Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Living Where I Do

Living where I do.
I hear languages.
I see faces.
Cultures and worlds.

A mix of this and that.
Colors and colorful.
Not like me.

Just like me.
Wanting love.

Loving their children.
Wondering how to pay the bills.
Just like me.

Not like me.
Foods flavored and scented.
Tastes new for me.
Tastes good, most of it.

Trying to saying a name.
My mouth doesn't work too well.
They laugh at me.
Appreciate my effort.

Good people.
Lots of them.
Millions of them.
Billions, even.

And fear says, "Watch out."
That one over there.
Not to be trusted.
Which may be true.

But to turn the world upside down.
Because of some.
And deny everyone else.
Is the height of great evil.

The height of a wall.
The height of xenophobia.
The height of ignorance.
The height of lies.

I refuse to do that.
I'll take my chances.
To see people.
Just like me.

And not like me.
Because we're all different.
As it should be.
As it must be.

And we're all the same.
When the lights go out.
When the day is done.
When we lay down to sleep.

Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the LORD my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake.
I pray the LORD my soul to take.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Failed Christianity.

Christianity is very large tent of ideas, but it's not unlimited.

There are boundaries, foundations, core ideas, values, that define the faith and keep it centered in Christ, his life and his teachings, and the central ideas of going to Jerusalem, and there confronting both religious and secular powers, dying there at their hands, and then the resurrection, the ascension and the promise of a return when time has run its course, as determined by God, the LORD of history.

With that, I have spent a good deal of my life trying to be a Christian, and I think it means basing my life on the essentials, noted in the preceding paragraph.

Having gone to a Calvinist based Christian High School, then to Calvin College, and then to Western Theological Seminary, all in Western Michigan, before much of the Reformed Church in that area was deformed by evangelicalism, Moody Bible Institute, Jerry Falwell and "inspirational TV" and its shallow praise music, which slowly but inexorably turned covenant-oriented churches into conversion-oriented churches, and shifted the focus from God to self, from humility to pride, now with a curious fixation on wealth and power and the condemnation of the poor for their moral failures and defective judgment. A Christianity that loves its walls and fears the bridges.

With that, I simply say: this is a failed Christianity.

Now, immediately, some will jump in and say, "You're judging."

My response: "Damn right I am."

And I stand with the likes of Jeremiah, Jesus himself, the Apostle Paul, Augustine, Luther and Calvin, Bonhoeffer and Barth, Niebuhr and Martin Luther King, Jr., to name just a few luminaries who have consistently inspired me to think biblically, critically, carefully and to make judgments.

And I'm not without some credentials ... yes, yes, yes, I know that's the first refuge of the arrogant (look at all the medals on my chest) and all of that, but Jesus made it clear that he had his credentials, Paul had his, and so did Luther and Calvin (both well-credentialed).

Anyway, the point is this: large segments of American Christianity is a failed Christianity, with
1) it's baptism of wealth and power,
2) it's readiness to identify with Trump's condemnation of others,
3) his bluster and buffoonery,
4) his windbaggery and wantonness,
5) his wall-fixation and wild lies.

It's the "other gospel" that Paul addresses ... it's the anabaptist movement of self which Calvin condemns, it's the lack of justice so clearly identified by King ... they all looked at various versions of the faith, and while making room for variants, they also said "No!" to other versions.

Part of this was prompted by someone talking about the "legal" and "the illegal" immigrant, to which I replied: these kinds of distinctions have no legitimacy in Christianity, smacking more of the Jew/Samaritan distinction which Jesus patently ignored. Jesus was clearly someone who paid no attention to boundaries and social rules about children and women, gentiles and Samaritans.

To deal with people by legal or illegal distinctions, and yet claim to be Christian, reveals what I determine to be, "a failed Christianity."

So, for me, I'd rather stand with Jeremiah rather than with the false prophets of king and cult who preached peace when there was none. I'd rather stand with Paul and not those who preached the gospel and grew rich because of it. I'll stand with Calvin and his covenant theology rather than the Anabaptists and their focus on conversion and its clever back-patting. I'll walk with King along the road of Justice worked out on the Edmund Pettus Bridge rather than those who wanted the church to only preach "spiritual values" even as the church ignored the sins of racism, promoted school segregation, with private schools, and maintained voter suppression, "through law."

That's how I see it.

And I have a lot of weight behind that judgment, and for that, I'm grateful.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

I Do Not Understand

We all decry the plight of the Refugee ...
Some welcome her with hope and relief.
Others fear him and turn them away.
And some who turn them away,
Do it in Jesus' name.
That I do not understand.

I understand fear.
But those who profess Jesus' name.
Surely know that love casts out fear.
I John 4.18 among others.
Not that fear ever vanishes.
But that love is greater.
And love determines the ethic.
The ethic of welcome and relief.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

She Made Us Walk Slowly

A good many years ago, a funeral.

A young woman.
Down Syndrome.

She'd taken ill, one of so many illnesses that came her way.
And she breathed her last.

Family members spoke with tenderness.
Telling of her love for them, and their love for her.

Her good cheer and laughter.
Her eagerness and energy.

Of course, her shortness of temper.
And her stubborn ways, too.

And, then, this from a brother:
"She made us all walk slowly."

Obviously, she couldn't keep up with them,
At their regular pace.

They had to slow down their walk, for her.
Because she couldn't walk with them.

Are there not lots of folks like her?
Folks who can't keep pace with us?

In our bustle and hustle.
Our self-impressing ways.

So, we can either leave them behind.
Or, we can slow ourselves down.

I think it's good thing to keep in mind.
To slow down, sometimes.

So we can walk with the slow folks.
And with them, enjoy the day.

Who knows what gifts they have for us.
We might be surprised.

Good cheer and laughter might come our way.
A smile and a hug.

Or, maybe, just the look of gratitude.
For paying attention to them.

Seeing them in their reality.
A slow gait, a hesitant step.

Some can't go all that fast.
Some hobble through the days.

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
I fear no evil," wrote the Psalmist.

"For thou art with me."
The LORD slows down.

Because I can't run, sometimes.
I can hardly walk, sometimes.

I can't even move, sometimes.
Frozen in time and space, sometimes.

The LORD stops walking, sometimes.
The LORD sits down beside me, sometimes.

Those times where I set the pace.
Because it's the only pace I can pace.

Sure, there are times when the LORD says.
"Get up and go."

Like the LORD said to Elijah, at the mouth of the cave.
But only after a time of solitude and listening.

Elijah had to get it out of himself.
And the LORD was patient.

"The LORD walks with me.
And talks with me.

Along life's narrow way."
Says the hymn.

And, then, too, those times.
When the LORD says, "Come, follow me."

And I surprise myself with the pace I can keep.
For the work of life and the demands of the day.

Yet never to be so impressed with myself.
That I harshly expect others to keep pace with me.

I have to pay attention
To the pace of others.

It's not always: "Keep up with me."
As if I were the one in charge.

I have to slow down, sometimes.
Pay attention, sometimes.

Walk with them.
Sit with them.

Go nowhere with them.
Because nowhere is somewhere.

And somewhere has life.
For those who are slow enough to see it.

Slow folks do their best, as everyone does.
So, it's a good thing:

To let others.
Slow ... us ... down.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Hate What Is Evil ... Romans 12

"Hate what is evil," says Paul the Apostle.

That means to reject ... utterly.
To have nothing to do with it.
To turn one's back to it.
And flee.

Hence, Jesus.
To "hate" one's family, if necessary.

To be ready to step away.
Step aside.
If the family, for some reason or the other.
Should impede the flow of faith.
And not just faith, as something held within the mind and heart.
But faith lived.
Faith of the feet.
Faith on the ground.

Families sometimes impede that faith with concern.
"We fear for your safety."
"We only want the best."
"You'll never make any money at it."
"We want you to be happy."

When faith is impeded by family love.
Or is it love?
What is it, but maybe something dark and wicked?
Jesus is clear: some stuff is all dressed up in pretty clothes.
But it's all lies.
Lies from the pit of hell.

Reject if needed.
Family and all.
Friends, too.
It's that kind of world.
Then, and now.
Though some times have been a bit easier.
And faith has seemed to be a lark.
A walk in the park.
Something cool for the kids.
And great youth groups.
And games and praying for friends who are yet damned.
For their lack of faith.
Moody Bible Institute.
And all the rest.
Jargon and junk.

Hate what is evil.

And hold fast to what is good.

Powerful stuff.
Truth that stings.
The cross that's heavy.

I'd rather my cross be a lapel pin.
Wouldn't you?
Or a necklace to grace my neck.
Or a bracelet, or a logo on my t-shirt.
A badge of pride: "I'm saved; too bad for you."

But crosses are made for shoulders.
Crosses are heavy and crude.
And splintered.

They've been used before.
There's blood on them from others.
Others who have passed this way.
To death.

And great is the evil that wears an expensive suit.
Or a lovely dress from Paris.
And quotes the Bible.
And tells of Jesus.
Great is that evil that deludes and deceives and decorates itself with goodness.

Hate what is evil.

Hold fast to what is good.

Don't let it go, no matter what others might say.
Don't let it go, and lose a chance for the golden moment.
The truth, that alone sets any of us free.
And not just me and mine.

But you and yours.
The truth that liberates from the lies and the legions.
The prisons of the system, the laws of the lawless.
The rules of those who know no rule but their own wealth and power.

Truth that liberates.
The good that saves.
Hold fast to what is good.

Hate what is evil.

Deepest Revulsion

Deepest revulsion ...

As I read The Nightegale.
France, World War 2.
Occupied and deadly.
The Roundup.
All foreign born Jews.
To the East.
To work camps.
To death.

National Security.

A mother and her two children try to escape.
A crossing into the Free Zone.
But gunfire rings out.
People are killed.
They flee into the woods again.
But the daughter has been shot.

And, there, in the woods, Sarah dies.
A child.
A young girl, vibrant and loving and creative and hopeful and brave and kind and sweet and silly and full of life.

A young girl.

Nazi bullets.

National Security.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

I Believe in God the Father Almighty

I believe in God the Father Almighty ...

Father Almighty?
Mother Almighty?

All over the place.
In every stick and stone.

Every bird and rat and snake and cow and pig and giraffe and hippo and tortoise and porpoise.
Every human being ... I mean, every.
The crotchety neighbor.
The ragged woman on the corner.
The squalling baby.
The border-crossing farm worker.
The refugee from Syria.
And all the riffraff of life.

And the high and the mighty.
The expensive suit people.
The piled up hair people.
The gold-plated people.
Who think the world owes them their living.
Their place.
The station in life.
Their shitty power, which they love so much.
To flaunt at the country club.
While they compare private planes.
And big yachts.
And the latest insider trading schemes.

God ... whatever.

Something bigger than me, my world, everyone's world.
Bigger than the universe.
Something we can hope in.
Hope for.
Maybe even love, sometimes.

I don't know.

It's good to have something beyond me.
Beyond the strife and struggle of the day.
The year.
The century.
The forever of time and death and life and birth and endings and tears and laughter and beer and whisky and weed and heroine and heroes and hoes and hipsters ...

I believe ... that's a big thing.
God ... bigger still.
Father, Mother, Sister, Brother ... close and kind ... yet forever mystery ... beyond ... fearsome sometimes, like a midnight storm breaking fast and furious upon one's sleep ...

Almighty ... thank you.

I believe.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Prayers at First Church February 5, 2017


O LORD our God, deliver us, we pray, from all that would inhibit the power of our hearts to love, to love beyond the usual borders, to love beyond the limits, to love with your love … 

In this hour of worship, dear God, lift our spirits with your Spirit, revive our hope with your promises, and establish our resolve to live and proclaim the gospel - that all are welcomed and all are loved … none left behind, and no one forgotten.

For your glory, and for the healing of the nations, we pray. Amen!

Pastoral Prayer

Blessed Assurance … Amazing Grace … A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, a bulwark never failing … O LORD our God, always beyond our grasp, yet close enough to touch our hearts with life abundant: the sounds of music, words of prayer, deep and penetrating silence, the smooth cheek of a child, the smile of a friend … a good book, a fine movie … peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a glass of cold milk … in such moments,  O God, we sense the loveliness of your presence, and are convinced again, dear God, to keep on keepin’ on, even when the odds are against us.

We give thanks for this day and its gifts … we count our blessings, one by one, and we haven’t time to finish the list … for all that is good and kind.

We pray this day our President and Vice President … we pray for the members of Congress and all who sit upon the bench. May your Spirit be upon them, we pray, and upon our land … and with all the nations of the world, and most especially, dear God, comfort and confirm those who seek peace, who proclaim liberty, who strive for justice … 

Help us all, we pray, to never be silent in the face of lies and deceit … to never give in to hate and slander … to always refuse the allure of war and  the vanity of nationalism … to resist and engage, to march and proclaim, to think and to pray … to lift up a greater vision for our world … a peaceable hope for the future, through understanding and mutual respect … nothing less, O God, than your kingdom come … and your will be done, upon this good earth, as it is in heaven.

We lay before you this day, O God, the prayers of our heart, for loved ones and friends:
For the troubled and weary of soul, O God.
Those beset with illness and pain of body.
Those at the edge life, with death near at hand.
O LORD, bless our church … that we might be strong in the faith and faithful to one another … a conscience to the nation, to our city, and to all who cross these thresholds … 

And for this purpose, and to these great ends, O God, teether our souls to the grace and goodness of Christ, that we never drift into the fog of greed and fear, but that we be steadfast in all things good, in Christ, with Christ, and for Christ, in season and out season, when it’s easy, and when it’s not.

Through Christ our LORD, we pray. Amen!

Prayer of Dedication

Eternal God, we praise you.
We praise you:
With all that we are, and all that we hope to be.
We praise you.
With our lives given unto you.
Our tithes and offerings upon this altar.
And in this giving, and in this living:
We join with women and men of good mind and heart.
All the around the world.
To proclaim life and liberty.
Hope and peace.

Eternal God: we praise you! Amen!

Written by Tom Eggebeen