Of course, we can. There's no reason we can't build a better transit system, and re-make our energy policies, and renew our cities with infrastructure that looks forward instead of repeating past mistakes.
I'm all for nationalism, if it makes us look at measurable things that make us a better nation -- not gold medals, but whether our air is clean, our streets are safe, our kids are educated and every citizen can live with dignity and hope for the future.
I hate it when a set of really great lectionary texts fall on a holiday weekend. It's hard to gear up a sermon when you know a big hunk of your congregation will be away.
The alternate Old Testament reading from Exodus 3 is so rich, I hate to see it lost amidst the other good texts this week. I love the old translation of 3:3: "I will turn aside and behold this wonder." There is something wonderful about Moses' call following on his simple curiosity about something he beholds in the wilderness, out there watching sheep. The University of Kansas used this image in their official seal to embody the link between curiosity and calling. (Now the seal has been downplayed in the interest of religious inclusiveness, but it's still a wonderful interpretation). How wonderful would it be if we all trusted that God can speak to us when we are pursuing what draws our attention, those things that demand that we "turn aside."
There's a link here to Romans 12, in which Paul embarks on exhortations about how we are to love one another in community. This is on the heels of his remarks on spiritual gifts. Whether it's Paul or Moses, God seems to have a penchant for calling the passionate, and directing and forming those passions so that they serve God's people. Learning to love in the midst of that is never easy, but when we pay attention to the concrete needs of those around us, God begins to turn our curiosity into calling.
Sandra Steingraber, one of my favorite environmental writers, has a great piece in the newest Orion about how we talk to our kids about global warming. Will and I are so often laid low by the constant drumbeat of Bad Climate News -- and the public's apparent immunity to it -- we've been reluctant to be upfront with our daughter as she approaches the age of reason. How do we explain how the massive stuffed polar bear she lugs around the house has become the emblem of an endangeered species? We'd love to put off the conversation, but she's reading well enough to decipher the newspaper now, so we can't wait much longer.
Steingraber notes that there is a crop of books for kids out there on the issue, and that somehow most of them end on an upbeat note, a can-do approach introducing kids to many people in the world who are working on the problem. It's a distinct contrast to the we're-all-going-to-die fatalism of most adult literature on the subject.
Like Steingraber, I'm still not sure how to approach this with my daughter, but reading her essay prompted me to make two vows for the months ahead: (1) I will stop reading the speculation that passes for analysis in the newspapers about the election before us. It's not a "horse race," and so much is at stake that people who treat it as such are not worth my time. (2) I'll stop worrying and just do something -- in this case volunteering my one free morning a week between now and the election.
Whatever happens in November, whatever happens to our climate, I want to be able to tell my children that I did the most faithful and hopeful thing I could think of: I prayed, and I worked.
Here's a little more on what was said at the Saddleback forum. Scroll down a bit to see the responses on the question about evil and the author's helpful use of Scripture.
I might also add an upcoming lectionary text to the mix, Romans 12:20-21
"If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
Unger asks if Warren thinks he's interviewing superheroes instead of political candidates. He then asks if he shouldn't be asking about the existence of jobs, or affordable health care.
I didn't hear what the candidates' answers to this question were, but here's what I would say: "What you mean, we, Reverend?"
It's fine for a pastor to ask a theological question -- especially when it echoes a current President's justification for war -- but it gets dicey for a candidate to answer the question, because a personal philosophy of resisting evil and a political philosophy may not be the same thing.
And, the most theologically appropriate answer, a Jimmy Carter-esque acknowledgment that there is evil lurking at the doorstep of every one of our hearts--that evil is not just something "out there" that we can name and fight -- that hasn't proven to be the most politically savvy answer over the years.
I’m still developing a parental philosophy of
extracurriculars, but generally speaking, one of our family rules is that if
the Parks & Rec program near our home teaches something, there’s no need to
pay more money or drive further to get it somewhere else.
We made an exception,
however, for swimming, mainly because my daughter was phobic about water until
recently. Washing her hair could turn into an epic battle. (Fortunately, she didn’t have much hair until
Swimming is a life
skill, and a pretty important one for a normal social life in this Land of Lakes, so last year we decided to shell
out for the expensive swimming lessons at a private swim school. The water is
warm, the classes are small, and they more or less guaranteed that our kids
I’m still a bit
sheepish about this decision, particularly among our friends who’ve heard us go
on about how we don’t want to become “that” kind of parent. But this swim
school has taught me a lot about how to treat parents and kids in learning
situations – lessons the church could stand to learn too. I have no idea what their actual company manual says, but here's what I imagine is in there:
confidence.Even if I wasn’t
spending lots of money on these lessons, I would be spending precious time
and gas, so I sure want to feel like it’s worth it, from day one. Everything
from the cleanness of the facility to the clearly laid out expectations of
each class says, “We know what we’re doing, and this will be worth your
the heck out of your teachers. Our
kids have never had the same teacher twice, and no doubt there’s a good
deal of turnover in a place where most of the staff are barely adults, but
the quality of teaching is amazingly consistent. They all use the same
methods, they all clearly love kids, and every single one is both courteous
to the parents and respectful to the students.
a clearly laid out system, but treat every individual like, well, an
individual. This school is a big operation – they must conduct
thousands of classes a year in the metro area. And yet the registration
process is clear and simple, and when you arrive in a class, you know that
your child will get the attention they need.My children are known by name and
greeted enthusiastically – every single time.
like crazy.Every child is
assessed by someone other than the teacher every term, and I have never
been in a class when I was not asked to fill out an evaluation as a
parent. The one and only time I wrote something out of the ordinary on an
evaluation (and it wasn’t a criticism, just a “it would have been nice. .
.”), it was responded to the next day, in person.
is not an option. This summer my son had a sudden and inexplicable
case of stranger anxiety. He refused to get in the water without me. He
cried through most of the first three classes. His group instructor couldn’t
persuade him and still treat the other students fairly, but in a flash
another teacher was there to give Johann 1-1 attention. No one blamed us,
ignored the problem, or shrugged and said, “he’s just not ready.” No
questions asked (and at no extra charge), he was given undivided attention
until his anxiety abated, and by lesson five he was right in there with
his classmates, progressing rapidly.
that this is important –and really fun too. The school reminds parents – before they
register and during the course of a term – that swimming is serious
business, a skill that can save lives and is worth teaching at a young
age. They clearly know that there’s a huge responsibility when little ones
are in the water. At the same time, every instructor knows how to calm
nerves and make the hard work a whole lot of fun. There is tons of silliness,
usually at the instructor’s expense. My kids are allowed to forget that we’re
doing this so they don’t die.
As Sunday School is about to start up, I’m pondering how the church can learn a few things from
these people. Surely, we have the most important life skills of all to teach:
prayer, life in community, stewardship, living with hope. Parents need to feel it is worth their time, and kids just want people
who respect them and who will just plain have fun with them.My church doesn't have the resources per student that
the swim school has, but our mission is just as vital.
I don't have the bumper sticker, but I wish I did, especially in this political season when it feels like every politician wants to claim God's blessing. I'm afraid to put it on my car, however, because as much as I believe that God wishes to bless the whole world, I know I personally can only pay attention to small corners of it at a time. I've been from Iceland to China in the last 6 weeks, and it's clear to me that there's a whole lot of need in this world -- and I didn't really have to leave town to know that.
Both the gospel and the Isaiah text for this coming Sunday wrestle with the problem of the boundaries of God's mission. In Isaiah, the old definitions of the clean and unclean get smashed as the exiles return and God composes a new people. There, sabbath observance and faithful worship of YHWH become the new guidelines for who's in and who's out.
But there's no evidence that the Canaanite woman in Matthew's Gospel does anything like sabbath observance. She has no ethnic claim on Jesus' ministry, and she makes no argument on the basis of her ritual observance either. All she does is cry out to him, in such a loud and persistent way that she finally gets attention. Jesus uses the same strategies we all use when we're overwhelmed -- he ignores her, then makes a theological argument, then uses an ethnic slur, perhaps hoping she'll just go away.
Her only prayer is "Lord, help," and her only argument is that there is plenty of God's power to go around. "Great is your faith," Jesus says, the only time he utters such a compliment.
There still is plenty of power to go around. I may not be able to help the whole world, no exceptions, but like this woman I can continuously and consistently pray, on behalf of others, "Lord, help." Jesus' own life showed that not even death could get in the way of God's intention to bless the whole world, no exceptions.
I had been warned that the Protestant churches in China (there is
only one legal Protestant denomination in the People’s Republic) are a little
conservative. As a result I was surprised the first Sunday in Beijing when not one but two women pastors
were presider and preacher at Chongwenmen congregation. The next Sunday in
Xinyang, the gathering of at least 800 Christians was again presided over by a
“Is this unusual?” I asked our host, the program director for China Service Ventures.
“No,” he said. “The women are the
reason there’s any Christianity left at all in China. They were the ones who kept
the faith during the Cultural Revolution, meeting secretly in homes.”
It’s still illegal to meet in house
churches in China,
and how much religious freedom there is still depends very much on the largesse
of local government officials, but the existing congregations are by all
appearances thriving. Both services we attended were in large buildings, and
both were full to the brim.
As I looked around me, I couldn’t
help but see all these older Chinese women and think about what they have
witnessed in their lives. Certainly not all of them took the risk of practicing
their faith during those dark years, but it is clear some of them did.What storms they endured in their little
dinghies of the church so that their children and grandchildren might worship
as they now do!
One monk was asked how he survived
the Cultural Revolution. “ I went for a long walk,” he replied. No doubt for
most of China’s
women, that was not an option. And yet, they kept the faith.
I think about this when I read the story of
Jesus walking on the water. The disciples are certain they are fish food. They
see only with the eyes of seasoned fishermen and assume that they have been
abandoned by God, until Jesus identifies himself: “Do not be afraid. It is I.”
American Christians have a lot to
learn from the rest of the world: like what real faith means.
One of my favorite scenes from West Wing features the staff staring at a wall of time zone clocks, debating about when the President will return from a trip to China. One of them finally says, "How can that be? He's been gone for 38 hours. . .and it's all been Thursday." That was nearly our experience this week as we flew home. Between the jet lag and malaria medications, my sleep patterns are pretty whacked out.
But it's so, so good to be home. 89 degrees? No problem. We had maybe two days of blue sky our entire time in China, so I'm happy to see the sun, and relieved that I don't sweat the minute I walk out the door.
Today we rode our SUV (tandem plus trail-a-bike plus Burley) over to the Powderhorn Art Fair, a lovely event with lots of local artists in ddition to some who have traveled far. (The difference between Powderhorn and Uptown's Art Fair? Uptown has beer. Powderhorn has puppet shows). The highlight was meeting Betsy Bowen, the Grand Marais woodcut artist who has captured the North Woods in several great children's books. Check out her blog and prints. She also has a great 2009 calendar now.