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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Salvation, Jesus, and Clint Eastwood

I just watched the film Gran Torino. Clint Eastwood, the story’s protagonist, was his usual distinguished yet brutal self; only Eastwood can pull off bloodshed and violent language with such elegance. In the movie, he is a racist, arrogant white guy who ends up defending his Hmong neighbors. He resents them, yet learns to see them as human beings struggling as he does. The plot sounds a little predictable, but it isn’t because unlike a Hallmark mini-series, Eastwood never really overcomes his racism. He just moves it aside as he grows to love his neighbors. His character becomes less a transformed racist than a reluctant samaritan. His begrudging love of the Hmong family eventually ends in an ultimate sacrifice–he willingly dies for them. The only way to save them is to die and he does. They are redeemed through his death which was the direct result of his love.

I struggle with the death of Jesus. There are many ways to understand Jesus’ death. The one Christians tend to espouse most quickly is the atonement theory. The atonement is a doctrine that describes how human beings can be reconciled to God. It refers to the forgiveness of sin through the death of Jesus Christ by crucifixion. Jesus died for our sins and therefore we can now live.

Hmmmm. Do you believe that? And if so, why? I’m not saying it isn’t true. I am asking rather, that we all give it some thought. Here are my questions: first, if Jesus’ death wiped out the penalty for sin (it’s not as if human beings stopped sinning) then why do we still worry about salvation, being saved, “accepting” Jesus, etc.? Second, does this sound like a God of love? “Sending” a beloved son for a brutal death to fulfill a formula? And finally, is God really so limited that God would send a person to save people? Is that really an all powerful God? Truthfully, it doesn’t even sound that smart.

I am not saying Jesus was not our Savior. I believe he was and is. I am not saying he wasn’t God’s son. I am saying that Jesus was much more than our ticket into eternal life.

This week we read the text from John 3:16. The big misunderstanding in Christianity is that John 3:16 is about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. Our understanding of the formula–Christ suffered, died, rose and now humanity is back in relationship with God is more medieval than it is Jesus. Instead, John 3:16 is about relationship and community and the sacrifices that one makes for both. John 3:16 is a statement of God’s overwhelming and redemptive love not a careful recipe for the salvation of some.

How we understand Jesus has a lot to do with who we are as Christians. We need to really explore our long held beliefs about Jesus. So in the spirit of exploration, watch Gran Torino which I think is a fresh version of John 3:16. Watch it and tell me what you think.

See You in the Pews!
Jane

Sent from my iPad

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Blogging With Jane

 

It’s 5:00 Somewhere (but not in Jerusalem)

Ignoring all the truly profound elements of today’s scripture–the story of Pentecost–I am drawn to one intriguing line: “They can’t be drunk, it’s only 9:00 in the morning.” Interesting that Peter doesn’t defend his companions with a stronger argument. Perhaps one that focused on how moral they were–too moral to be anything but sober. Why not a defense of sobriety based on their upstanding character? Instead, he implies that drunkeness is something much better saved for later in the day.

That was back when followers of Christ were not so sure of their “correctness”. Now a follower of Christ is pretty clear that whatever they do, it is not only “right” but more “right” than anyone else. In fact, I think one can say that Christianity has been highjacked by those who are sure they are more right than anyone else. An example (it seems extreme, but unfortunately, it isn’t) is the now famous quote of Reverend Dennis Terry, Baptist pastor in Louisiana:

“This nation was founded as a Christian nation…there’s only one God and his name is Jesus. […] If you don’t love America and you don’t like the way we do things, I’ve got one thing to say — Get out! We don’t worship Buddha… We don’t worship Mohammed. We don’t worship Allah. We worship God. We worship God’s son Jesus Christ.”

In other words, if you don’t think and believe as we do (not sure who “we” is. Greenwell Baptist, I suppose) then you are simply wrong. No room for disagreement. When did Christians become so confident in their correctness?

Peter doesn’t say that he and the disciples were far too moral to be drunk. He just lets us know that they have the good taste to wait until later in the day. Peter has two things to teach today’s Christians: first, it really isn’t 5:00 somewhere. And second, a little humility can go a long way.

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Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Blogging With Jane

 

A Homeless Woman, Three Kids, and a Dog

Remember the show Mission Impossible? Every episode started with the protagonist opening a big envelope with a tape in it (back when a tape recorder was high tech). He would play the tape which described a task both extraordinary and dangerous. Then at the end the voice on the tape would say something like, “This is your mission if you choose to accept it….” In the story, the protagonist always accepted. But then that was Hollywood.

I wonder how Peter would have responded if Jesus had given him the option “if you choose to accept it.” Not only does Jesus leave Peter and the disciples with a “mission impossible” but he also tells him that he’s not going to be around to help accomplish that mission(aka, the ascension). At least in the show, the protagonist got lots of help.

I faced an impossible mission last week. Jill, the nurse at North Hill School called and told me about a homeless family living in their van. A single mom, three kids, and the family dog. They had been evicted due to falling behind on rent. Mom worked full time but couldn’t make ends meet on minimum wage and no benefits (approximately 25% of homeless people work full time). I felt tired and discouraged even before I was half way through the conversation with Jill. Nothing like a mission impossible to make you want to turn off your phone.

So what does Peter do with his mission impossible? Well, he can’t turn off his phone. Instead he rallies. He organizes. He devotes himself to prayer. What a guy. I would have gone back to fishing. If the leader I had loved and followed had floated up into the sky without me, I certainly wouldn’t have given his pre-ascension instructions a second thought. But apparently, the disciples are more more forgiving than me. They get together and choose a new leader, Matthias, to replace Judas, and then they wait in community together in Jerusalem just like Jesus said to. Or maybe they didn’t recognize a mission impossible when they saw one. Or more likely, since they knew they had each other, they didnt feel so alone. Maybe that’s the key to making the impossible mission possible–recognizing that you are not alone.

My mission impossible wasn’t going away– a homeless lady, three kids and a dog seldom do. Fortunately, I quickly realized that, like the disciples, I was not alone (or as Janice and Marilyn often tell me, “It’s not always about you.”). After a few minutes of desperate, self-absorbed scheming it hit me that it wasn’t up to me to save the family (I’ve never claimed humility as one of my strengths). A few emails and phone calls later and money, clothes, food were pouring in. But not just money and things (which were desperately needed) but also ideas for better employment and affordable housing. Between the generous church members at Zion Church and the incredible women in Hetta Gilbert, the homeless family is about to be in a home.

Homelessness and poverty seldom have a happy ending. It is almost always a mission impossible. This time, things might just work out. Generous people who believe in stepping up stepped up. Not unlike the disciples. They didn’t throw their hands up in despair but they did as Jesus said and they went to Jerusalem and waited on the spirit. Which hit them like wind and fire.

And no mission has been impossible since.

See You in the Pews,
Pastor Jane

Postscript: the one piece of this story that doesn’t end well is the family dog. Since the family couldn’t let him live in the van, they took him to the Humane Society where the children promised to visit him every day. Which they did. Until last Wednesday when they showed up and he was gone. Poverty always has its victims. Children and dogs are not exceptions.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2012 in Blogging With Jane

 

Like the Ship in Doctor Who

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This Sunday my six confirmands (all in the 8th grade) will walk down the aisle of the church wearing white robes, vestments they designed themselves, and probably sneakers. They will kneel on the alter, and after responding to questions in the rite of Confirmation, they will be welcomed into full membership of the Church.

I am the graduate of a scintillating continuing education class (8-hours, hardly any breaks all day) that taught me everything I needed to know to have a successful Confirmation year. I learned that Confirmation is done most effectively in an atmosphere of openness that nurtures the creative exploration of faith formation. A successful year of confirmation triumphantly ends with an affirmation of one’s faith journey; and, almost through osmosis, the student gains knowledge of UCC history and polity, enthusiastically participates in mission projects, worship services, and youth group activities. Confirmation is nothing less than a growthful, spiritual, and inspiring rite of passage.

OK. I don’t think that is what happened. Maybe on a good night. We did our best anyway. Actually, a few weeks ago, I concluded that none of them had learned anything. At all. Two boys, when asked a question about the UCC, said they weren’t sure but thought maybe we were Presbyterian. One of the girls asked me what “resurrection” meant. This was after near eight months of meeting together. None of them had conquered the art of praying aloud (we sat in a circle and each kid was to add one line to a group prayer. That almost never happened and least not without laughing and punching the person next to them).

Confirmation felt like a failure and I wondered where I had gone wrong. And then last Wednesday the six students sat at a table and with a lot of sighing and complaining wrote their faith statements– a paragraph by each kid describing what their beliefs were concerning God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Church. The statements were to be thoughtful and personal. I had little hope.

The faith statements are spread out on my desk. They are touching, profound, inspiring. My favorite is from Austin, a red-haired boy who grew visibly taller every week and who never seemed to pay attention. He wrote this about the nature of the Church. “The Church is like the ship in Dr. Who. It is tiny on the outside. But on the inside, it’s huge.”

I guess he was paying attention. And maybe confirmation wasn’t a failure after all.

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Posted by on May 11, 2012 in Blogging With Jane

 

Elgin the Elephant

Elgin the Elephant.

No time to blog today but here is an artist and a painting that I really like. Hope you enjoy Elgin as well.

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2012 in Blogging With Jane

 

What’s Happening at the UMC Conference Today

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Read this powerful article about the fight over full inclusion of LGBTQ at the UMC Conference.

Here is the statement that I find problematic:

“The United Methodist Church officially affirms the sacred worth of every person, regardless of sexual orientation.”

In other words, “You are a person of sacred worth. Sort of. You could do better. Too bad you are gay. If you weren’t, you would really be a person of sacred worth. Then we would ordain you and everything.”

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2012 in Blogging With Jane

 

Jesus Didn’t Reject People….Why Does the Church?

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The United Methodist Church has been debating everything gay since 1972. That’s a long time. I was in 4th grade when the debate started and it’s still going on(not 4th grade. I did eventually make it all the way to graduate school). At this week’s General Conference (the big once-every-four-years business meeting of the Methodists) the delegates will once again pull out the topic of homosexuality, dust it off, and no doubt bring it to emotional crescendo at the 1000 delegate gathering. Good luck, United Methodists. My hat is off to you for not losing sight of what should be a burning issue, an issue over which you can speak with a prophetic voice. And I congratulate you on your unflagging devotion to keep this issue in the forefront.

I also have no faith in you.

Nearly half of the voting delegates at this year’s conference are from countries outside the United States; those countries, almost without exception, are fundamentally opposed to any LGBT rights. For example, Liberia, where being gay is considered a crime punishable by execution, has representative delegates. The other half of the voting delegates are from the U.S. But most of those delegates are from regions known for their conservative, traditional views and have expressed anti-LGBT beliefs.

Only a small minority of the 1000 delegates support LGBT rights.

See the problem? It’s not going to happen. At least not this year.

Thinking about the General Conference and what is likely to come out of it, I have to ask “why would anyone stay with an organization that openly, officially, and systematically rejects them?”

Here are the only two reasons I can think of:

I am not giving up on the church I love and am going to stay and fight for change. OK. I get that. And I respect and support it. I’m just not sure I would have the energy to keep fighting. Especially if I had been engaged in the fight since 4th grade.

Here is a second reason for staying: I grew up in this church, I love it, and my home is here. OK. I get that as well. I have no quippy answer for that one. But my heart breaks for you. To be officially unwelcome in the place one calls home is much worse than feeling unwelcome in an institution one occasionally and casually frequents.

Here’s my solution for Methodists who are gay (not that you asked for my solution): come on over to the United Church of Christ. We are open and affirming, you can marry your partner in our sanctuaries, get ordained into our clergy, serve communion, lead the youth group, and since we are a church, you are encouraged to give us your money. But then, your money will support what you really believe–that Jesus didn’t reject people and neither should the Church.

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Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Blogging With Jane

 

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