In My Undies

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All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.  –Psalm 22:17

It’s a recurring dream — you may have had a similar one.  I’m walking through a school or a church, rushing to get somewhere, and I realize I’m wearing only my underwear!

The rest of the dream is spent desperately trying to find something else to wear, and failing spectacularly.  Sometimes people notice, point, and laugh.  Always I feel extremely vulnerable.

I think that’s the point of that particular dream.  It’s a subconscious reflection of me feeling vulnerable about something.  My near nakedness in the dream symbolizes an inability to hide myself from others.

Dreams of being naked or near naked frequently make Top 10 lists of common dreams.  We have these dreams because many of us share that same fear:  Forced to reveal ourselves more than is comfortable.

This is not just physical, having our “bones on display”.  It’s more mental or even spiritual.  Having our inner most thoughts, fantasies and fears displayed for others.  Near panic at the notion of people knowing the real us.

What would have to change to make all those scary dreams go away?  Could the world decide it’s time to shed any unneeded clothes and walk around just as God made us?  Or if we all took a couple years of therapy could we develop a healthier self esteem, with no need to hold back who we are?

It just seems such a shame that you and I, created in God’s Image, have to spend so much energy trying to obscure ourselves from others.  It must be some consequence of our sinful nature that our very thoughts and traits can seem unsuitable for public viewing.

This is something we can work on.  We can seek to be more transparent, less terrified of being vulnerable.  We can admit our faults, be faithful with our gifts, and trust to be covered by Grace when our undies are showing.

Come to think of it, many of the people I most admire are those whose soul shines so brilliantly, I don’t even notice how much they’re covered up.  These are the people whose faith helps them clothe those around them in Christ.

I want to be one of those people.  The more aggressively I practice this kind of faith, the less I’ll have that dream.  That’s the premise I’m adopting, anyway…

If that takes stripping down to my spiritual skivvies, so be it.

As for my physical body?

That’s, for now,

a subject I’ve thoroughly covered.

Have a Great Week,

Mitch

Tired of being slowed down at airport security, Vince began to travel in only a pair of Speedos.

 

 

 

Unlike-Minded

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There used to be like-minded people in the world, but now there are only unlike-minded people.  I used to pray for harmony, for unity, for getting along.  Now, I pray nobody gets hurt.

This is terrible, the state of things.  It’s a plague.  This is the kind of polarized thinking that tears down nations, and friendships, and churches.  Is there anything we can do to fix this?

A world filled with unlike-minded people will surely rip itself apart at the seams.  Surely this is not what our children want to inherit.  Surely this is not what Jesus taught us.  If you keep standing over there, and I keep standing over here, the chasm between us could swallow us whole.

What is to be done?

One answer is simple but a challenge:  We have to learn to like each other again. We have to try.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. –Philippians 2:1-2

When I relearn how I like your funny stories, your excellent skills as a chef, your passion for Fleetwood Mac, and your dedication to discipleship—then I remember your humanity, and that you are a person of worth.

And if you relearn how you like my doodles, and how I treat my kids, my ability to fix anything, and my willingness to step out in faith—then you remember my humanity, and that I am a person of worth.

We will still have some heated discussions about the issues, and sometimes we’ll be loud and proud about it, but our capacity to listen will be vastly multiplied.  We may never agree with each other on all the issues out there, but we will remember how to value each other as children of God.  Doesn’t that sound nice? Healthy even?

I’m tired of being unlike-minded.  I’m going to start liking again.  People.  Sisters and Brothers in Christ.  People I disagree with.  Would you like to try, too?

Well, look at that.

Something we have in common.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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It’s Hip To Be Square

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It’s not just some fad.  It’s not just a Huey Lewis song either.  But let me tell you…

Square is where it’s at.

Quadrilateral, actually.  A 4-sided box that contains a method for making sense of the world.  This is a United Methodist method, in fact, and one you can put to use immediately.

We call it the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral”, although Dr. Albert Outler coined the term centuries after John Wesley’s time.  Outler studied Wesley extensively, and the Quadrilateral isn’t just what Wesley taught but what Wesley did.

It’s a method for strengthening your faith, based on four sources John Wesley drew upon time and again.  Here they are:

SOURCE #1:  Scripture.  This is the big one.  Scripture contains everything sufficient for us as believers, and so we look to it to inform our faith more than the others.  However, we Methodists want to confirm and enhance our understanding as we interpret the Word.  Which brings us to…

SOURCE #2.  Tradition.  For thousands of years now, people have written about God.  Speculated about Jesus.  Tried to interpret the work of the Holy Spirit.  Those writings form the basis of our tradition–and we use them to help us peel back the layers of scripture and yield new understanding.  Tradition can also refer to the activities of different faith groups — including our own — as they’ve passed down through the centuries.

SOURCE #3.  Reason.  Wesley was a strong proponent of logic, reason, and science.  God gave us these intricate minds — it’s only appropriate for us to use them as we try to wrestle with difficult subjects and complicated ideas.

SOURCE #4.  Experience.  This one’s kind of tricky, because experience can be so subjective from one person to the next.  It refers to the experience of the Holy Spirit within and around us–how it has warmed our hearts and confirmed our faith.

Maybe you knew all that and this was just a reminder.  Maybe you’ve never explored such ideas before.  Regardless, let me make it clear:  It’s hip to be square.

It’s incredibly cool to use these four sources to strengthen your faith!  People who embrace the Quadrilateral as part of their daily faith walk will find greater depth, greater balance, and greater meaning in their lives.

Now, you might have noticed — it’s actually possible for two people to use these sources and come out with entirely different notions!  One person could weigh out scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, and decide they are pro-life, and another could do the same thing and identify as pro-choice.   Your faith could point you against gay marriage, and your best friend could believe the opposite.  Faithful people can come to very different faith conclusions.

If we don’t all believe the same way, what good is the Quadrilateral in the first place?

Ah, but that’s the hippest part of the whole thing.   If we carefully, faithfully use these four sources — we may come to different conclusions, but we ARE believing the same way.  We’re holding fast to a process that produces Christians with integrity.

It doesn’t create complete agreement.  It creates creative people.  People who are willing to investigate and ask questions, to delve into the traditions of the church, to read scripture vigorously, and to seek the Holy Spirit’s blessing.

If we can commit to doing all of that, then there is hope for us to learn and grow together.  (Wesley called that Christian Conferencing, a really cool concept for another day).

Do you get it?  Those four sources form a STREngth that cannot be ignored.  The more people choose to be this deliberate and methodical, the stronger we become as God’s family, even when we don’t always agree.

So spread the word.  It’s hip to be square.  Let’s make this precious process popular…

Until everybody’s doing it.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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My Way

Frank Sinatra My way

“Alexa, play the Frank Sinatra station.”

Alexa’s my Amazon speaker-thingy.  You just tell it what you want to hear, and it provides the soundtrack for your life! This morning, I felt like some old standards.  This is what I got:

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain

Listening, I thought to myself, “this is such a good song.  An old classic.  Well written, and ole Blue Eyes really knows how to belt it out.”

I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

The words to the song, I just looked them up, were written by Paul Anka.  But the philosophy of life clearly belongs to that of the Chairman of the Board.

But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall
And did it my way

The song is about a man, near the end of his life, looking back with pride. Every time life got tough, he made his own uncompromising decisions.  He did it “My Way”.

For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way

It was at this point that I decided to write this devotion.  Did you notice that this song is seriously missing something? There’s no leaning on God.  No leaning on others.  There’s no collaboration, no love.  There’s only a man standing tall.

And you know what?  That’s not enough.

I know lots of people who have graduated from the Frank Sinatra school of hard knocks.  They learned to keep their own interests front and center.  They learned not to trust others or accept much help.  They learned to be strong and determined and single-minded.  They aim to be King of the Hill, A-Number One, and they aim to do it “My Way”. But they don’t learn to trust in God’s way, and that means missing out on the greatest experience of life.

It’s a tricky thing, putting your faith in God’s hands, especially when the world keeps telling you to go it alone.  Even long-term Christians can struggle with this.

I went hunting for “my way” quotes from scripture.  Here are 4 that I found from the Psalms:

It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.  –Psalm 18:32

I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. –Psalm 119:59

You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. –Psalm 139:3

When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way.   –Psalm 142:3

Apparently there’s room for both “My Way” and God’s Way.   That balance between God’s sovereignty and Human agency is a mysterious one — humans have been asking about that theological question since day one.  I’m apt to think that we can be strong people of integrity who are guided in our steps, hearts, and minds by a loving God.  We can have it both ways.

When I get to the point in my life when I say, “And now the end is near…” I hope I sing a very different song about my life.  One filled with lots of harmony and inspiration and love, one that reminds me that if I keep God in my life…

I’ll never walk alone.

Have a great week,

Mitch

 

 

Death by GPS

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This week, I couldn’t recall the name of one of the streets in town.
It was Main Street.
Thinking about it, I realized that if you were to hand me a blank map of my small city, I would only be able to insert maybe six or seven street names.  If I had to tell someone how to get to my house using only the names of streets signs, I don’t know if I could do it!
What is going on with me?  I used to be really good at street names.  It’s as if my ability to match a name and a place has just shriveled up.  What gives?
And then the three-letter answer came to me:  GPS.
Global Positioning Satellites.  Somewhere up in the atmosphere there are lots of little contraptions orbiting the planet that, through my phone or my car, can tell me with pinpoint accuracy where I am, and where I’m going.  They do all that work for me. GPS has become such a part of my life that I’ve stopped paying attention to my surroundings.  Instead, I pay heed to the slightly British-accented woman’s voice telling me to “proceed to the route”.
Is it dangerous to rely too much on a GPS?  Turns out, it can be deadly.  I found this article from the Sacramento Bee, describing numerous cases of people following a malfunctioned or misread GPS out into Death Valley.  They became lost, didn’t know where to go, and in several cases perished because of it!
What if that’s me, minus the desert?  What if I’ve come to rely on the “eye in the sky” instead of my own vision, so much that my ability to see clearly has suffered from it?
Death by GPS is a real thing.  I wonder, what about death by Faith?  Placing so much faith into someone or something that you lose yourself.  I think it is possible.  I’ve seen people turn a blind eye to their own gifts and uniqueness, throwing their own agency away to the whims of God.
But God doesn’t work that way.
Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.  –Psalm 119:105
See?  God doesn’t carry us over the finish line.  God helps us see where to go.  I like what C.S. Lewis had to say on the subject:
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
― C.S. Lewis
God doesn’t require faith at the cost of agency.  Both are meant to go together.  God shines like a lamp, like a light, like the sun, and with faith’s help, we chart a course for our lives.
God illuminates our world, and nudges us to move.
Where do we go?  God may have a few ideas about that.
But it’s up to us to read the (street) signs.
Have a great week,
Mitch

Life GPS

 

 

 

Your Word for 2018: THEOLOGY

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Your Word for 2018: THEOLOGY

Well, it could be.

I know several folks who choose a word as their theme for each year.  I’ve done it myself.  One year my word was “Discipline”.  I know others who’ve chosen words like  “Happiness” or “Deliberateness”.  It’s kind of a nice substitute to the seldom-kept New Year’s Resolution.

May I suggest the word THEOLOGY as your word for this next year?  I think I’m going to make it mine.  It’s probably not the first word that might occur to you as an underlying theme for your life for the next 360+ days, but here’s why I think it should be:

1. WE NEED SMARTER CHRISTIANS.

I swear I’m not impugning your Christian IQ!  But as I’ve looked around this year, I’ve seen instance after instance of Christians who either don’t know what they believe, or why they believe it.  People claim deep seeded values and practices based on their faith, but they don’t have the understanding that goes with it!  Theology is the deliberate work of understanding God, God’s people, and God’s creation.

2.  WE NEED A ROAD MAP FOR OUR ROAD MAP.

To be effective in ministry, we’ve got to know where we should be going and what we should be doing.  That’s what the Bible is for, right?  Absolutely, but there is so much history, translation, literary criticism, and deep symbolism involved that we need a road map to help us read our road map.  Theology helps us understand the Bible with more clarity, depth and meaning.

3.  WE NEED AN INFORMED ETHIC.

Christians, at our worst, spout values and morals with little thought to the ethical system behind them.  Jesus taught an ethic of service, acceptance, obedience, and action that calls for deeper refection than many of us give.  The more we study God, the stronger a foundation we have to launch our work in the world.

4.  WE NEED MYSTERY.

I think the worst Christians are know-it-alls.  As if every question has been answered, and every shadow has been illuminated. Not so!  The greatest theologians in history published volumes and volumes of their systematic theologies, but that did not mean they’ve “solved” theology.  There’s always more to understand about God.  There are theological concepts, problems, and approaches that you and I have never pondered.  These mysteries give a robustness to our faith, and challenge us as believers!

5.  WE NEED THEOLOGY IN OUR DEVOTION.

After writing these devotions for some fifteen + years, I look back at my writings and see too many of them summed up with a simple “God is Love” punchline.  While I suppose my faith could be summarized in those three words, there is so much more to say.  To that end, I plan to engage a deeper level of theology in my work going forward.  I want to share more study of this learning, direction, ethic, and mystery in my life and my work. 

How about you?  No matter what Word you pick (or don’t pick) for 2018, you can choose to be resolute in your journey to know God, God’s people, and God’s creation. 

Remember, the only qualification for being a Theologian… 

is being a Curious Christian.

Have a great week,

Mitch

(If you’re interested in a place to start, here’s a bit of United Methodist theology:  A Few Methodist Basics)

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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