Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Passionately Grateful...

I guess that could be a dangerous title, in this time of daily sexual harassment scandals and firings? Since I've already addressed that topic in a recent BLOG, let's not go there again...

"Passionately Grateful" is the title I gave to my message spoken at the Hampton/Shaler/Etna Ministerial Association's Community Thanksgiving Service on 11/22, based loosely on the Philippians 4:4-9 passage. The gist of the sermon was that our expressions of gratitude--to God and even to others--should not occur only after prayer had been answered or a kindness received. Instead, "passionate gratitude" could be offered "proactively" in response to the regular stream of grace and affirmation we receive from God and the others in our supportive community. In the message, I reported on a meeting I had on that very afternoon, during which a friend literally came to tears just over thinking of the "miracles" of everyday life--the love of a child, the majesty of the world and the universe around us, and the blessing of friends. And in regard to our relationship with God, offering our "proactive thanksgiving" for the blessings yet to come is appropriate. In fact, this might be a definition of the word, "praise."

This Thanksgiving Eve message was an outgrowth of St. Paul's stewardship campaign, and the preaching and writing we did around the theme, "Pay It Forward," borrowed from the movie by the same name. What if we, rather than turning back to thank our benefactors, paid it forward by blessing someone else, in turn? This is not to say that we don't thank those who do for us, but instead, to not let the blessing die there. For church stewardship of time, talents, and treasure, it means investing in the future of our community of faith to assure that the ministries and programs offered will be there for the coming generations. The idea seemed to resonate with the people of St. Paul's, which celebrates its 50th year in 2017.

Passionate gratitude is a pay-it-forward form of thanksgiving. Passionate gratitude is "activist" gratitude. It is a win-win-win--those who performed kindnesses for me are blessed by my response to their gifts; those whom I, in turn, bless are gracious receivers of the blessing, and I am nurtured and affirmed by the acts of being thankful and by passing on the blessing.

I also see passionate gratitude as living with an attitude that asks the question at each point of interacting with another: "What can I do to bless this person and to enhance their journey, in some way?" You know, kind of a personal version of President Kennedy's famous: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." Way too many of our interactions begin with the selfish rhetorical question, "What's in it for me?"

And then there is an even greater version of passionate gratitude--that of Jesus, himself. Jesus too the anger and hatred focused upon him at his crucifixion and turned it on its head by paying forward our redemption by his death. When is the last time that you were the victim of an unkindness or an act of derision, and in response, looked for someone to bless? This would be a truly Christlike action, wouldn't it? Maybe this would be an "activist" way to live a life of passionate gratitude--one that is focused more on our response to our experiences, whether bad or good, and purposing to pay it forward by blessing someone? And what if the person we decided to bless was the very person who precipitated the unkindness upon us? Could this be what Psalm 23 means when it states: "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies..." Rather than choreographing an elaborate plan of revenge, we invite our "enemy" out to a lunch or for a cup of coffee. That might be revolutionary. Passionate gratitude, even?

We are living in tough times. Today, I awoke to news that our nation's President re-tweeted hateful white nationalist videos aimed at Muslims. I got very, very angry, even lashing out on FaceBook about it. As Doctor Phil says, "How's that working for you?" Maybe, if I take my own advice, I will be wise to react by helping assure my Muslim friends that I stand with them, and will offer more ways we can engage in ministries of justice and peace together. This could be another win-win-win.

Monday, November 13, 2017


I don't mean the title of this BLOG to be trivial, but I do allude to the terrible and fast pace of happenings around us. Since my last BLOG entry, there has been another mass shooting, with 26 persons losing their lives to a crazed mad man with a semi-automatic weapon. A huge earthquake has killed hundreds of people along the Iran/Iraq border. President Trump has been overseas, where he made a couple of "normal" speeches, and yet continued to utter incredible and divisive rants on the sides, and tweeted a few things that would have had any past president dragged before a congressional committee, most likely. But he gets a pass? Oh, and hundreds--hundreds of women have stepped forth with testimonies of being sexually harassed or assaulted by other film directors, famous Hollywood stars, and even a serious candidate for the Senate from Alabama (and in his case, some of his "dates" were apparently children). Friends, I'm not making this stuff up--this has all happened since my last BLOG, which was a little over a week ago!

If I were a Bible literalist with Southern Baptist, dispensational leanings, I'd say all of this stuff were signs Jesus was coming back soon. You see, these folks interpret these things as biblical prophecies foretelling a literal Second Coming of the Messiah to clean up the mess and judge the "bad guys." But I'm not, and it is my belief that Jesus isn't coming back for a long time, and that God has empowered US to clean up the mess and reform the "bad guys." Jesus isn't coming back as a celestial janitor and judge, at least not now. God's people should get to work lobbying for some decent gun safety laws, for example. And even though I am convinced that the Second Amendment has outlived its usefulness (and its historical reason for being), I do believe it can be regulated just like we regulate hate speech and speech that might incite a riot or a human stampede, like shouting "fire" in a crowded movie theater. And we should lobby for better healthcare, not less, for those struggling with mental illness and addiction. We should work to fix the social issues that are filling our prisons and stop building new--and private--ones. As Christian people, we should be building relationships that bridge gender, race, and religious gaps, instead of endorsing pedophiles for public office (and yes, I'm talking about YOU, the 50 "Christian" pastors in Alabama who have endorsed Roy Moore for the U.S. Senate!).

Prayer has always been the fulcrum of both my life and the services of worship I have been privileged to lead. Prayer IS doing something, and I don't want to sell it short. However, there come times when we have to "put feet to our prayers" and do something. Democrats can do something. Republicans can do something. Libertarians can do something. Young people can do something. Seniors can do something. Able-bodied as well as persons with disabilities can do something. Christians can do something, and maybe even more things, by joining with Jews, Muslims, and people of other faiths, to address social issues that are a common concern. Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Pentecostals--we can all do something. Efforts begun with prayer will be energized by faith and cross the finish line on the feet of those who DO something to address whatever issue WE see as a concern. These things won't fix themselves. In fact, like an un-weeded garden, they will probably just get worse, without our attention.

This is not a good time to pull into our various camps and take verbal potshots at each other while the world around us is groaning with birth pangs (or death-moans, if you are a pessimist). It's a time to polish up our peace-making skills, all the while becoming "wise as serpents and harmless as doves, in the midst of wolves," to quote Jesus from Matthew 10:16.

And, stay informed. These are dangerous times not to know what is happening in the world around you, friends. As I have urged you before, make sure you get your information from a broad base of reliable news sources, not just the polarized "specialty" cable TV news outlets or most especially from Internet fake news sites like Breitbart, InfoWars, (NOT ABC News), News Examiner, NewsWatch33, etc. I trust the major newspapers like the NY Times, the Washington Post, and the conservative Wall Street Journal. As to news services? The Associated Press, Reuters, the BBC, NPR, these are probably some of the best. And while I'm not a big TV news watcher, I'd go for the three major networks--ABC, NBC, CBS. Fox and CNN can be pretty skewed, especially depending on who is presenting. The most dangerous place to get news is through Facebook memes or through pure Internet news sites, in my opinion. So many of the Facebook memes that pretend to be news sites are not reliable sources, and many have names that mimic serious news organizations, such as the listed above, which is actually a private fake news site run by a guy named Paul Horner, who posts a wide variety of similar sites. Many of these sites will mix "real" news with their embellished or fake stories to even further confuse the uninitiated reader.

Don't you wonder if Jesus was looking far off into our future when he uttered the "be wise as serpents and harmless as doves" phrase I mentioned above? I'll bet.

Keep a sober view, a prayerful heart, and willing feet, Dear Ones. We have miles to go before we sleep. And someday...someday...may we all find true Shalom!

What's Next?

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