The root of evil

What is the root of all evil? Money? Technology? Envy? Greed?

I have come to a very different answer these days. I am sitting here writing this with my eight year old screaming at me because I took away his internet. Well, he voluntarily gave it up by choosing to stay home from school by my perspective. He has been screaming for hours. “There’s nothing else to do”,”I’m so stupid”,”I hate my life”,”you’re the worse dad in the world.” Addiction is a terrible thing. I really need to cut back the usage and I will. I will be the best “worse” dad I can be because I love him too much for him to be this miserable about YouTube. But what is the root problem here?

About two and a half months ago, I decided to ditch almost all of my smart phone apps. I ditched social media, news, and games. Funny thing, I don’t feel any less informed or disconnected. Matter of fact, I actually feel more calm and able to deal with my screaming child. I also noticed that I had more time for things I liked and my job got done better. But I also found i had to be more connected to my self and initiate world. That was hard. After several depression and anxiety attacks so what I really found was that my phone habits were distracting me from me. I really think that is the root of my sins addiction to his YouTube. He hasn’t learned to be with himself yet.

Evil for me is the misuse of power. I think much of the time we give away our power to be misused. We give power to a piece of paper over us to fulfill happiness(money) and we give technology power over us to force us to be distracted. Nothing is innately evil but we create it by giving these things unreasonable power in our lives. If we can’t be happy with out a phone in our hand how can we be happy at all. The power of happiness is given to an inanimate device that could break, the battery could die, it could get lost, etc… Do we really want that much power to be given away to something that really could care less about us because it can’t care about us.

I have discovered and want to teach my children that their happiness should rest in them, not other things. And one we find who we truly are we find the Spirit living inside us that does care and can have a true two sides relationship with us without stealing our power to be happy. It only enhances that happiness.

How many people use their phones and technology to enhance their happiness? You will definitely know when the proverbial lights go out.

Easter, Mental Health, and What to Say to be Authentic

Easter snuck up on me this year.  The circumstances of life just took most of my attention. And to top it off I had a very bad Palm Sunday.  The cantata that the church did was excellent; my family was doing OK.  I want to say the old adage “it’s not you, it’s me” but that is too simplistic.  I was just not mentally ready for Sunday.  In the realm of self-compassion, I need to be ok with that.  We all have off days.  But now I am here preparing for a very busy week and a service on Sunday where, in my head, much expectation exists.  The hot button day where I pressure myself to say the right thing.

But what is the right thing?  I lost two parishioners yesterday, that did not leave because of the church community or me.  They left because they needed healing in a safe place away from other factors in their life.  I have a parishioner who is struggling with family issues around mental health.  Many people at my church are suffering from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues that I feel powerless to help.  I don’t know what to do for them other than presence ministry.  I also have my own things going on with an 8-year-old son having panic attacks so severe that it looks like a heart attack.  His constant attachment to me has also stretched my own patience and mental health.  I give and give at home and then I try my best to be compassionate, flexible, and understanding at church.  Yesterday, however, I needed to take.  I know that was hard for some to understand. But, I am human too and can only give what I have and I didn’t have it to give yesterday.  I also cannot tell myself that others have it so much worse than I do, even though some believe that, because I can’t truly share what’s in my head and what I am going through.  In hindsight, I should have called out sick, but that’s not the answer either.

Anyway.  Yesterday is done.  Easter is coming.

What am I going to say?  Someone said, “Just get up there and say ‘he is risen.’ That’s all that needs to be said.”  I’m not really convinced of that.  How am I supposed to say “he is risen” when many people barely pulled themselves out of the bed and their issues to be there (including me sometimes).  It seems a little simplistic and not authentic.  In the light of what is going on, what is the resurrection mean to me now?

Hope.

The resurrection has to represent liberation and hope.  Jesus’ ministry gave voice to the voiceless.  It lifted up the hurting and sick.  How do I follow that?  I don’t. I immolate that.  I do what Jesus did.  I humanize people by my contact and interactions.  I pray from a distance because some are not open or ready.  I show love to the unloved.  I forgive and move on.

I really think the true message of the empty tomb is that we need to act like a risen people.  This does not mean we don’t have bad days.  But, we have each other and the Spirit inside of us that wants to get out of its tomb and work in our lives. The Spirit strains to move our hands and speak through our mouths.  In the midst of the fog it wants to be a hand reaching though the darkness.  Not a spiritual hand but a physical hand from one who hears its call.  And it wants to reach out to everyone, even us who serve as pastors.  I have had many opportunities to take this year.  I feel guilty that I am taking too much.  But, there is no such thing as one’s “fair share.”  It is all relationship; give and take.  I need to realize that I can’t only be a giver.  Then, in the give and take, the tomb inside will empty and the risen Lord will appear.

Wesley said it best: Having, First, gained all you can, and, secondly saved all you can, then give all you can. 

There is no giving what I haven’t received.  So I guess my sermon this weekend will be “simple.”  Jesus loves you.  How do you receive that love and how do you give it to others?  When that process is not active, is Jesus really risen?

Praxis or Why Life Exists Between My Head and My Depression

I cannot count the random experiences I have had in my life.  And it baffles my mind how many times the “randomness” becomes a connected network of circumstances that very deliberately moves me from one place to the next.  A few weeks ago I decided it was time to get the Headspace app for my phone.  For those unfamiliar, Headspace is an app that teaches and leads someone in meditation.  I remember exactly why I got this app as well: Facebook.  Facebook and I have had a very like/hate relationship for a long time.  I noticed I was less happy every time I looked at Facebook.  Sure, the Cullenisms[1] coming up in the past posts were entertaining but the majority of the rest was just depressing or frustrating.  Having a Facebook app on my phone was even more of a problem because, for some reason, depressing and frustrating are apparently addicting feelings that need to be fed with every notification.  So, I finally ditched Facebook and decided to meditate more instead.

Facebook and Headspace were just the first in this series of random events.  The next few weeks were met with my wife being gone for thirty days, a class that focused on liberation theology, and someone giving me The Power Deck: The Cards of Wisdom[2].  A lesson I learned a long time ago is: if you want to take the random out of randomness, go backwards.  So let’s start with the cards.

The Power Deck

                I am by no means a superstitious person.  Seriously.  I will knock on wood sometimes to avoid the conversation that inevitably starts with “you better knock on wood or your gonna jinx yourself.”  I find it better to “pastorally” knock than to explain.  But, I do believe in cycles and archetypes.  You see, I do a lot of reading.  I really can’t stress that enough.  I do A LOT of reading.  I am constantly on the search for an idea or argument I haven’t heard.  I guess you could say that is my main hobby. Anyway.  I got these cards from someone.  They are your normal archetype cards that presents the subconscious with the opportunity to judge the conscience by utilizing a random unattainable human trait (the archetype) and make you feel bad for not obtaining this trait, yet.  I should stress YET, because the cards would not sell if it were not for the possibility of attainment or bettering oneself.  Anyway.  I got these cards from someone and decided to open them and pick a random card.  The random card I choose was number 5 (for those who have the set for some reason) and it basically said that someone could not learn by words alone, they had to experience to have true learning.  Well, there’s a slap in the face for a book lover and eternal scholar.  Defenses up, ready for battle.

“I do experience things!” was my first reaction.  I have experienced many, many variety of things in my life.  So I quickly put the deck away in a safe place[3] and went off to read a book.  But then that gnawing feeling started in my gut.  Stupid deck.  Stupid feeling.  My mind began to wonder, “am I just an observer?”  And this was not the first time that month I sat asking myself this question.

The Class

                I am becoming convinced that a good majority of contemporary theology is a guilt trip.  That may be surprising coming from a pastor, but I think it is true.  I truly understand that we need to know where we have gone wrong to repent and do better.  I also understand that many people are not ready to hear that they need to change their ideas and assumptions.  But, what about us who are convinced?  Where is the positive movement?  Is our job just to try to convince others that everyone needs a voice in the conversation and that power structures are always inherently corrupt and need constant oversight and tweaking?  Can we do that and move in a positive direction at the same time?  I am actually convinced that no one has a voice in what we call traditional theological positioning.  No one.  Well, someone.  The people who use it to maintain power.  One thing I learned from the class is that only a few people try to control the story, our story, for the rest of us.

I loved and hated this class.  It was supposed to be on contemporary theology.  I say supposed to be because it only dealt with liberation theology.  Liberation theology is envisioning theology in context.  It is a lived theology beyond books in many ways.  It’s not the only theology out there that is contemporary and new but it is certainly the most relevant and interesting.  It is about achieving a more enlightened and socially equitable praxis. So here comes that theme again: get out of your books and start praxis and not practice.  There is a difference.  Practice is what we do, thinking or not thinking.  It’s eating a bowl of cereal, while reading the news on my phone, while thinking about how to get the kids out the door faster so I can go write this.  It has little to do with my passions and an expression of who I want to be.  Sure it makes me responsible, but really it’s not going to change the world, nor would I miss it if I had the chance to sleep in. Praxis is what we do that bridges our knowledge, our heart, and passions.  Praxis is living who we are in a purposeful way.  It makes us more real, so to speak.  I love this.  But do I do this?  Or, do I just observe others doing praxis? These are the nagging questions.  So, I started reading more books.  That, for some reason, just made me feel more guilt.  The very cycle of shame and guilt that I was just complaining that we need to get out of and move on was taking back over.  So I loved that the class made me think.  But, it only gave me more information and no way to act on it.  I cannot speak authentically for all the groups in the world, especially those we learned about (Latinos, Native Americans, Women, African-Americans, etc…).  That’s what I hated about this class.  Oh, and also that it was just another class with an unfair power structure that gives a meaningless grade based on the learning process and not what we could express at the end.  Anyway.  What was going to get me to praxis and out of my head and books?

Thirty Days Alone, Sort Of

                I say I went backwards, but everything really happened in the context of a month.  THE month.  The month my wife went to California and I stayed home with my two lovable, cute, sweet, obnoxious, controlling, loving, pain in the butt, joys of my life kids.  I think if parents are honest with themselves they would have to agree that our relationships with our kids are bipolar.  Anyway.  I had a purpose for this month.  I was to reestablish a much broken system of routines, responsibilities, and healthy structures.  A daunting task to say the least.  In order to do this, I had to do a few simple things: lead by example, press through resistance, use my power justly, be authentic, be consistent, and communicate clearly.  Hmm, did I say simple?  I think I may have also said few.  So, I instituted dinner at the table, family art night, family game night, a new morning routine and new ways to help my children reflect on why they are not burdens to each other.

One of the things I did to get through all of this was to start a meditation process.  So I got Headspace for my phone.  Checking in with myself and how I was feeling while practicing presence was very helpful.  I found out I really hated social media, my introverted time was more important for my energy than the $12 an hour I got for subbing, some things are out of my control[4], and some things are in my control.  These realizations began some transitions in my life.

As I was being taught about praxis and liberation in class, I was beginning to see the possibility of my own voice and liberation.  The significant thing I needed to be liberated from was who I was not.  I am not my depression, I am not my anxiety, I am not my job, I am not my bank account, I am certainly not my social media presence, and most importantly, I am not an uberman (throw out to Nietzsche, mostly translated superman). An uberman is the perfect human who has everything in control and creates their own world in absolute freedom.  Yeah, I understand most people will first think I meant I wasn’t a taxi service.  It is important to note that I never thought I was perfect, or right all the time, or fully in control, I just thought I had to be.  The problem was that my reading was filling me up with ideas and information.  When I wasn’t reading I lived somewhere between paralyzed from my mental state and manically trying to control.  Part of the liberation process was to find my voice.  And that required a huge sacrifice: doing things with no purpose other than loving myself.

I had to do some internal work but mostly an inventory.  What do I do all week?  So I made a conscious decision to be an observer, an observer of myself.  At night I would review what I did and ask myself a simple question: what is the value of what I did?  Hmm, value isn’t just about money.  Value is a tricky thing.  It truly is in the eye of the beholder.  Did I do things that were perceived by me to have value for myself or other people? And in that interplay have I given myself enough value?  In other words, did I save enough grace for myself at the end of the day?

So let’s catch up. At this point I was restructuring the house, doing my normal church business, starting a meditation process, and observing myself.  I was doing a lot.  But something was happening.  Headspace was an active decision but the cards, the class, and the thirty days coinciding was purely coincidental.  But they all seemed to have a part in a greater happening.

I Moved

                No, I didn’t move out and leave my kids behind.  Nor did I move out of my home or position.  My stuff didn’t move, I did.  In the watching of myself I notice I was being more patient, my sermons were better (at least for me), I was less stressed, the house wasn’t perfect but it was moving forward, and probably the most important, I began to actually like being with myself for the first time in my life.  I was losing the critic in my head that dominated my alone time.  This was a very huge movement in my life.  And it began to change things.  My reading is becoming more of a hobby as opposed to a search for meaning.  My depression is getting better (my Psychiatrist actually halved my meds).  I feel better physically.  I am taking better care of myself.  And I am giving myself liberty to explore.  Instead of being an observer in other people’s praxis, I found my own praxis in observing myself.

Yesterday

I sat down yesterday to write this.  Why? For all the world to be changed and come to a great awakening!!!   No, not really?  For an audience? No.  To get positive feedback on my awesomely written essay? Ha.  No.  I sat down yesterday because for the first time in years I felt human.  I wrote this to memorialize and remember.  I wrote this to memorialize that feeling, the same one I feel today as I finish this.  I wrote this to remind myself to be an observer.  An observer of myself.  I share this for a different reason.  I share this to rid myself of a self-imposed laryngitis.  I stifled my creativity and voice because of all those who never wanted to hear it.  So I felt that it wasn’t important enough to really share.  So I share this to regain my self-esteem, my voice.  I share it in spite of all those who convinced me to be silent and do not want to hear me, because it’s not for them.  It’s for me.  It is a part of the new process.  It is about living outside my brain confidently and not slipping into the depression and anxiety that wants to grab it away.  So for the first time, as I post this, I say, “go in peace.”  Oh, not to you.  I say it to you every Sunday.  No for the first time to me.

GO IN PEACE

 

[1] Cullenisms: the musings of my now 8-year-old son.  Cullen teaches me that people who brag about smart children must have squashed independent thinking or have a nanny.

[2] A random set of oracle cards meant to “reveal positive and negative aspects of your personality”.  I’m not sure my Master’s college courses taught me how to footnote a footnote; so, I am just going to tell you it’s from the back of the box set by Lynn V. Andrews.

[3] Not that there is one in my house between cats and kids but I try.

[4] Like: diet when other people are feeding you, how kids are going to react to changes, my bodies insistence on taking a nap after 4 hours of sleep, other people not following the plan set and agreed upon (especially with my kids at school), what my wife’s classroom was going to look like when she returned, her feelings about that, wow this list is getting long…

A New Start

Today, I am rebooting my blog space.  I have gone through and deleted and archived most of my past blogs.  This feels good.  Recent changes in my family and life have given me a new energy to move forward with a new story.  I am excited and ready to go.  I look forward to utilizing this page in a new and productive way.  I will be posting my reflections on:

Bible verses

Theology

Philosophy

and life in general

I have also realigned the pages and will start uploading your favorite classic Cullenisms and new ones along the way.  Another page I added will include updates about events and news from the center of my life and ministry in Buckeystown, MD.  Lastly, I have an anonymous link that will allow people to ask me questions about faith, church, theology, and philosophy.  I will answer with my researched and honest answers.  I will not, however, be enabling attacks or negativity.  I am willing to debate but only in an academic and controlled (non-emotional) environment.

I have some new projects also coming, so stay tuned.

 

Why Roses Are Beautiful

Why Roses Are Beautiful

By: Charles Rice

 

For Michael Ryan (Died age 31, October 26, 2018)

 

I love dead roses.  Those that know me may find that statement new but not surprising.  I am probably one of the few people I know that think roses smell like poo.  I also never truly appreciated the way they look either.  But there is a huge industry dedicated to supplying us roses year round.  As I root for the aphids, people put much time and energy in this sometimes fickle and sometimes invasive flower.  After much thought and consideration over this (because that’s what I do: overthink and consider) I have come to the partial conclusion that one aspect of the rose that makes it beautiful to people is that it is fleeting.

If you have not taken time to notice, roses are not in everyone’s back and front yards anymore. Very few people I have run into have the time or energy to put into a rose garden.  As fewer people are growing roses, the price increases, there are less road side vendors, and they get relegated to special occasions and big apologies.  It seems that the rarer and more special something becomes the more beautiful people find it.  I was at someone’s house once and they showed me a rusty bolt off a 1930’s passenger car of a train.  His comment was, “isn’t it a beaut.”  My first thought was, “no, it’s just and ugly piece of rusted metal.” But I understood that its beauty for this gentleman was in its rarity.  This particular piece of rusted metal is hard to find.  “Nice” looking roses are getting harder to come by.  Does this increase our appreciation for them?  I think it does.

Memories also have a hand in what we see as beautiful.  Have you ever had a false memory of some food that you thought was delicious when you were a child?  I did.  I used to love root beer hard candies.  They brought back memories of relatives and holidays.  I happened upon some at a candy store as an adult.  I was very eager to buy one and relive the memories.  I picked up a few, paid and went to the car to relish.  Opening the first one and putting it in my mouth crushed my childhood memories with the most disgusting sweet and ironically bitter taste of fake birch root and corn syrup.  My memory had obviously deleted the part where I would spit the thing out after a few sucks.  But the memories it brought back were good in themselves and I laughed at my apparent folly.  Infrequent things can connect us to memories because they are not clouded by every day.  They become symbolic of fixed moments in time and mark them for us as a bookmark in a good book.

Roses also help themselves because they do not stay “fresh” very long.  I bought a rose to use at a funeral service.  I picked the freshest one I could find.  The day was not hot and I only needed to get to the funeral home that was 15 minutes away.  By the time I got there the darn thing was wilting.  But because they do not last as long as some other flowers they mark time even more specifically for us in our memory.

But there are many things that mark time for us.  There are also many things that are fleeting in our world.  So why are more things not labeled “beautiful.”  I can think of a few: the magnificently made wasp nest that appears above my front door to tell me it’s July, the dandelions that convince me to mow the grass, the cracking sound in the radiators announcing chilly weather, the collection of dormant stink bugs on the curtain that remind me I haven’t vacuumed, or the curb that reminds me I’m late as I drive over it at the end of the driveway.  All these things remind me of stuff I’ve done and haven’t done.  Why are they not beautiful?

The answer for me is the above list doesn’t fix time.  They do not make time stand still.  They do not give me a packaged memory but a litany of life.  They fool me into thinking life is not fleeting but comes and goes constantly.  They are always with me and easily ignored.  But they are the true tellers of our story.  The special moments are special because they are few.  But what if we stopped?

What would happen if we tried to live as if everything was fleeting?  What would we do if someone could get rid of all the dandelions in our yards?  Would they still be classified as weeds?  What would we do if someone could create millions of roses so that everyone could have roses every day that would last in a vase three months?  Would they become the weeds?

Roses are beautiful to me.  Not because of their smell or because of their aesthetic.  They are beautiful because they “are.”  They exist.  Our lives have become so hectic that we sometimes don’t even feel our existence.  Everything is fleeting that exists in our material world.  Everything is rare because we only have a limited time to experience it.  So everything must contain beauty.  If we can take the time to find the beauty in a dandelion not only would our lives be more beautiful and fulfilling, our lives would be more intensely affected by things that pass quickly.  If we take the time to search out the beauty in everything around us we would have less missed opportunities and less regrets when something leaves.  If we only find the beauty in roses, then we will more deeply grieve the dandelion when it’s gone.  Money, power, material possessions are so overrated.  But they have become the norm.  Experience, kindness, love, compassion are the roses we yearn for to help fulfill our emptiness.  Have we relegated them to special occasions?  (If you question my thoughts just go out and drive around for a half hour in traffic.)

The person who inspired my thoughts today died a few days ago of a heroin overdose.  He lived a life in pursuit of many things but pain and addiction overcame him.  Mike taught me that properly filling a bulk bin at a food store can be just as fulfilling as pondering the mysteries of the universe.  I think about him today and more deeply appreciate the fleeting everyday moments in my life.  This lesson was not taught to me in his death, but unbeknownst to him, in his life.  Potential not lived every moment is missed opportunity.  The amazing gift of creation around us is a missed opportunity some days.  The magnificent amount of diversity between us is a place of exploration not of division.

The rose is beautiful because beauty is everywhere.  Our appreciation of that beauty rests entirely on our dedication to see it.

 

Christmas Candle light sermon script

John 1

In the beginning was the word.  God spoke into existence the world we know.  Not the way we know it but the same world we live in.  In the beginning everything was perfect.  There was no war, there was no disease, and there was no pain or suffering.  There was just a beautiful garden where God walked amongst his creation.  But God made one part of his creation special.  He made human beings out of the dust of his creation and endowed them with his image.  And part of that plan was the freedom to love God back as much as God loved them.  But the problem with freedom is the allowance of the wrong choice.  So humankind chooses to serve both God and another and lost the pristine environment.  (CUT LIGHT 4)  The world was no longer perfect and we couldn’t take it back.  The world became darker.

Over time that same freedom led to choosing jealousy.  The chosen people wanted a king like the rest of the nations.  As nations broke from God and choose to rule themselves, the chosen people began to move farther away from God.  God in his sadness relented.  After all he had done to free the people.  But, as the world grew less perfect by the choices made out of freedom, the perfect God retreats into a box as his dwelling place among us and no longer walked among his people freely.  God gives them a king.  (CUT LIGHT 1)  The world now gets an intermediary and places itself farther from the garden.  The world becomes darker.

The age of kings was rocky, to say the least.  This age saw the presence of God on earth moved from the fields to a magnificent temple.  But it also, despite the warning from the prophets, ended in division of the chosen people.  The freedom God gave was used in war against each other and to serve even more foreign God’s.  This period ended in the destruction of the temple and exile.  Now even the imperfect land given them was taken away. (CUT LIGHT 3) And the world grew darker yet.

When exile was finally over the temple was rebuilt.  But the rebuild was a less magnificent temple.  There were no longer kings, Rome ruled the world.  The paganism of Rome threatened to overtake freedom of faith.  The law had become overwhelming and different factions interpreted it very differently.  It had been a while since people heard from God, so false prophets and cultish religious movements moved in to fill the void.  (CUT LIGHT 2)(CUT TREE LIGHTS)

The world was at its darkest hour.  But God was not left without a plan.  He had a way to restore his presence in the world and bring the light back.  He had a way to begin the reversal of deterioration of creation and begin creation a new.  His plan was not to destroy the old but to make it new again.  To bring it back to the glory of Eden, but even better.  He had to restore our freedom and give us an opportunity to participate in this salvation of the world.  So God moved.  He moved out of the temple where the law and the curtains blocked people’s access to him.  He moved in a way that all of creation could benefit.  He moved in a way that redeems not only the future but the past.  His plan all came together and began in a very unclean ritualistic way.  His plan wasn’t to usurp our freedom but to give it a new option and a new outlet.  His plan began as a gift.  The gift of a baby laid in a manger.  God moved his location.  He no longer wanted to be among us.  He wanted to be intimately part of us.  And on this evening we celebrate the gift of God becoming part of his own creation, of God becoming human.  And at the moment of his conception and then birth, light was brought back into the world.  (OPEN PRESENT)  Through the life of this baby, God is no longer housed in a temple of stone and gold but he is housed in a temple of flesh and blood.

So as we celebrate the new light that came into our world on Christmas night we are reminded that that light is inside each of us.  (RELITE ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS CANDLES) Our new freedom is the choice to block the light or let it shine forth from us.  From that moment on the light continues to grow until the final act of sanctification when the world becomes new and even Eden is no longer considered paradise because of the new Eden we will enjoy.

So as we celebrate this act, I symbolically pass on the light.  The light, that we pass on by our witness by letting it shine in our dark world.  The light that dwells inside us, the light of the presence of God that we help to grow by our saying yes to allowing God to dwell in the tabernacles that we have become.  May the light from these candles symbolically shine and light our church, as we light our world in faith, hope and love.

Merry Christmas. (PASS THE CANDLE)  (BEGIN SILENT NIGHT)

(TREE LIGHT ON)
(AT THE END OF SILENT NIGHT TURN ON 1 AND 3)

Why I Hate Santa

Why I Hate Santa, or Why I Really Hate Santa

I was five when I stopped believing in Santa Claus.  I remember sneaking down the stairs as my parents were setting up the gifts.  You might be thinking that this moment ended my childhood mysticism, or that it is sad that I only had five years of Christmas magic, or maybe it might bring you back to the short but great time you had in believing in Santa; but for me this experience was a great one.  I was so excited that I could not sleep the rest of the night.  Santa for me, though I see this in hindsight of course, was a representation of a more real relationship in my life.

One of my earliest memories is lying awake on Christmas night wondering when Santa would come.  I was petrified.  Santa was explained to me as a person who brought me gifts, but he was also explained to me as a person who judges my behavior and determines if I was worthy of the gifts.  My basic understanding of Santa was the same as most children.  But the placement of my focus relied on my experience.  Most children come to the understanding that they will just be good in December and they will get their presents.  But my focus was on a stranger who came to judge me by sneaking into my house and either leaving presents or coal.  My two or three year old mind was wrapped up in the fear of this person that I almost forgot about the monster in my closet that eats bad children or the hippy dragon that promised freedom and disappears or dies or something.

I was a very intense child but I came that way honestly.  As an adult I can see the mental illness strain in my family tree.  I can see where my OCD and depression came from and can work to free myself from it.  But as a child in a household of craziness, I was doomed.   I am not saying my family didn’t love me or that they did not do their best to take care of me.  I am saying that they, while doing those things, also passed along a culture of mistrust and fear of the other.  I remember hearing family members talk about how bad the blacks and Jews were.  I remember locking doors and keeping blinds closed so the outside world would not see what we were doing or think about robbing the little we had.  I also remember being told not to tell my one uncle where we lived because he might show up.  I don’t know what he was going to do but I know now that it was not a bad idea.  Racist language was a constant occurrence.  Fear of people outside of the house was a constant occurrence, even other family members.  My parents fought constantly.

I also remember being told several times that if I did not stop my behavior one of the following would happen:

  1. The police were going to take me away
  2. My dad would not pick up my mom
  3. My dad or mom would not come home
  4. I would be spanked with the metal, slotted spoon
  5. Santa would not bring me any presents

How is a toddler supposed to understand that his actions could cause all of these things?  How does a toddler then separate Santa from the fear of the other consequences?  I remember a world of judgment with little praise, if any.  I learned by suffering the consequences of what not to do.  So, when I see Santa I see the face of fear and judgment.  I hate Santa because I can’t hate my parents.

So as I stood there watching my parents put the gifts under the tree I remember being relieved.  It took me years to understand that moment.  That moment represented the fact that there was one less judge in the world to punish me.  That moment was a slight glimpse of hope that my life could get better and the judges really had no real power.  And 43 years later I write about this as I still work to complete the process that began that night.  Now that I am a father, I struggle with giving my kids Santa.  But I will restore the magic, not the judgment.

The Growing Church: Who and Where (also with Marty Coy)

Matthew 14: 13-21

The Growing Church: Who and Where?

Last summer I my kids and my brother-in-law went to a Keys Game.  Now I imagine that some of you have been to Harry Grove Stadium, which I refuse to call Nymeo not because I do not like sponsorship, I just don’t like the fact that they were so un-invested in a name that they just scrambled the word money.  As we were sitting there watching A-advanced baseball I had time to look around the crowd and be a people watcher.  Behind us were two people obviously on their first and last date.  By the end I think the conversation was going something like: Him- I like air, her- I like suffocating.  That is little exaggerated but pretty close to the sentiment of the conversation.  Then I watched a man sitting behind home plate heckling every player, even the home team.  I watched people who were trying to get into the better seats and being turned back and people turning other people in because: I paid to be in this section and they need to get out.  Some little kid was running up and down the stairs screaming because his parents didn’t get him ice cream in a hat bowl.  I promise that was not my kids because I have the hat bowls to prove it.  I saw people arguing, drinking too much, trying to smoke, throwing trash everywhere and various other interesting occurrences that made me wonder how that many people can come together at all.  I also saw good things.  I saw families having fun, I saw hilarious super fans having a great time, even though we were losing, and I saw the occasional person not rolling their eyes when the person in front of them ordered at least four things at the concession stand.  Of course the person who rolled their eyes ordered over that amount themselves.  People can be a joy to us, a frustration to us, an interruption in our day, mean, nice, charismatic or dull.  So who is God sending us for this growth?

In the scripture we have the feeding of the “about 5000 men besides woman and children.”  Now a great miracle happened that was very important: Jesus fed that many people with very little.  We need to remember that the United Methodist Women were not around yet to take care of the buffet.  But I want to look at another miracle first.  Five thousand “men besides woman and children” ate together in a field without a riot when they found out there wasn’t supposed to be a meal.  Over 5000 people, all inclusive, came together and everyone was fed.  There was a reason I picked Harry Grove Stadium as an example this morning.  Conveniently its seating capacity is 5400 people.  Harry Grove stadium probably could not have seated all of the people in that field that day but it was probably close.  So who were these people in this field?  When praying over this passage I imagined what it would be like if this event happened today in 2016.

Walking through the crowd, I first fun into the greeter.  The greeter that not only welcomes you but wants to be your best friend because he has been at all these Jesus events and he can tell you what you need to do and see and he knows all of the secret places of prayer and the best place to sit and how to get there and do you want to come back to his tent and have fellowship with him and what is your interpretation of once saved, always saved, and when did you get saved, and if not do you want to get saved right here and now.  By the time the greeter realized I walked away at “come back to his tent” the next person I see is the exact opposite.  This person you could walk right into and they would not recognize your existence because you are “so below them.”  They are “so more spiritual than anyone at this assembly.”  Then I run into the youth leader that can’t find a few of his youth because they are not really into this because their parents made them come and they are probably behind a tent somewhere gossiping, smoking, or God forbid listening to secular music. Then I find those kids because they are loud and obnoxious and run me over trying to avoid the youth leader.  THE next person I meet is the saddest person on earth.  God purposely made the sky a little less blue today because they sin in their hearts all the time and God is a punishing God.  Next before I can even think someone is shoving tracts in my face and indirectly tells me I am a bad person and should feel guilty because the child in the picture could die any day now without my $25 a month.  Even though you tell them you already give to another child they tell you “then you know the importance of giving to this one.”  Exhausted I sit down to hear the group in front of me fighting over which music is best and is Christian rap and rock really Christian or is it from the devil.  Behind all of this are families having fun and groups of people honestly taking the messages to heart.  But they don’t get in your face.  They don’t approach you.  They don’t witness their normal Christianity to you.  They just go about their business and wait for you to ask.  Then I look at my reflection in a free CD of a message from someone I never heard of and noticed myself.  I see a ragged, tired, frustrated person who just spent an entire hour judging people instead of engaging them.

This experience was my real experience from the Creation Christian Rock Festival back about 15 years ago.  These days my wife calls me the king of the island of misfit toys.  I tend to find the very people that used to drive me insane and challenge myself to look at them in a different way.  Instead of the overzealous greeter I try to see the person no one ever listens to their real story.  Instead of the stuck up, better than you person I try to see the hurt child inside that needs self esteem.  Instead of the bratty kids running me over, I try to see the confused kids that are going to be forced away from Jesus by the face of intolerance and unanswered inconvenient questions.  Instead of the arguing group, I try to see a group that is struggling to strive against temptations in their own lives to fall away.  Instead of the people who never approach I see a group of people afraid to challenge and break their complacency out of fear of the unknown.  I am not saying that everyone who acts this way has to have these issues but I am convinced we all have our issues.  So as I re-look in the CD case I see a person who has experienced all of these things in his life and is still working for his own sanctification.

For me this passage is more than the multiplication of loaves and fishes.  This passage is so much more than that to me.  It is about engaging the five thousand.  Jesus could have sent them home and went on his boat to another shore.  These people could have gone without food for a day.  These people could have made it home and gotten food.  And I am sure all of these personalities were in the crowd.  Five thousand different hurts, joys, annoyances, problems, conflicts, excitements were all together in one place.  Sure these people could have went away without the loaves and fishes but every one of them couldn’t have walked away without Jesus.  And Jesus feed each one.

Who is Jesus sending us?  The five thousand.  Where will they come from? Every time you see another human being they are the five thousand.  Your co-workers, people you see on the street, in a restaurant, in classes, etc…   wherever you go.  Where will they go?  Not to any particular church or group, not even necessarily here, but to Jesus.

I don’t do this perfectly, nor even very well sometimes but when we look at people from God’s perspective they are fed by Jesus through us.  And that is the growth the world needs.

 

I asked Marty Coy to give his answer to: Who are we as a Church?  His answer follows.

WHO ARE WE AS A CHURCH?

Martin C. Coy, B.S., M.A., N.C.C.-Retired

Retired UMC Certified Lay Speaker

Lay Testimony given at the 10:30 A.M. service

Buckeystown United Methodist Church

Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016

 

I remember, as a small child, being taught this finger play game:

  “Here is the Church,

  Here is the steeple,

  Open the doors

  And here are the people.”

My Aunt (who taught Sunday School at the Methodist church in which I was baptized in a small south central Ohio town) taught us this famous finger play game.

I had a lot of fun growing up as a Methodist.  I loved going to MYF (Methodist

Youth Fellowship).  I loved going to church with my family.  I loved being with many of my relatives, classmates and friends in church.

When I was an elementary school kid, my teacher, who wanted all of us classmates to get to know each other better, asked each of us to say a few words about his or her religion.  (You must remember, that was a time, long ago, when we could talk about such things in school.)  Part of her lesson plan had to do with introducing us to the concept that while all of us were different, we were all who we were…and that was okay.

Anyway, little Maria got up and said, “I’m Catholic, and these beads are called a

Rosary.  Each bead is a different prayer.”

Little Jacob stood up and said, “I’m Jewish, and this little hat is called a yarmulke.  Jewish men and boys wear it at all worship services.”

I stood, held up a dish, and said, “I’m a Methodist, and this is a casserole.”

So, for me, church has not only been a holy place where you worship and learn but it has also been a fun place where I could share stories and laughter.

In the hymn (Hymn 558 in the UM Hymnal), “We are the church”, we are reminded that the church is not a building; the church is not a steeple; the church is not a resting place; the church is a people.

And here at Buckeystown United Methodist Church, we as a people seek to

 

do our work with compassion, mercy and grace.

  • We are followers of Jesus Christ.
  • We are recipients of God’s amazing grace.
  • We are each on a journey of growth in our spiritual lives.
  • We use the Bible as our source book for life.
  • We are serious and passionate about prayer and sharing the joy of our music;
  • We are all about serving others and making a real difference in the world.

Following our BUMC’s mission statement, we are on a journey to become more Christ-

centered and to growing in discipleship to share the good news.

 

We come here to socialize as well as to provide acts of devotion and service.

Here we learn to know and love God more; and as we do, our thoughts and lives begin to more clearly reflect God’s character.

Here we live in  relationship with others—be they members or nonmembers–to break bread together, pray for each other, disciple, and strengthen one another.

We leave each church service feeling good about our relationship with God and with each other.

I’ve heard it said, and as a longtime member of this Church, have experienced it here firsthand, that the holiest moment of our church service is the moment when we

–strengthened by preaching, sacrament,

 

and close relationship with each other–go out of the church door into the world to BE the church.  We don’t just GO to church; we ARE the church.

So, as I see it, the church is not a place.  It’s not this building, it’s not the location, and it’s not the denomination.

We–God’s people–are the church!

And, that is who we are as a church!

AMEN

Thank you Marty!

Surprised by Healing

This is a reflection I gave to the healing prayer group at my previous church as a testimony.

Surprised by Healing

Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear.     -Isaiah 58:8

I wanted healing!  I wanted a miraculous giant hand of God to come down and touch my daughter and have our lives become perfectly … “normal.”  I struggled to pray as we spent hours in the emergency room hoping this would be the last visit.  As I sat there I begged and bargained.  “God if you can heal my daughter I will do this or I will do that or I will take it myself.”  I stood at the corner of hope and despair, waiting … waiting … waiting.

We had support. We had prayers and food and financial help.  And we were very grateful.  More grateful than any of those who gave us the support could know.  But we needed more.  More! More! More! Even now it sounds like my five year old when I take his computer away.  But aren’t we all children in God’s eyes.  Don’t we all get frustrated with the waiting … waiting… waiting.

At one point in my life I laid hands on a child and their bone cancer was gone.  God did that.  I know that, but what about me.  Me! Me! Me!  (The five year old returns)

But, healing comes in many ways.  We ask God for spiritual, physical, and mental healing.  And my focus was on the mental and physical healing of my daughter.  And through prayers and support and doctors healing partially came.  I say partially because my daughter’s condition did not go away but became manageable.  She still has issues we may have to deal with for the rest of ours and her lives.  I came to understand and be content with having a special needs child.  And I began to see her as such.  God had given me what he wanted to give me and I was content.

Write the testimony. Thank the prayer team and go on with the life I have been given.

But God said “No!”

God was not content with my contentment.

A few months later, in the midst of another “episode” of yelling, and frustration, I thought:  Is this a relapse?  I was finally struck with … No, actually… surprised by healing.

In the midst of her confusion and pain my daughter looked up at my frustrated face and said…….” I want you daddy.”  At that point it became clear.  I wasn’t giving her “me”.  I was giving her everything else I could but all she wanted in that moment was “me.”  She wanted to be held by her daddy.  I needed to be God’s hands and I was missing it.  My daughter didn’t need healing, I did.  And his healing quickly appeared.  I saw in front of me not my special needs daughter but my perfect little girl.  The giant hand of God miraculously reached down and touched … me.  My heart melted like a Christmas story cliché and for the first time in years my life was clearly traveling down the road of hope and grace.

Healing comes in many ways.  As we pray tonight for God’s gift of healing we also search for the wisdom to understand the will of God as well.  We ask God to provide us with some of our greatest needs.  We come to Him as his children and we lift up our hands in one simple prayer…

“I need you Daddy”

Why and when of church growth

1 Samuel 3

 

I really believe the phrase “church growth” is in every pastor’s job description.  But when you take a survey of those people who want it, it looks very different to different people.  So I think our first question of this series is probably the most important one of all.  Why do we want growth?

Now you’re probably thinking: well that’s an easy question to answer.  Then you find out there are many answers to that question.  When I was in Philly taking my polity class, my teacher, an ex district superintendent said he had a woman come up to him after service one day with an interesting questions.  He is in a church that is incredibly small and is struggling against a merger.  But her question was simple:  How much money do I have to give and how much to we need to grow to keep this church open until I can be buried out of it?  Apparently, she was fine with the church closing but she needed it open so she could have her funeral there, then who cares about the rest.  Frankly, when I die you can have my funeral anywhere you want or just throw me in the compost because my hope is on a much better location that anywhere this world can offer.  Although I have various problems with that question, this was a very important part of this woman’s existence.  It was important to meet her where she was and the DS sis just that.  So what are our reasons?

I have a board up here with the words good, better, and best on it.  I think there are a spectrum of reasons that are acceptable to want to grow a church.  Let’s start with some good reasons:

Good:  Have more money to do things, keep this beautiful building open

Better:  Have more people to grow in discipleship, fellowship with more friends on Sunday

Best: to fulfill our call and mission

This is the best reason for growth because if we do these two things we will fulfill all the other reasons on the list.  If we keep our eyes on Jesus all else will fall into place.

We talked last week about our mission, so I thought I would take a few minutes to talk about our call.

In the scripture story today we hear the call of Samuel.  I love this story for many reasons.  The first is that its states at the very beginning: In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.(1 Sam 3:1 NIV)  How many of us expect to hear God’s voice coming out of nowhere or have a vision out of a fiery bush?  Not many of us I would assume.  Neither was Samuel.  I am sure there were speculations about some visions and apparitions in those days as there are in ours but Samuel’s days were pretty much like ours.  It makes Samuel more like us.  The second part of the story is also pretty awesome.  God calls Samuel four times before he responds.  In one verse, even though he was “ministering to the Lord under Eli” (vs 1) it says “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord.” (vs 7)  Now this is awesome to me because it makes me not feel so bad.  The first time I heard a call I took it for the Pope apparently.  Samuel kept thinking Eli was calling him.  Then after he finally realized, or more accurately Eli realized, that it was the Lord calling he got a tremendous ear full about his mentor and his family.  Now God did not give him a very exciting job on his first encounter with him.  Samuel was actually afraid to carry it out.  But God gave him courage and he wound up being an awesome prophet of God.

I love this story because our calls are not much different.  God comes to us when we least expect it and sometimes asks us to do hard things that cause us to trust in our fear.  So what is our call as a community?  It probably is not to become a mega church.  We will probably always be a small community. That is not necessarily the only way to grow.  We should be growing everyday in discipleship.  So what is our call as a community?  It is to use the particular gifts we have been given to reach out and fulfill our mission.  In trust we go beyond our comfort zones and reach out to the world in the ways God lays on our individual hearts.  God brought us here as a community for a reason and our growth as a community is tied to our individual gifts.

So when will we see this growth?  We will every time we step out to answer our call.  The results may be unexpected but there should be a qualitative change.  When we reach out in trust and go beyond our comfort zone with our gifts it should change us for the better.

Now I always say I preach to myself first.  A week and a half ago, knowing I was going to be talking about this, I prayed to see what God wanted me to do.  So I started a blog of my prayer times on Facebook.  This was a challenge for me in various ways.  For a person who suffers from anxiety, putting me out there publically six more days a week with the possibility of criticism is scary.  Also scary is putting me and some of my own inner thoughts and struggles out there for all to see.  But I did it because I trusted that God wanted me to do this.  It also gave me great accountability for my prayer time in this busyness that my life has been lately.  The result however was not what I expected.  I actually have less anxiety and feel I am growing more by actually distilling and writing out my thoughts.  And that is the kind of growth that is important.

Why do we want to grow?  TO better serve God and his people through our mission and call.  When will we grow? In big and small ways every time we answer the call.