Judy. Jan. Matraisa.

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There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:28

This week we learned that a constitutional amendment affirming equality for women in the United Methodist Church failed to pass.  Part of its slim rejection may have been because of a statement declaring God as neither female nor male.  Whatever the reason, important declarations about the value of women in our denomination risk being unaddressed.

In the face of such a bummer, here is my Hallelujah:

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The first sermon I ever heard in a United Methodist Church was by a woman named Judy, my mom.  She was a Presbyterian pastor serving Kipp Presbyterian and Gypsum United Methodist church, so this was our introduction to Methodism.  I already knew she was good.  Every sermon she preached was deep and spiritual and poetic. Her pastoral care was loving. Her doctoral work developed a process for discipleship for small churches.  Even as a rebellious teen I was learning from her.

Throughout her ministry, in a climate where women were not always accepted, she ministered with grace and grit. She’s retired now, but still preaching nearly every week, filling in at several churches in Northern Alabama.  She keeps growing as a preacher, but she also writes awesome novels, about a fictitious pastor, Suzanne, serving a variety of churches in Kansas in the 1980’s. Hallelujah.

~~~

One of the best sermons I ever heard preached in a United Methodist Church was by a woman named Jan, my wife, who was serving at Bonner Springs United Methodist Church at the time.  Although she writes many enlightening and insightful sermons, for this sermon, she simply recited the Sermon on the Mount out of The Message.  She did it without notes, breathing to life this scripture I’d always loved, but never heard like this.

Today she is pursuing her PHD, working on the relationship between foreign born pastors and the congregations they serve in the Great Plains Annual Conference.  Along the way, she teaches sociology to hundreds of students at Emporia State University and Southwestern College.  Her classes on social problems and intimate relationships allow her to openly and honestly relate to students in a way not always available in the local church.  Hallelujah.

~~~

The most recent sermon I heard preached in a United Methodist Church was by a young woman named Matraisa.  A senior in high school.  6 months ago she approached me saying she’d like to preach.  This Sunday, we made that happen.  She stood before both services with a message about the Imago Dei, the image of God.  Her powerful words reminded us that God did not make a mistake in making us the way we are.

Matraisa is one of several youth group members who are considering a call to ministry. She and I are part of the praise band together. She has been to gatherings and national discerning events for young people.  She has been mentored by our wonderful youth director, Bri, and many others.  She’s the type that looks forward to annual conference each year.  She has hope for the future.  Hallelujah.

~~~

Now, consider this:

Judy, decades ago, was the first person to have mentioned the possibility of ministry to Jan.

Jan, over the past several years, has repeatedly encouraged Matraisa about the possibility of ministry.

Matraisa, just this Sunday,  modeled the possibility of ministry for the confirmation class who sat watching her preach.

Let the whole world know and believe what I have seen.  Women of faith have proclaimed the Good News in many ways down through the ages, and they surely will for generations to come.  You and I are so much the better for it.

Hallelujah.  Preach on.

Mitch

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Integrity In Your Bones

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Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out. –proverbs 10:9

Want to freak yourself out?  Next time you’re in a crowd, remind yourself that you are in a room full of skeletons.

It’s not something we tend to think of when we look at each other, but just a couple inches beneath each person’s surface lies a collection of bones.  Boo!  Here lies the object of infinite Halloween frights, and the symbol of all things unmentionably hidden.

One does not put one’s bones on display.  Not the ones inside our bodies, or the ones we’ve stuffed into our closets.  They’re private. These bones represent our collection of indiscretions, our taboo secrets, our hidden sins.

With all these skeletons in our closets (and inches beneath our skin), how could a single one of us walk with integrity?  Politicians throw that word around, but managing integrity is a rare feat.   It doesn’t seem like our elected officials have much integrity these days, although they are masters at appearing like it.

They’re not the only ones.  Many people today avoid the church because Christians seem so proficient at integrity — until greed, or abuse, or all manners of non Christ-like behaviors reveal us to be as “boney” as everybody else.

The #MeToo movement is a perfect example of the state of integrity — pulling back the curtain on decades of hidden harassment and demeaning behavior.  I’ve surely hated to see the pitiful contents of some of my favorite public figure’s closets. I’m cautious at pointing a finger, however, because I’d just as soon no one ever peek in my closet.

How about you? Anything to hide?

So, shy of, say, the Dalai Lama, is there anyone with integrity left in this cursed world? Are we all doomed, as proverbs mentions, to walk crooked paths until the day God and humanity discovers what lies beneath each of our feeble attempts to appear good?

No.  We’re not doomed.  Jesus came to save us from the evil that has settled into our very bones.  When Jesus died on that cross, the earthquake that filled the land cleaned out every closet and gave us the ability to walk with our heads held high.  Not with some mock piety, but with the assurance of grace.  We’re not perfect.  Just forgiven.

I wonder if integrity can grow even through our attempt to find it.  Maybe so.  Instead of hiding away the frail remnants of our past, our bones can be made strong in Christ. Stronger than a tanker truck of milk ever could.

The next time you’re in a crowd, don’t freak out about all the skeletons surrounding you.  It’s part of human nature to carry a few sins with us as we go through life.

But strive (with God’s help) for integrity.  It comes when we make room for grace, in our bodies, minds, spirits..

and closets.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Jesus Texting

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For God does speak—now one way, now another—
though no one perceives it. –Job 33:14

Luv4all:  Hey!

You:  Hey!  What’s up Jesus?

Luv4all:  Happy Birthday!

You:  Hehe, not my bday, dude!

Luv4all:  Yes it is.  I would know. 😉

You:  My birthday isn’t for 5 months.  You feeling okay?

Luv4all:  It’s all good.  You don’t get it.

You:  Get what?

Luv4all:  My present.  I send you one every day.

You:  Okay… what?

Luv4all: Life!  You get Life from me everyday.  So everyday is your birthday.

You:  Oh…like REbirth.  I get you.

Luv4all:  No.  Rebirth is important.  You get that too.  But every day is a NEW BIRTH.  A new chance.  A new opportunity.  A new lease on Life.

You: This is deep, JC.

Luv4all:  I KNOW it’s deep.  Remember this: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all humankind”?  I want you to embrace my light, like it’s the candle on your birthday cake, every single day.

You: How come I’m just hearing about this?

Luv4all: *groans* I tried scripture–you’re too busy.  I tried talking to you in your prayers–you have trouble listening.  I tried speaking through other people–you always have somewhere else to be.

You:  Sorry.

Luv4all:  It’s alright.  I’m just pointing out that the only way you seem to be able to communicate these days is through texting.  Not exactly the easiest mode for transmitting Grace and Truth, you feeling me?

You:  I feel you.  Sorry.

Luv4all:  Don’t hassle it.  Short and sweet is better than nothing.

You:  So, it’s my birthday.  New Life.

Luv4all:  That’s right.  Celebrate by living the freedom that comes with it.

You:  Okay.  I will.

Luv4all:  Okay.  Gotta go.  Thumbs getting tired.

You:  LOL.  Thanks, Jesus.

Luv4all:  No prob.  But remember, a little prayer never hurt anyone.  And my data plan?

It’s unlimited.

 

Have a good week,

Mitch

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The Last Straw

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It totally sucks.

A straw, I mean.  That’s what it does.

How many do you think you’ve used in your life?  How many have a waiter or waitress dropped onto your table, only to throw them out twenty minutes later?

I’ve never much thought about straws, until a couple weeks ago when I read an article about straw pollution.  Straw pollution? Yep. Blew my mind.

 

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In the U.S., we use 500 million straws a day! That is enough straw waste to wrap the circumference of the earth 2.5 times or to fill Yankee Stadium over 9 times in a year! Now imagine that magnified by global consumption!

That quote and graphic are from a site called Thelastplasticstraw.org.  How could something so little ever amount to so much pollution?  It’s hard for me to even picture, but just because I don’t see it doesn’t mean the problem goes away.

In fact, it never goes away.  Plastics like straws don’t biodegrade.  They just break down into littler and littler pieces.  They end up inside animals, and in us! Straws seem like such a handy, innocuous invention.  But they literally suck the life right out of our ecosystem.

It makes me wonder what other environmental catastrophes I contribute to and just don’t pay attention to them.  Relying on too many fossil fuels.  Forgetting to recycle.  Throwing used batteries into the trash.  Consuming way more than the rest of the world does.  I wonder if, when I’m not paying attention, one of those behaviors will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for our planet.

In Genesis, God puts us in charge, giving us dominion over all creatures.  That’s quite a responsibility.  And here is what God says to the Israelites in Numbers:

‘Do not pollute the land where you are… Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the LORD, dwell among the Israelites.’  Numbers 35:33-34

We made this mess.  Can we clean it up?  Making even a dent in our accumulated mistreatment of Mother Earth seems impossible to achieve.  I don’t have any perfect solutions either, although thelastplastricstraw.org has some good suggestions.

Remember, God doesn’t want a messy planet any more than you or I do.  The Holy Spirit is here to guide us as we learn to be better stewards.  We just need to get started.

Here’s my new motto for tackling pollution:

“Start with the things that totally suck.”

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Unattached

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They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
–Colossians 2:19

I wrote a strange story, years ago, about a land called Umbillica.  In this world, umbilical cords were permanent.  Children remained attached to their mothers by very long strands of veins and arteries, connecting one generation to the next.

In this way, as many as five generations would travel and live together.  Families were literally bound to each other.  When a woman decided to marry, her new husband would disconnect from his clan, and tie on to his wife’s family.

This kind of connection was the only way the citizens of Umbillica knew how to live.  And in this world, there was really only one thing to fear:  Being unattached.

Being unattached? It only happened in the rare instances when a calamity wiped out the rest of one’s family, leaving a poor figure to walk the world alone.  Or, far more scandalously, it happened when an occasional clan member deliberately untethered themselves from their family, and scampered off into the night, never to be seen again.

There was nothing more taboo than to be unattached.

As the creator of this peculiar world, even I’m not sure why I set it up that way.  But can you imagine such a world?  Where familial attachments reign supreme, and untethered people feel ostracized?

Yeah, I can, too.  Sounds familiar.

Our society can project a subtler form of response to the unattached.  Sometimes we will pity people who are on their own, as if their lives must be sad and incomplete. Sometimes I suppose that’s true, but unattached people frequently find their own new clans to be a part of. New people to connect with.  And unattached people can find joy in their independence, adventure on the horizon, peace in solitude.

It’s important to remember that God’s grace is not just delivered in family-sized doses.   It comes to every person in every circumstance.  Maybe your family is healthy, or in shambles.  Maybe you’ve cut yourself off from your family because of conflict or abuse or dysfunction.  Maybe you can feel the tug of that umbilical cord…it’s just a very long one.   Whatever your attachment (or unattachment) issues are, know this:

God longs to connect with you.  Through other people, out in the world, through scripture, through your family, through the Holy Spirit, and a million other ways.

That’s the way the creator of this peculiar world set it up.

Don’t worry.  God is not stalking you, or trying to smother you.  God’s grace is not dependent on the number or strength of any of your connections, either.

And it comes (you’ll be happy to learn),

with no strings attached.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Who’s Gonna Be Your King?

Who’s gonna be your King?  Who is deserving of the Top Spot in your life?  Our world throws out all kinds of options for us to choose from, but you can only offer supreme allegiance to one.

Here are some words and pictures to help you decide.

Take your time.  Choose wisely!

“King: noun…

authority, bigwig, boss

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chief, chieftain, commander,

lionking

czar, dictator, director,

kingtut

emperor, executive, governor,

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head, head honcho, high chief,

King-of-Pop-king-of-pop-mj-9455606-1280-1024

imperator, leader, lord,

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magnate, majesty, master,

billie jean king

monarch, overlord, paramount lord,

stephen king

patriarch, person who is reported to, power,

Dr-Martin-Luther-King-Jr

royal personage, ruler, superior.” (thefreedictionary.com)

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Who will it be?  An entertainer?  A sports figure?  An ancient ruler?  A consumer brand?

Maybe something fictional.  Maybe a crusader for peace who would never want the job.

Or maybe you’d pick the person you see when you look in the mirror?

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Who’s gonna be your king?  I am convinced that there is only One person suited for the job.  Try out these words:

I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords  –1 Timothy 6:14-15

And this image:

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No kingly crown.  No kingly name.  Just an Easter promise to rule in your heart…

so much more than this guy

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ever could.

Have a great week,

 

Mitch

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No Crying In Basketball.

Jesus wept.  —John 11:35

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So…you foul out with :36 left on the clock.  Down by 5.  You watch, helpless, as it all slips away. This is the hardest you’ve worked in your life, and it’s come down to this:  A loss.

It’s enough to make you want to cry.

And so you look around the arena for your mother.  She’s sitting over there with your family.  As your bottom lip begins to tremble, you run across the court, climbing up into the stands, and you throw your arms around your mom.

As an astonished venue looks on, you let loose with a gut wrenching sob.  WAHHHHHH!!!  All the mental and physical exhaustion you’re feeling, plus the deep disappointment at not making it to the championship comes gushing out of you in great big torrents for all to see and hear.

Oh wait.  Scratch that.  That’s not right. That’s not how we do things. It’s perfectly acceptable for 15,000 fans to scream themselves hoarse rooting for a game, but to have one player show a few tears can somehow seem uncouth.  Even embarrassing.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’d be that guy burying my face in a towel.  I don’t want my anguish broadcast on TBS and around the world.  To me, painful emotions are private, intimate things.  But why?

Many people (especially men) have been raised to view showing sad emotions as a sign of weakness and a cause for embarrassment.  If you’ve sneakily brushed away tears after a sappy commercial, you may know what I’m talking about.  And I can’t tell you the number of people I see at a funeral, doing all they can to clamp down on those pesky feelings.

I wonder.  What would it take for you or I to come out of hiding and let our tears be a public statement of grief?  It would have to be for a very good reason, even more significant than losing a basketball game.

Well…it is Holy Week.  Kind of the epicenter of anguish for the Christian year.  What if we allowed ourselves to truly experience the depths of Holy Thursday or Good Friday?  What if we opened ourselves up to the brokenness of the world and the suffering of our savior?  Could we let it move us to tears?

All of our personal turning away from God.  All the pain of betrayal and denial and crucifixion and death and darkness.  Talk about a loss! This is no game–it’s the light of Christ snuffed out.  If there’s ever been a week for crying in public, isn’t this it?

Yes!  So here’s what you do.  You push your cart up and down the aisles of the grocery store, sniffing and blubbering. Every time someone asks you if you are alright, you say, “No.  Not this week,” and then tell them why.

Okay.  I’m dubious if any of us are going make that much of a scene, but I challenge you to feel something. If we can have our emotions stirred up by a basketball game, surely we can travel these last days of Lent, giving our whole hearts to Jesus.  There’s still time to discern, to reflect, and yes, to weep.  But know this…

in terms of days before Easter…

we’re down to the Final Four.

Have a Holy Week,

Mitch

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