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The Pursuit of Perfection

April 8, 2018

When I was trying to talk my beloved into giving the great game of golf a chance, I told him it was a lot like surfing (his favorite sport). It has water and sand, and a variety of wildlife (although generally more birds and bunnies than sharks and jellies). There’s a little bit of individual action followed by a lot of waiting. Most days it is sunny and warm and peaceful. You’re out there with other folks who love the sport and possess varying degrees of ability, and most of them like to talk about the last time they were out. Most folks cheer each other on and appreciate a good swing and a long drive. Just like surfing, where most surfers truly enjoy seeing someone else get a good ride, even if they wish it had been their wave.

I managed to convince my beloved to try golf and he has become pretty good at it over these past 20 years. We talk about golf quite a bit, although I don’t make time to play these days because ministry keeps me so very busy. Watching The Masters Tournament, it occurs to me that ministry is like golf, or at least, like golf the way I play it. While we might not call golf an act of faith, it is the pursuit of the very elusive thing we call perfection.

In Christian terms, perfection is not as much about being flawless as it is about being spiritually mature. So it is with golf, as duffers chase the physical and mental maturity to handle the sport. You are really competing against yourself, although playing with others may help you up your game. You may end the day disappointed with yourself and your failure to do better this time than you did last time, but at least you know you will get another chance, and that is comforting. Then there are the days that you get it so right you can’t even believe it. You make that par. You sink that putt. You birdie that hole. Just one good shot is enough to keep you from giving up. Just one beautiful drive is enough to keep you coming back. One putt an inch short of the cup convinces you that you might make it next time, so you dedicate yourself to trying again.

Ministry is like that. Every day is different. I go forth expecting one thing to happen and something completely different comes my way and I have to be able to adjust and stay focused. Or, as Yogi Berra famously said about baseball, “The game is 90% mental and the other half is physical.” I come home dedicated to doing even better the next day, looking forward to another chance at chasing perfection, telling myself it is 90% mental and the other half is spiritual. I love spending the day with other like-minded individuals, helping our neighbors, having a good time, cheering each other on, and staying in love with God.

The name for golf may have come from a Scottish word meaning “to strike,” or it may stand for “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden,” as a not-so-funny male golfer told me while I was having a better game than he on the Executive Nine. For me, it stands for “God Of Living Faith” which is all I need, now or ever.

Although… watching The Masters, I can’t help thinking it would be nice to get out there again, amid the sand and sunshine and peace. I pray that someday in my future, I may find a way to give the Sermon on the Green. Until then, I’ll see you in church!

Good Friday

March 31, 2018

The following is an excerpt from my Good Friday message.

Tonight, we ask the “Everyday Disciple” question: Am I defeated in any part of my life? Good question, so let’s consider what we mean by defeat. Maybe it is not getting the job we wanted. Maybe it is divorce. Or having our car break down when we’re on our way to that appointment we can’t miss. Maybe it is losing a friend due to our own shortcomings — a fractured relationship that we know is our fault and yet we don’t seem to be able to mend it.

Now, consider the last days of Jesus, according to the Gospel of John, chapter 19. We read that Pilate had Jesus flogged. Then the soldiers mocked Jesus by weaving a crown of thorns and making him wear it. They shouted at him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and they kept striking him on the face. Pilate made Jesus wear a purple robe to go with the crown of thorns. Then the Chief Priests and police shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

As if that weren’t enough, they made him carry his cross, by himself, and then they nailed him to it. Jesus’ humiliation was still not complete, because they placed a sign on the cross with the inscription, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” And they wrote it in three languages, so everyone could read the mockery. Finally, as Jesus hung on the cross — bleeding, dying — the soldiers divvied up his clothing and gambled to see who would get his cloak.

Complete and utter defeat, right? And so we are called to consider: What defeat of ours could ever come close to that?

When we feel defeated, we also tend to feel that we shouldn’t ever feel defeated. We stand on this side of the Resurrection! We know that defeat is not the end! We want to skip the cross and move directly to Easter. We want to follow Christ to eternal life and we want to forget all about the pain it took to get there.

That, my friends, is the purpose of our Good Friday worship. We need to remember Jesus’ teaching about this day. We need to remember his suffering, his willingness to go to death on a cross. We need to remember his forgiveness from the cross. We need to remember his love.

We know about the Resurrection, but Good Friday is about love on the cross and our willingness to follow Jesus there. On Good Friday, we dare to go to that place of defeat and linger there. We know we will find Jesus there. We know we will find hope there, hope that helps us carry our own cross, hope that helps us forgive, hope that helps us rise above any defeat we may suffer.

On Good Friday, we dare to journey with Jesus to the cross. We dare to feel his pain. We dare to share his sorrow. A difficult journey, to be sure, but oh, my friends, would the victory of Easter ever be so sweet without the defeat of this day?

Small Tokens

February 14, 2018

It’s the little things that matter to me. Grand Gestures are nice, but I would rather have a lifetime of little things than Grand Gestures that only surface on holidays. My Beloved knows this and has spent our life together mastering the art of Small Tokens.

Small Tokens are not actually “little things.” They are a constant stream of affection evidenced by hot cups of tea, lunches brought in on meeting days, a surprise appearance to help with a church project, an unexpected hug, or a cozy chair that fits me exactly (oh the joy of being able to put my feet flat on the floor while my back is resting comfortably against the back of the chair).

A few weeks ago, I drove to work, making a mental note that I needed to wash my car. I love winters in Colorado, but I hate the dirty car. Even so, I find myself driving that snow caked, spotted and filthy car for days before my schedule and the weather sync up for the perfect opportunity to visit the car wash. Anyway, on that day a few weeks ago, I came out of work completely engrossed in conversation with a colleague who mentioned that she needed to wash her car because my car was putting her car to shame. I started to protest her opinion of my filthy car when, looking closer, I noticed that my car was sparkling clean. “He washed my car,” I said with love. “It’s the little things, isn’t it?” my friend commented.

Yes, indeed. I don’t need jewelry, or a trip to Hawaii, or even a day of pampering at the spa to know that I married the right man. But when I get in my clean car and see the gas tank is full and realize the seat and mirrors are all back in their original positions, I thank God for my Beloved.

Happy Valentine’s Day to my Beloved. May you enjoy many Small Tokens from me all the days of our life together.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7

Community

January 27, 2018

Abuse rarely happens in a vacuum. Time after time, I hear stories of abuse and what continues to be overlooked is the complicity of those who remain silent. Nassar could not have done what he did to so many, for so long, without people looking the other way. Celebrities get away with horrific behavior because those who are in a position to stop the behavior choose to believe the perpetrator rather than the victim.

My cynical self says the bottom line is money. As long as these men are making money for networks, investors, colleges, businesses, those who benefit look the other way. If the victims get too loud, they are relocated, blamed, questioned, accused, and otherwise demeaned. Why did you wait so long? Why didn’t you say something? You must have liked it since you kept going back/working there/living there/talking to him.

Our justice system says that silence implies consent and so society points a finger at the victims and blames them for their silence. But now that same legal tenet is being used against the communities that have remained silent while being aware of the abuse.

This is the dialog that interests me most. While I am overjoyed that women are coming forward in large numbers to shine a light on serial and systemic abuse, and that so many abusers are being taken out of positions of power, if the systems that supported them are left unchallenged and unchanged, abuse will continue to play a significant part in the female story.

We need to decide what kind of communities we want to build. Do we want communities where people look out for one another? Do we want to live in communities that are safe for all? Or do we want to continue to foster money driven, power-hungry, consumer-based communities where we grab what we can while we can and everyone else can fend for themselves?

 

How much abuse are we gong to let happen on our watch? What will history record about our generation and how it handled systemic abuse?

The time to decide is now.

 

The Season

January 2, 2018

Christmas lights are already being turned off all over town. Folks have taken down their trees and put away their decorations. Christmas is going back in the storage bin while society turns its attention to the new year, returning to work, or school, or whatever else filled their days before the trappings of Christmas arrived on store shelves in November.

But Christmas isn’t over yet!! According to the Christian calendar, Christmas officially ends with Epiphany on January 6th. In fact, the season of Christmas didn’t even begin until sunset on December 24th. We’ve only been at it for a week, with one week to go, and yet everyone is throwing in the St. Nicholas towel.

Let’s face it — the decorations don’t matter. We could easily celebrate the birth of Christ without them. So why do we put them up at all? Is it really just tradition? Habit? A morbid need for busy work?

My beloved and I do it because it gives us roughly five weeks of reminders of the light of Christ, God’s everlasting love, and the mystery of our faith that began in a humble stable with the birth of one tiny baby.

So, we will celebrate Christmas and the birth of Christ until January 6th, when our Christian calendar sends us into the season after Epiphany and the HOA begins to get testy if our lights have not yet come down. But even then, we will have the Christmas cards from our friends and family still visible in the house, and the picture cards we received smiling at us from the bulletin board, where they will remain all year, as well as a couple of ornaments still on display, all of which remind us that even though the calendar has moved on, we hope to keep the spirit of Christmas alive in our hearts all year long.

Join us, won’t you?

The Franken Factor

November 17, 2017

Let’s be clear. I have endured — survived — my share of harassment and abuse, from the very first fifth grade boy who found it funny to tease mortified girls about their changing bodies (and nothing was done to him despite complaints), to the department store manager who liked to have his young, female employees come into his office and “try on clothes” (and nothing was done to him despite complaints) to the office jerk who couldn’t resist swatting a female backside at every opportunity (who, thankfully, was chastised and threatened with his job when he failed to stop the swat), to the telling of tasteless sex jokes in mixed company at clergy gatherings by my male clergy colleagues. These are minor compared to what is being reported these days.

I think it is marvelous that after all these years, women are finally feeling empowered enough to speak up about what they have survived over the years and, in fact, are still experiencing in the workplace on a regular basis. We can’t change it if we can’t talk about it, so it is great, however painful it might be, to hear so many women finally coming forward with their stories.

The reaction from the accused is telling. The typical posture of the guilty is to deny everything, admit to nothing, and demand proof, followed by a swift round of denigrating the victim. Recently, a clever few have talked about “taking a step back” to examine events, or life, or, perhaps, an exit strategy that allows them to keep their jobs and their money. And now we have an example of what most survivors of sexual harassment and abuse really want: a true apology. I’ll call it “The Franken Factor.”

Senator Franken has not denied anything, really. He, of course, has a different memory of what happened during a rehearsal between him and his accuser, Leeann Tweeden because, at the time, he probably didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. It was a different time back then. It doesn’t make his actions acceptable, but it does explain why taking a picture of Franken preparing to grope a sleeping Tweeden would seem like a big joke to Franken. And the photographer! Let’s remember that these accused men are not operating in a vacuum.

The Franken Factor, however, includes an apology. The Senator spoke swiftly and openly about his deplorable actions and said he was sorry. Hallelujah! We finally have a man confessing to his actions, calling it wrong, apologizing for it, and decrying similar actions by other men. Is he really the man we want to crucify? He even reached out to the victim with a personal apology, but all the media wants to talk about is whether or not Senator Franken should be fired from the Senate for something he did before he was a Senator.

Now consider the victim’s response. Leeann Tweeden herself said, “I didn’t do this to have him step down. I think Al Franken does a lot of good things in the Senate. You know, I think that’s for the people of Minnesota to decide. I’m not calling for him to step down. That was never my intention.”

Tweeden spoke up for the same reason most of the other women are speaking up, in the hopes that talking about the abuse will finally change the business climate to one where no one has to make the choice between their dignity and their job. But fire Franken? Let’s face it, friends, if we fired every man who has ever committed a crime against a woman or a child, we would decimate the political scene, professional sports, Hollywood and most of the business places in the country.

So what’s the answer? Inaction is unacceptable, but over-reaction could be worse. As politicians choose corners and points fingers, the real issue is getting lost amid political posturing. What are we doing to encourage victims to come forward when an illegal, immoral, or unethical act is committed against them? What are we doing to create a society that rallies around the victim instead of demanding silence to protect the perpetrators? What are we doing to raise our boys into men who do not abuse?

It is important that the conversation has been started and we need to keep the conversation going. Let’s not villainize the victims for taking so long to come forward. Let’s be grateful that they are coming forward so we can decide how we will respond next time, and the time after that, and the time after that. I promise you, the next time a clergy colleague behaves inappropriately, I will not remain silent. God’s blessings on all you brave women out there who are speaking up and empowering others to do the same.

Fruitful Gardens

August 27, 2017

On our way home yesterday, we drove through the old neighborhood. Some things have changed, like the stores in the mall, and some remain the same, like the Bridge to Nowhere and our quiet old cul-de-sac. Then there was the “spooky” house not far from where we lived, an abandoned home that, even before we moved, was already serving as a trellis for the ivy creeping up its walls.

Now, the ivy has consumed the house. It grows inside the windows and up into the roof. Each overgrown foundation bush has lost its shape — if it ever had one — and all now stand united in one wild amorphous silhouette. What we couldn’t take our eyes off of was the inevitable result of neglect and desertion, the epitome of a forsaken land.

As my beloved and I studied the disturbing image before us, I could not help thinking theologically, pondering the things that consume my heart and mind. What have I let in? What have I allowed to run wild? What have I nurtured and shaped into something beautiful and useful?

May each of us tend well the gardens that are our hearts and minds, so that everything planted and grown therein glorifies God.

“With my whole heart, I seek you; do not let me stray from your commandments.”  Psalm 119:10