As much as we’d like to see Nazis get punched in the face

As much as we’d like to see Nazis get punched in the face,

It’s wrong to punch people in the face.

Even racist, bigoted, Nazis.

Even racist bigots who feel emboldened by the support of the President of the United States.

We live in interesting and difficult times.

Hate crimes are on the rise, emboldened by Nazis, bigots, and racists roaming our city streets and our halls of power.

Much as we might like to punch them for being racist haters, we must remember that hate can not drive out hate.

“Do not be overcome by evil,” Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “but overcome evil with good.”

Darkness and light can not exist in the same place. Light will drive out darkness.

It’s tempting to respond to angry headlines with anger. But anger can not drive out anger. Anger and joy can not exist in the same place.

Respond with joy.

Yes, we live in interesting and difficult times — racism and bigotry are mainstreamed.

But joy, happiness, and love are the answers. Not punching people in the face.

Overcome evil with good.

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Stress

Life is stressful.

The news is stressful.

All forms of social media are stressful.

Finances, college funds, finding a new job, car repairs, relationships, family — the list goes on and on. Internal issues like fear and insecurity can create stress faster than a rock in your shoe. This doesn’t even include major life moments like deaths, divorces or marriages. Everything is stressful.

Happy times can create stress. A graduation, a birth, a promotion, all are stressful, even when we don’t realize it.

You can shift your focus, and look at things a little differently.

Yes, it’s stressful having a child move from home, but be thankful your child is healthy, strong and able to move away.

Yes, car repairs are costly, but be thankful you’re not riding the bus.

If you are reading this, then you have the capacity and ability to find a job and shelter to meet your basic needs.

We can ‘succeed’ all our lives, and yet feel out of control. ‘Failures’ can feel like victories if we feel in control of our destiny. Our stress is influenced by our perspective.

We can try shifting focus, and remaining positive and goal-oriented, but the fact is it’s easy to feel stress when you think about loading your stuff into a truck and moving away.

In 1967, two psychiatrists created a stress inventory to determine if stress contributes to illness. “They surveyed more than 5,000 medical patients and asked them to say whether they had experienced any of a series of 43 life events in the previous two years. Each event, called a Life Change Unit (LCU), had a different “weight” for stress. The more events the patient added up, the higher the score. The higher the score, and the larger the weight of each event, the more likely the patient was to become ill.”

You can take an on-line Holmes-Rahe inventory here: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTCS_82.htm

A better explanation of the life events can be found here: https://www.stress.org/holmes-rahe-stress-inventory/

In times of stress, the best response is to be pro-active. To know that the headlines will upset you, to realize that the holidays are stressful, even when they are enjoyable.

We feel stress when we feel out of control. When we take control of a situation, we feel less stress.

Sometimes prayers and faith simply aren’t enough. To get through stressful times, we often have to turn to trusted friends for help or accept that some things can be ‘good enough’ rather than perfect. When feeling stress, we must strive to remember that we will be okay. You will be okay.

It may rain today, but the sun will come out again.

Weeping lasts through the night, but joy comes in the morning.

Because, as Will Rogers wrote, “worrying is like paying on a debt that may never come due.”

As difficult as it seems, the simple answer to stress is to not worry. To try to see beyond the fear, and rest in the comfort that the Spirit of God is with us, in good times and bad.

“For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat or drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on,” Jesus says. “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the air, they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by worrying can add a single hour to her life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. … You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ … For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

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Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and a cat

During the week before Christmas last year, my Facebook page lit up like a Christmas tree.

Every hour the interaction and reach grew, and then grew faster. Increasing by more than 1,000 percent.

The page reached 2.3 million people and gained more than a thousand new likes in a week.

The post reached a total of more than 2,340,000 from around the world.

People really like cats.

Not a clever meme or insightful comment.

A picture of a cat in a nativity set.

Think of it – Cats. It hadn’t occurred to me, before.

Ancient Egypt had domesticated cats.

Almost certainly there were cats running around the barn, or shed, or cave, or where ever baby Jesus was born.

Where there are grains, there are mice, and where there are mice, there are cats.

Cat’s aren’t mentioned in the Bible, but they were probably there when Christ was born, silent witnesses to the birth of God incarnate.

Immanuel.

God with us.

And cats with us.

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What masks do you wear to hide your authentic self?

What makes us who we are?

I’m not talking about the roles we fill — doing work, raising children, being a spouse, a friend, or a member of the choir.

What person are we as we perform the roles of our life?

Are we the same authentic person as God made us? Or do we wear different masks in different situations?

Do you wear a work mask?

A friend mask?

A parent mask?

A child mask?

A mask for your spouse?

Do you have different masks for your roles as church member, employee, boss, customer?

I still remember a teacher when I was seven years-old, who smiled and laughed at a co-worker, and then turned an icy, hateful countenance towards the students.

Some of us wear masks around most of the world, and then take the masks off when we blow off steam with old, trusted friends. Who are we the rest of the time?

All families subconsciously assign roles to family members; each member of the family is expected to wear a mask that corresponds to family expectations.

Year after year, you spend holiday time with family — where five or six people help you shoulder the mask they expect you to wear. Families are thrown into chaos when a member chooses to wear a different mask or assume a different role.

Pressure from family and friends can make it painfully difficult to take off a mask.

It can be dispiriting to wear different masks for different roles in your life, the real you only slipping through in moments of happiness or sorrow.

We get buried under a lifetime of expectations, and masks become nearly impossible to remove — so ingrained they are normal, despite the damage they do.

It’s exhausting pretending to be the person in the mask. But we don’t know why we’re exhausted.

We seek ‘self-care’ in massages, oils, food, alcohol, television, sports and anything else that keeps us from taking off the mask and looking at the face in the mirror. Most can’t stand the thought of actually being honest with themselves. Honesty with those around them is impossible.

We are trapped in our masks, our lives little more than theater, as we pretend to be what’s expected, and our true selves grow smaller and isolated.

This is not the will of God.

God wants us to have life, and have it abundantly.

We are created in the spiritual image of God – loved and loving. Born to grow in love and extend love.

With great energy, and sometimes with special support of loved ones, masks can be removed, and we can live as God intended.

Authentically.

Lovingly.

Loved.

Open and receptive to the energy of God and of those around us.

Growth only comes when ground is broken. When masks are shattered.

We don’t improve or grow by remaining the same. We improve by outgrowing our masks.

“He not busy being born is busy dying,” Bob Dylan, said.

Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God,” Paul wrote to the church in Rome.

Break your masks.

Be transformed.

Be who God created you to be.

Selah.

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Who is thankful for you?

If that’s how they talk to each other in public, I thought, I can’t imagine how they speak to one another at home.

I was at the grocery a few days before Thanksgiving.

Another middle age couple passed by, arguing over a seemingly inconsequential subject. Neither spoke kindly to the other. Playing out a well-worn script so viciously, they obviously have said the words before. I couldn’t imagine living in their home.

We all can suppress or fail to express feelings of affections.

But into that vacuum, too many expel emotions that are unkind, hurtful and not of God. And like all forms of abuse, like open fires, the words harm those closest.

Even the best Christians, those singing the loudest in church every Sunday, can be emotionally abusive at home. Isolating and isolated.

This is not of God.

People can project the perfect public persona, and yet be unkind to those they claim are the most important.

This is not of God.

God is love. God loves you. If you are not treated thankfully, it is not of God.

Life is difficult enough already without surrounding ourselves with hurtful or ungrateful people.

Does your husband show gratitude for his children? For your selflessness? For the home you make?

Does your wife acknowledge and recognize your efforts? Your sacrifices?

Do your co-workers appreciate your talents, and treat you respectfully?

The day after Thanksgiving, I saw a couple in their early sixties, arguing 20 feet apart, not to the level of domestic disturbance, but to a level that crushes the soul God put in them.

I’m ashamed to admit, sometimes in the past, I spoke to loved ones unkindly. Even after I found Christ, I did not regularly speak to my spouse with kindness.

To this day, I don’t communicate feelings of gratitude the way I’d like, and so I try harder to let people know I am thankful for them.

As Paul told the church in Thessaloniki, in his oldest, surviving letter, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” If you are not thanked, if you can count your few reasons to rejoice, this is not of God.

If the people around you don’t make you feel good, and feel good about yourself, then the relationships are not of God.

Good can come from bad, like strong trees growing from ill-treated seeds, but that is God working despite our relationships, not working within our relationships.

God wants you to be happy — not dedicate your energy to people and situations that drain the essence of who God made you to be.

God created you to love and be loved. That is God’s will for your life — to love and be loved.

Choose to be around people who are thankful for your presence. Be with people who want to talk with you and hear you talk.

Move away from toxic relationships that are not of God, and focus on the positive. Connect with people authentically, and you will be restored to who God made you to be — your authentic self.

God is in the positive moments. Seek out the positive moments until your life is overflowing.

Christ came so that you might have life and have it more abundantly. Live an abundant life of love.

Live your life with joy and with people who are thankful for you.

This is God’s will for our lives.

Selah.

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Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

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Celtic Christian Conversations

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American patriarchy

Across the American landscape men are losing their jobs amid revelations of sexual misconduct, some of it illegal, all of it immoral examples of a bigger issue.

Republican politicians face accusations of sex crimes, and a pathetic portion of Christians rush justifications to the defense of the abusers. (Democrat sex crimes seldom find the supporters Republicans find. Just ask Anthony Weiner.)

This is worse than a faulty theology of patriarchy that sees the Creator of all as exclusively male. This leaches like black tar into every culture and most religions across the world.

Fundamental faith traditions from Wahhabi to independent Bible churches marginalize women while claiming to exalt them. They segregate women from leadership and blame women for being victimized by men. (And they justify it with a patriarchal, wrong interpretation of scripture.)

Women are treated as second class and inferior. Cultures and religions that don’t sexualize adolescent girls or control them with a ‘purity culture,’ claim to ’empower’ women by normalizing objectifying activities like pageants and pole dancing.

Sexism isn’t a byproduct of theology and culture that discriminate against women — it’s the point.

This is more than patriarchy.

This is misogyny.

Male bias is fed by theologies that prohibit women from being treated equitably, barred from leadership positions in churches or working or dining alone with the Vice President of the United States.

Conservative Christians who see an abundance of sex in the entertainment industry fail to see the same sexism thriving in their churches, home schools, dress codes and marriages.

The issue is sexism, discrimination against women because they are women.

Politicians, movie producers, teachers, ministers, police officers — men in every profession — see women as little more than sex objects, cooks, cleaners or gestation pods for unborn babies, while churches and popular culture normalize an environment of oppression of women.

Sexism, along with racism and other prejudices, is like an illness: Some are burning up with fever, while others walk around daily with a low-grade temperature and never know it influences every aspect of their lives.

We are all befouled by the filth of sexism, some more than others. Many within churches are perpetrators.

All women are victims, the only issue is to what degree.

If you’re a man, and you haven’t heard stories of women being victimized, then you’re a perpetrator. If you deny the statements of women describing their abuse, you’re a perpetrator. If you ask why women don’t speak up sooner, you’re complicit in the victimization.

Patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism isn’t Christian or the teaching of Jesus. All of this is man-made. MAN made. Patriarchal, misogynist, and counter to Christian calling.

What will you do?

Stand on the side of the oppressors or stand with the oppressed?

Jesus is on the side of the victims.

Jesus is with the women. Always.

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Celtic Christianity

I had a great conversation recently with John Philip Newell.

John Philip is one of the world’s leading experts on Celtic Christianity.

All Celtic Christian services I have attended have been similar: quietly contemplative, prayerfully pensive and filled with moving music. They reflect Presbyterian and Episcopal traditions while incorporating Celtic elements.

Most mainstream Christians would be right at home in a Celtic service.

But there’s much more to the Celtic Christian tradition… much that can appeal to people outside churches, to those who have left mainstream denominations, to those who consider themselves “spiritual,” and people who have never attended church.

When I shared my observations with John Philip, he readily agreed.

There is room in the Celtic tradition for people to personally experience the Creator of the stars and the sun. To find the Spirit of God already working and moving in their lives.

Celtic Christianity contains traditions older than most aspects of mainstream Christianity, and certainly older than the mistakes taught in churches today.

Celtic Christianity can help people connect with who they really are, deep in their cores.

Celtic Christianity can help those traumatized and hurt by bad theology, wrong interpretation of scripture and the effects of Christians who just don’t get it.

One of the oldest traditions of Christianity is an excellent starting point for the future.

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Resolutions

In recognition of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and Martin Luther nailing his 95 thesis to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, my church recorded our hopes and wishes for the future of the congregation and the overall Church.

We wrote our ideas on 95 sticky notes, that we posted to the church door.

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Reformation

When I was in seminary, I learned my theology was a product of the Protestant Reformation.

When Martin Luther wrote his 95 complaints against the Catholic Church he was opposing the selling of “indulgences.” Indulgences allowed people to pre-pay their souls out of purgatory. In the following years his writings helped to usher in the Protestant Reformation and trigger a schism that’s resulted in tens of thousands of Christian denominations.

The Protestant Reformation was a PROTEST against the Pope, fueled by the excessive expense behind St. Peter’s Square and the Apostolic Palace.

Luther and those who followed his walk out the door of Catholicism, asserted that there was no need for priests, bishops, cardinals, a pope or a church at all, just the “priesthood of the believer.” Christian faith was distilled to:

Sola scriptura – Scripture alone

Sola fide – Faith alone

Sola gratia – Grace alone

Solus Christus – Christ alone

Soli Deo gloria – Glory to God alone

As a nonbeliever, all I saw in Christianity was hypocrites who didn’t live what they preached, and certainly didn’t appear to follow the message of Christ.

When I found God, and before seminary, I studied scripture, alone. I developed my faith, alone. I experienced God’s grace when I was alone.

I identified with the Protestant Reformation because I agreed with the spirit of protest against the hypocrisy.

In recent years, I’ve come to focus on Reformation — the need for faith to be reformed.

The Catholic Church must continue to reform, in many areas.

All Protestant denominations must reform.

Most who call themselves Christians should reform how they interact with others outside the faith.

Each of us must reform, renew, and transform how we live and interact with others.

Reformation is every day, in every way, as our faith grows.

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Sometimes you will never know

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