Monthly Archives: July 2013

A New Adventure….sort of

So, here I am in Newport, Rhode Island for the next 5 weeks. After some discernment through seminary, I decided to re-enter the Navy as a Chaplain in the Active Reserves. There are a myriad of reasons for me doing this, which I won’t go into here, but I’ll just say it’s the start of a “new” adventure.

I say “new” because I’ve been through this before; if you’ve checked out my About Me, I graduated from the US Naval Academy and then served 8-plus years as a Submarine Warfare/Nuclear Power officer. So I have to admit, part of me is a little less than motivated to do the next 5 weeks – called “Navy ODS” or Navy Officer Development School.

But the fact is that I’m here. And so like in all things, it’s time to do a little attitude check. And that’s to see it as a life-giving opportunity rather than a life-sucking one….which for me means to live a bit more into what God is calling us through the gospel: to be life-giving people.

And so, I’m sure the challenges will be there (memorizing endless facts and regulations) but so will be the good moments: new relationships formed, new experiences made, and probably some really good sermon illustrations. I’ll be blogging from time to time in the next 5 weeks, sharing a story or two.

For the rest of you, perhaps my point today is do you own little attitude check…..because you never know what new adventure you’re missing….sort of.

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Justice, Anger, and Pain

“So, what’s the big thing going on in the news these days?”

Ok, just kidding. What’s been on everyone’s mind (and social media & media outlet) is the non-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. I think that’s a no-brainer; it’s an important event in our country that raises important issues we need to deal with.

However, I haven’t been paying much attention to it. I’m a bit sorry to admit it, but I haven’t really cared – not when this past week and over the weekend, one of my dearest friends, mentors, and father-figures suffered a major heart attack, was taken off life-support by his family, and passed away.

It has been a long 8 months for me: Jim’s death is just one of many I’ve mourned in the past 8 months or so. People like Jim – close to me, who have had a major impact on my life – have passed away, and suddenly.

And I find myself getting angry and frustrated as I read posts in my social media circles, read commentaries and news articles, and listen to people I converse with face to face. “How can you go on and on about your opinions and agendas when all over the world, you ignore and lose the fact that REAL people – people who are important to others – are dying tragically?” Notions and calls for justice and peace – they just seem so…unjust and unsettling. Inhumane. Trivial. Disconnected. Angry.

I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s new book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent & Lead. In a thought about weakness and vulnerability, she writes,

With the exception of anger (which is a secondary emotion, one that only serves as a socially acceptable mask for many of the more difficult underlying emotions we feel)…

As I consider how I’m feeling these days, is it possible those feelings like my anger, and my attitudes, thoughts, and words in response, are telling me I’m simply over-saturated with pain?

And as I think about this further, “What does that mean in terms of how I feel, respond, and act towards others?”

Brown’s work is focused on understanding the human need for connection, and the role that certain psychological and emotional factors play into how we feel and express ourselves to each other. And I think she hits on something here. The fact is, right now, people’s words and actions – in what is justice or injustice; right or wrong – are over-saturated with pain. As Brown asserts, the anger and indifference people are expressing right now in their responses is a mask for what we’re all feeling or sensing – pain. It’s why some are focusing so heavily on one side or the other on this issue, and why some like me haven’t. Because of pain – whether we choose engage it or avoid it.

I wonder, if we took the time to acknowledge that, to understand that pain is behind cries of justice/injustice, and even the cry of indifference….would that help us understand each other more? Would that create some empathy for the other – while also understanding a thoughtful discussion about justice cannot happen at this moment, at least until our pain or indifference to it, has subsided?

It’s a thin line….because movements of justice are always predicated by an emotional reaction, born of what we value and believe in. Justice isn’t a completely “neutrally rational” concept or process. But I wonder, if for right now, we simply need to see responses for what they are, pain-based rather than thoughtful reflection on justice. I wonder if that would give us the means to connect rather than disconnect, so that later we CAN have the discussion we need to, and a movement towards justice CAN happen.

I don’t know about you, but it helps me put my indifference in perspective.

My pain is barring my sense of understanding the other, and I need to wrestle and come to terms with that.

And for those that aren’t feeling any sense of pain, or can’t find empathy for others in their pain, perhaps that needs to be wrestled and come to terms with as well.

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A Lutheran Honeybadger?!?!

A couple years ago, a video narration about the animal the Honeybadger appeared on YouTube.  It’s pretty popular, and still is.

Anyway, I’ve always found the Honeybadger pretty amusing and hilarious. It sort of fits my persona (watch the video if you’re lost at this point). And, it’s kinda funny to say, “Honeybadger don’t care; Honeybadger does what he wants” in response to the absurd and frustrating things in life.

Anyway, a joke has sort of arisen out of this during my time at seminary….a few of my friends have sort of resigned to my “Honeybadger” persona, probably because they’re tired of me saying, “Honeybadger don’t care” to everything. In fact, one good friend referred to me in his ordination program as “Friend, Honeybadger.”

This got me thinking though: All these qualities about the Honeybadger – being who he is, not caring what others thing, saying and doing what he wants, doing what he does…the Honeybadger is LUTHERAN. Think about it:

– Honeybadger is a theologian of the cross. He calls a thing what it is.
– Honeybadger feels free to do what he wants. He must believe in justification by grace.
– Honeybadger is willing to suffer – going into beehives, fighting cobras – because there’s something good to be found there. He is definitely a theologian of the cross.
– Honeybadger likes to fight a lot.  He’s definitely a sinner.
– But Honeybadgers also work in pairs. (watch the Netflix documentary) Which means they understand the need for relationship – which is sort of like saintliness.

So, because everyone in the Church seems to be a “self-proclaimed” something these days: expert, theologian, biblical interpreter…you name it, I’m following suit; as of this day, I’m claiming my self officially as the

” Official, unofficial ELCA Lutheran Honeybadger.”

You’re probably wondering what this means.  First, just have fun with it…..HONEYBADGER doesn’t take life so seriously, and you shouldn’t either.  But I will say this:

As the “Official, unofficial ELCA Lutheran Honeybadger” I tend to be pretty blunt and honest about things; more than a bit of a pain in the ass, and I don’t shy away from conflict….and why not?  Isn’t that the way we’re supposed to be anyway?  Honest and courageous…..isn’t that what real love and grace is about?  And isn’t that something the church needs a little more of these days?  As a good friend of mine says, “While congregations probably all need a Honeybadger, not all congregations want a Honeybadger.”  Damn skippy.

So this Lutheran Honeybadger likes good, honest talk about theology, church, and well, life as well.  And again, I like a good fight.  Martin Luther was the same way….I bet he had a Honeybadger as a pet.  Seriously.

Or, maybe you think this is stupid….oh well. HONEYBADGER DON’T CARE. But God will always love you. : )

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Today’s #1 Threat to Faith (Hint: It’s not immorality)

“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do…” ~ Anne Lamott

I have to admit, my faith has been shaken up a bit recently….well, more than a bit. I’ve been engaging with another blog, the author an atheist living in South Africa. He’s an interesting guy, pretty straightforward, and sometimes just a downright ass in his remarks. (But aren’t we all from time to time?) Honestly, his arguments against religious faith/organized religion/God aren’t anything remarkable – it’s pretty typical of Atheism. However, he’s got me thinking….why exactly do I hold fast to religious faith, and a Christian one at that? Why do I need God anyway?

Then it dawned on me. I don’t need God as an idea, a concept….a set of ideologies to fashion and set my life by. I don’t need God as an ideology that proves who I am, what I believe in and stand for, and how I live my life is correct. I don’t need God as a concept that is proof I am at heart, “a good person.”

That god – is a nothing more than a human idol.

Look at how we “talk” to (or should I say “at”) each other these days: blogs, social media, and even professional media. Sure, we have a yearning and longing for justice, reconciliation; for love, forgiveness, grace and mercy; for liberation and salvation. The problem is, when these things exist only as well-constructed and adhered to ideologies and concepts, they fall short. We worry more about following, building up, and protecting the concept and ideology more than anything else – a sort of “brand loyalty.” We look for those who are quick to join the cause; who buy into the same ideology. We’re quick to distance ourselves, and even condemn those who oppose our concepts of how society and life should work. And whether you consider liberal/progressive or conservative/traditional arguments, both sides are guilty of idolatry – and that’s the real threat, not immorality, to Christian faith and witness.

What I think we’re losing in our witness is that God is a god of ACTION – God loves, God forgives, God judges, God sacrifices, God serves, God saves. In Jesus, God acts: God puts flesh on these notions of meaning and belonging humans seem to long for so much. We call this the incarnation – and that is the core of what the Gospel is all about: the reality of what it means to be human…in God’s view. And many of the times, God’s action is a mystery, one that goes well beyond proof or conceptualization. My atheist counterpart would say that just proves God is a delusion, and a worthless one at that. And I agree with him – when it comes to God as human idol; God as concept. We don’t need that. We need a God who acts for us in light of our humanity – our limitations and weakness. And we need a God who in that action will kick us off our insider butts from time to time, and along with it, destroying our well-constructed idols.

And being human is also to know the consequences of our words and action – and our inaction. (*Gasp* God’s Judgment!) The world is full of such realities…and they highlight the need for action to bring about any real transformation. We hope for a God who acts; who loves, who heals, who reconciles. And as people who place faith in the God of action, we are also called to be people who participate with God in that action.

Maybe this is too simplistic, but as I’ve heard a couple of my wrestling colleagues say, “Words don’t win championships. Actions do.” There’s a whole world watching these days, and honestly, they’re watching more of what people of faith do, seeing if it’s in line with everything we say we’re about. As God put on flesh in the form of Jesus Christ and came to ACT, minister and serve in the world, so we too are to put flesh on our faith through action – loving, liberating, healing and serving others – not just talking and thinking about it conceptually. Such action reveals the very presence of God in our midst.

Perhaps the notion today that Christian faith and the church is threatened, even under attack by society isn’t so ridiculous. But the real threat isn’t so much from the outside…it’s from within, fueled by our own idols…and by our worship of a self-constructed, ideological God. And only action that participates in God’s action, and humbles itself to God’s action, will be able to meet it head on.

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