ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS January 30, 2023 A Prayer For The Week: Why are we incapable of ending the violence? Why is it that our egos are so easily bruised, leaving us feeling wounded and in need of retaliation? Where are the alternatives to violence and the capacity for restraint? We often come to you, O Generous God, with questions that appear to have no answer. We speak our frustration, confusion, and heartache to the heavens, desperately seeking your guiding Spirit to offer something novel, something beyond anything previously imagined. Yet it probably does not require anything too radical in the whole scheme of things, just those of us who are willing to learn the ways of peace, be the models of Christ-like living, and stand in the gap when necessary. Whether it is unconstrained anger, unhealthy systems incapable of self-control, or people with a bad mix of power and insecurity, the world needs those who are willing to represent your peace. And we cannot conclude this prayer without asking for that peace to begin with us. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS January 29, 2023 A friend of mine is a minister, and his daughter asked one time, "What’s the difference between true stories that tell a truth and untrue stories that tell a truth?" I think about The Butter Battle Book, written by Dr. Seuss. It is a crazy, silly book that can have your tongue all tangled up if you are reading it out loud, as I often was. It’s wonderfully goofy as it presents two different groups of people: Those who eat their bread with the butter side up and those who eat their bread with the butter side down. And I’m guessing many people enjoyed the book without ever recognizing how it was a caricature or spoof on the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, specifically the principle of mutually assured destruction. No one will fire first because no one will win. The two sides in the book were the Zooks and Yooks, and they kept on building up their weapons to defend their side of the butter argument. Now some people might shake their heads and say, "You’re reading way too much into that story. That’s not what it's about." And if I were to guess, I imagine there were a handful of folks who heard Jesus tell a parable, and as the larger group started discussing the meaning and implications of the parable, this handful of folks shook their heads and said, "You’re reading way too much into that story. Jesus just wanted to share a cute story to entertain us." If a story communicates a great truth, even if it is not a factually true story, isn’t it still a true story?
Continue to guide us deeper into the magnificent and thought-provoking stories of the faith. We desire to know you, O Living Word, and there is probably much for us to learn as we gain greater insight into the context of the faith stories we have been told. Provide us with hearts made available for what might require some imagination. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS January 28, 2023 Have you ever tried to solve someone else’s problem? Often, we get it in our minds that if they’d just follow our clear instructions, life would be wonderful. How many of you with kids have found that approach to be nothing but a failure? In the Bible, we have the Ten Commandments alongside other lists of what might be viewed as rules or guidelines, but much of scripture is narrative. In fact, a number of those commandments are woven into a larger story, and the story gives the commandments context. A lot of people think a set of rules is all other folks need to live a good and holy life, but even within the religious context, rules are rarely absolutes when applied to daily life. It can be complicated, and there are often extenuating circumstances. "Thou shall not kill" is pretty clear, but you move a few chapters after such a clear declaration, and there are what appear to be exceptions to that rule. The Ten Commandments begin with the words, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me." It goes on from there, but that opening declaration serves as the foundation for everything that follows. Thus, if you do not hold to the idea of there being one God who seeks to liberate people from slavery and calls those people to live together in community, then what follows are some interesting suggestions for life, but not necessarily more authoritative than anything else. Context, specifically understanding when and to whom a portion of scripture was originally written, is so enlightening. Suddenly those rules are put in the context of the daily lives of people centuries ago who were trying their best to figure out how to honor God with their choices, but doing so with a lot of questions and curiosity about just how one part might apply to something new.
Continue to beckon me deeper into the stories of scripture. Accompany me into that arena where the voices of scripture dance and sometimes tussle with the deeper questions of life. Wherever I am, Gracious God, continue to connect me to your love that is limitless and relentless, a love that seeks to affirm me in every moment. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS January 27, 2023 In Shel Silverstein’s book, "The Giving Tree," we learn at the very beginning of the story how the tree loved the little boy. What if, upon reading those words, you scoffed at the story and tossed it aside because there is no way a tree could love a boy? "That’s foolishness," you tell yourself. "Why would I want to read such nonsense?" A literal reading of the story, with a naive understanding of the anthropomorphic literary device, can leave a person missing the point. I might even say that it leaves a person unable to perceive the beauty and depth of the story. Too often, people attempt to read a piece of literature with the wrong eyes and incorrect expectations. A lot of people assume the Bible is to be read literally, every "jot and tittle," because it is the Bible. But let’s remember that when people were writing, editing, collecting, merging, and combining stories, poetry, prophetic utterances, songs, wisdom sayings, letters, etc., they were not saying to themselves, "Wow! It is such a privilege to be putting together what will become the best-selling book in history." Instead, they were using creativity and imagination to speak about mystery, emotional experiences, and unexplainable moments of awe. Had they attempted to explain in a very literal way what they had encountered, it would have been dull and devoid of life. When we strip away an assumed literal approach, the Bible comes alive in ways people have often missed.
Provide me a new spirit of expectation, O God, as I approach the amazing and sacred expressions of faithfulness shared by people generations ago. Let me be inspired to experience just a hint of what they experienced. Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS January 26, 2023 As many of you know, I am an expert when it comes to exploring the proverbial rabbit holes. Yes, I can go down the old rabbit hole quicker than just about anyone. Recently, I was reading some old church history in search of something specific, but along the way, I ran across a decree issued by Pope Benedict XII in 1334. I have included the opening of that decree below, and even if you don’t make it all the way through it, note that it is just a single sentence.
By this Constitution which is to remain in force for ever, we, with apostolic authority, define the following: According to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints who departed from this world before the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and also of the holy apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins and other faithful who died after receiving the holy baptism of Christ, provided they were not in need of any purification when they died, or will not be in need of any when they die in the future, or else, if they then needed or will need some purification, after they have been purified after death-and again the souls of children who have been reborn by the same baptism of Christ or will be when baptism is conferred on them, if they die before attaining the use of free will: all these souls, immediately (mox) after death and, in the case of those in need of purification, after the purification mentioned above, since the ascension of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ into heaven, already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment, have been, are and will be with Christ in heaven, in the heavenly kingdom and paradise, joined to the company of the holy angels.
I don’t intend to mock Pope Benedict XII as he is not around to defend himself, but assuming (big assumption) that this document was necessary in the first place, I’m pretty sure it could have been condensed into about ten or twelve words. More importantly, it appears to be a clarification of a clarification that excludes all religious riffraff. Since I nearly dozed off while reading this pontification on who is in and who is out, I’m pretty sure it means I am out. And remember, this edict was penned in the name of Jesus, the humble teacher who was executed because of his extraordinary love.
Sometimes it feels as if we need to provide a justification for the explanation that was the clarification of the original declaration, yet you, Gracious God, provided Jesus, who said, "This is my command: that you love one another as I loved you." Why have we complicated it so much? Amen.
ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS January 25, 2023 Today, I am reminded of the old axiom that says, "Institutions are created to serve the needs of people, but as time goes by, those people serve the needs of the institution." This seems to be a part of the lifecycle of every movement, not just religions. You have the dreamers and the builders who create something. Their excitement and passion around their reason for existing is contagious, and many join in the excitement. We see it not only in churches but also in businesses, nonprofits, and service clubs. Somewhere along the way, systems and structures are put in place that allow the organization to run smoothly and efficiently. This is important because, at some point, the dream has been dreamed and the builders have built, and a transition must happen. Sadly, as something new emerges, it often forgets its roots, forgetting the passion and excitement that first gave it life. Its core identity and purpose are too often put on a shelf and replaced with a passion to protect the institution. This does not need to occur, but avoiding it requires intentionality. Individual churches must continue to remind themselves WHY they exist and not allow that WHY to become nothing more than institutional preservation. For Cypress Creek Christian Church, I believe that even if the buildings and the paid staff all went away tomorrow, there would still be a group of people enormously passionate about Putting Love First In All Things simply because the mission is not from the institution, but from the Spirit.
You have called me, Amazing God, not to save another bureaucratic establishment for the sake of its own existence. You have called me to a life modeled by Jesus, a life that seeks to make real the gift of love that shall transform the world. May the church be one of the tools used to see this happen. Amen.
November 10, 2021
This past Sunday, we did some time traveling as we returned to 2015 and the beginning of the Crossing Over Campaign. At the time, CCCC had a significant mortgage and not much of a plan on how it was going to pay it off. The people of CCCC caught the vision and stepped up in significant fashion. Along with debt reduction, the Campaign included some AC replacement and an outreach component. The plan was good, but it did not include a flood. Yet even when we find ourselves a bit overwhelmed by the interruption to our plans, God remains faithful. Since God is always working with flawed human beings, the path forward after an interruption might be bumpy, with some unexpected turns. And even the finish line might look very different than what was imagined originally. For me, it is a testament to the tenacity of God and the get ‘er done attitude of the people who are Cypress Creek Christian Church. But even more importantly, I truly believe we have not been brought to this moment for a party alone. This is not a finish line, but a starting line for a whole new mission and direction. On Sunday, we were called to worship with words from Isaiah 43 where the Prophet declared on behalf of God, “Behold, I am doing a new thing!” Too often we confine God’s “new things” to some past moment as we are beholden to the old thing of the present. We can’t imagine God wanting to change what we have come to enjoy. Yet when you look at the story of scripture, that appears to be the exact point at which God begins a new thing.
God, I do not want to be known in heaven as a holy curmudgeon. You love me in spite of my flaws and insecurities, yet I don’t want to be the example in a chapter of the angel training book when it comes to dealing with the killjoy of your plans. Amen.
November 9, 2021
This past Friday, I posted to Facebook a picture of a few of us who went to hear Keeton Coffman do a live show. I talked about how much I enjoyed listening to live music again, and how Keeton is a fabulous performer. I posted it late Friday evening after getting home, and I didn’t even turn on the TV or check the news online. Of course, I was unaware of the tragic events at the Astroworld concert. It wasn’t until mid-morning on Saturday that I read the news. Suddenly, my post about enjoying a concert at the very same time another concert had caused such pain and grief felt insensitive and out of touch. I doubt people said to themselves, “Bruce is an insensitive jerk for posting what he did,” but it still didn’t feel right. And for that reason, I took the post down. We live in a world where people are bickering about our culture not being sensitive enough or being too sensitive. Like a lot of things, we can probably find clear examples of both, but I have always thought people should police themselves… choosing to err on the side of caution and compassion. And most of the stuff that could be construed as hurtful or callous is not going to contend for a Pulitzer Prize in Literature. I still support freedom of speech and will defend people’s right to say just about anything, but taking something down out of an abundance of caution or a demonstration of compassion would go a long way. The Apostle Paul spoke strongly to the Church in Corinth about the freedom to be cautious and mindful so as not to bring injury to another. Remember, freedom to do something means you have the freedom to not do it.
Life is complicated, God, and though it is important for there to be a free exchange of ideas in this world, I pray that my freedom helps there to be more exchanging of love, mercy and kindness. Amen.
November 8, 2021
Prayer for the Week: Whatever I have planned for this week and whatever interrupts those plans and forces me to make other plans, I request the eyes of faith, O God of Holy Vision. Allow me to perceive the sacred opportunities found in the unexpected. Allow my heart to see the beautiful human beings I might have never met had it not been for the disruption to my well planned week. By your grace, may it be so. Amen.
November 7, 2021
I was in a denominational training yesterday with 40 or so of my DOC colleagues, including Rev. Katelin Jordan. Katelin is a member of Cypress Creek Christian Church, and she is an ordained Disciples of Christ minister. She currently serves a nonprofit in the area that many of our folks know well: CarePartners. The online training was on the topic of Anti-Racism, ProReconciliation in the life of the church, and I will confess it was some of the same stuff I’ve heard before. And then toward the end, Katelin asked a question that took it to a whole new level within my own mind. I will dig into some of the specifics at a later time, but for the remaining 20 minutes or so, my mind was racing. Katelin is an exceptionally insightful human being. In the 3rd chapter of James, we hear a question: Who among you is wise and understanding? Katelin would be one such person. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but I had started to fade toward the end of the meeting, but then Katelin’s question awakened me as if I had received a spiritual defibrillator. I love those moments when you feel your energy level slipping away, then something jolts you to a whole other level of thought. Thank God for those moments!
I do thank you, O God, for taking me places in my journey of faith that challenge me and inspire me and force me to reflect more deeply upon who I am. Amen.