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Look Away from the Brights -- it's human nature to move toward that which we are looking at or concentrating on

A few weeks ago, when we had a small, combined worship service due to major snowfall, Rev. Kelly preached a homily about how the church community can be a bit like driver’s ed: at its best, a faith community acts as a experienced teacher, giving us, disciples or learners, real-time guidance in navigating life in a relatively safe setting.
And that’s this: if you’re driving at night, and someone is coming the opposite direction with their brights or high beams on, you must resist the temptation to stare at those lights.
To build on Kelly’s analogy, I’m want to repeat something I shared a few years ago, a lesson we learn in driver’s ed that is applicable to churches today.

As every driver knows, someone coming toward you with their brights on is annoying and distracting. It’s terribly rude of them.
Worse, if we allow ourselves to be distracted, it can be dangerous. That’s because it is human nature to move toward that which we are looking at or concentrating on. If you stare at the brights…
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Opening Up our "Shutting Down," Part Two -- A Crisis of Leadership, and God's Judgment on Nations

I'm continuing here thoughts I started last week on the now-record-longest government shutdown.

Let me begin by stating the obvious: unfortunately, because the problems underneath the current government shutdown have long and deep roots, those problems are not going away any time soon.

Like you, I hope and pray the government fully re-opens tomorrow.

But even if it does, and even if --  as I wish could be the case -- everyone who, through no fault of their own, is being harmed financially by the shutdown were somehow made whole, we would still have a major problem on our hands.

That's because the government shutdown, bad as it is, is only one symptom of a larger crisis.

I believe the word "crisis" is correct. We are facing a crisis.

But the crisis we're facing is not the huddled masses yearning to breathe free who are making their ways to our borders and shores. It is a crisis of leadership on Capitol Hill and in the White House.

As I argued last week, I believe …

Opening Up our Shutting Down -- Part One

A large and growing number of people are concerned about the government shutdown, which tomorrow (January 12, 2019) looks like it'll break the record for longest-ever in contemporary times. 

Just in the last two days, I've heard from several different people, sharing thoughts such as these:  “I’m upset, and even starting to feel hopeless about our government. People are suffering needlessly, and I started to pray about the whole situation, but I have no idea where to look in scripture, or what to say.”“I’m out of a job at the moment and it had been slow over the holidays. I find I’m withdrawing a bit.”“I can’t do anything about this crazy government. Just need to tune out and withdraw.” Those are important thoughts and feelings, and ones which need addressing from a theological/spiritual context.
And they are thoughts and feelings that need addressing in substance. So I thought I'd write a longer article on it over several weeks, breaking it up into shorter pieces for ease of …

Bringing people together, and transcending our differences

It's become something of a cliché to say "the country is divided," or "people and politics is more polarized than ever."

While those statements may be true, there are other, less headline-grabbing truths.

And those are the truths that Rich Harwood (the facilitator of an interfaith clergy group I belong to) reminds us of:


People are in search of ways to come together.People are tired of the current state of affairs, no matter who they voted for in 2016 or in Tuesday's midterms. People know the challenges we face today will not be erased by this or any other future election.People feel disconnected, pushed out, and impotent, but this does NOT mean they are apathetic about politics or public life. In fact, more people than ever are looking for ways to make their communities and this nation better. Above all, people are asking this question: "what will it take to build a more hopeful society, and what kind of leadership do we need to move us forward?"

Sticks and Stones can Break My Bones, but Words can never Harm Me...?

When I was a child, there was an expression, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me."

That expression was often used on the playground or school hallways as a comeback or response to bullies. It was meant to send a message back to the bully: that while someone can harm you physically with objects (by their actions), they cannot harm you verbally (by only their words).

I think the quote has some value, but in most cases, denies or ignores the reality of the power of words.

Here's what I mean:

If the expression helps you, as an individual person, grow a bit of a thicker skin -- to not to let name-calling or taunting or toxic people to "get to you," but to brush off their unhelpful comments and remain calm, confident, and focused, then fine.

However...

I think in most cases, the expression denies the reality of the power of words.

And here's what I mean by that:

Words matter. "The tongue has the power of life and death" (Pr…

You Can Do Anything. But You Cannot Do Everything

I want to pursue an idea here which I floated to my congregation, because I think it's amazingly good news.

And that has to do with taking seriously Paul's language (in 1 Corinthians 12) that each of us is a particular PART OF -- but none of us IS -- the Body of Christ.There's a line from the book Essentialism that captures this pretty well:

"I can do anything, but I cannot do everything."

I love that line. I love it so much I'm trying to make it a bit of a mantra. Not only for myself, but as a reminder about others, and the church.

Part of the reason I love it is that it contains both confidence AND humility in equal measure.

"I can do anything" (confidence).

"But I cannot do everything" (humility).

It's true, of course, for each of us:

"You can do anything."


Good parents tell their children this: "you can do anything you set your mind to: want to be an athlete? A clarinetist? An accountant, social worker, teacher, doctor? You c…

To fast from serious vices, feast on their opposite virtues...with God's help.

Here we are, just a little more than halfway through the season of Lent. A good time to check in on what difference our Lenten resolutions are making to others in our everyday life.

Some time ago, I realized that "giving up" the customary habits (petty vices) for Lent -- things like sweets, alcohol, and time-wasters like spending too much time on mindless entertainment -- didn't really make much of a positive difference in my daily life to others if I was not also at the same time "taking on" positive habits.
So the past couple Lents, I've tried "giving up" non-customary habits in order to uproot (or at least address) their underlying serious vices.* I've tried "giving up" or fasting from things like snarkiness (cynicism), procrastination (perfectionism), interrupting people (impatience or arrogance) and ingratitude (inattention or entitlement). Because the best way to fast from a vice is to feast on its opposite virtue, this has mean…