This blog is meant to be an encouragement to you as you journey through your day. If you have a question about the life of faith, please feel free to email me. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I welcome the conversation.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Reflections on an Evening at Occupy Boston

Note: The purpose of this blog is not political debate. I have no desire to argue the merits of the Occupy movement. I am attempting to look at the movement in the same way I attempt to look at everything else - in light of the teachings of Christ. Let’s talk about that.

I am not an expert on the Occupy movement. I am not an expert on economic theory or practice. I am a pastor, and it was with a pastor’s heart and mind that I spent several hours on the weekend after Thanksgiving at the site of Occupy Boston. My son Luke, who had visited the encampment several times, was my guide. What I am writing here is my first attempt at theological reflection of that experience. That it has taken me ten days in order to get to this point is indicative of how significant this experience was to me. I needed time to ruminate on all I saw, heard, and learned.

First, for those who have not been to an Occupy site, there are several things you need to know. While I was only at Occupy Boston, my understanding is that there are similarities to other sites.
* Folks are there for a variety of reasons. As one person who is supportive of the cause told me, “There are some people here just to camp out and smoke pot.” That did not surprise me. When I was involved with anti-Vietnam War protests, there were some there for similar reasons. And when I was involved in anti-abortion protests, I knew one young man who was there to meet women. 
* There is age and educational diversity at the Occupy sites. I saw young adults, middle-aged, senior adults, and folks who, due to their homeless situation, made guessing their age difficult. We heard folks who could barely put sentences together - some likely due to the above-mentioned consumption of marijuana, but also because of a lack of education. I also heard literate, reflective, nuanced commentary by highly educated people with considerable experience in academics and monetary policy. Of course, this is Boston, where I have known people with doctorates working behind lunch counters.
* Occupy is far greater than simply those at the encampment. Most of the people who are supportive of the movement are staying at home, going to work and school, and connecting  through social media and Occupy events. The size of this support will become more obvious as Occupy transitions from the encampments to rallies and other protest events.
* It is understandable that the Occupy movement has not translated well when interpreted through traditional media. Their practice of “horizontal democracy” means there is not a single voice, a leader to offer soundbites for TV. Into this vacuum the news media grabs whatever it can, such as the video of the college student who wants his loans forgiven, or the scenes of inappropriate violence when the camps have been forcibly moved by the authorities. This no more fully represents the totality of the Occupy movement than was Penn State University accurately represented by the students who protested the firing of Paterno, or sports fans well represented by violence after a championship, or all police officers represented by a few who have treated Occupy participants with too much force.

For me, there were several valuable insights gained from spending time at the encampment. 
It seems the one thing that all those present in the camp had in common was a sense of disenfranchisement. They feel disconnected from the political and economic powers that seem to control their lives. They believe that the opportunities they were told are available to Americans are, in reality, available to only a few.  They believe the teaching that we can trust in corporations and institutions to make life better is a lie. I heard a conversation concerning the relationship between big business and government. “Remember, corporations are only responsible to make money for share-holders, not to do what’s best for the country. That’s the government’s job. But the government is only doing what’s best for the corporations!” While there is certainly room for disagreement, that statement gives you a sense of the perspective of many involved with Occupy. They are angry with the large corporations, but they feel betrayed by the government.

When we were at Occupy Boston, we listened to a time of “open mic,” when anyone could come up and speak. There were some literate and thoughtful statements, some folks sharing their personal stories, and some comments that were barely coherent. 

I thought to myself - what if I went up and took my turn at the mic, and told them who I am and what I do? What if I told them that I want to pray for them? What if I told them that I care about them, and that my church cares about them? My sense was - I would be rejected out of hand. As I listened to the speakers, I came to the realization that the church, or at least how the folks there understand the church, is part of the problem. Many of those involved with the Occupy movement believe that the church has hypocritically spoken the language of love and then lived it out in ways that only reached a few. We have spoken out with boldness about the evil of some sins, while being silent and even supportive - in their minds - of other sins. We have declared some people, even and especially some within the encampment, to be the enemy of God and the church - due to sexual identity and political perspective. We have given up our prophetic role that was beautifully spoken during the civil rights movement (albeit by only a minority of churches) and have become simply a voting bloc within the political process. It was my sense, as I stood there listening to the voices of the Occupy campers, that in my role as a pastor - as a person connected to the church - I am the enemy. I am part of the problem.

But what about my other role - my more important role? What about my life as a simple follower of Jesus? I not only think Jesus would be accepted and welcomed at Occupy; I think it is where Jesus would choose to be.
Those of us familiar with the life of Christ know that Jesus found acceptance with those in his society who were disenfranchised. They responded to his love and teachings in ways that the power brokers and comfortable of his day did not. They did not fit in with those who claimed to be connected to God, yet they found grace and acceptance at the feet of the One who is God. And they enjoyed the moments when Jesus spoke out against the political, economic and religious leaders who relegated them to the trash heap of society. 

So - if Jesus would be accepted in this place, and I would not be accepted as a leader of the church, what is the problem? Is the problem with them? Or is the problem with me?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Laughter and Sadness on the Second Monday in October

Every year, on the second Monday in October, I laugh. It is the celebration of Thanksgiving in Canada.

This is why I laugh.

For many years I had the privilege of serving at a Christian college. It was truly a blessing. And one of the most interesting, humorous and exasperating aspects of that job was attending the monthly  meetings of the faculty. (If you have ever been in such meetings, you know exactly what I am talking about.) 

Every year, the faculty would discuss the academic calendar. The conversation would involve when semesters should begin, end, and when breaks should take place. Some faculty would pull out their calculators, making sure that classes on some days had the same number of classroom minutes as classes on other days. It was all taken very seriously  - except by some folks, like me, who had no real interest in the topic and could sit back and enjoy the show. The debate illustrated the old joke that “academic fights are so bloody, because the stakes are so small.” 

Inevitably, at some point in the conversation, someone would raise the problem of the proximity between Thanksgiving break and the end of the semester. There simply was not enough classroom time between the two. This would lead - every year - to one of my esteemed colleagues (a person I greatly loved and respected) standing to address the faculty. She would make an impassioned plea that the answer to this problem is obvious: move Thanksgiving to October. “By celebrating Thanksgiving at the same time as the Canadians, it would solve this problem.”  There it was! My single favorite statement of the year. My single favorite statement of over 20 years of attending faculty meetings. And I could not help but laugh.

I loved that statement because it so clearly communicated the perspective that the college was not in the real world. We should be able to move holidays.  It never occurred to my dear colleague that this would be inconvenient to students, their families, and to the families of all of her colleagues. It never occurred to her that students, while enjoying the break on the second Monday in October, would still want the break on the fourth Thursday in November. We should be able to tell these students and their families when to celebrate a holiday because, after all, we were in the business of telling students how to think and what they didn’t know but needed to know. Connection to the real world simply is not our responsibility as a true liberal arts college. 

To be fair, the college never tried to change Thanksgiving to October. However, that is only because of the absurdity of the suggestion. But that absurdity hid the truth of the premise - we really do believe that we are an entity unto ourselves. We have a perspective on life and truth, and it is the responsibility of students to conform. We build the boxes of academic life, and it is up to students to fit into them or be tossed aside. We are the elite, and we are the arbiters of admission into our world. The real world of the student - from which they come, and to which they will return - is not the concern of the academic institution because those who live in the academic world are not really connected to that world at all. 

This perspective doesn’t fit with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Even if a college, or any other institution, calls itself  “Christian,” if it does not have room for those who are different, and who are trying to figure out how to make a difference in the “real world,” then it is not following Christ. Christ called us to go into that world - to be salt and light. Christ called us to touch the least and the outcasts, even those who could not possibly understand the value of a liberal arts education. 

I still see the value in Christian higher education. I still love and support the college I served for all those years. And it still angers me that some students - smart, gifted students - are not valued in such places because they do not fit into the boxes created by those who have lost touch with the radical ways of thinking and being that it takes to show people the grace, peace and love of God in the real world.

And I still laugh on the second Monday of October. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday Morning Hypocrite

I have been overcome this week by the difference between the way I live and the way I want to live.  I listen to stories of friends who have lost their homes due to flood waters, who have lost family members due to disease and war, who have lost love due to sin. I nod, I pray, I say words of comfort - as is befitting someone assigned to this role. I believe all the words I say.

Yet in my life, I am paralyzed by fear over lesser things. My mind is filled with questions and doubts: "Will we have enough? Are they okay? What if I fail? What is next?"

Everyday I watch those who do not make claims of great faith live lives that demonstrate great faith. And I am humbled. I watch those whose lives have given them an emotional kick in the stomach that would leave me broken and huddled in the corner of some dark room, and yet they get up and go on and pour their lives out for others.

I do not doubt the love of God, or my salvation, or my calling, although I understand why folks doubt those things. Instead, I live every day with a sense of nagging disappointment in myself. By this point I thought I would be further along on the journey. I thought the insecurities of my adolescence would be a distant memory by now.

I know that in one sense this is a spiritual issue. There is an Enemy who desires to distract me from the work I am called to do. And I know that if I would only spend less time thinking about myself, and more about the God who loves me, it would be better. I know that.

And I know that God uses broken people to reach broken people.

Lord, forgive me for trying to pretend that I am greater than I really am. Forgive me for twisting and turning and perverting the faith so that it seems okay to hide our true selves from those with whom we are called to live in community. Lord, forgive me for making it seem, in words and actions, that I am anything other than a man still in need of a savior.

Lord, forgive me, a sinner.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mother Teresa Had It Easy

Sometimes I think Mother Teresa had it easy.

Well, not really ... but in one way she did.

As she walked the streets of Calcutta, the pain and suffering were obvious. Dirty, broken, thrown-away people lying in the gutter. They were everywhere, and their bruises and sores were there for all to see.

It is more difficult in many places in America. Yes, there are those people whose pain is readily evident on the outside, if we are willing to go where they are. As one of my favorite songwriters wrote, “Will you go down to the bridge by the river and meet all the folks who call it home.” And if we are looking, we will see the beggars and thrown-away people on our streets.

But most of the hurting, broken people in our society, in our community, keep their bruises hidden. Their pain is not so easy to see. Many surround their lives with enough stuff - houses and cars and toys -  to hide who they really are. 

So I have just decided to believe - and try to act as if - everyone whom I meet is just as broken and bruised and cut and battered and sad and lonely and hurt and anxious and afraid and in need of love as I feel sometimes. I have decided to see them as they might look if their pain was clearly obvious on the outside. Because if we could see clearly, I believe we would see that the only explanation for all of the weird, strange, irrational, hurtful behaviors we see around us every day is that most of the people we meet are in a great deal of pain.

Lord, help me to see people the way you see them. 

Sometimes, I think Mother Teresa had it easy.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Extroverts, Introverts, and the First Week of College

I have enjoyed reading the Facebook updates from those young scholars who are starting the first year of college. Well, I’ve enjoyed reading some of them - those written by extroverts. Updates from introverts, if they write them at all, can be painful to read. You see, the first few weeks of college are paradise for extroverts. It’s all about meeting new groups of people, and participating in social activities designed to help you fit into a large group of other new people. It’s extrovert heaven, primarily because it is orchestrated by other extroverts - those college student development staff members and student government types who are in those roles and given this task because, well...they are “people persons.” In other words, they are extroverts. And all those new freshmen who write on Facebook about how wonderful college is and how much they love it ... after just 4 days: well, guess what - they love it because it hasn’t really started yet. 

These first few days of college life are completely divorced from what the academic side of higher education is all about. Oh sure, an occasional dean or provost tries to throw in a philosophical discussion here and there, but those are few and far between, and are always led by the most friendly and outgoing young professors and graduate assistants. They don’t let the majority of the faculty anywhere near the place and the faculty aren’t complaining.

In order to become a college professor, you have to spend thousands of hours working alone or in small groups, mostly in libraries and laboratories. You have to be comfortable focusing your attention on things most other people don’t care about - and you really only like to be around folks who are interested in exactly the same things you are interested in. You don’t like social gatherings where the goal is to meet as many new people as possible. You see, most college faculty are largely - in a much higher percentage than the population as a whole - introverts. And when they think back on their undergraduate experience, they remember that the first few weeks of their freshman year was the worst time of their entire college life.

So, if you are the parent of a new college student, and he or she is a bit overwhelmed by all the new people and by all the forced social interactions - and just the idea of walking into the dining hall is overwhelming - tell them to hang on. It gets better. In just a few days, they will settle into their classes, and the focus will not be on making friends, but on the intellectual tasks of the college experience. That is usually much more in the “sweet spot” of introverts. And they can find a few people who are interested in the deep conversations and activities in which introverts thrive.

Of course, walking into the dining hall will probably never be their favorite thing, and dorm life is not near as much fun for some as it is for others. But it gets better, especially if someone sends real mail,  and that mail includes brownies or an occasional check.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fat Babies

I participate in several ongoing conversations with pastors from around the country. Most of the time we talk about spiritual blessings, sermon topics, theological complexities, and the practical aspects of pastoral ministry. The conversations, and the people, are a blessing.

And there are times when we share frustrations. One of the greatest, and one of the most common, pastoral frustration, is as old as the church itself. The Apostle Paul spoke of this frustration in 1Corinthians 3, and the author of Hebrews referred to it in Hebrews 5 - believers who continued in their immaturity, and who desired spiritual “milk” when they should have been ready for “meat.”

Should pastors respond to people at the point of their perceived need, ministering to them as the immature folks desire, which may in reality be encouraging and even enabling them (to use the popular psychological term)  to continue in their immaturity, or should they confront the immaturity and encourage them toward spiritual maturity - which could result in them leaving the church?

This answer seems simple - in the abstract. It’s like the parent who continues to treat the grown child as if they are still young, providing for all of their needs. What was appropriate and healthy parenting when the child was little is no longer healthy and appropriate - yet it can be difficult to stop. From the outside, for those who are not the parents, it seems simple - just stop enabling the immaturity and demand a change in behavior. But for those in the middle of it, it is more complicated. A fear of losing the child’s love and a broken relationship lead some families to continue in the dysfunction.

The immature believer - no  matter how long they have been in the church -  demands that everyone meet their needs. Every pastor is familiar with the person who constantly wants to be recognized, to be affirmed, who wants their needs met while not focusing on the needs of others. Parents who want the youth group to take care of THEIR kids, even to the exclusion of kids not in the church. Folks who keep score about how many times they are thanked, how many calls they get if they miss worship, how many times they are asked to lead. Folks who need a personal conversation with the pastor EVERY Sunday. And these folks let everyone know that their needs are not being met.

Pastors struggle with how to best address the increasing demands of needy people. When folks are new to the faith, new to the church, such needs are expected. When folks are at a difficult place in life’s journey, the church should come alongside them at their point of need. Yet when, as one pastor told me, a long-time member keeps track of how many people come over to greet her on Sunday morning, yet will not move to greet others, there is a spiritual maturity problem. And simply trying to do better next time to meet the wishes of this milk-drinking saint is a recipe for constant pastoral frustration. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Which part is for you?

Today I was reading from my devotional (Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals), and read this quote from Frederick Buechner:

"The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you. There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too." (from Wishful Thinking, 1973)

As I was reading, I began thinking of people in my life. I thought of a specific person for each statement.

Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you.

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you.

Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us.

It's for you I created the universe. I love you. 

There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it.

Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.

I don't know if Buechner thought of it that way when he wrote it. Perhaps, in his mind, he wrote it as a complete thought, and would be offended if he knew I was breaking it up into little pieces - like the musician who doesn't want someone to listen to just one song on his album, because he wrote and recorded every song to be listened to with every other song. Or when I hear someone take a single sentence from one of my sermons or lectures and say, "That part spoke to me," and I want to say, "But I didn't mean it to be taken alone! If you do that everything will be out of balance. You have to take it all together or not at all!" Okay, I don't get that upset - I'm usually glad that someone got something out of what I say - but I am often concerned that when they take just one phrase and claim it as truth for them, they will miss something really important by removing it from the context.

We do this with scripture. We claim a verse or a passage, and make it ours - and claim it, not just as truth, but as TRUTH! Sometimes, there is great blessing there, but there is also danger. We may be tempted to build an entire belief system around one statement, and by removing the context, we miss the big picture -  the really important, big picture.

All that being said ...

I think it is okay, once in awhile, to do what I just did with Buechner's statement, and with other writings. It's okay to take a scripture passage, like Jeremiah 29, and knowing full well the historical and cultural context of the passage, still offer it to a friend as a gift from God for them, for today. It is even okay, occasionally, (and those of you who know me know how much this pains me to say), to take a passage like John 3 (You know - the passage that includes verse 3, the one about being "born again"- and that some folks say as long as you've banged your head on the altar at teen camp, well you can detour around everything Jesus said about how we are called to live, including and especially Jesus' hard teachings such as Matthew 5-7 )  and offer it as a gift from God, as a description of how our relationship with God may sometimes look and feel.

Once in awhile, we don't have to make sure we draw the big picture, we don't need to offer a complete, systematic theology. Just give a gift. A small gift. A gift that can be just the right words for today.

So, I want to invite you to go back and read the quote from Buechner. Which part is for you today? Which part is a gift for you?

Reach out and take it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Keeping Score

Playing mini-golf with my family, I‘m the one who keeps score. No one else cares, and no one ever asks “Who won?” or “How did I do?” So, even though we are there just to be together and enjoy each other’s company, I like to keep score.
Keeping score must be pretty important, because we try to do it for just about everything. We need to know who is winning, and who is a success, and who is best. 

Even when it comes to church.

Which church is the best? 
Which pastor is the most successful? 
How many members?
What is your attendance? 
How many small groups?
How big is your building? (or buildings? or campuses?)
How big is your offering?

Even when we know that churches are about being together, enjoying each other’s company, learning to love one another, and making a difference in their community.  Even though we are supposed to show people how to follow Jesus, and not really focus the attention on ourselves. And even though by just about every worldly standard, Jesus was not real great at all the measures we use to define ecclesiastical success - well, we keep on keeping score. 

Because if we don’t, how will we know who is winning? 

I wish I could figure out a way to measure significance - whether our church, or any of us, are making a difference that matters. I would like to be able to say that folks are growing closer to Jesus, becoming holier, and reflecting the love and grace of God everywhere they go. I would like to be able to say that the kingdom of God is more evident, and that people are seeing Jesus in the world because our little church is on State Road in a little corner of southeastern Pennsylvania, but I really can’t, because I have not figured out how to measure it. 

So, we keep counting members, and attendance, and buildings, and offerings. And those with bigger numbers are considered successes, and the rest of us are ... well, you know what they say about winning being the only thing.

And even as I try to convince myself that all these numbers don’t matter, I feel like I am just trying to justify and rationalize. Maybe if I worked a little harder, prayed a little more fervently, and maybe if I bought more books and videos and went to another conference to hear one of those successful pastors ...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Protect - - - - - - - Prepare

For a number of years Esther and I have spent time in conversation with parents about parenting... Not as experts, of course, as that would just be silly, but as fellow travelers, sharing what we have learned, are learning, and hearing the same from others. It is one of the things we enjoy most.

Many times, our conversations involve the idea that our goal as parents is to help our children become healthy adults who are making a difference in the world, rather than some other things, such as being popular kids, or kids that have everything they want, or cool teens. With that as our purpose, we make decisions as parents, and we create environments where such an outcome is more likely.

Inevitably in these conversations, there comes a point when my need for a white board, or a big sheet of paper, becomes unbearable. I walk up to the white board and draw a long horizontal line. I then write a word at each end of the line. 
At one end of the line is the word Protect and at the opposite end of the line is the word Prepare. I then say, "I am about to tell you something really hard. It may be the hardest thing we have to learn as parents, but it is absolutely essential. It is not complicated, or particularly insightful, but it is very important."

"Notice the relationship between the words protect and prepare. They are at opposite ends of the line. This is because, and here comes the important part, in order to prepare our kids for what life is like, we must protect them less. There is a time when our focus is on protecting, and most good, loving parents know how to do this. However, there comes a time when we must choose to prepare them for life, which means protecting them less.  Sometimes this is counter-intuitive. We want to jump in and protect, but we must fight against it. We risk them getting hurt, but it is a risk we must take. Yes, we must protect, but if our goal in life is to prepare them for healthy adulthood, protecting cannot always be the most important thing."

My speech is usually met by some positive nods of the head, usually by those parents who have not gotten to the difficult moments of parenthood. Some of those difficult moments are anticipated: leaving your child with a sitter for the first time, putting them on a school bus, giving them the keys to the car, dropping them off at college. But most of the difficult decisions of "protect/prepare" come by surprise: dealing with a bully, stepping in when we think a teacher or coach is being unfair, watching our child deal with relationship issues, etc. While we have all laughed at the stories of "helicopter parents," who hover over their kids' lives, ready to jump in at a moment's notice, when we are honest we admit that we have been tempted to do so ourselves.

As I have talked with parents for many years, I am surprised that we seldom make the connection to our lives of faith. You see, God also has to deal with the "protect/prepare" continuum in  our lives. There are times when God protects us, and sometimes we may not even be aware of the danger. But there are other times when, in order to prepare us for our present, future, and eternal lives of significance, God does not protect as much. We face difficulties that challenge us beyond what we can bear alone. God does not remove or deny the challenge - we are forced to face it, head on. But we do not face the challenge alone. As Jesus said in John 14, we have a Comforter.

So even while we as parents find it necessary, in order to allow our children to become healthy adults, to step back and allow them to face the challenges of life, we are called to follow the example of our Father. We step back, but we do not step away. We are right there, ready to encourage, comfort, and support. As Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12, "For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory."

Grace and peace

Friday, May 20, 2011

"I Told You So!"

I have to admit, there are times when I have turned to friends and family, and in my best smug, condescending tone, uttered those words:

 "I told you so."

Like the first time I watched a certain reality TV show, in order to see what all the excitement was about among some of my female friends and, dare I say, colleagues. After about 15 minutes of "Jon and Kate Plus 8," I confidently stated, "This is a train wreck just waiting to happen. This will not end well, and I feel really sorry for the kids."

Well ...

"I told you so."

However, I am not going to do that this time. On Saturday night, or Sunday morning, on the other side of May 21, I will not smugly remind folks that I knew Harold Camping was wrong. I will not reiterate that, while Christians should live every day in anticipation that we have little time to show God's love and grace to the world, Jesus made clear that we will not know the time or date of his return. Harold Camping seems to be more sick and deluded than evil, but he is definitely wrong.

This is a train wreck just waiting to happen. Thousands of folks are dramatically changing their lives (not necessarily a bad thing), selling their stuff (again, not necessarily a bad thing), because they believe that they are going up in the sky to meet Jesus on Saturday, May 21. Some (not all), seem to not be all that concerned that their neighbors, colleagues and friends will not be joining them.

Worst of all, when we wake up on Sunday morning, the world will be just like it was 24 hours before, except a whole lot more folks will have yet another reason to write off anything we say about God, love and grace, all because a civil engineer thought he had figured out a secret code in Scripture.

He didn't, because it isn't there.

But it will be up to us to pick up the pieces.

And I feel really sorry for the kids of the adults who bought into this. If they didn't already think so, now they will be sure the God their parents said they were following is not real, and everyone who says otherwise is a fool or a liar.

I promise not to say, "I told you so," because we have better things to do. We have already wasted too much time on this.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Check out Luke's EP  "Cognitive Dissonance"  at 


"Singularity" by Odist Abettor
(Copyright 2011 Luke Schutz)

Today I saw the future of earth inside a plastic box
and a forest of mannequin dolls with hearts like clocks
corporations ruled and democracy was based on stocks
and inflation, it rose like the seas we unfroze,
and do you suppose it was a dream or not?

Today I saw the children of my children’s children losin hope
they’d been starvin on the seeds of reapin’ all that we had sown
the machines of our greed and thoughtlessness had exponentially grown
in a singularity of woes, getting lost in all the things we own
but do you suppose in these fears i’m all alone?

Today I saw the mind of the last human genius getting trashed
downloading his consciousness into the creation that was erasin his past
ludicrously lost we all were struggling to care, much more to act
and it just goes to show that with all the things we think we know
well in the end I suppose, it’s all worth a good laugh
what do you think of that?

Today I saw the world as a grave for the almost dead
but a blind man walked by and told me to think of other things instead
there’s so much to look forward to, he winked behind his mask and said
and who really knows where this whole story goes
and do you suppose it was all in my head?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

"The One-Eyed Man"

Check out Luke's EP  "Cognitive Dissonance"  at 


"The One-Eyed Man" by Odist Abettor
(Copyright 2011 Luke Schutz)

Old soldier sits in a burger joint laughin’
On his shaking shoulders, a well worn green jacket
Talkin’ to his buddy, hands wavin’ wild
As the horrors of his past hide behind the occasional smile
“For King and Country” declares the back of his coat
in an ironic sort of grey
On top of a patched-on, upside-down American flag
that’s unusually un-frayed
He stops for a minute to sip from his cup
a bit of coffee and a bit that’s not
hen pats his friend on the back with a sadness in his eyes
thanking God for all that he’s got

And we see it everyday
We don’t know quite what to say

Will you go down to the bridge by the river
and meet all the folks who call it home?
Will you walk past them on the sidewalk
and look for someone to talk to
or just do your best to be left alone?
Will you make a sacrifice that could save a life
or just give some pocket change
to ease your troubled mind?
Will you live to be the change or would you rather stay the same
and just like me keep on walking blind?

Donate to charities, maybe even get on your knees
Send up half-hearted prayers for those others in need
But mostly day by day we’ve got our kinds of problems
And the issues in this world, not like we know how to solve ‘em
Is it despair or is it apathy, whether you care or not it’s gotta be
Do your part so long as you never see the face of the broken
Even when you’re looking in your own mirror [chorus]

We’re all guilty of hate crime
‘Cause we hate to be bothered
by someone who might waste our precious time
We’re all guilty of racism, sexism, classism, narcissism
Isn’t it time we realized
The guilt is yours, the guilt is mine/The guilt is yours, the guilt is mine
The guilt is yours, the guilt is mine/The guilt is yours, it’s mine!

Will we go down to the bridge by the river
and meet all the folks who call it home?
Will we walk past them on the sidewalk
and look for someone to talk to
or just do our best to be left alone?
Will we make a sacrifice that could save a life
or just give some pocket change
to ease our troubled minds?
Will we live to be the change or would we rather stay the same
and just keep on walking (by...blind?)[repeat]

Monday, May 2, 2011

Guest Blogger Ryan Scott - Honesty

The following is written by my friend and colleague Ryan Scott, from his blog http://onemorethingblog.blogspot.com/.


It has apparently taken me two and a half years to be affected enough to write another blog post, but Osama bin Laden was killed last night. I have a lot of thoughts. It is a rare situation when people feel open to be completely honest. This is one of those. I appreciate the honesty of people to say, "I'm glad he's dead," and frankly I'd expect nothing less. I am also touched by those who've expressed their conflicted feelings about being happy. That sort of honesty takes courage. It only seems fair to be equally honest.

My first response to the news was awe that it actually happened. I, like a lot of people, felt bin Laden was going to die of old age. My second response was nervousness.

This death does indeed bring some closure to an unsettling experience that began with a terrible tragedy almost a decade ago. I am one of those whose life perspective has been shaped by dealing with 9/11 and its repercussions.

I was beginning my Junior year of college at ENC, just south of Boston. The planes took off from Boston. There were guys on my floor who, for a while, were worried their father was on one of them. A fellow student lost a father as he responded from his fire house to help evacuate the buildings. I was not disconnected from this tragedy. It was real. It felt personal.

Two years later God changed my life. The result was a shift, from preparation for a career in politics to enrolling in seminary and the process of preparing for ministry. My encounter with scripture profoundly changed by perspective on life. I found a gospel that demanded my full allegiance. It meant a departure from the story my culture was writing for me to participation in a story God has been writing since the beginning of time.

News I would have cheered in 2001 brings sorrow in 2011.

I say this with no affinity for Osama bin Laden. He dedicated his life and his considerable wealth to increasing fear in our world. Fear, which is directly counter to a gospel of love. In this case, I cannot think of a more appropriate word to describe his legacy than: evil.

That being said, Osama bin Laden was a beloved creation of God's and every death is tragic. We do not have the right to kill anyone, no matter how evil. Judgement belongs to the Lord.

There has been much talk of justice, when people really mean revenge. Justice would have been for bin Laden to express real remorse and for the victims of his aggression to express real forgiveness; justice would have been for us to create a society in which George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden could live in peace.

I am not so deluded as to think this is possible, short of a miraculous work of God. Yet that miraculous work is the vision of the future laid out in scripture. What else to the wolf and the lamb, the bear and calf, the child and the serpent represent than sworn enemies living in harmony?

The real issue today is not how we handle death and killing (you can read my previous blog entry for that), but how we respond to them. I take Jesus seriously when he says an "eye for an eye" no longer applies, but instead we're called to love our enemies. Even if one feels that killing is necessary at some point, it should be done with repentance and regret - never celebration.

I am sorrowful because I believe that celebrating death is destructive to people. We cannot control the emotions life brings out in us, but we must control our responses. Revenge feels good; we've made someone suffer in the way we've suffered. But revenge can never bring healing. It can never bring restoration. That comes from loving those who don't deserve to be loved. It comes from remembering that we are all, simultaneously, undeserving of the love we're shown and profoundly deserving of love.

God weeps for Osama bin Laden. I'm not sure I can muster that response, but I do weep for people who rejoice in death and I apologize for any arrogance that may communicate.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

We're Just Being Silly

Most of what we do in church is silly.

Of course, some folks are offended by the silliness, and some folks are offended that we call it silly. And some folks are offended that so many other folks are so easily offended.
And all this being offended is just silly.

Some of what we do in worship is silly.
Those of us who worship through liturgical structures take what we do so seriously, confident and proud that we are doing it the only correct way - as if we have a corner on the only right way for God’s creatures to worship the God of the universe.
Those of us who deny the value of liturgical worship and take great pride in our “free” worship, are all the while developing our own liturgical styles.
Some of us gather in large churches, not knowing the people around us, and not seeing the silliness of worshipping a God who calls us to love our neighbor while not knowing the name of the people next to us.
Some of us gather in small churches, knowing everyone in the building, and not understanding how much courage it would take our neighbors to even drive into our church’s parking lot.
We sing songs, we say prayers, we hear sermons, and we leave the same way we came in. We hope God will move, but we really don’t want to change.


We meet in small groups, every person in the room carrying a Bible. We leave the group, maybe a little happier, maybe a little sadder, and then we concern ourselves with what we will eat for lunch. On the other side of the world, people are praying and hoping, and living and dying, staking their life on Jesus, all the while never having a Bible in their hand.

How silly is that?

But it is what we do when we leave worship that is the most silly of all.

We say that we have a personal connection with the God of the universe, yet we look to political leaders to fix what’s wrong in society. We look to military leaders to protect us, we look to economic leaders to secure our future.

We chastise fellow Christians because the commas in their creeds are different from ours, because their interpretations of nuanced, complex, and unclear - perhaps intentionally so - passages are different from ours. We break fellowship because we don’t get our way, because our songs are not sung, because someone looks at us funny, because we don’t get thanked, because we expect everyone at church to be focused on meeting our needs.

Wow, that’s silly.

But the silliest thing of all is that we would expect things to be any different.

You see, for all our talk about holiness, about sanctification, about tranformation, what we have failed to understand after 2,000 years of silliness is that we are exactly like the people Jesus met when he got personally involved in all sorts of human silliness in that small plot of ground in Galilee.

They needed a Savior and Lord.

We need a Savior and Lord.

To suggest anything else is, well... just silly.

Monday, April 4, 2011

“Bullets and Borders” by Odist Abettor
(Copyright 2011 Luke Schutz)

They’ve got you brainwashed, brother, believin’ everything they say
They’ll give your blood-washed hands a brand new coat every single day
Tie you up like an animal in false motives and ideals
And teach you how to take a life, make you forget how to feel
With all the things they’ve taken, there’s only one thing left...to steal

Kill a man, can you kill a man
A son like you from another land
Can you hold the weight of guilt in your hands
If you’re just following orders
Can you paint the world blood red
‘Cause the ones on top put the thought in your head
That freedom is a line we draw with bullets and borders

Hey, everybody, what’s all this talk about right and wrong
I’m just a citizen who’s been taught how to go along
‘Cause when my rights are threatened, I’ll give you what you deserve
If this is about justice, then tell me what I can earn
Just give me honor and a uniform, the purpose makes it worth the burn
Just give me a target and I’ve got no lessons left.... to learn

Kill a man, can you kill a man
A son like you from another land
Can you hold the weight of guilt in your hands
If you’re just following orders
Can you paint the world blood red
‘Cause the ones on top put the thought in your head
That freedom is a line we draw with bullets and borders

And mortar shells to blow it all to hell
They’ll tell your family you did so well when you’ve died
‘cause you did what you had to do (obligations of the dutiful)
A flag over the grave of the one who killed a man
his kids, his wife, his father, and his mother too...(ain’t it beautiful)

Kill a man, can you kill a man
A son like you from another land
Can you hold the weight of guilt in your hands
If you’re just following orders
Can you paint the world blood red
‘Cause the ones on top put the thought in your head
That freedom is a line we draw with bullets and borders

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Address - Lament?

I recently had a conversation with my friend Eric Severson. Eric is a philosopher/theologian, and he has just written a book entitled Scandalous Obligation: Rethinking Christian Responsibility (which, if you are interested, is available for pre-order on Amazon - Eric, you are welcome).
Well, Eric was having a conversation with several of us about his book, which is about how we as Christians think about responsibility for the bad stuff that happens in the world. It is not one of those books you pick up when you are looking for nice, easy answers, or cute, pithy sayings, or neat lists of things to do in order to be happy and change your life. It’s a book you pick up when you want to start thinking, and even to feel the tension inherent in a real life of faith and action - when you are ready to “lean into the discomfort,” if you will.
As we were talking, and I mentioned that my church is right across the street from our local high school, and down the street from three other schools, and that I believe that we as a church are responsible for the teenagers at those schools, Eric used a word which really helped me. He said that what I am doing is “lamenting” that my church cannot touch and influence every child, every teen, who attends those schools. He said that lamenting is an altogether appropriate response for our place in the world, as we claim a burden and responsibility for things that we can only partially hope to influence.
Now I’ve known about the psalms of lament, and of course Lamentations, and I suppose I’ve known in my head that lamenting is part of what it means to be a Christian in the world. But I never thought about embracing lament, of living there. Yet, you know, I think I’ve lived there for awhile - maybe even my whole life.

So, what do you think?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

In Harm's Way

Lent has always been one of my favorite times of the year. Even as a child I thought it special that we would “give something up” in order to remember the sufferings of our Lord. Kids like ritual and the idea that I would not play with one of my favorite toys, or not drink chocolate milk, or not punch my brother - all for Jesus - was a big deal. 
Over the years I have learned to combine giving up with “taking up,” adding something to my routine in order to open my heart and life to the Lord. While the fasting aspect of Lent has always challenged me, and revealed to me the weaknesses I work so hard to hide, it is the taking up that has allowed me to go places I never knew I would, or could, go.
This year I am taking up prayer walks around our community. There is a battle for the lives of our young people, and as we are making more evident our efforts to touch lives for love and grace, there is another force at work, and the activities on the other side are also becoming more obvious. I have no desire to be anonymous in this conflict, or, as someone once said, “I do not want to be a stealth enemy of Satan. I want him to see me on his radar screen.” I also like the words of the famous American Revolutionary War naval commander, John Paul Jones: “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm's way.” This year for Lent, I intend to go in harm’s way, and prayer is my fast ship.
Where will this season take you?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Afraid to think?

Recently, I've been doing some writing about the way we think about and use scripture. Some of that you will see here soon. And while I've been thinking about that, a bigger question  - about the way we think about a lot of stuff - has been going through my mind.


There is a little back story here. Several years ago, I was confronted by an angry dad who was upset because a book I was using for a class included some ideas that he found offensive. Well, he hadn't read the book, but it was on a list that he had seen of "dangerous" authors who were perverting the minds of Christians. The list included folks like Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning - real dangerous dudes. As we talked, well, as he yelled, I realized that this dad was afraid. He was afraid that we were teaching his daughter a different kind of Christianity. When I could get a word in, I asked him why he had sent his daughter to a Christian liberal arts college if he did not want her to learn how to think. I have never forgotten his answer:

"I don't want her to think. I want her to know!"

Wow! I had never thought of it that way before. 

I think that we are afraid to think because we are afraid to doubt.  We think that doubt will kill our relationship with Jesus. However, doubt is the beginning of faith, not the end. 

Remember several years ago, when some letters written by Mother Teresa were released. In some of them, she expressed her doubts. Some folks were upset, thinking in some way this took away from her amazing life of faith and witness. Not to me. To me, reading those letters, I felt closer to Mother Teresa, and she became more real, more human - and more a person of real faith.

You know, there are certain sins that are best dealt with by staying as far away as possible. Just don’t go near them. Don’t allow yourself the temptation. However, the sin of a bad idea is not the kind of sin you should avoid. The best way to deal with a bad idea is to think about it, examine it, talk about it. That’s why I’ve never understood folks who are afraid to read certain books, have certain conversations, and think about certain ideas. They are afraid that they will begin to doubt - that somehow, the only way God can rule in their life is if absolute certainty is maintained. But I think God is bigger than that. God is not afraid of my doubts, because God knows that when I leave the certainty of my box of answers, and let my doubts see the light of day, there is freedom, and that’s where faith lives.

I do think this has something very important to say to us about what we do with scripture, and I’ll write more on that later. But what do you think? I’d love to know. Let’s talk. Share your comments.

*** Thanks to Rachel Evans for helping me to think about some of this stuff. If you are not already a reader of Rachel’s blog, check her out at   www.rachelheldevans.com

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


This morning I was waiting at an intersection to make a right turn. In the car to my left, waiting to make a left turn, was a young woman in a red sports car, having an animated conversation on her cell phone. At one point her car lurched forward, barely missing the gray Mazda in front of her. As the light changed to green for her to proceed, I noticed that across the intersection, preparing to make a right turn into the same lane as the young woman, was a school bus. Thinking to myself - no, I think I said it out loud, “This is not good,” I watched as the car and the bus moved forward toward the same space. 

Both the law and common sense dictate that the car should let the bus go first, but common sense had already left for the day when the woman decided to have her cell phone conversation - so I watched the red sports car cut off the bus. The bus driver slammed on her brakes, narrowly missing the car. I don’t know if the young woman in the red sports car knew what she had caused and what had been avoided, as she sped off for her day’s activities, cell phone in hand.

It seems that I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking to myself, or saying out loud, “This is not good” as I watch people heading straight into bad situations that they could have seen if only they weren’t so distracted by less important things:
Drivers not paying full attention to what is going on around them
Parents not paying full attention to what is going on in the lives of
their kids
Husbands not paying full attention to what is going on in their marriages
Kids not paying full attention to what is going on in class
Couples not paying full attention to what is going on in the relationship

Like the joke about ADD, “Ooh, look, a shiny thing,”  many of us are too easily distracted. Many of us have difficulty staying focused. We think we can multitask, but research studies consistently show that even those who are confident in their ability to multitask don’t do it as well as they think. And when it comes to the most important things in life - our relationships - we have convinced ourselves that we don’t need to give them our undivided attention. We are wrong.

I have found, as I’m sure you have, that offering unsolicited advice and admonitions about such things tend not to be well received. When I say “Be careful, danger ahead,”  the response is often, “Mind your own business,” which, on its face, is not an unreasonable response, as I certainly have enough things in my life to keep me busy.  However, the nature of the church, when it is done right and well, not only encourages me to look at your life and you to look at mine, but it is a nonnegotiable essential of a healthy spiritual life. In other words, I don’t have a choice - your business IS my business.

We are missing some of the most important things in our life because we are easily distracted by the less important things. We tend to reject the help of others who may be able to offer wisdom to us from their experiences, and who may have a better perspective than we do. We remove ourselves from communities and commitments that encourage transparency and accountability, and we reject those behaviors and exercises (commonly known as the spiritual disciplines) that help develop our ability to perceive more clearly. 

This morning, as I made my way back to church, I found a police officer parked in our lot, along with several other cars. There had been an accident in front of our church. Seems someone was, you guessed it, talking on their cell phone.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Overselling Jesus

I think that sometimes we oversell.

I spent 23 years in Christian higher education. During that time I was regularly surprised by some of the complaints I heard from parents and students concerning their college experience. They complained about everything from the facilities to the food to the relationships (both not enough and too much) to the spiritual life to the academics to the cost. Especially the cost.

As I listened to their complaints, I realized that many of these concerns would not have been expressed if they were attending a public or private, secular school. While the reasons are more complex than what I am discussing here, I think one reason for their dissatisfaction is that we overpromised. Many students and parents thought the Christian college experience was going to be heaven on earth - hundreds of like-minded and like-hearted young people coming together to secure their faith and worldview in an environment combining the best of their adolescent experiences of teen camp, Christian concerts, youth group and retreats. All under the leadership of kindly, Godly professors and administrators who would care for them as if they were their own children or grandchildren. The end result would be a mature, spiritually passionate young adult with a degree that would guarantee a great job and, very likely, a Christian life partner. And the cost? Well, with that great job, there would be no problem paying off your loans.

Did any official college publication or representative make such explicit promises? Probably not, but they came close. I know, because I was one of those representatives.

Now, please understand - I do believe in Christian higher education. I believe that there is great benefit there, and I do believe that the education and environment offers many students a better place to receive a college education than can be received elsewhere. But it is not heaven on earth - nor should it be. It should be the most difficult, challenging environment of the students’ young life, with just enough support to help them succeed. But I think those trying to market Christian higher education market it in ways that indicate a lack of respect for the prospective students and their families. They don’t believe that folks can understand the nuanced benefits, so instead they sell emotion and a dream. And I think it often leads to a dissatisfied student/parent/consumer. And the truth is - the financial cost is too high.

But Christian higher education is not the only thing we oversell.

We have oversold the church, promising things we cannot guarantee when it comes to the quality of people and relationships that folks will find in our fellowship. We cannot guarantee that your marriage, family, kids, and life will be better if only you join us. My denomination once advertised “Our church can be your home.” Well, welcome to our dysfunctional family - if only because once I walk in the door, the church is not perfect anymore. The end result for many is church shopping, looking for the perfect faith community.

And some just walk away.

We have oversold sanctification. Once, a long time ago, someone called what happens in your life when you allow the Holy Spirit to transform you “sinless perfection.” And ever since the church has been backpedaling, redefining the terms and attempting to say that “well, we really didn’t mean that,” like the small print on the bottom of so many ads.

“Your mileage may vary.”

The result has been, for so many, that the term “sanctification” lost all meaning. When we oversold, and folks realized that what had been promised was not the reality, they then didn’t seek or realize the actual blessings of the experience. Like Christian higher education, with sanctification if we promised perfection and the reality wasn’t perfect, then the perception is that it isn’t worth anything at all. And that’s a shame, because both sanctification and Christian colleges are wonderful things - just not perfect.

I also think we’ve oversold Jesus.

In the hyperbole of our preaching, our songs, and our testimonies, we have led folks to believe that once they have a relationship with Christ everything in life will change, everything in life will be wonderful, and all of the dark clouds of life will part to reveal the glory of God. We will be happy, blessed, full of joy all the time, and our temporal concerns and worries, our problems and failures, will all melt away in the midst of the beauty of the Lord. Here is the quick, sure answer to every one of your problems.

Not for everyone, and certainly not all the time for anyone.

A few weeks ago, I heard a testimony from a believer who shared about the impact that one of my favorite authors, Brennan Manning, had on him, in giving him permission to admit his spiritual journey. “I know for some people their salvation is about complete joy in the Lord. But it was not that way for me. For me, the cross of Christ was like a small piece of wood, floating on an ocean of despair. I could survive as long as I held on to that small piece of wood. And holding on to it, I found that there were other hands holding onto to it who, like me, were holding on for dear life.”

When we oversell a relationship with Jesus, promising a happiness and perfection that is not the reality, we leave in our wake people who have found the life of faith as not all that perfect. Unfortunately, they then believe that something is wrong with them - something is wrong with their experience or their level of commitment. So, instead of trusting, they just keep trying harder, and continue their frustration that the reality is not as good as the promise.

Or, they just walk away.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Whom Do You Hate?

Eight years ago I sat with a group of men in a crowded diner for our regular Tuesday morning breakfast gathering. I was new to the group, having become their pastor only a few months earlier. One of the older men, a rough person in his seventies who was known for his brusque comments, made a racist joke. Immediately, everyone at the table looked at me. I responded with what I considered a mild, pastoral rebuke, and we went on with our meal.

Later, another man from the group pulled me aside. “You will have to forgive John,” he said, “He was in the Pacific during WWII, and he has never been able to forgive the Japanese. He hates them, and he really does not like that you drive a Honda. This was his way of letting you know that.”

John and I never really got along, although we learned to work together and his frustration with me evolved to a grudging tolerance. Several years ago John died.

It was easy for me to judge John’s hatred for the Japanese as indicative of a weakness in his spiritual life. It was also easy for me to look down on him for it. After all, I’m not like that. I don’t hate any group of people, and I certainly don’t go around making racist jokes and slurs.

However, the Holy Spirit has a way of showing me things about myself that I have worked hard to hide. John’s hatred for a race of people was due to his life-changing experience during a horrible war. In my own heart, I have allowed my experience with some individuals to grow from anger into bitterness - the raw material of hatred. There is the youth pastor who molested my friend, the boss who made my life miserable, and, I am ashamed to admit, too many others.

It is easy for me to answer the question, “Do you hate?” with a glib, “No, of course not.” But if I am faced with the question, “Whom do you hate?” my mind, under the guidance of the Spirit, does not so easily cover up my failure to allow God’s perfect love to control all of my relationships. “Yes,” I am forced to honestly confess, “I hate.”

In this confession, it is once again revealed that there is still work to be done in my life, and I am still in need of forgiveness by a God who is ready to forgive – more ready to forgive me than I was ready to forgive John.

So, if I may be so bold as to ask, whom do you hate?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Just Say It!

Several weeks ago someone, I think it was a young pastor, asked me what is the most frustrating aspect of pastoral ministry. I had to think for a second, not because I couldn’t think of anything, but because he didn’t ask for ten things, only one. And the number one frustration rose to the top pretty quickly - 

 (Yes, I am screaming it)

Unspoken expectations are different from the things that folks tell me they would like me to do, and I can then say, “Oh, sorry, I never thought of that. I’ll do it next time,” or “Thanks for your opinion, but I don’t think I can do that.”  Unspoken expectations are different because they are ... well, unspoken. They are those things that someone wants me to do because they think a pastor should do them, and maybe even a former pastor has done them, but I am not doing them. And it bothers them, usually because they think it is obvious that a pastor should do them. 

One example - likely the one that has already occurred to every one of the many (okay, three) pastors who are reading this - is home visitation. Now, for some folks in my congregation, the very idea that I might stop by their house, unannounced and uninvited, is the stuff of 3:00am nightmares, or at least a “Why are you here?” question. Yet there are a few folks, typically of an older generation, who not only see no problem with such a visit, but believe it to be what good pastors do. Even though I have told them, “If you would like me to come by, then just invite me,” this does not solve the problem. Because if they invite me, then in their mind it is not a pastoral visit. They want me to come, not because I am invited, but because that’s what they think good pastors do. 

(For more information on the deep psychological reasons for why I don’t like home visitation, see my previous blogpost “Socially Awkward.”)

And because I am not doing what they believe a good pastor should do, or that any pastor would see to be self-evident to do, they are left with only one of two conclusions about me:
1. Either I am a really bad pastor who doesn’t have a clue (definitely a possibility), OR
2. I really don’t like them (not true at all).

I'm sure there are other unspoken expectations, some of which I only surmise  - not because I have been told them - but because, like black holes in the abyss of space, we only know of them because of their effect on other aspects of church life.  Like gravity, unspoken expectations bring down everything around them.

It should not come as a surprise that unspoken expectations are a problem in ministry. After all, they are a problem in many relationships. When I see a couple for marital counseling, inevitably unspoken expectations become a topic for conversation. While the stereotype is that it is women who don’t tell husbands what they want - “If you don’t know what I want for Valentine’s Day, then I’m certainly not going to tell you” -  men are often guilty as well.

The truth is, I’m just as guilty. I will stand there, on Sunday morning, hoping that someone will tell me that the sermon blessed them, or challenged them, or made them think  - even made them angry. Usually, I get nothing, nada, zip. No one says a word.

Now, you may ask, “Mike, have you told folks that you need this kind of feedback? Do they know that it blesses you when they say something about how the sermon blessed them?”

Come on - of course not. After all, if I have to tell them, then it’s not as good. They should just know. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Lesson from the Music Room

For several months I have been attempting to learn how to play the bass guitar.

This instrument was purposely chosen for me by my music teacher wife because it is an easy instrument to learn at a beginner’s level. Another reason for the choice is that our church would benefit from adding a bass to the praise team. However, since it is more likely that one of the unborn children in our congregation will advance through birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, decide to learn the bass guitar, and then join our praise team, before I ever get to play in public, such a rationale lacks credibility. The primary reason is that my dear wife, fearing that I am quickly moving toward dotage, is taking drastic measures to keep my brain functioning. She thinks I need a hobby.

Taking up a musical instrument in my mid-50s sounds like a silly idea. After all, there is a reason why I am the only non-musician in my family. I am not musical. As a child I was the only one in my class who could not play the recorder. Not at all. I couldn’t get a sound to come out. In high school my one attempt to sing was quickly thwarted when the choir director kicked me out of choir. Something about me “making up my own vocal part, and not even singing that well.” As an adult, when my family gathers around the piano to sing, I am sent to the kitchen to prepare snacks. A wise choice.

So, here I am, attempting to learn a musical instrument. And as I try to figure out the basics of rhythm, beat, and contort my hand to stretch my fingers into position, all the while remembering to relax and feel the music, I am getting frustrated. I remember my wife (my music teacher wife) telling me how students in her classes easily and confidently move from piano and flute to guitar. I’ve seen my own children do it. A teenager I know taught himself the basics of the bass over a weekend. Why can’t I do this? Why am I even trying?

So, in the midst of all this, I remembered something. Something I seem to have forgotten, not just about learning the bass guitar, but about a lot of things.

This is supposed to be fun.

I am not good at having fun. I have spent most of my life thinking about serious things, and walking alongside people in great pain, and wondering what we can do to make the world a better place. I am not the person people call when they want to get together for a few laughs. It is one of those things in life I regret.

Music is supposed to be fun. Before you can make it beautiful - which I may never do - you have to enjoy it.

That’s a good lesson, because it is true about many things in life. Relationships especially. Family. Love. Work. Music.

This is supposed to be fun.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I think that I understand more now than I did when I was 12.

I was 12 years old in 1968. 

When I was 12 my grandparents talked about the Great Depression. To me it was ancient history. To my children, the 1960s are ancient history. And just like my grandparents tried to teach me the lessons of the Depression, I have tried to teach my children the lessons of our nation during my childhood - a time when hate and fear resulted in neighborhoods and cities burning, when even children cried out in venomous hate for those whom their parents identified as the despised “others,” and when defending “our way of life” justified uncivilized evil that today my children have trouble comprehending.

I remember the April evening when we heard that Dr. King was assassinated. I remember watching some people cry inconsolably, and I remember watching my next door neighbors celebrate. I remember the morning two months later when we woke up to the news that Robert Kennedy had been killed. I remember watching the smoke rise above the city of Baltimore from the riots that summer. And I remember my parents telling us that the schools and streets of the city were no longer safe, and the next year we moved to the suburbs.

I remember seeing men like Bull Connor, George Wallace and Lester Maddox on television, spewing hate and venom and encouraging others to do the same. I remember scary pictures of people in white clothing, talking of hate in the name of the God of love. And I remember their children, doing the same. 

And that is when I began attempting to understand why people hate. 

I have spent my life studying theology and psychology, in order to understand. I have come to the conclusion that we hate because we are afraid, and we are afraid because we have not been completely transformed by the gospel. We hate because we are afraid, and we are afraid because we do not fully love. We do not accept the love that we have been given in Christ, and because we do not accept it for ourselves, we do not know how to share it with others. 

These days I am concerned about the language of hate that I hear, the words that describe our neighbor as our enemy, and the need to defend “our way of life.” I am concerned because I believe that, while our cities are not burning as they did in 1968, we have not learned all of the lessons. We still define people by how they look, and how they are different from us, and how they arouse our fears. And far too many of us live in fear, and practice hate. 

And we still need to allow God to not just save us, but change us.

Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.” -MLK Jr.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


The first Sunday after Epiphany is traditionally when the focus is on the story of Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist. To me it has always felt a bit strange, a bit forced. We just celebrated Christ’s birth - I’m not ready to jump ahead 30 years.

So, this year, as the first in a series of messages on relationships in the kingdom, we looked at two gospel stories about relationships. Yes, we did visit Jesus’ relationship with his cousin John and the baptism event, but we also spent some time looking at the story of Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus at the temple. I was struck by a theme that connects the two events - and that speaks to us about our relationships in the kingdom.

(I encourage you to read these two passages: Luke 2: 21-40, and Matthew 3:13-17)

What struck me was the theme of blessings.

1. Mary and Joseph blessed their child Jesus by doing the best that they knew to do in following the Law. Certainly you can have an interesting - at least for me - discussion about the necessity of this action. After all, Jesus did not need to be purified - did not need to be consecrated. Yet this was the best that his parents knew to do. As parents, doing the best we know to do is all we can do. There are times when I look back on my life as a parent and realize that what I did was not enough, or wrong, or foolish. But my intentions were good. I did the best that I knew to do. As children, when we understand that our parents did the best they knew to do, we understand that their actions were a blessing in our lives. Mary and Joseph blessed Jesus by doing the best they knew to do.

2. In the Lucan narrative we are introduced to two senior saints: Simeon and Anna, both of whom are waiting for the coming of the Messiah. Mary and Joseph blessed them by allowing them to see and participate in their family life. They honored them by sharing their joy. This has broad and significant implications for the intergenerational community of faith.

3. Simeon and Anna blessed Mary, Joseph and Jesus with their words. Of course, if you read the passage carefully, you may not think Simeon’s words to Mary were all that much of a blessing. I’m sure the statement “And a sword will pierce your own soul as well” was not what she wanted to hear that morning in the temple courts. Yet when those who are wise speak truth into our lives - in love - it is a blessing.

4. God blesses Simeon and Anna. What God had promised, God fulfilled, and they experienced joy in this promise kept.

5. With all this in mind, I have fresh eyes for the story of Jesus’ interaction with his cousin John. John’s ministry, calling the people to repentance for the forgiveness of sins, was shortly to be superseded by the ministry of Jesus. And what Jesus did that day, in participating in John’s ministry, even over John’s protestations, was a blessing. Jesus blessed John’s ministry. Jesus honored John’s work. There were those who wanted to see the two as in competition - both those who were disciples and those who were looking for ways to discredit both. (If this sounds similar to the situation today - with both followers and critics of ministry trying to portray churches and Christian leaders as adversaries rather than co-laborers, you get my point.)

6. And, of course, we then read of the Father’s act of blessing Jesus, both for whom Jesus is, but also for the work Jesus is about to do.

This theme of blessing speaks to me. It encourages me to cross the lines of generations that the culture so embraces and that the church has so foolishly accepted as inevitable. It encourages me to cross lines that divide ministries, as we are so tempted to define ourselves by our differences rather than what we have in common in Christ.

More importantly, it encourages me to look for opportunities to bless. I want to bless parents who are doing the best they know to do. I want to bless folks who have been faithful across many years. I want to bless those who are doing what God has called them to do. I want to bless children and teens as their service to God is just beginning.

And I want to bless you.

Grace and peace

Monday, January 10, 2011


Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and, after listening to what they had to say, wanted to call a time-out? This happens to me all the time. I want to stop in the middle of the conversation and say,
“Let me ask you a question: Did you consider the repercussions of that statement before you said it? Because if you did, I don’t think you would have said it.”

I don’t usually do that, but I want to. Often. It seems that some folks do not have filters between whatever thought pops into their head and what comes out of their mouth.

Before I go on, in case you don’t know me well enough to already know this, I am an introvert. A true introvert in the Jungian sense. I am not shy, I just prefer fewer social interactions. Most of what really goes on in my life, who I really am, happens inside my head. And because of this, quite a bit of energy is devoted to deciding how much of who I am is revealed to the outside world.

Another way of looking at this is in terms of filters. Think of a filter, say one of those paper coffee filters. Now, where is your filter between what you think and what you say? For an introvert, the filter is well inside their head. The filter decides how much of what they think actually comes out. For me, my filter is fairly strong. I am constantly doing a “cost-benefit analysis” of my thoughts and feelings, deciding if something I think should be said. My filter does not let much out. This has repercussions for my life, and some are not healthy.

Now, for some of my extrovert friends (not all, but some), it seems as if their filter, if they have one at all, is about 3 feet outside their mouth. They think something, then they say it, and then they deal with the consequences. While they may ask me - “Mike, tell us what you are thinking,” I am asking them, “Did you think about what you just said before you said it?”

We all know people who seem to have no filters. And for everyone of us, there are times when our filters are not working. For some people, especially teens, they spend so much energy controlling themselves at school and in other areas of their life that their filters stop working around family members. All of their frustration of the day, controlled by their filters while at school, comes out toward their parents and siblings. It’s as if the filter takes a time out - or is overwhelmed.

I’m thinking about this today because there are times when I wonder if we as a society have lost our collective verbal impulse control. It seems as if many of us have stopped thinking about the consequences of what we say. It’s as if the filters have been turned off.

Of course, one of the most obvious examples is Facebook.

Have you ever wanted to private message someone, after reading their Facebook update, and ask, “Would you stand in front of 400 people and say what you just wrote? I don’t think you would, because you are smarter than that. Before you would stand in front of all those people: friends, family members, coworkers, neighbors, high school buddies you have not seen in 20 years, and your employer, I think that you might take the time to edit what you would say. You would think about how it would be received, and you would think about the consequences for you, for them, and for your relationship. You would think about what they will say to you after hearing your comment. I know you, you are smart enough that you would not say what you just wrote if all of those people were right in front of you. Well, when you posted that comment, it is as if you are standing in front of all of those people. And you know what - calling it a “rant” is not an excuse.”

All of the above is prelude.

This idea of a lack of filters, a lack of verbal impulse control, a lack of maturity when it comes to communication, and a willingness to say whatever pops into our head that will get noticed, with a lack of concern that words actually have consequences, is most obvious in our national political debate.

Folks are screaming at one another, saying the most outlandish things, demonizing those with whom they disagree, and using the language and imagery of war, death, and destruction in order to make their point. Pundits and commentators are popular, not for the insight and perspective they offer, but for their ability to excite/incite the masses and “rally the troops.” We are called to “reload” and “take no prisoners” to achieve our goals in this “culture war” for the hearts and minds of our country, as we are led to believe that the end justifies the means and that those on the other side are out to “destroy our way of life.” Compromise and listening to the other side are simply not options.

But then, there are those people who are not mentally competent enough to understand that it is all just metaphor and imagery, and that we really don’t mean that our enemies should be “taken out.” Some folks are not capable of processing this language in a nuanced way, and these words serve as the last drop in the bucket of their tormented lives. Of course, no one expected any one to take our “call to action” literally. But someone did, and someone always does. Since there is seldom an easy way to draw a straight line from someone’s words to another person’s actions, particularly the actions of a mentally sick person, then no one is to blame, no matter how toxic the environment those words create.

Of course, all these pundits are saying these things under the protection of the First Amendment, and are making a pretty good living keeping the fires burning. You have to wonder, if folks started actually talking to each other, would these pundits have a job?

Now that I think about it, maybe this isn’t about impulse control at all. Maybe these folks have filters that work just fine, when they want them to work. Maybe they’ve just turned them off.