Pastor Chuck's Takeaway

Monday morning theological reflections


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Forgetting to Remember

What is this? One of thee most moving sites our group experienced in Israel on our November pilgrimage was the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. Set appropriately, on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem, it has nine chilling galleries of photographs, works of art, multi-media presentations, and personal items found in the camps and ghettos. There is the Hall of Remembrance where the ashes of the dead are laid to rest and an eternal flame burns in commemoration. The Hall of Names includes over 3 millions names of Holocaust victims. The Children’s memorial is dedicated to the 1.5 million children that died under Nazi Germany. I was wowed by the technology utilized, no expense was spared. For good reason, as the purpose of the museum is to make sure that future generations do not forget. Coming away from our two hour experience, the names ring in your ear, the faces emblazoned in your memory, your heart is broken, you can’t help but weep. Some things as human beings, we forget at our own peril. For Christians, we are called to remember the darkness like the Holocaust and the goodness like Easter.

What does this mean? Yet, we have such a difficult time remembering what is worth remembering. Inundated with so much information, swamped with social media, plied with facts and figures, subject to 24-hour cable news, we are drowning in knowledge and communication. Plus, if you are like me, you tend to retain some inane statistics or trivial facts. I still remember when I was a sophomore pitcher in high school, I was 10-0 and I had an ERA of 0.63. Wow, was I good! That is a long time ago, and as my best friend Dave always reminds me, “nobody cares”. Remembering is a central task for Christians and the church. As I am defining it, memory is our storehouse, personal archive of experiences, images, and knowledge accumulated over a lifetime. To remember in one sense is to recall facts, events, and even emotions. But, in the sense I am referring to is to bear in mind, remain focused on a significant reality or perspective. To remember the Holocaust means, as humanity, we must never repeat that inhumanity. So to remember in this sense means to realize and respond to a relationship (your mother), event (your baptism), or a future reality (Christ is coming again). Biblically, to remember means to live based on, to honor, to follow God and God’s way in Christ Jesus.

What is the takeaway? Scripture is loaded with remembering, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom”, “Remember me, according to your great mercy”, “God will remember their sins no more”, “Do this in remembrance of me” and “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy”. To remember is the church family’s vocation. That is why Sunday worship looks like so much repetition. We need regular rituals like crossing ourselves, creeds we internalize, weekly communion, and hear again the absolution. Why? Because, we sinners forget all about the goodness of God, our dependence of the Great Giver and Forgiver, and the bounty of grace we receive in Christ. I find one of the realities with youth ministry is that unless their faith is constantly reinforced it will simply erode away. Most young people turn away, not because they reject Jesus, but their faith is not being fortified in fellowship, study, and forgiveness. I am amazed how sturdy a believer’s faith is when they commit to lifelong faith practices. There was a great saint of our church who was suffering in an advance stage so Dementia. I visited her one time. She unlocked her door and found another resident sleeping in her bed, like the Three Bears. After shooing her out the door, we sat together. She could not remember my name or her name, for that matter. However, she recited the Apostles Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and Twenty-third Psalm with me, perfectly. We shared communion as a way of remembering that Jesus will never forget us, our names and faces are emblazoned on His heart forever.

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The #MeToo Movement is Seismic

What is this? Let me begin with a big disclaimer, I am a middle-aged, white male in America. I won’t try to claim any spiritual credibility on this issue because I am clergy, either. I’d say that I have at most; impressions, literary commentary, & female family & friends who have shared of their experience. In terms of sexual harassment & assault, I’ve heard dark stories of violence, abuse, and shame heaped on women in pastoral counseling sessions. Beginning with movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, the early advances of #MeToo began sending tremors throughout the entertainment world (Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, even Garrison Keillor). The dominoes continue to fall there and now in Congress (Roy Moore, Al Franken). Call it an uprising, a revolution, or a social justice movement, but it’s about time. That feels strange coming from a white male who has been a part of the larger systemic problem. When in seminary, I was quietly eating lunch by myself in the cafeteria. A group of women were writing a letter to editor of the seminary newspaper expressing their anger with sexist treatment from the faculty. Looking for signatures, they surrounded me. Admittedly, I was a little intimidated, but I signed it because it was the right thing to do. Later, when it came out in the school newspaper, mine was the only male signature among seventy-five. My friends were giving me a bad time. I responded, “Just like Moses said to Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”

What does this mean? The God revealed in Jesus Christ, is for our freedom. Not only for Christians to be forgiven and freed from sin, but for slaves to be liberated, creation to be unshackled from exploitation, racism to be shattered, and for women to realize full gender equality. This movement has been hampered by the fact, the bible is, in many ways, a patriarchal book. Yet, in Christ’ ministry, women were at the core of the action, serving as key leaders. And when Easter arrived, it was the women who were chosen to be witnesses to the resurrection. This is scandalous, because women weren’t authorized to serve as witnesses in Roman courts. Why? Because they were women. But, Mary, Mary Magdalene, and other females were chosen by God to testify to the most important event in history. There is something enormously liberating when a courageous woman testifies to her experience of sexual harassment or assault as truth. It breaks the conspiracy of silence, validates her pain and person, and empowers others to step out of the shadows. A woman shared with me her former husband had physically abused her, putting her in the hospital, due to her trying to warn him about his drug and alcohol addiction. She wept, but I think they were tears of freedom, she was out of that prison of a relationship.

What is It’s early, but I have been taken aback by how powerful and precipitous this movement has advanced. Once an allegation or two is out there, it is Ba-bam, the perpetrator is gone. My hope is this will not lead to miscarriages of justice, but is says something for how short the fuse is for this behavior now, and that’s a good thing. My sense is this not a short-term effort but a seismic crusade that is already changing the way things are. I saw a story of a New Jersey county commissioner who was mocking the women’s march in 2016, he was quoted as saying, “Will the women’s protest be over in time for the women to fix dinner”. A 32 year-old woman, Ashley Bennet, an ER psychiatric screener, was offended by his comments so she decided to run against him in the next election. This November, she beat Carman by ten percent of the vote. Hallelujah! Power is good or bad, depending if it utilized for self-aggrandizement or helping others thrive. Like the Good Samaritan, we have a God-given responsibility to welcome the stranger, help and heal the underdog, and speak out against injustice. Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, told the NY Times, “People need to be afraid not just of doing these things, but also of not doing anything when someone around them does it. If you know something is happening and you fail to take action, whether you are male or female, especially you are in power, you are responsible, too.” That is another way of keeping Jesus’ command to “Love your Neighbor”!


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The Voice that Matters

What is this? I have been fortunate to travel overseas. In many foreign lands, native vendors have used all kinds of approaches to try to sell me their goods. In Mexico, the children were dispatched with their gum, crowding my car. In Kathmandu, the peddlers would follow silently for great distances, hoping I would buy their trinkets. In China, a merchant gave me a cigarette, that I felt obligated to smoke or be considered rude. But, all these would-be sellers are mere pretenders compared to the expert Egyptian vendors we encountered this month. They came in multitudes, at some sites they outnumbered the pilgrims. I was taken by the diverse voices and divergent tactics they utilized. At the pyramids, one guy was captivating with his American jargon, “Come, friend, I have the whole enchilada, the whole smear”. Some were just outright aggressive, grabbing an unsuspecting tourist’s cell phone, quick take a picture, “Look you are holding the Sphinx” and demand money, “That is $3”. These vendors and their voices were such a distraction, they caused us to lose focus on the leader, to stop listening to her directions.

What does this mean? Others were beyond intimidating. A woman in our group took a picture of a guy’s camel. He and two of his friends, chased her down, making her panicky. When I intervened, they were physical, saying, “She owes us $5”. The guy I remember most clearly was Sufin of Saquarra at the Step Pyramid. Right before we got off the bus, there was this sense of dread that you are going into battle, a mind-control contest, don’t look the vendors in the eye. For some of our pilgrims, it was more a matter of flight instead of fight. Sufin of Saquarra was a friendly guy, who showed me photos of his family, relentlessly yet almost reverently pressed me to buy his book. He followed me around, I did have my photo taken with him and paid him. Not sure who won the mind-bender match. This long story of vendors is my way of leading us to consider all the competing cultural and personal voices we are subjected to on a daily basis. As God’s people, we are supposed to listen for a specific speaker. Jesus declares in his speech about being the Good Shepherd, “the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all his own he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him, because THEY KNOW HIS VOICE.” Hearing HIS VOICE is the key.

What is the takeaway? From the moment we wake up in the morning, like the tourists getting off the bus, we may dread going into battle with the world, entering into a mind-control contest of our own. Martin Luther suggested the right way to begin each day is to start at the sink, splash water on your face, and remember your baptism and whose voice you need to hear above all others. Good advice, for we are inundated with vendors selling us health, beauty, prosperity, or the promise of security. Some of the voices are tempting, they come across as genuinely interested in your welfare and with it. We have the whole enchilada, here. Some are just aggressive, the voices of shame, guilt, and you simply aren’t good enough. You can feel pursued and threatened like my friend who ran out of fear. Maybe the most malicious voices can be like Sufin of Saquarra, personal, pesky, yet potentially poisonous. They draw us into destructive decisions, unhealthy habits, and away from the Good Shepherd’s voice. This is a primary challenge for living a life of faith that is grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ. So God commands us to remember the Sabbath Day, to listen for the one voice, hear his Word, pray in his name, and to ground ourselves in the one story that matters. That is the only way we WILL HEAR HIS VOICE.

 

 

 

 


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For All the Saints

What is this? All Saints Day is upon us. It is feast day in the church year where we remember all the saints who’ve gone before us, as well, as the saints currently residing in our churches, schools, workplaces, neighborhood, families, and in our lives. Not only are saints simply forgiven sinners, they are not as pious and spiritual as you think. We are a pretty motley crew. Some are quirky, some are worriers, some are downright annoying. Nevertheless, in Deuteronomy God call his people his peculiar treasures. The truth is, they’re ordinary, everyday people who’ve been touched by God’s grace. That is what makes them the walking, talking, mobile yet holy sacraments God intended. When people wonder if the God up there is there for me?, God sends in saints/sinners like us to show them in an earthy way that the God up there IS THERE FOR YOU. This is the God we know through Christ Jesus, who gathers his own motley crew of disciples. There is Peter the impetuous, Martha the industrious, and Zaccheus the petite. In the OT, there is Esther the teen queen, Isaac son of laughter, Jonah the runaway prophet, Rahab the prostitute.

What does this mean? This is God’s no-cut program where all the sinners get to trade in the old sinful life for new life in Christ. Luther called this the Happy Exchange, good deal for us, for sure. The thing is despite all the lavish mercy, holy peace, sacred joy, and resurrection power stowed in each of the baptized, you wouldn’t know to look or listen to us. So you have keep your eyes open, because God’s work in, among, and through the saints is kind of sneaky. So on this All Saints Day, I’ve been considering some stealth saints I’ve come across. Growing up in my Baptist Church, there was Pastor Holmgren with the iron handshake and humble spirit, who claimed at 85 he was beginning to get the gospel. At Christikon Camp, there was the dweebish, bookwormish, and stubborn pastor and camp director who God utilized to make me a born-again Lutheran and future pastor.  On my internship in Singapore, there was Pastor Lim’s mother, who took it upon herself to try to crank my sprained ankle under the guise of Chinese medicine. With a towel in my mouth, Mother Lim sadistically wrenched my ankle while Pastor Lim and his daughter laughed with delight. All these unorthodox characters are numbers among God saints.

What is the takeaway? At my first call in Silverton, Oregon there was 93 year-old Helen Poverud. As I struggled with being a pastor, especially in the fishbowl of this small town, Helen was my sounding board, confidant, and urged me to get marry, lest I end up like her two bachelor brothers she had to nurture. There was also Ken, a gay man who died of Aids in his 40’s. He loved to mortify when we’d go the movies, pretending we were on a date. He also showed me what it means to live with grace in the valley of the shadow of death. At the church I served in Poulsbo, I witnessed two saints, Rebecca and Beachie, will our friend who was in the depths of despair, back from emotional hell, itself. Who says grace can’t be robust, resilient, and intimidating?! I’m telling you brother, this was  resurrection, I mean Lazarus-like out of the tomb! There was a dying saint, waiting for heaven, Barbara who said, “Pastor, I’ve been waiting for this all my life”. Most recently, there has been this sweet yet abrasive homebound woman, Marguerite, who tells me the story almost every time I visit of how her son died from addiction. In her despair, she prayed and prayed to God. She is convinced that Jesus showed up in her apartment to console her, “You have done all you can do. I have your son now”. And she is genuinely at peace. She’s been a timely witness to me as the parent of an autistic son, Jesus has all his children. And one day, we will all be gathered around throne of the Lamb. The stories we will tell!

 

 


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Apocalypse Almost?!

What is this? Mark 13 is often called the “little apocalypse” as it provides Jesus’ own  abridged version of the cosmic events brought to us in the mysterious, mind-bending book of Revelation. Apocalypse means disclosure or unveiling, its when the cosmic curtain is pulled back and we get a sneak peek from heaven’s perspective. The view from Mark is violent and unsettling, “Many will come in my name, claiming ‘I am he’. You will hear of war and rumors of war. Nation will rise against nation. There will be earthquakes in various places and famines. These are the beginning of birth pangs.” Mark writes during the reign of Rome’s most perverse rulers, Emperor Caligula. The temple in Jerusalem was razed, Christians were persecuted, and families were torn asunder by conflicting loyalties. The world was coming undone. Everything was falling apart. To experience such violence, mayhem, and uncertainty was to suffer apocalypse to the bone and to the bedrock of your being. Leaving you in a perpetual state of shock.

What does this mean? Earthquakes in Mexico, mass shooting in Las Vegas, Hurricane Harvey in Houston, White Supremicists in Charlottesville, Hurricane Irma in Florida, no power in Puerto Rico, potential nuclear conflict on the Korean Peninsula, all coming to us up close, personal, and continuously in HD on our big screens. Apocalypse Almost?! How shall we respond? Does Scripture offer us any insights? What would Jesus say? The first thing I think Jesus would say is turn off the television. To constantly take in such doom is to be filled with dread, leaving us immersed in our own powerless. One of the curses of technology is that all the wars, natural disasters, and human evil are funneled right into your brain. So step away for a while. The second thing Jesus would say to us is to continue to do what you are able to make a difference for the gospel. So many things you cannot control, but some things, good things, you can indeed, do. Work at the food bank, join a mission project, pray for the world with renewed determination, and, most importantly, come to worship weekly to hear the BIGGER STORY of the gospel. We need to hear, sing, pray, and receive the good news of Jesus Christ to remember whose we are. Here, HE restores my soul, HE refreshes my life, and I am anchored with HIS promises.

What is the takeaway? Maybe it feels like apocalypse on a global scale, but let us not forget we have all been through our own apocalyptic experiences and/or accompanied  those we love; the shattering loss of someone dear to us, the volatility of unemployment, the violence of divorce, the seismic shock of a cancer diagnosis, the fear of a family member being seized by addiction, storms of church conflict, or the naked vulnerability of mental illness. I’ve had my own Armageddons; family alcoholism, congregational infighting, my own depression, and my son’s autism. At such times, I find it a matter of spiritual life or death, to remember GOD IS FAITHFUL AND STEADFAST. I know this for a couple of reasons. Number one, this is my experience in my relationship with Jesus. When I am in the middle of the storm, I may doubt, waver, and be in want, but God gets me through. Only when I look back, do I realize that God’s grace was sufficient as promised. That leads to number two, God’s promises are shared, specified, and certified in Scripture. My grace is sufficient for you. I will never leave or forsake you. Nothing can separate you from my love. You have eternal life. HE who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus. Apocalypse Whenever, I belong to Jesus.


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Charlottesville, Detroit, and Golgotha

What is this? Hard to miss the anger, hatred, and violence at the White Supremicist protest in Charlottesville last month. Whether you call it Neo-Nazi, the Ku Klux Klan, or the Alt-Right movement, it is sheer evil that claims Jews, African-Americans, and other ethnic and religious groups do not qualify as real Americans or even real people. If you are like me, you are still stunned, saddened, and sickened that this public rally happened in America in 2017. Recently, a controversial, graphic, and disturbing movie, “Detroit”, directed by Kathryn Bigelow (“Hurt Locker”, “Zero Dark Thirty”) was released. The story, based on true events, is set during the Detroit race riots in 1967. The black working class neighborhoods have become a powderkeg. Amidst the looting, fires, and sirens, the National Guard has been called in. The action zeroes in on the Algiers Hotel, where twelve African-American men and two Caucasian women seek refuge from the chaos in the streets. As the result of the a police raid on the hotel, three black men are murdered and everyone else is brutalized as racist officers aggressively take control in the name of bringing peace to the emergency. It is so difficult to take in such racism, inhumanity, and evil. You are torn between being drawn deeper into the story and having to looking away from the calculated, cold-blooded violence.

What does this mean? It seems every white character is wearing a uniform of some kind. While not all are as clearly prejudiced as the purveyors of violence and murder, they do not stand up to the officers in charge. Makes you wonder if their passivity is as big a sin as the pain inflicted on innocent victims. Critics give “Detroit” mixed review. The action is riveting, the characters are convincing, and it is a story worth telling. But, some say it is hollow, lacking coherence, and over-the-top with violence and victimhood. I am glad I saw the movie, as disturbing as it was. Evil and racism are hollow, hateful, and evil is by nature chaotic, incoherent, and bend on destruction. Check out the Book of Revelation if you’re not sure about that. I don’t know how you tell as story with that magnitude of evil and expect logic, clarity, and some resolution. Don’t expect in this blog either. Maybe we have to witness the evil of Charlottesville, hear the story of the Algiers Hotel, seriously listen to the marginalized, the victims of prejudice, to comprehend the depth of the evil in our midst. With some trepidation, I recommend “Detroit”. In the same way, I’d encourage you to read “Stand Your Ground” by Reverend Kelly Brown Douglas. Douglas is a black, female pastor who traces the American history of white exceptionalism that fuels racism.

What is the takeaway? As “Detroit” is difficult to watch so “Stand Your Ground” is difficult to read. Douglas speaks as an African-American mother who has struggled with the number of young black men that have been shot Trayvon Martin int eh name of our “Stand Your Ground” culture. My sense is her voice is prophetic, calling the white church to repent of our participation or at least our passivity in the systemic evil of racism. I will say, I certainly was convicted. Of what? Of not being more aware, more discerning, and more outspoken about the racial evil that still haunts our nation. Some have said that slavery is our America’s original sin, or perhaps, brutally taking the land from the Native Americans. Granted, this is our American History (as in the past), but what do we do about it now? Like you, I wrestle with what God would have us do. I was fascinated by the response of the Free Speech (looked like an Alt-Right) rally in Boston, where it seemed like the overwhelming numbers of counter-protesters were mostly silently yet surrounded, and by and large, silenced the voices of hate. This seems in line with Jesus’ silence int he face of evil, persecution, and death, especially in Mark’s Gospel. Martin Luther King claimed non-violence is a forceful response to such evil. Douglas catches me off-guard when she compares the cross with the lynching tree, “Lynching is about power standing its ground against anyone it deems a threat. It is a deadly reminder to a suspect community of its proper place in society.” (Interestingly, “Christianity Today” September issue, has the lynching tree on its cover.) The very same thing could be said of the Roman cross that Jesus was hung on at Golgotha. The good news is God takes the crucifixion tree and makes that into the tree of life. So may God continue to inform, indict, and inspire us to embrace his transformative life, death, and resurrection in Christ! Gustavus Gutierrez claims that salvation is the cure of sin in this life.