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Saturday, April 17, 2010

What I'm Reading Today: Luke 23

There have been many wonderful things I’ve gained from reading the scholarly work of individuals like John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg. They have helped me understand both the sacred writings of our faith and the traditions of Christianity in new and exciting ways.

One of the examples I would give of this is the way they have talked about the portrayal of whom was primarily responsible for Jesus’ death. Each of the Gospel, for instance, portrays the religious leaders of Jesus’ day as having primary responsibility for Jesus’ death. The political leaders come out looking remarkably innocent. Luke’s Gospel is perhaps the one that comes closest to putting some responsibility on the political leaders (i.e. pointing out that they didn’t see that Jesus had done anything wrong and could have let him go but instead decided to cave in to public pressure).

So why might the authors of the Gospels been so willing to put all of the blame squarely on the religious establishment and let the political leaders off the hook?

Traditionalists would say, “Because that’s where the primary responsibility belonged.” Folks with a more progressive bent like Crossan and Borg would say, “Because the newly emerging movement wanted to fly under the radar of the political establishment so they told Jesus’ story in such a way as to avoid offending the political leaders.”

Which of those perspectives captures the fullness of the truth?

Those of us who live 2,000 after the fact will never know the answer to that question with 100% certainty. Instead, our conclusion will be shaped by our faith – and that’s okay. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand that all events that happen do so within a context – and that context shapes the way we tell our story.

With that in mind, I would invite you to spend some time today thinking about the ways in which your particular context has influenced the way you tell Jesus’ story? How has your level of education, your social/economic location, your racial/ethnic identity and your religious background shaped your narrative?

Once you get in touch with the ways these things have shaped your experience of Jesus’ story, perhaps it will help you be more aware of/sensitive toward the way other people’s context has shaped their telling – and you’ll be able to give them more space and respect.

Til next time…

Friday, April 16, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 22:39-71

There are lots of details in the story of the Passion that get lost in the bigger picture. One of the most intriguing for me comes at the very end of today’s reading. In the culminating words of today’s passage, we are told that as they religious leaders interacted with Jesus “… they had [already] made up their minds.”

That statement is a huge challenge for me because it reminds me of how many times in my life I go into situations already having made up my own mind. I interact with people and think I have already figured out who they are – so I only allow myself to experience the person I think I know rather than the fullness of the person they really are. A controversial political issue is raised – and I simply revert back to a position that I’ve held for years without factoring in any new information. An innovative idea is raised that could transform the life of the faith community I serve – and I think, “Oh, that’s too radical for the people I serve.” Time after time I find myself guilty of making the same mistake the religious leaders made in their encounter with Jesus: I have a closed mind.

Today I would invite you to explore various facets of your own life and ask, “Are there places where I am acting like the religious leaders and reverting to pre-formed opinions instead of opening myself to the situation?”

Til next time…

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 22:1-38

I have a slightly different approach to the way I live out my ministry than some. My primary emphasis in my approach is not so much on the words that I speak as in the actions I try to manifest (at least on my good days).

Take – for instance – my theology of leadership. I say theology of leadership rather than philosophy of leadership because the model I aspire to is largely captured in today’s passage from Luke where Jesus is quoted as saying to the disciples: “I confer on you the royal authority my Father conferred on me so you can eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and be strengthened as you take up responsibilities among the congregations of God’s people.” I LOVE that vision of a leader as one who empowers the people.

Now I could go around preaching long sermons about how a good leader is one who shares her or his power with people; or I could carefully craft workshops that carefully outline models for distributing power amongst the people. Neither approach would be most consistent with my beliefs.

Instead, I try to act in ways that embody Jesus’ way of being. I frequently invite lay people to preach in order to allow them to share their experiences and insights with their fellow congregants. I create venues for people to help chose the music for worship services (i.e. our new Joyful Noise Songbooks); and I try to create forums for people to explore the depths of their faith together – instead of simply asking them to schedule an appointment to speak with “the pastor” about such important matters. Each of those actions represents my attempt to live out Jesus’ vision for leadership: a vision predicated on three words – empowerment, empowerment, and empowerment.

So what is your feeling about the word empowerment?

Do you see it as a sneaky way for a leader to foist their work off on others; do you see it as an inefficient way of getting things done; do you see it as a way of life; or do you see if as something else?

Til next time…

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 21

When I was in my twenties, I had very specific ideas about how one should go about changing the world. I thought the most important way was to work primarily on changing entire systems. That meant I became very politically active and participated in nearly every march, petition gathering event, and demonstration I could find. I still believe that systemic change is important – but over the years I’ve come to realize that there is one other type of change that is every bit as important.

And what kind of change is that?

The kind of change that results from one person sharing his/her story with another. You can quote all the statistics you want when you are debating a controversial issue like basic human rights for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people, but it isn’t until a person takes a risk and shares her or his story with opponents of those rights that hearts and minds are actually changed. Same thing with an issue like poverty. People can throw around judgmental phrases like, “Homeless people should simply try harder and they’d be able to get themselves off the streets” –yet when the judgmental person hears the story behind the homeless person’s plight, the sense of judgment is often replaced by compassion.

So why am I talking about this?

In today’s reading, Jesus used this very principle to address the issue of stewardship. Instead of launching into an abstract speech on the theological importance of giving; Jesus simply looked up, saw a poor widow putting two small coins into the offering plate, and used the incident to make a foundational point regarding the nature of giving.

Today I would encourage you to examine your own life and see if it contains a story that – when shared with others – could be used as agents of transformation for others. If you find one, start looking for opportunities to share that story with another. You never know how that story might change the world!

Til next time…

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 20

Lots of my friends and family members have asked me what I think about the allegations that some of the highest ranking leaders in the Catholic Church failed to stop some of the sexual abuse of children that was occurring during their time in office. I am always careful in my reply because I do not want to say things that could be construed as being anti-Catholic. I truly believe that the Catholic Church has contributed many amazing things – not only to the development of the Christian faith but to humanity as well. I would also be among the first to point out that there are individuals within any tradition who act in ways that cast their community in a poor light. I certainly get that.

What has upset me most in the development of the crisis, however, is the way that some church officials have suggested that any expression of concern directed against the church’s leadership is automatically anti-Catholic. That is disturbing – especially when it is meant to silence legitimate questions that need to be answered. It is absolutely essential to the integrity of the faith that brave women and men stand up and ask these difficult questions – for it is the only way irresponsible church officials will ever be held accountable for their actions.

So why am I talking about this controversial matter today?

Well, I was reminded of it when I read today’s passage from the 20th chapter of Luke. In that chapter, we are told that the religious leaders were aggressively pushing the limits in their efforts to discredit Jesus.

And what was it that kept the religious leaders from going too far?

In at least two cases, it was the people who established boundaries for the leaders who were out of control. When the religious leaders tried to question the credentials of Jesus and he re-directed them into a conversation about the credentials of John the Baptist, for instance, it was the leaders’ concern for the reaction of the public that kept them from going any further. And when Jesus told them the parable of the farmhands in an attempt to draw parallels with his own ministry and the religious leaders became so incensed that they wanted to do Jesus in, once again it was “the public opinion” that prevented them from acting on their impulses.

While public opinion can often be a dangerous thing (as we learned during Holy Week when the public acclaim Jesus felt on Palm Sunday quickly gave way to the cries of “Crucify him!” on Friday); it can sometimes be a very good thing. It can reign in those who go too far.

Today I would encourage you to re-double your commitment to reigning in those who would go too far. Use your voice in conjunction with others to speak your truth and set boundaries for those who would otherwise live without them. You never know what harm your individual (and collective) voice may prevent.

Til next time…

Monday, April 12, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 18-19

One of the parables contained in today’s passage from Luke is a controversial parable that raises the ire of many progressives. That parable is the story of what Eugene Peterson terms the Tax Man and the Pharisee in the Message.

The parable causes many progressives trouble because of the way the Tax Man – the one whom Jesus praises - conducts himself in the Temple. When the Tax man approached the presence of God in the Temple, Jesus told us he did so by slumping “in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up” and said these words: “‘Forgive me, a sinner.”

Those words are uncomfortable because many of us children of the Enlightenment would much prefer to focus exclusively on what Rousseau and others would call the perfectibility of humanity. The traditional notion of sin (especially in relation to our human nature) calls that perfectibility into question. As a result, we often end of getting rid of the notion of sin all together.

I, however, have no problem thinking of myself as someone who wrestles with sin. Maybe that’s because I was lucky enough to learn during seminary that the word we know of as sin is derived from the Hebrew word that means simply “missing the mark”. I know that I frequently “miss the mark” (both unintentionally and intentionally). That’s why I’m so comfortable with the notion of sin.

So what about you? Do you find yourself focusing exclusively on the goodness and perfectibility of humanity; or are you able to carve out some room to acknowledge both the limitations of humanity and our tendency to “miss the mark”?

Til next time…

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Luke 17

One of the more interesting periods of my ministry occurred during the winter and spring of 2001/02. Let me backtrack for a moment in order to explain why that period was so significant.

In April of 2001, my candidacy for ordination was derailed by my local United Methodist church due to my sexual orientation. As a result, I went into a prolonged period of depression. In those first few days following their decision I carried with me a tremendous amount of pain which had been inflicted on me by the institutional church.

If you would have asked me at that time when I would be ready to serve a local church, I would have said, “It will be years before I’ll be ready to do that!” Yet just six months after I went through the experience of getting spit up and chewed out by my home church, I started serving a local church part-time as a consultant. And just two months later I was serving a local church full-time!

So how did that process happen so quickly?

I guess in many ways my experience was much like the ten lepers in today’s passage from Luke. In that healing story, Jesus chose an interesting way to effect healing in the lepers. Instead of touching them and causing their healing immediately, Jesus instead instructed them to head back to the priests. It was only on their journey that they were healed.

In both the case of the lepers and myself, healing was a process: one that didn’t begin until the individuals involved took the first step out on faith. God eventually took care of the rest.

Perhaps there is a pain that you have been carrying with you: one that has kept you paralyzed or immobilized. Maybe you’ve told yourself and God: “Sure, I’ll get on with my life – but only after I’ve completely healed from this pain first.” If that’s the case, use today’s story as encouragement to take a risk and step out in faith right now. You might find that the healing that has thus far eluded you might take place on your journey.

Til next time…