Meghan Markle Rocks Denim Dress

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They say to write what you know.

That is not what I am doing today.  Today, I am writing about the Duchess of Sussex, otherwise known as Meghan Markle.

Why? Because, as I’ve been surfing around the Interlands this week, I keep seeing little clickbait articles about her everywhere.  She is everywhere. 

Somebody out there clearly has an obsession with this woman, and all I seem to know is…didn’t she get married or something?

Yes, she did.  A little time on Wikipedia makes me a sort-of expert.  Here’s what I learned:

  • She was born in 1981.
  • She was a TV actress, best known as Rachel Zane on the law drama “Suits”.
  • She’s been divorced.
  • She married Prince Harry, the Grandson of Queen Elizabeth the II.
  • As far as I can tell, ever since the marriage, the press seems compelled to photograph every item of clothing she wears (like the People headline above), every tiny gesture that is not “proper” enough, and every time her and Harry make eye contact with each other.

It’s been so many months since the wedding, (May ’18) and still people are swooning about her.  I finally think I understand why:  She’s a living fairy tale.  Like Princess Diana a generation ago.  She’s an everyday person plucked out of the crowd to be part of the royal family.  It’s the kind of thing some folks just drool over.

To you Marklers (or Meghaholics?) please know that I’m not condemning you.  A fascination with the Duchess seems harmless enough.  But just the same, keep this in mind:

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness;
–1 Timothy 4:7

It is possible, the writer of Timothy reminds us, to get tangled up in fairy tales, to the point that we lose track of the very real story we’re called to live. Daydreaming about marrying your prince could, if not checked, leave you drifting in fantasy land.

The same holds true for rabid sports fans, video game junkies, breaking news fanatics, Netflix bingers and more.  What fairy tales or other forms of escapism capture too much of your attention?

The Hebrew word for sin translates as “Missing the Mark”.  When the focus of our hopes, dreams, and discipleship is something other than God, we make the wrong things the bullseye in our lives.  That is sinful behavior, and can cause big problems in our lives!

Most of us have our things we geek out on, and I think that’s okay.  It’s part of how we have fun, and can even present itself as a hobby.  We just have to make sure we keep our priorities straight.

For instance, if you read the title of today’s devotion and instantly knew that this was the dress Meghan wore to Harry’s polo match a couple weeks ago, you may need to tear yourself away from the tabloids for a while.

After all, you want to avoid Missing the Mark,

even if it means Missing the Markle.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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A Laity Bill of Rights

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Let’s stop right here, before I get started.

I’m not a member of the laity, and I’m pretty sure a laity bill of rights should be written by laity.  But, at the risk of “clergy-splaining”, I want to throw a few things out there for your consideration, laity.  Freedoms and protections I believe should be inalienable in The Church.  Use what you want, and throw the rest away.

  1.  The right to think.   Just because you have a dazzling pastor or a Harvard trained Sunday School teacher doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use your brain at church.  Some churches tend to tell you what you should believe.  I don’t go there.  I see the church, and it’s leaders, as teaching you HOW to believe–how to engage in disciplined, faithful inquiry.  Will your pastor make a strong case for the quadrilateral or prevenient grace?  Absolutely.  But how (or if) you integrate it into your walk of faith?  That should be your job.
  2. The right to bare arms.  Heehee.  Simply put,  I believe a church that puts a dress code over and above hospitality is already a dead church.  That said, different churches have different cultures.  If you’re wearing a tuxedo and everyone around you is in cutoffs, you may have a different concept of reverence.  There may be a church culture that fits you better.
  3. The right to accountability.  Here’s what I mean:  Lots of older churches (and their leaders) have allowed accountability to sort of drift away.  Being a member of a church means…attending occasionally?  Putting a few bucks in the plate once a year?  I find myself guilty of letting my congregations down in this way.  Laity who sign on for the adventure of discipleship deserve to encounter discipline along the way.  Discipline shapes the life of a church, in terms of expectations, opportunities, and structure.  If you’re going to make a commitment to a church, that commitment should challenge you, engage you, and work to form you into the disciple you’ve committed to be.
  4. The right to disagree.  You believe in creation, but your pastor teaches that it’s just a metaphor.  Do you have to change your beliefs? (Or change your church?)  No.  It’s okay to disagree.  Your Sunday School teacher tells you animals don’t have souls, but your dog Pearl (r.i.p.) was the most loving creature you ever met.  Do you have to sully her good name because your teacher said so?  No!  This may be obvious, but I think there are laity who forget they have the right to disagree.  It’s even possible to disagree without painful conflict or separation.  Great conversations can emerge from seeing things differently.  Just the same, if you find your pastor on the opposite side of the fence every Sunday, you also have the right to rethink if this church is truly feeding you.
  5. The right to be safe.  Churches are those rare buildings that actually house a “sanctuary”–a place of refuge and safety.  That could be said of the whole church property.  That’s the fervent goal, anyway.  There are times, it pains to say, when that right is violated.  You also have the right not to be bullied for your belief or any other reason.  You have the right to be safe at any age and in any situation.  These are rights we strive so hard to assure.  But sometimes, through negligence or evil, this right can be painfully violated.  God forbid, but were something like this to ever happen…
  6. You have the right to remain silent.  But I hope you won’t.  Instances of abuse are traumatizing, and we see one example after another of people who have waited decades to speak up in the face of that painful occurrence.  If you ever experience something that makes you uncomfortable or threatened or exposed, I truly hope you’ll tell somebody that you trust.  This is bad stuff, and it can threaten the rights of everybody in the church.  And if you are that trusted person somebody confides in, you have the right–no, RESPONSIBILITY to do right by them.  Listen to them.  Believe them.  Reach out to others who can help.

This is such a short list.  Maybe some laity out there will offer their own lists of rights.  I pledge, as a clergy, to listen and respect every word.Maybe I should be focusing on a bill of rights for pastors.

Hmm. Here’s a start:

1. We the clergy have the right to … pretty much all of the above, too.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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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:

~~~

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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