Friday, July 21, 2017

Making Peace with Waiting

My grandmother is 95 years old. She inches closer to the end of her life. But, her journey must go at her pace and nothing else in the world matters to her. I cannot imagine being at that point in my journey. For me, there are schedules, financial constraints, and others’ expectations.

Not her. She breathes in. She breathes out. Over the last few days, her breaths have grown slower. Several days ago, no one expected her to make it through the night. Now, it feels like it is a matter of moments.

Years ago, I moved away but we have always remained close. Mine were the first great-grandchildren. My wife and I visited her when we had our first child. We forgot a pack-n-play. She said, “No problem. He can sleep in a drawer.” What?!? She cleared a drawer and created an impromptu bassinet.

My job brings me close to death. I have the privilege of being with families in the final moments with loved ones. I often find myself in thin space, where the line between heaven and earth seems to blur. Death is one of those thin spaces. And, like others, we cannot control it or capture it. The line blurs and we become aware that we stand on holy ground.

This time it is different. I am one of the loved ones. My grandmother is one of the most precious people in my life. She struggles for breath and I wish for her peaceful rest. The psalmist writes, “For God alone, my soul waits in silence” (62:5).

So, we wait. We wait for the inevitable. We wait for the comfort. We wait for the return to normalcy. We wait for other family members to arrive. We wait for showers, meals, and arrangements. We wait. While we wait, we wait together.

Even while she breathes, loved ones can preserve her memory by loving like she loved. Perhaps, this is the blessing of waiting. Maybe, this is a way to make peace with waiting. “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb… Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed” (Psalm 139:13, 16).



Tuesday, July 18, 2017

No One Steals My Church

Last week, Brett Younger wrote an op-ed on Baptist News Global. A friend suggested I read it. And, I am glad I did. It is a powerful article and addresses some of the great sins of the contemporary church. Kudos to Younger for holding his loved ones to a biblical standard. But, he lays the most egregious sins of the early twenty-first-century church at Donald Trump’s feet. His title is, “Donald Trump stole my old church.”

I cannot concede the church to Trump or anyone else. The church belongs to God. People attend church and miss God’s point every week. No matter how sound the preaching, people miss the point. Every person in every church is a hypocrite. It is a matter of degree.

Younger introduced theological differences in the following subjects:
Gender inequality
Racial inequality
LGBTQ inequality
Interfaith dialogue
Gun ownership
Economic inequality

Younger writes that he used to try and reconcile theological differences. But, in Trump’s America, he can no longer reconcile the different worlds. He concludes, “I have come to the painful realization that God is not the point of my old church. My old church is shaped more by Fox News than Jesus’ Good News.” For churches like the one Younger describes, I agree with his conclusion. There is no justification for racism, homophobia, or misogyny. To his list, I add a need for religious liberty, gun safety, economic justice, and environmental justice.

I diverge from Younger when he writes, “Donald Trump has made it obvious that my old church is not filled with followers of Christ.” This gives the President too much power. He has no sway on my theology. In the church Younger describes, the President brought long-held beliefs to the surface. His statement smacks of the judgmental tone that drives me away from fundamentalists.

Disagreeing with a person’s position is different than disagreeing with the person. If they have an opportunity, some of the most wonderful people in the world say some truly stupid things. Yet, they are part of God’s creation. The world is a mixed collection of blessings and curses. Hans Urs von Balthasar describes God’s revelation as a kaleidoscope. New constellations form again and again with the same elements. The church is where we see this kaleidoscope.

Younger writes, “You cannot follow Jesus and support a tax cut for the rich.”
But you can.
A follower of Jesus can be a rich young ruler who cannot fathom giving away his possessions (Mark 10:17-22). We imagine that the man did not follow Jesus. But, we do not know. Only God knows.

Younger’s statement reminds me of a sermon I once heard. The fundamentalist preacher was doing a series on names of Jesus. The Sunday I heard him, he focused on “born of a virgin.” He said, “You cannot be a Christian if you do not believe in the virgin birth.” I reread the gospels. None of them said what the preacher said. Should I castigate the preacher and correct his heresy? No. Nor should I criticize Younger.

I agree with Younger’s sentiment. Theology matters. Yet, there is more to the church than one person's misogyny, racism, judgmentalism, etc. von Balthasar writes, “The ‘economic’ revelation of the triune God is a single revelation, but it is infinitely rich in aspects.” The church is God at work in the world (economic revelation). There are times when we do not agree with what people in the church say or do. Thus, we remember the church belongs to God.

Younger concluded by quoting Augustine. “The church is a whore, but she is my mother.” Maybe. But, I prefer Juan Luis Segundo’s words. He called the church an “unedited possibility for love.” God can work through fundamentalists, liberals, moderates, or, even, me.



Monday, July 17, 2017

Seeing God

We see God most frequently through tracks and traces, not through theophanies. On a fresh snowfall, impressions in the snow reveal a rabbit traveled through the area. Even if we do not see the rabbit, we know it passed. Likewise, God interacts with the world and leaves tracks behind. For me, God’s calling is manifest in my transition from serving one church to another.


Here are some of the tracks:
  • Someone asked me if I was interested in the church when I was not looking for a new place to serve.
  • Initially, I told the search committee that I was happy where I was serving.
  • But, I said I would pray about it.
  • I did pray about it.
  • My family was content where we lived.
  • I was genuinely happy where I was, yet…
  • I knew God was preparing me for something else. (I do not know how I knew.)
  • I felt God’s presence when talking with the search committee.
  • Throughout the process, my current congregation has affirmed God’s calling. They have blessed me beyond my imagination with their well-wishes. They plan to take part in my installation service.
  • Now, I am preparing to begin serving in a new place.


How do we see God? Revelation comes through scripture, people, the world, and direct communication. Messengers from God visited Abraham. Moses spoke with God. Biblical examples abound.

Did God call me? Technically, the people of University Baptist Church called me. Yet, I see God in this process. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Very Brief Theological Response to the Attacks in Tehran

Most Iranians (89%) are Shiite Muslims. The Islamic State is a radical version of Sunni Islam. If Christians believe that God created humanity, then both Sunni and Shiite Muslims are part of God’s creation. When one group hurts another group, God’s creation is in disharmony. This summation might sound simplistic, but we complicate God’s view of the human condition with our opinions.

Origen of Alexandria wrote about the difficulty of giving up opinions and how dangerous our opinions can be. In Contra Celsus, book 1, section 52, he wrote, “A person will abandon habits more easily than surrender opinions.” If we hold a colonial worldview in which Muslims are part of the heathen masses waiting to hear the Good News, we miss the richness of mutual exchange. Furthermore, dialogue becomes nonexistent when our only interest in Middle Eastern sisters and brothers is converting them to our Westernized Christian faith.

Instead of seeking their conversion, when considering people from other traditions, especially those who oppose Christianity, we can follow Jesus’ lesson in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

God is present in Iran.
God weeps with the people of Tehran who weep.
God wishes to comfort those who lost a loved one.
God seeks a relationship with everyone.
God want to enable doctors and rescue workers to help and heal people.
God desires to change the hearts of those who hate.

Following Origen’s advice, and setting our opinions aside, is a challenge. Opinions can be a deep part of our identity. Our opinions can make it difficult to see people who seem to be very different from us as our sisters and brothers. Setting those opinions aside can help us see people the way God sees them.

God does not want humanity to act violently against itself. When a terrorist hurts a person, we cannot let the terrorist win. When we react with violence, the terrorist wins. I picture a terrorist walking into my office and saying, “I am here to hurt you.” How would Jesus respond? He might say, “I am here to love you.”

What happens next? We think we know. That is, we assume that the terrorist would kill/hurt someone. But, we do not know. Only God knows. Trusting God is difficult. To be a Christian means being a person who trusts God in all things and at all times.