Too much excess?

I like to think I am a “make your point and move on” kind of guy.  I tire of repetition. Especially when I feel like it is repetition for repetition’s sake.

But this one thing bears repeating.

During this season of Lent, we are looking at excess and what to do about it.  We believe that we live in a culture of excess – voices around us, and in us, tell us we should want more, we should have more, we need more.
Jesus, on the other hand, calls us in the opposite direction.  Jesus recognized that stuff – money, food, clothing, power, media, friends, etc., cannot satisfy.  Only God and a relationship with God can satisfy the deep longing of our souls.
Yet, as much as we talk about excess and our mutiny against it, we are not being judgmental.  Let me repeat that: we are NOT judging you or your excess or other people in their excess.
We are not even judging ourselves in our own excess.
Our intent, during this season of Lent, is to open ourselves to God’s presence and God’s leading. Judging can be off-putting and conversation-ending.  We want to start the conversation or continue it.  We want to admit to ourselves and one another that excess challenges us and that following Jesus means getting all excess out of the way.
If all of it is too much for you right now, feel free to start with a little.
Too much excess?

Which Jesus are we talking about?

jesusThe other day I was involved in a thread discussion in a United Methodist Clergy group. The subject of that discussion is irrelevant for my present purposes. If you really feel the need to know, ask me.

In this discussion, a friend – no, an acquaintance – no, a colleague – maybe – a fellow UM clergyperson wrote this: “If you do not follow the rules, then you have lost all integrity.”

Whoa, I thought. I am, apparently, and have always been, low on integrity.

This won’t surprise those of you who know me, but I push at rules.  Over the years I have come to respect the need for rules, and the benefits.

I still have within me, though, a desire, an urge, to push against the rules, the norms, the status quo.

Which is one of the reasons I read as someone who, according to my colleague, has lost an integrity.

In my reading of the Gospels, Jesus is almost constantly breaking rules. When I was younger and more of a mind to break rules just because they were rules, I read Jesus this way, too.

And it is possible to read the gospels this way.

I have grown up. I know longer believe that all rules were made to be broken.  I understand the benefit, even the need, of rules and standards.

As a matter of fact, I now tend to read Jesus as having this same kind of attitude toward rules.

I will probably always tend to read Jesus favorably to the way I understand and work in the world.

If Jesus matters to you, I expect you do this, too.

You may suggest that we ought to interpret our own lives in terms of Jesus rather than the other way around.  I would agree that this is an admirable goal. In fact, it may be a good way of identifying true disciples.

But I am pretty sure that before we proclaim too loudly that we are more like Jesus than someone else is, we do well to investigate which Jesus we are comparing ourselves to. More often than not, I fear, we will find that we will find ourselves looking down on others by comparing them to the Jesus that we have made look an awful lot like the ideal version of ourselves.

Which Jesus are we talking about?

Meaning missing

Easter is less than three weeks away.  Let the advertising onslaught begin!

risen ChristIt seems to me like way too many of these Easter ads emphasize the wrong image, and thus miss the meaning of Easter.

And if you think I’m referring to bunnies and eggs, think again.

I refer, friends, to the cross.

The cross is not the central image or focus of Easter.

Do an image search for Easter and you’ll get a bunch of bunnies and eggs in pastels, but you’ll also get a lot of crosses.

I am not anti-cross!  I am deeply appreciative the cross and all that it represents.

Valuable – no, essential – as the cross is to Easter, the cross isn’t the main point of Easter.

Easter is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection!  Easter tells us that death – even death on a cross – is defeated by what God has done in and through Jesus.

So, enjoy your bunnies and eggs.  Ponder and reflect on the cross and all it says and means.

But please, this Easter, remember, and celebrate, the resurrection of Jesus!

Meaning missing

How close is too close?

As with most Mondays, I follow Rachel to work in the mornings.  She drives the kids to preschool, then we go to work.  Sometimes We leave home at about the same time, sometimes I follow by a few minutes.  Today, I was right behind her all the way.

toocloseThe first time we reached a stoplight, I pulled up very close behind her.  Closer than I would normally do in traffic.

Closer than I am comfortable when I look in my rearview mirror and see someone else.

This was not exactly like normal traffic, though.  I was driving behind a person I know and who knows me. Once the light changed, I gave her appropriate lead time, and followed at a safe distance.

After I had pulled that close, though, I became a  little uncomfortable with what I had done.  I wondered how analogous driving patterns are for personal relationships.

You know: people have very different senses of personal space!  I remember particularly a professor I worked with at one point in my academic life.  He was, what we called, a space invader.

For normal conversation, he would stand within a foot of me.  Though I never felt threatened or endangered in any way, standing this close to a professional acquaintance was uncomfortable for me.

Thankfully, I was a good 6 inches taller than he, so could find space by looking up a little.

In addition to these, I’ve come to notice many different ways we live in space relationship with others.

Just yesterday, in fact, a variant:  I entered the sanctuary well before the next worship service and proceeded to greet the few people who were already there.  As I approached one, he asked if he could talk to me briefly.  I said yes, and as he stood he said, relatively quietly, that this was confidential.

I leaned in a little and nodded to indicate my understanding.

Then, with a raised voice (to normal conversation level, but clearly loud enough for others to hear), he proceeded to tell me what he had to say.

I thought about asking if he was familiar with the word “confidential,” but choose not to.

What he meant, I think, was that he was telling me this “for my own good,” and not for me to tell others.

I had moved close enough to listen, only to find out I really hadn’t needed to get closer at all.

How sensitive are you to the space around you, and the distances you maintain from others?

How close is too close?

Racial This, Ethnic That…

The first step is admitting you have a problem. Or, in this case, the first step is admitting you have an identity.

A racial identity.

An ethnic identity.

Once more I received notice from something/somewhere United Methodist offering “racial/ethnic scholarship”

Does this mean that anyone who has a racial or ethnic identification, but only those who have such identification can apply?

Of course not!  It clearly means that emphasis is being made to attract and include people of racial and ethnic minority groups to participate.

Am I opposed to that?  As Pete the Cat would say, “Oh, heavens no!”

Rather, I think that recognizing the condition of racial ethnic minorities as such is not enough.

I think that we ought all recognize our own racial and ethnic identities.

Using “racial/ethnic” as shorthand for “racial/ethnic minorities” maintains the fiction that some of us have no identity except as individuals.  It’s just all those other people – the hyphenateds – who have some specific identity.

That some people have an identity as individuals and others don’t is fiction.

All of us have a story.  More importantly, every one of us has a story and is part of a larger story.

If or when some of us pretend we all have the same story we deny the reality of another person’s story.

If or when some of us pretend that we have no story at all, that we are each just absolute individuals in the moment, we deny social reality and the fact that we live in time.

There is no subset of humanity that can be defined as “racial/ethnic.” We all are.

And I am quite confident we will be better off once we admit it.

Racial This, Ethnic That…

Thinking without thinking

We had a fascinating discussion yesterday at our Lenten Wednesday Lunch Study.  As you might expect, the discussion really got me thinking.

We were talking about being righteous. Specifically about whether or not we are. Righteous, that is; whether or not we are righteous.

Of course, the talk quickly moved toward our being righteous “in God’s eyes.”  This, many Christians understand, is the work and gift of Jesus.

God sees us as righteous thanks to Jesus’ life and sacrificial death on the cross.

Good news, right?

Yes, except that thinking of ourselves as righteous tends to get us into trouble.  (See “self-righteous”)

On the other hand, refusing to recognize that Jesus actually opens this opportunity to us, leaves us as miserable sinners, condemned always to fail.

How do we carve out space in the middle – acknowledging AND accepting this good gift from God – to understand that, thanks to Jesus, we are (first) seen as righteous by God and (second) actually grow in righteousness as we follow Jesus?

I’ve got a few ideas, and invite yours as well.

  1. We must keep in mind that the righteousness that indeed becomes ours is given – offered freely - to us.
  2. In would likely help if we focused more on recognizing everyone else as someone who has been offered this gift even more than remembering that we (ourselves) have been offered the gift.  In other words, practice this: every person you see, think to yourself “God sees that person as righteous through Jesus’ gift.”
  3. Take some time each day to reflect on the ways God has worked in your life that day.
Thinking without thinking

How to beat a cold in 3 days

This 2-step method is guaranteed to work.

I can’t believe I didn’t think of this earlier.  Because I am not a selfish person, I share this information with you here, free of charge.

As we loaded up the car to leave for a brief Spring Break trip last Friday, I realized I was coming down with a cold. It was about time!  Every other person in the house had had a cold, or two, over the past month. I had avoided it each and every time.

Now, this time, it was my turn.

By Sunday, though, I was almost sure it was clearing out.  My cold only lasted 3 days!

With the right care and medication and exercise, you, too, can beat a cold in only 3 days.

Here is my method.  Help yourself.

1. Maintain good health.

No matter what else you do, when a cold virus meets your body, if you are in pretty good health, you will be better able to fight off the symptoms.  Sleep as well as you can, drink plenty of water, you know the drill.

2. Catch a virus that lasts 3 days.

Most colds I have had have lasted more than three days no matter what I did.  I think, honestly, that’s the way it works.

There is no trick, no secret, to making a cold last three days.  A cold is going to last as long as a cold is going to last.

Deal with it. Face it. Get over it (eventually).

There are a lot of people out there offering sure-fire ways (Just 3 easy steps!) to anything and everything.  While some of them may actually work, many of them are marketing schemes primarily designed to separate you  from your money.

That’s why this one is free.  You should pay what its worth.

How to beat a cold in 3 days