August 30, 2014

Saturday Ramblings: Labor Day Edition, 2014

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Happy Labor Day weekend!

In my heart, mind, and body rhythms, this weekend will always be the end of summer. However, here in Indiana, where we have an abomination called a “balanced school schedule,” we are already a month into fall. In fact, on July 31 my grandson announced to me that he was going to the pool on the next day because it was the (and I quote) “last day of summer.” What are they doing to our children? I’m pretty sure that the opening sequence of the Andy Griffith Show — you know, where Andy and Opie are walking down the road to go fishing — was filmed in summer, maybe even in August. If I take my grandson fishing like that now, we’ll be facing truancy and contributing the delinquency of a minor charges! And if we’re a month into fall already, that means Christmas decorations will be going up any day now, and — worst of all — the airwaves will soon be filled with campaign ads for the elections! This whole thing has made me so crazy, I’m rambling!

Which, by the way, is what we’re supposed to be doing together this morning. C’mon, let’s get away from my rantings . . . and ramble!

• • •

settings-iconlabor-day-postcardAccording to this informative Time Magazine article, we owe the date of Labor Day to our nation’s greatest president ☺, Grover Cleveland, who signed it into law in 1896 in recognition of the growing labor movement. The piece notes that International Worker’s Day is actually May 1, but scholars explain that Labor Day is a “government alternative” to IWD because they wanted to avoid linking the holiday with the infamous Haymarket Affair in Chicago, in which many people died when workers marched to demand the 8-hour work day.

Here is one pundit who builds a strong case that on Labor Day we should think about the positive impact unions make in our economy and how we should be concerned about making them strong again. In Robert L. Borasage’s opinion, “This Labor Day, we should do more than celebrate workers — we should understand how vital empowering workers and reviving worker unions is to rebuilding a broad middle class.”

However, in this piece by Morgan O. Reynolds, the author argues that, although one can make a case for other voluntary worker associations that represent the interests of employees, labor unions as we have had them are not good for the economy. Why? Because (1) they “do best in heavily regulated, monopolistic environments,” (2) “gains to union members come at the expense of those who must shift to lower-paying or less desirable jobs or go unemployed,” and (3) “despite considerable rhetoric to the contrary, unions have blocked the economic advance of blacks, women, and other minorities.”

What do you think? Discuss.

settings-iconUS News & World Report has a list of the 100 Best Jobs in the U.S. Here is their ranking of the top 10, based on, “employment opportunity, good salary, manageable work-life balance and job security.”

  1. diverse-medical-career-group-849x565Software developer
  2. Computer systems analyst
  3. Dentist
  4. Nurse practitioner
  5. Pharmacist
  6. Registered nurse
  7. Physical therapist
  8. Physician
  9. Web developer
  10. Dental hygienist

The worlds of technology and medicine dominate the top 50 (medicine alone accounts for 40% of all the jobs), with a nod here and there to engineering, finance, and education. Oh, and #49 — Nail technician.

I’m sorry to say I didn’t find “pastor,” “chaplain,” “blogger” or “baseball fan” anywhere on the list.

settings-iconAll this work has to make a person tired, doesn’t it? Maybe a good “power nap” is just the thing for you. Did you know that drinking some coffee or ingesting some other form of caffeine before shutting your eyes might help that nap be more effective, more refreshing? Say hello to the “coffee nap.” Read about it in the article: Scientists agree: Coffee naps are better than coffee or naps alone.

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Meeting Jesus Through Community?

1100px-1DundasI am involved in a number of different communities. Some are communities of faith, but most are not. Now, this may sound like a cop out, but my primary way of introducing people to Jesus has been to introduce those in my non faith communities to my faith communities.

Let me introduce you to first to my non faith communities:

1. My neighborhood. We used to have a reasonably social neighborhood. Typically there would be 1 or 2 block parties a year, at either Christmas or during the summer. The two sets of organizers moved away, and for the past ten years there really hasn’t been any group social functions. In my area of Canada it only seems to be the summer time when you get a chance to interact with your neighbors. Case in point, my next door neighbor recently met the lady who lives diagonally across from me. They had been living in their houses for 25 and 50 years respectively. Their is probably only one family we know well enough in our immediate neighborhood to invite to join in with one of our faith communities.

2. Our kids’ school communities. We moved into our neighborhood when our eldest was less than a year old (he is about to turn 20). It was not until he started school that we started forming relationships within our larger community (see #1). Often the friends we made live several blocks away. We would not have met them had it not been for the school community. While I am not as involved in the school community as I used to be, many of the relationships remain. Three families from our school communities have attended our church as a result of our interaction with them. Four two of these families is was a one time only visit.

3. My daughter’s cycling community. My daughter has been racing competitively for nearly two years. In that time I have gotten to know many of the other parents. Some of them quite well. Now when we go to cycling events many of us eat a communal meal. We are friends on facebook and there is much encouragement that goes on. In fact, we have become friends with parents of riders from other teams as well. One of the parents from our team has invited us to a barbecue tomorrow (more on this later). It is in this group of people that I see the most potential for making spiritual connections. They are the sort of people that I think Jesus would like to hang out with. They like to drink and party and have a good time. They are also open to discussions about faith. Having gotten to know me over two years they know that I am not some kind of religious nut job. I just can’t imagine inviting them to church. They wouldn’t fit it. They wouldn’t feel comfortable. They wouldn’t be back.

4. My work community. My current work position is quite different from my previous one. In my previous position at a marketing company, only about 5% of the company attended church. In my current position in a software development company the number is about 50%. In my current position however I am a manager and as such I feel a lot less free to talk about matters of faith. The questions do come, and I am happy to answer them when they arrive. Sometimes those questions have led to others become followers of Christ, but I have always played a minor role in the process.

5. My facebook community. Facebook has been really good with helping me reconnect with old friends, and helped me make some new ones. Many of my friends have extreme views (both left and right), but I try to be pretty moderate with my comments. I don’t link from facebook to Internet Monk, as I know that what I write hear will upset many of my friends, both left and right. While I don’t say much about matters of faith on facebook, I have gotten into a few discussions when incorrect information about Christianity is being disseminated.

Moving on to the faith communities:

6. Internet Monk. Many of my Christian associates do not understand Internet Monk. They fail to realize that it is primarily of those who have tried evangelicalism and found it wanting. They fail to realize that while Internet Monk rejects much of evangelicalism, we are seekers after Jesus. We know that through Internet Monk some have come to Christ, others have returned to Christ, and still others have been strengthened and encouraged in their faith. Michael Spencer focused on a “Jesus Shaped Spirituality”, one that cut away at the cultural baggage being currently associated with Christianity. There are certain non Christian friends who, while not being able to appreciate the whole of Internet Monk, would be interested in several of the articles that have been written here. Michael Spencer’s devotional commentary on Mark is being edited in such a way that it will encourage others to “Reconsider Jesus.”

7. My small group. I lead a small group. We have about 13 adults involved, all at various stages in their spiritual walk. We share a meal and do a bible study every two weeks. Our prayer times are special as we do certainly care for each other. One of our members came to faith in Christ relatively recently and was baptized about a year ago. We have potential, but at the same time I think it is hard for non Christians to join in with us. Much of that focuses around material selection and finding resources for small groups that is appropriate for both new and established believers.

8. My church. There is a lot I like about my church. The leadership definitely has the desire to reach out to our larger community. Howver, in doing so the church has paradoxically developed an us versus them mentallity when it comes to interacting with non christians. Couple that with having almost no social interaction with church members outside of small group, and I have reached the point where I am no longer comfortable inviting outsiders into my church community.

So really, I am a bit stuck. I don’t have a great landing place for those in my non faith communities who might want to consider exploring Christianity and who Jesus was. I don’t have a faith community that I think I could plug them into. This is something that I will want to be thinking about over the next few months to see what kind of direction that will take.

How about you? Have you had similar experiences in the interaction between your communities? How comfortable are you inviting your non faith communities into your faith communities? What issues or barriers do you face? As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Love in the Desert (1)

Menas jesus

All these problems together convince many modern Christians that they could only become real Christians if it were not for the other people in the world. For them to be Christian means to be a “spiritual” person, full of love and joy to share with all the human race, but they find it very hard to be in contact with the real flesh-and-blood problems of other human beings. In their minds, “spiritual” people “rejoice in the Lord always” and whatever hinders their rejoicing, including a lot of complexity and ambiguity in life, gets rejected. Often they can hardly tolerate other people’s real problems or even their personalities. Real people tug them away from the pure, spiritual love of God.

• Roberta C. Bondi

• • •

Yesterday’s case study highlighted something I have observed for a long time as a pastor, a chaplain, and as a Christian. At ground level, most trouble we experience in the church is about relationships between people. Followers of Jesus most often fall through a failure to love. As much as we might talk about our “relationship with God,” or faith, or sound teaching, or worship practices, etc., the bottom line for most of us is how we treat and are treated by the other human beings around us.

This is why Jesus pinpointed one thing that would identify people as his followers (John 13).

This is why the N.T. epistles spend so much time urging people in the congregations to practice genuine love by exhibiting mutual affection, honoring others above themselves, generously contributing to others’ needs, showing hospitality, being supportive to one another in times of rejoicing and in seasons of sorrow, not being haughty but willing to associate with the lowly, not returning evil for evil but being kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as Christ forgave, extending forbearance, showing compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (see Romans 12, Ephesians 4, Colossians 3).

And on and on it goes. The apostles knock themselves out, finding every way possible to urge their friends to love each other. Paul defines the Christian life itself in these terms: “the only thing that counts is faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). The only thing that counts, he said. Did you get that? The only thing that counts.

Now we can learn another thing from this constant repetition of instruction and exhortation: Christians don’t do it very well. At least not consistently. Or with all people in mind. Or when it’s not easy. Often we fail to love in epic ways. If believers loved one another well, loved their neighbors as themselves, and if churches were model communities of love to the world around them, we would have a much different New Testament.

Roberta C. Bondi expands our understanding of early Christian teaching on this subject by showing us what the early Desert Fathers and Mothers said about Christian love, in her book, To Love as God Loves.

Before discussing aspects of their thoughts on loving as God loves, Bondi reminds us that these early saints taught largely through indirect methods: parables, stories, sayings. They avoided making propositional statements carefully defining the Christian way. “These early Christians had a dislike . . . for rigid answers about what it meant to be Christian.” What they give us is not rules to be followed, but words of wisdom for contemplation, encouraging those who hear to let the Holy Spirit help them make an appropriate response.

Furthermore, although these believers shared an overall common vision for Christian living, they did not speak with a single voice but respected the variety of people’s personalities, experiences, and the many paths on which believers may walk to become people of love.

Finally, Bondi warns us that these ancient sages, with whom we share a common humanity and common challenges, sometimes spoke in ways that seem foreign, even wrong to us. For example, the overall vision that drove them to the desert was the pursuit of “perfection.”

That’s a difficult word for us, and she urges us not to dismiss it merely as an ascetic’s rigorous pursuit of adherence to monastic rules or disciplines. Nor should we think of it as we use it today: attaining an absolute state of changeless faultlessness and completion (that’s more of a Greek philosophical idea), or in terms of a “perfectionist” who is obsessed with getting things right all the time (and needing therapeutic intervention). Rather, they thought of perfection as Jesus taught about it in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5:48 in context): loving our enemies as well as our friends. Perfect love. A “perfection” that is not changeless but which involves change and growth and development — moving forward on the way of perfection, with God, into God’s love. Trusting God as they did, and grieved over the loveless world in which they lived, they sought God in extraordinary ways that he might form them into people who loved God and their neighbors well. (Not that they always succeeded in keeping that vision and their practices pure, but that’s another story.)

Our early monastic friends . . . believed too fervently that, working with the overwhelming gift of God’s grace, not only could an individual come to be fully loving in a way that significantly changes the world but also that, in the continuation of the work of God begun in Christ in the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection, the whole human race and the cosmos itself would one day be transformed in love.

We will continue looking at what these fourth century believers learned and shared about love in weeks to come. We conclude today with a story of how God has made us to need each other, so that we live in God’s love by giving and receiving from one another in love.

Desert-FathersThey said of an old man that he went on fasting for seventy weeks, eating a meal only once a week. He asked of God the meaning of a text of the holy Scriptures and God did not reveal it to him. So he said to himself: “Here I am: I have worked so hard and profited nothing. I will go to my brother and ask him.” Just as he had shut his door on the way out, an angel of the Lord was sent to him; and the angel said: “The seventy weeks of your fast have not brought you near to God: but now you are humbled and going to your brother, I have been sent to show you the meaning of the text.” And he explained to him what he had asked, and went away.

• “The Sayings of the Fathers,” in Western Asceticism (Chadwick)

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IM Book Review: Our Great Big American God

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It was still “the Bible alone,” as proclaimed during the Reformation, that American Protestants trusted. But it was also “the Bible alone” of all historic religious authorities that survived the antitraditional tide and then … [Continue reading...]