Simply Enough

thI heard a devotion today on brevity and simplicity. The leader talked about how we have too much, are offered too many choices, and are constantly seeking bigger and better. This consumer-driven approach to life had shifted the perceptions of people about how much is enough. He spoke about the volume of information available to us, the increasing complexity of our lives, and how simplicity was being lost. The simplest things are often the most important, he said. Simple does not equal easy or boring. Simplicity can be profound. We need more simplicity in our lives, he said.

God loves you, he said.

God forgives you, he said.

God has saved you, he said.

Such plain statements can require a lifetime to understand. Their profundity defies our logic. Their truth rings clearly. Their simple authenticity cuts through our complexity.

At the end of the devotion, he prayed. “God,” he said. “Thank you.” And then: “Amen.” It was simply enough.

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Enough is Enough

From Bishop Daniel Beaudoin:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18)
Baptist Church
Country Concert
Warehouse
Airport
Mall
Nightclub
Community College
Recruiting Center
AME Church
Navy Yard
Elementary School
Sikh Temple
Movie Theatre
University
O God, my God, enough is enough!

Everybody Loves A Parade

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Reformation Parade

We had three joyful commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation worship services this past weekend at St. Peter. Among the fun we had, there was a gospel procession with children using noisy percussion instruments. I received many comments from adults on what fun that was for the kids and what a good memory that would be for them. You can view the video of our parade by clicking on the link below and scrolling down to the parade video. https://www.facebook.com/stpeternorwalk/

For my part, I confess to being nervous. Of all the things I do in worship, children’s sermons make me the most nervous. I never know what the kids will say, what they will do, and whether they will understand a word I say. Sometimes when I ask them questions, they fall over themselves to answer and I have to cut off the discussion. Sometimes when I ask questions, they look at me like I have two heads.

So the idea of gospel parade with noisy instruments was a risk. They could really get into it (which is what I hoped) or glumly walk around thinking how silly this was. Luckily, I think it was more the former than the latter.

One of the reasons I wanted to do this noisy, chaotic thing is because in church, children are often told to be quiet and sit still. Movement, talking, crying, and boisterous playing are usually discouraged by parents. Parents are fearful of their children distracting other worshippers from their devotions. And indeed, every parent has at least one story of trying to shush a noisy child, only to have another worshipper turn around and give them the evil eye. I clearly remember that when I got too restless or made too much noise in church, my mother would give me the evil eye and I knew to shut up NOW. It was not a good feeling.

Thus children learn that church is a place where they cannot be themselves. They are not to make noise, they must still their energetic bodies, and all the while, things they do not understand are happening around them. They get bored and restless and when they express this, they are often reprimanded.

I wanted to provide an alternative worship experience for them: a noisy, participatory, active way that children could worship in our midst: a Reformation Day parade. After all, does not Psalm 100 proclaim: Make a joyful noise unto the Lord? (It does.)

There are many ways to worship God. Our Lutheran ways tend to be quiet, reverential, and dignified—all things children are not. So if we want to make families welcome in worship, we must at least occasionally make space for children to be children. My Reformation gospel parade was one way I decided to let kids be kids in church. At least for those two minutes.

And I rather think that God smiled delightedly at our little parade.

 

Vacation Reflections

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Hogwarts’ School

For the first time in almost 20 years, we went to a theme park for our vacation—Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. It was just Michael and me, with no kids. This expensive vacation (for us anyway) was my idea because I wanted to visit the Harry Potter parts of the park. We had a good time, but decided that maybe we wouldn’t do a theme park vacation again in the near future. Too hot, too many people, and too expensive. We also came to the mutual conclusion that we could not see ourselves ever retiring to Florida.

However, I found myself marveling at the work and ingenuity that went into the various rides, exhibitions, and shows. Since my mind does not work this way, I am amazed at people who can dream up such things. We especially enjoyed the 3-D rides.

I also noted the differences between the ads we saw and the reality. In the hotel room, there were several television channels dedicated to showing commercials about the various Universal Studios parks and activities. The commercials made everything look delightful. No one sweated, there were no crowds, and everyone was happy all the time. In reality of course, it was very hot, kids cried, and there were lots of people. People were sometimes rude, bumping into you without apologizing, walking four abreast and refusing to make room for you to walk past, and cutting into lines. Nobody did this on the commercials.

It was also fascinating to hear the wide range of languages being spoken. People traveled from much further away than we had for their vacations. Which also means that they spent far more money than we did.

I also was appalled at the prices. A fairly simple lunch for two people (without alcohol or dessert) could run $35-40 before tip. Dinners were even higher. Even though I expected the prices to be high, my thrifty Scots-German soul cringed each time we overspent for food. We did it anyway, of course. After all, we were on vacation.

But it was great to see so many kids pretending to be students at Hogwart’s School, with their school robes and wands and scarves and ties. The kids (and some adults) became participants in the Harry Potter narrative, not merely observers or consumers. They were invested in the story in a way I have never seen before, not even with Disney characters. J.K. Rowling is a genius.

So we had a good time, we loved Harry Potter world, we won’t do it again, and we know we will never be Floridians. Some valuable lessons learned and, all in all, an enjoyable vacation, with no deep theological insights. And that’s OK too.

 

 

A Message from the Bishop

unnamedDear Friends in Christ,

“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more”(Jeremiah 31:15 and Matthew 2:18).

Like many of you, I awoke this morning to the news of gun violence in Las Vegas, Nevada. News outlets are calling it the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. There are over 50 people killed and over 500 people wounded. These are people… our people: spouses, parents, children, siblings, friends.

As I write these words from a hotel room in Chicago (I am at the Conference of Bishops’ Meeting), photos and stories of people under fire are beginning to emerge. Strangers who dragged the wounded out of the line of fire. Police officers moving in while everyone else is racing away.  Paramedics setting up places of triage, doing their very best to save as many as they can.

In March of 2013, the ELCA Conference of Bishops composed and adopted a Pastoral Letter on Violence. I have included that letter (in bold) for your study and contemplation.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: 

 Every faithful caregiver who sits with victims of violence knows what we know – as God’s church, we are called to reduce violence and should, in most cases, restrain ourselves from using violence. Whether or not statistics show that overall violence has declined in recent years, every person wounded or killed is a precious child of God.

 As bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we lament the tragedy of gun violence in our country. We are grieved by the way violence threatens and destroys life. We affirm the current soul searching and shared striving to find a way to a better future. While the church grapples with this call to reduce violence, and make our communities safer, we recognize that before God we are neither more righteous because we have guns nor are we more righteous when we favor significant restrictions. Brokenness and sin are not somehow outside of us. Even the best of us are capable of great evil.

 As people of God we begin by confessing our own brokenness – revealed in both our actions and our failure to act. We trust that God will set us free and renew us in our life’s work to love our neighbors. In this time of public attention to gun violence, local communities of faith have a unique opportunity to engage this work.

 We begin by listening: listening to God, to Scripture, and to each other. Providing a safe place for people to share their own stories, together we discern courses of action. Together we act. And together we return to listening – to assess the effectiveness of our efforts to reduce violence.

In the Large Catechism Luther says, “We must not kill, either by hand, heart, or word, by signs or gestures, or by aiding and abetting.” Violence begins in the human heart. Words can harm or heal. To focus only on guns is to miss the depth of our vocation. 

 Yet, guns and access are keys to the challenges we face. We recognize that we serve in different contexts and have different perspectives regarding what can and should be done. But as we live out our common vocations, knowing that the work will take many forms, we are committed to the work of reducing and restraining violence. This shared work is a sign of our unity in Christ.

We invite you, our sisters and brothers, to join us in this work:

 * The work of lament – creating safe space for naming, praying, grieving, caring for one another, and sharing the hope in God’s promise of faithfulness

* The work of moral formation and discernment – listening to scripture, repenting, modeling conflict resolution in daily life, addressing bullying, conducting respectful conversations, and discerning constructive strategies to reduce violence

* The work of advocacy – acting to address the causes and effects of violence, knowing that we are not saved by this work, we undertake it trusting in Christ Jesus, who laid down his life for the world and who calls us to be peacemakers, to pursue justice, and to protect the vulnerable. 

 In this, as in all things, Christ is with us. Thanks be to God.

Please continue to pray for those who grieve and for those in need of healing. Pray that we would repent of our obsession with violence.

Pray that we would become a people dedicated to the pursuit of peace.

Bless you,

Bishop Daniel G. Beaudoin

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Untwisting God

yarnYesterday I preached on God’s monstrous unfairness—how God dares to love everyone even those we think are unworthy of God’s. However, I have come to understand that when we say that certain people are unworthy of God’s love, what we really mean is that they are unworthy of OUR love. And since we tend to project our values and opinions onto God, then we conclude that God shouldn’t love them either. We remake God into our own image.

I work hard in my own life to accept people for who they are. But when I try to fulfill Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” I quickly learn that there are people that I cannot love. That is, there are people who I do not like much and so loving them is even more difficult.

However, I believe that if I can let people be who they are and accept them without judgment, that is a form of loving my neighbor. By letting others be themselves instead of being angry because they fail to conform to my expectations, I am practicing love for neighbor.

Thomas Merton wrote: The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” By teaching myself to accept people for who they are with as little judgment on my part as possible, I move myself into the position of beginning to love them. It has taken me nearly six decades to understand this and I figure I’m about halfway to actually doing it. But at least I’m halfway.

So to circle back to the sermon: Instead of seeing the image of myself in God and thereby resisting the idea that God loves someone I feel is undeserving, I must let God be God. Even as I learn to accept people for who they are, so must I accept God for who God is, rather than trying to make God a reflection of myself or twisting God to conform to my own image.

Of course there is nothing I can really do to make or twist God into my image. What I am really suggesting here is that I must untwist my image of God so that I can begin to see and embrace who God is and not who I think God should be. This, too, is an act of love. For I have also learned this: only when I open my heart to the truth of God can I begin to understand and believe that God loves even me. And only when I feel loved can I love others in turn.

In short, learning to love God is also loving one’s neighbor. The two are inseparable. I think Jesus said something like that: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-39)

Too Late To Forgive

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The Unmerciful Servant, Eugene Burnard (1850-1921)

I like to think I’m pretty good at forgiveness—giving it, that is. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt most of the time and I try not to hold grudges. Even if people don’t desire my forgiveness, I still try to give it—at least in my own mind.

After this past weekend’s sermon on forgiveness, one of my parishioners asked what you should do when the person you needed to forgive died before you could do so. It was an excellent and profoundly honest question.

I have had such an event in my own life. A friend and mentor turned out to be something other than I had thought and I felt he had betrayed me and the organization for whom we worked. Some years later when speaking with another former employee of that organization, I learned that my old mentor had died several months before. My reaction was “How dare he? I’m still mad! I can’t be mad at a dead person!” Silly, eh?

The truth is that I hadn’t wanted to forgive my mentor. In my mind, he was in the wrong (he was) and by not forgiving him, I was holding the moral high ground. In truth, I was wallowing in self-righteousness and there was very little that was “moral” or “high” about it. I was simply angry. Holding onto that anger felt good and righteous and I did not want to relinquish that feeling.

When I learned he had died without my ever confronting him or forgiving him, I felt robbed. Robbed of my self-righteousness and robbed of the chance to be magnanimous by forgiving him. Did you hear that? I felt robbed because I would not have the chance to demonstrate what a wonderful person I am by forgiving him. Talk about wrong-headed thinking!

When I realized the source of my disquiet, I did some serious self-reflection and talked honestly with my spiritual director. I concluded that I needed to ask God for forgiveness for my attitude and for failing to forgive my mentor as Christ has forgiven me.

Forgiving others (or not) puts us in a place of power—at least in our own minds. We all are prone to the abuse of power that we have. When we deliberately choose NOT to forgive, we not only retain that power over another, we get to feel morally superior and righteous. We get to feel better than the other person. That is always an intoxicating feeling.

In Jesus, we have our example. He forgave people who didn’t ask for forgiveness, who didn’t deserve forgiveness, and who kept on sinning. He never abused the power entrusted to him and he was not afraid of putting himself in the position of powerlessness. For it is only when we are willing to be powerless over others that we gain true freedom and true power in our own life.

My former mentor no longer needs my forgiveness. He is at peace in the presence of the God who loved him even when I did not. And while I know myself also forgiven by God, I still regret my failure to love my mentor as myself.