Monday, September 23, 2019

A Peaceful Presence in a Warring World

not Peyton's team...but it sure looked like this
I need to tell you about Peyton’s soccer game yesterday.

You see, I’m the coach for her team of 6 four-and-five-year-olds, so as you might imagine, you never know what might happen at practice and games—good, bad, ugly, or funny—and yesterday was no different. From kids scoring in the wrong goal to the egregious use of hands, from little boys missing minutes of action while watching airplanes overhead to little girls saying ‘excuse me, coach’ at inopportune times to alert me that they just saw a bee, little kid soccer never lacks for entertainment.

But yesterday’s game had less ‘fun’ and more ‘ugly’ than usual. It got out of control in a hurry. And by the end of the game there had been elbows thrown, t-shirts pulled, kids injured, and full-throated screaming in faces. Not good.

The other team was just really dirty. They had one little girl—their fastest and most-skilled player—who was rough and intense and generally ran around the field with her elbows out and her mean face on. She pushed opponents, pulled jerseys, and wreaked havoc on the game, and that attitude filtered down to the rest of her teammates—so much so that I spent most of the game reminding kids to stop pushing, keep their arms down, and play safely.

And unfortunately, after a while, I had to start reminding my own team of that too. Because it took a toll on them, and these four and five year olds were struggling to let it go, not retaliate, and focus on playing soccer. No matter how many times I urged them to play the right way and not succumb to the same dirty tactics being used against them, it was awfully hard for these little ones to resist retaliation.

And, of course...because even as adults we don’t do this well. When we are wronged, our primary instinct is too-often revenge. When we get hurt, our first thought is usually to hurt back. No one likes being pushed around. We all want things to be fair and just. Everyone hates a bully.

So, we fall prey to the same behavior we despise in others, and in doing so, we neglect the call of Jesus to turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, and give the shirt off our back. When we trade blow-for-blow, we ignore the challenging task of loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors. Central to following Christ is the need to forgive—to offer mercy as we have been offered mercy—yet we struggle so mightily with this basic instruction of discipleship.

In a world that justifies and glorifies bitterness, revenge, and the myth of redemptive violence, may we be people who choose forgiveness and peace as the path to new life. May our Jesus-centered lives transcend and transform our world by beckoning it forward into a new way of engaging our enemies. And in the challenging moments where we are seduced by violence and enticed by retaliation, may we learn to hear the peaceful encouragement of God’s voice—our discipleship coach beckoning us to metaphorically (or sometimes literally) ‘stop pushing, keep our arms down, and play safely.”

May we allow the Prince of Peace to lead us into being peaceful people in warring world.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Call to 'Sacred Seeing'

I have a friend from my youth, Jacqui, who is an excellent photographer…I mean FANTASTIC! Her photos often inspire me, move me, and leave me speechless in their artistry and beauty. Her pictures need no commentary—they are brilliant in their creativity alone.

But Jacqui recently shared a meme on social media that included two of her photos—the two shown here—with an accompanying caption for each photo. And Jacqui’s message is an excellent and much-needed reminder of something I talk about often: the need for better vision…and more specifically, the kind of vision that can see the sacred intertwined within the ordinary.

As Jacqui explained in her post, the location of these photos is an ugly, wasted, vacant lot that is scheduled to be developed soon. There’s nothing of obvious value about this place. There’s nothing overtly beautiful to be found there. And yet she found it. Jacqui was able to see what most of us would miss. She noticed beauty in what would normally go unnoticed. She had eyes to see the sacred in the mundane.

And this skill of sacred seeing is the same thing we are invited into as followers of Jesus. We are invited to notice the beauty and goodness of God all around us. We are tasked with seeing the ways in which the light of God so subtly breaks through the darkness of our world. We are called to witness the sacredness of God’s presence in the ordinary places of God’s creation. And, most of all, we are invited to see our friends, enemies, and neighbors with fresh vision—through the eyes of God—and to offer them the same love and grace that God does.

So, I offer thanks to my friend for reminding me of the need to see differently. May we all be encouraged, invited, and challenged to better vision—to see the world through the lens of God’s kingdom. May we all be able to pick out the sometimes-subtle, yet incredibly-profound presence of God all around us. And may we have eyes to see the ways in which the normally ordinary places of our existence are actually teeming with sacredness. May we learn the art of sacred seeing.

What Are We Forming?

Any good organization is always in flux. Always moving, always changing, always growing, always becoming. And the organization I help lead, First Baptist Church of Bozeman, is no different. We’re in process. We’re in flux. We’re growing, changing, and becoming. We’re being formed into a new kind of community comprised of new kinds of people. There’s something happening there.

But there’s more than one way to be formed. And there’s more than one thing to be formed into.

As we seek to become a new kind of community, we could change forcefully and uniformly—like if you don’t agree with us, then maybe you’d be happier at another church. We could form a group where everyone looks the same, thinks the same, talks the same, and acts the same. We could form a church where there’s no room for questions, disagreement, or opposition—and everyone prefers the same style of worship. We could form a gathering of ease and comfort, where everyone gets along and no problems arise (and if they do, they get quickly squelched by the communal group-think).

Or we could become a community where, despite our biblical, theological, or political differences, we are still committed to God, scripture, each other, and the world. We could be formed into a group where everyone is equally devoted to the words and way of Jesus. We could be formed into a church where we can wrestle with hard issues, love one another in our disagreement, and show the world a new way to interact peacefully and graciously. We could be formed into a gathering that is never at ease or comfortable, but is always striving together for lives of greater faith, hope, and love in Jesus.

In short, we could form a cult or a culture.

And I most certainly prefer the latter. I’m proud to serve a church of difference and diversity—where we aren’t all mindlessly uniform. I’m proud to pastor a church where I get the occasional Monday morning email of concern or correction over something I’ve uttered from the pulpit. While I’m most-certainly interested in forming a new sort of culture around our church—a culture of discipleship, where each of us is passionate about following Jesus with every fiber of our being—I’m not interested in anyone losing their passions and personalities in this culture-making process.

So, here’s to the probably-problematic and potentially-painful process of forming a new culture at our church. May we remain committed to the good news of God, the beautiful way of Jesus, and to communally working out our salvation with fear and trembling. But may we not become disheartened by difference and disagreement, because we’re shooting for culture not cult.