Today's meditation on Micah 6:8 will be short, simple and to the point:
To do justice: I suggest, if you ever have a week to spare, pick up some Lawrence Kohlberg. He wrote extensively about moral growth as it related to justice. He came up with the concept of a justice scale. The idea is, our concept of justice evolves as we mature. All of us stall out on the scale somewhere, and all of us climb that scale in our own time. It usually takes some major life event to move us up the ladder of understanding moral justice. I mention this because I want you to consider this question: Does God's perfect justice have enough grace to accept our adolescent and intermediate forms of justice? I believe the answer is yes, but doesn't that mean we need to extend that grace to others, who we believe, have a more adolescent version of justice than us?
Love kindness: Carol Gilligan is another great read. She was inspired by Kohlberg to come up with a care scale. As we age and grow we mature in our concept of care for self and others. If you would like to read more, check out in a different voice. One of the pieces I took from her idea of moral care, was the care for self. At some point we have to do what appears to be selfish, care for ourselves, in order to be well enough to care for others. You know, take the plank out of your own eye before you can take the splinter out of another's eye? Loving kindness is loving all the ways it expresses itself. Caring for others and caring for the self.
Walking humbly with God: You know what I love most about humility? It cannot be faked. We can feign love, joy, and interest. We cannot feign humility. You either have it or your don't. If you have it, I mean really have it, you are naturally doing it with God. Only, there is a reason justice and loving kindness come first. If we are not focused on real and true justice, and showing kindness while we do it, those who are humble will be martyred. In other words, it is their job to be humble, and it is our job to raise them up. It is there job to remember everything they have and do are from God. It is our job to celebrate their accomplishments. This one cannot be done without the help of the other two. Martin Luther King Jr lived fully into all three. It was the rest of humanity who failed to live into justice and kindness that got Martin Luther King Jr. killed. We failed to protect his humility. I put this against Martin Luther, who also lived into all three. He too would have been killed for his justice, kindness and humility, but someone stepped in and saved his life. Someone protected him in his humility.
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I have been spending the past few days trying to make sense of what happened last week. Only a few people really know the full extent of what happened, so I will begin by summing it all up:
Two Thursday's ago I began a series on the tensions we need to keep in Christianity. I began by explaining the tension between the individual journey and the communal journey. Last Thursday I discussed the tension between reaching people with content and how that content is expressed. This message went viral on Reddit. Over 400 people visited Fig Tree from the subreddit link. Of those 400 visits it was shared with others and 400 plus more people found the meditation that day. This has made last Thursday's meditation the second most visited mediation to date. It had enough upvotes to keep it on hot page of /r/Christianity for most of the day. From everything I just shared, it was well received. By the end of the day it was like by 79%, which is good for a Reddit link.
However, there was a very vocal minority that spoke up and shared their opinion. Before I continue I wish to say, thank goodness for the dialogue. I appreciated all of it. Week after week I end by saying I want to hear from you, and I mean it. If I am wrong I want to hear it. If you have something to add, I want to hear that too. Nothing is going to be solved by simply reading and moving on. Part of being the Body of Christ is connecting. So this isn't a bully pulpit moment. I hope if nothing else makes sense, that is understood.
The vocal minority helped me realize what needs to be said about the internet.
Well, I believe that hits the highlights. I am glad what happened last Thursday and I wouldn't take it back. If it hurt, I'm sorry. This is me showing you I put up my sword years ago. No guest meditator, or minister of Fig Tree will carry a sword here. I hope that clears the air. This is a place of love.
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The story is almost always the same. He stands up to the podium or away from the pulpit. (Because, let's be honest, no one uses that ol' thing anymore.) Perhaps he keeps notes in front or perhaps he is carrying nothing but a bible. He begins to deliver his sermon. There is always something grand about the message. Perhaps it's humour. Perhaps it's passion. Perhaps it's anger. No matter what it is, it always causes me to put my head in my hands and groan. With all their theatrics they typically do one of two things. One, they repeat the same simple message six times until they have filled up a good 20 minutes of worship. Two, they slowly read out the scripture; stopping only to add something. Usually they are adding an irrelevant side note to bring the message into relatable terms. (I don't need to imagine a parable character owning a car in order to understand what the scripture is about.) In conclusion, they all spend 20 minutes saying something that could have been easily explained in 5 minutes. They are all show and no substance.
But congregants love it. Every once in a while I hear one of them say, "Wow, that was inspired!"
That word you use. I don't think it means what you think it means. It appears there is a disconnect with extemporaneous, or off the cuff preaching, and inspired preaching. Yes, I have felt the spirit come upon me as I have had an off the cuff moment with a group of people. Those "off the cuff" moments happen outside the 11am worship, and are laced with the education I have spent years gathering. (In and out of seminary.) Education to a preaching minister is like balls to a juggler, a top hat to a magician, or a saw and hammer to a carpenter. In other words, God can call anyone to ministry, but getting to the point where one uses ministry is a journey. It not only requires picking up the tool bag (an education) but also using those tools appropriately to help. (Instead of maim.)
When Jesus first started calling the Disciples in Matthew 4:18-22, we see one doesn't have to be the creme de la creme. When we see Peter and Andrew; James and John we see fishermen. At most, these four would have only known how to read, and only read enough to know basic information pertinent to their trade. Forget writing, it was worthless to getting food on the table every night. It is believed Peter would eventually write two books of the bible. That had to happen somewhere. Then, later in Acts, we have Paul. Paul was a bad guy. He captured Christians and sent them to the Coliseum. Yet this bad guy was called to help several communities understand the very people he collected for death. God can call anyone, but God doesn't want us to stay in the life we are called from.
Peter and Paul, did not begin their apostolic work through magic knowledge being osmosisly transmitted into their brains. Zealous Peter had to have some very embarrassing moments with Jesus first, unlearning and relearning what it meant to be a follower of God. Paul was already educated, but not in the right way. Even with Paul's sudden Road to Damascus story, he still had to learn the story of Christ. (Also, could you imagine what those letters would have been like if he spent the entire thing saying the same point 20 times to fill up the required amount of parchment to make the community happy. Would we really take him seriously today?)
But there's the tension. We are stuck between a community who likes a show, and message that deserves real research and focus. Now, it appears, our God moments have to come every Sunday at 9:45am and then again at 11am. We have to have flashy themes and shining lights. It's boring for the minister to speak for a full hour, so let's fill the time with tunes that really don't say anything either.
The point: If we were honest with one another, when ministers enter seminary, it should feel like redundant information. Our Christian Education in church should be honest and real. Instead, many congregations shun and ostracize the minister who wants to educate, and glorify and praise the minister who wants to put on a good show. In my lifetime, the ministers who could properly educate and engage the congregation is really few and far between. Rev. Cynthia Hale comes to mind as an exceptional minister who can do both. Fred Craddock would be another. The tension is, we have to engage while keeping our focus on the point: education. It's a real tension to keep in mind. Taking the journey in Christ is a learning experience that isn't always glitzy and glamourous. We might get a little zealous for our own good. We could possibly deny Christ a time or two. In the end we realize we are not the focus. Once we are educated the focus becomes the generation to come. Therefore, we must realize the world around us is preaching false easy fixes, while we should be preaching real time consuming change. This new generation can read B.S. like it's Shakespeare play. At the same time, they won't give anything time of day unless it is branded honestly and with flashing lights. There it is. Now isn't that tension?
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Also, may God bless and keep you today, and every day!
Here is a truth. We live in tension. Here is another truth. That tension doesn't exist in a black and white, 2-D world. Truth is a technicolor, 3-D experience. This is why connection and hearing other opinions becomes vitally important to knowing the whole story. Community adds depth and color to our 2-D perspective. At the same time our perspective, as an individual, becomes an important piece to the overall story. While there are many tensions in life, our communal and individual perspectives is probably the easiest tension to point out. Think about it. In Christianity what is the biggest argument (other than biblical inerrancy) we are having right now? I submit, when we look at the root of our disagreements, our biggest argument has been between whether we should be communally or individually motivated as Christians. I also submit, this has been the most foolish argument to date we have chosen to engage in.
I want to take a moment and go to the bible. In particular, I want to look at Jesus' baptism story. I put them all together and you can find the different Gospel accounts here. There is something very specific I want to point out:
In Mark and Luke the words of God are for Jesus:
"You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22
In Matthew the words of God are for the community watching:
"This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
Some of you might be reading this and already prepared to click your cursor somewhere else. Some might see this as Matthew's misinterpretation. Some might be offended I am even suggesting such a thing. I personally believe God spoke to both Jesus and the crowd at the same time. Even if you believe God didn't do that, I think there is something inspired about two slightly different versions existing.
Our existence is both communal and individualistic. Our creation is dependant on two people coming together as one. A person is not made by an individual, but through the union of two. Two families become one. Two communities are united through the blood of a child. At the same time, we will always be an individual. We incubate alone for nine months before we enter the world. No matter how hard we try, our perspective will always be through our eyes because our eyes are the only eyes we can see out of.
Baptism, being a symbolic rebirth, will always be a community and individual act. This isn't something where we choose one side over the other. This is something where we hold both in tension. On one side, an individual joins the community, aka the Body of Christ. On the other side a community is welcoming an individual into the Body. The individual doesn't lose their individual nature just because they join the community. The community also remains a group. In fact, when Paul talks about the Body of Christ, he does so pointing out that the body is many in one. There is that tension again.
I bring this up to begin talking about the tensions in the Christian tradition. There is a sneaky little devil on the internet telling us page hits and book deals only come from being scandalous. If we can pit ourselves against someone we can get the people to our site. Maybe they are right. Maybe we have already sold our souls for a fiddle made of gold. I'm here to say, maybe it's time for a "yes-and" dialogue. Over the next month or two I will use scripture to talk about how we are not dealing with an "either-or" discussion, but a "yes-and" solution. We will always find differences. We can always find something to wedge between one another and separate us. It is much more difficult to let go of those wedges and begin reconnecting.
So I guess that's the point. We are working with unique individuals, who each have their own unique view of the world. Collectively, we take those views and put them together to help us understand the big picture. Let's put down the exacto knife and pick up some bandaids. For God calls each and everyone of us: "For these are my sons and daughters; with you I am well pleased."
Not only do I believe God answers prayers, but I have personally witnessed the answer to prayers through Fig Tree Christian. Everything I have posted that I needed, some way or another, has been given. It has been a year of blessings.
Therefore, with a heightened awareness of where Fig Tree is going in the new year, I wish to share what Fig Tree Christian would like to receive for this year:
We need 8-12 core people who are willing to take a leap. While Fig Tree Christian is considered a new church start it is not church as understood by the contemporary definition. Church is being used as a missional term. Instead of starting by choosing whether worship uses organ or guitar, we start by understanding what the community needs to understand God better. This is putting the contemporary/traditional worship skeleton aside and trusting God can lead us to see what worship looks like in this new world we live in. Unlike many new church starts this does not require leaving a current church setting. This group would meet on another day, like a Monday night. If we could get this group together, it would be 6 months of deep study and prayer.
I have been working for the past three months to secure a tax code for Fig Tree Christian. Every time I send it in there is something small to fix. With a little prayer, this one will be resolved over the next month... I hope.
This one is huge. See this building? This was the community center for the community that used to work at the old treadmill in Clarkdale, GA. The mill closed years ago, and the community has suffered since. Even this community center is in need of more than just a little TLC.
When the above two needs are met, Fig Tree Christian wants to look into acquiring this building as the meeting place for future worship (whatever form that takes) and community outreach. My husband has felt a desire to see this community helped and I have felt a draw as well. Just gaining the building and restoring it, would be great a great start. The community center/church would once again be available for birthday parties and community events.
Matthew 3:1-12 NRSV
The two sat in the distance, looking on. They were watching John, standing with caramelized honey stuck to his camel hair clothes. He was yelling something about repentance. He was drawing a crowd. The first of the two pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers. "It's embarrassing just watching. Who does this?"
"He has quite a following. I hear the people really like him," said the other.
"I bet they are just watching for the morbid curiosity of it all. I mean who goes out in the wilderness and survives on wild honey and locusts? Who does he think he is? Sampson? We all know what happened to him. Lost his hair, his eyes, and died pulling the foundation down on top of a bunch of people while they were really mocking him." The first picked up a few stones and began lightly tossing them.
"I think they are actually following him," said the other.
"Then they are just as crazy as he is. There's an order to things. If this John character wanted to teach the story of G-d, he should have followed in his father's footsteps and became a priest."
"Unless," said the other, "he wanted to teach people who can't be taught in the synagogue."
"What are you talking about? Anyone who follows the rules can come to the synagogue and learn. The synagogue is for all of G-d's people."
The other's jaw dropped. "Unless he is trying to reach those who cannot live up to all those rules."
"Are you defending him?," said the first. "You're defending him! Listen, it's tradition. If tradition cannot stand then we have idiotic meetings in the middle of nowhere doing... doing... What are they doing? Oh, he's giving them baths. Maybe he will wash off some of that honey while he's rinsing people off."
The other stood. "There comes a time when the people must return to the wilderness. There comes a time when the rules don't make sense anymore and the only way to remember what they mean is to let go of the false safety of tradition. There are those who have become slaves to the rules that were made to free us. This man, this John, has come as a prelude to freedom. Of course it looks odd and strange. I am sure Moses looked strange too coming from the wilderness to see the Pharaoh. Like it was then, it's time to let go of our false securities that have enslaved us and embrace the wilderness again. You see a crazy man, I see redemption." The other smiled and walked to join the crowd gathering around the man.
"There goes another. Crazy I say. They are all insane." The first stood and walked back towards the city. "I'm quite comfortable where I am. Why should I make myself uncomfortable for the sake of the lunatic people in the wilderness? Nope. I'm going home."
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Happy new year! Wow, what a ride, right? The presents have all been wrapped and unwrapped. The families have come and gone. Some of us have even packed up the baubles and bows; the tinsel and the tree. Those of us who haven't are cringing thinking about how much work that will be. (It always seems easier getting it out of the box, instead of putting it back.) The ball has dropped, most of us have made our resolutions and, God willing, we are going to keep them this year. The new year signifies a new beginning. It is not the beginning but it is a beginning. It is a time we can wipe our slate clean and start over. Our potential is limitless.
The John scripture is kind of the same thing. It isn't the beginning but it is a beginning, and a beautiful one at that. There are many who believe the opening verses of John were used in the early church and sung. Understandable because the poetry bleeds through, even when read in English. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It's beautiful. I see it as a prelude to a symphony. It is an opener to the greatest story ever told: the story of Jesus. Yes, we have reached quiet a few conclusions: the old year is over; the consumer Christmas is over, but this scripture tells us, something isn't over. Something is about to begin... again.
This story starts way back in Genesis, in the beginning when everything was created. It wasn't a creation whipped up at a work station or even put together with caring hands. All God had to do was speak and it all came together. “God said, 'Let there be light!' and there was light.” (Gen 1:3) All God needed was the Word and it all came to be. We all know the story, God saw everything that was made, and indeed, it was very good. (Gen 1:31) So God rested. Yet something happened. Within all the goodness God created, we started messing it up. It is that sneaky thing called freewill. It was one of those wonderful gifts God gave us, but sometimes we misused it. The best laid plans can be fulfilled or destroyed with freewill. Cane killed Abel, Abraham lied about his wife, brothers sell one of their own into slavery, a country puts an entire people into servitude... from creation to the end of the Hebrew bible the story is continually about the people of God messing up and God speaking forgiveness to the people.
Yet, there was a problem. The people had begun to grow deaf. The word that was spoken eons ago and brought life to the lifeless and hope to the hopeless could no longer be heard. Also, the words that had been spoken by God in the past had begun being misused by the very people God had called to lead. Something had to happen. Something had to change.
The answer was a reboot. Before Michael Bay rebooted the Transformers, Raja Gosnell rebooted the Smurfs, or J.J. Abrams rebooted Star Trek- God rebooted the Creation. Reboots retell a classic story but in a way that makes it more accessible for a new generation. So how does this scripture in John become accessible to us in a way Genesis 1 cannot? The answer is sight.
I had said the people had become deaf to the Word of God. They could no longer hear the good news, the gospel. When you wish to communicate with someone who is deaf, what do you do? You write it down, use closed captions or sign language. In other words, you take advantage of another sense: sight. God, in our deafness, took the Word and made it visible. The Word became flesh in the form of Jesus Christ. God was ready to conduct a symphony but this symphony would be more than the song played through the ages. The theme of this composition would include a visible explanation of the crescendos and diminuendos. This would be a Fantasia of the creation story. That is why Jesus did not come to replace the law but to fulfill it. He is the sign language for the souls who cannot hear God in their heart. The God who has been working behind the scenes since the beginning used Jesus Christ to take center stage. But, instead of allowing the spotlight to shine on him he took the light and shined it into the darkness.
What is the darkness? The darkness lies in each and every one of us. We all have moments we regret; moments we wish we could take back. One of the hardest truths about life is we cannot repeat our past. We only get one chance at this rat race and inevitably we all fall short. No one is perfect. Our tie to creation is our tie to that darkness.
From creation God pulled out all that was good. Many early theologians thought the earthly was the center of sin. They were wrong. Take time and read Genesis 1. The light is good. The earth and sea are good. The plants are good. The sun and moon and stars are good. The birds and fish are good. All the creatures of the earth are good. God saw everything that had made, including us, and it was supremely good. From God's Word the creation was put forward, as if on exhibit. It wasn't something to be put on a dusty old shelf and hidden from view. The creation was something to be admired and taken care of. That is the truth about goodness. It is not from creation that badness comes from. No, badness comes from the darkness.
It is when we choose not to act. It is when we bury our issues instead of dealing with them. If creation becomes the fertile field where goodness can grow, the darkness becomes the incubator where our wrong choices can fester into something worse. Wars are not started in the sunlight of truth and justice, but the damp dark recesses of ignorance and complacency. They don't just happen over night. The bad things that can come from the darkness needs time to grow. Goodness can blossom in mere moments- all it needs is a word. (Thank you, bless you, please... just to name a few.) Badness takes time to grow into something dangerous. Yet, it seems like those are the fields we spend most of our time cultivating.
When the people are living in darkness and are already deaf to God's magnificent word... they need something tactile to pull them out: water. Water, Helen, water. Yes, what was Helen Keller's first word and first introduction to a life bigger than she originally knew, is our first introduction to the light. Through John the Baptist we are thrown into the water to wake up! Wake up and see what God has done!
In the form of Jesus, God came to obliterate the darkness. We are no longer allowed to be complacent and ignorant. From the Gospel of John we get a reboot of creation that is not only 3D but 4D. God isn't just on the big screen sharing the story but sitting next to us in the theater, sharing the popcorn and enjoying the ride. Yes, a prelude to a symphony. Can you hear it? It is a new year and a new beginning, if you listen carefully you can hear God's wind section warming up. If you pay attention you can hear the strings beginning to tune. True, today isn't the beginning but it is a beginning. See, the John scripture was the prelude. We are living in the symphony. God has given us the flashlight to shine into the darkness. God has shown us how to speak to the spiritually deaf. But freewill, freewill can either bring God's master plans to fruition or destroy it.
Don't live in the darkness. Don't turn that flashlight off. God gave us Christ to shine that light into the world. Do you hear it? The grand conductor has prepped the orchestra and is ready to play. Shine your light into the darkness. The darkness will not be able to overcome it. Join the symphony this new year. There is a space just for you. God is waiting.
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To earn money for the family I have worked for the past year and a half at a local Cajun restaurant in Hiram, Georgia. Last month, in December, they had to permanently close their doors. As my last gift to the owners, I wrote a eulogy to remember them.
Today we lay to rest a friend and confidant. We spent our weekends visiting this friend, and our free nights sharing in the communion of a good meal. Today, after four years, we say goodbye to Cajun's Cookin'.
I have a unique roll at this celebration of life. I was a server for their restaurant for one and a half years. I am also a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) where I currently hold my standing. Everything and everyone deserves a funeral, a chance to say goodbye. While I have worked in churches for over a decade, participating and leading funerals and weddings, I have never buried a restaurant. Bare with me as we work through this together.
Cajun's Cookin' leaves behind the owners, Cajun and Amy, their kitchen staff, serving staff, and customers- both old and new. They were dedicated to the 'real deal,' as Cajun liked to put it. They served food I could get behind. I refused to lie. The food I sold was the best. It was always the food I wanted to eat, and I wanted to eat it all. I raved about the premium shrimp, ate up the red beans and rice with andouille sausage, and couldn't sell more bisque when the crawfish lobster mix came back. I even liked the catfish, and I am not a fan of catfish. As Cajun put it, “All our seafood comes fresh from Louisiana once a week. We use the tenderloin of the gator, because the tail meat is gamey and chewy.”
We will never forget the gator head greeting us as we walked through the door, or the Cajun words that remained our companions above us as we ate our meals. We will remember fondly the jokes Cajun shared with us. There is no easy way to say goodbye.
As for me, I have so much to be grateful for. I can remember my first conversation with Cajun when I applied for the job, “You're not going to be all preachy with everyone?” I could barely understand what he was saying, as I had never had long interaction with anyone from the New Orleans area. Now, at the end, we have had long conversations about what has happened and what the future holds, understanding everything he says. Oh, how things change. Back at the beginning, I promised I would be there to do my job, and I would be around for awhile while I got the ministry together. (I was and I am working on getting a group together to start a Disciples church in Paulding County. That could happen in months or years. It's God's time.) Oh yeah, and I promised to not be preachy.
While I cannot speak for the many lives Cajun's Cookin' has touched over the past four years they were open, I can personally say how the restaurant has positively touched my life.
When I first began serving at the restaurant, Cajun always had an issue with me. He called me meek. It was true. Seminary teaches a future minister a multitude of lessons. A hidden unspoken lesson at my seminary was evangelism is dangerous. We learn about things like the Boxer Rebellion and street side preachers and come away thinking speaking the truth too boldly will lead to nothing but heartache. Now, I come away from this serving experience knowing the opposite is the case. I learned loving the product but not openly selling it, doesn't sell the product. This is true for explaining why Gator Bites are a really good appetizer, and it's true of Christianity. I am not ashamed of my calling, but I was taught to live in shame. God is good. All the time, God is good. There is nothing wrong with that. It's good. It took me learning if a meal is good, I should want others to try that meal too. It took learning to be a server to learn how evangelism is right.
I also learned something more recently. Not all death comes from things that ought to die. I have seen many a church recently, and many a church is scared, and dying. I can feel it as I walk through the door. I can see the desperation as they try to talk me into getting involved. This is a scary time for organized religion. Up until now, I have seen the churches lost in dementia, where they cannot remember their roots and live into it. I have seen the bitter old shells of former glory, hanging on to life by the thin thread of a paid off building. I have no problem seeing these congregations letting go. I want to help them see the grace and love in death. After all, Jesus did not abolish death. Death still happened and it happened in a cruel and heartless way. Jesus overcame death- but to overcome death, one must die first. It is difficult to see these congregations who preach overcoming death every Sunday but are afraid to take the leap themselves, trusting God is on the other side.
As I talked to Cajun I saw a restaurant that isn't suffering from forgetting their roots. They are not bitter old shells of their former glory. This is good food. This a family sharing their family meal with others. This restaurant deserves to live, but this restaurant had to die. It could not survive in Hiram, Georgia. For God's call to Amy and Cajun to continue, the original call had to die first. This is a terrible and beautiful reminder of our own calls. When God calls us to faith, it is not a faith attached to our old lives. We must die to our old lives to be reborn as new creatures. As Amy and Cajun taught me, this is not easy. It could be one of the most difficult steps in the journey to new life, but it is a step that has to be taken. It is also a step that sometimes happens to the young and youthful spirits that appear to be on track. Death can take the young, old, healthy, and broken. Freewill can mess up something God set right and turn it wrong.
So today we remember Cajun's Cookin' fondly for the many great memories it will leave us with. We pray for the Dubroc family, hoping their next journey is fruitful and God inspired. And, as a former server I ask: In lieu of flowers go visit your favorite small business or restaurant and tell them thank you for their hard work. You never know when it will be too late.