Finally, a movie that gets the church right. You only get one night to see it in a theater. This Thursday. Read More
I enjoy photography. Some photos come out to my liking. Others not so much. On those occasions when the subject appears blurred, I know that my focus was poor, I moved as I clicked the shutter button, or the subject itself moved. Yes, there are lenses which are designed for soft focus. But, I am referring to standard lenses where the hope of the photographer is clarity.
Reading the Matthew 25 text for this coming Sunday, Christ the King Sunday, I wondered how it is that those described as goats failed to see those in need. Maybe things were blurred. Maybe the way in which they ordered their lives kept others our of focus. Interestingly it seems they were so accustomed to the way they saw the world, it was a surprise to learn there were indeed people in need they could help.
Sometimes we read these types of passages for self-consolation. “Glad I am not a goat.” But, what if every time you read this particular text you paid more attention to how you blurred others. Rather than be overly concerned with who is a goat and who is not, it may come down to asking ourselves, have we behaved like goats? Have we blurred others and become accustomed to missing those in need?
What are your thoughts?
Earlier this week a friend came by the office. He informed me he may have to stop attending this Baptist church. I had been gone over the weekend and wondered what calamity had struck that would provoke my weekly prayer partner to utter such a notion. Naturally I asked, “What happened??
He had read with interest the recent goings on at the Annual Meeting of the BGCO (Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma). I attended the meeting. For we Baptists, it was a relative non-event. Any time a group of Baptists get together and there is no controversy, at least on a grand scale, it is a non-event. Even still resolutions were passed expressing the conviction of the majority of those present. This was what my friend found troubling. I pressed for more.
“What about the resolution ‘On Opposition to Gambling?'” People in our community are not naive to the ways in which gaming has devastated families. From time to time we are asked to help in the aftermath of very poor decisions. What became the source of my friend’s apparent consternation was the lack of any statement that Southern Baptist Churches in Oklahoma would be a haven, a place for those ravaged by the ill effects of these decisions and lovingly help them both overcome the addictive habits destroying their livelihood and walk with them to healing and hope. What a great insight!
Many of we younger pastors think the exercise of writing and passing resolutions representing Southern Baptists on any scale to be a bit of an overstatement. How so? Well, for example, this year’s BGCO meeting it was announced there were less than 1000 messengers. There are some 1900 cooperating churches and missions counted by the BGCO. Each is provisioned with generally more than one “messenger.” A messenger is a representative from the cooperating church with opportunity to express the will of the represented church. Our church could have sent 10 messengers – the maximum. It does not take much to underscore the “will of the BGCO” expressed in the passing of resolutions does not represent Oklahoma Baptists. Instead only those present expressed an opinion. Considering the number of alleged Southern Baptists in Oklahoma the overwhelming majority did not speak, only the overwhelming majority of those present. Why the fuss?
For my friend it is a matter of the kind of message sent. It is not that he does not think it important to “acknowledge the harsh realities of gambling … as destructive to the family and society.” There is no opposition to “opposing any expansion of” and even working toward the revocation of gambling.Â No objection to “teaching responsible stewardship.” What he really found telling was no statement resolving to reach out to help heal alongside energy to teach stewardship and oppose gambling. It was much like reading Bob Hyatt‘s tweet yesterday which read,
Old school church idea: picketing adult businesses.Â Missional church idea: women befriending/loving/serving the women working there.
Maybe we could re-write the tweet in light of my friend’s thoughts.
Old school denominational idea: resolving against a given vice. Missional denominational idea: resolving to befriend/love/serve those trapped in the given vice.
Let me quickly say, many churches in Oklahoma offer missional engagement with those trapped in any number of crippling vices. The point is not what churches are or are not doing at this point. My friend thought that if we are going to make public statements, let’s not forget to add the ways in which we resolve to love others. It would mean better resolutions if we must offer them at all.
Once you consider how to get beyond conventional thinking no subject seems to be off limits. Much of the reading from my foray into “Readings in Postmodern Philosophy and Theology” has left me thinking. I know I am on the precipice and the slope looks slippery.
What I mean is that often we only think in categories we are given. A reading from William Law combined with my Scripture readings this morning gave me pause to consider some connections. Law wrote,
The person who dares not say an ill-natured word or do an unreasonable thing because he or she considers God as everywhere present performs a better devotion than the person who dares not miss thechurch. To live in the world as stranger and a pilgrim, using all its enjoyments as if we used them not, making all our actions as so many steps toward a better life, is offering better sacrifice to God than any forms of holy and heavenly prayers.
from A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law, quoted from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servant
Worship is often connected with what it means to/for me. Law challenges us to think that worship is really expressed in how we live with others – and to borrow from Levinas, the Other. In both presence and sequence the other/Other is already before us. Surely this may lead us to follow Jesus who suggests we serve all and the Apostle Paul that we should not think of ourselves more highly than we ought.
I could not help but think of a conversation with a young African-American man more than twenty years ago. Standing on a busy downtown Dallas street we chatted about the circumstances that led the gentleman to living on the street. He spoke of a good job, family and a home. Something happened. He may have experienced bad luck, poor decisions, mental illness or some other trigger that landed him standing in front of a downtown mission site hoping for something to eat and a change of clothes.
The conversation came to mind as I watched Glenn listening intently to Jerry. Articulate. Intelligent. Animated. For forty-five minutes they talked about politics, US and international. Religion entered the conversation when Jerry noted he liked religion – “It is what brings people like you down here to help people like me.” We don’t know what happened that landed Jerry on the street. He claimed to speak a dozen languages and read several others. We had no reason to dis-believe him. He referred to a recent headline story in the largest Jewish online news site in the world. He knew what he was talking about.
Jerry defies the caricature, the stereotype. In fact, our experience with those living on the streets reveals very few who do not work but whose salary comes up way short of providing a regular place to live. Others never intended to stay on the street but never found the way out. They have relationships, have certain sensibilities, want something better and try to get along.
I left the office late this evening thinking about Jerry. About how easy it is for us to simply think, “Oh they are homeless, something must be wrong with them.” Maybe not. We cannot summarily dismiss people. To do so dismisses what it means to be made in the image of God, to be part of the larger human race. We cannot lest we run the risk of dismissing ourselves. May you meet a Jerry and may that encounter take apart your mis-perceptions and stir in you some motivation to consider people as they are and ourselves less highly than usual.