Elastigirl

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 Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, 16 so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. –2 Corinthians 10:15b-16a

I would fold laundry, do the dishes, and play video games.  All at the same time.

I would open the front door, pay the pizza delivery person, open the box, and eat a hot slice. All from my easy chair.

I would clean my office and — okay, let’s not get carried away.

But you get the picture.  If I had the powers of Elastigirl, from the Pixar super-family movies, I could really   s t r e t c h   myself.

She’s pretty amazing, even without her superpowers.  The way she balances raising kids with working a full time job.  She clearly knows how to stretch herself.  Then you add her rubber band flexibility, and you’ve got somebody who can go beyond your everyday living.

Would you like to be able to stretch like that?  There are other variations out there.  Plastic man, Stretch-Arm Strong.  I prefer the grace with which Elastigirl makes the miraculous seem attainable.

Actually, Elastigirl makes me think of a different kind of stretchiness.  Really, what I want is to stretch myself spiritually.  I want my faith to be adaptable.  I want my mind to be expanded.  I want to be able to reach out to God and neighbor with the confidence of a believer.

I want to stretch myself.  Not my muscles, but my soul.  I want Lent to yield something life changing, not just a month without Diet Pepsi.

I want to be a more flexible Christian, come Easter Sunday.  I want to believe in the resurrection with all of the mystery of that day.  I want to look at my Bible as less of a rigid rule book and more of an adventure anthology about faith in God.

I want to stretch my preconceived notions–not abandoning that faith I was taught to believe, but able to listen to other notions, other points of view, to see what I might learn from them.

Perhaps I’ll adopt a new way of praying.  Perhaps I’ll carefully read the Bible books I’ve thought of as “problematic”.  Perhaps I’ll find new ways of serving others, new ways to worship.

I want to stretch myself, so that I can embrace the full wideness of God’s Kingdom as it unfolds here on Earth.  I want to share the Love of Jesus Christ as far and wide as my arms can reach.

If stretching like this requires a superpower, than that power is grace, and it’s available not just for the select few.  Elastigirl has not cornered the market on flexibility, she has simply figured out how to put it to use.

Are you ready to stretch yourself?  I think I am.  Let’s reach out to each other, the way Christ is reaching for us.  Together, we’ll reach out to the world.

And the whole thing will be so very

Incredible.

Have a good week,

Mitch

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Making Believe

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I was an imaginative kid.  At 5 I thought my parents were robots.  At 7 I wrote my first novel — a Hardy Boys book!  By the time I was 13, I’d decided aliens were visiting my neighborhood.

But then I grew up, and put away childish things.  Except, no, I haven’t.  I’m still making believe.  And so are you.

It is part of the human condition to think outside what we can see.  We believe in the U.S. Constitution —  that’s a belief that we’ve made.  We believe in not breaking mirrors or walking under ladders — clearly, those superstitions are things we’ve made.

Every once in a while, I’m confronted by a terrifying thought:  Is God make believe?

You know, Gods have been part of the human story since prehistory.  Greeks and Romans had their Gods.  Hindus have their own, even more ancient, pantheon of Gods.  In modern society, we have our own Gods, too — we just call them Marvel superheroes!

But what about THE God?  The one true God of Israel?  Is God just something of our own making?  The product of millennia of collective imagination?  I could see it happening that way, you know.  Humans look to the skies to explain why rain comes, or why people die, or why good things happen to some people but not others.  A little making believe, and we’ve concocted this God idea to give us some much needed answers.

Is that it?  Is Christianity nothing more than made up?  Is Jesus a figment of our imagination, ranking slightly above Santa Claus?  Is the Holy Spirit nothing more than another spooky ghost story?

No, no, and no. Making believe is not just some childish distraction; it is essential to faith.  Without imagination we can never embrace a Creator beyond all comprehension.  Without creativity we can never take up what it means to live in the Imago Dei (the image of God).  Without the ability to color outside the lines and step into the mystery of the Unknown-Yet-Fully Known, God could never mean more to us than some conjectures in an ancient book.

Robots and aliens may have honed my powers of imagination, but all in the service of expanding my capacity for faith.  Isn’t that what making believe is all about? The math is easy:  Making belief = making room for faith.

Because of making believe, we can be faithier.

Make yourself believe in a world governed by radical love.  Make yourself believe in a messiah who would give up everything to reveal that love to us.  Make yourself believe in a spirit that inspires rather than scares us.

Make believe.  I heartily recommend it.  Seek more of the God yet to be fully revealed, and you’ll meet someone who

is so much more than your imaginary friend.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Please Turn In Your Hymnals

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If everything falls apart in the United Methodist Church, and one side claims one of the flames, and the other side claims the other, I was wondering:

What do we do with the hymnal?  The United Methodist Hymnal that has been our guide in worship, at least for English speakers, since, what, 1989?  That’s 30 years of worship — is it now up in the air, too?

A lot’s changed in those 30 years.  Lots of American Methodists don’t even pull their hymnals out any more, grudgingly accepting the ease of words on the screen.  Many others have traded in the old standards for almost-as-old “contemporary” hymns.  There are new songs for new generations, and strangely enough, new music based on old standards.

Time has passed, but the hymnal has endured for a good long while, along with two other United Methodist hymnals, Mil Voces Para Celebrar: Himnario Metodista (published in 1996) and Come, Let Us Worship: The Korean-English United Methodist Hymnal (published in 2000). (Wikipedia)

If the denomination splits, do we have to split up our hymnals, too?  How would that even work?

“You guys can have ‘O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,’ but we get ‘Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.”

or

“You can take Word and Table II, but we get to keep Baptismal Covenant I.”

Or maybe the Holy Spirit appears, with a list of hymns neither side gets to sing anymore, including:

“Oh Church of God, United” (547)
“Let Us Break Bread Together” (618)
“Help Us Accept Each Other” (560)
“In Christ There Is No East or West” (548)

I vote for none of the above options, of course.  I pray instead that the Holy Spirit guides us out of these treacherous waters with truth and justice.

As we struggle along, maybe we can find some common ground in the common songs of our tradition. Music has the power to amplify voices of hope and peace.

Who knows? If we’re loud enough, and bold enough, maybe God will hear

The Faith We Sing.

Have a great week,

Mitch
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A Good Mystery

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No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.  –1 Corinthians 2:7

My favorite detective show?  Scooby Doo. A gang of squirrely teens riding around in the Mystery Machine fighting crime.  Still love that show.  (Except, of course, for Scrappy).

Collecting clues.  Acting on hunches.  Dramatically unveiling the bad guys.  This is not just Hanna-Barbera material, there are dozens — maybe hundreds of different tv detective shows that have been on our TV screens over the last half-century.

What’s your favorite?  Dragnet?  Cagney & Lacey?  Twin Peaks?  CHIPS?  Murder, She Wrote?  Cop Rock?

I could fill this page with examples.  From Blue’s Clues to Sherlock, it’s a persuasive genre and people watch hundreds of hours of it.

People love a good mystery.

Which does not include, for many of us, the faith kind.  When it comes to faith, it seems we want certainty, instead of mystery.  Here, I think, is why:

Many detective shows follow a mystery – to- certainty formula like this:

  1. A mystery presents itself.
  2. Clues are discovered.
  3. False leads are followed.
  4. The main character has a hunch.
  5. A chase of some sort ensues.
  6. The bad guy is captured.
  7. All is explained
  8. Life is good.

Nothing better than that, right?  A satisfying sense of certainty, wrapped up in an hour.  It makes us feel that all is well with the world.  That problems are solvable.  That a good mystery is nothing that a couple Scooby snacks can’t conquer.

The problem is, faith doesn’t always feel like a good mystery because we tend to not get past #5.

  1.  We encounter a mystery (i.e. Is Heaven a real place?
  2.  We gather clues (Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience)
  3. We follow false leads (bad teaching, cultural influences, our own unhealthy desires)
  4.  We get back on track, and have a hunch (Maybe Heaven is both a place and a way of life?)
  5. We chase down our hunch until…we get lost, or confused, or doubtful.  When no perfect answer appears, we give up, or take an easy way out.   We reject mystery.

And so, we turn to easy answers that only a literal, law-based Christianity can provide.  Or we convince ourselves we have too much to do on a Sunday morning and stop doing the work of faith-learning.  Or we substitute the satisfaction of the 1 hour cop drama for the ongoing reward that comes from a lifetime of investigating.

No, it’s not easy.  One question can lead to three more.  There is little room for “Just the facts, ma’am”.  Investigating faith stuff can feel unsettling and never-ending and elusive.

But I’m here to tell you, it’s the best.  The best kind of mystery of all.  For one thing, it’s not always so uncertain.  There are insights and A-HA moments and the kind of knowing that only comes from years of seeking.  There is measurable growth and maturity.  There are an infinite number of clues to find along the way.

But for all that, the Christian Life is still a life of mystery.  A life of wonder, and questions, and seeking, never fully completed.  Always more to know.  Always a deeper relationship with a never-fully knowable God, who knows us insight and out.

So keep searching! The very best of mystery awaits.  Remember, faith means being a detective on the longest, most rewarding case of your life…

even when things get Scrappy.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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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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