God representative

Any person who is minister of any sort – priest, pastor, a chaplain or just a visitor from the church – needs to remember that they are a representative of Jesus to the person they are visiting. To people who are hurting and especially people who have been hurt or felt marginalized by the church, any person who represents themselves as being from a church represents Jesus himself to them – represents God to them.

This means that you have to make sure that how you act is impeccable. If you make an appointment to visit with someone don’t be late. If you are late, you are saying to them that their time and concerns don’t matter to God.

If a newcomer visits your church and leaves their name and address for you to contact them, then do it within the week – and do it personally. A form letter won’t cut it – especially if it is two weeks late. People like to think that they are noticed and special and important. Make the extra effort, because you’re not just you anymore but the person you serve.

Consider it as if you are driving a delivery vehicle for some company. On the back of the vehicle there’s a bumper sticker that says “How’s my driving? Please call” and it gives a 1-800 number and your tag number. When you represent God to people you’re not you anymore – you’re representing something much bigger than you and it’s important that you be as perfect as you can be.

Poem – God and money

I saw a church sign that said
“Did you give back to Him this week?”

I’m pretty sure what they meant
was money.
But what God wants
is work.

God wants your service.
God wants you to use your talents
to help someone,
to feed someone,
to clothe someone,
to visit someone in prison.

Bono said
“The God I believe in isn’t short of cash, mister.”
I think he’s on to something.
If God wanted money,
God would make money.
God made people.
God made us
to help each other.

God doesn’t want your money.
It isn’t as easy as that.

To give your money
to a church
or a charity
is to pay someone else
to do
good deeds.

What God wants
is for you
to help people
When you give money
to a charity
or a church
you’re letting someone else
get that good feeling
that comes
from helping someone

Musings on “Mem”

The Hebrew letter Mem looks like this מ

It sounds like the letter M. By the way, this is the shape of the M at the beginning or the middle of the word. The one at the end of a word is closed and looks like this ם. That isn’t part of this musing today – perhaps another day when I learn more about it.

According to David Sacks, creator and speaker in “Spiritual Tools for an Outrageous World” (an Orthodox, Chassidic, and often Kabbalistic Jewish podcast) the letter Mem is a symbol of the womb. The center of it is where the baby is, and the bottom is where the baby comes out. You may have to copy and paste the Hebrew letter Mem and make it larger to see the opening at the bottom to understand this, because this website makes the font very small.

According to Jewish grammar, Mem means “from” – yet it also turns a verb into a noun. It can be seen in the word (transliterated for ease) Mitzvah (commandment), which is derived from the verb Tzavah, which means “command”.

Mem, a symbol of the womb, is the thing that turns a verb – action, spirit, essence, – into a noun – actuality, physicality.

This blew me away.

Especially since Mary, (which really would be Miryam מִרְיָם) (Hebrew reads right to left) is the mother of Jesus – spirit made flesh.

We are all called to be like Mary – the letter Mem – to bring forth God’s will into the world. We are all called to make the idea into reality. We do that by serving God every day by being merciful and kind, by being just. We do it by building homes for the homeless and by giving clothing to the naked, and by healing the sick. These all sound like verbs, but they are verbs made real by doing them rather than just thinking about them.

Talents aren’t for us, they are for God.

In the parable of the talents, in Matthew 25:14-30, is about trusting in God and using the gifts that God has given you.

The “prosperity Gospel” preachers will tell you that this parable means that God wants you to make more money, but they have it wrong. Remember that “the love of money is the root of all evil”?

So what is it about?

The king (who represents God) gives money, to three people. It is understood that he is coming back. He gives different amounts to them “to each, according to their ability.”

Two of them are mindful of their gifts and use them to make more. One is afraid of the king and buries the money so he doesn’t lose it. When the king returns and asks for an accounting of his money, the first two are able to give the king back more than what he gave them. The last is only able to give back the original amount. The king is very angry with him.

Notice they had to give back everything. This wasn’t a money making opportunity for them. They didn’t profit from this. They were just stewards of the king’s money.

This isn’t just about money. This is about any gift from God, which is everything. It is your abilities, your special skills, your strength, your time…everything.

God wants us to trust that God will provide. God wants us to trust that we are safe and provided for. God wants is to trust that God is in charge.

Basically, God wants us to trust God, in all things, all the time.

We aren’t in charge. God is.

We are here to use our gifts – time, talent, and treasure, to build up the kingdom of God. We are here to be good stewards our entire lives.

As long as we are not doing things for our own benefit and glory, we will thrive. When we become selfish and greedy, we will fail.

This isn’t about tithing money to a church. This is about serving God all the time, and trusting God all the time.

If we are called to do something by God, God will provide a way for it to happen. This is especially important to remember when we can’t see a way that is possible.

Look at Moses. God told him that he was going to lead Israel to safety across the Red Sea. That made no sense. How was that going to happen? God told Moses to take what he had, his staff, and use it. He did, and God worked through Moses and parted the sea so they could cross safely.

Opening prayer

(A prayer that can be said at the beginning of a home church service)

Almighty God,
we are gathered together
in the promise of your son
Jesus Christ
who told us
that whenever two or more
are gathered together
in his name
that he is there
among them.

Send him now
to be with us
that we may
lift each other up
and honor You.

Send him now
among us
that we may
fully and better
understand him
and serve You
through him.


On names – what does it mean to be a Christian?

“Israel” means to struggle with God.

“Islam” means to submit to God.

So what does it mean to be a Christian? In a way it means a little bit of both. It means to serve God. It means that you believe that God loves us so much that God decided to get down to our level and understand things from our perspective. It means that we are to follow Jesus’s example and to allow God to work through us to bring healing to the world. It means we are to be obedient to the will of God and put our own desires and wants last. Not second.

Now God will never ask us to ignore our needs. And we aren’t meant to be zombies.

This all sounds a lot like the word “submit”, but I think “to serve” is more accurate. To be Christian is to intentionally, willingly, and (hopefully) joyfully serve God.

How do we serve God? The easy answer is to be a minister. The hard answer is just as you are. You can go to school and learn how to tend God’s sheep. Or you can take care of them right now. Mother Teresa taught us that we don’t have to help everybody all over the world. We just have to help one person at a time.

God made you the way He made you because He needs you that way. We aren’t all supposed to be the same. Your differences are your strengths. Consider a garden. A garden full of the same kind of flower is boring. God made us all different because we are more beautiful that way.

I’m not a Christian. I’m a Jesus follower.

I’m not a Christian apologist. In fact, I’m not even comfortable admitting I’m a Christian. But I am for Jesus. And I want to make sure that people don’t confuse the two.

There are many Christians who are awesome Christ-followers. There are many who quietly work for justice and peace. There are many who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and visit those in prison. You know, the stuff Jesus said to do.

But they are quiet. They are quiet because that is part of it. They understand that they aren’t supposed to toot their own horn or call attention to themselves. They understand that they are to keep their piety private. They understand this because they have read the words of Jesus. They understand this because they have Jesus in their hearts.

My issue is with the people who aren’t pious and who aren’t quiet. My issue is with the people who give the term “Christian” a bad name. Those people who make “Christian” mean anything but love and service.

I’m not apologizing for them. They are like the relatives that you don’t talk about. While Christians generally agree that the Westboro Baptist Church people aren’t following Jesus, they get a little iffy on the Duck Dynasty patriarch. They feel that some level of crazy-hateful-intolerance is OK.

The problem is, it isn’t. It isn’t Christian to be anything other than loving, and ‘loving’ doesn’t mean telling other people they are wrong and going to hell because of how they are living their lives. The more you read of Jesus’ words, the more you realize that.

I feel like I keep writing this same thing over and over, yet I feel it is still necessary. I almost didn’t write my Duck Dynasty piece. I feel like they don’t need any more attention. I feel like the whole thing needs to die down. But then, I realize that they are doing the exact opposite of what Jesus wants, and they are besmirching the name of Jesus. Way too many people can’t see Jesus because of all the fake Christians standing in His way.

I’m not a Christian apologist. I don’t want anybody to become a Christian – not now, not with what “Christian” means right now.

But I will say I love Jesus, and I want you to know that Jesus isn’t like His followers at all. They say that you know a tree by its fruit, and if you look there are a lot of really rotten apples in the bunch. But it isn’t all bad. The good ones are hiding.

Sometimes I want to burn the whole thing down and start over from scratch. I want to strip away everything that gets in the way of following Jesus, of serving God. Jesus did this. There were ten Commandments, and Jesus stripped them down to two. He saw that people were getting bogged down in the details and missing the big picture.

Sure I’m upset when people use Christianity as an excuse to be judgmental and hateful. I’m also upset when they do this to the exclusion of focusing on more important matters.

Christians, if we really are going to be worthy of the name, need to focus more on poverty and homelessness than pornography and homosexuality.

Instead of telling others what they are doing wrong, we need to start doing things right. There are people who are dying every day because they don’t have enough food or water. There are people who are suffering because they don’t live in a safe home. People are illiterate and undereducated. People are in prisons, both real and mental.

This is our calling. This is our place. This is what we are here to do. We are here to relieve suffering. We are here to lighten the load. We are here to help.

That is what being a Christian should mean. We need to be known for our love.

That is who Jesus is.

We need to be more like Jesus, who was totally obedient to God. He broke all the rules of his society and declared everybody “clean.” He touched the lepers and the menstruating woman – both were excluded and inhuman in those times. He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes. He violated every rule to show us that nobody is unclean. Nobody is inhuman. Everybody is welcome. Everybody is loved.

This is what we are supposed to do. Love. Welcome. Serve. Forgive. Bless.

So if you were to ask me right now if you should become a Christian, I’d say no. Become a Jesus follower instead. Read the Gospels – any translation. Don’t read someone else’s interpretation of the Gospels yet. Read the words of Jesus. There are some bits that don’t make sense – that’s OK. Even his disciples didn’t get everything and he had to explain it to them. There are some bits that are repeated. That’s OK too. It is the same story from four different viewpoints. The people who put the New Testament together thought that this story was too important to try to mash together into one story, so they left it the way it is.

You’ll come to see that the Jesus you find looks nothing like the one you’ve been sold all these years.

I miss church.

I miss going to church. It has been 8 months since I have been to church. I miss church in the same way I miss my family. When holidays roll around I miss the warm fuzzy feeling of family that I never had. It is part of why Mother’s Day hurts so much. I miss the never-was, or the might-have-been. When the holidays roll around I miss going to church even more. I feel like I’m missing out.

I think a lot of people go to church because of those very same feelings. I think that church fills a hole in them that family couldn’t. It provides a sense of belonging. It is an artificial construction, but a good one, usually. Family is an accident. Friendships are chosen. Church, being (hopefully) a conscious choice, is more like the latter. It provides some of the same kind of support that family should provide but often doesn’t.

The problem is that I can’t go back to my old church. Even if the priest there leaves, I can’t go back. I’ve seen behind the curtain. I know too much. The magic spell has faded away to tinsel and mirrors.

I can’t go back to church as it is, because it isn’t what Jesus meant for us to be doing. But every now and then I have a hankering to go back.

I know three families who left that church before me (because of the same priest) and attend another one of the same denomination. I know that the priest of church A has called the priest of church B to tell him about those families. She told me this back when I was still on her side. She thinks she was “smoothing the path” and “building bridges.” If she was so good at doing that, then how come she couldn’t do that at her church with these families? Now I wonder if she has called the priests at the other local Episcopal churches to warn them about me? I wouldn’t put it past her.

I went to a “Lay Ministry Appreciation Day” at the Cathedral last year. It was the second one they had. I went to the first one too. I felt that something was wrong when I went to the first one, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. After the second one I figured it out. At the end we were asked to write our impressions. I wrote that I was very sad to find that we’d spent the whole day learning how to “do church” and not learning how to be better Christians.

There were classes on how to be an acolyte, a chalice bearer, a person who administers home Communion, a lector, and an altar guild member. There wasn’t a single one on how to serve Jesus outside the church. There wasn’t anything about building up the Body. If you wanted to know how to wear vestments or hold a candle or prepare enough Communion wafers for a crowd, they had a class for it. Everything else, forget it.

Here are some examples of things I saw at the Cathedral that opened my eyes.

These are kneelers at the altar rail.

I wonder how much time was spent needlepointing them. Wouldn’t it be more Christ-like to spend that time visiting the sick and those in prison?

This column is one of many. The marble is imported from Scotland. They are at least twenty feet high, by my estimation.

I wonder how much that cost? Wouldn’t it have been more Christ-like to spend that money housing the homeless?

Check out the stained glass window and the pipe organ.

There are stained glass windows throughout the building. One is from Louis Comfort Tiffany. The tour guide says that the Cathedral paid for none of them – they were donations. He’s missing the point. If someone can donate 5 to 10 thousand dollars for stained glass, they can donate the same amount to feed the hungry and clothe the naked instead – you know, the stuff Jesus tells us to do?

God didn’t come down to Earth for us to spend time and money prettifying a building. Jesus didn’t die for us to debate over where to keep the reserved sacrament. The more I went to church, the more I realized that I wasn’t serving Jesus at all. I was serving the administration. I was serving the institution.

Sadly, there are a lot of us who are stuck in this hamster wheel. There are a lot of people who go to church who have invested a lot of their lives and their egos in what they thought was being a good Christian, and what they are doing isn’t Christ-like at all.

It isn’t un-Christian. It just isn’t what Jesus would do.

Breaking out of this mindset is very hard, especially for people who have spent a lot of their time and money in and on the institution that is church. It is especially hard for those who get paid to lead. They have the most to lose. Yet, the way I’m seeing it, they have even more to lose if they keep on following the wrong master. We can follow only one master – make sure it is God, and not the institution.

So yes, I miss church, but it is more like I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. I can’t miss what I never had. There are a couple of options I’m looking at that have a lot of the qualities I feel Jesus meant. I think they are a good start. But I’m wary. I’m wary of getting sucked in and fooled again, like I was last time. I’m wary of letting down my guard and getting really hurt.

Be wary of a self-centered faith.

I’m wary and weary of the new trends in spirituality that I’m seeing. I’m concerned and saddened that the current trend seems to be self-centered. Yes – you are important. Yes, you need to have a good sense of yourself. Yes – you are valued and loved by your Creator.

But so is everybody else. Every other person on this Earth was created by the same Creator. Every other person on this Earth deserves love and honor. I’m concerned that this current trend of self-centered spirituality will result in self-service only. It is fine if it is a start. It is fine if it is a seed that then grows into love and service of others.

I find that the “name it and claim it” trend is part of this. Wishful thinking. Magical thinking. Whether it is cloaked as New Age or spun into Christianity by Joel Osteen, it still feels like object-worship. It is materialism gussied up into religion. Don’t have time to be spiritual? Don’t think it is for you? But you want stuff – right? Well, here’s a religion for you! This way you can want stuff and feel good about it.

But stuff only leads you away. Things, material possessions, are a quick fix. Get what you want by praying for it, wishing for it, and you have more stuff. But then I feel you will still be empty. And then you’ll need to pray for a bigger house to hold all your stuff.

I think our Creator made us to be bigger than that. We are not born alone. When we are born, we are born into a community. At a minimum our Mom is there. In some cases it seems like the entire family is there – Dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings – where there is barely room for nurses and a doctor (if necessary). Our religions have prayers for welcoming new children among us. Why should our lives be any different?

I remember telling a lady about how Jesus stripped things down for us, because the Ten Commandments were just too hard for us to figure out. Love God, and love your neighbor. Easy. Everything else falls from that – you can’t steal, covet, or murder if you are showing love. How simple is that? Yet we’ve twisted it. It is becoming solely “love yourself” – and that love isn’t spreading outward.

I believe that God created every single one of us exactly the way we are because that is exactly the way we are needed. Variety is good. Eccentricity is good. We all have different talents and gifts. A garden doesn’t look nearly as interesting if it has only roses blooming in it. Add some zinnias and hyacinth and phlox and we’ve got something really cool. The same is true with a symphony. The trumpet may be a really important instrument, but it needs a tuba to round out the bottom notes, and there needs to be a drum section to keep the pace.

I believe that the best way to know God is to seek Him in his creation – and for some, that is in the wilderness. Some find insight and growth by working with plants and animals. I find however, that the most challenge comes in seeking God in people. Mother Teresa said that it was her privilege to serve other people. She felt that each person she served was Jesus in disguise. That the leper’s wounds were Christ’s wounds. That the baby dying in her arms was Christ himself. I think this is a powerful meditation.

About three years ago I started trying this at the library. I’m not doing earth-changing things. I’m creating library cards. I’m solving problems. But I decided to try this. To try to see each person as if they are Jesus, as if they are God made flesh, in front of me. To my happiness, it resulted in profound experiences. Almost every person caught that vibe. They responded differently to me – more smiles, more open. Each transaction was easier. This doesn’t mean that everybody was happy. Sometimes you can’t make that happen in a five minute encounter. But the old, crotchety, smelly, snaggle-toothed characters that populate the library became my favorites. I now look forward to meeting with them and helping them. The weirder they are, the more I have to look for God hiding within them. The more I look – the more they see my interest in them. The more they soften up and reveal themselves to me. It is beautiful.

I invite you to look outside yourself.

I invite you to know that you are loved, and to then know that everyone else is loved in exactly that same way.

I invite you, that if you are a seeker of God – if you desire to know your Creator better, you can do no better than to serve your fellow humans. Each one is a facet into the beauty and mystery of the Eternal, the Divine, the Truth.

(I originally wrote this 4-11-12. Somehow it sat in my files, unpublished. I’ve decided to go backwards through them and see what I’ve missed. Sometimes I have so much I’ve written that it gets buried. Sometimes it gets recycled into other things)

React (another retreat missive)

I want to always respond quickly to God’s call. I often hesitate. I’m not sure if it is God. I’m not sure I have the ability. I’m not sure in general.

I don’t want to do something wrong. I don’t want to get involved. I think I’m going to get in over my head. I think I’m going to say the wrong thing.

But I’m trying. I’m testing the waters. I don’t want to run away from God, because I feel that I’ll stop being called. And I am more afraid of not being called than looking goofy when I am responding to a call.

I’m getting more trusting. I’m learning that the pre-call is part of the call. God warms me up for it. It isn’t “jump,” it is more like “I’m going to tell you to jump in a little bit, so get ready.”

It is like telling a perpetually late child that you need to leave the house in 30 minutes, when really 45 minutes is ok.

God is learning how to deal with me, and I’m learning how to deal with God. I suspect this is going to be a lifelong thing between God and me. There aren’t a lot of instruction manuals for this, but then I have a feeling that God will tell me what I need to know when I need to know it, and in a way I need to know it. God knows me better than anyone.

(I started this midafternoon of the retreat that was in September. I added more to it tonight)