O Come, O Come, To Manuels.

 

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Sadie and Wayne Palmer (my in-laws), with my wife Jan.

 

Taste and see that the Lord is good -Psalm 34:8a

Blasphemy warning:  I’m about to compare the Christ Child to a burrito.

But oh, what a burrito.  I’d pay triple the price for one. Actually they just call it “a tortilla”.  The one I had for breakfast a week ago was stuffed with mushrooms, cheese, eggs, beans, and onions.  And topped with a special hot sauce.  Here’s what it looked like.

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The thing is significantly bigger than your head.  And the taste makes you want to shout “Rejoice! Rejoice!”

You’ll have to drive down to Port Isabel, TX, to eat one of these marvels.  And you’d better bring cash.  And no attitude.  And an open mind. Because Manuel’s is pretty much a hole in the wall.

Here’s what it looks like inside.

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The floors are rough and uneven.  The walls are covered in posters for old 70’s movies, like “The Godfather” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, along with pictures of Manuel’s family, especially grandkids who are athletes or cheerleaders.  From the ceiling hangs pennants of college and NFL football teams. It has a strange man-cave charm to it.

But let’s come back to the tortillas, or as I call them, “the Reason for the Seasoning”? 

Tortilla 2 manuels

Beyond delicious.  I’ve been coming down to this place (adjacent to S. Padre Island) for maybe 15 years or so.  Things change down on the South Texas coast, but Manuels stays the same, like a dear friend waiting with open arms.

If I’m describing this Hole In The Wall as if it were a Holy Place, there’s a reason.  Somehow, despite the rundown conditions, Manuels just feels special.  I’m not the only one sharing that sentiment.  I know because of the walls.  Any place not touched by a poster or a picture bears the signature of someone who’s been there.

 

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If you look real close, you can see the writing on the walls.

Hundreds of signatures fill up the walls, with folks from across the country (and beyond, I’m sure), making their mark.  My signature is there, somewhere, from years ago.  I don’t remember where, but I know I’ve gone on record as a fellow pilgrim to Manuels.

 

Now, if your mouth is watering, and you feel the need to road trip down to South Texas for breakfast this week, let me know and maybe I’ll join you.  But I hope that, as this Advent season begins, you are feeling an even more powerful pull towards the manger.

The accommodations that night in Bethlehem were lousy.  The décor? Non existent.  It was, perhaps, a hole in the wall.  But something Truly Holy draws us in to that cattle stall.  It is an encounter with Someone that makes it worth this journey.

We are called to be counted amongst the millions who pay homage to the Child.  To write our name on the walls of the stable.  To tell the world that we were there.  To proclaim that God is here.

And so, in spite of my love for Manuel (he’s a great guy), it cannot compare to my love for Emmanuel. And as much as I want you all to get a taste of that amazing food, it is eclipsed by my desire that you experience the All Powerful Love of Jesus.

Christ is, indeed, more than a burrito, and even more to be savored.  Taste and see that the Lord is good. He will nourish you long after December 25th…

with zero chance of indigestion.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Christians and Karma

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One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
    another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

A generous person will prosper;
    whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. –Proverbs 11:24-25

Ever say things like, “Well, you get what you deserve”, or “These are my past deeds coming back to haunt me”, or “I must have been really bad in a past life?”  I say this stuff, too, sometimes.

Maybe we would make good Hindus, or Buddhists.  Words like these reflect an ancient concept present in both of those religions, called Karma.

Karma is the idea that your good and bad deeds will reward or punish you in the life to come.    There’s something about the notion of Karma, with its multiple lifetimes and black-or-white morality that can be very alluring to us as Christians.

I’ll find myself playing the Karma game when things go wrong.  I’ll think, “I deserve to be punished like this.  I wasn’t faithful enough before.”   As if Karma somehow evens things out.  I’ve heard other people say, “There’s equal amounts of Good and Evil in the world, and this is just the Devil getting his due.”

This is all kind of a Westernized view of Karma.  The Hindu and Buddhist concepts are much more nuanced, I’m sure.  But when Christians think in terms of Karma, they run the risk of ignoring Christ, which is a shame, because Christ plays by far better rules:

  • Christ offers GraceEven when we don’t deserve it!
  • Christ offers Eternal Life present with God.
  • Christ offers Goodness that forever tips the scales against evil.
  • Christ offers Companionship when the road is hard,
    Second Chances when we mess up, and a
    Reason for Living that is so much more than simple spiritual accounting.

Even though there are passages, like the one from Proverbs, that can make it sound like the Bible is talking about Karma, ultimately they refer to a God who is an ever-present blessing to us, in good times and bad.  We believe that, because of God, the universe is fundamentally skewed towards Grace.

Instead of trying to win at life, as if it’s some cosmic game of Chutes and Ladders,  Christians are called to boldly take every step–even the hard ones, because their path is illuminated by the Light of Christ.

Personally, I think Karma is a pretty interesting idea.  I’ve even wondered about past lives and reincarnation from time to time.  Hinduism and Buddhism both have a great many things to offer and teach us.

But I’ve got no plans to change my colors and abandon Christianity.

Which means, I’m definitely not a…

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Have a great week,

Mitch

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are they saying about me?

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About ten years ago, I was visiting a person at the hospital.  It was an important surgery, so I came and prayed, and then waited in the waiting room with their adult sister who had come into town.  Also present was a member of the congregational care team, on call that week to care for people.

The three of us talked for a while, and after about an hour the conversation lulled, and eyes were drifting over to the TV where The Price Is Right was on.  So I said my goodbyes and headed towards the elevator, glad that my church member was sticking around.

As I stood in the elevator, doors closing, I distinctly heard my parishioner say to the woman, “He’s painfully shy”, and then the doors closed.

That was a long 3 flights down.

You ever overhear somebody talking about you like that?  It’s disconcerting.  For one thing, I had on my “attentive pastor” persona that day, alert and responsive. Had I really acted that shy?  It wasn’t said meanly, which somehow made it worse.  They were making excuses for me!

The end result was a few days of paranoia on my part.  What are they saying about me? And not just at the church, either.  When my family talks on the phone, are they talking about how annoying I am? 

What about my bosses–my District Superintendent and my Bishop.  What are they saying about me?  Are they questioning my effectiveness?  Are they talking about me?  Or maybe worse…maybe they never think to talk about me at all?

Ever feel like this?  Like you aren’t your own accurate gauge of who you are and how effective you are in your interactions?  Well…you’re not alone.

Remember this passage?

 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”  –Mark 8:27

No, I don’t think Jesus was overcome with a sudden bout of low confidence or paranoia. And he certainly wouldn’t advocate us being bullied by other people’s words.  But yes, I think he cared what people thought of him.  He wanted to know how effective he was being.  He wanted to see if his message was getting across.

And so he asked his friends.  People he trusted, who might have some information he hadn’t been privy to.  And sure enough, they had a sense of people’s perceptions which were…close, but not right on the money.  They were viewing him from a less than focused lens.

You remember how this goes, right?  It was the people closest to him, namely Peter, who had the clearest vision when it came to who Jesus was.  That was probably Peter’s proudest moment, when he correctly identified Jesus as “The Messiah, the Son of God who is coming into the world.”

(Of course, 2 minutes later Jesus was berating him, so you win some, you lose some.)

Here’s my point.  Of course people have things to say about you.  You’re a human being with complicated relationships and jobs and friendships, etc.  I’m betting most of the things people say are good, but there could be some criticisms or harsh observations in there too. We have to be careful what feedback is helpful and what should be shaken off.

If you’re worried about what folks are saying, remember that we’re all growing through this thing called life together.  Along the way,  be glad for the friends who love you for who you are…

and be patient with all the others who are still learning.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Fur All The Saints

Charlie

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason  I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. –Ephesians 1:15-16

A saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness or likeness or closeness to God.  –Wikipedia

It’s my devotion. So if I want to use All Saints Day to venerate my dearly departed doggie, I’m gonna do it.

Not that this won’t be met with some controversy, I’m sure.  The debate over whether animals have souls has gone on for centuries.  People are adamant on both sides.  Even Catholic Popes have weighed in differently down through the ages.

Most recently, in 2014, Pope Frances made the claim that animals go to heaven.  It made international press–too bad everybody was quoting somebody else by mistake.  We don’t actually know what the Pope’s thoughts on pets in the afterlife are.  I wonder if he ever had a dog?

My dog, Charlie, left this Earth yesterday, early afternoon.  My wife and I don’t have kids, so Charlie was the third member of our family.  We’ve had many tears as we’ve watched his cancer get the best of him.  Saying goodbye to someone you love is so hard.

I’ll be honest–if you were to call into question the existence of a soul in Charlie, my wife would probably beat you up.  So I don’t recommend that, at least not this week.  For us, and millions of pet owners, the answer is obvious.  The spark of creation, the capacity for love points to an unmistakable soul.  Something God-given and eternal.  Charlie has a soul.

Now, I’m gonna take it one step further.  Can a dog be a Saint?

We have several definitions of “Saint” that we use in the church.  They can differ from one denomination to the next, but here’s what we talk about in my church.  A Saint is:

  1. Someone who has impacted the lives of others in a profound and loving way.
  2. A member of the congregation, living or dead.
  3. Anyone whom we have loved and lost.

Those are pretty roomy definitions, and designed to be that way.

The Catholic Church goes further:  A saint (lower case) is anyone in heaven.  A Saint (upper case) is someone “who has been formally canonized that is, officially and authoritatively declared a saint, by the Church as holder of the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and is therefore believed to be in Heaven by the grace of God” (Wikipedia)

I think Charlie would have to have performed a couple miracles (and be human) in order to be considered for canonization, (we’re talking Mother Theresa material), so maybe not the extra fancy description of Saint.  But, looking at #1 up there, I’m gonna say he counts in my book.

For 12 years he followed/shepherded us everywhere we went.  He cuddled, played tug, and seemed to know when we needed an extra dose of affection.  He was incredibly smart–we counted well more than a dozen words or phrases he understood completely.  He ran with Jan for years around Wyandotte County Lake, protecting her.  He traveled around the country with us.  And on the rare occasion when Jan and I would raise our voices, he would come and sit right between us.

I could go on, and probably never convince some that Charlie is being deserving of Sainthood.  That’s okay.  I suppose you’ll have to take my word for it —  That dog taught me more about love, service and commitment then most humans ever will.

So, if you’re not a pet owner, consider becoming one!

And if you are a pet owner — I give you permission (which you don’t need) to call your special pets Saints, too.   I figure, if the paw fits, wear it.

I believe we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and not all of them walk on two legs.

But hey, when you turn your eyes to God, you can go ahead and discern that for yourself.

After all…

It’s your devotion.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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