Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Yesterday's Inspiration

Yesterday I had interactions with two different church leaders who inspired me.  These weren't direct interactions, one was a reading in the National Geographic magazine, a form of hearsay, and the other was in conversation about a church leader, another form of hearsay.  The article was about the pope Francis and other was about a local minister.  One inspired me to copycat, the other inspired how not to behave.

The subtitle of the article was "As Francis make his first US visit, his emphasis on serving the poor over enforcing doctrine has inspired joy and anxiety in Roman Catholics."  I was inspired with joy.  The oral conversation, on the other hand, included paraphrases to the effect, "that's the way it's supposed to be."  There is more to the "supposed to be" phrase; there is a long complete history of "you can't do this" and "you have to do this."

I'm not Catholic.  I got the impression from my parents that I shouldn't talk to "them" and certainly not marry one.  I'm grown some since then and have set aside some of my childish ways.  Members of our family has married Catholics and they are an inspiration to me.  Still I have no reason, Catholics do have a lot of ritualistic procedures, to become a Catholic.  As you may have inferred from an earlier blog writing, I'm not certain I want any title or label, other than servant of God.  I can however still be inspired by one as Catholic as the pope.

Friends become friends for a number of reasons; something in common is one possible reason.  Someone you feel comfortable with, is another.  For whatever reason we have the friends we have, we choose our friends.  We don't choose our family, we're born into that.  Perhaps in a similar way we choose our church, the one we attend on Sunday and work for throughout the week.  Just as I and my ideas and attitude have changed over the years so can churches change, and so if one chooses a church because you have something in common, one might un-choose a church because you have less in common.

But after un-choosing, what does one choose in its place?  I don't come with the answers.  I have not thought through all situations carefully or thoroughly.  But I will continue to seek the answers; I do embrace the title "seeker."  What I do know, and this is what I will pursue, that I can and will pray that those you inspire me to not do what they do will themselves be inspired to love others and God above setting the rules and flowing doctrines.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

More on Labels, Titles and Names

Gail and I have registered in both the Republican and Democratic parties for years.  That way we hear from both groups.  Interestingly enough, we vote essentially the same.  Those who believe membership in these political groups dictate how one votes, enjoy labeling themselves and those in the other parties, mostly to win support from those who may think in a similar manner, at least regarding the labeling.

I guess I found myself offended when those in one party called themselves Christians and implied that those in the other party were not Christians.  Okay, that activity simply rendered the label Christian useless.  It also degraded those sincere non-Christian theists as unworthy of American privileges and responsibilities.  By birth Jesus, at minimum an awesome model of being a loving caring person, was a Jew, and worshipped God as his family and community did as a Jew.  In practice, he did more and lived differently.  His focus was on loving God and neighbors.  He probably wouldn't be considered a model Jew.  Those who saw the wisdom in his teachings and practices, were later identified as followers of Jesus Christ and were labeled Christians.

What is a Christian?  There was a time when extremists would hang out in airports, handing out literature about their beliefs and ask, "Are you a Christian?" meaning something to the effect, "Have you had an emotional experience and then declared that you were a Christian?"  When visiting her daughter in Saudi Arabia, my mother was asked, "Are you a Christian?"  She first thought of the question as asked in the airport and then realized that the question was more like, "From among the religions of the world, are you a Christian as opposed to a Muslin, Hindu, Jew or other?"

If one declares himself as a Christian, at least within a community of Christians, the question then arises, even if not asked, "What variety? conservative, progressive, liberal, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc."  Each variety considers itself the best; that's why they chose that variety.  Can we just follow and practice the teachings and modeling of Jesus and maybe be called Followers of Christ or Followers of the Teachings of Jesus?  Or more broadly, can we just be "Theists," believers that God exists.  In my mind that means that God is good and that I too should be good by relating to God and being good to all people.

The interesting thing is that none of this requires that I give up or denounce what I learned as a child and lived as an adult.  It still comes down to "loving God and neighbors," and "doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God."

In the extreme I might even consider the option that there is no god.  But then I look out the windows this beautiful peaceful morning with eyes that defy understanding, listen to the sounds of the morning birds through the open window, feel the cool breeze before the warming sun and I have to say "Thank you for this day and for my life."  It feels so natural to be thankful.  But thankful to whom?  Alas, there is a God.

The leaves on another branch fluttered in the sunlit tree as a bird landed and sang its morning song.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Rose by Any Other Name

What label would you be given in your obituary?  Father or mother, probably?  Republican, democrat?  Jew, Christian, Buddhist, atheist, farmer, businessperson, teacher, the list could go on?  What do the labels mean?  How does one acquire such labels?

So I'm asking too many questions again.  I've gone to church all my life with almost no significant breaks.  I guess I'm a Christian.  I guess I'm also a Presbyterian and an elder in the Presbyterian Church.  So what does that mean?  I've been convinced over the years this was an honor and a responsibility to serve and help others.  And vote in the Presbyterian Church.  I've never been much for joining groups to acquire the privileges of that position.  As far as being responsible whether in the Presbyterian Church or any other group or organization, I've discovered that I can help others and serve them without a label.

So how would I be different if I were not a Christian, or Presbyterian, or elder?  I have no plans to change my behavior or my service to community and others.  What would I lose if anything if I were to remove those labels from my life.  They say I couldn't vote at the annual church meeting for a pre-set slate of candidates.  There are other votes that I would not be able to participate in.

Being a member of the church is a miniature of a country and with that point of view, remaining a member of the church is critical, because it's important to have the right, privilege and responsibility to vote for persons who will guide our country and promote better welfare for all.  Of course, being a member, or citizen of the United States does offer me many privileges.

The church however is not merely a miniature of a nation.  A church is a group of individuals who claim to believe in God and a certain way to interact with and because of God.  Those beliefs extend beyond Christians and extend to all theists; Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and so forth.  We call these beliefs religions and from the earliest records of religions, people have used their beliefs to harm others.  Yet, we continue to embrace religion, often to claim that we are correct and they are wrong.  But do we really, I mean really, attempt to relate to God and then relate to others as we would relate to God?

And what privileges does being a member of a church give me?  I figure God loves me whether I'm a member or not, and it membership were necessary for God's love, which church is best?  Or more universally, what religion is best?

This could go on, but for now I will stop.  Maybe you too will question what we've been taught from birth!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Who am I?

Why does that come up now?  My gosh, this is a question I thought we dealt with back in college when existentialism was the craze.  Actually I deal with this question every day, but yesterday I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "Who Am I" poem and newsletter headliner by Pastor Becky.  I guess if Bonhoeffer can tackle this question, so can I.

Becky's writing struck home as she talked about being an introvert and that many ministers actually are.  I heard at a Committee for Preparation to the Ministry meeting some months ago that it isn't that introverts don't like people, they're just more likely to become energized when they are alone than when they are with lots of people.  Okay, so the shoe fits.  I sometimes revert back to a quote from Snoopy of the cartoon strip "Peanuts" back in the early '60's in which he said something to the effect, "I love mankind, it's just people that I don't like."  For me that relates to a quote of Ganghi who said something like this: "Christianity won't be so bad if it weren't for the Christians."

Another thing that comes to mind at this time is that I am alone at home for a week and although there are opportunities to get out and do lots of things this Fourth of July holiday weekend, I'm enjoying opting out.  I could miss the crowds and heat and do quite well, but I feel called to help with the Ice Cream Booth, which I announced months ago that I would not do when I thought I too was going to North Dakota (I stayed home to feed the animals and water the plants especially because the temperatures are near 100˚), and there are people I would like to see, such as Anya and her parents.  So this afternoon after I bottle feed the baby bison and cow calves, I will pack my computer and go to Monmouth.  Tomorrow, the Fourth of July, that's to be seen yet.

So what do I do when I'm home alone?  Today's answer is different than it would have been years ago.  In both cases, I would enjoy it.  I try to do things that are more easily done alone than when another person is around.  I don't turn on the TV, I eat at unscheduled times, I eat more simply, I try to clean up as the day goes along to avoid a big clean-up sometime in the future and I do it in preparation for Gail's return.  I do some of the routine tasks that Gail would do such as water plants.  I don't do some of the things I would otherwise do, like cook and water dishes.  I made a big hot dish the first day and eat off that every meal and I reuse the same plate for each meal; I do wash it between meals.

I try to do things that need a large span of time:  digging through old files, organizing family tree and history files, writing some of the history, scanning pictures, transcribing old writings, etc.  Outside I try to clean the garage and shop, finish half-done projects, cut and remove weeds, prune trees.  It's been too hot to do that routinely so I try to squeeze that into the cooler mornings and evenings.  There's some firewood to cut and a barn wall to paint as well.  I'd like to read more, write more, study art, listen to music and play the piano, and maybe train myself to not have to be doing something all the time.

You see there's no people stuff on the list, not even traveling, I reserve that and desire that when Gail's here.  Fortunately this week falls at a time when there are no big people events on the horizon and I can postpone communicating with them and motivating them to help others.  That will come next week.  Alas, as an introvert and being energized with this "alone time" I will jump with both feet into planning the Block Party and the Hospitality Week, as well as following up on Western Compass activities and redesigning my class for the university.

But for now I am alone, not counting birds, insects, trees, flowers, the breeze, Sheba (our dog), and I am who I am.  But who are you?