Pay for Someone Else

checkout2I was reading Mark H. Miller’s blog this morning and had to share this good news story and the challenge he took from it:

Jackie Switzer is a parishioner of a Christian Church in Round Rock, Texas—where I had served as interim pastor a few years ago.  In her e-mail message this morning was the following letter:

“Dear G:

“Today is Nicholas’ birthday. I went grocery shopping deliberately in a low income part of town, and bought the person’s groceries behind me as a birthday present to me and my big boy (inspired by Monkee See – Monkee Do). I left before the woman behind me in line knew I had paid for her things. A few minutes later I saw her climb into the driver’s seat of her car, put her head in her hands, and weep.

“I was so nervous trying to explain to the cashier what I wanted to do that I left my phone in the store. When I went back to get it, that same cashier told me that the woman behind me had been buying all of that food for a domestic violence shelter.”

Ever done something like that?  Paid for the person following you…at a grocery store, a toll booth?  Ever done something unexpected that can have favorable results?

I would hope…when we do that…we don’t do it for any other reason than caring ALWAYS has a place from us to others.

Okay.  Lots to chide about.  And, for any one of us, we can do a list—probably pretty quickly—of what chagrins us, what offends us.  Maybe even since yesterday.

However, today is Friday, Sunday is Palm Sunday the first step of Holy Week.  A special time when all that swirls life, even death, is important, for it doesn’t miss any of us.

So, take a moment or two…and list the goodness [and maybe even mercy] you have experienced this past week.  But more vital and vitalizing, keep in your mind [and heart and soul] this coming week…and look for the one opportunity—perhaps more than one—when you can do something of value for someone else.  Not to be applauded, but to know in the center of your heart and the pulsing of your soul, you have done the good thing, yes, the right thing…and even more, what it means to be doing what God wants each of us to do.

The True Basis of Authority

Why is it that Mother Teresa could stand up before crowds of thousands and repeat simple New Testament phrases and seemingly pious clichés, and still blow people away?!

She didn’t say anything new: “Jesus loves you,” she assured us. “We’re all sons and daughters of God, and we have to love Jesus’ poor.” Yet people walked out renewed, transformed, and converted.

She wasn’t a priest or minister. She wasn’t well educated. Her authority came from her lifestyle, her solidarity with human suffering, and thus her pure goodness.

Loving servanthood and foundational surrender are the true basis for teaching authority in the Church, much more than title, vestment, role, or office. Such lives have the living authority of Jesus himself, and need no special ordination or public validation. Jesus says to Simon Peter that he, and we ourselves, must first “be sifted like wheat,” and only then are we in a position “to recover and in turn strengthen others” (Luke 22:31-32). Such undergoing is the seminary that finally matters and that changes others’ lives. It was Jesus’ essential and first “recovery program.”

Richard Rohr

Adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, pp. 384-385

Loving God

So much of what is called ‘worship’ in the Christian community these days would be better described as a ‘God Fan Club.’ Our songs reflect this: God is Great, Great and Mighty, You Are Good, You Are Magnificent, There is None Like You, etc. Prayers have a  general sense of telling God how wonderful God is and how ‘blessed’ we are that God is our God.

We have put our emphasis on trying to love God, which is probably a good way to start—although we do not have a clue how to do that. What I consistently find in the mystics is an overwhelming experience of how God has loved them. God is the initiator, God is the doer, God is the one who seduces them. All we can do is respond in kind, and exactly as Meister Eckhart said, “The love by which we love God is the very same love with which God has first loved us.”

The mystics’ overwhelming experience is of a full body blow of the Divine loving them, the Divine radically accepting them. The rest of their life they are trying to verbalize that, and invariably finding ways to give that love back through forms of service, compassion and non-stop worship. This is not to earn God’s love; it’s always and only to return God’s love! “Love is repaid by love alone,” as my father, Francis said. – Richard Rohr, adapted from Following the Mystics through the Narrow Gate

That being said, I wonder if God is really at all impressed by how much we say (or sing) ‘I love you, Lord,’ and how creatively we express that. Perhaps God would be worshiped best by showing how much we love God–and return that love– in our humble, unnoticed and unlauded service to those who bear God’s image.

See also my earlier post, An Insecure God?

Orthodoxy and Golf

My orthodoxy is another man’s heresy. My heresy is another man’s orthodoxy. If we all held the same beliefs about everything, our minds would never be stimulated and our lives would dull.

One may think I tread a winding road to hell but, according to my understanding, the road he’s on leads straight to the dark abyss.

A person may stand up and state succinctly (and intelligently) how she sees a particular truth; I rise and speak just as pointedly and mindfully about my understanding of that truth. Is one of us wrong and the other right? Are we both incorrect in our assumptions? . . . Or are we both correct but in subtly different ways?

I love the way Scot McKnight put an idea across when dealing with the doctrine of atonement in his excellent book, A Community Called Atonement. He speaks about the various views on atonement theory as being like clubs in a  golf bag. (While McKnight spoke about atonement, what he wrote could apply to any doctrine or interpretation of truth.) Some situations call for one type of club–say, a 9-iron–whilst others may demand a wedge. Both are great clubs (or, as my wife likes to call them, ‘golf sticks’) and would be invaluable if they’re used how they were designed to be used. But if I want to place a ball at a point 200 metres distant, I won’t be using a wedge; just as I wouldn’t grab an iron to rescue my ball from the bunker.

Some people like to shout one thing at top volume all the time. Their whole world is geared around that one thing and they see their position in life as to defend that one truth, that one high doctrine, that one fundamental of the faith. This may be useful in a prophetic context when the situation demands a strong advocacy for a cause. However, within another context–let’s just say the context of community where unity and care for others are the prime objectives–this type of offensive strategy is akin to whacking the ball with a Big Bertha driver on a putting green. Not only will your ball not get anywhere near the hole, you will find yourself looking for it in the scrub, about 300 metres distant. And while you are seeking to recover your game (and your scorecard), your companions are begrudgingly trudging alongside. Perhaps they are still encouraging and cheering you on . . . but, knowing human nature, I would suspect that there is a fair amount of muttering under the breath, out of ear shot: ‘When will he ever learn?’

More often than not, in times when I have resorted to demanding my orthodoxy be heard above all others’ orthodoxy, I have found that I may recover, but the pain I have inflicted on those around me has a way of becoming my pain of regret and shame with the result of my ‘stand for truth’ being grief, division and long-lasting hurt.

In the end, both of us may be right according to how we interpret the point of the debate. We should celebrate that there is a debate and that, despite our interpretations of that point, we are still brothers and sisters.

One last reference to the great game: Most of my game I will use an iron, once in a while I will pull out the driver, but my game will be won by consistent, gentle, measured putting. I’d like to think I’d have St Paul’s blessing in this rather liberal interpretation of what he wrote to another community long ago:

 ‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ (Ephesians 4:2-3)

Shaking the Shame from Religion

Last night Vicki and I had the wonderful privilege of hearing Rev Dr Donna Schaper of Judson Memorial Church in New York City speak about public ministry—namely ‘Shaking the Shame from Religion.’

From the very start, beginning with the opening prayer, her message was one that brought a breath of fresh and invigorating air to all who sat in the pews.

Dr Schaper began by comparing church people with the growing group of 20- to 30-somethings who are choosing to be “Spiritual but nor religious’ (SBNR).  In her observations, she noted how church folk seem to always be busy doing the work of God, and—often unconsciously—believing they should be doing more, and feeling shame because they don’t. Ultimately, this leads to blaming other people, forces, or institutions for the lack of end results. ‘SBNR people want to know God, but all we [The Church] want to do is work, work, work.’

Schaper recalled how Rev James Forbes of Riverside Church in New York City was asked to compare black churches in America with white churches. He said, ‘Black churches know they need God; white churches think God needs them.’ The white churches mentioned seem to be typical of the average western progressive Church.

In proposing a way forward, Schaper makes these points:

Can we please notice what we have lost? The world for which we have been prepared has been taken away from us. We live in a society that is grossly inequitable, where the majority do not have the resources necessary to live the life they were created to live.

Would you mind if we developed self interest as a conscious motivator? Motivation from a moral grounding, or from a mentality of ‘I should do this’ won’t produce the results—this has been proved many times. If we appeal to everyone’s self-interest, we can work to eradicate poverty because giving everyone the chance to prosper is good for everybody.

Could we rethink the mission trip, the field trip, the exposure trip? People who go on a mission trip help themselves more than the people they go to help. In fact, many times they do more harm than good.

Can we learn to always say prayer at the table. We need to be grateful for what we have.

We are all broken. Dr Schaper’s favourite Bible verse is Romans 3:23, ‘For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.’ Why is this so important? Because it levels the playing field—we are all in the same boat as broken people who sometimes do and think wrong things. She recalled writing a letter to her family at one point in her life which started with the words, ‘I think our family is too judgmental.’ Even in saying this, she realised she had made a judgement. But we all pass judgment on others (we’re all ‘Punishmentalists’ to a degree), and always will. This emphasises our need to receive and to give grace. Shame tells us we are not worthy of a connection with God or with others. Grace says we are worthy of a connection with God and with each other. Therefore, grace should be preeminent in all our interactions.

Perfectionism, striving to be good, being afraid of stepping out of line and enduring God’s punishment, is anti-grace, and fuels the negative cycle of should, shame and blame. Our first response when faced with a negative circumstance is often, ‘What did I do wrong?’ We must reject this way of thinking and replace it with an understanding of God’s great love. There are times we, individually and as churches, will do both right and wrong things. We need to accept this as part of who we are and move on with life. If we accept each other as we are, we are living the life of grace and being channels of God’s grace to each other and to our world.

Our mission will be stronger when it is full of grace and fun. Our mission will be weaker when it is full if should and shame and blame.

Dr Schaper recognized there is so much to be done to alleviate poverty and to work for justice in our world, including the need to care for our planet. Yet it will not be ‘should, shame and blame’ that will achieve any progress in making our world a better place for all, but an outworking of God’s love and grace in the lives of ordinary people.

During the question time following, Dr Schaper spoke about many practical aspects of public ministry, encouraging us to have a look at Brene Brown’s TED talks on vulnerability (http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html)

In speaking about the best way forward in reaching those in need, she stated numerous times ‘The more we tell it instead of show it the worse it gets.’

She also observed how that many churches claim to be ‘open’ to all—welcoming people of all faiths, ethnicities, and sexual orientations, but so few are ‘open AND affirming’ (O&A). The ‘affirming’ part goes beyond welcoming into valuing and connecting with people just as they are, not imposing shame or fear on them, and not expecting anything from them except that they be who they are, fully and without shame.

I left the forum appreciating more fully the love of God and the all-encompassing grace God extends to all. I’m looking forward now to reading a few of Donna’s books and seeing how this new perspective shapes how I live and interact with others.

Game Changer

“Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

This reflection, from the United Church of Christ’s StillSpeaking series, is  by Donna Schaper, Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City. Dr. Schaper will be in Adelaide this week speaking at Pilgrim Uniting Church in the city on Thursday evening, 14 June, at 7.30pm on ‘Removing the Shame from Religion.’ This talk is free and open to all.

Very few of us need more instruction in what the epistle means about a “multitude of sins.”  We belong to the “would-a if we could-a” people.  We often leave the day wondering how it got away from us. Or we know what we want to do but know we don’t have the power or the money or the moral oomph to do it.  We realize that the mess we are in now is one that it had its grip on us long ago.  Had we done something then, maybe we wouldn’t be so desperate for help now.  Many of us have personal regrets—and also wish we had been born after racism or sexism or with better [University entrance exam] scores or more secure parents.

Thus this epistle is a lifeline.  It is thrown to those of us in the tossing sea and gives us something to grasp.  Maintain constant love for one another is something we CAN do, no matter the circumstances.  We can keep a smile on our faces, while others lose theirs, even on the grumpy highway or subway.  We can name one positive in every group of whiners, whether they be ecclesiastical or corporate or at the PTA.  We can learn to play defense, even if all our life we were taught to play offense only.  Good defense wins ball games.  It means keeping the opposition from taking shots.  It means dogging the ball.  Love may even mean stealing the ball.  It also means building the power now that your community or your children or you need later.

Love is proactive and means not getting behind or letting the score get too out of whack. I personally try to keep my inbox of emails to 20 a day, just so as to not let their multitude defeat me.

In the movie, “Money Ball,” we hear, “We find value in players that no one else sees.”  What is love if not valuing what others can’t see?  Likewise in “Money Ball,” we hear that if you change the meaning of winning, you can change the game.

Christians proactively change the meaning of the game.  We get the power we need by loving.  We love long after the score is Lions 49, Christians 12.  When that is the score, we become especially loving.  And love covers a multitude of sins.

O God, blanket us with the security of love, cover over the multitude of knocks at our door, and take away their power in us and from us.  Amen

God Always Entices Us Through Love

Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change. If the mystics say that one way, they say it a thousand ways. But because most of our common religion has not been at the mystical level, we’ve been given an inferior message—that God loves me when I change (moralism). What that does is put it back on you. You’re back to “navel-gazing,” and you never succeed at that level. You are never holy enough, pure enough, refined enough, or loving enough. Whereas, when you fall into God’s mercy, when you fall into God’s great generosity, you find, seemingly from nowhere, this capacity to change. No one is more surprised than you are. You know it is a gift.

By Richard Rohr, taken from Following the Mystics through the Narrow Gate (CD/MP3)