Yesterday was the day in America when we remember Martin Luther King, Jr. and what he taught us through his life, what he preached and lived and fought and died for.  He taught us about justice for all, about the equality of every human being with every other human being, about showing mercy to the oppressed and abused.  He lived out the ideal of loving those who hate us.  He showed us how to forgive those who persecute us and to respond non-violently to those who try to hurt us.  He modeled how beautiful and enriching it can be when we get to know, appreciate, bond with and love someone who is different from us – at least on the outside – but has the same human, tender, “love-needing” heart on the inside.  And he demonstrated how powerful it can be when we come together across all lines previously dividing us to live in solidarity and true community against the forces of darkness and evil.

MLK day is a good day.  A day to contemplate and remember and pray for enough healing and strength in our own hearts to live this path of peace taught to us by Dr. King…and of course, taught to us first by Jesus of Nazareth Himself.

All of that, I love.  But let me tell you what I hate and what drives me nuts and in fact, the older I get what makes me sick to my stomach.  Going on Facebook and seeing everyone and his brother post a picture of Dr. King and a quote from Dr. King and then some pious drivel about how they think this wonderful thought about Dr. King and that wonderful thought about what he taught us and blah, blah, blah, blah.  I want to puke.  I’m getting too old for the talk.  I want to see some action.

And you’re absolutely right.  I don’t really know what’s going on inside the hearts and lives of those who are posting.  God is their judge just as He is mine.  But this is my suspicion.  If half of us who are posting were living out what we say we believe about what Dr. King taught – we would see a different world.  We would see more folks intentionally working hard to heal from the inner prejudices we all carry around in our hearts.  We would see more folks intentionally working to reach out in true relationship to those not like them.  We would see more folks intentionally working to forgive those who have hurt them.  And we would especially see the church of Jesus Christ intentionally working to be less homogenized, less insular, less judgmental…passionately doing whatever the heck it takes to make the body of Jesus a place for all people.  Because Jesus, Dr. King’s Jesus, loved and died for all…the…people.

Seriously, how can we claim to be all about our brother Martin Luther King – let alone our Savior Jesus – and go week after week to our all white, all black, all Hispanic, all Asian, all rich, all poor, all middle-class, all anything churches without ever once thinking – “it’s not supposed to be this way and it’s got to stop”.  Jesus was crucified to break down the walls and end the madness so that the way we live in peace with one another shouts to the world “you don’t have to be afraid and hate anymore – you can come home to one another because our God has healed our wounds and your wounds through His Christ.”

Facebook posts, pious words and wishful thinking won’t heal the relational bleeding the enemy has foisted upon the human race for thousands and thousands of years.  It takes intentionality.  It takes work.  It will take a whole lot of folks who are willing to go to their own Birmingham jail or to be sprayed with our generation’s version of a wounding fire hose.  I believe it is going to take a whole lot more of us who are willing to die.

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Doing Nothing.

JKB —  January 9, 2014 — 2 Comments

In the mid-1980’s, Henri Nouwen left Harvard and went to live at L’Arche in Toronto, a community for the profoundly disabled.  His first assignment was to provide primary care for a young man named Adam who could literally do…nothing.  He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t read, he couldn’t toilet himself, he couldn’t reach out, he couldn’t debate or counsel or instruct, he couldn’t do much with his hands except wave them aimlessly when he was agitated or excited and feed himself just a little at dinner time.  He spent most of his time in his wheelchair because he couldn’t walk more than a few steps without being supported and even at the day activity center of L’Arche, he spent most of his time doing what he could do…which was nothing.  Adam just was.  Wherever he was all he could do was be.

And yet Nouwen describes Adam as being the person who more than anyone else in his entire life drew him closer to his true self…and to the unconditional love of Jesus.  In his book, “Adam”, Nouwen writes:

“While I, the so-called ‘normal’ person, kept wondering how much Adam was like me, he had no ability or need to make any comparisons.  He simply lived and by his life invited me to receive his unique gift, wrapped in weakness, but given for my transformation.  While I tended to worry about what I did and how much I could produce, Adam was announcing to me that ‘being is more important than doing.’  While I was preoccupied with the way I was talked about or written about, Adam was quietly telling me that ‘God’s love is more important than the praise of people.’  While I was concerned about my individual accomplishments, Adam was reminding me that ‘doing things together is more important than doing things alone.’  Adam couldn’t produce anything, had no fame to be proud of, couldn’t brag of any award or trophy.  But by his very life, he was the most radical witness to the truth of our lives that I have ever encountered.”

And then Nouwen notes that in many ways, Adam’s life mirrors the life of Jesus in that Jesus’ impact, like Adam’s, was far more about his “being” than his “doing”.  That felt ridiculous to me until I read these words from Nouwen:

“The great mystery of Jesus’ life is that he fulfilled his mission not in action…not by what he did but by what was done to him, not by his own decision but by other people’s decisions concerning him.  It was when he was dying on the cross that he cried out, ‘It is fulfilled.’”

Wow.

My days tend to be filled with so many lists, so many demands and expectations, so much competition [in my mind, at least] with myself and others, so many feelings of inadequacy and failure if I don’t produce, if I don’t “get ‘er done”, if I don’t “just do it”.  It’s exhausting.  It’s depressing.  It’s never ending.  And if Nouwen is right, it might also be ineffective.  And it just might be…sin.

What if by his life, Jesus is really trying to say to us, “Follow Me – by first doing nothing.  Be with Me.  Then be with those around you.  Be your true self.  Be fully present.  Yeah, there’s much to do.  But first, do nothing.  Just be.  Because in My Kingdom, that’s the most important thing you do.”

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I couldn’t stop crying.  A few Mondays ago, driving from Chicago to be with some pastor brothers in Muskegon, Michigan for a few days away, the tears kept running down my face as I thought of the students and staff I had just left after teaching at a Chicago-land Cru retreat in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

I could see each of their faces…the sadness…the tears…the longing to really know the love of a God who called Himself their “Abba”.  My heart literally ached with their unhealed pain and wounds that had been locking them down and emptying their hearts of any real joy.  I ran story after story over and over in my head – I could see faces in my mind of those who had hurt them and how they had hurt them and I found myself wanting to turn around and go back to the camp and be together with my student brothers and sisters for another month or two or however long it took to see wounds heal…and the love of the Father – and the power of Christ – break through to deeper and deeper places in their hearts.

And then I got with my pastor friends and yeah, I cried some more.  I simply couldn’t let go.  I felt like I didn’t know how to let go.  Could I have done more to give the Father’s love to them?  Did I give them enough encouragement as they left to return to Chicago and their lives?  Was I present enough to the incredibly gifted but very human and sometimes weary staff to encourage them as they pour into the students?  Look, this wasn’t my first trip to the rodeo – I’d done a boatload of retreats for all kinds of groups in the past 30 years.  So why was it so hard this time?

Maybe the cumulative effect of all the wounds of another retreat the weekend before combined with the pain poured out by the staff of another ministry I spent time with in between?  But I think it was really something deeper than that.  I think I forgot that as much as I love the students – each young man and woman I embraced and counseled and shared stories with and laughed and wept with and prayed over – I think I forgot that they are NOT my possessionAs much as I would like them to be – they aren’t even my real sons and daughters.  They are sons and daughters of God.  They belong to Him.

When I shared with my pastor brothers – they covered me up with their words of love and affirmation, their touch and embrace, their prayer and intercession.  And one of the brothers [Jeff] reminded me that when Paul left Ephesus [Acts 20] he wept because he loved the people so much.  He reminded me that Paul was also probably afraid – afraid of the wolves who he knew would sweep in and try to make a bloody mess of the precious lives of his friends.  And then my brother Jeff reminded me of how Paul handled his sadness and fear.  He told his beloved Ephesian brothers and sisters, who he was leaving that very day on the shores of Asia Minor…“I commend you to God.”  [Acts 20:32]

Word.  So, that’s what I began to do.  I began to “commend” each and every student to their Abba Father who loves them so much more than I do.  I began to turn them over to the King of Glory who has the power to “build each of them up and give them an inheritance among the sanctified.”  I began to beg my God to take care of each young sister and young brother – to protect them, to continue the healing of their broken hearts, to whisper in their ears multiple times a day, “I love you son.  I love you daughter.  I’ve got you.  I have written your name on the palm of My powerful hands.  I see you even in all your wound and pain and sin and I love you ever more deeply still.  Don’t be afraid.  Walk with Me.  Let Me be your Abba – and I will hold you and heal you and unleash you and empower you – and give you everything you need…all the way home.”

Even today, a few weeks later, as I continue to turn each young brother and sister over to the Father, I’m still crying.  But they are a different kind of tears – no longer tears for the welfare of the students because I really believe God the Father has each of them in His strong arms.  Don’t know why I ever doubted it.  Guess I just needed to be reminded.  Thanks Ed and Don and Jeff and Carlton and Nathan.  Thanks for loving me and accepting me in my weakness and fear and reminding me of the truth about our magnificent Abba.  So now my tears, like Paul’s in Acts 20, are simply tears of love and longing.  I just miss the students and the staff of Chicagoland Cru – each son and daughter of God – and can’t wait to see all of them again someday.  Maybe I’ll have the privilege of seeing them “this side” – but if not, I am promised to see them again, with the Father and His Son Jesus…in glory.  Then at last I’ll be able to stop crying because together with all my brothers and sisters in Christ, I’ll finally be home.

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Ever doubt your salvation?

JKB —  June 21, 2013 — 1 Comment

question markMost believers have.  It is one of the main ways our enemy locks us down and depresses us and makes us ineffective for the Kingdom…because if I’m not even sure I am God’s daughter or son – then what kind of “good news” do I have to share with anyone else?  And most of the time, our doubts spring from a natural focus on “hey, what have I done lately to prove that I really did receive Christ by faith?”  Or, “what makes me think I am a real child of God when I do the thing I just did or think the thought I just thought?”  In other words, most of our doubts come from our focus on…our works.

Well, here’s a paragraph from Martin Luther’s “Commentary on Galatians”, first published in German in 1535 that I think will bring comfort to all of us who doubt.  Remember, Luther was an Augustinian monk who had literally beaten his body into submission to prove that he was worthy of God’s salvation.  Yet he still saw – and rightly so – his own sin and unrighteousness.  So, it was in despair, through the letters of Paul, that Luther found his security – and the security of his salvation – NOT by focusing on his good works – as either the cause OR the fruit of his salvation – but only by focusing on Jesus Christ and HIS work on the cross in Luther’s behalf.

Luther’s words are his comment on some specific text in Galatians – it might have been 1:4 or 3:13 or 4:4-5 or any number of Paul’s words in Galatians because the whole letter is about grace! – but even after combing the commentary again, I can’t for the life of me find the exact verse that elicits Luther’s paragraph below.  Nevertheless, listen to our brother Martin on finding security in our salvation:

“Let us therefore arm ourselves with these and like verses of the Holy Scripture, that we may be able to answer the devil [accusing us, and saying:  ‘You are a sinner, and therefore you are damned’] – ‘Christ has given Himself for my sins; therefore, Satan, you shall not prevail against me when you go about to terrify me in setting forth the greatness of my sins, and so to bring me into heaviness, despair, distrust, hatred, contempt and blaspheming of God.  As often as you object that I am a sinner, you call me to remembrance of the benefit of Christ my Redeemer, upon whose shoulders, and not upon mine, lie all my sins…’”

Enough said.

 

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I had lost touch with Him.  I was praying and meditating on Scripture and nurturing the relationship the best I knew how…but His image and voice were faint.  I couldn’t see Him.  I couldn’t hear Him.  I couldn’t find Him.

Reason?  Carla’s sister’s cancer.  Her name is Paula and we love her very much and she has been battling this satanic disease for 3 long years.  Last week we found out the most recent chemo treatments haven’t been working and the end is probably near.  And I was angry.  And frustrated.  And nothing made sense.  I’ve seen lots of tragic death in 3 decades of pastoring but this time I couldn’t find my way.  And I couldn’t find the Jesus who promised to never leave me and to always be with me even when the path was black as pitch.

And then I found Him.  I found Him in His body.  I walked into church last Sunday morning, unaware of how lost I was feeling…until Rita put her arm around me and I started to weep and laid my head down on the table as Phyllis and Elaine and Pam prayed for me and our family with tears and passion and then told me “Hey, let’s not do normal church today, Pastor…lay your sermon down, just be a brother and a human being and let’s just call the people to pray.”

A few moments later, I found myself in the embrace of Ben and Chris and Joe and Dan and Tony and Joel all whispering in my ear, “Love you, bro…we got you, we got Paula” – and then Carla walked in and the brothers and many other sisters pulled her into their arms and whispered the same care into her ear.  After the singing – I truthfully didn’t sing much – I stood in front of the community and took a risk:  “Carla and I are a mess today.  Our sister Paula seems to be dying from the cancer we have begged God to take away.  I am angry.  I know I am your pastor and I’m not trying to put too much on you, but the truth is, today my faith is faltering.  But I am here.  We are here.  We always ask you to show up in your brokenness…so we are here with you in our brokenness.  I have no sermon in me to preach.  We’re going to read some of the Book and then we are going to pray and then take the Eucharist before we go home.”

And that’s what we did.  Without commentary – I read Psalm 23 and Isaiah 61 and Luke 1 and John 11 and Romans 8 and Revelation 21 and then back to John 14…and it was more powerful than I could have imagined.  In fact, I think I began to find Jesus that morning in the simple reading of Scripture – as I simply read the text, even with a heart full of doubt and sadness and anger – I think His face began to take shape, His voice began to grow stronger.  The Logos of God coming alive in and through the Logos of God.

But mostly, it was in His body – the body of Christ – where I found Christ last Sunday morning.  After I closed the Bible I sat down next to Carla…and prayer began.  All around, folks began to pray…for themselves, for one another, for their loved ones, for unspoken needs too deep and too painful to even utter aloud.  Some came to the front of the church to be prayed for by fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who for sure had their own needs but that morning chose to stand in the gap for others, washing their feet with tearful cries of intercession to a God and His Son who at times, in the pain, seem difficult to find.

And some of the brothers and sisters came to me…and to my best friend Carla.  Some just sat with us and wept, arms draped around our shoulders, hands squeezing our flesh as if to say, “I’m just here.  I have no words.  But I’m here.”  Others prayed beautiful prayers of compassion and intercession, begging our God to show up for Paula, her husband Gene and their family – for Carla and for me – to make His presence known because we desperately needed Him and the way was so dark and we were struggling to find Him.

Marc and Cindy and DJ and Keith and Audrey and Catherine and Stacey and Jim and Shauna and Sue and Stephanie and Hope and Mack and Kevin and Ron and Albert and the brothers and sisters I mentioned earlier and so many others I’m not mentioning because our eyes were closed some of the time and some folks just couldn’t get to us because they were praying for others or because there was just so much love…so much presence…I want you all to know that I couldn’t find Jesus for a moment but last Sunday morning, I found Him again…in you.  Each of you.  All of you.  The body of Christ.

And then Carla and I walked to the front and ate the body of Christ and drank the blood of Christ – and mysteriously…even miraculously, we walked out of the building full of Christ.  Nothing had changed in Paula’s circumstance.  God still hadn’t answered our prayer the way we wanted Him to.  But even with the darkness still all around…in and through His body – God’s people, our brothers and sisters – we found Jesus, once again.

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My friend, Larry Sherman

JKB —  May 8, 2013 — 5 Comments

imageI met Larry in 2002, less than a year after being fired by a church I had served for 14 years…a church full of people I loved very much. My heart was broken and full of anger at the way the church had, in the end, treated my family…and full of shame concerning my own inadequacies as a man and pastor. Larry was recommended to me by a mutual friend because Larry was a leader in a worldwide community of believers called the Evangelical Covenant…and because my friend knew Larry had the heart of Jesus. Over pancakes one morning, Larry listened as I poured out my story of pain and anger, shame and grief and as I shed bitter tears that literally dripped onto my syrupy plate.

Larry, Debbie and grandchildrenHe listened as I berated others and berated myself and asked frustrated, cosmic questions about whether there was any truly safe place on the planet where you could be a human being and grow and even make mistakes and yet follow Jesus together in authentic, repentant, forgiving and ever deepening community. He listened patiently and I remember feeling in my gut, “this guy doesn’t know me…but he cares about me – not as a commodity to be used or recruited for his group but as a wounded man and brother.” He didn’t need to say it. If the love and acceptance is real, it’s cool if you say it and often helps the healing if you say it but you don’t really need to say it because the other person just knows.

Finally, I was done. And Larry simply looked at me and said something like, “You’ve been through a rough time. You’re owning and working on your stuff. And you’re working on forgiving others their stuff. God is with you and you’re going to be all right.” And I can’t be sure because there was so much going on in those days…but I think it was at that moment – over pancakes with a brother I had never met in my life – that I began to believe it. God was with me and I was going to be all right.

Larry3Over the next 10 years, Larry partnered with me and the other leaders of Hope Community Church [my new community of believers] – and he taught us and consulted with us and counseled us and talked with us on the phone…and more than anything else, he believed in us. He helped Hope find its way into the Evangelical Covenant family and mentored me in the ordination process and was there for the hugs and high-fives and picture taking in Estes Park in 2005 when I became an official covenant pastor. He introduced Carla and me to his best friend and life-partner, Debbie…and the four of us ate together and went to shows together and laughed and prayed about all kinds of stuff and often told beautiful, life-giving stories about our kids and yeah, sometimes even cried together over those same kids. Larry treated us like we were family. And every couple months, Larry would call and ask if I wanted to hang out – and I always got the feeling he wasn’t calling just to do his job with the Covenant but because he really wanted to be with me as a man and brother. Larry Sherman, indeed, was my friend.

Kevin and LarryAnd yesterday, May 7, 2013, my friend Larry went to be with Jesus.

Larry, I miss you, man. Thanks for loving me and accepting me when I couldn’t love and accept myself. Thanks for not trying to be a star…but following Jesus and taking time to wash feet – my feet, Carla’s feet, the feet of the leaders of Hope Community Church, the feet of many, many leaders and people in the body of Christ both in and outside of the Covenant. Thanks for deeply loving your wife Debbie and your kids and grandkids in a way that models Jesus to us all. I will never forget you, Larry. Thanks for choosing to be my friend. And I will see you again soon, my dear brother…in glory.

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Comparison is death

JKB —  May 1, 2013 — 4 Comments

Bernard of Clairvaux calls it “curiosity”, the first step of ascent to the sin of pride.  Not the curiosity of a traveler who wonders what the Rocky Mountains look like in the winter or of an artist who ponders what it would be like to lay down the brush for a while and work with clay.  He is speaking of the curiosity of someone who is dissatisfied with his own lot and begins to curiously look over onto the lawn of another…wondering whose grass is greener.

Bernard says that when our curiosity gets the best of us and we start obsessing about how others are doing – not because we are innocently interested – but because of our lust to compare our situation with theirs – that only two things can come of it and both are bad.

First, we might say, “My lot is better than the lot of my friend.  I am doing better than them.  Maybe I am better than them.”  Pride, arrogance, smugness, condescension…possibly felt only subtly and expressed not at all – but there…in our spirits, nonetheless…poisoning our outlook and attitude and stealing the humility and dependence that is necessary for us to hear and follow the voice of our God.

Second, we might say, “My lot is worse than the lot of my friend.  I am doing worse than them.  Maybe they are better than me.  In fact, I must have what they have and be what they are or my life cannot be fulfilling or be what it is supposed to be.”  Envy, jealousy, covetousness, self-pity…possibly felt only subtly and expressed not at all – but there…in our spirits, nonetheless…poisoning our outlook and attitude and stealing the confidence and hope and focus and trust that is necessary for us to hear and follow the voice of our God into our absolutely unique future – custom designed by Him…for us!

Bernard goes on to say that there are only two times when it is wise and good for us to raise our heads from our journey and look outside ourselves.  First, when we are in a mess and need mercy and cry out to God like David, “I look up into the hills…where does my help come from – it comes from the Lord!”  Seems to me – and I think Bernard would agree if he could climb over 900 years of history and be here with me as I write these words – that there will be several times each day – and some days several times each hour – when we will need to look out from ourselves to seek the help and courage and delivering grace of our great rescuing God.

And the second time Bernard says it is appropriate to look up from our own journey – is when we hear a cry of need from our brother or sister or maybe simply see that they are hurting and could use some love and care and we move toward them to wash their feet or stand alongside them or position ourselves to defend them from injustice or danger.  This look “outside” will also be a regular part of a life lived in a war zone where our brothers and sisters are also our fellow soldiers battling a common diabolical enemy for the very lives of other human beings.

But looking outside myself into the journey of another…curiously…to compare?  Never.  Because that kind of comparison is always, always death.

Bernard’s 900 year old counsel makes me think of Jesus’ 2,000 year old word to Peter in John 21.  Peter has just received his marching orders from Jesus about loving Him and loving others…and before Peter takes two steps he looks up and sees his friend John and says, “But what about him, Lord?”  Jesus’ reply:  “What is that to you?  Follow me.”  Because comparison is always, always, always…death.

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Return of the Prodigal Son

JKB —  April 11, 2013 — 2 Comments

Return of the Prodigal
I will read an outstanding book twice. To read a book more than twice, it must be one of the top books I have read in my lifetime. So, it should mean something when I say I have read Henri Nouwen’s “Return of the Prodigal Son” five times. Outside of the Bible, this book has done more to help me understand the love of God the Father for His sons and daughters than any other. And I love it that Nouwen weaves his experience of Rembrandt’s famous painting of the prodigal kneeling before his father [the older brother standing off in the shadows] with his understanding of Jesus’ parable in Luke 15. It is artistic and brilliant and brings texture and depth to the rich, central truth of the Father’s unconditional love for both his wayward son AND his judgmental older brother. Possibly another unique contribution of Nouwen’s exposition of Luke 15 is his observation that in his view, an undercurrent of Jesus’ thought in telling this story is that God the Father is trying to grow and mature all of us into compassionate Father’s who deeply love other sons and daughters!! You can tell that Nouwen has psychological training – and his human observations hit home – both in ways that comfort and convict. But the psychology NEVER overpowers the theology – in fact, reading Nouwen on Luke 15 convinces me more than ever that when Jesus speaks in the gospels, what He shares ALWAYS has something to say to the human psyche, the human spirit – to MY human psyche and spirit – in deeply healing ways. In short, reading Jesus…reading Nouwen on Jesus always, always, always leaves me with a fuller understanding of my Father’s unconditional love…for me. If you haven’t yet read Nouwen’s “Return of the Prodigal Son” – pick up a copy and start the journey…now. Don’t delay.

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Lick the plate

JKB —  April 3, 2013 — 2 Comments

A couple weeks back our granddaughter Ada stayed with us for about 10 days and one evening we made doughnuts together. Carla helped her mix the batter and pour it into the doughnut molds and then stir the frosting and soon Ada and all of us were covered with so much doughnut goo that WE looked like doughnuts ourselves!

imageBut the really fun part was helping Ada drip frosting on the cooling doughnuts. Of course the sugary, warm, soupy frosting ran all over not only the doughnuts but her fingers and hands and elbows and shirt and a good deal of the sweetness ended up on the doughnut plate itself. While Carla was washing up, Ada and I finally sampled a few of the small, toddler size doughnuts for ourselves…and then…and then…when we were done, I did it. I did what any self-respecting doughnut loving, frosting loving but more importantly Ada-loving grandfather would do – I picked up the frosting covered plate and licked it. And then I handed it to Ada and said, “you want to try?” and with wide eyes and an almost two year old half grin that seemed to shout, “you mean it’s ok?”…she stuck out her tongue and picked up the plate and dived into sugar heaven.

The next morning, her mother Andrea made her pancakes before leaving for work. [Hey, all you sugar police – cut us some slack…the kid’s on vacation at grandma’s!] Like the frosting the night before, syrup was wonderfully everywhere and soon the pancakes were gone and Andrea left the table for an instant to get a wet towel to wipe Ada’s hands and when she turned back around, sure enough, there was Ada…licking the syrup from the plate. She was doing what Grandpa’s love had taught her to do, in fact, what his love cheered her on to do…what he hoped she would think about and dream about whenever she thought about grandpa and grandma and coming to their house…”why that’s the place where I get to lick the plate!!”

It occurred to me this Easter season that everything about God and Jesus and the church and His people and the entire Christian thing is supposed to be about “licking the plate”. It occurred to me that when Paul tells us in a letter like Romans that he has some “good news” for us, that God has seen us drowning in our sin and He loves us so much – we are His “beloved” sons and daughters [Romans 1:7] – that He has sent us a deliverer named Jesus of Nazareth who has died to take the penalty for our sin upon himself…and then rose from the dead to prove that we are now, indeed, free…that he is saying in behalf of God, “Really, it’s ok, beloved…you can lick the plate. It’s so good and it’s so sweet and it’s free and it’s all for you and there’s more…always more! I want you to know that in My house, this is what you get, this is what you do…when you’re with Me, we make doughnuts with lots of frosting, son…and we make pancakes with lots of syrup, daughter…and after we’re done with the doughnuts and pancakes, we always, always, always lick the plate!!!”

And it made me wonder if that is really what non-believers think about when they think about God and Jesus and the church and believers…or do they think mostly about mushy, overcooked, smelly brussel sprouts or some kind of nasty possum stew like Granny cooked on the Beverly Hillbillies. Do they think about a God who stands over us like some kind of dysfunctional orphanage headmaster with a pointed, wagging bony finger saying, “Eat it…eat all of it…or else”, a God who says, “It’s all about the law…obey it or die…”. Or do they see and feel a gracious Father who invites us into His home to be His real sons and daughters and to call Him “Abba, Daddy” and who freely feeds us grace – sweet and rich and wonderful and fabulous and free…a God who invites us to “lick the plate” – and who cheers us on when he sees our tongues out and faces buried in his mercy and compassion and grace?

In fact, I’m wondering today not just about non-believers…but also about what most believers think when they ponder God and Jesus and the church and even other believers. And maybe most of all today, I’m wondering…about you?

 

 

 

 

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turtleI’m not the sharpest tack in the drawer.  But I’ve been working in Detroit for almost 26 years and it seems to me that our city government is stuck.  And that we need some help getting unstuck.

Period.

And it really feels like we need to get over ourselves and start thinking more about the people.  Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press, said it best the other day when he wrote:

“At minimum, let’s say the people in the city shouldn’t be dying, waiting for services that never come.”

What Henderson refers to is the fact that:

“Detroit’s elected leaders have been unable, and in many cases unwilling, to confront the horrible fiscal imbalances that leave insufficient money for EMS rigs, fire trucks, police officers and public lighting.”

In other words, the present Detroit leadership – with all their hard work and policy setting – for whatever reasons – have been unable to consistently and adequately deliver the absolutely necessary for life services needed by the people of Detroit.

He goes on to say:

“Now they’ll lose power to someone who will.”

“Will what?” you ask?  Well, hopefully, the new temporary leadership will start thinking less about political power, less about who is motivated by what, less about who’s getting over on whom…and begin to think more about what really matters to us all – the people.

It’s not that I’m unsympathetic to the realities [for example] of power politics.  The “power motive” has always been there in public policy and debate and life – from the Pharaohs of North Africa to the Tudor kings and queens of England – from the Caesars of Rome to the Tsars of Russia – from the Holy Roman Emperors of the middle ages to the democrats and republicans of the modern era – there have always been issues of power and control.  And there surely are in this case as well – only God knows who in Lansing or who in Detroit city government are about keeping the power, keeping the control…instead of simply helping the Detroit citizen live his or her life.

And as for other underlying motives, what about race?  Any thinking person knows that the Civil Rights Movement couldn’t cure racism that lives in the human heart – and while Civil Rights Legislation made it illegal to do racist stuff, laws have never been able to eradicate racism from a human spirit determined to hang on to hate.  So, is there any racism, any trace of evil, diabolical, regurgitated, repeated “I’m better than you because of the color of my skin” mentality lurking in this whole emergency manager plan thing?  I suspect so.  Again, only God knows where because most leaders are too dishonest to own their latent racist, elitist spirit [if indeed it exists inside them] and too sophisticated to let their racism overtly leak in words or policy.

So, what I’m asking is this:  can we simply own that this whole thing is likely a mixed bag on many different levels but that the time has long since come and gone when drastic measures are in order to at least try to do something – even appoint an emergency manager – to help the people??

Because from what I see and hear and experience in my own life, working and serving in Detroit, and talking and living with and connecting in intimate relationship with a whole lot of Detroiters – many if not most of the people aren’t really thinking a whole lot about power or race or other motive-related mess – they just want their lights on, they simply want police presence, they need to know an EMS tech or fireman will be there in their pain, that their trash will get picked up, that the busses will run on time and that their kids will make it safe back and forth to school.

One more thing.  I’m also willing to believe that alongside any leaders who are hungry for power and control or any leaders still wrestling with a deeply embedded racist agenda or some completely other non-helpful mentality or motive – that there are some good folks, some honest folks, some hard-working, compassionate leader types in Lansing willing to come alongside our good, honest, hard-working, compassionate leaders in Detroit in order to partner with us, to help us get unstuck, to help us turn the corner, to help us…do a better job of helping the people.

Emperors-New-Clothes1Anyone remember “The Emperor’s New Clothes”?  Two scam artists come to town and convince an egotistical Emperor that they are making him a new set of Emperor clothes, some royal threads so special that only the most sophisticated and elite of the people can see them.  Of course, there are no real clothes.  It’s a scam, remember?  But on the day that the emperor parades down main street to show off his special outfit, all the grownups are so afraid of not being sophisticated and elite that they can’t bring themselves to say, “I can’t see anything on the Emperor except his boxers!!”  So they all play along with the scam until a young child – unencumbered by any need to be sophisticated and elite – shouts out:  “THE EMPEROR’S NAKED!!” at which point chaos erupts and the town goes wild…but at least the Emperor puts on a real shirt and some real pants.

As I said earlier, I’m not the sharpest tack in the drawer.  But I think Stephen Henderson is.  And I’m officially joining my child-like and possibly somewhat naive voice with his – shouting out that our beloved city is naked and it is about time we did anything…almost anything within our power and within the boundaries of decency and common sense…to help her get rightly clothed again.

 

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