1.26.2009

On call

Our Kairos community has been focusing on the call of the disciples, and our own sense of calling. This has resonated with my personal journey of late. We've been conversing about what it meant for Peter, Andrew, James and John to drop their nets, for Abraham to leave his comfort zone, for Jeremiah to realize he had been called before he was born, for the 12 and then the 70 to get their marching orders.

This topic has generated some deep and really personal conversation. Do I have to leave my job? Is it different for those with families vs. those who are more flexible? Must I "go" at all? Do I just need to be open to what the Spirit might be saying to me? Can I follow right here in my own life?

As I continue to reflect on this, I think we have a tendency to over focus on the big, extreme things. It's too easy to feel that unless I change everything and give up my daily life it isn't enough, or to figure that I can't leave my nets so I can't do anything. We naturally want to focus on what we do, on who we are in the world.

The call of Peter and company, the story of dropping their nets and following, is getting at something much more central and basic to us:
Following Jesus starts with a recognition that our lives are not our own, but Christ's.
When Jesus walked down the shore and these young men turned their back on fishing, their purpose changed more than their occupation. They were no longer just fishermen, whose goal was to bring in a catch. They were now followers of a teacher, whose purpose was to help him change lives and all of history.

There are certainly glimpses in later scripture of these same men out in the boat, putting down and pulling up nets, and cooking fish for breakfast to suggest that they still plied their old trade at least occasionally. But they were not the same old fishermen (just like Jesus was no longer just Joe-the-carpenter's son).
Following meant they had signed on to a mission that was larger than them, and that affected where they went and what they did.
That mission allows us to live purposefully, to ask purposeful questions, and to make intentional changes to our lives to align with that purpose. But that wrestling and "going" only makes sense in light of the bigger recognition that our lives are not our own but God's.

But once we recognize that we are part of something so much bigger than just us, we can live "on call" in the midst of whatever we are doing. Once we believe Jesus when he says "the kingdom of God is within you," once we accept his invitation to help bring that kingdom into our daily reality, we can follow whether we sell it all and move to Africa or raise a family in Bucks County.

1.23.2009

What weighs you down?

Last week at Kairos we talked about how we live in tension between the burdens and imperfections of life and the wholeness and aliveness God intends for us. Using Romans 6, where Paul talks of how we are baptized into Christ's death and resurrection, and Mark 1, where Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John to turn their back on fishing and follow him, we talked about how the reality of Christ calls us to drop our nets, too. We had a beautiful and fascinating discussion. Read about it here if you wish.

Ordinary saints

Mark 3:13-19

Why does God -- the creator of the cosmos, the one who breathed life -- want to work through people like Peter and James and John, and Judas Iscariot, and us? I think God uses ordinary people to tell the story, proclaim good news, and heal not because God can't heal, but because God's intention is to create community among us. I think God wants us to live out his kingdom so it becomes real, rather than imposing it on us.

I am really struck by the opening phrase, that Jesus "called to him those whom he wanted." It is difficult for me to think about being called out by name. It's much easier to know that some are called, but to let myself off the hook by thinking that others are smarter, better trained, more faithful and worthy than I am. But Jesus calls the disciples by name and sends them out to expand the circle even further, one-to-one, through the ordinary acts of conversation, laying on hands and speaking truth.

I am called into the circle and called, by name, to help expand it even further. Why is this so hard to live into?

1.20.2009

Hope

Seth Godin (again!) marks the Inauguration with a nod to the famous Obama "HOPE" poster that became ubiquitous during and since the campaign. The story that all communicators tell, the product that all marketers sell, he says, is hope.

The reason is simple: people need more. We run out. We need it replenished. Hope is almost always in short supply.

The magical thing about selling hope is that it makes everything else work better, every day get better, every project work better, every relationship feel better. If you can actually deliver on the hope you sell, there will be a line out the door.

This resonates with me as a Christian "marketer" and believer. Hope was the core of Jesus' message. Hope that the blind could see and the lame could pick up their mats and dance. Hope that the despised and neglected could be known -- truly known -- and respected. Hope that the kingdom of God could peek into the here and now, in and through ordinary, imperfect folks like us. Hope that God's justice and mercy has a stronger voice than human hate and greed.

The world, not just our nation, desperately needs hope right now. So many of us need our tanks topped off with exactly the core of our faith message -- hope. Jesus delivered this message so well that he drew huge crowds, large enough to threaten the power elites' status quo. When this hope survived even his death, the line got long enough to shape the world, even through its evolution from a revolutonary movement to a political empire to a culture shaping force to whatever the church is emerging into.

Can we as the church speak hope into this historical moment? Or will we settle for more division, fear or, even worse, irrelevance?

Ordinary days of service

Days of service, like Martin Luther King's birthday has become, are a growing trend. Our Synod has had a youth "Helping Hands Day" for years. Toys for Tots collections, holiday food drives, even social media efforts like the @wellwishes campaign to raise money for clean water started by Twitter guru Laura "Pistachio" Fitton are springing up all over the landscape.

At Kairos we have started relationships with two local food pantries. Though we have participated in the traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas food drives, we have focused on also trying to be there in the "off-season," since the needs continue long after people move on from their holiday generosity. We have ongoing collections of food and donate funds each month, and have set up Labor Day food drives along with working in the pantry each month.

The social service agency leaders I've spoken with share this concern: With demand on a sharp increase, how do we get (and keep) people's attention and move them from occasional acts of generosity toward a regular practice of concern for needs in the community -- what President Obama in his Inaugural Address called "the price and promise of citizenship." We seem to be poised to take this call seriously.

Seth Godin captures this shift in service from occasion to practice in his recent blog post on the King National Day of Service. What if, rather than devoting one day a year, all 300 million Americans devoted an hour a day to changing the world?

If every person in the US spent an hour doing something selfless, useful and leveraged, what would happen? What if you and your circle committed to doing it an hour a day for a year? 300 million hours is a lot of hours for just one day, a year of that would change everything.

Seth -- a marketer who really gets the potential of ideas and causes to create change -- also calls for creativity in determining how people can be of service. Many of us who spend hours in soup kitchens and food pantries feel rewarded by the effort, yet struggle with how small our drops of labor are in the sea of suffering we are trying to alleviate. Seth affirms this "standing in the breach" labor, and issues a challenge to think about how people might leverage their skills to help agencies get better at meeting direct needs.

Imagine if foodies developed recipes and taught classes to help the clients of food pantries and soup kitchens learn to prepare and like healthy, balanced diets. Imagine if financiers and bankers taught basic financial literacy to high school students, the poor, and the fiscally clueless (like me!). Imagine if families took on the responsibility of educating (paying tuition, book and transportation costs) for the same number of children in a third-world country. Imagine if writers and bloggers spent time helping children learn to read and write. Imagine if every food pantry volunteer wrote one letter a day to a national or local leader demanding that more be done to end hunger. Think about it. What difference could you or I make?

We sit at the dawn of a new age, and a better world is possible. As President Obama has noted, he and his wife are not going to paint every homeless shelter or clean up every vacant lot in your neighborhood. We, the people, are going to have to do that. It will take each of us, using our blessings and talents as a spiritual discipline, to nibble away at these pressing problems bit by bit, day by day. The good news is that in doing so we will make the kingdom of God a bit more visible, right here and right now.

Update: Here's a great example -- Earl Stafford's "People's Inaugural Party" brings the underserved to the party, and equips them with ways to get a leg up. (HT: JR)

The Power and the Glory

It has been an inspiring day to be an American. The fact that power changes hands peacefully is astonishing in a world where there is so much violence and some elections are contested at length. As someone who grew up in the 60s and 70s, it's world changing to see an African American as President of the United States. And given the struggles of our long national nightmare just ended it is good to hear care for the environment, concern for those who struggle for daily bread around the world, and shared sacrifice for the common good back on the national agenda.

This song by Phil Ochs has long summed up patriotism for me -- a realistic love of this country's ideals and the hope that those ideals are lived out for everyone, not just the privileged and the lucky. "The Power and the Glory" shows us united in a common purpose and circumstance: "Her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom / Her glory shall rest on us all"



Come and take a walk with me thru this green and growing land
Walk thru the meadows and the mountains and the sand
Walk thru the valleys and the rivers and the plains
Walk thru the sun and walk thru the rain

Here is a land full of power and glory
Beauty that words cannot recall
Oh her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom
Her glory shall rest on us all

From Colorado, Kansas, and the Carolinas too
Virginia and Alaska, from the old to the new
Texas and Ohio and the California shore
Tell me, who could ask for more?

Yet she's only as rich as the poorest of her poor
Only as free as the padlocked prison door
Only as strong as our love for this land
Only as tall as we stand

Words for the history books

The ties that bind

http://www.liveservegrow.info/atlarge/wp-trackback.php?p=566On Mark 2:23-28

Religion comes from Latin roots that talk about the ties that bind, and the rituals and traditions of religion do indeed tie us together in faith...or they can. As this story shows, they can also cause us to worship the ties themselves, rather than the people they link together or the reality they point to. Sabbath is an important concept to holistic life in the kingdom of God. Sabbath is an important rhythm that helps us stay healthy, sane, and in touch with God. Yet the Pharisees here mistake the healing nature of Sabbath for a law to be kept -- suggesting that Jesus' disciples should have hungered rather than pluck grain on the Sabbath. Jesus's reply puts everything back in perspective. These traditions and rituals are to strengthen our faith, not to limit it. People, he says, are more important than rules -- and he says this again and again, in many ways.

As we navigate a new way of faith, this is one of our key challenges -- to hold on to the traditions and practices of our faith in a way that builds God's kingdom here and now, and doesn't become a new set of rules to follow blindly. We need to keep thought and feeling alive in our experience, and avoid creating new ruts to get stuck in.

(one of my contributions to the Kairos scripture discussion online)

Prayer for our new President

O God, stir up your Spirit to inspire, encourage, and sustain President Barack Obama as he assumes leadership of our nation. Grant him the wisdom to address the many challenges facing your world, and the courage to propose bold and difficult solutions. Help him to lead in ways that reflect the responsibility conferred by our nation’s wealth, might and power to shape global culture. Guide him and all of our leaders to fashion a government that works for the well being of all our your people. Use the outpouring of involvement and goodwill among Americans to infuse hope into your people, particularly those who are poor, suffering and marginalized. Amen.

1.16.2009

Depends which side you look from

Mark 2:1-12

Funny the different reactions to Jesus. The man who is paralyzed and his friends immediately recognize hope and healing in Christ, so much so that they dismantle the building to get their friend in at his feet. The scribes, who are convinced that they don’t need any correction at all, who “keep” the law, only cry foul when Jesus brings this broken and unclean man into their circle, forgiving “his” sins. (That’s forgiveness they had to do a lot more than show up to claim!)

I wonder. How much trouble would I go to to be in Jesus’ healing power? In the midst of busy schedules, fiscal pressures, all the opportunities we have, what is it worth to us to center on Jesus?

(one of my contributions to the Kairos : Christians at Large online discussion. Please come join the conversation!)

1.14.2009

The foundations cannot be shaken

Listening to Psalm 104 on Pray-as-you-go this morning, I was struck by how far we have moved from a sense of awe in creation, respect for its limits, and the fact that it is all a gift of God — not just the sun and the rain and the plants we see but the way all of it, from the cosmos to the inner workings of cells, are knit together interdependently to form an environment that allows and sustains life.
It is wonderful to listen to the promise of God’s provision. Yet there’s some dissonance, too.
You set the earth on its foundations,
   so that it shall never be shaken.
How do you hear this in light of our abuse of the earth that does threaten its very foundations?
You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
   they flow between the hills,
Since we dig ourselves into valleys every once in a while, this is a wonderful promise, that even where it seems we can’t dig any deeper God can still bring forth streams.
These all look to you
   to give them their food in due season;
when you give to them, they gather it up;
   when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
In the industrialized western world we have certainly lost this one-to-one connection between trust and daily bread. We build complex (and vulnerable) structures for security. Some can live a life on a few days labor or inherited wealth, while others toil every day and starve. Thousands die of lack of food and/or clean water every day.

How do we read texts like this in the midst of uncertain times? How do we maintain a healthy balance between the promise and the call to action?

(One of my contributions to the Kairos : Christians at Large online discussion)
Mark 1:29-39

Isn’t it amazing how pervasive the need for healing and wholeness is? The sick and possessed form a crowd, far larger than the ranks of the “righteous.” No wonder Jesus says he came for those who need a physician.

I also admire — and envy a bit — how well Jesus manages his ministry. No matter how busy or exhausted he is he takes time for prayer and renewal. And no matter how easy it would be to enjoy his success and popularity, he knows that his real mission is to be on to spread the message in other towns, to other sick and hurting people. And he does it. It’s a great lesson to all of us in ministry.

(One of my contributions to Kairos : Christians at Large online Bible discussion.)