Missouri Misgivings… September 27, 2012

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Henry Clay was quite wrong. Folks from Missouri don’t favor compromise that much. They are a generous lot, but pretty straight-ahead thinkers and often quite convinced of the nobility of their notions.

So as I took my Six Word Tour“NoOne is better than anyone else”–across I-70, from KC to Saint Louie, I immediately had a few folks with crinkled noses, questioning the veracity of my concept.

Misgiving One: “Jonathan, Jesus was a human being but he was also better than everyone else. So what do you say about that, fella?”

I will tell you what I say about that–Christian theology is completely stalled in the paradox of trying to present the humanity of Christ while simultaneously doing nothing to tamper with the divinity unit. It is something that has come to pass in the past four or five hundred years, as the Catholics and the Protestants have done battle over doctrine instead of finding common ground in the message.

The early Christian church had no problem with this situation whatsoever. Matter of fact, the writer of the Book of Hebrews makes it clear: Jesus was completely human. He was “tempted like we are,” he “learned obedience through the things he suffered” and “he was touched by all of our infirmities.” Even the gospel writer tell us that as a boy “he grew in wisdom, in stature and in favor with God and man.”

We do a terrible disservice to believers when we take away the greatest gift God gave to this earth–the human life of Jesus of Nazareth–and replace it with a Christ who was always God, just wearing cool sandals. What Jesus allowed, which set him apart, was for the Spirit to be involved in his life and included in all aspects of his activities. It is why the Bible tells us that the same Spirit that dwelled in Jesus can dwell in us. When I say “NoOne is better than anyone else” I am not concluding that some folks don’t use their human lives more effectively than others. But as Jesus started out on an even playing field as a human being, so do we all. It’s up to us whether we decide to tap all our resources, or just move into one room of our human house and live there.

Misgiving Two: “Jonathan, don’t some species become extinct and others survive, which would make the surviving creatures better–right?”

It’s rather doubtful that God and nature gave function to any part of the creation just so there would be something to destroy. Dinosaurs had their chance. They just didn’t bring anything to the planet. It shortened their stay.

Everyday certain life forms go extinct. It’s because they refuse to evolve, adapt and become fruitful to the earth. It doesn’t make them better or worse. It just teaches us all a very valuable lesson–that being aware of your surroundings and the changes occurring is a very healthy outlook, and can keep you from running into walls and breaking your nose.

As Jesus said beautifully and poetically, “One sparrow does not fall without God, the Father, knowing it.” God has an investment in all His various incarnations and incantations but He does leave it to the free-will choice of even the spider–whether it will use its lifespan productively or squander it by spinning a web too near its enemy.

An extinct species is not inferior in the sight of God, only found wanting in the deliberation of nature. This holds true for all of us.

So in Missouri I found that some of the people thought there were unique humans–Jesus, for instance. I suppose they would also contend that Mozart was born to compose music, Copernicus to stare at the heavens and Guttenberg to get printing ink on his hands. It just ain’t so, Joe. We’re all born and pushed forward towards a possibility, and if we embrace it, we eventually become very good at it because God has given us the talent to be talented. So if Mozart had been born in a carpenter’s shop, we would have Mozart tables in our house instead of symphonies at the local convention hall. And if George Washington Carver had been born in the Midwest on a corn farm, we would have corn butter and jelly sandwiches instead of peanut butter. (I don’t know. It doesn’t sound that bad…)

So the people of Missouri believe there are unique humans, but they also believe there are unique species, blessed with greater capability of survival. Actually, it rains on the just and the unjust–and that goes for ants and turtles. And what creates an unjust turtle? The same thing that creates an unjust human: you spend too much time in your shell, you get replaced.

We are determined to be unique when the real uniqueness of the human creature is our commonality. And until we find that similarity in one another, we will “unique” our way into many wars, conflicts, bigotries and destruction.

From Missouri, I took a turn south–to the great state of Texas, and presented my six word phrase. What will happen in the Lone Star State?

We’ll find out tomorrow.

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The St. Peter Principle… June 25, 2012

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I do believe that Simon bar Jonah, a fisherman from Capernaum, who was renamed “Peter” by his friend, Jesus, would be quite shocked to discover that he was deemed to be a saint after his demise. Obviously, “grave” changes bring lasting impressions.

Whatever the circumstances of the bestowal of the title, I was delightfully refreshed to be at St. Peter United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Missouri, yesterday morning. Now, I happen to enjoy a congregation that is blended like a great fruit salad, with a few nuts thrown in for good measure. St. Peter did not disappoint. I watched closely as they struggled with the enigma of how to use spirituality to benefit human beings without ending up inhaling the stale sourness of religiosity. Quite a dilemma.

The pastor was an insightful fellow with a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his step, who is certainly ready for a new birth of energy and inspiration. The congregation is peppered with talent, creativity, generosity and human qualities which would make them very appealing to others of their kind.

So what’s the problem?

It’s really quite simple. It’s just difficult to try to create a revival of fresh ideas when you are insisting on maintaining traditions that have long since lost both their nerve and their verve. You can’t haul a corpse around and pretend that you’re anything but an undertaker. So we’ve got to get rid of the body of Christ that’s dead and stinky in order for the real flesh and blood of Jesus to come out and be alive to humanity.

So if those good, new friends at St. Peter will allow me to make a suggestion for their burgeoning awakening, let me just sum it up in three simple statements. As it turns out, these ideas i’m about to present could be classified as heading for each of the chapters of Matthew 5, 6 and 7–dubbed the Sermon on the Mount. Because when you take the trio of principles and join them together, they not only create a message sensitive to the human heart, but one that also stirs the innards of the Almighty.

1. Happiness is our goal. Jesus takes the whole beginning of the Sermon on the Mount to talk about happiness. If you’re willing to sacrifice happiness, you must be prepared to lose contact with mankind and end up with a mere dribble of souls who are determined to be miserable. So, St. Peter’s, we choose to believe that happiness is the natural state that God wants his children to possess. Because we know that Eden, had it been absent sin and rebellion, was full of ecstasy and joy.Happiness is our goal. We work towards happiness. We don’t merely invite people to church, but rather, encounter them outside the building, pray for them, work with them and counsel them until they see a miracle in their lives that makes them want to come in and add their giddiness to the bliss. If happiness isn’t your goal, why do you have a church? There are plenty of places to make people subdued, somber, miserable and to foster malcontents. So, St. Peter’s, tipping our hat to Jesus’ beatitudes, we establish our first principle for operation: happiness is our goal.

2. Moving over to that 6th chapter of St. Matthew, we come up with our second precept. “NoOne is better than anyone else.” Jesus makes it clear that we should stop stomping around, acting like we’re freakishly holy because we fast, pray and give alms, and instead, find a way to do it with joy. (There’s happiness again!) In so doing, we will remove the piety from loving God and replace it with the equality that we have with our fellow-men and women. You can’t have a church if you think you’re better than other people. In that case, what you have is a cult of personality. So the second step in our process is to realize that NoOne is better than anyone else. Even when we’re tempted to feel that we’ve established some new standard of excellent human behavior, we need to laugh at ourselves and realize there are footprints all around where we’re standing.

3. And the final insight I offer to my dear friends in Kansas City is a sound-byte-rendition of the 7th Chapter of Matthew. I feel it is an adequate, if not accurate, representation of Jesus’ thoughts. We don’t judge. We don’t even think about judging. We refuse to have opinions on things that involve dissecting the character of another human being. We giggle at folks who assume they have achieved some sort of supernatural authority to evaluate the deeds of others. We don’t judge. It isn’t that we could judge and we’re deciding not to–it’s that we finally admit that we suck at it, and rather than continuing to offend other people due to our short-sighted views, we have selected to not judge.

These three steps:

  • happiness is our goal
  • NoOne is better than anyone else, and
  • we don’t judge

create a holy environment which proclaims, “We are a church which wants to show you the Father, and then let people be people. If there’s a need for change in them, let the Spirit convict. We’ll keep our eyes on the road so we don’t ‘tail-gate’ our fellow travelers.”

Those three initiative right there will keep you busy with teaching, instruction and edification for years to come. Just finding new reasons to be happy can fill up a month of Sundays. Pointing out the value of “NoOne is better than anyone else” will grant you the material for a dozen series of sermons. And maintaining the starship of “We don’t judge” will launch you into a galaxy of new frontiers.

St. Peter UMC–I love you dearly. But as Jesus made clear–the letter kills but the spirit gives life. In other words, any religion you maintain in your format will eventually drag you down–until you allow yourself to be humans, prompted by the Spirit.

Thank you for granting me your ears, and I relish your prayers as I journey on–and I certainly would love to hear what part of my little scenario you might deem worthy of your consideration.

For I will tell you this: No district office or national headquarters of any denomination will criticize anything you do if you are growing, prospering and helping people.

   

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