Spirituality

9 Years

This week is the 9 year anniversary of tropical storm Lee. I talk about this particular storm so much because it started to rain on a Sunday and when it stopped on Thursday, my house was underwater and our lives would never be the same. We now refer to memories and personalities as Before the Flood and After the Flood. It’s 9 years later, though, and it’s fingerprint is still branded on our souls. I had a friend (a good friend, despite the story I’m about to tell;) who said to me about 5 months afterwards, “Isn’t it time to move on? It happened months ago.” I wonder what he’d say now, and I wonder if I’d still want to punch him when he did.

Sometimes you move on, but the scars are still there and sometimes they still ache.

We all were forced to closely examine our unhealthy relationships with control. Maybe that’s the biggest, most valuable loss – the delusion that we were ever in control. I thought I could be a superhero, protecting my family from all threats, keeping them safe and secure with my strength and will. As it turns out, my strength and will couldn’t stop the rain, couldn’t keep the water from swallowing my house, couldn’t make the insurance company make good on their promise, couldn’t make the family pictures reappear, couldn’t give anybody back what was lost.

This was a great big domino that started an avalanche. This horrible lesson/sledgehammer broke me open and walked me into many many more “couldn’t”s.

Now. Last week, in this space, we discussed control, the things that ARE actually ours to control, and taking it into settings, circumstances, situations. The flood, when it broke me open also broke my heart (a sledgehammer is NOT a particularly precise tool, that’s why we don’t use it to crack eggs) and when it healed, it formed in a different shape and pattern with grooves and texture that wasn’t there before.

I have bad skin, the consequence of years of abuse. I hated that skin for so long, was often disgusted when I would look in the mirror and see only imperfections. But now, when I see the marks on my face, I only see me. I’m not flawless. I’ve made poor decisions with food and drink and lifestyle and sunscreen. I’m getting pretty old and, where there once was a baby face stands someone’s husband and dad, wrinkled around the eyes and mouth from laughter and tears and lots and lots of smiles. I’ve been slapped, pinched, frozen in a questionable procedure by a dermatologist, scratched by cats, and on and on and on. But it’s my face and I wouldn’t change one thing.

And that heart that turned out to be wildly mistaken about my imaginary strength, will, superpowers, and control – it’s mine, I wouldn’t change one thing, and I’ll be taking this new broken/repaired heart everywhere I go, into every landscape and environment.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to some college students who were volunteering to clean “flood buckets” (buckets filled with supplies and sent to flood victims about). I jump at those chances now. You see, I don’t exactly want to talk about or even think about our flood anymore, but now it’s a different sort of story. It’s about what I couldn’t do. It’s about kindness & peace & opening up my hands to the things to which I was desperately grasping. It’s about value and “enough.” It’s about losing all of my stuff and discovering that I didn’t really care about that stuff at all. It’s about my face. It’s about the redemption of my heart.

It’s about Jesus. It’s a Gospel story, now, and it’s a very good one.

Prosponsive Proactors

This is an extraordinarily uncertain time, where any illusion of control is stripped from our hands. Honestly I suppose it’s not “extraordinarily uncertain,” but I do think the uncertainty is much more difficult to ignore. 6 months ago, if I told you the world could, or would, come to a screeching halt, you’d laugh and shake your head and talk about how I had lost touch with reality. And now it’s entirely possible that that exact scenario could happen AGAIN (!??!) next week, tomorrow, in an hour.

One of the unintended consequences of that sort of precarious standing is that we are forced to become reactors instead proactors (that’s not a word, but you know what I mean.) I think it’s sort of the same as the difference between thermometers and thermostats. Using overly simplified definitions I’ve constructed out of thin air, proactors prepare and move in a direction they choose intentionally, reactors read the room and move based on the environment of the room.

LeBron James said, about basketball in this Orlando bubble, that you control what you can and adjust to the rest (or something like that.) Last weekend I was explaining to my boy Elisha that I prepare so much for a wedding because then I am free to respond to anything that happens to come in my direction. That outdoor wedding had a torrential downpour 5 minutes before the scheduled start time which delayed the scheduled start, then after we (the groom, wedding party, my wife & I, and a few others) toweled off the soaked chairs, we stood in swampy puddles and oppressive humidity for this sacred ceremony, only to have forgotten the rings. Nothing went according to plan and it was just beautiful.

(It’s actually a solid metaphor for marriage, isn’t it?)

So. We’re forced to be reactors. Or are we?

Maybe there are some things we can control that will make us far more adaptable to the threat of rapid, jarring change.

Rabbi Josh Feigelson, PhD, Executive Director of Institute for Jewish Spirituality, wrote in an email I received a few weeks ago, “One of the core values we hold at IJS is to be responsive, not reactive. We have taken our time in listening and reflecting on what this moment means for us, as an organization, as a community, and as individuals. We are still listening and reflecting, even as we take action. 

Yet the nature of our work is that, regardless of the particular issue at hand, there are some questions we invite and even demand of ourselves to ask:

Am I/Are we acting with as much compassion as I/we can? 

Am I/Are we acting with as much wisdom as I/we can? 

Am I/Are we listening as deeply as I/we can? 

Am I/Are we being truly honest with myself/ourselves?

Am I/Are we reflecting and deepening the image of God in each and every human being as much as I/we can?

Am I/Are we creating greater capacity for shleimut, wholeness which embraces difference and contradiction, which is the essence of shalom, peace?  

The answer to these questions is always “No,” because we can always do better. We can always broaden our awareness, deepen our compassion, and elevate our wisdom. We can always listen better. We can always be more honest. We can always do more to see and lift up the image of God.”

(He uses responsive but I am using prosponsive or proactors or pro-whatever in much the same way, to avoid the ‘re-’ confusion)

The interesting thing is that with a focus on our work, our journey, our quest, we have a different perspective and the uncertainty is reframed as landscape. If the story isn’t COVID and is instead the redemptive work of Jesus in the world, and in us, then it is less menacing and far more hopeful. We control the little patch of land that is ours to control (like our compassion, wisdom, listening, honesty, shleimut, LOVE) and let it translate into whatever setting we encounter.

If my path is to show the love of Jesus, there’s a strong possibility that whether it’s in school or not won’t matter as much. If my interest is the union of Steph & Tom, then how much it rains is less damaging. Shalom is desperately needed in every room, regardless of the temperature.

I know it’s a hard anxious time for all of us, maybe we could use a fresh (old) word, maybe we could remember a new story.

Misunderstanding

Last week, the wedding I was scheduled to do was cancelled (citing “Family Drama”) so I gave a surprise special message on Facebook. The material fell like the water in the shower, piercing my skin on Tuesday morning, and I was compelled to follow. It was a foot note on the 2nd test (Obedience) of the 1st chapter and a half of 1 John. I didn’t record the audio, so for a quick minute I considered writing it out here. I won’t, you’re only going to find it there, like an extra track on an album, but there is an observation I don’t want to get lost.

The message was about why obedience is important, considering the grace that wholly transformed the story. On the surface the two ideas sound conflicting – the Big Point was that they’re not. We do anything and everything in the context of faith and spirituality as a response to our love for Jesus and gratitude for the tremendous gift we have been given. There was a sentence I’m pretty sure I stole from a guy named Darryl Dash: “True love requires a response.”

That’s right, isn’t it?

Now, the cavalier nature that we toss around the word ‘love’ can make this confusing; loving my jeans or pizza doesn’t require any sort of response. I don’t have to be faithful to baseball or my car, don’t have to buy them a birthday present or show them I love them. But actual true love is different.

To love Jesus means certain things…(we’ve been talking about these certain things and will continue next time, but the question I want to repeat is:) doesn’t loving you? And here we are: Doesn’t loving you translate to respect, kindness, safety, attention, care, faithfulness, integrity, honesty, and one and on? The problem is, too often it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t here now for us everyday, it becomes harder to understand when we talk about responding to God’s love. If a response isn’t a natural expectation, it’s not a natural expectation – neither here nor there.

But the splinter in my mind (to quote the great philosopher Morpheus) is, “why doesn’t it?” Why do we settle when it comes to loving us? When did we learn to accept so little? Maybe it’s so difficult to give all of us to God is because we’ve believed the lie that love doesn’t require that level of sacrifice? (Maybe sacrifice is the wrong word…it’s more like a gift or offering, isn’t it? Because when you LOVE someone, it doesn’t feel like sacrifice at all.) When did faithfulness fade out of the norm? When did honesty become extraordinary? And when did disrespect, neglect and (horrifically) abuse become something we could excuse?

I now see the commands of the Bible not as little grabbing hands designed to steal our fun, but as a vehicle to affirm the dignity of being human, the honor of being children of God, reminders that we are worth far more than we had noticed and acknowledged as fact.

He is worth more, His love is worth more, we are worth more, and our love is worth more. Everything, all Truth, is inextricably linked. If our love hasn’t required a response, it absolutely should. Maybe our definitions need an overhaul, maybe it wasn’t love to begin with, and maybe in reclaiming the beautiful reality of love, we would be set free to respond to this gift of our lives with our lives and finally fly.

The Point

I’m sitting here with this empty Pages document, probably taking a break from our response series. When I wrote last week’s “Echo,” I told my wife that it was probably as close as I could ever get to putting my heart & soul into words. If you happen to like me, that post made you remember why. I still do believe, and you can tell.

But part of the problem with that is, what comes next? What are we doing here with this blog?

Of course, I’d like to convince you that “Hey Jealousy” is one of the greatest songs ever (which my very good friend inexplicably tells me is debatable – she’s wrong;) and that Fumbling Towards Ecstasy is one of the greatest albums (inarguable), but the truth of the matter is that this space isn’t actually about either. It’s about Jesus (everything is.) And it’s about living in a world where His presence seems to be increasingly difficult to discern. It’s our job to point it out wherever we see and notice.

I often reference a story in Exodus where Moses is spoken to from a burning bush. The burning bush wasn’t the big deal, it was that it wasn’t being consumed. That is the kind of thing that takes attention, instead of just running through my to-do list preoccupied and distracted. How many burning bushes am I missing? I need someone to point them out when I find it hard to stop and focus.

Echo In The Canyon was a burning bush for me. So is Fight Club. So is this new Killers record (out today.) This blog is mostly just me pointing at bushes.

I have another website where I’m also pointing, last week it was at a terrific wedding reception that occurred 4 months after the ceremony (thanks to this global pandemic that you may have heard of.) I have a wedding tomorrow for 2 people I’ve never met. I’ll meet them at ‘our’ wedding. It took me quite a long time years ago to decide if I was going to be an officiant you could hire through a website. Obviously, I wanted to walk the steps, ask questions, have conversations, talk about expectations and Genesis 1 with the couple, but that desire became negotiable when a friend asked me to marry her sister. I didn’t know her sister at all, the first time I saw her was when she was walking down the aisle.

I didn’t like it then, was conflicted about all of it. Most of the guests weren’t taking it too seriously, were treating this sacred union like it was a trip to the grocery store or the McDonald’s. It felt offensive, like we were taking something awesome and huge totally for granted.

Until she came around the corner, like a fairy tale princess. If everyone else was sleepwalking, she sure wasn’t.

It took FOREVER for her to get to me, stepping slowly, tears streaming down her face. She faced her soon-to-be husband soaking in each other while they waited for me to begin. For a moment I couldn’t, overwhelmed by the moment. It would be impossible to overstate the gift she (both of them, really) gave me – the gift of The Point. Her name is Mandy and nothing was the same ever again.

Now, each of these weddings, I point. I say be here now and talk about Jesus and how wonderful and hard marriage is, but that everything is worth it. At the rehearsal I talk about burning bushes that aren’t consumed and that, like Moses, once we see them, nothing is ever the same again.

Echo

On my other blog (lovewithacapitall.com) I write about documentaries and songs and tv shows and politics – it’s not that much different than here, I suppose. This post will be a break from our Gospel response series and might be posted on both sites. It’s about a documentary and it’s about creativity and Jesus and should be required viewing for anyone who has ever loved a song or another person or being alive.

The documentary is called Echo In The Canyon (on Netflix) and deals with the music of the 1960’s. It’s mostly American music, barely touching on English bands like The Rolling Stones or the Zombies, focusing on the Laurel Canyon scene and the Byrds, Beach Boys, Mamas and the Papas, Buffalo Springfield (whose members refer to as THE Buffalo Springfield), and the Beatles (who were English, but they were the focus of everything musically and culturally, it didn’t matter where they called home). 

Oooh baby, the songs!!! 

We’re not talking about how great the songs were, though. We’re talking about the daily news and our Facebook feeds instead in the context of the 1960’s southern California folk rock movement.

Producer Lou Adler describes the time: “You just felt like you could do anything, you know. You just felt like there was nothing stopping you.” And in the most inspiring moment, Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills & Nash asserted that the “power of music is undeniable. I truly believe it can change the world.” 

These hippies, in the middle of the consuming fear of a totally out of control world, made the revolutionary choice to imagine a new reality, one marked primarily by love. In the face of   tremendous social unrest, war, violence, all of the -isms (sound familiar???), they chose beauty and creativity. They chose imagination. 

Think about Adler’s words, “you felt like you could do anything…like there was nothing stopping you.” He was, by most accounts, wrong. There were an awful lot of things stopping him, so many obstacles. And Nash, “music can change the world?” – silly words of a dreamer who didn’t understand the complexities of the times. What resistance could poetry and a guitar possibly offer against the swinging wrecking ball of hate?

I know, I know. You can already see how I’m going to say they were right, can’t you? Well, I am.

I actually believe in the power of art, too. In the words of Frank Turner, 

“And I still believe (I still believe) in the sound, That has the power to raise a temple and tear it down. And I still believe (I still believe) in the need,  For guitars and drums and desperate poetry.  And I still believe (I still believe) that everyone, Can find a song for every time they’ve lost and every time they’ve won. So just remember folks we not just saving lives, we’re saving souls, And we’re having fun. And I still believe.”

I believe that when a song breaks your heart with the first words “all the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray,” it shows us that if something could sound like that, anything might be possible. That in the compositions on Pet Sounds, maybe the complexities of the times were no match for the soaring imaginations of a small group of brothers and sisters bent on peace and love, man. That “Fast Car” and “Hey Jealousy” and Thriller and Adele and Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Panic! At The Disco are actively re-making the world around us.

I recognize that I could be mistaken about this, after all, it’s only music, right? It’s only an album or a song, right? But here’s where I’m right. All through this film, I saw utter selfless devotion to an idea based on faith, hope, and especially love. What I know now that I didn’t know when I was 12 or 22 or even 42 is that the idea that sparked my faith in songs & films and made me think that yes, absolutely all we needed WAS love wasn’t actually the chords or strings or drums, it was Genesis 1. It was Jesus. It was grace. It was the empty tomb of the resurrection. It was a New Creation.

And I still believe.

What We Hold Close

This is a post written by Natalie Roy called What We Hold Close. I don’t usually share emails or posts here unless I do, and this is one of those rare, special times. And then, next week, we’ll talk about “dirty fuel” and “punishing ourselves,” in the service of transformation. (We are already very familiar with the broken concept of “negative goals.”)

“I love a clean house.  I  clean and clean and clean some more especially when hosting guests at home.  I would notice when my partner would walk into the house I would get agitated… “take your shoes off!” and “make sure to not mess anything!”  Yet, the moment the guest would arrive, it would be “don’t worry about your shoes! Come on in and make yourself at home!” 

Oh yes.  Sometimes I am so very out of touch.

But don’t we ALL do this? 

We treat those on the periphery sometimes with much more compassion and grace than those we hold dearest and closest.

And often, the one we treat the worst, is ourselves.

We are hard on ourselves.  And don’t we do this under the false guise that if we are hard enough on ourselves we will stay motivated or be fixed or be better or more.  It is something called “dirty fuel”, when we are motivated in opposition to something such as our own unworthiness.  

Do we not trust that without such strict force we would evolve?  Do we think we are only as good as how much we are willing to punish ourselves into it?

Motivating towards negative goals is both harming and unsustainable.  Motivating from a place of needing to be better will always lead to negative consequence or giving up.  It will lead to “what’s the use” or “why me”, “nothing is ever enough.” 

Something interesting came up in my yoga class today.  I was thinking about anatomy and how our extremities can move faster than the body parts closer to our core.  So I can move my fingers more quickly than my shoulder, and my shoulder can move more quickly then my heart. 

So we can discern that lasting change, on the things we REALLY care about can sometimes be a long game.  Transformation takes time.  It happens choice by choice, day by day.  The idea of an overnight success is a fallacy.  What can shift (and lightening fast) is your perception, your mindset, and your feelings.  And those we have to continue choosing each and every day. 

We change our lifestyle to change our lives.”

I guess this snuck up on me and hit me over the head so hard is that I have lately been running on “dirty fuel” so much, and when she writes that it will lead to a mindset of “nothing is ever enough,” I am laid bare. I’ve never met Natalie Roy, but I think there’s an above average chance that she knows exactly who I am. Maybe she has been reading my email or my journals – the parts I don’t let anybody see. (Ok, just kidding, there aren’t any parts I don’t let anybody see.) The point is, I don’t know her, but she certainly knows me.

We’ve been exploring our response to the Good News of the Gospel. It’s a motivation based on who we are and what we can do – not the opposite. It’s a “clean fuel.” It’s a yes. This is an absolutely vital distinction and I owe Natalie Roy a big, sweet thank you for helping me remember what I already knew.

Dancing

Last week, I said we were going to “talk about obedience and sin in this context” and I’m not sure that was the best idea because I have no idea what that conversation was supposed to be. Maybe this comes with age – I’m older than I used to be, you know.

Anyway, this series began with this:

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

In this gorgeous prayer, the first implication is that we notice and appreciate the many blessings we have been given, the second; that we are thankful. The big question is, do we? Are we?

Or are we simply entitled consumers?

I think the Bible is ordered the way it is because without the condition, the gift means nothing, it’s our birthright/what we deserve, and what response could that demand? Besides shopping for more, I mean? What can it, or you, do for me? The wise philosopher Kurt Cobain once famously screamed, “Here we are now, entertain us.” I wonder if he ever knew how right on he was, or would be 30 years later. That song (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”) was released in 1991 and I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean it as a compliment or a characteristic of a lived well lived, but it seems that’s how we took it.

I don’t have to tell you I love that song. Once, I played the iconic music video at our Sunday service. I’ll never forget watching an elderly man exit his car to visit the Bridge that morning, knowing what he would hear & see, so far from what he was expecting (surely much farther than he would be willing to go)…and 1 hour later watching him hurry away without a word to anyone, never to return. I still don’t know exactly how I feel about that. I do know exactly how I feel about the song, though.  

So. How do we perceive our lives or the groups & communities to which we belong? As products that have a duty to satisfy us? Is the purpose of everything only found in what benefit it can provide or how it makes me feel?

And if those answers are ‘yes,’ what do we do when those products inevitably disappoint? When our spouse or partner or supervisor or group leader or pastor;) or coach or neighbor offends us or makes us uncomfortable or makes a decision we don’t agree with or takes a tone of voice or doesn’t return our call or disciplines us, then what? Of course, we move on. We take our talents and expectations down the road to the next new model. And then the next. And then the next. You get the point, nothing on earth is perfect. Nothing on earth will always satisfy. (Except maybe “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”)

In the Genesis account of Creation, the people are given many responsibilities (work, tend, care for, reproduce, etc) – as far as that goes, the plants and animals are given the ability to do the same. This is before the ‘fall’ in chapter 3. That’s interesting because in a state of shalom (peace, harmony), the point was never for us to sit idle and be entertained or passively stimulated. The point was active participation, then as it is now. Maybe the ideal role of my wife isn’t to feed me grapes or quench my every thirst, as much as I might like it to be. Maybe my church isn’t supposed to be a tv program or rock show. Maybe the people in my life aren’t just commodities to be used up and abandoned. Maybe all of these things were intended to be much closer to actually dancing (instead of just watching from the sideline), all of us sweaty and exhilarated because we’ve all lost track of who gave what (because we’re all giving and receiving all we have) and we’re too busy truly living to even stop to consider if we’re ‘satisfied.’

What Would You Say?

Last time we discussed the prosperity gospel ‘if-then’ proposition, and the opposite ‘if-then’ that the actual Gospel invites us to experience. IF He loves us, accepts us, rescues us, blesses us, THEN we are free to respond in love. But what does that response look like? We’ve been rescued, given an incomprehensible gift, now what??

This can easily (mis)lead us into a ‘what do I have to do now?’ posture, which is evidence that we’ve missed the point. It’s not a ‘have-to,’it’s a ‘get-to.’ So, what do we ‘get to’ do now? If you were truly free to follow your passions and gifts and dreams, where would that lead you? If you could plug into those things that give you life, what would those things be?

Some of the saddest moments I’ve ever had are when I ask those 2 questions with wide eyes and breathless anticipation and they are met with silence.

There’s a story in the Bible (and probably countless more not in the Bible) where Jesus asks a blind man, “what do you want me to do for you?” I think probably we’re in one of 2 places. The first is where we don’t realize we’re blind, or where it’s just “what it is” and we can’t even conceive of any other reality. The second is when we know our condition very well, but we have believed the lie that we aren’t worthy of anything better, certainly not the best-case (in this case, sight), so we ask for a cane or a walker or new sunglasses or a better attitude about our blindness.

If I were to ask you, what would you say?

I have this friend I’ve known since I was 7 years old (who is becoming a much better friend now), who wrote this to me in an email: “Rendering Physical Therapy services is one of my love languages. Encouraging people who are hurting to help themselves by restoring strength and function is a gift I love to share over and over again. I truly feel called to this profession (even if that sounds hokie), it’s about making personal connections with people, figuring out what is important to them (not me or the doctor) and developing a plan to achieve their goal- LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT!” What a gift, for her and her patients. How many of us would say that about our jobs and careers? If not, why not?

I recognize that there are never shortages of reasons why we stay – some of them are very very wise and important and some aren’t. I’m simply asking the questions so we can hopefully tell the difference.

We have been given this gift of life and to treat it so cavalierly that we don’t consider how we’d answer Jesus is, frankly, pretty dismissive of the gift.

The Bible also says the human heart is deceitful, so maybe we shouldn’t put our desires first, without question and without the guidance of the Spirit. I’m just suggesting that we are often asleep in and to our own lives and the question “Now what do I get to do?” is pointless without an examination of our own hearts and a deeper understanding of the way He “created my inmost being…knit me together in my mother’s womb,” respecting the the way we have been “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139)

We’ll talk about obedience and sin in this context next week, but give an honest second to Whose you are, who you are and what you’re about. I already know you’re beautiful – I bet you will, too.

the gospel of me

I promised we’d discuss the “prosperity” (or “name and claim” or “health and wealth”) gospel his week, so here we are. This ideology is, as the Great Theologian Wikipedia writes, a “religious belief among some Protestant Christians that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth. Prosperity theology views the Bible as a contract between God and humans: if humans have faith in God, he will deliver security and prosperity.

The doctrine emphasizes the importance of personal empowerment proposing that it is God’s will for his people to be blessed. The atonement (reconciliation with God) is interpreted to include the alleviation of sickness and poverty, which are viewed as curses to be broken by faith. This is believed to be achieved through donations of money, visualization, and positive confession.”

The first obvious questions are if God’s definitions of blessing, well-being, success, security and prosperity are the same as ours? Even a casual reading of the Bible would suggest there is a better than average chance that they are not. Maybe God’s primary hopes for us aren’t exploding bank accounts and increasing mountains of material possessions, maybe the blessings are not quite so temporal. And the next batch of (admittedly cynical) questions revolve around the shockingly consistent penchant for human religious systems to tie spiritual giftedness to monetary donations. 

It’s not these questions we’ll talk about here, now.

It is the inversion of the Divine order of condition/grace/response into a simple if-then equation. If we give enough money, do enough, have enough faith, then He will give us whatever we want. If we put in the proper amount, say the right words, run fast enough, we will get what we order; a sort-of spiritual Amazon.

But what’s the proper amount? What is enough? 

I was visiting in a church once where the congregation laid hands on a member with a late-stage cancer and proclaimed if he had enough faith, he’d be healed. If he didn’t…well, he wouldn’t. He died within the month. Since he didn’t measure up, I wonder how much he needed? 

No wonder we’re all riddled with anxiety. We’re all trying to be good enough (of anything, of everything), but it’s a rigged game. Where’s enough? Where’s the bar? How will I know if I’ve reached it? If we don’t get our notion of prosperity or success, then it’s our fault, we’re guilty, overcome with shame. That’s terrible, but perhaps even more damaging is if we do, then it’s also our fault. We did it!!! We ARE that awesome!! 

This is ultimately a gospel of ME. The Gospel is Jesus. Jesus alone. This gospel is Jesus plus me and my work, my trying, my earning, and that is no gospel at all. The word gospel means “good news” and this isn’t good news, it’s the same news. It’s exactly how your job, your country and your world, work. This isn’t even news. 

On if-then equations: They are very often practically useful and true (If I do more push-ups, then I will get stronger. If I eat more cake, then I will gain weight), but I think we misuse them in a spiritual sense. The Bible is full of commands and if we follow them, then we will benefit. If we stop lying, then we will be free of the consequences of those lies. We won’t drag that baggage around, we won’t have those broken relationships, we won’t carry the worry that they’ll find out or endure the wrath when they do. We live a far more peaceful life. So we naturally think there are strings attached. IF we follow His commands, THEN He will love us, accept us, and bless us.      

This is pretty understandable, but the Gospel gives us a different if-then scenario. IF He loves us, accepts us, rescues us, blesses us, THEN we will WANT to respond in love towards Him and everything that is His. Given that He loves, accepts, rescues, blesses us, that reality releases us from all of the anxiety that comes with climbing The Ladder Of Enough and we are free, truly free, to do what we’ve been created to do all along; give everything to Him and fly.

New Look

The world looks very different in the context of a global pandemic, right? Our community is no different. As we open physically on Sunday, July 19 at 10:30am, there will be some new precautions in place. (In no particular order)

1. Physical Contact. We have been a very physical community (hugs, holding hands, etc) and that will have to change, to a certain extent. There will be no prayer circle to close the service, for the time being. On a personal level, each person will decide for themselves: we will have stickers immediately inside the front doors (red = no contact, yellow = talking, but little/no touching, green = touching ok) for each person to pick up and wear. That way, you don’t have to ask or answer a million times, we all can see.

2. Physical Distance. We have a large enough space that we can sit a comfortable distance apart. There will be people in orange Bridge t-shirts to help you find a seat if you are new or would like some assistance.

3. Singing. We will sing. Gisy will be in the front, so we can space accordingly.

4. Masks. Masks are required by PA state mandate. We understand there are exceptions – we are not an enforcement agency – but we do value compliance with the governmental authorities over a rebellious spirit.

5. Children. For the time being, there will be no separate children’s ministry. There will, however, be individual activities available for kids during the message. (The pastor has a tendency to go on FOREVER!!!)

6. Food/Drink. There will be no food/drink/coffee provided, with 1 exception: there will be individual water bottles for you. You are welcome to bring your own, we’re simply trying to avoid (as much as we can) shared handles, utensils, etc. and small spaces to congregate.

7. Cleaning. There are a variety of new cleaning procedures. If you want to know what they are, specifically, you can ask me and I would be happy to give details. The only one we will ask is that if you use the bathroom, please use the provided materials to wipe down any places you contact.

8. The Narthex. We love to hang out in the Narthex and talk, but for now, the doors to the sanctuary will be open at 10am. Again, for the time being, small spaces to congregate are not the greatest idea and we will do our best to avoid them.

Last: Planet Fitness brands itself a “Judgment Free Zone“ and so will we. Each one of us has decisions to make, in regard to this pandemic and the level of caution we choose. We have no idea why each one of us is making the decisions we do, we don’t know what their individual concerns are, we don’t know their motivations, so we will not project our ideas onto them. We are each making informed, careful decisions based on our information, values, priorities and individual risk factors. We are opening with the precautions we’ve decided upon using the same criteria. Let’s give each other some grace as we all are navigating terrain none of us have faced before. We might make mistakes, and maybe we’ll change our minds, but I assure you, (corporately and individually) it is not because of a lack of love, prayer, thought, or care.

If you will not be with us, in person (for whatever reason), we will remain on Facebook Live at 10:30am in Sunday mornings. The Bridge is much more than the building, it is all who call it home.

With all of that said, I welcome you back to the Bridge. I can’t think of anything more important in uncertain times like these than a faith community, and I really can’t think of a better one than you. I’ll see you Sunday!!!!