Author: The Bridge Faith Community

Order

“May we show our thankfulness through kindness and appreciate our blessings through generosity.” – Cyn Morgan in her excellent book Misericorde

Why wouldn’t I? This was the question in the last post (called Ham) about this response of ours. Of course we don’t have to, but why wouldn’t we? If you love these posts just as they are, no matter what I write about or how much time, effort and care I expend (like my mom does), would I stop expending time, effort and care? I hope not. I hope I would work harder to show my thankfulness to you (and my mom).

This makes complete sense, right? But when it comes to “spirituality,” I suddenly begin to wrinkle my nose and contort myself into all sorts of positions, feigning confusion and/or dreaming airtight arguments detailing why not.

The last time I wrote about this, we explored the imaginary conflict between the letter written by James and the concept of grace, but which in reality is no conflict at all. If my desire isn’t to display my gratitude, to say thanks, am I really that grateful? Probably not. The thing is that our modern perspective of shifting truths has created a society of (wink, wink) tolerance, and on the one hand that is sort of good, but the other hand has suffered mightily. The unintended consequence of our neglect of Truth (which is really what the your truth, my truth fallacy is) is a neglect of Jesus, a neglect of the Gospel.

The order of the Bible (and when I say the Bible, I mean the individual books & letters as well as the overarching narrative of the collected library) is:

1. Our Condition. 2. What God Has Done. 3. Response.

So, if #1 (the problem) is ignored or minimized, than #2 (the solution) is ignored or minimized. If I’m not in trouble, why do I need rescue? If I’m not falling, what good is being caught? They’re just words on the page that we read on Sunday mornings that have virtually no importance in our actual daily lives. It becomes theology, an intellectual exercise (hence the arguments and pretense), instead of practice.

And no one is thankful for theology, in itself, and it’s thankfulness that drives #3. This is why we ask, “Do I have to?” It’s a meaningless checklist, and not an authentic response to a gift. The gift just isn’t that big of a deal.

The Bible is ordered the way it is on purpose. If we lose the order, we lose the magnitude of the gift. The characters in Misericorde were rescued in a very obvious, tangible manner. Their lives were spared while the rest were not. The characters of the Bible were rescued in a very obvious, tangible manner, too. Their lives were spared while others were not. It’s interesting, we can easily forget that we are characters in the Scriptures. We are rescued. The lives that are spared are ours.

Unless we truly understand 1, we will never understand the overwhelming grace of 2, or the Gospel, or Jesus. (And He is the absolute BEST part!!!)

Next time, we’ll talk about the prosperity gospel that is in vogue and how it is the antithesis of this Divine order.

Princess Poppy

Yesterday I was working out and a song from the animated movie Trolls came on my playlist, “Get Back Up Again.” I’ll give you a second to find it and listen.

…. 

It’s great, right? But it isn’t the most masculine thing (or progressive or in any way ‘cool’) you’ve ever heard. Usually, I listen to punk rock and Morrissey and, well, right now I have a new song by Beck playing. My taste in music is exemplary, I take great pleasure in finding new and exciting artists and records. Then there is this embarrassing Trolls song that I repeated 4 times in a row during my workout. Just a sweaty dude listening to Trolls. 

If you were to know only that about me – that I LOVED “Get Back Up Again” – you could draw certain conclusions about me. Conclusions that would probably be wrong.

Todd Snyder wrote in one of his greatest songs, about a woman referred to by another as a prostitute: “I’m sure she is, but that’s not all she is.”    

She was all kinds of other things, too. So am I, and so are you. 

I write so much about this lately, (and in every election cycle), because I pay an inordinate amount of attention to social patterns and culture, and it’s impossible not to notice how we’ve been divided into groups based solely on 1 facet of ourselves. We’ve been sold the lie that this one facet is the only thing about us that matters. Now, this has always been a temptation, from the beginnings of history. In the Bible, a man asks (about Jesus) if He knows “what kind of woman she is.”

As Todd Snyder would say, “I’m sure she is, but that’s not all she is.”  

Yes, we are addicts, alcoholics, abusers, prostitutes, mask-wearers, non-mask-wearers, Republicans, Democrats, cheaters, liars, vegetarians, pescatarians, Keto, nurses, pastors, punk rockers, jazz elitists, smokers, non-smokers, people who read books on a Kindle, even people who LOVE an Anna Kendrick song from Trolls.

But that’s not all we are.

We are Children of the Living God, created in His image – Republicans and Democrats alike (gasp!!!) – and we’ve been created by, in, and for, love. This terrible lie has caused us to forget that simple, monumental fact. Almost nothing that is happening can be called love. Instead, it’s the same old violence, rained upon each other and upon ourselves.

I keep writing about it because I’m so sad to see how easily we’ve been manipulated into believing that we are so different, that these differences are irreconcilable, and that these differences are so fundamental to our existence that we would behave so awfully towards one another. I’m just so sad, the heartbreak compounded by the largely ignored truth that each act of violence originates from an unbearably deep reservoir of fear and pain in the violator.   

It’s another page in the us/them fictional dogma we accept. Huge segments (maybe all) of the things we see and hear are grounded in a desperate need to draw battle lines, where “we” are 100% right and “they” are 100% wrong. This pandering rips at the fabric of human decency and the only real desperate need is for revolution.

So, let’s do that. But it’ll be a revolution of love. We will show up to love each other – no matter who the ‘each other’ is. Our Each Others will be our neighbors and our enemies, our co-workers and our brothers and sisters, Republicans and Democrats.  

It’s an unlearning of centuries of curriculum, a complete overhaul of the theology of comparison and competition, and I can’t imagine that it’ll be easy or smooth or without some real setbacks, but as Princess Poppy sings, “Hey! I’m not giving up today. There’s nothing getting in my way. And if you knock knock me over, I will get back up again.”

Important News For This Week

As you all surely aware, Lebanon county is the final county in PA to achieve the Green designation. This is awesome because we can begin to resume a closer picture of our lives (whether they go back to how they were before is a conversation for another day;) This was to hopefully include the Bridge actual physical gatherings on Sunday mornings.
And yes, this was the plan. However, that plan has been altered.
My family and I went on vacation last weekend. This is great news until I tell you we went to Rehoboth beach and that there was a large COVID-19 outbreak while we were there.
I would like nothing more than to meet this weekend – I have been over the moon with excitement at seeing you and sharing the space with you again – but I cannot put any of us in any kind of compromised position. Over the past few weeks, we’ve spoken about levels of caution we choose…and that we were in a space that is KNOWN to be trouble raises that beyond where we are comfortable. I do not take my responsibilities with the safety of this community lightly, no matter what I might really, really want.
We will continue to be patient, even when it’s so terribly disappointing.
So, this week, we will:
  • Meet Saturday at 10am on Zoom for our contemplative retreat
  • Meet Sunday at 10:30am on Facebook Live for our Sunday service.
I will go ahead with the planned 3 week series on the re-dedication of the Bridge, with the 3rd week (July 19) being the return to the building. These next 3 weeks will shape the course of our community for the future, I hope you’ll join us as we ask and answer the questions “Who?” and “Why?”
Love & Peace.

Ham

I have a really good friend who is the author of, as I write this, 5 novels I just looove. Honestly, I feel like a pretty big deal, too, that I know her and we are friends. She wrote a trilogy and is now 2 books into a quadrilogy called The Mercy Series. In the first book, Misericorde, through the words of a character, she detailed an extraordinary ethos for life: “May we show our thankfulness through kindness and appreciate our blessings through generosity.”

I immediately stopped reading and wrote it down in the notebook I always carry with me, and I’ll tell you why. 

Following Jesus at some point leads you to a wrestling with the idea of “faith +.” Faith + something, anything that I can do to prove my worth, to earn this gift of unbelievable love. We might not explicitly acknowledge this, but it comes out in much of what we do (and how we do it). 

Nothing is free, right?

The Grace of God IS, we are taught, so we hold on to that, but then James writes (in chapter 2) “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (v. 17)…faith without deeds is useless? (v. 20b)…You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. (v. 24)…As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (v. 26)” Now what? Is it my faith or my deeds? And this wrestling leaves us at the same point: Do I have to?

The short answer is “No, I don’t.” The longer answer is “…but why wouldn’t I want to?”

The Angel married me, for some reason she loves me that much, so I guess I don’t ‘have to’ behave the way I did when we were dating, don’t have to prove myself, don’t have to wash the dishes and take the trash out and buy her Snickers ice cream bars and slippers, but why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t I want to express my love for her in all sorts of ways? Would I ask if I had to?

I think James’ question to me would be, “YES, she loves you NO MATTER WHAT, but if you love her, how is it possible that that love wouldn’t come out of you??” 

We love each other and the things we do are a response to that love. (That word, “response,” seems to have much more to unpack and may become the basis for a million part series here, but we’re talking about my friend’s book right now and I said I’d tell you why I wrote it down.) I love her so I’m making ham for dinner tonight and I absolutely hate ham but I make it because she likes it. That’s my response. My friend (whose name is Cyn Morgan and you can find her books on Amazon) writes about characters who are asking these same questions. That’s why her books are so great. They are loved and have been given so extravagantly, right then, there, as they are. Now what? Their answer is kindness and generosity. I wrote it down because, whether it’s in a novel or in space or in Cleona, it’s a great answer and an even better lifestyle.

A Tale Of Two 30 For 30’s

2 different documentaries were released by ESPN this year followed much the same outline: Huge star athlete brought down by scandal and where is he now? They clung pretty close to the template, but they felt like polar opposites.

Lance Armstrong won 7 Tour de France’s (Tours de France?) amid wide doping speculation that he vehemently denied, destroying the lives of all those who happened to get in his way. As it turns out, he was using performance enhancing drugs forever and if you search Tour de France winners, his name is excised. Nobody won those years.

Michael Vick transformed football by transforming the quarterback position – everything is different today directly because of his talent, success and impact…until he was jailed for nearly 2 years for dogfighting. He returned to football and was, again, successful on the field but still walks around with the criminal brand he earned.

Now, why are they so different? On the surface, it’s just 2 supremely gifted athletes who lost everything. And so what? Why do we care?

They are different because Armstrong continues to blame everyone else. He was, by all accounts, a mean, nasty, arrogant jerk. It is still not his fault. He admits his act through clenched teeth, but it is only in the context of “everyone else was doing it.” The real villains in his story are the people who blew the whistle to bring down such an American hero. The film ends and we did not enjoy it. We do not like him. We would NEVER trust Lance Armstrong.

They are different because Vick has looked (and continues to look) squarely in the mirror at his own wrongdoing. He has reasons but never excuses. He was the one responsible for his downfall. We did enjoy this film. We may not like or understand him, but we are proud of him. His is a story of redemption and beauty.

(I recognize 2 things. 1. That Vick’s crimes were far more heinous than Armstrong’s. I do not and could not ever defend what he did. 2. I never guessed that I’d call a film that included some of the ugliest behavior I’ve seen “a story of… beauty.”)

Now, so what, why do we care? Genesis 3 has a man passively, quietly stand by while the woman eats the fruit specifically forbidden. When God asks them about it, the man says, “She did it!” Then continues, “And as far as that goes, You put her here!” God asks her, and she says, “It was the serpent, he tricked me!”

Today has us all explaining that “He did it!” “She made me!” “I was scared what would happen if I didn’t go along.” I clicked because she didn’t…”

Genesis 3, Adam, Eden, 2020, me, you, Cleona, Los Angeles. “I’m sorry, but…” is just another way to say “you’re mad, but it’s not my fault.” It’s your fault, or his, or theirs. I only know it’s not mine, or if it is, I’m going to do any sort of contortion to avoid the responsibility of the action.

We care because blame is as old as human beings and it is still just as gross as it was the first time. It has never gotten less obvious or less pathetic.

The problem is that it’s such a lie. Dishonesty interrupts relationship, distracts from connection, until we are so far apart we have no idea what’s real and what isn’t. You and I will have conflict. You and I will disagree. I will let you down. You will, too. Each close relationship has countless hiccups, missteps and offenses that we endure. Blame is the wall that makes forgiveness impossible and prevents reconciliation absolutely, our arrogance in this deception keeps us behind masks of being “right.”

There is amazing power in “I’m sorry,” the kind of power that allows us to celebrate Michael Vick and shake our heads at Lance Armstrong. The kind that makes marriages work and friendships last. The kind that that gives fresh starts, leads us to grow and transform into brand new me’s and you’s and Michael Vick’s (but not yet Lance Armstrong’s), and sees what is possible instead of what has always been.

Cafish, pt 4 (or 5 or 12 or 100)

This morning on a Catfish repeat, the players all ended up to be exactly who they said they were. You’d think this would be cause for celebration and “…happily ever after,” but you’d be wrong.

I started that last week, and I just cannot remember why! I don’t remember the people or the show, how they met or why I cared so much to write it to you. There is a certain discontent, maybe we would call it a holy discontent, that slides into places and situations where we long for the one thing (husband/wife, job, house, baby, etc) that will complete us. And when we get that thing, we are still not complete. I heard once in a talk that people with a porn problem always have an anger problem – because we want it to be something that it can’t, to fill a hole it can’t, and when it doesn’t, we get frustrated, using more and more, clicking more and more, and no amount can be enough to do what we want it to. But that’s true for so much more than porn, isn’t it? 

The couple on Catfish had dreams of a blissful life once they would meet, that they would ride into a painted sunset with their prince/princess, but when they did they discovered to their horror that each was only a human being. What a disappointment! 

I wonder how much of our lives are built on an altar of misguided expectations. How much of our relational conflict revolves around the ugly reality that they just WILL NOT do what I want them to do? That the world is not as I think it should be? How many fights begin on the stories I tell myself, often having no basis in reality? How much of our faith is centered upon an idea that God will smooth all rough patches and answer all of our prayers?

This is just another way we avoid being fully present in what is happening here and now. We are waiting, expecting something (the best or the worst) and it’s suddenly over and we only know it wasn’t… What was it? Who knows? It’s gone and we missed it.

I‘m finding that our lives are really an ongoing process of simplification. When we start to drift into the ‘what if’ dreamworld, it’s vital to pull back. What if Or What is? ‘What if’ is a question loaded with, and almost indistinguishable from, the fear that whispers the question into our vulnerable ears. ‘What is’ is grounded (perhaps distantly) in a gratitude for the gift of today. Sometimes today is rough. Sometimes today is too much to bear. Sometimes today is heartbreaking and full of bitter tears. But there is blessing in that, too. So many of our favorite moments were born out of the ashes of the previous ones. 

We had yesterday, have tomorrow, but today we can plant seeds for a new creation, if only we can stop trusting the stories our fear is feeding us in our unrealistic, unhealthy expectations.