I know I can be guilty of this at times, too--if I'm late and feeling hurried. And that's when accidents happen.

The same is true in life. Too many of us are rushing, getting to our next destination with blinders on. We don't notice what's going on around us. We don't see "the other"--only our selves, or those we choose to see. We get too focused on the next place we have to be or thing we have to do and we miss out as we're on our way.

So take time to slow down. Eliminate things from your schedule if you need. Recognize the need to not be urgent about anything other the the present moment. Look around you, not just straight ahead. Acknowledge those you share the road with and be mindful of them--courteous, even, if you could. This goes for life, as well as on the road.

 So speedy recovery, Pete. And may we all bike safely and drive with greater awareness.


Upon Approaching the 10th Anniversary of 9/11

The news and talk shows are all abuzz with the upcoming anniversary of the Terrorist Attacks on 9/11, as well they should be.

Ten years ago on the eleventh of September we were living in Chicago and I was getting ready for a seminary class (Old Testament, perhaps?) that morning. I remember flipping on the television and seeing the aftermath of the first plane crass into the World Trade Center. I didn't think too much of it, other than the loss of lives. I knew that plane crashes into the large buildings of the New York skyline weren't unheard of. Usually they were small passenger planes lost in fog or experiencing a malfunction. Then the second plane hit the building, and everything changed.

I don't remember much about the rest of the day. I had class. We prayed. People were discussing the events. There was a lot of fear. Down town Chicago was evacuated as it was thought Chicago, being the center of agrarian trade and commodities, could be a possible target (the symbols of capitalism and the military had already been hit and the political symbols were targeted). The next day or so I was giving a talk to a Sunday School team at a nearby church. Beforehand everyone who was there for various events gathered for a candlelight vigil on the church's lawn. I remember praying for safety, for those who lost loved ones and others affected by those events. I remember very little talk anywhere about Muslims or "our enemies." It was probably there, and we may have even prayed for them, but I don't remember much.

9/11 was a tragedy. Innocent lives were taken. Our country was violated. Fear was sown.

It was also a tragedy because we responded in hate without taking much look at why we were targeted, without any look at our own faults. We too quickly, in my opinion, rushed for vengeance. Muslimphobia was proliferated. We went to war, not with a country, but with a religion (even though our target was one ultra-radical sect, the majority of the nation saw the attacks as being against Islam as a whole).

Five years later, a man walked into an Amish school house in Pennsylvania and shot ten young girls, killing five of them. He then killed himself.

The nation watched in awe-filled wonder as the Amish community reached out to the man's widow and children. In stead of vengeance, they had shown forgiveness and love. Our country didn't know what to do with such a radical response.

Recently, I was given the book, Peace Be with You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-filled World, to review. In it author David Carlson visits various monasteries around the country, interviewing monks and nuns about their response to what happened on 9/11. None were detached from the world's events (as we often picture monastics as being). But many felt our country missed an opportunity to ask ourselves why. And in asking why, asking if those reasons were valid. Almost all felt we missed out on an opportunity to be witness to forgiveness.

The terrorist attacks on our nation were wrong. Taking innocent lives is never a right way to express your disgust at someone else's values. But was our response any different? Entering a foreign nation, seeking to eliminate those who we felt were responsible, killing many innocents in the process? It's just a question; one that I think is worth asking.

Right now police officers and federal agents are bracing for another possible attack on New York City. We live in a state of fear. Returning evil for evil will do this. I fear for my Muslim neighbors on our block, hoping nothing happens that would put them in harm's way, either.

Maybe we could try a different approach: honoring the lives of those innocents (including police officers, fire fighters and other civil servants) by seeking to bring about some peace rather than proliferate war, fear and hate. That's what I long for at least.


A Labor of Love (since it's Labor Day and all)

In the New International Version of the Bible, the phrase "love the Lord your God" occurs thirteen times. "Love your neighbor" occurs ten. Ten times we are told to love ourselves (as our guideline for loving others). The Bible tells us that these are the first and second greatest commandments: to love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Scot McKnight calls this "The Jesus Creed." It is the basis of what we live out when we follow Christ.

We've had a weekend of God, self and neighbors. Friday night, as discussed in the post before this, we had over 50 people in our yard as we had a cook-out with families from the boys' school. Saturday evening we got together with our good friends from our old neighborhood and went to an outdoor concert at Lake Harriet (though we didn't expect it to be as cold as it got). Sunday we went to the farmers market, did some biking and hiking in a park, had our last church service in the park for the year and gathered around a bonfire with friends after church. This morning we gathered at another friends' house on the parkway in North Minneapolis to watch the 10k & 5k race that went in front of their place. Several members from church and a friend from school were running in it. So we camped out on the lawn and cheered them on (while sharing some breakfast food). We ate lunch together and hung out (playing a few games of kubb and molkky as well).

 Our text at church on Sunday night was from Romans 13:8-9: "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”" I've mentioned before the struggle I have at times in loving myself (as well as others and God). It's not easy. But the more we do it, the better we become.

Pastor Jan said, "In God's love, we become loving; in our loving others, we experience God's love." When we grow in one area (loving self, God or neighbor), we ultimately grow in all areas. I call the the trinity of love. All three areas need to be there. If we're neglecting one side of the love triangle (God, others, self), we're not fully loving any of the other sides. We can't fully love God if we're hating our neighbor. We're not truly loving others if we despise ourselves.

St. Benedict, in his rule of life for monastic living, said to treat the stranger (as well as the one you know) at the door as if they were Christ. Here I often fail. And sometimes I treat Christ as a stranger. And sometimes I treat myself that way, also. But there are times when I love God really well. There are times I love others really well. There are even times I love myself well. These are the times to build upon--and love from.

If I love myself well, I accept who I am. I take care of my needs. I forgive myself for my faults. This is how I should treat my neighbor. If I love God well, I am spending time with him. I am praising Him for who He is. I am doing what He asks of me. This is also how I should treat my neighbor. Inwardly, outwardly and upwardly we are called to love. Jesus (as well as Paul) says that in doing this, we fulfill all the commands of the Bible. So simple--yet so hard at times. But the more we do it, the better we become.


Of BBQs and Evangelism.

By our best calculations we had 42 people in our yard tonight. That's not including our family. Or the neighborhood kids who kept showing up (there were at least five or six of them). So well over 50 people total. We're very thankful for a corner lot with a big side yard.

 We had wanted to do a gathering this weekend. Our church family was our first thought--but it's always our first thought. We love those people and its easy to spend time with them. So we went with families fromt the boys' school. We just sent out an email invitation to several families who have children our boys are friends with and gave permission for them to extend the invitation tot other families from school. And so 42 people showed up.

We went with the laid back approach of having everyone bring meat to grill and a dish to pass (which is also a good approach when you can't afford feed 42 people on your own). We had condiments, utensils, plates, cups, water, etc. So other than set up, we just had to get the grill going (and thanks to our good friends Bob & Amy Mingo we had a second one to use) and keep things going smoothly.

It was nice to just hang out, let the kids play and get to talk with other parents--many of whom we don't often get much time to talk with. No pressure. No agenda. Just fun and fellowship.

I know some Christians might chastise me for not taking the opportunity to pray for the kids and the school and try to "evangelize those that needed to be evangelized." That would be my pastoral duty, after all. Except that it's not. Not to me at least. I did my job as a follower of Jesus tonight. I gathered people together, served them as best I could, and hopefully let them see a little difference--a little light, a little love, a little fellowship. Most importantly, it was a step toward building some relationships. Not for the sake of "saving" anyone, but for the sake of loving them.

I'm not about high-pressured evangelism. I'm more about trying to live my life in such a way that people see a difference. I believe Jesus said something along the lines of "they'll know we are Christians by our love" (or maybe that's just an old spiritual). If we don't live any differently than others--differently enough that they see a difference in us--then why would they want to follow Jesus anyway?

And so I didn't offer up a prayer tonight. I just kept the charcoal burning nicely while building some new relationships. Hopefully that's something.