November 27, 2015
Only once have I gone shopping on a day akin to Black Friday. It was in fact the day after Christmas, when, at least back then, many retailers would have sales to clear out their stock. My one foray into such crowds came about because there was a floral supply store that was having great deals on Christmas items, beginning at 4:00 a.m. on December 26th, and my wife and a friend wanted to see what they could get to use at the church the following year. Their commitment to the church, plus perhaps a little cajoling, got me up at 3:00 a.m. so as to drive to this store. Honestly, I don’t remember what they bought, but I’m sure it was well worth the lack of sleep, the drive and the money spent.
I still haven’t ventured out on Black Friday. I know there are great deals. I know I could get some pretty neat things. My trouble is that after stuffing myself with food on Thanksgiving it is difficult for me to go and stuff my car with things that, although bought at great prices, I might not really need. And then there is the fact of early hours, and driving around, and the crowds. Of course, a lot of this now happens online as well, but I’m still not sure I need to buy these things just because they are sold at great prices.
Now if you are one of the brave ones who ventures out on every Black Friday, I don’t mean to offend you. I’m sure you are a more prudent shopper than I might be. Depending upon when you are reading this, you may be getting ready to go out, or, you may have already returned with your treasures. In either case, I hope it is a memorable day.
I do wonder though, as many people begin the season of buying, and often stressing over gift decisions, how we have managed to turn this time before Christmas into something that seems so far from the story of the birth itself. After all, as the story is told in the Gospel of Luke, the journey long ago led to a simple shed or stall out back of an inn, where the child was born to a poor couple huddled among animals.
I recognize that Black Friday is very important to retailers, and is an important part of our national economic picture. I realize as well that some people search for bargains in order to purchase needed items while also making ends meet. But I do have questions about the immensity of the whole venture. Are our lives enriched by the multitude of things that we buy at bargain prices, or is the simplicity of the birth of Jesus inviting us to discover something far more valuable?
I suppose you can easily figure out my answer to the question. More important though is the answer you arrive at in your own life.
November 20, 2015
Yard Sale Treasures
Once or twice a year my congregation holds a yard sale. It is always a big event. For a whole week, from after the worship time on a Sunday until the afternoon of the following Saturday, the sanctuary, activities hall, and sometimes the church library are given over to this endeavor. It starts out as one big mess, is fairly quickly organized, and culminates in about ten hours of selling treasures to people who are intrigued by them, or decide they are cute, or sometimes just plain need certain items.
If you or I don’t need these things, we are apt to see them as junk. If we do find something we need or want, then that junk is transformed into a treasure. Truth be told, the variety of items for sale are usually as unique as the individuals who are sifting through them.
I am grateful to Frederick Buechner, long one of my favorite authors, who once wrote a book entitled, Peculiar Treasures. The title comes from a passage in the book of Exodus (19:5) wherein the people are referred to as “a peculiar treasure.” That particular wording is found in the King James Version. That is usually not my Bible version of choice, yet I especially love this particular phrase.
By extension, I would venture to say that God chooses all of us as peculiar treasures. We each have our unique qualities. We have friends and family who may appreciate those qualities, and we may know other people who are not as fond of them. Yet, those unique qualities are an important part of who we are and how we make our mark, how we touch others. They are central to the ways in which we share our gifts with the world.
We are peculiar treasures. And because I believe that God treasures us beyond measure, you would never find God advertising a yard sale.
November 13, 2015
The Value of a Local Church
After writing last week about being “religious” or not, I realized that in saying the priorities for me are those of being faithful to God and being faithful to the ways of Jesus, that it implied those can happen without any religious or church involvement. The reality is that they can both happen outside of the church. That being said, I believe that being a part of a local church enriches such faithfulness.
In this day of the Internet, and with multitudes of theological and spiritual writings available to anyone who chooses to pursue them, it is easy to nurture one’s journey without any contact with other people who express beliefs and look to develop faith. Yet, sharing the journey is such a wonderful experience. That doesn’t mean that everything always goes smoothly. Life in general is never that way, why should our spiritual quests be any different? But is precisely in living into our faith through the challenges, that we develop a greater depth of being. It is through debating issues of faith, as Jesus often debated with others, that we come to a clearer understanding of those issues. It is through exchanging views that are often quite different, that we arrive at a place of fuller and deeper faith.
My local church is composed of people who are seeking. They are looking for ways to understand life more deeply. They are enjoying companionship in their journeys. They are grateful for the acknowledgment that they are not alone. They are appreciative of support in times of challenge. They are happy to have friends to celebrate with in times of joy.
There is a very real sense in which the church is God’s gift to us. We may spend time in prayer and meditation. We gather weekly for worship experiences. We enjoy giving to others, and especially supporting organizations in our community. But in it all, really, we are the ones who are always blessed, no matter what. God has given us the gift of one another, and both we and God always hold the door open for others to join us.
For me, the local church is a gift beyond measure.
November 6, 2015
On Being Religious
The Pew Research Center recently released a headline that read, “U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious.” If you are interested, you can find the release, with all of its details and even additional links, at their website under the tab, “Religion.” Of particular interest to the church member who called it to my attention, was the finding that the number of people without a connection to religion has grown in size. The Pew report put it like this: “the trends among the religiously unaffiliated segment of the population look more like secularization. Not only have the unaffiliated grown in size, they also have become less religious over time.”
The survey results confirm what many in religious circles have been acknowledging for some time. But here are my questions about the people who are in this category: Are they unaffiliated or less religious because they were hurt by a church and felt rejected, and have thereby rejected religion? Is it because they find contemporary church life to be irrelevant in their lives? Is it because they are just too busy with everything else to really give religion much thought? I know that surveys can’t amass anecdotal answers, but those more personal answers would provide me with something to really grab on to. And, those are the personal conversations I would like to be privileged to share with people.
Because, if you asked me if I was “religious,” I would be apt to say, “No.” Yes, I am a Christian. Yes, I follow the ways of Jesus. Yes, I pastor a church. But am I religious? “Religious” implies to me that one is immersed in the structures and systems of a religious body that holds a particular set of beliefs. “Religious” implies to me that one is following the party line of a particular denomination, or movement or religion. For me, what is important is living a life of faithfulness to God, living in ways that follow the pathway Jesus lived, and keeping the commandments as Jesus summarized them: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus was a faithful Jew, who evidence indicates attended synagogue regularly, journeyed to Jerusalem for important festivals, and kept the Law of Moses faithfully (at least as he understood it). He did the “religious” things, but I don’t look upon him as being “religious.” Jesus continually asked other “religious” people why they did things in certain ways. Why, he asked, would you allow one thing on the Sabbath but not allow another? He didn’t question the value of the Sabbath, he questioned the way in which “religious” people sometimes observed it. Jesus was a faithful Jew, lived a life of faithfulness to God, and yet, would he have described himself as “religious”?
I know that maintaining systems and structures are important in the life of the church. It is through such things that we have accountability with one another and can offer that accountability to others. But when the systems and structures become the reason for being the church, rather than necessary things that help us to live the life of faithfulness, then we need to examine afresh what we are doing.
I find great life and meaning in being a Christian, and in being a part of my local church, as well as my chosen denomination. I believe that God is continually welcoming all of us, and I hope that people also experience such a welcome when they walk into my church. Loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves is at the heart of it all. That is the message that I hope people hear.
Welcome to my website. I hope you will discover a connection to the life of small churches, and the richness that the arts can bring to these churches.