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November 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents


So, what do you think? Would Jesus be on Social Media?

He would have tons of followers were he to choose to post; regularly liked and retweeted. Can’t you imagine the video meme going viral? The one of a lonely widow dropping a coin into the money box unnoticed by all the big givers wearing their phylacteries and fringes? Caption anyone?

Or what about the way Jesus had of turning a phrase? “You have heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemies. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Attached is a GIF of a Roman Centurion emerging from the Jordan River baptized, while Peter holds his helmet.

Jesus caused quite a stir without social media. Imagine his message being only a click away.

On the other hand…

I’m not sure Jesus would have been too big on selfies. While he had a way with words, the gospels suggest that he didn’t rant too often. His best work was done in rather quiet out of the way places. And it only took him seven words to change the course of history.

As Forrest Gump would say, “I’m not sure about all of that.” But what is clear to me is that the saving work of the Gospel is more about what we do than what we say- or what we post.

While angry (mostly white) men work themselves into a lather on a Saturday morning over what they are watching on their screens, gentle peace-loving men and women quietly gather to worship their God and take comfort in the Sabbath. While a sleep deprived president gives in to his early morning paranoia and goes for his phone to launch hateful words into an already charged atmosphere, a 75 year old lifelong Republican is off to the bakery to load up his minivan with day-old loaves of bread that will soon find their way into lunchboxes all over the city.

This isn’t a rant about Social Media. I enjoy my birthday wishes way too much go to there. It is a blessed thing to be connected with people we don’t often get to see.

But it does occur to me that there is a purity to acts of justice done while no one is watching, including the web. And the last thing Jesus would want would be for his followers to be absorbed in their screens while the world around them is falling apart.

Those who follow Jesus are called to do justice, love kindness, walk humbly and leave the rest to God. In the meantime let those of us on either side of the aisle who are particularly troubled by this president’s words not despair. Some of God’s best work has been done with less than stellar leaders in power. Just ask Pharaoh Ramses, Kings Saul and Nebuchadnezzar, and Pontius Pilate. They were no match for the grace of God.

Now more than ever, Shalom,

Rick

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October 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents


“Hello, my name is Brett Kavanaugh and I have a confession to make.”

I don’t imagine anyone expected that opening line from the Supreme Court nominee at his recent hearing. But his angry denials were equally surprising and almost comical (“c’mon Brett”). Now his testimony more than his past, is shining an unfavorable light on his judicial temperament. Maybe he was just that mad. Or maybe he was advised that this was the best way to defend himself. The best defense, they say, is a good offense.

I don’t feel qualified to weigh in on whether this man should be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. I confess to not having read his own opinions extensively, and relied, instead, on second hand news. All indications are that his adult life has been exemplary. Most (including those who don’t agree with his politics) say that he is a good and generous man.

But as I listened to judge Kavanaugh’s fiery testimony my thoughts turned toward the place and the power of confession in our lives.

In the home we are taught to be honest. But in the the world of social interactions we slowly absorb the importance of never admitting to anything even if we were guilty. I remember my dad (who was a very good man) gently telling me as a new driver how it is best not to say too much at the scene of an accident. This was after I had just rear-ended someone and told the other driver, “I’m sorry, I was following way too close.” We have to be very careful about publically admitting ever doing anything wrong. Fair enough.

But then, this. Those who follow Jesus (Brett Kavanaugh included) are constantly confronted with his call to repentance. By all accounts the people who made Jesus really mad weren’t the sinners, but the people who were quick to judge others and who claimed not to have sinned themselves.

This isn’t to suggest that what she said is true. Or what he said is true. But, I do remember how boys treated girls when I was in high school just a few years before the nominee in question. And I like to wonder how things would have gone for the judge if he had said something like what most of us would have to say if asked about our own coming of age. “I don’t remember doing this thing of which I am accused. But I did some things when I was young- but old enough to know better- that I am not proud of. And to whomever I hurt, I am so very sorry.”

Deny, deny, deny is the way to save our skin.

Confess, repent, and be forgiven is the way to save our souls.

Or so we say we believe.

Shalom,

Rick

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September 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents


 

Two memories about those first few days after 9/11 linger for me now seventeen years after the attacks.

The first was how the ordinary was pumped full of pure, crystalline miracle. Everything we had previously taken for granted sparkled like a harvest moon. The kids at soccer practice looked like they were dancing before the Lord. Next door neighbors who showed up at the front door were greeted like family we hadn’t seen in ages. Voices that compose the soundtrack of our lives fell on the ear like favorite songs. Sometimes the only thing that kept us from falling to the ground in grief was the hug from a friend. Life suddenly made fragile, became life, beautiful.

The other memory I savor from the days following the attacks is the way it felt to be an American. For the first time in my memory our country was the collective recipient of charity and good will from people around the world. We were no longer the greatest nation on the face of the earth or the big, bad, bully. We were people who needed other people’s help to make it through. A small measure of comfort from the pain of our loss came from the assurances we received from other countries who reached out to us. We were all in this thing together.

We’ve heard a lot lately about American Exceptionalism. But I’m still not sure why it is important to tell ourselves we are the greatest nation in the world. Isn’t it enough to say we are a great nation among other great nations, so often with much to give- occasionally in need of others’ help? Don’t we remember from when we were kids what happened to ABSOLUTLEY EVERYONE who proudly     proclaimed themselves to be King of the Hill. It was only a matter of time.

Let’s hope and pray that we never again need the kind of help we needed seventeen years ago. And if we’re stuck for what we should do to find miracle in the ordinary again, here are two ideas. First, do something for someone you love, but don’t let them know. Second, drive over to Friendship Park by the airport and watch plane after plane after plane gracefully glide to the ground the same way those four planes should have seventeen years ago. Say a prayer for those you love. Say a prayer for those who still grieve.

Shalom,

Rick

 

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June 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents


“I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1)

This may have been the first bible verse I ever knew. I may have had to recite it to get a piece of candy from my Sunday school teacher in the Quonset building that sat across the street from the chapel on Andrews Air Force Base. I may have even gotten it right.

“Very good, Ricky. Now, PLEASE settle down.”

And the verse has been strangely prophetic for our family, as sometimes the line between our home and the church has been blurry. One time we forgot our youngest son when we drove home after worship.

“Where’s Jordan?”

“I thought you had him.”

Not to worry, though. When we got back to the church he was taking his afternoon nap on the floor of the nursery.

Then there were those times when I answered the home phone, “Good morning, Christian Temple.”

I’m aware that we don’t want to get too cozy in comparing the church to a house, or the congregation to a family. Some of us arrive at church from houses that don’t feel too safe. Others don’t necessarily think good thoughts when the word “family” comes to mind.

Still, “home” is such a nice metaphor for what church can be. “House” is where we dwell together. “The House of the Lord”? Maybe it’s where we can drop our car keys in the bowl by the door, kick off our shoes and have a chat for a minute with God about our day while supper’s being placed on the table.

So, if we are the house of the Lord for our community, what kind of house are we?

I remember all the different kinds of houses in our old neighborhood. The Delia house is where everything was just so. There was no play in the Delia house where all the living room furniture was wrapped in plastic and nothing was ever stacked on the dining room table. We had to behave in the Delia house.

Then, there was the Collins house- the one with the mysterious blue Christmas lights. For fifteen years I don’t believe I ever stepped inside. It sat up on top of a hill and was surrounded by an imposing fence. I’m sure it was nice and all, but there was just something imposing about the place.

In a few houses that surrounded ours, the kids had grown and gone. Even though we’d cut through the Mr. and Mrs. Creasy’s back yard to get to the ball field, we’d only knock on their door once a year when we trick or treated. Both of them would come to greet us at the door with such sad smiles. One held the door while the other carefully placed a carefully wrapped popcorn ball in the bag.

Of course, the best house in the neighborhood is the one where all the kids wanted to hang out, right? We had a couple of those. Moms and dads (but mostly moms) would dole out snacks and punishment without regard to whose kid was hers. If we played too late, it was, “Why don’t you stay for dinner?” And when it was time for the graduation open house, those were the parents who sat in our back yard.

Today as I think about the future story of Christian Temple, and as I remember this bible verse that has been so formative for me, I find myself wondering,

“What kind of house, is THIS house of the Lord?”

Shalom,

Rick

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May 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents


EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT!

“Christian Temple Hosts Community Groups in newly purchased Catonsville Storefront”

“Christian Temple Finds Path to Growth by Merging with Other Congregations”

“Christian Temple designs Sunday Evening Dinner Worship for Those Who Aren’t Sure About Traditional Church”

Don’t worry, folks. This is fake news! All of these headlines came out of my head with the help of our newly formed Future Story Team, named by the official board.

These are all hypothetical headlines that may or may not appear in the Catonsville Times in April, 2023. Their purpose isn’t to predict the future, but to help us wonder together about how the church and our community might change in just five short years.

The ancient wisdom, “no one steps in the same river twice” has never been more true than it is now for the church.

Take worship. All of us who used to come to church out of obligation, or because there wasn’t much else to do on Sunday morning, now have tons of options. Soccer games, coffee shops, the garden, or just sleeping in a little on the one day we have to ourselves, have changed the landscape of what used to be the church’s special purview. At the same time, many of us hunger for the kind of connections and community the church offers- being in real time and space with other real people who care that we are there.

Or how about Christian Education?

While traditional Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, mid-week evening Bible studies and youth groups are being squeezed into small compartments of our kids’ busy schedules (somewhere between Japanese lessons and Yoga for Kids!) parents are saying now more than ever how they want their kids to know the stories of Jesus- how they want their kids to hang out with other kids they can trust.

Mission?

Once upon a time we enjoyed stories of people serving God in faraway places and could be counted on to give money to those efforts. Now we want to make a difference right here where we live. “Making a difference in the world” ranks right up there at the top of the list of reasons people choose their faith communities- right next to meaningful worship services.

Technology?

I remember carrying cassette tapes (along with the tape recorder) to homebound members so they could enjoy the audio version of the worship service- and that was cutting edge! Now, streaming and Youtube bring the whole sanctuary to us. And what about all that technology available to us in other ways. Are we more likely to read mail that arrives in the mailbox by our front door or the mail that lights up our screens? When it’s time to remind people of a meeting, do we phone, email, text, or send a PM message on Facebook.

Life is coming at us fast, and the word on the street is “be nimble”. If the church wants to be as important in the future as it has been in the past we need to be keenly aware of how the world is changing. In order to share the message of God’s promise of grace and requirement to do justice in the name of Jesus, we have to be light on our feet.

So, I invite us all to join together with the Future Story team to help us envision ministry emanating from Christian Temple five years down the road! Together we can turn what might otherwise be a scary future into an exciting adventure!

Shalom,

Rick

Contact any member of the Future Story Team with thoughts and suggestions The team is: Jimmy Sweet-Laughlin, Chair, Pat LaFon, Michael Stone, Bob Gerrett, Deb Kruse, Matt Bloedorn, Lexi Wick; Rick Powell and Cindy Wagner, Ex-Officio.


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