Richard's Food for Thought

Knowledge Is Food For the Soul-Plato

Food for Thought-Watered Down Things People Seem To Prefer — July 22, 2015

Food for Thought-Watered Down Things People Seem To Prefer

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Watered Down Things People Seem to Prefer:

1. Coffee
2. Tea
3. Jesus
4. Gravy
5. Whiskey

Numbers 3 and 4 are real issues for me. A soggy Jesus serves no purpose at all. Who wants a watered down Jesus, diluted with our filtered water and pounds of cancer causing artificial sweetener? When Jesus is watered down, he becomes far to bland and easy for people to digest.   While that may sound counter-intuitive, we’ve shaken and stirred a Jesus for middle class America who looks like a summertime refreshment, not the Galilean radical intent on ushering in the Kingdom of God.   We’ve delivered a Jesus who looks like us to people who we hope, think and feel like us, watered down versions of the disciples who follow him from place to place always trying to water his message down. As in this week’s Gospel text, “Jesus, we’re broke, where are we going to get the money to feed all of these people?”

Does a bland, easily digestible Jesus give people who have good reasons (in their minds) not to come to church better reasons to start coming to church?  Jesus should upset your stomach, make you uncomfortable, and cause you to change your routine and question everything else surrounding you. Jesus should be better than a boat, an extra hour in bed, playing a sport, time in front of the television, or surfing the web.  Sadly, many aren’t willing to water down other parts of their lives to see the value of allowing your life to be made thicker and heavier by attending church.  Despite that disconnection, I remain convinced; a Jesus who isn’t watered down is more appealing to a world swimming in alternatives to organized Christianity.  A  Jesus who isn’t watered down loves unconditionally, calls out the dominant power systems of his day, eats with every sinner under the sun, heals the sick without a co-pay, and dies on a cross.  Too often, those are the things we’re watering down.  This is what people need to hear, this is who we are and what we believe.  Until we’re blue in the face and then some, that’s how often we have to repeat these stories.  The Jesus we’re giving our lives to is a Jesus who did these things.  Tell these stories and tell them again.

The Pharisees were big on watering down their food and their religious lives.   They spent three years watering down Jesus’ ministry.  When we water down Jesus, it’s all about us and our needs (a need to be in control, a need to determine who is in and who is out, a need to decide what our faith should and should not mean for those around us) and has nothing to do with  following an embodied Jesus. It may have everything to do with the church and what the church finds palatable but nothing to do with the actual Jesus.  Does that make us Pharisees?  No.  However, it sure puts us standing too close for comfort.  We can step back.  Jesus doesn’t need to be watered down.  He’s just fine.

Oh, and weak gravy, it’s no better than brown water. Biscuits need thick gravy.

Food for Thought-Church Doesn’t Make You…. — July 15, 2015
Food for Thought-From the Horrible Religious Meme Department — July 9, 2015

Food for Thought-From the Horrible Religious Meme Department

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I saw this meme today.  Why do they persist? Because they rely on untested assumptions and flawed ideas about God and Christianity. Let’s start at the beginning. “The question is not…” Immediately, the writer of the meme has discarded the validity of the question, “why would a loving God send people to Hell?” In their eyes, that’s not the question. Why isn’t that the question? I’ll tell you why. They don’t want to answer it. It’s too hard to consider a God so forgiving and loving that the idea of eternal punishment may be completely foreign to that same God. It’s too difficult to have that discussion. The weight of scripture, particularly Jesus’ and Paul’s words work so heavily against their argument. So instead of engaging in a debate they shut the question down from the very beginning. “The question is not,” they say. It’s the exact opposite, really.  It is the question if you’re serious having an about honest debate and looking at scripture beyond the comfort zone created by many who enjoy the idea of God punishing people for something they seem to have mastered.

Why would someone choose hell over a loving God? What are people choosing when they choose hell? Have they been taught what hell is? How do we know what hell is? Dante, John Milton, and other writes taught me a great deal about hell. I’ve learned very little about hell from the Bible. The Bible says next to nothing about hell. I’ve read the Bible more times than I can remember. Jesus says nothing at all the geography of hell. He does make one reference to people ending up there if they don’t feed the hungry or clothe the naked. So using this flawed logic, why would people choose not to clothe the poor, feed the poor, and help the most vulnerable people in society? According to Jesus, that’s a one way ticket to hell. Even that’s a metaphor involving sheep and goats yet we see his point. He seems to value people who help others in a tangible sense. According to this parable, our salvation depends on helping save others (not with tracts, preaching, posting pushy memes, or pressuring them into church) by assisting them with their most immediate physical needs.

Why? Because those people are living in hell, right here, right now! And hell, is hell.  We can walk straight into their personal hells, sit with them (in hell), be with them (in hell), and help them move from hell to somewhere better-the kingdom of God. That may be the air conditioned church, buying food at the store, or praying under a tree. Being a disciple is about an ongoing journey from the hells surrounding us back to the kingdom of God. Yes, this question is clear. Why would anyone choose hell when there is a loving God? Because that is what our loving God has called us to do. He has called us to go to hell, with water, love, compassion, hugs, prayer and enough energy to reclaim what hell has taken for the kingdom of God. I do not presume that the boundaries of what the world calls hell are permanent but that the kingdom of God is and will be an eternal reality. I am ready to walk into the hells beyond my door to reclaim the kingdom of God. That is my choice and my calling. If anyone wants to come along. You know where to find me.

Food for Thought-America Is An Angry Place Right Now — July 8, 2015

Food for Thought-America Is An Angry Place Right Now

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People need something to angry about. So the world would seem.  If it wasn’t the Confederate flag, gay marriage, or Donald Trump’s position on Mexican immigration it would be something else. America has an anger problem. Even churches are angry places.  Denominations are angry with themselves.  We are one angry bunch of people. Some blame Barack Obama. Others blame the media and racist undercurrents in our culture. Apparently you have to blame someone. I don’t know why we have to blame anyone. We’re way past playing the blame game. It doesn’t do much good anyway. At this moment, I’m blindsided by the abundance of anger running through our culture. The anger is here and exploring its source is a waste of time.

People, good people, do seem taken with the idea of hating each other in the name of God, country, cakes, misquoted Bible verses, and Jefferson Davis’ flag. Why is that? Why now? Do we have nothing better to do? Is the economy that good that we’ve can focus on these issues? Do people have that much money in the bank and food on the table that fighting about a flag is a luxury they can afford?

Part of me wants to call it sin. I think that answer is too easy and too simplistic. I know people have hated each other for years and sinning a tad longer. At the risk of dipping my toe in the sea of irony, simplistic answers, in this climate, make me angry. Now, it seems there’s little check on the anger or the feelings of other people. Scratch the sunburned surface, you’ll get cussed out. Look at someone wrong, you might get punched. We live in rough times. Everyone is ready to offend everyone else and gladly so as a matter of pride. Empathy, love, neighborliness seem to have been beaten beyond recognition and left for dead. My solution, for the moment, is this: hug someone with whom you disagree. Tell them you love them. Then walk away.  You might still get punched but it will confuse the hell out of whoever you hug.  Do the Jesus thing. It’s the only way I know how to deal with this anger.

Food for Thought-What Are Worshiping? — July 7, 2015
Food for Thought-5 Things Churches Can Learn from Vinyl Records — July 6, 2015

Food for Thought-5 Things Churches Can Learn from Vinyl Records

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1. Vinyl records sound better when they are played, not left on the shelf
2. Everything under the sun was recorded on vinyl, give it chance to be heard
3. The cracks, pops, and inevitable scratches are part of life and should be embraced
4. Young people, middle age people, and old people are all still “in” to vinyl it reaches across demographics
5. The amount of technology needed to play a record player is minimal, you can have church anywhere

Richard’s Food for Thought-5 Good Ideas for Scripture Study —
Food for Thought-Shouldn’t We Have Been Raptured By Now? (2 Corinthians:8-10) — July 3, 2015

Food for Thought-Shouldn’t We Have Been Raptured By Now? (2 Corinthians:8-10)

RMark

You may be right,

I may be crazy…

William Joel

For the past week, the sun has continued to rise and my heterosexual marriage has remained intact. I have looked for the rapture for over a week now. While thunderstorms and shark attacks have plagued my island home, nothing has happened resembling the second coming of Christ. So, if God hasn’t had time to gather his stuff up by now ( a full week after the Supreme Court decision) and rapture us homosexual supporting, Jesus following, self-proclaimed Christians along with all the other sinners down to hell for being overjoyed at the legality of same sex unions, I’m ready to get on with my life. I have to prepare for the birthday of the United States of America.

The watchword in certain Christian circles is that churches, Christians, and believers in Jesus Christ are going to be made weaker by the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage. The church is “under assault”. That’s the common mantra in certain Christian circles. If you believe what you read, pastors like me will soon be forced by jack booted agents of the state to perform same sex weddings while my offerings are used to pay for abortions conducted in my fellowship hall. This is the image of religious attack, being painted on a daily basis by many Christians in America. While vivid and emotional, it’s simply not true. It’s a lie.  No one has done this. No one will do this. It makes the fundamentalist church look like those sad people hoping for disasters and tragedies which never arrive. They are the “Jade Helm 15″ believers of the Christian world; malcontents who weave a few distorted facts to fit their desperate hopes for a divine blood bath. Have you ever been around a conspiracy theorist whose theories never materialized? They are bitter people and they always have an excuse. What will their excuse be this time?

“Woe to us,” say the fundamentalist Christians, “our values and lifestyles as judgmental prudes are under threat”. “How can we continue to function if our incredibly narrow interpretation of scripture and out of context reading of the Bible seems to be rejected by the people we want to “love up on” but somehow judge at the same time? We keep waiting on the world to end but the sun keeps rising. When is God going to end it all and take us home and prove us right!”

Isn’t the love of Christ about being strong? Strong, certain, and unassailable in your beliefs about everything Jesus said, especially the things you agree with and ignoring the things like loving your enemy which sound weak? Isn’t being a Christian the spiritual equivalent of a mixed martial arts fighter? You’re a dude, a dude with many (yet wholesome) tattoos which express your total bad ass-ness but love for Jesus Christ because you’re a strong dude for Christ who can raise your hands when you pray, play a guitar, and kick ass if need be in a God-fearing way.

But if no one wants to fight you (maybe if the demons and attacks you fear are truly in your head and completely imagined), and everyone is moving on with their lives, getting married, and God’s not coming back anytime soon, who’s there left to be angry at-each other?

Perhaps the love of God isn’t about being strong after all, maybe it’s about being weak. Maybe the love of God has nothing to do with ability to kick someone’s ass, masculinity, picking a fight, or waiting for the end of the world. Perhaps it’s got everything to do with being and feeling weak. Why do I say this? In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Paul says these words, “Because power is made perfect in weakness. So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weakness so Christ’s power can rest on me.”

It’s one thing to stand around in a prayer circle or in a sanctuary on Sunday morning and talk about how strong Jesus is; it’s another matter altogether to talk about how weak we are. Yes we “need” Jesus. We can’t do it without him. However, it’s very rare to hear people bragging about their weakness. There is a not so subtle difference between needing Jesus, talking about the strength of Jesus, and bragging about our weaknesses.  When you brag about weakness, people are likely to go home and gossip.  Yet, Paul brags about his weakness.  We’re along way from  being comfortable with bragging on how weak we are.  We love to be persecuted.  Pretend weakness (in the form of manufactured persecution), we’ve got that in spades.  However, what Paul is talking about most of us haven’t the fainest clue.

It is when we acknowledge our weaknesses, Paul says, that we become strongest. Most fundamentalist Christians see no weakness in their position on homosexuality but, like a drunk on a jury, they can spot a guilty man by looking at him. They see everyone else’s weakness. People like me, my denomination, we’re wrong. We’re weak or so they would say. I’m glad to be weak. I’m more than happy to acknowledge my weakness. It leaves me firmly in line with the Apostle Paul and the scriptural tradition. At my weakest I am in a place where Jesus can do the greatest good through my fragile soul and sometimes faint heart.

Food for Thought-A Funeral Sermon — June 29, 2015

Food for Thought-A Funeral Sermon

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Death forces us to ask difficult questions. Like the distorted reflection of an itinerant alchemist, death calls us to combine the most precious elements of life to make something we do not want to believe can or will ever exist; the finality of our mortal lives. Unlike the alchemist, vainly hoping to turn base metals into gold, year after year, we are never surprised or overjoyed at our eventual success. The inevitability of this moment, while so real in theory, is so foreign in practice. Death wasn’t supposed to come to us, today, or ever.  Most of us, rightly or wrong, live as if death is something that happens to other people.  Tonight, this delusion, rooted so firmly in visions of our own temporary immortality, is gone forever.

Why? Why did Jolene die? I cannot answer that question. No one can. Doctors can offer immediate causes. Despite our best intentions, our plans, our money, our efforts, or anything else we can’t know why now. Why now, at this place, and at this time, these are questions no one can possibly answer. However, I can say this: there is not a book, a plan, a decision making process where the creator of the universe simply decides “it’s time to call us home”. You and I don’t have countdown timers on our lives and when the time is up, God dials a number, and we get called to “a better place”. God doesn’t have a human resources department who calls him up multiple times a day, when people die in accidents in North Carolina or war in Syria and says, “Lord, we have need of new people (or angels) in heaven.” People don’t die because God “needs” people in heaven. You may think it makes people feel better to say things like that but it doesn’t. I don’t know much about death but I do know that.

In the world God created, a world of sunsets, home runs, apple pie, and snow flakes we also we received childhood cancers, tragedies, and senseless killings.  Life came with death.  Eventually, God was forced to come to terms with the reality of death in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. If you believe as Christians do, God allowed himself to die on a cross. The only way to conquer death was by facing death itself. This wasn’t the appearance of death, this was what you have come to know all too well. So begins the essence of the Christian message.

At the end of Mark’s gospel, two women go to the tomb of Jesus on Easter morning. Mark, ever the storyteller, leaves the reader with the one of the great cliffhangers of western civilization. The reader is only told the body is gone. “He’s not here,” says a young man. There is no resurrected Jesus who appears to the disciples. There is only the absence of a body and an empty tomb. Mark’s gospel is the oldest of the four stories of Jesus’ life and work and probably the most accurate. It has always amazed me that in this gospel, the first sign of the resurrection is not a body, or a resurrected Jesus, but the absence of a body, the absence of life. Jesus’ absence is the first indication that resurrection is a reality. Absence is the beginning of resurrection. Absence is a sign that death, as we have defined it, isn’t as powerful as we once believed.

This evening, acknowledging Jolene’s absence, we stand in the presence of the resurrection and the life. There is something unfinished about the word absence. The lingering second syllable leaves open the possibility of fulfillment and return. Absence is underscored, however faintly, by the idea of hope. The dangling strands of absence, dancing about our days, are waiting to be brought together. What will you do with yours? Will you weave them together in the hope of life beyond life, living each day to its fullest, in strands of love and compassion which honor Jolene?

Food for Thought-How Often Would Jesus Have… — June 28, 2015

Food for Thought-How Often Would Jesus Have…

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1. Checked his email…he didn’t have email. If so, maybe once or twice a day.  I can’t see him chained to his desktop, laptop, or mobile device.  Can you?
2. Prioritized his day…Jesus didn’t know the meaning of triage; he removed obvious distractions and met with everyone.
3. Checked his Facebook page…again no Facebook in first century Galilee. Maybe of a couple of times of day at most. Jesus liked to rely on word of mouth information. His core audience wouldn’t be likely to be able to check their phones or computers for updates on a regular basis.
4. Spent time alone…at least once or twice a day. Jesus knew when he needed to step back, be alone, recharge, and regroup.
5. Eaten with other people…Jesus never ate alone. Community wasn’t a buzz word. It was a reality. Meals were events, people sharing, preparing, eating, and being together. There is spiritual value in the act of eating a meal together.
6. Have taken pictures…all the time. I can see Jesus with a small digital camera taking pictures of everyone he meets. Would these go on Facebook or Instagram, I don’t know?  I think they’re more likely on the divine hard drive we call creation.

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