Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dog Faith

Last Sunday after preaching on forgiveness at Willow UMC one person suggested that we should be like dogs when it comes to truly forgiving ourselves and others.  So today I offer Christianity 101, the dog version.

If we were only taught by dogs, we would learn stuff like:

**When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.

**Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.

**When it's in your best interest -- practice obedience.

**Let others know when they've invaded your territory.

**Take naps and stretch before rising.

**Run, romp and play daily.

**Thrive on attention and let people touch you.

**Avoid biting, when a simple growl will do.

**On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.

**On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.

**When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.

**No matter how often you're scolded, don't buy into the guilt thing and pout...run right back and make friends.

**Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.

**Eat with gusto and enthusiasm.  Stop when you've had enough.

**Be loyal.

**Never pretend to be something you're not.

**If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.

**When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.


Grace Always,


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Racism in America

The media coverage of the George Zimmerman trial in Florida was non-stop.  Everyone it seemed had an opinion.  A few minutes before the verdict was read Kim asked me what I thought it would be.  "Guilty," I said.  So I was surprised when the "not guilty" verdict was prounounced.

My guess is that a vast majority of Americans, especially African-Americans, were not surprised, but angered by the verdict.  Here is another example of laws that appear to benefit the majority to the detriment of the minority.

I have been listening to the national debate about racial profiling and stand your ground laws.  What I hear, especially from our president, is that I have no idea what it feels like to be pre-judged based only on the color of my skin.  So I have tried to get a sense what it must feel like to have brown skin and walk into an elevator and notice a white woman clutching her purse more tightly.  I try to imagine the experience of people avoiding walking
too closely to me on a sidewalk.

Listen to black America and they are telling their stories of being profiled.  Parents feel the need to tell their children the subtleties of how to get along in this country as African-Americans with a long history of oppression by European-Americans.

As people of faith God calls us to work for justice which is nothing more than removing  barriers that keep people unequal and undervalued.  God's love is given in equal measure to all of us.  I encourage those who have experienced the privileges that come with being part of the majority to walk a mile in the shoes of someone who has not.  Now is the time for compassion and understanding.  Listen to your African-American friends, neighbors, and coworkers as well as other ethnic groups.  One of the greatest gifts we can offer is the ability to truly listen to the heart of another.  May their stories be told in ways that lead us to witness the glory of God's kingdom coming on earth!

Grace Always,

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Changing Expectations

I have lived in Alaska for over 21 years and until last Friday have never gone dip netting for salmon!  This, of course, is where biologists have counted a sufficient number of salmon entering rivers to spawn, so they open a fishery for a period of time for Alaskans to fill their freezers for the winter.  It was with this expectation that my son, Ryan, and I embarked on the journey to the mouth of the Kenai River last week.  He has dip netted and so it was a special experience for him to take the lead. 

He said that the daily count of fish entering the river had been increasing significantly.  There was every reason to believe we were going to catch dozens of fish.  This was what we expected, that we would dip our nets into the frigid water and bam, fish would be caught!  I even talked about catching more than one fish at a time!

But reality does not always match our expectations.  We did not catch a single salmon all day!  But what a glorious day it was to be outside in God's creation.  75 degrees, sunny.  Mt Redoubt was directly across Cook Inlet providing a feast for our eyes.  Chatting with a neighbor about our Alaska outdoor experiences.  Snoozing in the sun.  Talking about Ryan's future.  But we did not accomplish what we had come to do.

How well do you adjust your attitude when life expectations do not match your reality?  I would not have driven 6 hours in one day on a busy highway just to experience the views.  We went there to fish.  But I believe in doing what I can to accept the reality of my life situation whatever it may be.  I don't see the value in rejecting what cannot be changed.  As people of faith we know that God is always present in every life circumstance.  When our lives do not happen the way we expect we can always experience the presence of God.  Sometimes these experiences will mean more than what we expected to happen.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Forget the Trinity!

I am aware that the title of this post may stir up the emotions of faithful Christians.  I am not suggesting we forget the trinity.  I want to tell you a true story.

I was preaching and leading worship at our Willow UMC last Sunday.  Because Kim and I have a cabin north of Willow we have worshipped with the congregation on several occasions.  So I was familiar with their worship style.  Although I must say that it is very different worshipping as a congregant from leading worship as a pastor.  As a worshipper I am free to encounter God and do not have to remember the structural details of worship.

All went well until it came to the benediction.  I pronounced this benediction or something similar, "May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, (pause), and I forgot the other part.  So God's peace be with you!"  Everyone laughed, not at me, but with me.  Our Alaska UM churches are filled with people who give you the freedom to be yourself.  We are not people who put up with pretense or showmanship.  We are real people served by real leaders who make mistakes and sometimes forget the trinity.

Thanks be to God!  Now let's get out into the world and offer this same grace to others!

Grace Always,


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Entertainment Bar Is Rising

Christian psychologist, priest, and spiritual father Henri Nouwen wrote, “When our good plans are interrupted by poor weather, our peace of mind by inner turmoil, our hope for peace by a new war, our desire for a stable government by a constant changing of the guards, and our desire for immortality by real death, we are tempted to give in to a paralyzing boredom or to strike back in destructive bitterness.”

            I must admit that I dislike the word boredom.  I especially disliked it coming from my children when they were teenagers.  I have observed that what would have excited me to no end when I was a teen can be very boring to today’s teenager.  I remember being thrilled to get a wrecked 1962 Ford Falcon in my senior year in high school!  I fixed it up and it became my pride and joy.  Have you seen the nice cars and trucks in our high school parking lots?

           Nowadays, parents feel pressure to provide lots of experiences for their kids.  There are so many good activities and things from which to choose today!  But in exposing our children to so many options, we may be inadvertently creating a kind of immunity in our kids, thereby raising the level of excitement needed to conquer their boredom.  Today it simply takes more novelty and excitement to keep kids interested.  The entertainment bar keeps going up. 

          How do you think this is affecting the spiritual lives of our children?  I think about the negative effects of our consumeristic, entertainment-driven culture on our children.  Recently a TV ad featured several young people following their dreams to play sports, dance, or sing on a stage.  In every case the passions people followed were about entertaining others.  I guess it is hard to pitch an ad to get people to join the Peace Corps or build a Habitat for Humanity home.

          And this is why the world needs to hear the voice of God through us, the Church!  But this voice must be heard by each would-be-disciple of Jesus and ACTED if the gospel message is going to be welcomed by others. 

          What can you do to keep the entertainment bar from rising in your life? 

Grace Always,