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Saturday, April 10, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 16

Not too long ago I reconnected with a friend from my high school years. She was a wonderfully vivacious person who had lots of energy and was fun to be around. She was the epitome of what it meant to be alive.

Sadly, this person was diagnosed with cancer last year. Her diagnosis came late so the cancer was very advanced. She is now in the position of living out her final days. She is doing so with lots of grace and courage.

What I found interesting is that many of her former friends from high school have been made aware of our friend’s plight. Sadly, most have not reached out to her.

And why is that?

There are lots of various reasons I suppose. One reason would be because it’s been over 20 years and people may feel like because they haven’t stayed in touch with her that they don’t know her any more. Another reason, however, might be because they fear if they re-establish contact with our friend who is dying, they might be forced to deal not only with our friend’s mortality but their own as well. It might be easier to stay disconnected and in denial than re-connect and grapple with some of life’s biggest questions.

In today’s reading from Luke, Jesus introduced us to two very different individuals: a rich man and a poor man named Larazus. The two men not only shared different experiences in the here and now, but following their deaths we are told they went on to have two very different experiences as well. Larazus went on to experience torment while the poor man went on to experience bliss.

One of the lessons Jesus was putting out there to challenge us with was that there are consequences to the choices we make. That lesson had been out there for the entire lifetime of the rich man – yet he failed to learn it until after his death. To his credit, once he realized this he asked to be allowed to return to his loved ones to help get that lesson across to them. Unfortunately, he wasn’t allowed to do so. He was told it was up to his loved ones who were still alive to learn that lesson for themselves.

While the imagery of the story can be uncomfortable for us progressives to deal with since our experience of God is typically one steeped in values like grace, unconditional love, and mercy; there is an important lesson here for us to mine. That lesson is this: our lives should have a sense of urgency about them in terms of addressing the important things in our lives. We shouldn’t put off living in those ways that we think are important because we may not always have the time to make those choices later.

Today I would encourage you to explore your own life and see if there are lessons that you may have learned in your head but have failed to integrate into your life. If so, use today’s passage as motivation to incorporate those lessons and live by the values that really matter.

Til next time…

Friday, April 9, 2010

I'm on an overnight mini-vacation on the beach. I don't have an internet connection (I'm writing this from my BlackBerry). This means I can't write today. I'll return to action in the morning when I'm connected again.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 15

This morning I had a wonderful experience that fed directly into my reading for the day. I woke up early and went to my Codependents Anonymous meeting as I always do on Thursday mornings. While there, we spent our time talking about two concepts: denial and acceptance. Much of our time was spent reflecting on these concepts in relation to ourselves.

When it came for my time to share, I talked a bit about a relationship in my life that I’m struggling with where the other person is EXTREMELY controlling. At first, I talked about my own tendencies to be controlling and how I had to work through my initial denial of that fact and then come to a sense of acceptance of my controlling tendencies. Through that process of accepting my own tendencies to control I was – ironically – able to step back from that tendency and do a better job of keeping my controlling impulses in check. Or so I thought!

As I was reflecting on my relationship with the controlling person in my life, I realized that a part of me was gearing up to figure out how I could stop the other person from being so controlling. I was focusing on how I could change her (or at least minimize her controlling behaviors). As I was sharing my struggle, I stopped mid-sentence and laughed. I realized in my efforts to confront another’s controlling behavior, I was setting myself up for being controlling. In that moment I realized that a part of me is being called to accept the controlling nature of the other person. It doesn’t mean that I have to give in to her controlling impulses. I can certainly set boundaries for myself and not become a doormat. At the same time, however, I can let the other person be who she is and love her for who she is – not for who I would prefer her to be.

In so many ways, this is the lesson of the Prodigal Son contained in today’s reading from Luke. So often in the past I’ve read the parable simply as a lesson in unconditional love. While there is certainly that theme in the reading, there is another – perhaps more specific lesson here. In his expression of unconditional love, the Father accepts the son exactly as he is. He doesn’t say, “I will love you if…” He simply throws open his arms and welcomes him back. The irony of our faith is that when we allow ourselves to experience such love – I mean REALLY experience such love – it can’t help but transform you. At least that’s been my experience of experiencing such love.

So today my challenge is to love the person in my life to the fullest of my ability – even those parts of her that are controlling – and let the rest take care of itself.

Perhaps there is someone in your life that you have yet to succeed in loving them on their terms – someone who you have obsessed about changing or transforming into someone else before you will love them. If that’s the case, re-direct your energies away from trying to control the other person and toward loving the person as they are. You might be surprised what happens when you begin to do that: not just to for the other person but for yourself as well!

Til next time…

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 14

In the earliest days of the Christian movement, there were several aspects of the lifestyle that set early Christians apart from most others. Many early followers of Jesus, for instance, refused to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols. Early Christians were also considered unusual because they worshipped God on a different day of the week than many others. They also were different in terms of their practices concerning table fellowship. By this I mean they would include others at their table that many others would not. Things such as this made those early followers of Jesus distinctive from those around them.

Over they years, many of these practices have either fallen out of practice, been incorporated by others traditions, or simply been accepted as ‘normal’ by the mainstream. That means there are fewer and fewer things that set Christians apart from others.

On one level, that’s a good thing – for in many ways we are no different than those around us. On another level, however, I think it is a bad thing – for I believe the expression of our relationship with the God who was revealed through Jesus Christ should result in radical expressions of things like love, mercy, and grace. Those expressions ought to set us apart from some others.

As I watched the debate on the healthcare bill on the floor of the House of Representatives a few weeks ago, for instance, I thought to myself: “Wouldn’t it be great if the followers of Jesus from both parties distinguished themselves by their insistence on being loving and respectful toward those with whom they disagreed?”

And as I’ve watched the economic crisis unfold over the past two years, I frequently daydreamed about what it would be like if followers of Jesus who worked in fields such as the mortgage industry or banking fields distinguished themselves by creating innovative ways they could help folks in distress.

Sadly, in each of these areas I mentioned, most Christians failed to be/act distinctively and simply thought and acted like everyone else. As Jesus observed in today’s passage: “Salt is excellent. But if the salt goes flat, it’s useless, good for nothing.”

My question for you to consider today is this: “In what ways does your faith make you different from (but certainly not better than) others in the world?” Our world – often characterized by its sense of polarization and self-interest – desperately needs your saltiness!

Til next time…

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 13

Most of my waking time is spent dealing with people and problems of some sort. Consequently, I am solidly rooted in “the real world” (whatever that is).

There are a couple of things I use to get me out of my serious headspace in order to escape from reality. One of my very favorite things to use to escape reality is sports. When I turn on a game (particularly a game involving one of the Houston sport’s teams), I find that for 2 or 3 hours I can actually stop worrying about solving the problems of the world and enjoy what’s happening in the moment. What a treat!

Usually I’m pretty good about keeping the two areas of my life – sports and reality – completely separate from one another. Every once in a while, however, my social conscience takes over and I find myself trying to blend the two.

Last night, for instance, as I was watching the men’s NCAA Basketball championship, there was a part of me that found myself rooting for Butler since Duke had already won four championships and Butler had never won one. “How fair is that?” I wondered. Like sports has anything to do with fairness!

The question of fairness is a question I often find myself asking about – but Jesus challenges me in today’s reading to re-think my notion of what fairness is really all about. In the final third of the reading, the author(s) of Luke’s Gospel tells us Jesus basically said the last shall be first and the first shall be last. In other words, it’s what Eugene Peterson calls in The Message: The Great Reversal.

This teaching reminds me that Jesus’ (and his followers’) way of seeing things isn’t exactly the same as ours. Who’s not to say that the greatest story line of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament wasn’t the surprising success of programs like Northern Iowa and St. Mary’s – even though those schools failed to make it to the Final Four?

Today I would encourage you to explore a facet of your life and see if there are ways your take on the situation might differ dramatically from Jesus’. Once you start opening yourself to the principle behind The Great Reversal, you might be surprised how your definition of words like success or failure might change.

Til next time…

Monday, April 5, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 12:35-59

I found a great deal of irony when Pat Buchanon stood up at the Republican National Convention in Houston in 1992 and declared that the nation was in the midst of a cultural war. From that moment forward, it seemed, some of the more extreme elements of the movement he mobilized went to great lengths to talk about the “family values” that they were fighting to defend. Often, these efforts were gauged in religious language.

Every time I heard them use the phrase “family values”, I wanted to ask if they meant some of the values contained in the Bible. I wanted to ask, for instance, if they were proponents of reinstituting the position of concubine as found throughout the stories contained in the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament. I also wanted to ask if they were fans of polygamy – since that too was a practice common to the biblical patriarchs back in the day.

Even more so, I wonder if they would publically embrace the kind of verbiage that Jesus used in today’s passage from Luke. “From now on,” Jesus began, “when you find five in a house, it will be – three against two, and two against three; father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against mother; mother-in-law against bride, and bride against mother-in-law.” I don’t remember Mr. Buchanon quoting this piece of Scripture in the midst of his cultural war.

So what are we to make of such language attributed to Jesus?

Well, there are lots of lessons to be learned – but one of the most important is that religion is a complicated area. You should be extremely leery of those who toss around catch-phrases around as if they were self-explanatory. There is usually so much more to the story than they would like you to know.

It would be easy to use my thoughts today as a way of going after those with whom you disagree. Today, however, I’ll invite you to consider doing something else. I’ll ask you to examine your own belief system and see if there are areas in which you have been overly simplistic and perhaps a bit judgmental.

Til next time...