Ransomed Heart, Personal Thoughts and The Newtown Evil

A friend of mine sent me a link to a post titled "Why Newtown is More Important Than We Think" from over at Ransomed Heart. The author, John, is reacting to the 'shocked' reaction of people to the events of the Newtown murders. You will want to read his post before you read my thoughts below.

My friend asked for my opinion of John's post, so I thought I would share it publicly here:

John’s blog is good. I've read some of his stuff before. His thoughts are well processed and he reason sound. His perspective is different than my own – if a quantitative not qualitative difference. He personifies evil more than I like. Evil, for me, is more about the malformation of possibility, the twisted and sometimes fateful course of human choice gone bad. God has created a reality, placed humans into it (and a lot of other life) and set-up a structure of guiding forces that react to the movement of life through that reality. On a simple level – we are creatures who make choices and live with the consequences – often unknown – of those choices. Life, reality is affected by the singular and cumulative effect of human choice. We create specific cultures by how we chose to live. We create environmental impact/change by the consequences of our patterns of relating to the natural (and orderly) world. We develop as individuals as a result of the choices we make: how we choose to act or react to life on life’s terms. It is neither my experience of life or my religious belief that there is a godly-evil at work corrupting and mal-forming this human project. Rather, the evil influence is the cumulative result of our individual and collective choices to do less-than-godly things. We are our own worst enemies- in the words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy and He is us.”

To build on John's image - we are the wind.

That said, while my world view (other-worldly view?) may differ from John's, I agree that the cumulative result of the malformation of humanity in our world is an urgent matter. I believe the solution is to be found among people of faith and religious traditions that are loving enough to embrace good and strong enough to stand for love in the face of these malformations. We need only look at civilized history for mentors: Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, ML King, Jr, Bill Wilson,  etc. We will find there ways to fight - Prayer, acts of kindness, civil disobedience, debate, personal sacrifice for the good of those who can’t…

One final thought. I am glad people were shocked by the events in Newtown. Part of our hope is centered in the belief that the normal course of our lives and world is ruled by lawful, perhaps even loving actions. We expect good, and hope for some sacred places that our collective humanity respects. We don’t expect someone to kick a puppy, curse at their elders, or shoot children. If we are ever not shocked by these occurrences, we have even more to fear from ourselves.

So, now I would be interested in your thoughts.


Merry Christmas

Once, for a splendid moment, heaven reached down, touched earth and hope was born anew.


Max Lucado Christmas Prayer - 12/14/12 Prayer Time

I have struggled to create some kind of written response to the tragedy of this past Friday in New Town. This morning, at worship, I heard Max Lucado's prayer and there is no way I could say it any better, so I share it with you: (as recorded at The Huffington Post)

Dear Jesus,

It's a good thing you were born at night. This world sure seems dark. I have a good eye for silver linings. But they seem dimmer lately.

These killings, Lord. These children, Lord. Innocence violated. Raw evil demonstrated.

The whole world seems on edge. Trigger-happy. Ticked off. We hear threats of chemical weapons and nuclear bombs. Are we one button-push away from annihilation?

Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas. But you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod's jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence.

Herod went on a rampage, killing babies. Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt. You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene.

Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won't you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star. We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger.

This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.

Your Children


In Memory of:

Children (8 boys and 12 girls)
Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeline Hsu, 6
Catherine Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison Wyatt, 6

Rachel Davino, 29
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
Lauren Rousseau, 30
Mary Sherlach, 56
Victoria Soto, 27
Dawn Hocksprung, 47
Not on the released list: Nancy Lanza, mother of the gunman

We Need to Show Up for God

The following is an excerpt from an Advent sermon. This is the 3rd and final "point" of the message...

3. We need to show up. It reminds me of my childhood memories of waiting for my relatives to arrive so we could open Christmas presents. There I was, nose pressed to the front window, waiting for them... all present and accounted for. Waiting...waiting...waiting.

The element of divine surprise: Jeffery Sobanson in his book, Ascent to God, talks about faith as art, risk and humor. In his paradigm of living faith, he points out that people need a faith that changes because our world view, our understanding of God, changes. As he puts it, "We all reach a point when our faith fails, the center does not hold." He's right. 

Sometimes, God is just funny!

My favorite part of the book, however, is the concept of faith as humor. He challenges us to realize that we are not, ultimately, in control, but God is. The very source and object of our faith is in charge, not us. 

Think of it this way. You are watching a play. The hero has fumbled through antic after antic in an effort to win the love of the heroine.  His efforts have been thwarted, dismissed and misunderstood - until the revelation is shared that he has in fact been the object of her love all along and the success of his wooing has been her desire and arrangement all along. There is humor in that, and the reassurance of Advent is that God will show up to be with us.

And so we come to it, this Advent season of preparation, and in it we find that there is a creative dance between us and the Divine. We are warned and called to prepare and wait for a certain coming, and in the very act of our limited and incomplete preparation, we are assured that we will not miss Christ's coming, and will be graced by the Greatest of guests at our Christmas table. 

God is up to something; about that we can be sure. In some way, the Divine will arrive in our lives, always arrives in our lives and in that arrival, we will find ourselves face to face with hope anew and possibilities galore. We just have to show up.


Christ-mas Planning - Make Plans but Don't Plan The Outcome

"In life there is nothing more unexpected and surprising than the arrivals and departures of pleasure. If we find it in one place to-day, it is vain to seek it there to-morrow. You cannot lay a trap for it." -Alexander Smith 

In preparation for the coming of Christ: We need to not plan the outcome.

There is a saying in 12 Step programs that goes like this - "It is OK to make plans; just don't plan the outcome." How many times have we reached the end of the holiday and felt disappointed? The gift wasn't right. The turkey was dry. The ex-spouse was late bringing the kids. The cake fell. In some small or major way, our expectations for the holiday weren't met. This passage from Matthew warns us about expectations if it does anything. You won't know when, or how, or where the Christ will come, but be ready anyway. But ready for what? It is a fair question, just not the right one. The better question is how to be ready: open-mindedness.

My youngest step-daughter, Christine, had a goal as she prepared to go to school for the first day. She dressed eagerly, got on the bus, and was off. At the end of the day, the bus dropped her off at her driveway, and as her mother stood there to greet her, she placed her hands on her hips, planted one foot soundly and proclaimed with a huff, "I didn't learn to read!" Expectations.
Have you ever exercised with a goal? To run a race, or lose weight (not that anyone here needs to lose weight. In fact, I can't believe I even brought that up right after Thanksgiving), or maybe to recover from an injury. 

A few years ago, I went through a round of physical therapy – exercises, actually – for a back injury I had. The physical therapist and the techs would teach me an exercise and instruct me to do it each day. Then each week I would come back for evaluation, some treatments and the next level of exercise – if I was ready for it. We had a plan: to get me healthy. We had a menu: specific exercises done on a regular basis. But, week to week I was surprised by the changes in my body - sometimes more than expected, sometimes less. My body did or didn't do what I expected it to. (I'm still amazed I can't touch my heel to my nose....)

Then one day I realized the back pain was gone. I'm not exactly sure when it happened, but it did. The pain left and ease of motion was there. What Advent requires of us is an openness to God's working. We are not the only ones with a plan. We are not the only ones working. God's coming is more like getting healthy, or getting fit, than it is like catching a cold. It doesn't just happen to us because of proximity; we have to work to benefit from it. God is free. God is available to everyone, but what happens in our life, in our world, when God comes in an unexpected way is beyond our control. And God always comes unexpectedly, so we need to be open-minded to the unusual ways and times God works. And, of course, we need to show up.


Wishful Preaching - Sample Chapter

Happy December! As my gift to you, enjoy this sampling of my new book, "Wishful Preaching: Things I Wish I'd Said From the Pulpit."

Chapter 11. If You Can’t Laugh at Your Religion, Go Home

The life of a man steeped in religious tradition and routine is not without its humor. Life just seems to enjoy taunting our sacred moments, ever reminding us never to take ourselves too seriously. The following three “true stories” (some details have been changed – to protect the guilty!) offer a glimpse into an irreverent playfulness that is common in life around the pulpit.

Long ago and far away, I was the young associate pastor of a large church. In that same town, there were several other young associate pastors, and we found that meeting for lunch, every month or so, was good for support and laughter. One of the stories, reportedly true, was about an associate pastor who was preaching before the large, traditional congregation he was serving.  For his sermon text, he had chosen a passage from Matthew 16, about the apostle Peter.

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." - Matthew 16:13-18

The passage identifies, among other things, the moment when “Simon” becomes “Peter.” The name, here, is a reference to a Greek word which means ‘rock.’  Many a sermon has drawn the parallel between the strong and unwavering faith of Peter, the rock, and the lack of such faith in today’s church.

The young pastor, the story goes, had a tendency to grow passionate and enthusiastic during his sermons and as he expanded his message to its central theme, he was heard to proclaim, “What the church today needs is more people like Peter! We need more firm Peters!” As someone in the choir gasped, the well-meaning orator sensed that his proclamation was impacting his congregants, and so he repeated this call for “firm Peters” not once but twice more before finishing the sermon.  Go ahead: laugh....

If you like this sample, feel free to click over to Wishful Preaching on Amazon and get more for only $2.99. All proceeds are donated to charity.