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Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Reader Poll: You Vote On Our Next Series

Over the next few weeks we are finishing up our series, “Weird Sayings of Jesus.”  Which means we’ll be embarking on another series not too long from now!   What follows are some ideas, and I need your vote.  As incentive, I promise not to tattoo my behind like new manager Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) in a recent episode of “The Office.”

But a bit more seriously, what you come up with may turn into a first book.  Or at least part of one. Then you’ll be able to say that you helped a struggling writer…struggle more.

Simply post your first and second choice below and lobby your friends to vote as well.  You have a few weeks to help me make my decision.  If I don’t hear from you, then don’t say I didn’t warn you!  I’ll post the results on our last day of “Weird Jesus Sayings”:

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The Gospel According to The Far Side

If you haven’t caught Far Side’s depiction of highlights from the Gospels, then you’re in for a treat.  My sermons and reflections will just be “window dressing.”

Bumper Sticker Theology

In a day and age of often vacuous, shallow and commodified spirituality, bumper stickers are often the closest we come to finding a common language for our discourse about God (“theology,” in other words).  In this series, I will unpack some of my personal favorites in the way of bumper stickers, and will entertain some of yours, with a view to finding the biblical connections while opening up our conversation about God, faith and the funny stuff in between.

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On Angels’ Wings with Devils’ Horns: The Top 10 Saints and Sinners Of All Time and What They Teach Us

This series will require your input.  I’ll compile a rather long list of saints and sinners and ask you to weigh in on which ones make the short list and why.

“As Through a Looking Glass”: Our Questions for God This Side of Eternity

The Bible is as full of questions as it is of answers- questions that are as relevant today as they were in biblical times.  This series will look at the questions, with a view to poking holes in the common presumption that to be a Christian means to have all the answers. Or, to give all the answers.  The apostle Paul was one of the first to admit that “now we see [God] through a glass darkly,” but one day we will see God “face to face”- and that while now we “know only in part,” one day we will “know fully” (1 Corinthians 13:12).  So as people of faith we can and should be people who ask questions about God.  Tough questions.   This series will give us biblical permission to do so.

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“Sanctification” Embodied:  How One Group of Women Is Living in Grace and What We Can Learn

“Sanctification” is a “churchy” term for growing in God’s grace so that our whole person looks more and more like Jesus Christ, who modeled a new way of being human in His life, death and resurrection.  These days the church is really good at talking about “justification”- that life-changing moment in which we discover that because of God’s love we can become “right with God.”

But I suspect that the church in large part could do a whole lot better when talking about “sanctification.”  For one thing, “sanctification” isn’t very “cool” or “hip”: there is something in us that recoils from the notion of “becoming holy” or “set apart for God.”  And sanctification requires a bit more work on our parts.  Sure, it is as chock-full of God’s grace as that first, often more dramatic moment of initial conversion, but it demands more of us.  “Sanctification” is not just a one-time experience but a whole lifestyle.

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The problem is that we miss out on a whole lot of God’s grace when we emphasize “justification” at the expense of “sanctification.”  Because if “justification” is that “first kiss,” then “sanctification” is “going steady” with God.  If “justification” is dipping our toe in Living Water, then “sanctification” is getting dunked in it.

The question, then, is: what does “sanctification” look like and what does it require?  The women of Magdalene House, a residential treatment program for women coming off the streets, have found their answer.  Their “Rule of Magdalene” has embodied grace and second chances after a dead-end life of drugs, crime and prostitution.  Every week we will unpack one of the 24 “spiritual principles” that comprise the Rule by exploring what it has come to mean in the life of one of these Magdalene women.

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“The Kingdom of God” Unleashed: Jesus’ Use of the Term and Its Application for Today

When God is Cruel:  Places in Scripture We Like to Avoid

Unmerited Suffering: The Book of Job for Our Times

“Church” Revisited:  The Book of Acts for Our Time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For a Saint Named Betty

Betty Henderson (1923-2011)

For all the saints, who from their labors rest, Who Thee by faith before the world confessed, Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed. Alleluia, Alleluia!…

Betty died peacefully in her sleep last week.  She was 88.  I had coffee with her husband of 58 years the other day.  The two of them have spent their lives pouring their faith into others.

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In the days leading up to Betty’s death, they had added a new element to their bedtime routine. Bob would read hymns aloud.  Old hymns like “For All the Saints.”  On the night Betty rested from her labors, they had read it together.  She had laughed and peacefully drifted off to sleep.

Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might; thou Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight; thou in the darkness drear, their one true light. Alleluia, Alleluia!

When during the turbulent years of segregation and the civil rights movement, Bob was pastoring a mill town church not far from the campus of Duke University and drawing fire for inviting people of color to join and help shepherd his congregation, Betty was right there with him.  A quiet, under-stated and reliable presence.  A stalwart partner in a difficult, often agonizing struggle.

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O may thy soldiers, faitfhul, true and bold, fight as the saints who nobly fought of old, and win with them the victor’s crown of gold.  Alleluia, Alleluia!

In the last five years of her life, Betty was feeble.  She was often falling.  She suffered a stroke or two if I recall correctly, and Bob, five years her junior, was her spry caretaker.  (Note to unmarried girlfriends: there is a case to be made for younger men.)  When I was pastoring at a conservative, midtown church, they would sit at the back of the sanctuary during services. Like rebels with a cause, they were always holding up a mirror to the church to ask whether the “kingdom of God” Jesus talked about- the one we read about in Scripture- was evident there.  Among us.  In that place.

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O blest communion, fellowship divine!  We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.  Alleluia, Alleluia!

I saw Betty in church just two weeks before she died.  As usual she hobbled in with her walker and that same serene, gentle smile; and as usual she immediately took to asking about me.  No matter that her life these days was taken up by the hard vicissitudes of old age. But she looked as good as she always did- young at heart and joyful in spirit.  Because when other women had been staying young with Botox injections, Betty alongside her husband had been pouring her time, wisdom and radicalized faith into relationships with young people. Many of them pastors and leaders, or disaffected and eccentric church-goers, or restless lovers of Jesus.  Some of them all of the above.

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And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Betty was one of the brave ones.  She wasn’t afraid to listen to people instead of talk at them.  The older I get the more I understand that to do this requires greater courage and inner power than inserting one’s tongue into conversations.  But doing this makes room for our ears to hear “the distant triumph song”:  it opens up a space in which we can better hear God speak.  And what do we all need more than to hear God’s voice amid the toil and strife that so often belong to our lives?

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Alleluia!  Alleluia!

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My favorite line of the Westminster Catechism, one of the Reformed confessions of my church, is this: human beings’ chief aim is “to glorify God and enjoy God forever.”  Worship and enjoyment came naturally to Betty.  They streamed out of her life, a bit like “pearl streams.”

Which is not to suggest that Betty was less a sinner than all the rest of us.  I”m sure she had her moments.  I just never saw them!

But in the end I suppose that what makes a saint is not their perfection but their posture.  It is not whether they lived their life flawlessly but whether they found their beginning and end in their Creator- a realization that brings us to our knees in humble adoration and joyful worship. Betty did just that.  She spent her life “on her knees”- in prayer and in service, singing to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

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The Psalmist speaks of all creation singing out praises to God.  On this side of paradise that song has its painful interruptions.  We lose the tune or forget our parts.  Other more discordant sounds break in and eclipse the melody.  But there is something deeply reassuring about this image of all the saints, Betty there among them, singing without interruptions.  Belting out their praise to the One who knit them together and now has called them home.  To that One be all the glory, now and forever.  Amen.

 


                    

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“Supply-Side Jesus”

Al Franken was more creative than I am this morning.  Besides, the “gospel” in certain politicans’ rhetoric about how to fix America’s unemployment crisis really does resemble this sometimes:
YouTube Preview Image  Like the other day when Rick Perry told the New York Times that he “doesn’t care” that his tax proposal, (which would dramatically lower taxes on the richest Americans and increase the burden for the lower and middle classes), would only increase steadily rising income inequality.  Hmm.  To echo some of Jon Stewart’s sentiments, does Perry feel the same way about the some 234 people executed, including juveniles, since he became governor of Texas eleven years ago?

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Walking With A Limp

"Dear God, I wish you would not make it so easy for people to come apart. I had to have 3 stitches and a shot."

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.  When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.  Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”  So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”  Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”  Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.  So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”  The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.  Genesis 32:24-31

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Last year when in a few weeks my world turned upside down and I found myself in a deep depression, a wise friend told me this: “From now on you will choose as your friends the ones who walk with a limp.”

I didn’t know entirely what he meant at the time.  But these days I’ve been thinking once again about his words. This time because my hip has been aching- and it would be disingenuous to claim that I have been wrestling with angels.

Unless wrestling with my four-year-old son qualifies.  A favorite activity these days is to body slam mommy on the bed in some sort of primordial, male-bonding ritual that leaves me feeling as beaten up as the Mickey Rourke character in the last episode of the movie, “The Wrestler.”

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But these days, when my hip aches I think I understand a bit more what my friend was trying to tell me. It has to do with the blessing of our wounds.  Jacob asked God to bless him and God gave him a sore hip that made him limp.  (Maybe we need to be careful what we ask for!)

These days when the pain in my hip acts up and I find myself hobbling, I remember a five-year-old boy, Trey, who loves playing sports.  Just about every kind.  Recently his parents noticed that he was limping at T-ball practice. Then one day Trey said he didn’t want to go to T-ball practice anymore.  Because his legs were hurting. So his parents took him to the doctor.  The doctor found a cyst.  Now they are doing more tests. They say that little Trey most likely has a degenerative bone disease.

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When the pain in my hip starts, I remember Trey.  And I ask God to heal this little boy with the great, big smile and even bigger love of sports, so that he can play T-ball again.  I ask God to comfort Trey and his family and to strengthen them in all manner of grace.

Our wounds, whatever they may be, can serve as a gateway to entering into God’s compassion for ourselves and our world.  Our pain can become a sacred meeting place with God.  Our fragility?  A reminder of the times when we have wrestled with God and prevailed- when God, in the very act of contending with us, is actually closest to us. Locked in an embrace that will forever change us.

In our own and others’ woundedness we have an opportunity to experience in small part the very woundedness of God Himself.  If God is Love, then God is wounded.  Love cannot exist apart from woundedness.

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The Bible affirms this truth.   God is One who was “wounded for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5).  The great mystery and bitter-sweet miracle of the Good News is that only in God’s being “bruised by our iniquities” are we healed.  Jesus on the cross is the clearest picture of this divine love.

So my friend was right: there is a whole lot that our wounds and other “walking wounded” can teach us. About God.  About ourselves.  About what it means to love and be loved.  From now on I will walk with those who limp.

Read more funny kids’ prayers here: http://www.beliefnet.com/JesusDaily/Features/Funny-Prayers-From-Kids.aspx?p=8#ixzz1bsfP3O5m.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Another in my on-and-off-again, feeling-less-creative-but-more-convicted series, “What’s Wrong With This Picture?”  This is compliments of friend Jennifer Berkowitz via Facebook:

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5 Ways to Stay Spiritually Grounded When Fantasy Calls

Addiction and fantasy can often go hand in hand.  An alcoholic friend of mine will often say that there are times when he “gets stuck in his head.”  I know what he means.  While I have never craved the bottle, I know what it feels like to get stuck in my head, too.  Many of us do.

We can get stuck in our heads imagining all sorts of things, depending on our strongest attachments.  If it’s money or things, then we’re thinking about the next paycheck and how to spend it, or the dress at the mall that will make us look stunning. If it’s work or achievement, we’re anticipating the next deal or book contract.  If it’s affection from someone we love, we’re fantasizing about being in their arms.  For those of us with especially active basal ganglia, we’ll find just about anything to obsess about, whether it is the meeting with our boss or our next interaction with the guy at the gym who is always ogling us.

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In such instances, when our imaginations run wild, we can find ourselves increasingly untethered from ourselves and from God in the present moment.  Because we are stuck some place else.  In a place that is not real.

Below are five tips for staying grounded when fantasy calls, inspired by philosopher Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace:

1. Recognize your thoughts as illusions not reality.  How do we do this? “We must prefer real hell to an imaginary paradise,” Weil writes, and goes on to provide a litmus test.  “A test of what is real is that it is hard and rough,” she writes.  Ouch.

2. Which leads to the next tip. If our fantasy represents an escape from something in the here and now, like pain, hurt or sadness, don’t be afraid to stay with the feeling and wait it out.  It is here, where we behold our own unfulfilled longings, emptiness, and frailty in their nakedness and in the light, that God will become realer to us.

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2. You don’t have to “stuff” your fantasies but you need not indulge them either.  You do this simply by thanking God for the truths God is revealing through the needs and personal imperfections that underlie these fantasies.

3. Don’t make illusory future perfection an enemy of the present good.  In other words, whether you dream about a perfectly just society or a perfect sex life, don’t let yourself be robbed of appreciating aspects of that justice or relationship in the present moment and actively living into them.

4. Pay attention to the goodness that is real and right in front of you in the present moment.  Give thanks for these things.

5. Gently remind yourself of God’s love for you and let it be the thing that you mindfully return to when you begin to seek escape in fantasy.  “Love needs reality,” Weil writes.  To which I would add that reality needs love.  Love and reality need one another like a lover and her beloved.

 

 

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The Difference Between Grace and a Sears Appliance Warranty

If you have one of these, be afraid. Be very afraid.

The $400 Kenmore Inteli-Clean vacuum cleaner I bought last year as part of a crusade on dog hair and allergens is on the fritz.  Again.  When I turn it on, it squeaks, moans, whirs, shakes and does nothing. If Jesus were here in the flesh, I would ask him to exorcise it.  Since he is not, this will be the second time in just a few months I will be trekking to the Sears appliance center for a free repair, thanks to my two-year, extended “master warranty.”

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I called the store today in hopes that I might avoid the long schlep.  They referred me to a 1-800 number for folks like me whose occasional trips to the repair center are frequent enough to spark questions about whether a refund would be better. If not a refund, then at least an exchange or store credit.

When I tried the 1-800 number, a Sears customer service representative with a kind, sympathetic voice diagnosed my situation:  “we call what you have a lemon,” she said.  As if she were initiating me into an insider’s language for broken appliances.  As if I could not have told her that.

She went on to explain the benefits of my master warranty:  in order to qualify for a refund or credit, my vacuum cleaner would have to be fixed and then break down and be fixed one more time, all within one year’s time, before my warranty would expire.  “So, what you’re telling me is that I paid for a master warranty that really won’t help with my lemon,” I asked.  “I paid a lot of money for something that doesn’t really help with my problem.”

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“Um, well, yes.  But you can call the store that fixed it for you and ask if you can replace it.  It is up to their discretion.”

“So, they can tell me that they won’t replace it then- if that is their prerogative?”

“Yes.”  And then, “I will transfer you over to them, but just in case here is their number.”

The same number that I started with.  The number that I had called in the first place.  Where a less kind-sounding, more officious woman had referred me to the 1-800 number.

“I just called them and they referred me to you,” I explained to the kind-sounding customer service representative.

Apologetically, “I’m sorry you’ve had this run-around.  I will call them and explain your situation when I transfer you over.”

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She called.  I waited.  Then another woman answered.  “So I take it you would like your vacuum cleaner repaired but are wondering if your warranty will cover it,” she stated.

“Well, actually, no,” I said.  And then proceeded to give the explanation that I had hoped the kind-sounding customer service representative had already provided (when in fact she had not).

Thirty minutes after I had first dialed Sears I was told that I would have to bring my vacuum cleaner in on a day when the store manager- apparently the only one in the store with any authority to act outside of warranty stipulations- could either bless me with a refund, credit or exchange, or tell me the same thing.  That my warranty requires three breakdowns and repairs before any such blessing might materialize.

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When it comes to our brokenness, we can sometimes treat it as if it were under divine, limited warranty. That if God is going to repair our brokenness, God will only do it at our expense.  Or will only do it a certain number of times within a certain period of time and then we’re on our own.  Or, that it is up to us and our initiative to make things better, and soon- before the warranty expires, or before God’s good graces run dry.  Other times we think we need to cajole or persuade God, like the store manager, into getting something back for the money we put in.  We think we deserve at least something in return for our inconvenience.  And we often think, if we are honest, that what we get ultimately depends on us. Our efforts.  Our strength.  Our weakness even.

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Thank goodness that the grace of God doesn’t operate this way! The Good News, in spite of ourselves, is that God loves us and desires to be in relationship with us, brokenness and all.  And God finds us before we ever have to go looking for God.  We don’t have to do phone acrobatics or schlep to some heavenly appliance store dragging all of our stuff with us.

God is right here.  In front of us.  We have a direct line.  And God is offering a free, no-strings-attached, lifetime warranty on all of our broken parts.  This isn’t just any “master warranty.” You might call it the Master’s warranty.

By the way, the other day I found a vacuum cleaner that someone in the neighborhood was throwing out; since ours wasn’t working, I took it home and gave it a spin.  It worked just fine.

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Wanted: A Few Salty Men and Women

“For everyone will be salted with fire.  Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?  Have salt in yourselves, and be at  peace with one another.”  Mark 9:49,50

Julia Child doing some taste testing on her show, "The French Chef."

This passage is weird in a number of ways.  First, what does it mean to “salt with fire”?  The image that comes to mind is God in Julia Child attire, apron and all, sprinkling the disciples with flames of fire. Which begs the question: is God doing the “seasoning” here, or is someone or something else?

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And then there is the issue of how salt can lose its saltiness.  I was never good in chemistry, so those of you who were can maybe explain this to me.  As incentive I’ll throw in a free subscription to Fellowship of Saints and Sinners.

And what about the whole “have salt in yourselves” command?  If someone or something or God is doing the seasoning, how do we “have salt” in ourselves?  Do we do this by being at peace with one another? Or, is the being at peace with one another a byproduct, like the finished casserole, of our having salt in ourselves?  Or, are these two states of being meant to co-exist? If so, do they co-exist in spite of, or because of, one another?

The encouraging news here is that commentators are asking the same sorts of questions.  The less encouraging news is that they differ in their answers.  But a general theme that emerges is the purifying and seasoning nature of salt in Jesus’ time.  Salt served to flavor not just hummus but the sacrifices that the Jewish priests offered on the altar to God, in keeping with the Levitical command: “Season all your grain offerings with salt.  Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings (Leviticus 2:13).”

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To be salted in this act of worship was essentially to be set aside for God.  To be “made holy” or sanctified.  To be conscripted for God’s mission to God’s people.

And in this sense Jesus when speaking of “everyone” is directing his remarks primarily to his followers. Elsewhere, for instance, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls his disciples “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13).  But I would also add that this statement and its context can be understood more broadly, too, as part of a more universal appeal.

While the “fire” to which Jesus is referring may be the angry flames of persecution that his disciples will soon face, it could also be the hot tongues of hell to which he has just referred in the preceding verses. Hell in Jesus’ time was an actual place just outside the gates of Jerusalem:  “Gehenna” was where all of the city’s refuse went to be burned; a big, smoldering garbage dump; it was a metaphor for what happens when we reject God’s love for us.  Our lives go up in flames, with all of our “rubbish”- even our best virtues- being burned away. In times like these, God’s Spirit, convicting, encouraging, prodding, pulling us up when we fall, or giving us a good shake, can feel much like the “refiner’s fire and “launderer’s soap” of Malachi 3:3.

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So it may be that Jesus is intentionally conflating several “fires” here insofar as they represent the painful clearing away of anything that stands in the way of God’s Love penetrating and transforming our lives.  The fire of persecution. The fire of hell. And, the fire of God’s Holy Spirit which at Pentecost appeared in the form of tongues of fire on the heads of the believers.  To be salted with each of these fires is to undergo a necessary and painful process at the end of which are left only the gold and silver. Those pure, precious nuggets that shine.  That tell a unique story that is necessarily “salty.”  A story that contrary to popular stereotypes of Christians these days is never boring.

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I made the acquaintance of Frankie this morning at my favorite local coffee shop.  Frankie’s tattoos are like chapter markings in a book about his life.  There is the knife on his right forearm- a reminder of the time he was stabbed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina while seeking shelter at the Superdome.  On his left bicep are red flames over the bold inscription, “Washed by His blood, not by water.” They describe his conversion to Christ.

In Frankie’s case the “refiner’s fire” came in the form of a Category 5 hurricane.  Frankie was at The Bourbon Pub, the gay dance club he managed, when Katrina hit. He remembers those seven minutes of kneeling on the floor as the most surreal, terrifying moments of his life. The swat team arrived within minutes, and Frankie found himself being led, wading chest-high through a river of water, to the Superdome. In the days following, this former member of the military joined the rescue squads that would airlift out the vulnerable and wade through waters to look for the stranded and lost.  It was during one of these moments that Frankie said a prayer, something along the lines of, “God if you bring me through this safely I will let you love me.”

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The Bourbon Pub & Parade advertises as the "only gay pub" in New Orleans.

For many of us it takes a “fire” in the form of a cataclysmic event- if not a hurricane, then a divorce, a breakdown, or bankruptcy- to help us see that our lives exist for One greater than ourselves.  That we are not our own but belong to a Love that seeks to ravish us.  That in the furnace of hardship and suffering, whatever its source, God is refining us.  Making us into people seasoned by experience with stories to share. Each of them particular.  Each of them interesting.  Each of them with a savory message about how God’s love has found us and is wooing us.

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When we “have salt” in ourselves, we are letting that salt be there.  This is a hard thing to do. Because it means that we have to get over ourselves.  We have to be willing to acknowledge the painful things that have “salted” us and how they made us who we are today. We can’t just pretend these things don’t exist somehow.  They are part of our story.  They are forming us into people who exist for Love.

Being “salted with fire” is a necessary, unavoidable thing. How we receive it, however, is voluntary. “Having salt” means letting our trials become opportunities for growth and open doors into fuller, more abundant life.  “Having salt” means trusting that not just our humanity but our personality and character are undergoing transformation for the better when we find ourselves in the furnace of trial or temptation.

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There is nothing boring or replicable about a “salty” person.  They are a gem in the ruff.  A rare find. One-of-a-kind.  A real “mensch.”  They know they belong to a kingdom that is not of this world and they live like it.  If you have met such people, you can probably count them on one hand.

I’m not exactly sure why Jesus includes this final exhortation to be at peace with one another.  Perhaps he knew that too much of anything can be dangerous.  Sure, he probably didn’t know that too much salt can cause high blood pressure.  But he probably did have a premonition that if his disciples were already arguing only minutes earlier about who was greatest (Mk. 9:34), even their eventual forms of suffering could become easy fodder for more spiritual one-upmanship.  It is amazing how we human beings can find just about anything to compete about, and, if truth be told, the early church soon found itself in similar wrangles.  The fourth-century Donatists claimed that those who had fallen away from the faith during previous persecutions were not qualified to administer the Sacraments.  In their eyes, one’s level of suffering and one’s capacity to endure it were somehow a requirement for priestly ministry. Thankfully, Augustine put an end to this silliness.

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“Have salt in yourselves and be at peace,” Jesus says.  Let the seasoning be there. Welcome it rather than run from it.  And don’t use it to pretend that you are somehow any better than anyone else. Understand that your salt may be different from another person’s; welcome their salt as you welcome your own, as something God is using to season the world.  To make God’s love a little more palatable and a little more flavorsome for the rest of us.

 

 

 


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Weird Jesus Sayings Continued…

 Yes, I haven’t forgotten.  After a brief hiatus we’re continuing our exploration of the weird  things Jesus said.  And, there are plenty of them.  We’ve only scraped the surface in our big  dig.

Thus far we’ve asked the questions that we couldn’t ask in church, like, “Was Jesus racist?” or “Was Jesus crazy?”  We’ve discovered Jesus’ potential as a Renaissance Man and poked holes in  prevailing stereotypes about his manhood.  Jesus, contrary to popular opinion, wasn’t “macho.” Just really cut with great abs and still in touch with his sensitive side.  Manly but  comfortable having deep conversations with women.  A rare combination.  (What can I say?  I’m in love.)

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Tomorrow we’ll look at another weird saying: “For everyone will be salted with fire.  Salt is  good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?  Have salt in yourselves, and be at  peace with one another.”  Stay tuned!

If you can put up with the cheesy voice-over at the beginning, this is one artist’s worshipful depiction of Jesus, and it’s otherwise quite moving:  YouTube Preview Image

 

 

 

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Reclaiming Two Bad Words

Anne Graham Lotz' latest book is Expecting to See Jesus.

The other day Anne Graham Lotz spoke with NPR about her journey as a woman who has faced resistance in her vocation. The preacher, author and daughter of the famous evangelist, Billy Graham, says she is privileged to wear the label, “evangelical feminist.”

Which struck me.  These days “evangelical” and “feminist” are loaded words.  They carry a lot of baggage, and rarely do they come as a pair joined at the hip.  If anything, the “evangelicals” and “feminists” I typically hear about in the news are the last people I would expect to see holding hands taking a leisurely stroll together.

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Lotz went on to describe her understanding of an “evangelical feminist”: “It’s just a woman who knows what she believes, has strong convictions and the courage to stand up for them regardless of glass ceilings or boundaries that other people may want to place upon us.”

There are plenty of biblical examples of just these sorts of women, Lotz says.  And maybe this is where “evangelical” comes more into play.  Because an “evangelical,” as originally conceived during the Great Awakening movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is someone who places a strong emphasis on biblical authority.  (How “biblical authority” can be bandied about to support various political platforms in and out of the church is another story, but a common denominator among evangelicals is this prioritizing of Scripture.)  So Lotz turns to Scripture in looking for her feminist role models.

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An “evangelical” is also someone who believes in the importance of personal conversion.  Here again Lotz appeals to personal experience in recounting her own conversion to “evangelical feminism” and its impact on her parents:

RAZ: And yet, I understand that early on, when you began spreading your message, even your father, Billy Graham, and your mom, Ruth, they weren’t entirely supportive.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LOTZ: That was when I started that Bible class that I told you about. And they were not supportive. And I think one reason was because the traditional role of women in my family have been that the mother stayed at home, reared the children, kept the house so that the husband, father, could go out and do ministry, which was my mother and father’s case. And so they just felt that, you know, I had three children and a husband, and my role was to stay at home and be that traditional type of wife and mother.

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So they didn’t think I should, but once again, I wasn’t living my life to please my parents. As much as I love my mother and father, I knew that I was called of God to teach that Bible class. So I’ve been teaching for about three years, and I looked up in the class one day and they were sitting in the middle of my class. I’ve been going for about five minutes, so I had to, you know, catch my breath, swallow hard, and then I stopped and introduced them and then went ahead and finished the message.

From that day to this, they did an absolute about-face in their opinion, and they saw what God was doing. They saw that God had indeed called me, that people’s lives were being changed. I was getting people into God’s word. And I’ve had no two greater supporters than my mother and father unless it’s my husband and my children.”

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An evangelical emphasizes the saving life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and its transformational relevance to the world.  An “evangelical feminist” does this same thing- only within a framework that assumes God calls both men and women to serve God and God’s world, equipping them with gifts that in themselves are gender blind.  In this framework, to reject God’s call to serve using one’s gifts for preaching and teaching would be more than “un-feminist” or “un-evangelical,” although it would be both of these things, too.  At heart it would be unfaithful.

So I applaud Lotz for her courage to take two bad words that do not often belong together and reclaim them for their original meaning. It has inspired me to do the same.  From now on I will gladly be pigeon-holed as an “evangelical feminist.”  Thank you, Anne, for your bold example and the trail you are blazing for women like me.

 

 

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