Richard's Food for Thought

Knowledge Is Food For the Soul-Plato

Food for Thought-Don’t Look A Free Batmobile In The Mouth — August 27, 2015

Food for Thought-Don’t Look A Free Batmobile In The Mouth

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What was the greatest gift you ever received? For me, it’s hard to pin down one specific thing. When I had hair, someone gave me a long, black comb. It was the kind preferred by barbers, the ones which usually rested in a jar of antiseptic. I took this gift for granted. I was unable to fully appreciate the ability to style, move, and adjust the hair on top of my head. Now that I am bald, I see it as one of the greatest treasures ever to be placed in my hands. At one point along my journey I received a free subscription to the jam of the month club. Someone thought to arrange for copious amounts of strawberry jam, grape jelly, raspberry preserves and mixtures I didn’t know existed to be delivered to my house once a month. I don’t care how you slice it, that’s what I call love. In the midst of enjoying that love, I developed what the great actor Wilfred Brimley calls, “diabetes”. Sometimes gifts aren’t all they appear to be.

Maybe the greatest gift I received wasn’t any of those things. Maybe it was the batmobile. I remember the Christmas when mama and daddy got me a decent size replica of the Adam West-era Batmobile. I’m telling you this car was identical to the one Batman drove on the hit 1960’s television show, only considerably smaller. Batteries from Radio Shack and the Batcave were not included. With those small exceptions, it had everything else. There were seats for Batman and Robin, a phone to call Commissioner Gordon, and a big jet engine to blast out of my yet to be built Batcave.

I loved that car. I loved the idea of having that car. I loved that the Batmobile was now mine. I owned part of Batman. Batman belonged to me. On good days, we had gone into partnership together. On other days, I was in charge of the whole operation. We would be, at my discretion, fighting crime room in the places where I lived. Before I received the Batmobile, we could only fight crime at certain times of day, usually in the late afternoon at my grandmother’s house when the show came on television. Between homework and snack, I would fight crime with Batman for about half an hour. Now, with the Batmobile, we weren’t bound by the limits of a television show. Batman lived with me in my homemade Wayne Manor. We were friends.

Every facet of Batman’s life, work, and car were mine to look at, recreate, and enjoy. If I wanted to make the car drive up the side of a tree, we drove vertically over bark, limbs, and moss. If the car, which had never flown in a single episode, wanted to fly; we would launch ourselves through the air. What I had watched the car do on television didn’t matter. The untapped crime fighting potential sitting in my hand, that’s what mattered most. I didn’t need to see under the plastic hood or kick the tiny tires to know the car would fly. I could simply tell. These unrealized and unseen powers were the most obvious and self-evident qualities of the Batmobile I received as a gift.

This is why, when I am offered the gift of a horse; I feel no need to look in the horse’s mouth. I can simply tell whether not I want it. Thanks to the Batmobile, I don’t need to look inside the horse’s mouth to know whether or not I need or want the horse, even if it is free. I don’t need to look in the mouth of anything human or animal. I don’t care who they are, that’s just gross.

Food for Thought-5 Good Ideas on Gaining Perspective (August 26th, 2015) — August 26, 2015

Food for Thought-5 Good Ideas on Gaining Perspective (August 26th, 2015)

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1. Take perspective of the world around you. How aware are you of the people, ideas, places and things going on in your general orbit? So often, I see people who are miserable, unhappy, wrapped up in their own anger. Their misery (often self-inflicted) renders them unaware to appreciate any perspective other than their own. Are we living like this?

2. Do the other people in your life believe or feel like you are invested in them as people? To invest in a person (as a human being) you need to develop an emotional perspective. An emotional perspective is more than “seeing what another person thinks”. It’s trying to understand how someone else feels.

3. To get an emotional perspective, ask someone how they feel.

4. Listen actively. Don’t listen to respond. Don’t listen with the intent of saying something smart, witty, or keeping the conversation focused on what you know. Listen to understand what the other person is saying.

5. Listen for shared experiences which can be found within your dialogue partner’s point of view. Don’t let their words go to mental voicemail while you think about what you’re going to say next.

Food for Thought-The 14th Amendment to the Torah-Mark 7:6-8 —

Food for Thought-The 14th Amendment to the Torah-Mark 7:6-8

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Jesus at work among the people of his day casting out stupidity demons

In the seventh chapter of Mark’s gospel, a group of lawyers have gathered around Jesus. These Pharisees, legal scholars. and avid constitutionalists are starting to bat around the idea of changing the 14th amendment to the Torah. Do you know about the 14th amendment to the Torah? It’s the one that says, “no matter where your parents are from; be it Persia, Rome, Cyprus, Ephesus, Cappadocia, Egypt, or Guatemala City, if they make it across the borders of Israel and are born here, you’re part of God’s kingdom.” The lawyers gathered around Jesus, the legal scholars, those who understand the fine points and nuances of scripture do not agree with, like, appreciate, or enjoy Jesus’ open ended interpretation of the 14th amendment to the Torah. “It’s got to be harder to get into the kingdom of God,” they say. “Eternity can’t handle all self-righteous people who’ve gone in ahead of us!”

To the lawyers, legal scholars, and avid Torah constitutionalists a working knowledge of tradition mattered. The rules which governed religious and social practice formed the intricate web belief only they understood. To the newcomers, new arrivals, and new kids in town the kingdom of God was an ever expanding expression which seemed to include the whole world. For Jesus’ nitpicking observers, it was about washing your hands. It was also about mortal flawed people, deciding who God loves and who God hates.

The lawyers, legal scholars, and Torah constitutionalists observed Jesus’ disciples on many levels. They saw them heal the sick, preach, and how they remembered the fine points of religious and social etiquette. When you can’t condemn someone for their ability to heal and preach, you can call them nasty. Jesus’ disciples came from the rough and tumble world of Galilean fisherman. These utensil rules, while “old school” and rooted in interpretations of Biblical tradition, matted not at all to these guys. If they were going to eat, they were going to eat.  Even if it meant eating with their hands in front of ultra-religious people who were certain to deem their actions sinful.

Jesus calls the lawyers, legal scholars, and Torah constitutionalist out on the dusty carpet. He says, “You ignore God’s commandments while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you.”

In other words, you are creating religious rules (attributing them to God) which make it harder for people to worship and serve God in authentic, loving ways. You’re changing rules as you go along, to fit the needs of your unique and narrowly defined understanding of God. If the Kingdom of God is too big, let’s make it narrow again; that’s what man made rules like these suggest.

The Pharisee’s argument is simple: if you’re not washing your hands correctly, according to our standards, dipping your dishes in the water, or born in the right place at the right time, you do not have a claim to God’s love or a place in the kingdom of God. This is what Jesus means when he says to the Pharisees, “You ignore God’s commandments while holding on to rules created by human hands handed down to you.” When we honor God’s commandments, widows, orphans, and immigrants go first.  When we honor God, common sense, love, and compassion should override the desire to be cold hearted, minutiae obsessed bigots.

When we remember the words of Ezekiel 47:22, “You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel,” we hear a call to honor God’s commandments. Each time you hear someone use the word “anchor baby”, read the words of the Ezekiel. When we honor God’s most basic commandments, there are no border crossings or national boundaries in the Kingdom of God.

Food for Thought-5 Good Ideas about BBQ Sauce (August 25th, 2015) — August 25, 2015

Food for Thought-5 Good Ideas about BBQ Sauce (August 25th, 2015)

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1. Start with something which will give every bite a memorable kick. What is the unique variation of spice that will define your “life BBQ” sauce as unique?

2. Will you be vinegar based or tomato based? Apart from regional tastes, there are too many people marinated in vinegar.

3. Good BBQ sauce has a mix of sugar and spices. One flavor shouldn’t over power the other. It shouldn’t be too sweet but you should know the sugar is there. Is the sweetness in your life obscured?

4. Sauce that is too sweet will jelly and stay in one place. The right mix in the right sauce marinates the entire piece of meat. Is only one are of your life well flavored?

5. Don’t get caught up in marketing. Good sauce comes in simple bottles. Focus on flavor of life, not the packaging. Substance matters more than the labels. People and their stories matter more than superficial appearances.

Food for Thought-Where Would We Go? (John 6:56-69) — August 22, 2015

Food for Thought-Where Would We Go? (John 6:56-69)

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John 6:65 No one comes to me unless it is granted him by the Father.

Simon Peter asks a simple yet profound question. In my mind, this is the most important question Peter has asked or will ever ask Jesus. In the midst of the confusion, the dusty roads, the misunderstood teachings, and the hard to fathom reality embodied in the idea that God has come among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth; Peter asks, “Where would we go?” What would we do? Who would we be without you? Lord, where would we go?

There is another, unspoken and underlying question preceding Peter’s query. Simon Peter, the Rock, is also asking, “Lord, where would we be?” Inherent in asking the question to Jesus, “Where do we go tomorrow?” is another question, “Where would be today?” Because, brothers and sisters, the premise is the same, “without you, there is no me”.

We have come this far. Oh yes, we have come this far. At this point, the disciples see the challenges are going to increase, the level of difficulty will skyrocket, and what they imagined discipleship to be isn’t the lived reality. Jesus has been teaching and feeding, both literally and metaphorically. In his old synagogue at Capernaum, perhaps the closest thing to going back to his old high school, Jesus says for the umpteenth time: the bread you got from Moses was different. I am the bread giver and the bread. Jesus knew this would stir people up, make them angry, offend people, and turn many people against him. Yet this was who he was, this was his message, his consistent message. Jesus wasn’t saying anything he hadn’t said countless times before in synagogues up and down the country. But, there was something different about doing it on “home turf” in Capernaum.

It was like laying down a marker. This is who I am, Jesus said. If he can’t say it there, where can he say it? So he does. John tells us the disciples were grumbling about his sermon. Some English translations take the lazy, watered down approach to the Greek and say, “they murmured” about Jesus’ sermon.

This is Richard’s Excedrin headache number 4271 on how we lose the impact of the language when translators play fast and loose with the language to protect our feelings. The word, gonguzousin, literally means to grumble. Don’t be a gongusouzin(er)!

The disciples were grumbling at Jesus. How do you think Jesus feels about the disciples grumbling at his sermon (material they know and have even preached before) while in his hometown synagogue? Do you believe he’s feeling positive, upbeat, affirmed, loved, supported, over the moon, encouraged? Essentially Jesus says, “What more do I need to do reveal to you guys to get you to see the big plan? You’ve seen me feed 5000 people and still you’re moaning?”

You’ve either got it in you to do this or not. At this moment, Jesus is past the point of grand miracles and elaborate arguments. You either want to come along or not. That’s what he means, when he says, “no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” Jesus is not saying I am the only way for anyone to enter heaven. I don’t believe that. Nor do I believe that’s what his verse means.

My reading of this passage (in context) simply doesn’t support the “the only way to get to Heaven is through Me” interpretation. Take the verse out of context and you can run with the “everyone but Christians are going to hell) ball all day long.  I do not believe this is what Jesus meant. He’s saying to those disciples and to us, if you want to go with him and do his thing, we have the free choice to go with him. We also have the choice to do something else. We have the choice to make a journey. We do not know how or when that journey will end. This is good enough me. I believe that God is part and parcel of our journey whether we’re aware of God’s presence or not. In today’s reading, Peter has become hyper-aware.

Yes, we can do something else. But as Peter’s question reveals, there is no something else. Where would we go? What are our options?

We are not forming an exploratory committee, like some long shot presidential candidate to see if it’s feasible to be a disciple if the money’s right and the focus groups say yes. We do not have an option. Where would we go?

We are not sitting at the breakfast table watching Jim Cantore tell us the story of a developing hurricane, its potential paths of destruction, and deciding if we might leave, if we might stay, and await the mighty force of nature to descend upon us. We don’t have a real option. There are no choices. Where would we go?

We are not leaning over the back of a fishing boat, holding an expensive rod and reel, pulling and fighting with the biggest fish you’ve ever seen, when dark clouds form on the horizon, the waves start to roll, and the captain says do you want to get back to Silver Lake Harbor? We don’t have a choice. Because where would we go?

When we have come this far, where would we go?

Look to Jesus-not the antiseptic, deodorized, whitewashed Jesus of popular culture. I’m talking about the Jesus we meet in the Bible. Look at Jesus, right here in John 6. Jesus, who was called offensive and harsh because he said controversial things like life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Jesus was called harsh for asserting life exists beyond reality as we know it and that love can change the world beyond life as we know it. It sounds crazy to us that people would come down on the Son of God; Jesus of Nazareth for saying life exists beyond reality as we know it. But here’s what’s crazier, we do the same thing today. In ways large and small, we take the blessed realities of Christian and love and condemn them as unworkable, unfeasible, and unnecessary plans.

When we have come this far, where would we go?

We don’t give up, we don’t give in, and we keep going. Because where would we go?

But to Jesus

Because where we’re going, the nightmare of human brokenness is being shattered by God’s dream of human goodness. The frayed fibers of humanity, the torn patchwork quilt of human civilization, can go nowhere but to a loom, a loom that heals and welcomes all colors, shapes, and sizes of fabric. Where would we go?

We’ve come this far, where else would we go?

Food for Thought-5 Good Ideas On How to Have Better Small Talk (August 21st, 2015) — August 21, 2015

Food for Thought-5 Good Ideas On How to Have Better Small Talk (August 21st, 2015)

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Trying to have better small talk?  Interview your world and ask these questions.

1. Tell me about an event which changed your life for the better.

2. What do you do for fun? People like to have fun. Personal stories are great equalizers, no matter our backgrounds.

3. Who was your favorite teacher? Who would you be without your Dumbledore or Mr. Miyagi? Have you ever thanked this person?

4. What’s your favorite meal to cook for guests?

5. Ask, no matter what you believe the person’s musical tastes, their favorite country and western song. Even classical music composers, trained in the Bassoon, conducting in Berlin, will have a favorite country song.

Food for Thought-Let’s Stir Things Up —

Food for Thought-Let’s Stir Things Up

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1. If you worship a resurrected man on Sunday mornings, you’ll know scars, bruises, blood, and struggles matter.  But not if you worship a body-less God who lives only in our imaginations and old paintings and never lived as a human being.

2. If you worship a man brutalized by violence on Sunday mornings, you’ll condemn violence everywhere (at Planned Parenthood, on Death Row, in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan, perpetuated by Americans, by bad policing, and senseless criminal acts-violence perpetuated by anyone). But not if you worship a God who is violent.

3. If you worship a poor man, an impoverished Galilean carpenter, on Sunday mornings, you’ll see the injustice of poverty all around you. But not if you worship a God of wealth.

4. If you worship a Middle Eastern man, a man who was a person of color, brown skinned, born of an unwed teenage mother, on Sunday mornings; you’ll be outraged, bothered, frustrated, annoyed, disturbed, left off kilter, and moved when people who look like Jesus (persons of color, people with brown skin, children of single mothers, children of color) are regularly killed on the dusty altars of our angry civilization. Of course, if you worship a white God, this won’t happen.

Food for Thought-A Theory of Everything — August 20, 2015

Food for Thought-A Theory of Everything

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Between now and then, there and here, dawn and dusk, I remember little more than the remains of my most recent meal. It came on a plate. The plate was round, full of a complete wholeness unseen in the baked goods of my south Moscow youth. From the beautiful northwest of the plate’s painted circumference, I witnessed the watery mass of potatoes fall from the plate to the table. North of the fork and northeast of my dulled knife, they began a journey through the fibers of my dead grandmother’s sacred tablecloth. These Ukrainian potatoes, ignorant of the history born by this simple fabric, marched to the table’s fading varnish like Hitler’s armies to the gates of Moscow. By adding these facts together, an infinite progression of indisputable realities, I witnessed the unfolding nature of my day. Were I to quantify the beauty of a perfect sphere, a chaotic system of poorly farmed Ukrainian potatoes, and the incalculable speed at which they fell from the plate; I might derive an equation for the impending, now entirely predictable horrors which awaited me after breakfast.

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As the tablecloth was destroyed and grandmother’s legacy of smuggling people to safety while dodging Nazi bombs was ruined forever under the stain of watery Ukrainian potatoes, I had ample space to write and work. I did not want to leave the table and move to my desk. This, to my own supposition, would instigate the beginning of the entirely predictable horrors as noted in:

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Unwilling to accelerate the process of predictable horrors, I would use my knife as a pen, the leftover borscht as ink, and the remaining 12 meters of potato free tablecloth on which to write. My premise, while theoretical, was simple. The square root of overflowing, spilled potatoes was too consequential to ignore or avoid. If such a disturbing, cosmos shifting event occurred so early in the day, was it not the square root of something identical, guaranteed to occur later in the day. If your precious kitten scratches you at dawn, might you also be mauled by a Siberian tiger whilst visiting the Moscow Zoo only two hours later? Yes. This is what my equation supposed. It was a theory of calamity, of abhorrent, loathsome, evil things; all of which occurred if one thing went horribly wrong while you were eating breakfast. Burnt toast and spilled goat’s milk need no longer be variables. If bad things started your day, run the numbers to see how odious events will conclude your day.

When I had finished the first proof, mama appeared in the dining room. “What have you done with your grandmother’s table cloth? Have you bled all over it? I give you dull knife for a reason,” she said. I am not allowed to play with sharp knives, spears, or sharp anything. This is why I’m blind in one eye.

No, I carefully explained. I was not dying, bleeding to death, or intentionally destroying grandmother’s memory. Nor am I now blind in the other eye. With as much pride as I could muster, I said, “Dmitri, using only a dull knife, wrote in borscht ink, a new theory of why bad things happen all day long-especially after your mother spills potatoes when callously throwing the plate at her genius son.” It really seems to irritate her when I refer to myself in the third person and as a genius. For some reason, I do this often.

“Really,” mama says. “Bad things happen when potatoes spill and you write on table,” this is what you believe? “God has given me blind borscht writing idiot.”

I guess this may be half true.

Dmitri, the half blind genius, sometime idiot, shall now shovel snow.

Food for Thought-Investing in Volunteers at Church — August 19, 2015

Food for Thought-Investing in Volunteers at Church

NurseryVolunteersColor(2)How do we encourage more people to volunteer and take active roles within our congregations? This is a perennial question for pastors and church leaders. Is it possible to move beyond the frustrations of blank clipboards, volunteer fairs, and begging for help on Sunday mornings? I believe this question is especially pertinent for small to medium size congregations who depend on a pool of the same people to repeat the same tasks year after year.

Why is this so hard? Should it be so difficult? To a detached observer, it appears Christians are some of the most service minded people in their communities. Sincere Christians support local charities, volunteer in schools, join community organizations, donate money and yet their churches have trouble filling committees and finding Sunday School teachers. How can Christians be so giving, loving, and yet reluctant to commit to the body of Christ itself? Put simply, things get in our way.

I believe there are four existential obstructions keeping Christians (church members) from volunteering in their local churches. No matter how an excuse or reason is framed, if someone is not volunteering it comes back to one of these reasons:

1. Time – We do not believe we have the time. Our time is too valuable, because of its limited nature, to give to something other than the important events already occurring in our life. While we intellectually accept the importance of Christianity and the church in our lives, it cannot compete for time against the other obligations we have assumed or created.

2. Desire – We lack the desire to volunteer. The will to give of our time simply does not exist. The desire to do other things is greater than our desire to volunteer. This is the most important threat and challenge to any volunteer ministry. Desire, or the lack of will to be involved in church activities, is the greatest of the four existential roadblocks to be overcome. In many ways, it is easier to convert a nonbeliever to Christianity that it is to convince a church member to volunteer who doesn’t want to be involved.

3. Knowledge – We believe we lack the necessary knowledge to volunteer effectively. We don’t know how to do what we’ve been asked to do. No one will train us, encourage us, or walk with us on this volunteer journey. We are lacking intellectually and emotionally to do what someone is asking us to do. We may have the desire and the time but lack knowledge.

4. Perception – We perceive the status quo to be normative, stable, and secure. We do not understand the need for additional volunteers. As church (reality) exists there is no need to offer my help because there are no current problems. Those who are volunteering or working at the present are sufficient to meet any needs.

I believe these four existential arguments are the primary reasons why small to medium size churches meet with difficulty when seeking new volunteers and encouraging former volunteers to return. I propose to address ongoing volunteer needs by attacking the existential obstructions; to remove the roadblocks. By systematically calling the questions of time, desire, knowledge, and perception to the forefront of the church’s ministry, we can begin to chip away at the entrenched obstructions which prevent people from taking ownership of their own ministries.church-works-logo2

Over the coming days and weeks, I will examine each of these four areas in greater detail. I will explore the implications of talking about time management with self-professed busy people. What does it mean to be a good steward of your time as well as your money? Are we as “slammed” as we think we are? What does it look like when decisions of time and desire meet? What usually wins? Isn’t usually, “I will make time for what I desire to do”? How does volunteering shift in the minds of members from a religious duty to something we desire to do? If we force ourselves to ask hard questions, I believe our perception will change and our congregations will want own a portion of what is already theirs.

1885aea8e9df3787d1aa72b7154314e8bdda07ecThe first step is to create a context for the discussion. We will create an investor’s club but in reverse. As the pastor, I will demonstrate a model of volunteer ministry where we ask church members, lay people, members of the community, and others to make and “investment” of their time, desire, knowledge, and perception in an ongoing enterprise (the church) where they already hold a vast percentage of equity. (This presentation might be done in Sunday morning worship to guarantee maximum exposure to church members and regular visitors.) In other words, they will be intellectually “buying in” or “buying back in” to something they’ve never actually sold (only treated as such); reclaiming what is rightfully theirs and the benefits of ownership (i.e. participation). If they make their investment, I will match their investment. If they commit to me (as pastor); I will commit to them (as a volunteer).

While drawing from images and references in popular culture, the idea of church as a shared investment is essentially the model of the early church we find in Acts 4. Doing what we do together (participation and sharing by the body of Christ) are the defining features of New Testament and Early Christianity. This is the context which defines our discussion and the reality we are seeking to live into. Being a volunteer isn’t part of the life of the church, it is the life of the church. Being a volunteer is a comprehensive response to being part and parcel of God’s shalom to a broken world. Being a volunteer is not the lowest common denominator of mission work. Being a volunteer is not a line item in the moral budget of our lives. Being a volunteer is a reciprocal step toward the world.

To be continued…

Food for Thought-5 Good Ideas for August 19th, 2015 —

Food for Thought-5 Good Ideas for August 19th, 2015

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1. If you’re trying to change, create for yourself compelling reasons to change that go beyond the idea (or just acknowledging), “I need to change”.

2. Buy (or contribute funds to purchase) some school supplies for a local school or charity providing those items for children whose families can’t afford to get them things they need to start school.

3. Software is not the only thing we upgrade. Upgrade your world by doing something elevates those around you to a better place.

4. If you’re holding on to hard feelings, it’s like letting someone live in your soul rent free. Kick them out!

5. Try being a hotel concierge to those around you: listen and direct them to where they need to go.

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