Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Problem of Fear

This past weekend, I had the privilege to preach on internship.  The challenge: Find something about the story of David and Goliath that connects to people’s lives.  Challenging indeed…

Most people will read this as the classic underdog vs. the superpower story.  Others will dig a bit deeper, and look at the power dynamics present in the story.  And both are pretty good ways to read it.  However, in today’s present time, both versions will eventually lead to a interpretation on politics or social justice.  In normal people terms:  99% vs. 1%.  Conservative vs. Liberal.  Corporate vs. Communal.  The list goes on….and for me, you’ll probably quickly find out, I’m not much for politics when it comes to my faith.  As my last post about Urban Tragedy & the Suburban Dilemma points to (as my friend Adam commented on so well), I’m much more interested in issues of humanity, and our relationship with God.

When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.”  (1 Sam. 17:11)

Now if you remember the David & Goliath story at all, Goliath comes out of the Philistine (bad guy) army and wants to fight someone from Israel’s (good guy) army…settle it head-to-head.  Why bother with all the bloodshed when we could do it this way?  But Goliath, heavily armored, a professional mercenary, someone who had won many battles for the Philistines to this point is no simple adversary.  Goliath is an imposing force, and intimidating one, and Israel full well knows that such a force…there is no one in Israel – the army or the nation – that can overcome it.  They’re driven into fear – the kind that paralyzes you, the kind that leaves you hopeless.

In comes David at this point.  In short, David convinces the King of Israel (Saul, who he’ll eventually take the place of, but not after Saul tries to kill him a bunch of times) to let him face Goliath, and David kills him with a slingshot and a stone.  But here’s the big thing, the thing that gets left out:  It’s what David says while facing Goliath, the ultimate force that terrorizes and kills, that matters.

This very day, the Lord will deliver you into my hand….So that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by the sword and spear; FOR THE BATTLE IS THE LORD’S, and he will give you into our hand.”  (1 Sam. 17:46-47)

THE BATTLE IS THE LORD’S.  Or said another way: VICTORY IS THE LORD’S.

This is radically different…what does it mean that God has already triumphed over those forces that drive us into fear – the type that paralyzes us’ that diminishes us to less than what God created us to be that causes us not to act, speak, and live with passion and with great conviction; the type that keeps us from being open and vulnerable in our relationships with others?  What does it mean that God has already freed us, so that we can live out who we are and out calling as God’s people – that even in the presence of fear, it is still possible for us to live and relate with others?

I think this is much more radical than trying to overcome our fear or any of those things that cause fear.  Overcoming them, or our attempts to, means we’re still trapped…and in some ways, we’re left on our own to figure it out.  And to be honest, I fail at that; we all fail at that.  But, what if we’re free from the very beginning?  It means those steps we take in faith, no matter if we screw it up, bumble our way through it, or if we get rejected – it doesn’t define us.  If this is true, that VICTORY IS THE LORD’S, our failure doesn’t define us; our status as beloved (and baptized, in my tradition) people of God does….

I like that.  I like it a lot.  And even in a story like David and Goliath, as I wrestle with those voices inside my head and heart, that instill fear in me, that intimidate me – I can still wrestle, because I’m free to.  VICTORY IS THE LORD’S.

Ponder that today…and if you feel free to, please share what it means for you and your life today.

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Urban Tragedy & the Suburban Dilemma

Mpls. woman championed peace but died a homicide victim

Peace activist apparently beaten to death

Why?

This past Friday, between articles in the Minneapolis newspaper, Facebook updates from folks I know who live and work in North Minneapolis, and a phonecall from a friend, I’m still left wondering why.

Why was a 76-year old woman, who dedicated her life to living out her faith and conviction, attempting to make the world a little better place, in her eyes, so brutally and violently killed? Anger isn’t the appropriate word here; numbness is. I’m completely numb, to fathom anyone who might view her as a threat in any way, whether she was killed for her conviction, or maybe because she trusted the wrong people a little too much. It’s just another one of the dark realities of urban neighborhoods like North Minneapolis – gang violence, poverty, low income people, etc. Maybe she was a bit too pushy; pushed the wrong buttons…I’m sure there’s enough speculation as to why she was murdered. That’s not the issue in my head; that’s not why I’m asking “why?”

I’m trying to grasp my head a world where such darkness exists, and for the most part, why it seems to be background noise in our life today. I know lots of people, good people, die violent deaths everyday. But this one is sticking with me for some reason. Perhaps it’s because I live in North Minneapolis now, and know this is a serious and horrible reality in what is a neighborhood that has good, honest people in it. Perhaps a “lightbulb” has come on in my head, and this has randomly sparked something in me. I simply don’t know. But for some reason, I’m asking “why?” for me – why such darkness seems to move through our worlds, generally unnoticed, and not affecting us in any way.

Here’s the truth: I’m just like most of you reading this. I never knew Lois. I never even met her. All I know is from these articles, and tidbits I’ve heard from stories. I also serve a very suburban congregation in the Twin Cities Metro area. So Lois’ violent death – her murder – is something very distant from me. It should be background noise. But I don’t want it to be. And I don’t want it to be for a lot of the people who live in my very suburban congregation. I don’t want them to see this as just another story of what happens in North Minneapolis. But yet, I’m not sure “why” this matters for those so disconnected from a place like North Minneapolis – in culture, way of life, economic status, and so on.

I do know this: Lois’ story isn’t to highlight and push people to the cause of justice. Kneejerk reactions, and action that comes out of those reactions, won’t help people in North Minneapolis. Criticisms won’t help either. Solutions are tough and complex, just like the issues and problems.

But I want to know “why” – why should this matter to people in the suburbs at all? Is it simply “background noise” or is there something in sharing this dark, dark tragedy that needs to be raised in suburban communities? I want to know from those of you, especially those who live and serve in surburban contexts: Why does this matter? Should we raise tragedies like Lois’ in our communities at all?

God’s presence be with you in your wrestling around this…I’m still struggling on whether this is something that needs to be brought into my suburban community at all. I know I hope and pray for God’s presence in this….my struggle, and in the darkness surrounding Lois’ murder.

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Young Adults & Mentorship….a Rebuttal

So, a friend of mine and a well-respected person who works in youth/young adult ministry (my older sister!) brought up some interesting comments and quote on the subject.  The stance here is this:  Young adults don’t necessarily need or crave mentoring from older adults.  Young adults are looking for and desiring something above that – perhaps validation, which is what I think these the following two ideas suggest.  I, of course, see the merits and downsides to both.  While being valued and validated for one’s contribution and abilities, I am not so sure that such a standing within a community or society should be merely a given because, ie. “You have something to say.”  A simpler, and perhaps more clearer, way to say this is, “What value do we place on wisdom based on experienced gained through the years?” 

Thought #1:  “Young adults are not interested in receiving mentoring from older adults – are boomers open to ‘reverse mentoring‘ from millenials?” – Matthew Bolz-Weber (Via Adam Butler’s blog on simplefaithfulthinking.com)

Thought #2:  “Interesting… I need to think about it. Our consultant talks about providing leadership opportunities, and being uber clear about values up front, so young adults immediately know what it is that they might beleive in or belong to in the church. Mentoringis an ok idea, but they are more ready to contribute and work as a team. They have been mentored as teenagers and in college.. they are ready to do.” – Amy Fuller (Director of Youth Ministry, Woodbury/Peaceful Grove UMC, Woodbury MN)

The conclusion I draw then, is that young adults should be put in leadership positions that have them intentionally working along side and with old adults.  And so in today’s church and society: “How do you see that playing out?”  “Can it work and how?”

Another note: Sad news in the North Minneapolis community I live in.  A 76-year old woman, a known peace activist in the neighborhood was found dead in her home.  Authorities are ruling it a homicide.  Lots of thoughts in my head, which I will share here in the next day or two, but for now, I remain with a heavy heart.  The Minneapolis StarTribune has the stories here:

http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/159203205.html

http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/159131915.html

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Funerals & Spirituality

NOTE:  I’ve gotten some great responses about this mentorship and young adult topic.  I fully intend to post some thoughts from other folks, but for today, I wanted to share this “wrestling” with you.

What is it about funerals and death that give me the greatest sense or connection with my spirituality?

We held a funeral at my internship congregation today.  Late last week, a regular member of our congregation died suddenly at age 77.  While he wasn’t the healthiest person, and was older, he was what you would consider in “good general health.”  But that’s not where my thoughts go today.

It is at the funeral, among members of our congregation, the deceased’s loved ones, I experience what I could call a closeness with my spirituality, that side of me that simply put, is one of those moments “I feel closest to God.”  I have to admit, for me, Spirituality is not a high point of my faith.  As much as I proclaim I am a person of faith, I’m not much for Spirituality…moments where I feel close to God, in that way that can’t be explained, but only felt and experienced, are not common for me.

But not at funerals, not at the presence of death.  As I sat there, listening to words, looking at people’s reactions, and pictures and symbols of the deceased’s life, something came over me, a wave would be best explained – where I felt a definite need for God’s presence, and a subsequent closeness in that moment.  Now, this person who passed, I knew him, but we weren’t close.  There was no bitterness or shock overwhelming people today. In fact, it was more a celebration of his life.  But the closeness to God, the clarity and power of which I felt and experienced it was overwhelming.

I wonder, why is it that in the experience of death and suffering that is where I feel the most in touch with any sense of Spirituality?  Unlike many people I know, I don’t find it in community with people; not in centering prayer or meditation; I don’t find it very often even in worship or other aspects of Christian or faith-centered living.  Yet in the sharing of death and suffering, everything changes.  God’s promises and good news become a powerful, vital, and transforming force in my life.  And I am changed – today, for 1 hour, a sense of spirituality becomes real and comfortable for me.

I could go into the “why’s,” but for now I just sit in this thought and well, “wrestle” with it, as you will.  I invite you all to do that same….and wonder if it is the same for you.

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Young Adults & Mentorship, Part 2.

So I’m adding on to this theme, and mainly because a good friend of mine called me out:

“…where do you stand on this question? It is not that you need to give us the “right” answer, but why should I read your blog if you are just asking questions?”

And he added, that is the reason why people DON’T comment, which is my goal and hope is that they do.  So now I all expect you to comment (ha!), because here it comes…..my response, or my “stance” on this question.

As much as I see two sides to the whole mentoring thing, (check out my previous post) I think mentorship IS important because it offers what I think people are craving so much of these days: authentic relationships, connection…true community.  I see it coaching my wrestlers all the time: they come to fully realize the stress and impact of relationships that are transactional – they’re based on results, what you do for me, what is the outcome or output of this relationship.  Now, there are always expectations to every relationship, to be sure.  But transactional relationships….that’s what I expect out of business or work partnerships, not relationships of deep connection, authenticity, and vulnerability.

It’s a widely known fact that adulthood is being pushed later and later into people’s lives – their 20’s, even early 30’s in some extreme cases.  And this goes well beyond simply getting a job, being financially stable, and finding a life-long partner.  What’s being pushed off is the understanding that relating – to the world, to other people, to one’s self, and to God – cannot be understood as a transaction.  That’s exactly how we treat young kids if we think of it: from how much time they spend on homework, watching TV, getting them to eat vegetables, doing chores, and on and on….it’s one transaction after another.  And in the context of childhood, that makes sense, developmentally and cognitively.

But the path to adulthood, to relating to the world and people has to be transformational.  And in order to do that, to be transformed, one has to be able to be in relationships where one can test and be tested, affirm and be affirmed, challenge and be challenged, love and be loved.  And as I look at the mentors in my life, that’s exactly how I would characterize those relationships.

How vital is this?  I think it’s huge…there are books coming out, talking about the “crisis” that exists with young adults.  Shoot, sit around a table full of older people, ask ’em what they think about today’s generation, and they’ll tell ya exactly the same thing: young adults in some way, are in trouble.  And while it’s because we’re delaying adulthood, it’s to the surface-level stuff that’s the problem.  It’s the relational stuff….giving and earning respect, honesty, integrity.

I wish I knew where the church fit in this.  Lean too far right, you’re passing off morality.  Lean too far left, accountability seems to get left out.  But I think there’s something to this, something at stake….and it’s worth wrestling with.

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Young Adults & Mentorship

“Iron sharpens iron, so a person sharpens before their friend.” ~ Prov. 27:17

I just got off the phone with a good friend of mine this morning.  I’d probably say he’s more than a good friend – he’s a pastor, been so for over a decade now.  It was a good chat, checking in, and getting advice on things.  This is the way of our conversations, and our relationship: it’s helpful to have someone who’s a bit further along in the “game” than I am, someone who I trust will give me good honest insight, who will listen, and who I can test ideas and thoughts off of, and know that he’ll push right back with his own.  Iron sharpens iron indeed: I’m a better person today, in my personal and vocational life because of him.

Which brings me to my thought for today:  Considering young adults (I’m still barely one), how bad do we need mentorship?  As young adults navigate the world: their relationships, the work/vocation, the hopes, dreams, thoughts and opinions on the world, the things they value and hold dear to, and their faith….is mentorship a necessary thing?  I’m not talking about someone who just simply affirms you and makes you feel good at the expense of honesty and challenge – I’m talking about someone who can affirm you in their honesty and challenge.  Big difference…but a life-changing one.

But, on the other hand, are such relationships that important?  There are some who might make the choice that in some ways, such relationships are manipulating, and try to “fit” young adults into categories that they can’t or won’t live in.  They’re guided to take on values and commitments that simply aren’t them.  Some feel pressured, because they’re constantly weighing their own thoughts against the thoughts of those who have more experience, or are better experts…and thus, killing their creativity, their courage to form and strengthen their own character.

As I consider all my seminary friends out there, who are young adults themselves, and in some ways, are committed to helping young adults navigate life and faith, I raise this question to you: “Do you think the presence (or lack of) mentors in the lives of young adults determines the quality of their lives in some way?”  Or more simply put: “Are mentors a positive or negative thing?” 

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The Life-giving Nature of Competition

So I just finished my final “hard” run before my half marathon this Sunday. The Minnesota weather was great, sunny and 65 degrees, and my legs and lungs felt pretty good. The pace felt easy – I should be able to make my time goal.

Yet, I have to admit, I’m anxious thinking about race day. There’s the possibility even so slight, that if things go really good, I’ll break my long-standing goal of breaking the one hour, thirty minute mark. On the flipside, I have a tendency to go out way too hard and fast, and well, as I found out two years ago, 13.1 miles can be hell on earth, so to speak.

So why am I so anxious? I know I’m being a bit of a whiner – I know well the anxiety some people have that just getting out there and running, and finishing, a half marathon is an accomplishment in itself. And, seriously, it’s not like I’ll win any awards or anything. I’m competing against myself, my own expectations and hopes, and that’s it. So what’s the big deal? There shouldn’t be any pressure, right?

Then it dawned on me: this is what it means to live life, to feel alive. It’s not the race itself so much, or the fact that so many others don’t even bother to run. It’s that competition, preparing and training, striving after something, with only a measure of faith and hope that the results will be fruitful, that make it life-giving. There’s something thrilling in that risk, that great daring, to put one’s self out there, to strive towards that unattainable thing, something that seems beyond your capability.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

As I read this passage from John’s gospel (John 10:10, if you’re wondering), I wonder about what it means to have abundant life. We all believe in something, place our faith in something. What is it? Is it the comfort of a secure life? Is it the safety of knowing you have minimized and eliminated all the possibility of risk and failure in your life? Is it settling into a lifestyle that I can put on cruise control, making life as easy as it can possibly be?

Or, is it a life lived only with the assurance of faith and hope, that what we choose to live for has the possibility to be so much greater? Is it disciplining ourselves to the task, because even though the result isn’t guaranteed, what lies beyond it, the potential of the future, actually brings life into the present? Is it, that what robs us of life is the very belief that the status quo is good enough, the lie that equates complacency and apathy to comfort and security? And, what actually brings abundant life is risking, hoping, daring….a faith where we commit ourselves to others and tasks where little is assured, but what’s possible – both in the process and at the end – is so incredible?!

For me, competition is life-giving. And while competition takes the form of running races for me, I know it also takes the form of committing myself to risk entering into relationships with those different from me, working hard to love and relate to my fiancee and family, and challenging myself to understand the world and its messiness through the lens of God’s love and grace as much as possible. It’s a struggle for sure – some days you win, some you lose – but gosh, even in those moments of discomfort and anxiety, I just well, feel so alive. So connected.

So I’m off to run this Sunday…and 13.1 miles after, we’ll see where I stand. But I’m going to struggle and savor every moment of it. That’s life-giving for me.

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