Cancer – the body

A number of weeks ago I wrote about being furious with God. Some have wondered how an ordained minister of the gospel can feel this way. They feel that being angry with God is wrong; that anger is a significant step towards turning my back on everything I believe. This journey into cancer has not been easy. Watching someone I love face one surgery and now another tests everything I hold dear about my faith. This isn’t easy. My Christian faith and vocation has shaped our entire marriage. In 1986 Rita and I married after I finished my pastoral internship. On our second wedding anniversary we packed our truck and moved from Canada to Fresno, CA to go to seminary. While in seminary I interned in a United Methodist Church for three years. After seminary I was called to Denver to work as an associate pastor. After three years I moved on to DOOR, and for a number of years I pastored while running DOOR.

I do not think it is an understatement to say that my faith has shaped everything about the past 30 years. This has also been true for Rita.

To come to a point of anger and frustration with God was not part of my life plan.

God also has a way of showing up in the most unexpected ways. This week I have been reflecting on the Apostle Paul’s image of the body in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.

For the past 10 weeks my faith in God has been shaken. But I am part of this living organism called the Body of Christ. Both of us our finding out that when our faith is shaken to the very core there are other parts of the body that pick up our unbelief and believe for us. We have given witness to this as friends have brought meals cooked with love. Others have given us a space to vent. Prayer warriors have prayed and others have sent emails reminding us that God is present. Those who have faced cancer have shared stories and gently reminded us that God will never leave us.

To all of you who have prayed, sent emails, brought meals, or just let us talk, know that you have been the hands, feet, and heart of God in my (our) valley of the shadow of death.

Unrest

Today is April 30, 2015. Last Saturday my neighborhood was rocked by two shootings. The first occurred at a funeral, leaving one man dead. The second followed later that evening, leaving a neighborhood fearful. Monday afternoon I left for a trip. By Tuesday evening my wife called to say there was yet another set of shootings. One person was dead and two others critically wounded. All of this took place within blocks of where I live and where I call home.

Like many of you, I also spent much of my time this week watching the news as unrest unfolded in Baltimore.

In 1992 I, a young youth pastor, took a group to South Central LA, 45 days after the Rodney King riots. One of the biggest surprises of that trip was how my experience in South Central had very little to do with how the media reported about the events. The vast majority of the people we met were hard working folks, who simply wanted to be treated like human beings. Time has certainly impacted my memory of that trip, but I do not recall meeting any “thugs.”

Today, if you listen to some the media, it becomes easy to believe that urban neighborhoods are filled with vandals, thugs, thieves, and looters. As someone who lives in one such neighborhood I can tell you this isn’t the whole story. It is true that urban communities can erupt. Rarely is this random; often people are just sick and tired of being ignored, marginalized, and brutalized by powers and systems they have no control over.

One of the reasons why I have spent 20+ years at DOOR is that I am convinced that people of faith need to hear the other stories. Stories of forgiveness and reconciliation, stories of faith in spite of the odds, stories of family values that go deeper and wider than our mainstream faith traditions are comfortable with.

One effective way of moving beyond a world of violence, fear, stereotyping, and racism is to simply start spending time with each other; hearing stories, laughing together, crying together, working for change together, and just plain being together. DOOR does this well. We bring outsiders into urban communities, not because urban people need rescuing or saving, but because we need to save each other. We need to build bridges of understanding, mutuality, and empathy. This kind of transformation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It demands physical presence.

When we don’t take the time to know each other, hear each other, or sympathize with each other, then spaces are created for anger and violence.

In Philippians 2 the apostle Paul takes about a savior who emptied himself, who became one of us. Maybe this is what our country needs more of, people who are willing to empty themselves. To know each other’s struggles and frustrations. To stand together against injustice and dehumanization. To become part of each other.

Measurable Goals

One of the ways ministries fund themselves is through writing grants. The process of writing these requests can be helpful and clarifying. A typical grant request includes a statement of need, measurable goals, expected outcomes, and a budget. There is a significant downside when we attempt to measure ministry only through measurable gains. People and circumstances are not easily predicted. Could you imagine if Jesus had to write a grant request prior to his birth? The statement of need would have been strong, the goals would have been out of this world, but the outcomes? After 33 years he found 12 possible “board members” (the disciples); one betrayed him, another denied him, others doubted, and the rest ran. Then there are the accounting practices, giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s, what is that all about. How insightful was Jesus anyway? The treasurer of the whole organization ended up betraying him for 30 pieces of silver. Yes there was the resurrection and that was pretty cool. From a sustainability perspective, even after the resurrection, the program was in ruins and leadership was non-existent.

Over the next two millenniums the church rose from the ashes of failure. It certainly hasn’t been perfect, but its influence is felt everywhere.

We spend our careers, lives, and ministry around an immediate success ethic. We have all heard the sermons. God just wants to bless you today, but you have to give. Or if you have faith like a mustard seed things will work out, now or in the next week or two at the most.

There are certainly times when God works quickly. I also have had to live with a silent God. Friends have died, even when I prayed with my mustard seed faith. Finances are not always available and don’t always arrive in time.

Our careers, ministries, and lives need to be judged by a larger faith picture. Much like the Apostle Paul, we only get to see in a mirror dimly; we only know in part. This kind of stuff - faith, hope and love - does not fit easily into a grant request or theologies of success.

Drawing lines

Why is it so important to draw lines in the sand?  Too many people enjoy the illusion that the world can easily be divided into two camps - friend or enemy; republican or democrat; right or wrong; saint or sinner.  It feels good and right to declare that people are either with us or against us.  Why do things like change, diversity and difference scare us so much?  Is it possible that we are hard wired to be afraid of diversity in ethnicity, faith, politics and ideological points of view? Concepts like middle ground, compromise and grey areas are all too often seen as positions which immature or unenlightened folks take.  If the definition of maturity includes fear of diversity and an unwillingness to change my mind, then I am not interested in maturity.

Could it be that the opposite is true?  Immature people draw lines, never change their mind, and want the world to be full of people who look the same, believe the same and think the same.

Why would anyone vote for a politician who refuses to change their stance?  Why go to a church where the pastor(s) never grow in their understanding of theology, God and what the church is called to?  What fun is it living in a community where everyone looks the same or eats the same food or worships in the same way?

I like the Apostle Paul’s image of the body in 1 Corinthians 12.  We are not all the same.  As a matter of fact it is our differences that make us one!  Embracing differences (diversity) means that any lines we draw should be easily erased and moved because chances are we should not have drawn the line in the first place.

Can you imagine a world where compromise was the norm?  Church would be healthy and healing, politics would be helpful and honest, and battles over religion would be non-existent.