Come to the Table
August 28, 2022
It’s been a few years, but I can still remember the anxious feeling I got the first time I walked into a brand-new school lunchroom after moving from Virginia to North Carolina. I didn’t really have any friends yet (having just met a few people in the two periods before lunchtime), so there I was, holding my lunch tray and looking around the room for a table that made sense. There’s a weird level of politicking that goes on in school lunchrooms—where you sit and who you sit with matters. I had to quickly judge who were “my people” that it would be okay to sit with to avoid the very public humiliation of being told I couldn’t sit at some certain table or other. The safest way to go, as far as I could tell, was to avoid any table with kids who looked too popular, and it seems like that worked. Not thinking too highly of yourself seems to be the lesson of the day.
And I think we’re pretty decent at that, most of the time, right? We value humility. We don’t, generally speaking, think we deserve the most important jobs or the most prestigious promotions. Or at least we won’t go around proclaiming that we do! We won’t go to a party or get-together that we weren’t invited to. But that assumption that humility is a virtue wasn’t always the case, which is the situation Jesus is speaking to in our reading today.
August 21, 2022
Tell me if this sounds familiar to you: you have met with your doctor and talked about a procedure that you’ll need to have. Both of you agree it’s necessary and needs to be done soon, so you go and schedule it. Then, something happens and it has to be rescheduled. And then rescheduled. Insurance snags, scheduling conflicts, and even good old-fashioned mess-ups push the date out further and further. Until by the time it finally gets done, you’re left wondering why it needed to take so long and why it was so difficult to be taken care of when it was agreed that it was necessary and urgent.
Delays are part of life, admittedly. Having to wait for things is a discipline that we can use to grow in self-control. But when something is wrong, when something is broken, when something needs to be fixed now, it can be beyond frustrating when it’s put off—especially when there’s no good reason for it to be put off to begin with. Whether it’s our bodies that need fixing, or our homes that need fixing, or our society that needs fixing, being told we have to wait for no other reason than just “because” is just not good enough.
Divided We Discern
August 14, 2022
There is something very off-putting about Jesus’ words this morning. We’re very used to the idea of a loving, accepting Jesus who brings people together, right? We hear his prayer in John’s gospel, “that they may all be one,” and nod our heads in agreement. Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the world who rescues us from its brokenness, is a guy who’s supposed to bring us together. He’s supposed to be the one who invites us to just love one another, set aside differences, and work toward the common goal of the kingdom.
But then here he is in our gospel reading, in what seems to be a rebuke of that idea. “You think I’ve come to bring peace? No! I’ve come to bring a sword that will divide families!” Uffda, right? I don’t want Jesus telling me that my very household is going to be divided. As a congregation, we don’t want to hear Jesus talking about his word causing rifts. As a nation already experiencing awful division with bad feelings on both sides, we don’t want Jesus to tell us that division is what happens when his word is spoken. So how do we understand what Jesus is saying here?
Faith To Do Good
August 7, 2022
Over the summer, we had our daughter going to gymnastics class. It was mostly about moving her body and getting comfortable with things like tumbling and jumping and balancing, but she had fun. One thing that would happen pretty frequently, though, was when she was up high somewhere. She was, as we all would be, afraid of falling. But, it didn’t seem to matter how high up she was as long as she was holding my hand. She would walk like a champ along the five foot high balance beams or hang on the six foot bars as long as I was there to catch her! Having that safety net let her be brave.
And that’s the case any time we do something that’s scary, right? Trapeze artists do their crazy flips and jumps and twirls twenty, thirty feet in the air—but they can do it with confidence because they know there’s a net below them in case anything goes wrong. Skydivers, who are some of the craziest kinds of people I think, still only jump out of planes when they know there’s a second parachute in case the first doesn’t work. When we know there is something there to keep us safe, to support us in case something goes wrong, it’s pretty amazing the stuff we end up being able to do.
Abundant Blessing for All
July 31, 2022
Out on the west coast, around the Seattle area and up the coast of British Columbia, there is one of the largest temperate rainforests in the world. Water from the relatively warm Pacific Ocean feeds clouds that head straight for the coast, and then they run into the Cascades where they drop an absolutely stunning amount of water every year. The ocean also keeps the temperatures of the whole region pretty stable and mild, so the growing season basically doesn’t end. The result is a region of some of the highest biomass in the world outside of the tropics.
In this region, for thousands of years, there were native tribes who were shaped by the sheer abundance of the landscape. Even though they never developed indigenous agriculture, tribes like the Chinook and Klamath were able to settle down instead of wandering from place to place looking for food and resources. These cultures were so accustomed to abundance that they developed a special kind of ceremony celebrating that abundance—the potlatch.
Be Bold in What You Ask
July 24, 2022
There was an article I read recently that talked about how we are formed to make requests—to ask people for something. The author said that there are “askers” and “guessers.” “Askers” are the kind of people who are very comfortable asking for things—like requesting a pay raise from a boss, or asking for a friend to help them pack boxes for a big move, or a volunteer coordinator asking individuals to help out with things. Then the other type, the “guessers,” are people who are very selective about asking for things—they will wait until they’re basically certain the answer will be “yes” before they even ask.
But it’s not just the way we make requests. It’s also the way we expect others to form their requests. Askers expect others to be like them, and ask for things when they need or want them. Askers are comfortable saying “no” because they themselves are comfortable with receiving a “no.” Guessers, on the other hand, don’t like to have to say “no,” and may even resent someone who asks them for something they think it’s obvious they won’t agree to. Obviously, like everything else, no one is 100% one or the other, but it’s a great way of understanding how and why people do what they do. It’s this crazy way of understanding how people interact that I find endlessly fascinating.
Remember to sit at his feet
July 17, 2022
For a long time, I’ve found that I’m the type of person who needs to make a to-do list in order to get things done. It helps me focus on what the next thing is, and makes sure that I get to each task I need to do for the day. I’m sure many of y’all are like that. To-do lists help us be productive and keep us from wasting too much time. Of course, there are some of y’all who don’t need a to-do list, and can just know, intuitively, what the next thing that needs to be done will be.
But whether you’re a to-do lister or not, we all know that there are always tasks that need to be done. At the end of the day, there will always be another thing that could’ve been accomplished, another task that could’ve been finished, another project that could’ve been worked on. Whether it’s work or home, friendships or professional connections, we can always tack on more things that could be done to make us more productive. And productivity, it seems, is a cultural obsession of ours.
There was a show that was on a few years ago starring Tim Allen called Home Improvement. If you haven’t seen it, Tim Allen played as Tim Taylor, who had a DIY show and gave tips and tricks to people doing home improvement projects. And, of course, it was a sitcom so the show included his family life and all their hijinks. There was this one particular part of his home life that I remember, and that was his neighbor, Wilson. They would often have chats peppered with the one-liners you expect from a 90s sitcom, but the thing that stuck out was that you only ever saw the neighbor from his eyes up—the rest of him was hidden behind a privacy fence. Whatever the extent of their conversations, Tim never interacted with Wilson except at eye level behind a fence.
Sometimes, neighborliness is exactly like that. We may be cordial and friendly, looking out for each other and sharing news, but a lot of the time—not always, but a lot of the time—our interactions with our neighbors end there. It’s like Robert Frost’s poem Mending Wall when the neighbor tells him that “good fences make good neighbors”—essentially that it’s the separation that makes us get along with those who live next to us. So it’s with this idea of neighborliness in our cultural minds that we hear this story of the Good Samaritan and its focus on loving your “neighbor” as yourself.
You will never be the same
June 26, 2022
I heard a story on the radio recently about a man named Kenny Butler. He grew up without a lot of options, hemmed in by poverty and community violence, and ended up joining the ranks of the Crips gang. Well, as time went on he ended up in and out of jail, until he landed in federal prison on a plea deal. That should have been the end of the story—one more man caught up in the crackdown of law and order—except that Kenny had a realization in prison, that he didn’t want to be this way. He started studying, and by some miracle it just happened that he was able to earn his Bachelor’s degree. One thing led to another, and he reached the point where he was organizing a community program to reconcile former gang members for the good of their communities.
Deep down, we all want to be good people. We want to do the right thing, even when we sometimes don’t know exactly what the right thing is. In the case of Kenny Butler, he was given the opportunity—you might say the grace—to grow into a person who could do the right thing. We all need the grace to try to do the right thing, and become the kind of people that God is calling us to be.
June 19, 2022
Way back in the 1860s, there were two sites in Hawaii on the island of Molokai that were designated as leper colonies. In those days, leprosy didn’t really have any kind of cure. It was a frightening looking disease—people would be disfigured by it in ways that made them look like monsters. And since people didn’t really understand how it spread, the solution for millennia had been to isolate lepers in a colony, off by themselves. Those two leper colonies in Hawaii wouldn’t close until 1969.
But isolating people we don’t want to deal with isn’t just something we did back decades or centuries ago. Even though we know from studies that the best way to deal with most kinds of criminals is to get them integrated into and invested in their communities, the United States instead has the biggest prison population in the world—bigger than the height of the Soviet Gulags or even (by percentage) the North Korean prison camp system, in fact. Criminals are undesirable so we hide them away—out of sight, out of mind.