Monday, December 30, 2019

Elephant in the Church

No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children. Irving Greenberg 

No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of caged children and youth.  

Explaining injustice away:
will we reap its whirlwind?
This quote, which I originally found in Hall, Christian Antisemitism and Paul's Theology, is a timely reminder that silence,  too, is not a credible statement in the presence of the brutal treatment of young children on U.S soil. Texas soil. But silence is no substitute for compassion or justice.

The churches I attend and teaching I hear generally do not mention the brutality we inflict on others, many of whom are also brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. How is our silence helping anyone?  

Tex Sample's cultural analysis of the cultural middle is relevant here. Cultural middle congregations live out of what Sample termed "explanatory theology," a descriptive phrase limiting faith to those problems that can be analyzed, managed, and prevented. Many clergy and congregants in a cultural middle church are managers. They are required to explain. The better they can explain, the more successful they can be. 

The other feature of explanatory theology is avoidance of controversy. If the leader's default is survival, then avoiding the obvious is sometimes the path chosen, even if unwise. 

The explanation of social inequity? Everyone deserves what they get. During the Reagan Era, the terms “truly needy” and “deserving poor" were created to explain severe cuts in social spending. There's a ring of this in Dickens' "grateful poor."

The existence of families forever separated and scattered, held in US custody, the penal colonies of young children and youth are explained by the fact that citizens only deserve humane treatment. Not all are endowed by their creator with the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Only those who have earned it.  

Everything I know about the Gospel of grace is not about earning anything. All are created in the image and likeness of God and there is nothing that can change or delete that. It isn't love that asks if the recipients are deserving. That's manipulation or guilt. But don't call it love. 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Practicing Appreciation

A refreshing Canadian front whips across Lake Erie
Our capacity for appreciation is a function of the "human" brain over the reptilian, at least for the times we choose to exercise our God- given capacity for wonder and appreciation. Appreciation is worthy of its description as one of the transcendent emotions, because it can foster profound moments of connection with something greater than ourselves

Appreciation allows us to be human, to love, to calm down, and better endure difficult times.  

When I served as a labor coach for my expectant wife, I was to make sure that her focal point was available, that is, a photo of her beloved kitty cat. Why? Because the sight was comforting and peace-giving to her, even in the most difficult pain of her labor.

Appreciation counteracts our natural tendency of adaptation to good things (the animal brain)- try making a regular list of all the things taken for granted.  

There are two ways to experience appreciation: one, we practice it daily or, two, we undergo the loss of blessings- and we recognize them after the fact.  Adapting to the good can be countered by intentionally remembering the good in our lives. Psalm 73:25, is instructive here: "Do I have anyone else in heaven?" Or, whom do I have to thank?

Another way to embody appreciation is to relinquish what we cling to as our rights. Instead, see them as favors.

This works wonders in relationships of all kinds, including marriages. You can become a bucket filler by expressing genuine appreciation to others with whom we live and work. Most healthy relationships need daily three, four, even five more bucket drops than bucket dips, and genuine appreciation is one of the vehicles we have for placing deposits in others.    

Finally, practice appreciation. Choose to engage in activities that encourage it.

A brilliant musical performance, visiting a museum that houses great works of art, a breathtaking sunset, a nature walk, or an inspiring time of worship can all lift our spirit. Engaging regularly in an enjoyable hobby or discipline can have the same effect: photography, gardening, water color, writing, or spiritual reading.

When all else fails, speaking your appreciation daily to those around you is perhaps the easiest way to practice it.

Oldies but Goodies