Category Archives: word

Get Lost

My third sermon, titled Get Lost was delivered yesterday morn. The message is based on Mark 8:31-38, one of the times Jesus tells off Peter.  Watch, listen, or read, pick your poison.  Enjoy!

Audio:

 

I’ve never really liked Peter. I’m talking about the Peter we find in the Good Book, one of the twelve disciples. For one thing, Peter is known for having a temper. In the garden of Gethsemane, right before Jesus is arrested, Peter cuts off the right ear of someone.   Just up and cuts it off. Peter is also known for denying he knows Jesus. Not once. Not twice. *Three* times, all because he was afraid.

Then we have today’s reading from Mark 8. Jesus tells the disciples that he’ll be killed, and rise three days later. After hearing this Peter grabs Jesus in protest. Maybe Peter is in shock, not wanting to let go. Or perhaps he doesn’t exactly understand. When Jesus says he would rise three days later, what could that possibly mean? We know the story about what happens three days later, the story that culminates Easter Sunday. Peter didn’t.

Or maybe Peter doesn’t hear that last part about Jesus rising three days later. Imagine your best friend tells you of their impending death. You may not hear much of what they have to say after that either. You’d probably grab the friend and hold them close to you as well.

Then, right after Peter grabs Jesus in protest, a surprising thing happens. Jesus confronts Peter about all this grabbing, saying, Get lost! The central character in our faith tradition, tells one of his disciples, in no uncertain terms, get lost! I don’t know about you, but the thought of Jesus looking me in the eye and plainly saying get lost is terrifying. It’s like my personal brokenness was too deep, too dark, too much for Jesus deal with.

But, wait a second, maybe there’s more to the story. When Jesus confronts Peter he exclaims “Peter, get out of my way!” Jesus then says, still speaking to Peter, “Satan, get lost!”   Ahh, that changes things. Jesus isn’t telling Peter to get lost, whew! He is looking at the brokenness, the darkness within Peter and telling *that* to get lost. In Lutheran terms, we understand our human condition as being both saint and sinner. We are both, at all times. Jesus here asks the darkness in Peter to step aside so he can speak with Peter the Saint.

Jesus Redirects

And what does Jesus say to Saint Peter? Before we get to that, it may be helpful to step back a little earlier in the story. Right before revealing that he must be killed Jesus asks the disciples, “who do you say that I am?” Here Peter does something I really do like. It is Peter who responds, “you are the Christ, the Messiah!” Jesus reminds Peter of this, saying “anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead.”

Jesus then tells Peter something that is really hard to embrace in our culture. He says self-sacrifice is the way to find your true self. Put a little differently we could say this: To find the real you, lose the current you. 

Agnes

One person that knew how to get lost in self-sacrifice was a woman named Agnes. Born in Albania in 1910, Agnes lost her father at the young age of eight. Fascinated by missionary stories, by 12 she became convinced she should commit to religious life. At age 18 she joined the Sisters of Loreto as a missionary, leaving behind friends and family, getting lost in a journey thousands of miles from home.

After spending a year to learn English, Agnes moved to India. While there she taught English to schoolchildren for eighteen years. Agnes then had what she describes as a call within a call. For this next call she received basic medical training and started tending to the needs of the destitute and starving. In her personal diary she wrote that “Our Lord wants me to be free, covered with the poverty of the cross.”

In the coming years Agnes received permission from the Vatican to start a new congregation in India. The mission of the congregation was to help people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society.” The congregation began small, in 1950 it had one location with 13 members. By the time she died in 1997 the organization had grown to more than 4,000 sisters. The sisters run orphanages, AIDS hospices and charity centers worldwide. These centers care for refugees, the blind, disabled, alcoholics, the poor and homeless, and victims of floods, epidemics, and famine.

The life of Agnes was defined by self-sacrifice. She knew that to find the real you, she’d have to get lost. And get lost she did, moving thousands of miles from home, taking an oath of poverty and building an organization that helps millions upon millions of the poorest of the poor. You may recognize Agnes by another name. To many she is known simply as Mother Theresa.

BBT

Admittedly, not everyone can be Mother Theresa. If I told my wife about plans to drop everything and move to India, well, that conversation probably wouldn’t turn out too well. She’d probably tell *me* to get lost, and not in a good way.

Even though we can’t all be Mother Theresa there are plenty of ways we can practice the self-sacrifice Jesus models as a way to find ourselves by getting lost.

At St. Michael you can get lost by volunteering at the Palanca Food Kitchen feeding the homeless. Or you can help make PB&J sandwiches for local school kids that don’t always have a meal to eat. Or you can donate school supplies for kids both locally and in Haiti.

Author Barbara Brown Taylor finds that getting lost can happen anywhere, in all kinds of ways. You can get lost on your way home. You can get lost looking for love. You can get lost between jobs. You can get lost looking for God. Taylor is refreshingly honest about when she has been lost: “I have set out to be married and ended up divorced” she says. “I have set out to be healthy and ended up sick. I have set out to live in New England and ended up in Georgia.   While none of these displacements was pleasant at first, I would not give a single one of them back. I have found things while I was lost that I might never have discovered if I had stayed on the path. I have decided to stop fighting the prospect of getting lost and engage it as a spiritual practice instead.”

Peter revisited

Getting lost as a spiritual practice. Maybe that is what Jesus tries to encourage in Peter when he tells Peter’s darkness to get lost. Peter tries to protect his friend Jesus from harm, a very human, very noble thing to do, but Jesus has something else in mind. A new spiritual practice that Peter didn’t quite understand at the time.

Despite Peter’s flaws God had big plans for him. Jesus thought so much of Peter that he calls him the Rock, proclaiming “upon this rock I will build my church.” And build Peter does; founding churches in Rome and Antioch while serving as the first Pope.

Ironically, this same apostle who tried to shelter Jesus from the ultimate self-sacrifice met a similar fate. Peter too preached the Word and died a martyr. While Peter didn’t understand this new spiritual practice in today’s reading, he lived out getting lost until the end.

And maybe that’s the value of Peter, a reason to think well of him. That despite his flaws, doubts and darkness he was used mightily by God. What I don’t like in Peter is exactly what I don’t like in myself; the flaws, the doubts, the darkness. Despite all this, God can use me, can use you, can use all of us when we lose ourselves in Christ.

 

Proof of Faith?

I ran across this article yesterday of a boy, now 17, that recants a story about going to heaven and back while being in a coma for two months as a 6 year-old.

Beyond the main headline, interesting enough in itself, the article mentions that the book this experience is based on has sold over a million copies and is part of the “heavenly tourism” genre.

I hadn’t heard that term before, tho a quick internet search tells the story nicely, there are a good number of books in this genre that sell millions of copies each documenting that author’s experience going to heaven and back. An article by Tim Challies, Heaven Tourism, summarizes the genre and many of the more popular books. Tim has some thoughts on heavenly tourism too, definitely worth a read.

I’ve always wondered about books like this and what value people find in them. We want to believe, sure, but are we trying to prove faith? If so, why?

testtubes

Perhaps this proof mindset helps explain the endless debates between religion and science. You’ve likely heard much of this, either as history or ongoing debate. The earth? Flat, some said. Sun revolves around the earth? True, and worth imprisoning those that disagree. Age of the earth? 10,000 years tops, and worthy of a museum that seeks to prove as much. And yet each time these views fall by the wayside as understandings from science become mainstream.

Thinking on this some Hebrews 11:1 comes to mind. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. No proofs here. Just hope. Just conviction. Ideally lived out into the world around us as we seek to do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. As someone who appreciates the blessings of science and sees that as one of many gifts from our Creator, for me, that is enough.

 

 

Johnny Cash tourism destinations

Repurposed Meaning: Johnny Cash Christianity

Meaning can be a funny thing, changing over time, influenced by the storyteller and how the story is told. Take the song Hurt. Originally released by Nine Inch Nails (NIN) in 1995 the song hit the top 10 on Billboard for Modern Rock tracks. This was during undergrad for me, and part of my grunge phase, so the song and album got a good bit of play back in the day.

Fast forward to 2003, when Johnny Cash rerecorded the song and music video. Often new versions of old songs take second stage to original content, but not this time. Trent Reznor, lead singer of NIN who also wrote and produced Hurt has this to say:

“I pop the video in, and wow… Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps… Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different, but every bit as pure.”

It wasn’t just Trent Reznor that was impressed. The Cash version of Hurt went on to be named best video of the year by Grammy and CMA awards, and in 2011 went on to be named the best video *ever* by NME.

So what changed? For one thing, the artist. As much as I love NIN, the legacy of Johnny Cash is tough to top. The Cash version of Hurt also made a minor, but significant change to the original lyrics. The NIN version speaks to wearing a “crown of $#!+.”  Cash removes the four letter word – not to censor, but to enhance – instead referencing a crown of thorns. This change, of one little word, opened up all sorts of possibilities to what narrative the music video would tell.

Before diving in a bit more, maybe it’s worth a view of Hurt.

The video is a highly personal view of Johnny Cash, showing footage of his life over past decades alongside current video of the 71 year old. The dark, reflective lyrics and images show Cash looking back on his own life, his empire of dirt the lyrics say.

The crown of thorns reference, again a new lyric for this particular version, gets put to good effect near the end of the video. One scene shows Jesus carrying the cross, blood pouring from the nails hammered into his palm and from the crown of thorns that sits atop his head. As the video closes Cash finishes playing the piano and closes the cover over the black keyboard. That moment reminds me of closing a casket, some good foreshadowing for this legend; fittingly he passed away seven months after the video was filmed. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that everyone I know goes away, in the end.

More importantly, this end is not an end at all, it’s a look forward to a coming new life promised to us through the death and resurrection of Christ.  Jesus isn’t in this video to say goodbye.  Instead he’s here as a reminder of the hello that is coming.

So what can we take away from all this? Sometimes powerful messages change over time as they are retold. We see this in the evolution of Hurt from depressing NIN grunge to the reflective faith of Johnny Cash. As a future pastor, I’ll be using older source material too, ancient material, and looking to retell the stories of that source in new, fresh ways. Thank you Johnny, you’re a great example. I hope to use your storytelling excellence as a reminder of what is possible for years to come.

Johnny Cash tourism destinations

Blinders of Privilege

Today’s thoughts come by way of a video our Media & Religion class viewed, 5 Tips For Being An Ally, by Ches Caleigh.  The first tip defines Privilege in a way that was really helpful for me, got to thinking, egad, I could describe this to others now.

“Privilege means there are some things in life that you will not experience or ever have to think about just because of who you are.”

Ches continues with an analogy, saying that:

“It’s kind of like those horses that have blinders on. They can see, just fine. It’s just that there’s a whole bunch of other stuff on the side that they don’t even know exists.”

This, to me makes sense.  Being a white, straight male, upper middle class and Christian, privilege defines me.  It’s something to be aware of that impacts how – and what – we see in the world. My own demographics, traits I was born with, are all in a dominant position in culture currently with respect to race, sexuality, gender, income and religion. There’s nothing wrong with this, tho it is something to be conscious of, and how that changes what we see in the world by default. Things like immigration, paying for college, and Ferguson. Blinders_1Our conversation after watching the video was predictable for a while, what you’d expect in a room of future pastors taking a class at a seminary affiliated with a progressive Christian denomination. We talked about gender and income, and the privilege that comes with being a male of some means. One of my classmates hails from Liberia, and spoke to the difference of being on the other side of mission work done in Africa through churches in the US. “People want to visit and be benefactors for us” he said.  “We really prefer if you come to visit, sit and talk, learn our ways.  Maybe we can share in finding solutions.”   That reconfirms my own sense of international mission, it’s a great perspective.

What happened next really opened my eyes and removed the blinders for a moment as to what other types of privilidge are out there.  Another person in class, former military, spoke about the high incidence of suicides among veterans.  While veterans make up about 1% of the population in the US, 20% of suicides are veterans.  Whoa!  I was floored.  Here we live in the land of the free, the home of the brave, most of us living a life of privilege by *not* having to serve in the military.  And yet those that do are TWENTY TIMES more likely to commit suicide than the general population. That’s huge.

What are the solutions to this? We only touched on that a bit, but my sense from listening to this is the US could to better, much better at reintegrating veterans back into society. Offering vets jobs that reflect the leadership skills they honed while in service is one way to get at this, there are likely others.

I’m still processing this experience a bit, tho suffice to say there is more privilege in our daily lives that each of us enjoy without realizing it.

What are some of your privileges? What kind of blinders does this create? How can you use this knowledge for good? Post any thoughts in the comments section below.

We Both Had Insomnia

A few years back a set of experiences changed how I spend most my waking hours, playing a large role in why I’m pursuing ordained ministry. First I was promoted at work (a positive, right?). A couple months later a good friend passed away far too young. A few weeks later my mother-in-law passed away too. You can read about this in more detail in an earlier series, Why I Walked if you’re curious.

Long story short all this change messed me up pretty good, which led to many sleepless nights. For six weeks I averaged three hours of sleep a night. Over time this took a toll.

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-insomnia-image26498603

Not being able to sleep, I went to a psychiatrist to get sleeping pills. When that didn’t work, and thinking my challenges were tied to focus, I added in prescription medication for ADHD. When that didn’t work I added in anxiety pills for particularly stressful moments of life. When all of that failed, I finally went to a psychologist – really should have started there in the first place – and was diagnosed with a major depressive episode. Within days the dark fog of depression began to lift and I began to heal. I began to live again.

While all this was going on I also tried another treatment: God. I read scripture, searching for answers in ancient wisdom. I read Christian books, thinking some nugget of Truth would leap off the page. I prayed – A LOT – begging God to take this ailment away. Each attempt the answer as I understood it was the same. God was silent. I was alone.

Reflecting back on this, with the benefit of time, healing, and a perspective on the Almighty that has evolved some, I see the experience now for what it was.

I know now God was with me through the depths of depression that included pills, prayers and pain. God was present through the love and patience of my wife, who both supported and challenged me, and most importantly stayed by my side when times were tough.

God appeared through phone calls from friends and hugs of empathy, from people determined to be present in my pain.

God showed Godself in the wisdom of a psychologist, who within 15 minutes spoke with clarity. “I know this problem” she said confidently, “You are clinically depressed. We can do something about that.”

Thinking about all those sleepless nights filled with tears I realize I was not alone at all. God was there. In that space. In that place. God hadn’t fallen asleep on me. We both had insomnia.