Sunday, June 29, 2008

Congregational Response to a Sermon on Mark 14:32-15:20

beaten, bruised

mocked and accused

he did it for me.

led before Pilate

he did not open his mouth

he did it for you.

misunderstood, laughed at,

the butt of the worst of all jokes,

he remained silent

the anger of the world meets

the love of God

and God chooses restraint,

God chooses love,

God chooses forgiveness.

What shall it be for us?

Shall we, having been forgiven,

choose not to forgive?

Shall we, having been shown

the way of peacemaking,

choose violence?

Shall we, having seen Christ’s compassion,

even through murderous torture,

choose hate, gossip, and slander?

No. We choose the way of love,

we choose the way of forgiveness,

we choose the way of Christ,

even though it costs us everything.

Christ gave up everything for us.

So, to, we choose to give up everything

for the sake of Christ.

Amen. So be it.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

On the road again

I'll be gone most of this week, hanging out with Derek and Carin in Chicago. Don't expect much life here on the Hole in the Wall until next weekend.

That, and what with me recuperating from my major injury and all. . .

How to Teach Your Kids to Not Be Stupid

Hello, and welcome to this edition of, "How to Teach Your Kids to Not Be Stupid."

One method of teaching your kids to Not Be Stupid is to commit a stupid act in front of them, allowing them to see you face the consequences of behaving stupidly.

Take, for instance, a man and his daughter, out cleaning the yard one warm summer afternoon. Note how the man finds a piece of wood that has fallen into the bushes - how he collects this wood and takes it to his woodpile.

Pay attention as the man decides to chop up the wood before adding it to the pile. Note how the man considers replacing his sandals with his boots, but decides "It's only one log, and my boots are too much trouble to put on."

Watch as the man deftly wields his ax, swinging it high into the air and swiftly down upon the wood. Witness the easy way in which the firewood splits. Watch one half fall harmlessly to the ground.

Now watch as the other half flies into the air, end over end, arching up and over. Pay careful attention as the heavy chunk of wood lands sharply on the uncovered foot of the man.

And now, the lesson is taught, for notice the wide-eyed look of horror on the daughter's face as she watches her father hop up and down, groaning in agony, falling over on the rockery, clutching his foot in misery. Note how she solemnly follows her father as he hops one-legged into the house, see her revulsion as she first glimpses the purple swelling, the blood oozing out upon her father's foot. Yes, she has learned her lesson well. She has learned it is stupid to chop firewood in Tevas, and she will probably never attempt such a feat in her life.

The father has paid a horrible price, but he has certainly taught his daughter "How not to be stupid."

Tune in next week for a new edition of "How to teach your kids not to cuss and swear, even when enduring great pain."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Friday, June 20, 2008

The love of a Father

Olivia has a Pileated Woodpecker. A toy one, anyway. It's made out of metal, it's about an inch long. It's special to her for a few reasons: 1) it was a gift from grandma; 2) it's small and cute, and for some reason 7-year-old girls like things that are small and cute; and 3) we regularly see pileated woodpeckers in the woods around our house. Real ones, not small metal ones. I saw one last Monday evening, as a matter of fact.

This is not the actual woodpecker I saw. This
image is added for dramatic impact only.

Earlier this week - it was Tuesday, I think - I was finishing some work in the front room when I heard the wail of a distraught child emanating from the back of the house. The wail drew nearer, and soon Olivia was in the room, with the saddest of tales. She had been sitting on the toilet. She had dropped the pileated woodpecker. It had gone into the toilet. And since the toilet was, well, full of. . .stuff, she couldn't see it anymore.

What's a dad to do? Walk back, check out the scene of the accident, discern that, true enough, the woodpecker is nowhere around the toilet, so it must be in there. . .covered over by all that, ahem, stuff.

Only one thing to do. Go find a nice, thick plastic bag, secure it around the ol' hand and arm, and go digging around, hoping to find the woodpecker by feel alone. And try really hard not to think too much about what you're doing.

Alas, it was to no avail. The woodpecker was gone. Nowhere to be found. Down the drain, literally. The toilet was flushed to clear out the water, and even then, with pristine mountain well water now filling the bowl, no bird appeared.

On to the next task - consoling the daughter, who is now devastated. For a moment I thought of bribing her - "Tomorrow we'll go buy something new and shiny!" - but decided she needed to learn to deal with loss, she needed to understand that hurt feelings aren't always assuaged by new toys. That life is sometimes painful, and we just have to deal with it. So I used my best daddy/therapist approach, affirming her feelings, reflecting back her pain, talking about loss and life and moving on. And off she went to bed, still sniffling, still devastated.

I admit, I spent 20 minutes on E-Bay, wondering if I could find a replacement, but "small metal woodpecker toy" don't seem to be a hot item these days.

Later mommy came home, and consoled Olivia even more, eventually allowing Olivia to snuggle with her all night, while daddy slept on the couch. The things we'll put up with for our kids.

Only, that wasn't the end of the story.

On Wednesday, the woodpecker showed up again. It seems it didn't actually go down the drain, but fell into the little freshwater-inlet pipe at the bottom of the bowl. And when the toilet was flushed, it popped out of said pipe. . .for a moment. Then it slid back into that tiny little space once again. Olivia saw it first. And came rushing in to tell us. We doubted her, until we repeated the experiment, and, sure enough, there was the head of the woodpecker, peeking at us from the water inlet. But there was no way to pull it out - even the tiniest fingers wouldn't fit down there to reach it.

So on goes the plastic bag (even though we were dealing with clean water, just the thought of putting an uncovered hand in there gave me the heeby-jeebies). The toilet was flushed, the bird popped into the bowl, I grabbed it and pulled it out. . .and that which was dead to us was now alive and back in our presence.

And we had a little talk with Olivia about not playing with small toys on the toilet. Plus, I told Olivia, "someday when you're a teenager and you think I don't love you, remember that I stuck my hand in the toilet just to save your bird!" She did seem fairly appreciative of the sacrifice I had made.

And perhaps I learned something in the moment, as well, something about the price of being a dad, and the things we'll do for love. And, just maybe, we all got a glimps of the way God reaches down into the, ahem, "stuff" of our lives and comforts us in our sorrows, holding us close when we mourn, and how sometimes - not all the time, but sometimes - he actually fixes those problems, and redeems the things we thought were broken and lost.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Seattle goes to war

The following public commentary is offered free-of-charge, with no endorsement by any entity other than my own wandering mind. . .

If you're paying attention, you know there's a court case going on over in Seattle at the moment, pitting the city of Seattle against the current owners of the Seattle Supersonics. These owners are trying to move the team to Oklahoma City; Seattle is trying to hold them to the final two years of their lease in Key Arena. I won't go into the particulars. . .you can read all the details on the Seattle P-I or Seattle Times websites.

What's unfortunate is that, in many ways, it's coming down to a Seattle vs. Oklahoma City brawl. Message boards are filling up with all sorts of vitriol against those "okie hicks from the dust bowl" and those "latte-sippin' hippies from the arctic." Of course, the mismanagement and general buffoonery of the Sonics ownership, made up of some of Oklahoma City's "finest business people," certainly has left many in the northwest wondering just how dumb these Sooners must be? And the high-stepping, seemingly self-serving behavior of former owner Howard Schultz, and the Washington politicians, has left a bad taste in the mouth of those down southeast. Still, it's unfortunate that two cities have to end up hating on each other so much, just because a few civic bigwigs can't get their act together.

Take Two.

Yesterday it was anounced that the General Accounting Office sided with Boeing in their protest of the Air Force decision to pay a European company billions of dollars to build airborne refueling tankers. Which means the Air Force most likely will go back and revisit the decision, opening it back up for bids and going through the whole process again (which, btw, is costing us taxpayers quite a bit of money).

Most of those tankers would have been built, or at least finished, in a yet-to-be-built plant in Mobile, Alabama. The citizens of Mobile were planning on this as a boon to their economy, an entrance into the big-boy world of the aerospace business. And I'm sure they're pretty miffed at the GAO decision. Here in Seattle, those that care are too busy celebrating to care much about the feelings of Alabamians, but I've checked a message board or two from the Mobile area, and sure enough - Seattlites are "rude," "have no manners," "cheat and steal and lie," Boeing is a "monopoly," etc. etc. etc.

And as the case continues to roll along, as new decisions are made, I'm sure more feelings will get hurt, more sparks will fly.

Really, Seattle used to be such a nice place. Live and let live, enjoy the geoducks and rain and don't worry about what others think. Now it seems Seattle is in a war of words with all these other cities and their (fine?) citizens.

And it's just too bad. I'm sure Oklahoma City is a nice enough place (I once took a nap through there); and Mobile is probably made up of some fine folks. But in the worlds of Professional Sports and International Business, the stakes become high, and it seems the commoners get crushed by the owners/politicians/CEOs.

Maybe that's why I'm a pastor and not a multi-millionaire business owner. I'm just too nice, wanting everybody to get along and treat each other nicely. I wouldn't have the heart to create this little wars, just to make a buck.

Although, and I guess this is the one positive thing out of all this; it's a lot more exciting than the ongoing slog that is the 2008 Presidential campaign.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Grace is loving someone more than they deserve?

Seen on a church sign in Seattle last Friday: "Grace is loving someone more than they deserve."

What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Is that a fitting description of grace? What's your initial reaction? Or would you even pause to ponder it if you drove by the same sign?

Personally, I think they got it wrong. For a couple reasons.

The first issue would be this word "deserve." The above definition begs the question of how much love do people deserve?

It may help you to know this is a Lutheran Church. And if I may interpolate, Lutherans, being generally reformed in their theology, come at it from this place: Since we're all sinners, and since the wages of sin is death, the only thing we deserve is the wrath of God leading to death. It's the old "that saved a wretch like me" theology. We're all worms destined to destruction, yet God chooses to love some of us, and save some of us, and this is "Grace."

On the same token, we all mistreat each other. We all hurt each other. We're all jerks to each other. Some more than others, mind you. Usually those other people are bigger jerks than we are. So we show "Grace" by loving them, even when they're such jerks that they don't deserve it. Thus, we arrive at the church's sign: Grace is loving someone more than they deserve.

I think that's all missing the point. We have to go back further than "the wages of sin is death." We have to go back further than the fall. We have to go back to creation. Which reminds us that all humans were "made in the image of God." Later, the psalmist, reflecting on creation, wrote that humans are just a "little lower than the angels." And all good theology flows from Christology - looking at the world through the lens of Jesus Christ. What do we learn by bringing Jesus into the conversation? "For God so loved the world. . ." That Jesus so loved this world, he would allow himself to be beaten, crucified, and killed in order to save it. "Greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends." And "God demonstrated his love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

Okay, our Reformed brethren (and sistren (?)) are saying. That's the definition of grace - we were loved, even when we didn't deserve it. We deserved wrath (as if those two could be played off of each other).

I would push back and say because we're created in the image of God, we deserve nothing but love. Although that may sound pompous, so maybe a better way would be putting it because we're created in the image of God, we're completely loveable. God's wrath does not negate his love; I believe God loves us even when he's upset about what we're doing.

Therefore, grace cannot be loving somebody more than they deserve, because we all deserve love and nothing else.

Personalizing it, since God loves me and God loves you, I deserve to be loved by you and you deserve to be loved by me. No matter what you do to me, you still bear the image of God, you are still loved by God, and therefore you deserve to be loved by me. I cannot love you more than you deserve, because you deserve the full measure of my love. That's biblical. Even our greatest enemies deserve the full measure of our love, since Christ loved even those who crucified him. The posture of the Christ-follower is a posture that loves all others, not more than they deserve, but because they deserve to be loved.

I could also quibble with the "more than" part. . .because I'm not sure you can measure love. Can you love someone as much as they deserve, nor more, no less? Can I give you 26% of my love, because that's what you deserve? Can I give my wife 100% of my love, and my enemy 50% of my love? Biblically, love is an either/or. You either love someone or you don't. There aren't different levels of love. I either love you as you deserve, or I don't. I either face you and say "you are beloved," or I withhold love from you, which, in effect, says "I don't really love you, I'm just sort of acting like it."

So, why does any of this matter?

Because it makes a difference in how you treat your neighbor. Saying "I'm loving you even though you don't deserve it" always comes from a posture of separation, of exclusion. It subtly sneaks in the thought that somehow we're superior;"aren't we special for showing them grace." Even "God loves us more than we deserve" so often leads to unhealthy posturing. How dare any of us, loved of God, created in the image of God, grovel and say "I'm such a loser, such a worm, God hates me. . ." If you begin from the place of "nobody deserves love, but God loves and so shall we," your worldview is the polar opposite of what I believe is the correct understanding: we all carry around the imago Dei, we are all already loved, and always have been loved by God, we are all deserving of the full measure of love." In other words, we begin from a place recognizing worth and value in each other, rather than forcing ourselves to "love people more than they deserve."

So than what is grace? Perhaps a more truer definition would be, at least of us, loving someone in spite of how we may currently feel about them. Or recognizing that all are the beloved of God, no matter how they think about or treat us.

And from God's perspective? Perhaps simply that love is his nature, wrath a temporary action necessitated by our rebellion. But wrath never supersedes nor overcomes love. God sometimes, of necessity, shows wrath, but he is always love. Because God created us, we deserve to be loved.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

podcasting the atonement

Tony Jones, of Emergent Village fame, interviews Mark Baker, professor at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, and author of Recovering the Scandal of the Cross and editor of Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross (to which I submitted a chapter. . .).

Mark was my professor in my MBBS years and has remained a friend over the years.

His discussion with Tony covers everything from Mennonite theology to Nicaraguan wars to atonement theology. Yoder and Ellul make an appearance or two, as well. . .

And I even get my own five seconds of fame.

Go listen and enjoy.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Another change

I added the new blogger Blog Feed over their on the right - it lists some of the blogs I follow, as well as each blog's latest headline.

If anybody over there wishes their blog to remain private, and thus be removed from public viewing on the Hole in the Wall, please let me know and I'll gladly remove your feed from that list.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Congregational Response to a Sermon on Mark 13

We know not the day nor the hour.
It may be tomorrow, it may be 500 years hence.
We live in the now and the not yet –
the Kingdom has come, is coming, and
is yet to come.
Troubling signs abound: wars, rumors of wars,
famine, flood, earthquake and storm,
evil is strong and destruction abounds.
Troubling signs are all around us, and yet. . .
and yet we cling to this truth:
God is still on his throne,
God is still in control,
and justice and righteousness will prevail.
Good will win in the end, for God will win in the end.
And so we wait, in faith and anticipation,
enduring hardship and calamity,
rejoicing in suffering,
working to see God’s Kingdom Come on earth
as it is in heaven;
working for peace and truth and righteousness,
so that, should Christ return tomorrow or in
ten thousand years, he will find us faithfully
at his work. And in that day we shall see the
final victory and vindication of God’s rule,
and the fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Beach Day Pictures - Wednesday's Low Tide

For H, who asked on Sunday

"Are the Fruit of the Spirit and the Gifts of the Spirit the same thing? What's that all about?"

Let's look at it this way: Suppose we all got together to build a big house. Along comes the project supervisor to organize us. He hands one person a hammer, and says "you're going to hammer in the nails." He hands another a paint brush, and says "you paint the walls." He hands another a set of plans and says "you're going to be the on-site supervisor." To another person he hands a broom and says "you're going to clean things up, so they look nice." He takes a couple people over to a small portable kitchen and says "you're in charge of feeding the crew, and encouraging them by bringing them drinks and treats." Then he grabs a few more, hands them some flyers, and says "Go out into the town and tell people about our wonderful house, and all the great things it will offer them." And on and on it goes. Each person is given a tool (some people even get a couple tools) that they are to use together to build the house. Hardly any two people have the same set of tools, but all the tools necessary for building the house are there, divided among all the workers. And so we get to work, each doing their part to build up this house.

Now, people do pitch in and help each other out. The fact that I have a hammer doesn't mean I can't set it down and help hang some wallpaper for a few minutes. The fact that I'm in charge of yardwork doesn't mean I can't stop and chat with passers-by who want to know what's going on. Even if I'm the on-site supervisor, I can still help the food people hand out sandwiches. We all pitch in together, doing what needs to be done, but mostly we remain in our area of expertise, and slowly the house is built.

This is how it works with the Gifts of the Spirit.

However, while we are at work building this house, using our individual tools and talents, we should ALL be joyful in our task. We should ALL be patient with each other. If the site supervisor comes along and says "I blew it - that trench needs to be over three feet," we can forgive her and joyfully make the correction. If the sandwiches are late in coming, we should all be patient while waiting. If they bring me tuna fish and I wanted PB&J, I ought to be kind in my response. If a child is working next to me and knocks over the paint can, I should strive for gentleness in my reaction. All along, I ought to be looking for ways to encourage the other workers. And we should all work hard at making sure we're in the best possible condition to do the work to which we are called. We know that if we're out late at night getting plastered, we'll be in no condition to show up to work bright and cheery in the new day. So we avoid the "works of the flesh" and strive for the fruit of the Spirit.

The good thing is, we don't have to manufacture love, joy, peace, patience, and the rest. These are not our own attitudes, but the fruit that the Spirit works in us. As we draw nearer to God, God's Spirit works in us to produce loving hearts, patient demeanors, joyous spirits, gentle attitudes, and the like. Yes, we do well to "work" at demonstrating these fruits, but in the end we seek God and let God bring them about in us.

In short, we're each given a tool, or a couple tools, that we use in concert with all others to build up the Kingdom of God and share his love in the world, but the Spirit works his fruit in all of us, so that, as we work, our lives and attitudes will reflect His hand upon us.

Hope that answers your question.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

We Have a Winner!

Actually, due to the nebulous nature of the question, we have a couple winners in the "Biggest Hole in the Wall Contest Ever!" So, the envelope, please. . .

Erin was technically correct in guessing "somewhere in Washington, Oregon, or California." For that, I officially award Erin 2 mega-internet attagirls.*

Matt really nailed it as "Fort Casey on Whidbey Island," so he is the official winner of 25 mega-internet attaboys.* Way to go, Matt! (please keep your acceptance speech to 50 words or less)

Susan got it right, but she wasn't first, so she gets a lovely parting gift of the privilege of babysitting our girls next time she's in the area.

Cleaver (who around here we know as "Gene") get the "extra-effort" award, for naming not just the foreground ("bunker at Fort Casey") but telling us the contents of the larger picture as well - "the Strait of Jaun De Fuca/Admiralty inlet." (although nobody mentioned the Olympic Mountains in the back. . .). In addition, Gene gave us some history as well: "Used during WWII as a lookout point for possible enemy ships or submarines entering our coast." For that, Gene wins 15 mega-internet attaboys.

Thanks to everyone for playing; for more information on Fort Casey, check this out.

*Some may ask "what is the exact value of an internet attagirl or attaboy?" While holding no financial value, attagirls and attaboys are items of great prestige. Posting "Winner of 25 attaboys" on your website header is sure to garner esteem in the eyes of your visitors. Most arguments can be won simply by stating "But I have 15 mega-internet attagirls," unless your opponent should be in possession of a greater number of attaboys or attagirls. Those seeking partners on dating websites are encouraged to post their attaboys/girls, in order to impress any possible suitors.

Taking the day (off?)

Yesterday saw the lowest tides around the Puget Sound since 1986. And they won't be this low again until 2022. You can read about it in the Tacoma news Tribune, among other places.

So, yesterday Eugene suggested people ought to take their kids out of school, blow off work, and go take a walk on the beach.

I decided that, rather than play hooky, I'd intertwine work and play. My daughter's class was going to the beach just down the road from our house (btw, this would be the beach made so locally famous by all the geoduck brouhaha). And they needed parent volunteers, so since my schedule is fairly flexible, I drove over there and joined them on the beach. Karina came along and took a lot of pictures; we'll post some later.

And it was a great day. The sun came out, and the receding tide revealed all sorts of sea life - rockfish, starfish (red, orange, purple), eels, geoducks, clams, oysters, crabs large and small. . .it really was amazing to see, and even more fun to hear the cries of delight from the children as they discovered shells and crabs and fish. I'm sure it was a day for the kids to remember, and I was glad to be there for it. I'm just not so sure the crabs appreciated all the poking and prodding they received.

These are the opportunities we ought not to pass up - the chance to experience a part of our world we don't usually see, the chance to gaze upon things that are usually covered up; the chance to show children the wonder of this world we all call home.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The things you don't see

It's Sunday morning. We've called ourselves to worship, we've meeted and greeted, we've prayed, and now we're singing. At the moment, I'm playing mandolin and providing harmony vocals as we move through a rousing rendition of "Oh, How I Love Jesus."

But I feel like I'm being pestered by a fly. I feel it brush my cheek, and attempt to swipe it away (which is no easy feat, what with needing both hands to play mandolin). I feel it a second time, and swipe it away again - all the while looking around trying to figure out where it's coming from. I feel it again, this time on the other cheek - or is it two flies? Is the cologne I'm wearing somehow attractive to flies? Or is my hair gel full of Fly Pheromones? I feel it again, high on my cheek, and swipe it away, only this time I really get it, and feel it leaving my hand and heading for the floor.

Only when I look down to see if I killed it, it's not a fly that I see lying there. Instead, it's a rather creepy bulbous spider, scurrying quickly toward a jumble of sound cables.

It takes all of .05 seconds for my mind to move from "Wow! It was a spider!" to "Wait - was it alone? Or do I have a nest of spiders in my hair?" At which point (of course), the entirety of my head begins to itch and I can only surmise this spider must have had partners, who still currently reside somewhere in the vicinity of my face.

The problem being, I'm up on the platform, and can't start flailing around, attempting to clear out any other invaders. And I can't exactly rush from the stage without everybody noticing. So on the worship goes, with me attempting to discern whether every itch is just an itch, or whether other creatures are moseying around my head.

The moment the offertory began I quietly exited the room and headed to the men's room, where a thorough check in front of the mirror led me to the joyous conclusion that my face, scalp, and neck were, in fact, arachnid-free.

But, for some reason, I was a little "off my game" the rest of the morning. Just a little, distracted, I guess.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Biggest Hole in the Wall Contest Ever!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Whoop Whoop!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Attention boys and girls!

I will award 25 mega-internet attaboys (or attagirls, as the case may be) to the first person who can identify the scene in this blog's header!

Can't you already feel the excitement?
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Whoop Whoop!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!