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Camp

IMG_1955For those of you that don’t know, I love camp.

I remember one of the first times I took a group of kids hiking for Mountain Camp at Christmount in 2007, a camper looked at me as we were doing some plant identification and said:  “I am never going to need to know the difference between a rhodedendron and a mountain laurel plant.”

And I think this is what parents feel when they are faced with the debate of sending their kid to summer camp.

What is my kid going to learn?

How is this going to help my kid get a college athletic or academic scholarship?

Well I am here to say:  IT WON’T!

However!

Summer camp is one of the best things we can provide our children in this ever changing world.

I have seen awesome things happen at camp.

I have seen kids who are completely dependent on their parents for everything become individuals who can actually handle daily tasks with ease, ON THEIR OWN!

I have seen kids who are shy beyond belief blossom into some of the most “popular” and well loved kids at camp.

I have seen kids who are afraid that their parents are going to find out how silly they act in a talent show skit, make me keel over in laughter.

I have seen kids who are the biggest pains in the neck become visions of the person that they are growing into.

I have seen kids who have such tortured home lives escape the hell, who, for just one week, get to live in  a community of people who actually love them.

I have seen kids who are so far below the poverty line that they didn’t have anything to pack away for a week, show up to the camp dance looking like they had parents who were loaded.

I have seen kids who are normally the bully-type, the cool kid, the all-star, or anything else in that category welcome and guide a child whose autism controls their ability to interact with others.

I have seen kids when that lightbulb hits on what it is they feel called to doing with their lives.

I have seen kids in that moment when they realize that they are, in fact, completely and totally normal.

I have seen adults with learning disabilities become the star of the week who at their group home is just another client who has to take medication.

I have had a child explain to me the true meaning of communion at a vespers service.

And so on and so on.

And yet.

And yet camping programs are struggling.

Year round schooling and the increasing intensity of childhood athletics and summer homework for classes in the fall have ripped children away from summer camps.

And not just sports day camps, but over night, stay away camps.

Camping programs struggle because year round schooling keeps the things the kids learned fresh in their minds, and keeps them out of trouble on the streets.

But all this really does is create more competition, create more dependency, and create kids who don’t know what its like to stay a week away from mom and dad until their first week of college.

Parents are sending their kids to more athletic practices, which only creates a person whose sense of the world is being better than the next.

It also creates memories, laughter, first-kisses, first time asking someone to dance, a place to not sit alone at meal times, relationships with other kids, relationships with adults who aren’t the child’s parents, and countless of other possibilities.

Camps are not just fun (although they are insanely fun), but camp is our largest and best educator in helping kids discover who they are, building self-esteem, building independence, and yes even learning a few educational things as well.

So why don’t we send our kids to camp?

And of course I have to ask this question:  what if the church was more like camp?

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Regrets of Dying People

The other day I saw the picture above on the Facebook.

What I find really interesting in that these 5 regrets are not only true about human beings who are dying, but also of those of the church.

I want to work through these, but why don’t we go backwards:

5.) I wish that I had let myself be happier

What if the church was a happier place?

When people walk into a church for the first time, are the people happy?  And I mean genuinely happy.

What if the church focused on a mission that lead it’s congregation to be genuinely happier people?

People are getting angry at each other within the church, they get pissed at each other in board meetings, at how someone is dressed, at the music director (of which I am mega guilty), and so on.

The church is not a place of efficiency but a place where people are invited to live out what God calls them to!

4.)  I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

According to a report by Mission Insite, the Quadrennium report: 35% of  people who are non-active in the church but who consider themselves to be a part of the church do not participate because they are not invited!

We spend so much time worried about the ever present “UNCHURCHED,” but we need to remember those who we have inside of our church that we are looking over!

Sooner or later you won’t see them any more!

3.)  I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

The church lets other people express its feelings for them!

If I have one more non-Christian tell me what the church believes, I might go throw the roof!

I understand their pain from being hurt, or seeing through all the crap, but their experience isn’t THE SOLE CHRISTIAN FEELING!

If the church expressed itself honestly, by listening to the words and teachings of Jesus, and not the teachings of the consumerist culture, I think the church would be more vibrant!

Peter Rollins calls that “The Sell Church” in The Idolatry of God.

2.)  I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

This one is tricky.

The church doesn’t work hard enough, so maybe it should be “I wish I had worked harder!”

Maybe the church could work harder at being the body of Christ, that performs miracles, that changes lives, that does charity, that does justice.

But the more I think about, I wish I hadn’t worked so hard might be accurate.

The church works really hard at being exclusive.

The church works really hard at discriminating.

The church works really hard at burning out its elders and deacons, and laity, and pastors.

The church structures and polity set us up for this!

So yeah, I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

and finally:

1.) I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

The church simply does not live a life that is true to itself, and allows others expectations to define it and rule it.

Churches feel the need to do the same thing that the church down the road is doing.

“We need to do a VBS by Group publishing, because the church down the street is.”

NO!  That is the worst reason!

Do something that is unique for your congregation!

What is it that your congregation does the best that no other congregation does?

What if instead of protesting abortion clinics, rock concerts, or whatever;  why won’t the church protest itself, for being a den of thieves!

Be true to yourself, not to what the baptist church is doing down the street, or the evangelical, or the presbyterian church is doing.

————–

The church needs to hear these five regrets and turn them into shameless, life giving “hallelujah’s!”

1.) A church that is unique and contextual, that is doing things because God is calling them to things not because the other churches are.

2.) A church that works hard at being compassionate, spreading unconditional love, and bringing about justice.

3.)  A church that was courageous enough to express its true feelings!

4.)  A church that concerns itself not only with the unchurched but with the members of the congregation!

5.)  And a church that was actually creating an energy and environment of rejoicing!

Then maybe the church wouldn’t have regrets, because then maybe the church wouldn’t be dying.

An Easter Church

To many non-Christians, and many Christians really, Easter is nothing more than a zombie story that does not include the literal eating of brains.

But that is if you read the story literally:  that Jesus literally only physically rose from the dead, which is something that I have always struggled with.

But as someone who does not see the point in looking and searching for biblical fact, rather than biblical truth, I always look for what is the truth in the biblical narrative.

Last night, the Saturday before Easter, my fiancée and I were out on a date and we saw the movie “Oz The Great and Powerful,” the prequel to “The Wizard of Oz.”  I could not, and nor could Kelley, stop thinking about all of the Christological images in the film.  (What this means, is how does the image of Jesus or how does the story of Jesus paralleled or easy metaphors are drawn from another story)

Careful spoiler alerts ahead

One of the greatest images was Oz, the Wizard (played by James Franco), when he had drawn up this huge plan to rid the kingdom of Oz of the wicked witches.

In this plan, Oz decides to make his “death” a great trick.

But what made this story very Christological for me, was in his resurrection.

In his resurrection you see the first time that the Wizard does his trick of hiding behind a curtain and with that face in the smoke.

But in his resurrection the people become excited; they were afraid that they had lost their wizard, they were afraid that they were going to have fight evil on their own.

So that is enough of a summary… if you haven’t, go see it.  It’s not the best movie, but it’s okay.  Worth seeing, just because it’s fun.

But Oz had to die, so that the kingdom of Oz could be all it could be.

Oz had to resurrect so that the kingdom of Oz would realize that their wizard and king would be with them always.

Oz had to die because the people had to fight evil on their own.

Oz had to resurrect to give people the courage and strength to fight evil on their own.

Oz had to die and resurrect in order to become the wizard that the people of Oz believed him to be.

Just as Jesus had to so that the realm of God could be all that it could be.

Jesus has to resurrect sot that the realm of God would realize that their Christ would be with them always.

Jesus had to die because people have to fight evil on their own (whatever that evil may be).

Jesus had to resurrect to give people the courage and strength to fight evil on their own.

Jesus had to die and resurrect in order to become the messiah, the Christ, that we believed him to be.

But in Jesus’ death and resurrection, just like Oz’s death and resurrection, we and the people of Oz have to fight evil on our own.

The people of Oz had to fight the oppression of living under the wicked witches.  We have to fight the oppression that we cause.  We have to fight the evil that is poverty, that is hunger, that is war and violence, that is abuse, that is human trafficking, that is sexism, that is racism, that is homophobia, the list goes on and on.

But it is us, the church that have to fight it.  

We might have something greater than us to look to, but we have to do it.  As the community of the church.  As the living body of Christ.

In the death and resurrection it makes it possible for people like Paul to say things like “I can do all things through Christ,” and makes it possible for the Wizard to say “With your faith in each other, anything is possible.”

We can, as a community of faith, do anything.  But we have to realize that Jesus is physically dead, but resurrected in the body of the church.

We the church make Jesus the messiah that we say he is.  

We the church make it possible to fight evil in our world, even when we can only see Jesus off in the clouds in some way.

We the church make it possible for the realm of God to be realized here on earth.

This Easter, my hope is that we look to the resurrection not as proof of something about Jesus, but rather as a symbol that Jesus is with us and we can fight evil.

A Good Friday Church

Good Friday is the day in which Christians around the world reflect on the death of Jesus Christ.

Christians will weep, Christians will rejoice, Christians will sit and be confused: “How is this what we focus on?”

I am one of those who will be in church on Good Friday, and wonder: “How is the death of a man what we focus on?”

——————

There are some things that I understand about the day that Jesus was killed to be true and factual.

1.) Jesus’ death was not unique from any other capital punishment of the Roman Empire of his time. If you do not know this, just ask the question: Well, what were those other two guys doing?

2.) Jesus was not killed by the Jews. Jesus was killed by the Roman Empire. Some Jews might have opted for Barrabas, as ALL JEWS WERE NOT PRESENT.

I think this accurately describes what happened that day:

and

3.) Jesus continued to minister to his context even into his last moments.

——————

My understanding of the cross is a reminder to the world of the injustice that we cause on a daily basis.

In the death of Jesus we are reminded of those who have been killed unjustly.

In the death of Jesus we are reminded that humanity continues to fail each other.

That’s it. To me, the cross is that.

I do not believe we are saved by the actions of the unjust Roman Empire and their decision to kill a local celebrity.

I do not believe that Jesus was called by God to die, although Jesus’ humanity would require him to die at some point.

But as a person who says that if you say you don’t believe in something, you have to counteract that with a what you do believe statement:

I DO BELIEVE that in the act of the death of Jesus we learn a little bit more of what the realm of God looks like. What exactly is God’s ultimate dream for creation.

In what is called the “Seven Sayings of Jesus on the Cross” we see these things:

1.) Matthew 27:46: “My God why have you forsaken me?” I start with this, because it is the first in the canonical order; but also because it is a question that Jesus poses to God. No matter how much we think we have accomplished, no matter how well our life may be lived, at the end of it all, we do not think we have accomplished enough. Jesus is no different. Jesus feels forsaken maybe because he does not feel like he accomplished enough in his lifetime. And so Jesus cries out God, “Why have you forsaken me? This death is proof that I have not accomplished enough.”

2.) Luke 23: 34: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus is giving us the image of God’s dream that we are to forgive people… even when they kill us in the most violent way they can possibly imagine.

3.) Luke 23: 43: “Truly I tell you, you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus tells this to a criminal. Jesus gives the image that in the realm of God there is space for us all. We do not know anything of the situation or circumstance of the criminals on the cross with Jesus, but all we know, is that Jesus does not judge, Jesus gives words of comfort and affirmation.

4.) John 19: 26-27: “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” In this, Jesus tells Mary Magdalene, the disciple that he loved, to take care of his mother. In a context where widows and childless women have no one to care for them, Jesus shows us that in the realm of God we will all take care of each other, and that in the realm of God, all have women have children, and all children have mothers.

5.) John 19:28: “I am thirsty.” Jesus tells those around him that he is thirsty. In the realm of God, thirst will be no more.

6.) Luke 23: 46: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” In the realm of God our bodies will no longer be the shells of injustice in which we are trapped. The pain that our bodies create will not be something that hinders us.

and

7.) John 19: 30: “It is finished.” The last words of Jesus Christ. Showing to us that in the realm of God suffering is finished. In that moment when, what I imagine him, whispering “It is finished,” Jesus says that this suffering is over. No more will Jesus feel physical pain.

Read between the lines of the story.

Read between the lines of the story.

—————-

What if the church remembered the 7 sayings of Jesus?

Many churches are in the dying stages of their ministry. Just like Jesus on Calvary.

What if the church remembered:

1.) That in the life span of this congregation, that enough has not been done.

2.) To forgive the people who do damaging things within the church. Forgive the treasurer who embezzled all that money. Forgive that homeless person who has on multiple occasions came and begged in the parking lot after church service. Forgive the pastor who was a bit to experimental for the comfort zone of the congregation.

3.) That in the church there is room for all people. For the people who are on crosses today. The criminals. The people who are marginalized. People who are LGBT.

4.) That the church is to take care of those who have no one else to take care of them.

5.) That the church is to be that place where thirst no longer exists. Where people’s most basic needs are met.

6.) That the church is not something that hinders us. The body of Christ (the church) should not hinder us from expressing agape, from being agents of God.

and

7.) The church must remember that when it is over, it is over. Sometimes things die. And just as Jesus admitted to his own mortality, so must churches.

This Good Friday, my hope is that you think about what it means to be a church in the realm of God.

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Maundy Thursday

Imagine this. You are sitting at a table with your friends and colleagues on a feast holiday, and then one of them stands up.

He is the leader of your crew, who constantly talks about how things are going to be better for the world.

He takes his robe off, and wraps it around his waist.

He grabs a tub of water, and then gets on his knees.

He grabs your nasty feet that are covered in dirt, mud, waste, and anything else disgusting that just happens to be on the streets.

He then washes your feet.

You try to kick him away, but he is holding pretty tight, and says to you: “I am not here to be served, but to serve you.”

He then washes all of your friends feet.

After this you all eat your meal, enjoy each other’s company and drink wine.

Laughing and carrying on.  After all this is a feast of celebration.

The meal is about over and he stands up again.

As he stands after the meal he reaches over the table and grabs a loaf of bread.

And as he grabs it he looks at all of you.  He waves it in front of you making some weird gestures.

Then he does something really weird, he says: “You see this bread? Anytime you eat bread remember me.  Remember what I have taught you.  Remember what I have done.  Remember this bread as a symbol of my body.”

You are confused.  Why is he telling us to remember him every time that we eat?

While you are trying to figure out what all of this means, he grabs the bottle of wine, which at this point is almost empty, because you and your friends have been celebrating.

As he holds the wine in front of you, he pours into a cup and says: “This cup will be a reminder of the blood that is going to come from me. Every time you drink wine, remember my blood.”

You sit stunned.  Not knowing what in the world just happened.

You go back to your meal, awkwardly looking at your friends who are all confused.

When all of a sudden the door is kicked in, and one of your friends give a kiss to your leader, and then he is arrested.

He tells you not to worry as he is carried out of the house.

——————-

We know what happens on Friday.  But Jesus’ friends and disciples did not know what would happen the next day.

Maybe they thought he was just going to be released.  Maybe they knew that he would be killed in the traditional Roman way.

But they would not understand what his message at the feast was really about.

They would soon find out, that the bread would be a physical symbol of a man who would no longer be on this earth.  That the wine was going to be a symbol of a man’s blood who was going to killed in an inhumane way.

They would find out the man who had washed their feet the way a slave would was showing them that the world is not their servant, but they are to serve the world.

For the disciples, the meal would be a real reminder of the friend and leader that they had.

—————

But 2000 years later, what do the events at that meal represent?

Every time we eat bread we are called to remember Jesus.  Remembering what it is that he taught his followers and the actions he took in his ministry.

Every time we take a bite of food we should be reminded that Jesus called us to heal the sick.  Jesus called us to clothe the naked.  To visit the imprisoned  (Matthew 25: 34-46).  When we eat we are reminded to do micro-level, kind works of charity.

Every time we drink we are reminded of Jesus’ death.  No matter common it was in his time it was.  We are reminded that injustice is far too common.  We are reminded of the blood of all people who are killed unjustly.  We are reminded of the death of children who cannot feed themselves.  We are reminded of women everywhere who are abused and raped.  We are reminded that over a billion people in this world do not have access to clean drinking water.  We are reminded that the cost to export food leaves those who cultivate that food too impoverished to buy that food for themselves, and are left starving with plenty of food right in front of them.  When we drink we are reminded to do works of greater justice, to end hunger, to end thirst, to end disease, to end violence.  We are reminded to do justice in the world.

Whenever we hear the story of Jesus washing his disciples feet we are reminded that we are to be humble, and to understand that we are not to be served by the world.  But rather to serve the world.  That no one is below us.  Rather we are below the world, always looking up and looking for the next inequity in our broken world.

On Maundy Thursday, we are reminded of Micah 6:8:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

————

This Maundy Thursday, my hope is that you realize that Jesus was not here for us to serve him.  But for us to learn from him, through his example, through his death, through his resurrection, that we are called to do justice, do acts of kindness, and to be humble.

The church needs to remember this call.  For far too long the church thought the world is to serve the church, however the church is the servant to the world.

The next time you eat, you drink, and someone serves you, remember that the one who served you is not your servant, but you are their’s.  The food you are eating is a reminder to feed the world.  The drink you are drinking is a reminder to end injustice in the world.

Time

It has been more than a week.

We were all robbed.

They came in, they stole from us, and then they had the audacity to change our clocks.

I am still tired.

Spring forward sucks.

In our busy culture we don’t have enough time as it is: work, exercise, family, meetings, church (maybe), eating, driving or transportation, shopping.  The list goes on.

We think we can do it all.

We lose sleep on a daily basis because we are too busy.  We think we have an infinite amount of time on our hands.

In Christianity we categorize time into two different categories.

Chronos:  The time that we can understand.  The time that we live in.  The time that is measured by seconds, minutes, hours.  In my understanding, this is the time that is finite, the time in which we have the opportunity to work in. (Luke 18:4)

and

Kairos: An epoch, a certain time period, waiting for an opportune time to act.  In my understanding, this is the time in which God works along with the world.  Kairos is God’s memory.   (Luke 20: 10)

————-

Do you remember that scene in “Hook” when Jack, the son of Peter Pan, and Captain Hook are in the clock room in Hook’s pirate town? Jack is destroying the clocks and with every swing of the hammer he shouts out times when he wishes his dad had been there.  “For never doing anything with me!”  “For making promises and never keeping them.”

Peter Banning (Peter Pan) grew up (well, you know what I mean) in a place where time stood still.  Where there was always tomorrow, and that people stayed the same age.  No one died of old age.

He brought that understanding of time back to earth.  He treated his family as if he wasn’t getting older.  As if his children weren’t getting older.  Always thinking there was a next time.

————-

We think we have kairos.  We act like we have the time of the cosmos.

We feed ourselves things that we think can give us more time.

5-hour energy, to help us pack more things into our days.

Coffee to help us wake up because we did not rest very well.

And yet, there are still 24 hours in a day.  There are still 7 days in a week.

————–

When I lose my hour of sleep, and it takes me weeks to catch up on it, I realize that I think I am living in kairos time.  I think that I can make up my rest.  Instead of getting the rest every week that God calls for us to take, we constantly work.  We stay up late to fit more hours into a 24 hour day.

Because we are getting older. Because we need to be fully present to ourselves.  To our families.  To our world. To our God.

One hour stolen from me caused a lot more than an hour’s worth of grief.

Because my clock was set to kairos.

A Very Christian Question

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Since my last post was a gripe about a class that I did not like, so today I am going to write about a class that I am actually enjoying.

In my Judaism class we have been getting an introduction to the beliefs, practices, and understandings of the Jewish people.

In this class I was confronted with an experience that I had never had before.  And I do not know exactly how to label it.

As Rabbi Sasso was describing all of the different writings that are used in the Jewish tradition, the Tanakh, Midrash, Talmud, Mishnah, etc.  I almost became overwhelmed.

I had known that there was a vast array of writings in which the Jewish people read in order to engage history and tradition.  But I was always curious:  Where do Jewish people start when looking for authority?  Where do Jewish people go when they look for a scriptural answer?  Where is Truth found?

For Christians, it is very easy:  We open the Bible. We  know about where to go.

And so I posed the question to Rabbi Sasso:

“Where do Jewish people start when they look for ‘biblical answers’?”

“That is a very Christian question.”  

Boom.

I had almost lost my breath.

I didn’t know what to say.

That is a very Christian question.

After my head returned to its neck, I began to listen again.

“In Judaism, we don’t have the answer.  We don’t find comfort in the answer.  But rather, we live with the questions.  We struggle with the questions.  There is not one correct answer.”

Well, hell.

Christianity, we have Jesus saying: I AM THE WAY THE TRUTH AND THE LIGHT!

To many that is THE ULTIMATE ANSWER.

And so from that, we think we HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS to ALL THE QUESTIONS!

But we don’t.

We live with theodicy on a daily basis.  Why do bad things happen to good people?

What does it mean to be created in the image of God?

Why would a loving God kill a woman for just turning to look?

What happens when we die?

We think we have the answers.

But, what if we decided that it was okay to just ask the questions?

What if we decided that we actually didn’t know the answers?

What would the face of Christianity be then?

Would it be Pat Robertson with his answers on the 700 club?  Would it be Fred Phelps, who knows that God is hateful.

What would our churches look like?

Asking the very Christian questions without the answers.  That is the image of Church I can get with.

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