Monday, August 30, 2010

Parenting and Luke 14:1, 7-14

Musing on Parenting and Luke 14:1, 7-14

I hope that you will take the opportunity to read Luke 14:1, 7-14. Jesus is teaching at a meal where he is guest. He tells the other guests to stop chasing the best seat. If you sit in the best seat, you run the risk of being demoted by the host to a lesser seat. How embarrassing. If you sit in the lowest seat, the odds are that your host will promote you to a better seat. How awesome you will look to the others as the host leads you to a better place. Jesus then summarizes that the exalted will be humbled and the humble will be exalted. I’ve heard this teaching before, and so may you. This teaching also resonates well with my experience of the world.

Then Jesus turns to the host. Jesus says that the host should invite people who cannot repay. The host should invite the marginalized, oppressed, avoided, disgarded because they are unable to return the favor of the invitation. In this way, the host will be repaid in Heaven for what he / she was not repaid on earth.

I love the distinction between the things of earth and the things of heaven. Remember the teaching about storing up treasure that will not rust? This teaching may not appear in many self-help books about climbing the ladder of corporate success. However, it is a lesson that the faithful and the curious have heard before.

Parenting - this teaching of Jesus gets very rewarding when I apply it to parenting.

If you are, have been, or look forward to being a parent, you may share this motivation with me. We want the best for our children. We want the best school, church, community, friends, etc. This motivation may even lead us to building lists. The list of friends we want our child to play. The list of friends we hope they never meet.

Jesus says we should invite the marginalized, oppressed, avoided, disgarded because they are unable to return the favor of the invitation. If we value Jesus’ teaching about storing up treasure that will not rust, do we dare teach it to our children? More than storing up treasure that does not rust, what of our base responsibility to our neighbor? Do we dare teach that responsibility to our children?

Of course we do. Each time we give our children the opportunity to serve at a soup kitchen, deliver meals on wheels, sow a blanket for Project Night Night, bring school donations for the local pantry - we help them build a relationship with those who cannot repay.

There is nothing wrong with wanting the best for our children. It is good parenting to want more for our children than we have ourselves. The most faithful parents understand that serving those who cannot repay is critical for giving our children more than we can given them on our own. These relationships transformation our children. It is a powerful way of passing on the faith.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Musing on a Query


Sometimes, as I am preaching, in the back of my brain a question or query arises. Most recently this occurred while I was preaching from the book of Jeremiah. I was making a point that the people of God incorrectly assumed they were safe because the lived in Jerusalem with the temple of God. I attempted to articulate the foolishness of assuming that because of our being “children of God” or our saying the right prayer at the right time, or our having the right prayer button to push we could make God protect us. God is out of our control. Our prayer beads, preferred biblical translations, politically correct (or incorrect) sayings, even our right thinking, right behaving ways are helpless to control God in any fashion. How often did the disciples and others attempt to advise Jesus only to watch Jesus do what Jesus chose to do?

Before I share the query of the back of my brain, I want to raise an advantage of accepting that God is out of our control. When our prayers go seemingly unanswered, we are not disappointed. When God shows up unexpectedly, even unwanted, we are less frustrated. When God remains silent, we are tempted to speak less and listen more. And ultimately and possibly, we might allow ourselves the humility more befitting of our created status.

The query that rose in the back of my brain was the power of the right prayer button, preferred biblical translation, correct spiritual practice? If not to control God, what value is there to these practices passed down over the ages? In truth, the query rose with the words, why am I preaching so negatively when so much possibility and hope exists?

If God is out of our control and so much of creation is out of our control, what is in our control? Before you suggest the possible use of prophetic judgement to control the other people in your pew, let us jump to the obvious. We have more control over ourselves than anyone or anything else. Honestly, we are not in control of ourselves as much as we think. However, we can be more positively in control. Even more, I suggest that we can be even more free and powerful.

Spiritual practices prepare us to relate to that which we do not control. Spiritual disciplines help us to face the seeming chaos about us. Saying the right prayer at the right time does not control God but it does focus our soul upon the One we seek. There is so much freedom and power to such living. A simple example is the practice of bowing our heads and folding our hands in prayer. This simple practice avoids distraction, positions us for humility, and focuses our thoughts. Imagine the joy as you engage more complex and rich spiritual disciplines.

So many children love ketchup and mac-n-cheese. I’ve seen them mixed to the delight of the youthful grazer. We raise our children to enjoy a balanced diet, a more complex and rich diet. So should we grow to enjoy and to embrace a more complex and rich spiritual practice. How happy a life that tastes the full menu of spiritual experience!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mary Changed Me

Mary wanted my counsel. Her name is not Mary, really, and she is not a member of my church. She had a problem and she wanted to know how a Christian should respond to the problem. She is a Christian, a heartfelt sort. With much intent, she sought my counsel.

Her intent, preparation, was what struck me first. Well that and her soft spoken nature that compelled the listener to pay attention to her words. Words she shared carefully. In advance of our meeting, she had spent time in prayer asking God to give her the right words to say in our meeting so as not to waste my time. Not only did she explain this to me, she started our meeting with prayer.

She was seeking my counsel. She did not ask me to pray for her. She prayed for us.

She had written out her worry. In a matter of minutes she had shared with clarity her worry and aptly named the question. I will not delve into the details of her situation or her problem. Suffice to say that her question was: “How was she as a Christian suppose to respond to this problem?” She shared this question and the problem with as much passion as clarity.

I tried to be as clear and concise as she. I told her that she was already doing exactly what a Christian would do in her situation. I encouraged her prayer life and her witness of God’s love to those in the situation. Affirming her previous actions to be safe, I reminded her to remain safe.

As if to make certain she had heard me correctly, she repeated my advice back to me. Then she added, in a way that was both question and wonderment, that God wanted her to be in that situation for a purpose. Her addition to my “counsel” sounded like a forgone conclusion she shared with me having known it before arriving in my office.

True to her word, she was in my office less than half and hour. She was as prepared for her departure as she had been for her arrival in my office. She changed me.

I say that she changed me because she did. My encounter with her impacted me. And the funny thing is that I knew it would before it did.

I knew what was about to happen was what should happen. I did not necessarily want it to happen because I had other things I wanted to happen. The other things were more “productive” according to my list of daily goals. Those things were definitely more easy to engage. Those things were in my control, supposedly. Yet I knew I had to do this thing. And in my soul I knew that it was exactly the right thing at exactly the right time and I also knew that I was going to benefit more than the Mary who was seeking my help.

I’m not certain how I knew. When my Administrative Assistant announced who was waiting to see me and that my counsel was requested, I knew it in my soul as certainly as I knew my face in a mirror. This was not the typical story of life interrupted with the “thing” you needed rather than the thing you “wanted.”

I knew the typical story was about to happen before it happened. The benefit of knowing such was being filled with a peace to do well what was needed. As carefully Mary shared her problem and question, I listened. As clearly she shared, I responded. When she began to pray for us, it felt most natural to me. When I might have felt bound to control, I let loose. When I might have felt necessary to use many words to justify or add weight to the counsel she sought, I spoke sparingly. She left with what she seemed to need.

I take no credit for this. It was completely God’s Spirit on the move. I am ashamed to conjecture what my decision may have been without God’s Spirit rushing in to my soul as it did. I might have asked Mary to make an appointment. I might have presented body language that repelled rather than received.

I take no credit for this. I share this because God showed up in my life this week. God used Mary to impact my life.

Mary came back to my office the next day. She wanted me to know that she had followed my counsel. She wanted me to know that her question was answered and the problem resolving. She wanted me to know the God was good.

I already knew. I knew because she showed up the day before. I knew because God told me.

I hope similar for you, child of God.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day and Love Relationships

Reflection: on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

by Dr. James R. Brooks May 10, 2010

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

So often our relationships are impacted greatly by our emotions. You may have heard the term, “Kick the cat” to sum up the effect of a boss who is angry yelling at an employee who comes home to yell at their spouse who yells at their child who yells at their dog who yells at the cat. Having an emotion usually is not a choice. That we have an emotional response to something or to someone often may not be our choice. How we act upon that emotional response can be our choice. If we encourage that emotional response within ourself can be our choice.

Mother’s Day is a celebration of a relationship sometimes fraught with emotional experience. In our best vision, the parent / child relationship is not dominated by emotional response. In our great desire, within the love relationship we share something more than emotional reactions.

In last Sunday’s sermon, I focused upon the last four phrases of this piece of scripture. The main point I wanted to make in the sermon was that love relationships (typified by the stereotype of Mother’s Day) are relationships wherein we are more fulfilled by witnessing joy in the other (our children, spouse, etc) than in the other making us happy. It is a type of relationship modeled by Jesus.

That being said, Love bears all things daily. In the daily grind of life, love bears all that occurs. Regardless of our mood, the weather, the stock market, all the outside and inside forces; we love the other. Our love for the thou is not dependent upon our waking on the right side of the bed or the perfection of thy outfit when leaving for school. Imagine the trust we endear in thy life when our love bears all things - the foibles and failures, success and satisfactions - daily.

Love believes all things is the powerful indwelling of confidence in thee. Not that we would by necessity believe every word spoken or deed performed. Rather love believes in the person as a child of God. Regardless of what thou hast done, those who love believe in thee. Ever found yourself saying, “I can’t believe you just _______?” In spite of that comment, love believes in the person as a creation of God. Imagine the confidence instilled in the recipient of that love.

My extended family hoped my generation would go to college. A very loving hope based upon a desire that my generation would have a better life. This hope was expressed in each celebration of a high school graduation and the addition of the graduates picture to a collection of other graduates in the family. Even more, this hope was expressed in the sacrifice of resources to pay tuition, housing, etc. Love hopes all things with a willingness to sacrifice so that thy will realize the hope, experience that which is hoped, achieve the goal. Love hopes all things with a willingness to set aside our hope for the hope thou hast claimed.

The women who were at the cross when Jesus died, they endured all things. Love endures all things because of the promise to never abandon thee. Thou are loved so deeply as to never experience the absence or rejection once experience by our Lord, Jesus. Imagine the confidence to reach for that which is hoped when knowing thou will never be abandoned! To endure is not to accept. Love never accepts injustice done to thee. However, love endures all things done to or by thee. Nothing can separate those who love this way.

These loving relationships are not about sparing the rod and spoiling thee. Rather they are based upon the love given by God to all God’s children. All who draw breath are loved so by God through Jesus Christ and sustained by the Holy Spirit.

I am blessed to have learned much of human behavior through my studies in psychology, anthropology, sociology, history, etc. Humanity has such a wealth of knowledge that if applied would foster more meaningful and healthful relationships. Yet the love relationship described by 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and reflected upon by me is only made possible when built upon the foundation of God’s love. I know of no other way to approach such a loving relationship. Thankfully, the foundation of God’s love is available to us all each day in a diversity of ways.