The Big Squeeze

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“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”  –Luke 13:24

I’m not what you would call a small man.

I’ve lost 30+ pounds and “found them” again, twice.  In the 14 months that I’ve been a vegetarian, I’ve actually gained 5 pounds.  When I shop in the Big & Tall section, no one would mistake me for being there because of my height.

So yeah, I’m a heavy guy.  Which has me wondering about this door Jesus talks about. Just how narrow is it?

You know, I can squeeze into a restaurant booth.  I can squeeze into an airplane seat. I can squeeze into my dress pants without popping a button. But what I really need to know is how tight a squeeze this door really is.  Do I stand a chance? Jesus tells us many will try to enter and not be able.

That makes me nervous.  Because that’s not all I’m carrying.

It’s very hard to enter into the Kingdom if you’re carrying anything sinful: a spare tire around the middle, or an overinflated ego, or bags stuffed with greed, or the giant plank stuck in your eye.

What are you carrying that will make it hard for you to squeeze through the narrow door?

The door is there before us, a challenge for your life and mine, but Jesus didn’t put it there to daunt us or to taunt us.  The truth is, alone, none of us could make it through.  We’re carrying too much!

No, the door serves a purpose for our lives.  Jesus invites us to measure up against that narrow door, to make a wholehearted attempt to mold ourselves into the shape of the Kingdom.  This is the work of discipleship, as we learn to shed what weighs us down and pick up what helps us resemble Christ.

Ultimately, it is God’s Grace that leads us through the door and into the Kingdom.  Every pound we shed is our “Thank You” for bringing us through.

It’s a New Year and a New Start.

So…

What have you got to lose?

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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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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