Tag Archives: Frustration

Video

Lament In Recovery

I am trying video blogging since the broken finger makes typing hard and slow.

If You Keep Picking At It…

I heard these words often growing up, and there was something about the temporary relief from the itch of healing skin that made me not care. In the healing process we often choose temporary relief over long term health, and this shows up in our mental health as well as physical. I am part of some online groups of people who are recovering from church inflicted wounds, and some of the posts I judgmentally assign into the category of scab picking. This is something I get to wrestle with in my healing journey, and it is entirely possible that the only scab being picked by those posts are mine. This post is more about my journey and recognizing that I am not so much judging as projecting my experience at “picking at it” onto others.

The “picking posts” I see are usually some egregious meme copied from Facebook or “Can you believe what this person from the tribe we left said?” My response is usually, “Yes I can believe it, which is why I left in the first place.” Part of me wants to yell  what my mom told me so long ago: “If you keep picking at it, it won’t get better.” Another part recognizes the need for some kind of relief or validation. “Please tell me I am not crazy for wanting to leave this!” I get it. I have been there. The pain and need for relief are REAL!

There is a point at which I have to stop picking, stop checking back to see if things have gotten better, and recognize that the loss is real and restoration of relationship is beyond my ability to achieve. I have to say that on my healing journey away from the fear-mongering in some evangelical subcultures I have found that repeated exposure to the fear-mongering doesn’t bring healing. Watching from the sidelines and chewing over what is happening just reopens the wounds and the bleeding starts again.

The more we pick, the greater the chance that there will be scars.While there are some people who I love and care for still in the old tribe, I will ruthlessly cull them and everything from the tribe they are attached to from my social media feeds when their posts reopen wounds. This is the hard part of the healing process: cutting myself off from the source of my wounds. There are strained relationships, but saying to these friends and loved ones: “Sorry, I only want to be connected to you in real life, not social media.” sets an important boundary. Setting this boundary gives me the opportunity to be in relationship with them and to not have the daggers of fear and misplaced rage surface in my daily life.

I can’t tell you that you are picking at scabs, (Unless I actually see you do that. Then: Ew! Gross!), but sometimes what I see in groups and ex-evangelical writing feels like scab picking to me, so maybe it is worthwhile to raise the question: Are we applying healing balm or picking at scabs? For me the answer can vary by the hour, but maybe asking the question is what’s important?

 

The Paradox of Humility

See the notes that inspired this sermon below the You Tube video. This is my final sermon at Clackamas Park Friends Church. See previous post for text of resignation.

Today we look at two difficult concepts that are necessary for holding to the Christian faith: humility, which is difficult because we are trained in pride from the cradle, and paradox which is difficult because it is an expression of an unresolvable tension. One of the great disservices modernity has inflicted on our faith is the pressure to resolve all mysteries or dynamic tensions within our understandings of God. This attempt to define God has led to conflicts and controversies over ultimately non-provable speculations that can lead to false senses of certainty about faith. While we must be leery of the “pat” answers that seek to do away with questioning we must also be equally wary of the fatalism that comes from saying that there are no answers. The 20th century theologian Roger Hazelton defines paradox as “A statement which asserts the truth of two contradictory but necessary propositions having equal rational force.”[i]. Some of the most commonly argued paradoxes in our faith are the divinity and humanity of Jesus, the sovereignty of God and human free-will, and of course the paradox of being saved and yet still a sinner. In order to be faithful, we must allow these paradoxes to stand and live in the tension, knowing that we will not see their resolution this side of heaven. Today’s scripture is filled with paradoxes, and the key ingredient to accepting paradox, humility.

43 After the two days he left for Galilee. 44 (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) 45 When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there. 46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. 48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” 49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.” 53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed. 54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee. John 4:43-54

  • Paradox 1 – Prophet has no honor among their own. The Galileans welcomed him.
  • They saw the honor given elsewhere then believed. When we are seen outside the familiar context.
  • Background on Capernaum and the change from subsistence fishing to export overfishing.
  • Paradox 2 – The begging official.
  • Paradox 3 – Justice and mercy
  • The power and necessity of dynamic tensions in faith.
  • Paradoxes can only be held in humility. They are an acknowledgement of our finite nature.

Mystery as it relates to the things of God in the Christian realms is our contemplation of the infinite using our finite minds and languages. Mystery can only be expressed in ambiguous terms because of our lack of knowledge about the extent of our lack of knowledge. In an attempt to express these mysteries we turn to the devices of metaphor and paradox so that we can communicate with each other about the God we love.

Paradox then becomes the tool we use to express the mysteries of God as we experience their presence in our lives. As a tool it is important for us not only to see paradox’s usefulness, but also its limitations. Hazelton cautions us that “A paradox is a statement, not a situation. Situations may indeed be paradoxical, but we can know this only when some attempt at considered statement has been made.”[ii] We must be careful then to not confuse our statements about apparent paradoxes in our perception and understanding of God with the reality of God. The gap between the limits of our perception and expression and the reality of God then leads us to attempt to resolve the paradox instead of fully exploring all aspects of the paradox. With humility we must instead admit to the need and place for faith. At some level we have to trust the God we serve or else give up on the religious journey entirely.

Divine mystery is then a tool that God uses to exercise our faith. In Hebrews faith is defined as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1b NRSV) The exercise of this faith then consists of being certain of our uncertainty. I am not saying that “everything is up for grabs” just that we must be very cautious in our theological expressions to start from a place of understanding our limitations. In Romans, Paul also reminds us of the uncertain character of hope and the need for faith “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24-25 NRSV) It is along this unseen path then that an orthodox faith lies. Kenneth Arnold explains that “a primary characteristic of orthodoxy is a capacity for paradox. Heresies tend to round off the edges and eliminate what does not fit. Faith that demands certainty is probably no longer faith but some form of science.”[iii] This statement brings us to the core of our discomfort with paradox: we as a race don’t like the loss of control implied by a lack of knowledge.

One of the ways God is growing me is in my ability to accept that I do not have the capacity for full knowledge. When I was younger, I thought I knew a lot more than I did. As I gained experience in the real world I made the common mistakes that lead us to a greater understanding of our limitations. If I am to be honest in my self-examination, my discomfort with paradox stemmed from my fear of not controlling my life. That fear led to a distrust of paradoxical statements because they highlighted how outside of my control God is. My reflections on paradox and the mysteries of God over the years has humbled me and led me to a place in which my faith relies less and less on my understanding of God and more and more on my relationship with God. Every answer that I found about the things of God only served to raise more questions. I have finally come to the place at which I realize that the easy answers that I am looking for don’t exist, and that for me to grow in my faith I don’t need better answers, I need the humility to seek out better questions.

As we enter into Open worship let us take this first five minutes to bask in the presence of the God who is beyond us, allow yourself to experience the reverential awe that comes from being in relationship with the infinite God. After 5 minutes someone will stand with the mike and if your communion with God and the rest of us here demands it, rise and speak and the microphone will be brought to you.

 

[i] Roger Hazelton, :The Nature of Christian Paradox,” Theology Today 6, no. 3 (October 1949): 325.

[ii] Roger Hazelton, “The Nature of Christian Paradox,” Theology Today 6, no. 3 (October 1949): 325.

[iii] Kenneth Arnold, “Living With Paradox,” Cross Currents 50, no. 1-2 (March 2000): 3

On Losing 9 of My Brothers and Sisters in Christ

This has been an insane time in our lives, I am fine and have nothing to be afraid of, but my brothers and sisters are dying. Jesus commands me to mourn with those who mourn and Paul tells us that when one of us is suffering all of us are suffering, but I am fine and have nothing to be afraid of. My brothers and sisters are dying!

This post is flowing from a primal source within me, and I am going to say some things that stem from the loss of too many of my brothers and sisters who are dying because of the color of their skin. At this point I want my friends who have skin tones that are different than mine to know that I am not OK with what is going on and that I am finding it necessary to speak truth from my experience that goes against the popular narratives in most white circles.

Black people are neither dangerous criminal nor helpless victims. They are our brothers and sisters and have all of the capabilities for good and ill that any of the rest of us have. Our African-American, Latino, Native, Asian, Middle-Eastern, etc. BROTHERS AND SISTERS are in danger in our country. I could throw a bunch of statistics around, but we tend to ignore numbers like 9 people killed in a church service, or whatever number of non-white folks have died violently or are incarcerated at higher rates than white folks. Friends, there are systemic problems at work here, and we ignore or try to reason away the plight of our brothers and sisters at our own spiritual peril. Remember that the Jesus who said whatever you have done for the least of these you have for me also said whatever you have NOT done for the least of these you have not done for me.

Like it or not our country considers non-whites to be the least of these and uses derogatory language and cultural disdain to keep people who are not “normal like us” at the margins and our culture has not hesitated to use violence to attempt to “keep them in their place.” This is sin, and not naming this as sin, or marginalizing these actions as “just a couple of bad apples” is also sin. There seems to be more bad apples than good ones at this point. The presence of cameras everywhere is showing us just how messed up things are, and there are some politicians out there who are speaking fear to us in order to maintain their personal power. These politicians are just like the politicians of Rwanda who incited a genocide just to maintain their positions of power. While we haven’t reached genocide yet, I am worried that the rhetoric from the far Right is pointing us that way.

Now that I have offended the Right it is time for me to offend the Left. I am sick of the paternalism I am seeing in the Left in which highly educated white folks think they have to fix things for those “poor benighted people”. Look, I hate to point this out but doing things for people is really doing things TO people, specifically we are sending a message that says “You are not capable, intelligent, or wise enough to come up with your own solutions.”  This is denying the image of God in others. While this makes us feel better because we are “doing something” it is no less dehumanizing to the recipient of our “doing.” If you really want to support people who are different, give them power and authority in their own lives. If you want to make a difference step out of power in favor of the marginalized.

Both Left and Right in this country are operating from the same set of faulty assumptions about the capabilities of people who are different than us or who we have difficulty understanding, and those assumptions are leading to more pain and suffering rather than less. Let’s be honest, this is about power over. The way of Jesus is about power under. It is time to confront our assumptions and repent of the very human drive to maintain power over and accept Jesus’ call to die to ourselves. This will mean things will look different than we want them to, that we will have less control, but honestly are we really doing that great a job with the control we have? Maybe we could experiment a little bit with giving up control and submitting to one another in love.

I love you all, and acknowledge my own complicity, complacency, and ability to check out when I get overwhelmed. Those are luxuries that many of you, my friends and readers, don’t have because you aren’t a middle-aged white male with a wife and kids. I am angry, but my anger is second hand, and comes more because I know too many people who this evil in our society affects.  I am going to ask all of you who are reading this to seek out someone who is marginalized and instead of judging them or attempting to pass on your wisdom, befriend them, follow their lead, and give them space to speak to their own condition.

Over the next little bit I will be inviting voices from the margins to share their perspectives with you through this blog, and I ask that you listen to them and consider their words as having validity, even if they come across as angry or belligerent. Consider that their anger might just be righteous.

To my grieving brothers and sisters in Charleston I pray that your loss is not in vain, that the Holy Spirit will rest upon you with the deepest comfort, and that you find the space and grace to grieve well.

With deep sadness, anger, rage, and a tiny bit of hope,

Gil

Ministry In Distraction

Click here to listen to sermon that arose from the following notes.

Did you ever have one of those days when it seems like the interruptions are preventing you from accomplishing what you want to? It can be incredibly frustrating, especially when what you are trying to get done is important. That frustration can cause us to snap at the people that interrupt us, and sometimes in that frustration we miss opportunities that God sends our way. Jesus had days like that as well, and in today’s text he shows us that showing grace to the people interrupting us can have a huge impact, and even if it appears that it prevents us from accomplishing our goals, maybe God has a bigger outcome in mind than we were aiming for.

40 Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. 41 Then a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house 42 because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying. As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. 43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. 45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” 47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. 48 Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” 49 While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.” 50 Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.” 51 When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. 52 Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.” 53 They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” 55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened. Luke 8:40-56

  • The crowd and the urgent.
  • The named man and the unnamed woman.
  • Jesus didn’t avoid the distraction or the distractor. Love of neighbor.
  • Jesus sought God’s will in the distraction.
  • Consequences of allowing distraction.
  • Faith that God is greater than the consequences.
  • Jesus held on to that faith in the face of other’s anger and derision.
  • The ultimate consequence of following God: New Life!
  • The goal is redemption, not accomplishment. When we keep that goal in mind distractions can become opportunities for redemption rather than aggravations.

No Place to Lay His Head

Click here to listen to the sermon inspired by the following notes.

When we think about Jesus, we tend to think in terms of images we have seen in movies or classical artwork, not the image on the front of today’s bulletin. What is so difficult to consider is that Jesus stepped out of the mainstream of Jewish society and spoke from the margins. In a very real way he was able to say and do many things he couldn’t otherwise because of his marginal location in that society.

18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Matthew 8:18-22

1) Jesus trying to ditch the crowds…again!
2) Teacher of the law was a respected position in society. Served as local judges in outlying regions.
3) Jesus did not have a home, and this was a strategic decision on his part. (Play Rich Mullins’ You did not have a home.)
4) Simplicity means not being owned by the things/obligations of this world.
5) We repeat the phrase that we have been bought by a price, and then return to the old masters.
6) We fear the margins, but Jesus shows us that a church that is operating on the margins of society is being faithful.
7) The obligations towards family can come to distract us as well.
8) Following Jesus means making decisions that could marginalize us within our society, family and circles of friends, and Jesus is challenging us.
9) Take stock regularly and do an audit of time, money, and obligations. Think hard about what those say our priorities are.
10) Simplicity is not about stuff, it is about focus. Are the things/people/obligations in my life helping me focus on God’s call or are they distractions?

Faith, Trust, Doubt, and Hope

Click here to listen to the sermon that came from the following notes.

There are times when God leads you to a passage and you just wonder why God had to lead you there. This week we are going to look at Jesus’ interactions with people bringing someone they cared about to him for healing. The first story is that of a Roman Centurion with an ill servant.

5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment. Luke 8:5-13

  • A loaded question. Purity rules, entering a gentiles house.
  • Centurion’s respect for culture – humility.
  • Centurion’s faith shows that the kingdom is offered to all, not just the “chosen race.”
  • Just being born into the right family doesn’t guarantee us a relationship with God. We must pursue it.

The next story is from the gospel of Mark 9:14-27 and is a much different circumstance involving a Father who has watched their child suffer for many years.

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. 16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. 17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

  • Failure is to be expected.
  • Disciples like us don’t always know the best way to approach a situation.
  • The only real failure for us is to not take things to Jesus, so maybe there isn’t a failure here after all.
  • “If you can?” vs. “If you will?”
  • Worn down faith needs Jesus, not judgment. Doubt is natural and can be the catalyst for deeper faith. Talk about my struggle with faith re:Analise.
  • Key element to both stories: humility.
  • Let us come before God together to seek his will in humility, but with Hope that our Father will act.