Thursday, May 11, 2017

First come hate, then comes Division

You surely remember the old nursery rhyme... 
            Bobby and Mary, sittin' in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g.
            First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage.

Kids to this day use that one to tease one another about the wonder of attraction, and we know that boys and girls are sometimes merciless when it comes to picking on one another.  Fortunately, we all grow up, and we (usually) have mature and healthy experiences with love and affection. 

The poem has a few merits to it.  The poem verbalizes the ideal.  Love should come first, and then marriage, and then in time comes a baby in a baby carriage, and when done in good order, those are wonderful experiences, worthy of joy and celebration.  Affection and attraction are good and proper, which can lead to relationship and commitment, and these traits form an essential part of our humanity. 

Sadly, our relationships frequently do not endure, our attractions are sometimes fleeting, and rather than fulfilling and rewarding relationships, we too often end up in heartache and battle.  And that applies to marriage, as well as to friendships, business partnerships, politics, and any relationship that involves humans.  Rather than affection that leads to relationship, we have animosity that leads to conflict.

As a nation, we are more divided than any point since the Civil War.  Politically and socially, we are polarized.  The gap and distance between genders, races, rich and poor, liberal and conservative continues to widen, the chasm ever deeper.  The weapons of warfare, usually words, grow ever sharper.  Too often, the words become fists, bullets, and even legislation.  There is a meanness, an anger in the debate and no one seems to want to find reason or middle ground in which we can treat one another with decency or dignity. 

Twenty four hour news and social media contribute to the problems.  A constant barrage of messages fan the flames of anxiety and polarization.  Us versus them.  The other side.  Either you are with me or against me.  You can clearly see the hostility and antagonism in our political leaders, in activists of every kind, even among religious leaders and those who claim to seek peace.   There is a hatred, that is manifested in actions, which leads to further division.  The result is not reconciliation, only more hate.

Humanity has a streak of merciless.  It is time for all of us to grow up and find a better way to treat one another. 

I have some friends that are as lefty liberal as you could imagine.  I do not agree with everything on their social or political agenda, but they are my friends.  I have some other friends that are so conservative they make the late Jerry Falwell look like a communist.  I do not agree with everything on their agenda either.  But they are still my friends.  And I do my best to treat all of my friends with respect, and dignity, even when I disagree with them. 

If I was inclined, I could argue with all the folks I know, criticize their opinions, and show them the error of their viewpoints, and the superiority of my own view.  I am a fairly educated guy, I can win most of the arguments.  But at what cost?  Destroyed friendships, hurt feelings, bitterness.   And none of the arguments will ever really change someone's mind.  They usually just reinforce the animosity and radicalize the opinions. 

Instead of arguing and trying to change the world through hate and division and emotional destruction, Jesus took the way of peace and grace.  He showed love when people were not very lovely.  He showed grace to the ungracious and undeserving.  He showed us the intrinsic value of all people, even when people were wrong.  Jesus took the way of peace, and he calls his followers to do the same.  Because peace, grace, and love are what will change the world. 

I firmly believe that our nation, our world is headed in bad direction.  And the direction has nothing to do with the politics or social concerns of the day.  The direction we are in has no bearing on gender or racial equality.  The bad direction that we are pursuing is simply one where attack, criticize, and demean are the primary tools of communication.   Where debate means only to argue and anger.  And as long as we continue on with this hatefest, we will continue to be ever more divided, more stressed, more fractured as a community, a region, and nation.

So rather than argue, rather than add fuel to an already raging fire, let us all step back.  Learn how to agree to disagree like ladies and gentlemen.  Accept the fact that opinions and experiences will vary, and let that be acceptable.  And start treating one another with decency and respect for all.  We can disagree, but must we be so disagreeable about it?

The heavy metal singer Ozzy Osbourne had a hit with a song called "Crazy Train."  One of the lyrics said, "Maybe, it's not too late, to learn how to love, and forget about hate."  Now, if someone wild and crazy as Ozzy can see the error of this way of humanity, surely reasonable people can as well. 

Blessings and Peace to you all,

Pastor Brian 

Monday, February 27, 2017

I Got Engaged!

One of the most exciting days in a person's life is when they happily announce that they have gotten engaged.  And they might show off a ring, or set a date, or make big plans for the upcoming day.  And of course, an engagement to be married is full of hope and promise and joy for the future, because it means a commitment has been made, a promise of loyalty has been spoken, and a bond is secured.

As a pastor, I speak with engaged couples frequently, and help them plan not only the wedding, but the marriage.  My words of advice at such a time is to worry less about the ceremony, and focus on the relationship.  The wedding is over in a day, but the marriage is designed to last a lifetime.  Engagement is the beginning of a lifelong trust and covenant.

While marriage is one common context, the word "engagement" applies in a variety areas of life.  Automobiles (used to) have a clutch that is disengaged to change gears or stop, and engaged to make the car move.  When children are engaged at school, they are attentive, learn more, and happier students.  Engagement is connection and involvement, engagement is the source of progress.

Christians are more spiritually healthy when they are engaged in the life and work of the church.  Attending the worship services is important, but to sit and listen and leave without connecting to other people does not describe engagement.  Commitment, participation, and service describe engagement.  And the Kingdom is advanced by those who are engaged. 

Using the illustration of a wedding engagement, the couple is focused in the goal of becoming husband and wife.  And while work and family and grocery shopping still continues during the period of being engaged, the focus of life is in planning and preparing for the day in which the marriage is made.  The engagement is the subtext to all the activity and events of life. 

Engaged Christians live in a similar way.  The mission of Christ, in all of its facets, becomes the baseline and subtext for life.  Building community, serving one another, and growing in grace permeates and filters into all of life.  Church is not merely a Sunday Morning event, but an central part of one's identity, each and every day.  Attendance at the worship service is more than an occasion to be spiritually fed, but seeks an opportunity to serve and contribute to the lives of others.  As engaged Christians, we live all of our lives with an awareness of our mission, and we seek to reflect the light of Christ however we can.

This sense of engagement gets taken one step further when we consider that the Scripture continually refers to the church as the "Bride of Christ."  We are betrothed to the Savior.  We are engaged.  And our loyalty to the Lord is reflected and exercised in our relationships to one another.  Just as we cannot imagine being partially or half way kind of - sort of engaged to be married, neither can we be partially committed to the Savior.  The Lord requires our whole self, and expects our fidelity and loyalty. 

Consider your engagement to Christ and His church.  Ask yourself - Is your devotion to the Lord is reflected in your personal relationships?  Is your love for God evidenced in your service to His Kingdom?   And of you find the answers are not reflective of what you would want them to be, then take a few steps to strengthen your sense of engagement and loyalty to the One who loves you immensely. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Reflections on a Sunday

Sometimes it works smoothly, sometimes not so much. And then comes the time when you are again surprised at the goodness of God.

As I wrote up my sermon notes early in the week, I had my doubts. It was a particularly hard passage of Scripture to preach. It was a simple story with very specific application, and not a wide appeal. I thought about skipping it and moving on to something better, but my heart and my soul and the Spirit kept me there.

I struggled to make it interesting. I felt like it was flat and kind of boring. But I stuck with it, and figured I would do the best I could, and let it be. If the Lord wanted that Scripture preached, He would have to bring the zing. In my mind, it was destined to be a dud. But what do I know?

Amazing what happens when you get yourself out of the way and let God be God. When Sunday came, I let it loose, and - if I am permitted to say so - it was pretty terrific. People smiled. They said Amen. At one point, they burst into spontaneous applause. There were some wet eyes. God moved in our midst.

I think that I am going to let God be in charge all the time. It will be better that way.

Thanks to all my Charles Town Baptist friends. I love you, and I am humbled to be your pastor.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Why Church Still Matters

A well known columnist that comments on contemporary life in these United States has identified our culture as postmodern and post-Christian America. That may be so. We are postmodern, certainly. Modernism did not save us, our technology has made our world more comfortable, but it has not made human nature any better. We still fight and struggle with ourselves and one another as much or more as any time in human history.

Post-Christian America? Perhaps. I am confident that church and Christian faith are not as central to our society than they were fifty or a hundred years ago. On the whole, we are more inclusive and accepting of other religious expressions, cultures, and worldviews. The percentage of Americans that attend church services on a regular basis is far less than it was even twenty years ago. The trends of morality (ooh, controversy!) are drifting further from a biblical picture, and more to a humanistic expression.

But does Church still matter in America? Does the Church as an establishment of culture still have something to say? I believe it does. And I am optimistic enough to believe that the best days of Christian faith and Church in America are ahead of us, rather than behind us.

Church still matters because we need some balance to the violence and animosity that pervades our society. As if there is not enough violence in the streets and homes of our nation, we make up more violence and call it entertainment. In a world where people pay money to watch dramatized hatred and murder, someone needs to talk about peace and forgiveness. The world needs to be reminded on a regular basis that love is a better option than bitterness, and that talking about our differences is better than throwing stones. Or fists or bullets.

Church still matters because we are made for community. Humans are social creatures, and as easy as it is to connect though Facebook, Twitter, email, and the rest, there is no substitute for personal contact, face-to-face, in which we build healthy and abiding relationships. Church provides a ready-made setting for honest and constructive social interaction that adds value to our lives. And, no church people are not perfect, either. But most of us are well-intentioned, decent people doing the best we can to deal with our own dysfunctions.

Church still matters because there really is more going on here than meets the eye. While science and technology refuses to acknowledge anything beyond the empirically measurable, most of us have an innate knowledge that we humans are than a collection of molecules or a system of biology. We are made with a soul and despite the science, we all experience love, fear, compassion, anxiety, and desire. We long to know the bigger questions of meaning and purpose and what really happens when we die. Church exists to help us find some answers to the really big mysteries of life.

When I look around this world, and I see the beauty and wonder of it, and at the same time see the tragedy and pain, I am reminded that we are in fact the product of a wonderful Creator who cares for us deeply, but something has gone terribly wrong. The train has jumped the track, and we are need of restoration. Church helps me understand how and why these things work. Church helps me reconcile my own brokenness, find some bits of peace to cultivate in my own dark heart, and be a better person than I would be otherwise.
Churches come in all different kinds and shapes and styles. Find one that you can live with and be a part of something good. Find a minister that has something to say worth hearing. You don't have to agree with everything. Neither do you have to leave your sanity at the door and be a fanatic. But if you walk in the door with an open mind and a smile, I am confident that you will be welcome, you will find a friend or two, and you might even enjoy yourself. Church matters still, because people matter most.

Monday, January 20, 2014

We can disagree, but why must we be so disagreeable about it?

I have some friends who are staunch biblical conservatives, apply a very literal interpretation of the Bible, and take a conservative stand on all the hot button issues of today regarding morality and behavior. I understand where they are coming from, I respect their right to their position, and I sometimes cringe at the words that come out of their mouths.

I have some other friends who are proudly liberal. They are progressive in their theology, inclusive in their practices, and proclaim grace above all else. Except, of course, to those who are staunch conservatives and disagree with them. As with my other friends, I understand their position, and I sometimes cringe at their words, too.

We Christians seem to make a sport out of bashing one another. Within the wide spectrum of those who claim to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth, there is diversity, dissension, and a lot of finger pointing. We seem to have arranged ourselves into the camps of liberal, moderate, conservative, with the intention of proclaiming the superiority of our own position, that that my ideas are more "Godly" than the others, and apparently, Jesus likes me best.

Oddly enough, in the Bible, I have found an entirely different story. When Jesus encountered the broken people of his day, the social outcasts, the poor and needy, the sick and grieving, He simply loved them for who they were, expressed compassion and healing to them, and proclaimed the Kingdom of God. Jesus never condoned or excused sin, but he always loved people in spite of their sin. As far as I can tell, the only people that Jesus ever got really mad at were the religious experts who thought they knew better than everyone else.

At the heart of all sin is a core of self importance, self righteousness, and self promotion (You can look up the verses in Isaiah 14:12-15). In the bickering and finger pointing over the social concerns of today, with each camp shouting the benefit and blessedness of his own opinion, there is a foundation of self justification and self righteousness that seems mighty far away from anything that Jesus was ever talking about.

In today's changing world, the political, social, and moral issues about which we tend to argue over are essentially spiritual in nature. And as spiritual people, they are important to us and are expressed as an extension of our faith. And yes, we disagree. But my disagreements do not mean I hate those I disagree with, nor does it justify my behavior to be mean spirited or condescending to those who have another opinion.

A rather wise colleague of mine once said, "In the world of 24 hour news, the one who shouts the loudest decides what the truth is." And in the journalistic entertainment world, we see the wisdom of those words. But when churches and so-called spiritually wise people attempt the same technique, the result is a shouting match with no winners, only losers. Meanwhile, the non-religious folks watch and wonder what is wrong with us.

For all my liberal and conservative friends, if I have any left, let's try some civil discourse, respect for one another, and rather than point a finger, maybe we could talk over a cup of coffee. And at least act a little bit like Jesus in our disagreements.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

forgotten neglected and renewed

Several interesting conversations recently with a friend who is involved in social media, marketing, and strategic outreach. She is willing to help me get this bloggering thing down. Video blog, facebook, web page, personal blog, and Youtube, all synchronized and linked together, all with the intent of a message getting to an audience.

I think I have some work ahead of me.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Storm stories

During my tenure in Louisiana, we endured five hurricanes in eight years. Lili, Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike. They are etched into my memories, and certain aspects of each are unforgettable. I thought that I would be retired from hurricanes when I moved to the Mid Atlantic region. I guess not.

Despite the warnings of the meteorologists, we have fared well in Charles Town, with no major damage that I am aware of. To the east and north of us, that is not the case and many folks are in bad shape. To the west and south of us, they are digging out from a foot of snow. And with early warning, reasonable precautions for preparedness, and the resources of the federal government standing by, people still endure the storm, suffer damage, and slowly recover. We just cannot escape the storm.

My time on the Gulf Coast taught me to take hurricanes seriously. Get the emergency kit ready before hand, store up some drinking water, make sure you have batteries and milk. Kim and I did those things, and when our power went out for a couple of hours on Monday night, we had no panic or stress, but rather enjoyed a candlelight dinner and quiet conversation. With the wind and the rain outside, it was almost relaxing. Because we had prepared for it.

The whole things stands as a metaphor for life. I know that it is an old cliché to describe the storms of life, but it still holds true. Families face storms of illness, financial pressure, the loss of a loved one. Marriages face the storms of disagreement, confrontation, and sometimes betrayal. Businesses face the storms of competition, technology, and uncertainty in the market. We cannot escape the storms; we cannot totally evade the difficulties and challenges that life throws our way. But we can be prepared for them, and we can certainly survive and even thrive in the midst of them.

Proverbs 6 describes the wisdom of the ant, who plans ahead to ensure that supplies are laid up and life is prepared for the lean times to come. We use the same wisdom when we go to Wal-mart early and stock up on flashlights and soup. But even more significantly, we can be mentally and emotionally prepared for the storms of life.

By building a life of integrity and a reputation of character, you are well prepared from the day that people rise up to accuse you. If you have lived with honesty in your business and personal life, those who seek to ambush you will have little ground for their attack. By building a healthy marriage of mutual trust, faithfulness, and companionship, you are well prepared from the normal temptations and difficulties that will someday come your way.

If you fail to prepare for a hurricane, you are certain to be left in dire straits. No water, no lights, no relief in sight. It is a desolate place to be. Likewise, if you fail to prepare your life for mental or emotional conflict, you can easily be ruined and stranded.

Certainly, God is always with us as we face the difficulties of life, He is our ever present help in time of need. He will not abandon nor forsake His people, and we are well confident in his protection and grace as we face conflict. No doubt, no question. But it seems to me that he has given us a number of gifts to use for our own selves, that we would be well prepared for times of trial. He has given us a brain, to think ahead. He has given us experiences that we can use to shape our judgment with. He has given us His Word, to guide our relationships and decisions. He has given us the ability to choose well for ourselves. Ought we not use these gifts for our own well being?

On the news Tuesday, a woman from Atlantic City was being interviewed. She ignored the evacuation order of the governor, remained in her home, got flooded, had no food or power, and then was furious that she had not been rescued. Seemed odd to me. But in truth, we do the same sort of things when we blame God for the consequences of our own bad choices. Better that we would choose to prepare our lives by living well and thinking ahead. Then we can rejoice and enjoy peace in the midst of all the messes.