Oct
31

Satan doesn’t even like Halloween!

thumb_disappointed_devil_zoomI think we can all agree that candy is wonderful.  So what is the deal with Halloween?

I know you are concerned.  The devil has his hands all over Halloween and so you are considering not celebrating the opportunity for free candy.  This is a dumb assertion.  There really aren’t any pagan origins of Halloween. The first attempts to show some connection between the vigil of All Saints and the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain came over a thousand years after All Saints Day became a universal feast, and there’s no evidence whatsoever that Gregory III or Gregory IV was even aware of Samhain.  More on that in a minute.

Those darn ancient Irish stir the pot a bit with their involvement in the wonderfulness (that should be a word!) of Halloween. In Celtic peasant culture elements of the harvest festival survived, even among Christians, just as the Christmas tree owes its origins to pre-Christian Germanic traditions without being a pagan ritual.  The Celtic traditions included lighting bonfires, carving turnips (and, in America, pumpkins), and going from house to house, collecting treats, as carolers do at Christmas. But the “occult” aspects of Halloween—ghosts and demons—actually have their roots in Catholic belief. Christians believed that, at certain times of the year (Christmas is another), the veil separating earth from Purgatory, heaven, and even hell becomes thinner, and the souls in Purgatory (ghosts) and demons can be more readily seen. Thus the tradition of Halloween costumes owes as much, if not more, to Christian belief as to Celtic tradition.

“Halloween” is a name that means nothing by itself. It is a contraction of “All Hallows Eve,” and it designates the vigil of All Hallows Day, more commonly known today as All Saints Day. (“Hallow,” as a noun, is an old English word for saint. As a verb, it means to make something holy or to honor it as holy.) All Saints Day, November 1, is a Holy Day of Obligation, and both the feast and the vigil have been celebrated since the early eighth century, when they were instituted by Pope Gregory III in Rome. (A century later, they were extended to the Church at large by Pope Gregory IV.)

Hey, here is the deal.  Satan does not get to annex Halloween.  It is about kids, fun and candy.  Period.  Thank you ancient Celts for making the holiday weird and symbolic.  Christians, get your act together and celebrate this wonderful day of telling evil, “I mock you, now give me some candy!”  Evil people that do weird things…you may not have this holiday.

Oct
29

GI Joe helped me understand Jesus.

gi-joe-uss-flag-aircraft-carrierIt is one thing to want something.  It is another thing to want something so bad you can’t imagine life without it.  There have been toys I had dreams about owning.  I so desperately wanted the GI Joe Aircraft Carrier when I was a child that I would lay awake at night fantasizing about the configurations I would place the jets in on the deck.  I know.  Crazy.  Or not.  That thing was awesome!

We long for things.  The truth is, most things won’t fulfill our longings.  We want the new IPhone really bad and then we get it and a month later we whine about the inconvenience of the new operating system.  We want the new car yet by the end of the year it is just a car and there is a newer model out there.  You have heard lines like this in sermons all the time.  Time to listen.

Stuff doesn’t fulfill.

What about kingdoms?  Do we ever find ourselves longing for the new realm?  Are we daydreaming about complete social structure change at the hand of the newly installed royalty hoping for renovated order and a revised lineage of elite?  This is a bit of a language shift.  It is also a weird way to think of God.

The kingdom spoken of in Luke’s gospel today (13:18-21) is not about stuff.  It is not a fairyland of new opportunities for believing Christians to laugh at their non-believing neighbors.  The kingdom is not a place.  It is not a political theory.  It is not an inheritance of earthly anything.  The kingdom is God.

“Thy kingdom come” is an invitation to make God our living and breathing reality.  Faith like a mustard seed yields branches where others can dwell.  The smallest bit of yeast still enables the bread to rise.

Really God, you want your badass kingdom to be compared to a bush and a loaf?  Yup.  Why?

Because God’s kingdom is about God and God is about transformation.  Our stuff doesn’t transform us.  It might change us, but it doesn’t alter our inherent being.  God does this with his longing and desperate pursuit of our hearts.  When we invite his kingdom we are inviting him to rule us.  The beauty of this profound contention is the simplicity of getting owned.

I never got the Aircraft carrier.  My parents bought me the hovercraft instead.  I weeped.  It broke six months later.  I moved on. We always do when it comes to stuff.

Do you want to rise with him?  Do you want to reside in him?  Be the kingdom.  Be the place whereupon your branches are a place for others to dwell.  Help the people around you rise up because of your inherent gifts.  The kingdom of God annexes our reality when we yield to God and God alone.  The yield comes from our surrender of desire for stuff and our heartfelt invitation for a new reality…daily.

Oct
22

Attention deficit prayer life.

HippocratesIn 493 B.C, physician-scientist Hippocrates described a condition that seems to be compatible with what we now call ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder). He described patients who had “quickened responses to sensory experience, but also less tenaciousness because the soul moves on quickly to the next impression.” Hippocrates attributed this condition to an “overbalance of fire over water.” His remedy for this “overbalance” was “barley rather than wheat bread, fish rather than meat, water drinks, and many natural and diverse physical activities.”

So if you have ADHD, drink beer. Ur…uh…unless you are a minor…wait….bad advice.

Shakespeare made reference to a “malady of attention” in King Henry VIII, which at least “proves” that people don’t pay attention when other things are on their mind.

Duh.

I know ADHD was diagnosed much more in the 90’s than most decades but the research really established itself in the late 60’s.  Why am I going on about this?  Because I know that I suffer from it as an adult and it has a profound effect on my spiritual life.

I am not a contemplative.  I struggle to sit still during worship.  Silence does not come easy to me.  I mentally wander in prayer.  I find it difficult to stay focused while reading formative text. Perhaps you can relate.

The good news for folks like me is that scripture and theology haven spoken to these symptoms for decades.  ADHD is serious and sometimes demands serious medical and/or dietary intervention.  Being hyperactive in our contemplation of Christ or our personal prayer life requires discipline.  Our discipleship demands discipline…

See what I did there?

It is an inherent truth in the life of the disciple.  We must subject ourselves to spiritual disciplines.  Dallas Willard, author of The Spirit of the Disciplines (a must read for all Christians), offers this wisdom, “Happiness in reality consists only in rest, and not in being stirred up. This instinct conflicts with the drive to diversion, and we develop the confused idea that leads people to aim at rest through excitement.”

Joy, focus, dedication, commitment, integrity, and perseverance come from rest.  Rest.  Let me be clear…our rest enables us to dial in and not just dial it up.  Our hyperactive nature, when we Sabbath and rest, yields to clarity.

Rest is intentional and it is necessary.  Resting in the Lord (referring to the famous Augustine quote “…our hearts are restless until they rest in you Lord.”) is the result of disciplined down time.  Because our personalities lend themselves to aggressive creativity and high energy leadership does not mean we get a pass on being an idiot in prayer.  Shut up.  Sit down.  Surrender.

I am glad that folks like me have been around since the 5th century B.C.  I hope folks like me will have the awareness to discipline themselves in our pursuit of holiness.

Oct
21

Sharing your toys.

Big wheelI like toys.  I have a lot of them and I love to collect them.  My toys used to be the usual Legos, big wheel and action figures.  I rode bikes, shot BB guns at the neighborhood cats and flung the occasional football.  I love to play and I love to have my own stuff.  A lot of stuff.

My grandfather had the bumper sticker, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins.”  This quip is fairly popular especially among grown men.  We love our toys.  We love to fill our garages with tools and snow blowers, “just in case.”  We love to talk about our stuff and hang it neatly on the wall.

Today I have a lot of toys.  I have fly rods and hockey sticks, archery equipment and rafting gear, inflatable kayaks and pellet guns.  I have a shed full of outdoor sporting goods and indoor home repair tools.  My dad and I are preparing to build a new garage at my house.  Storage has been our number one concern.  There will be more room for stuff. A lot of stuff.

Soooo todays Gospel kind of laid me out.

In Luke 12:13-21 Christ lets the hoarding farmer know that storing up treasure for just for yourself is not what matters to God.   The guy sees his physical wealth before him and welcomes the opportunity to expand it.  The reality of having too small of barns does not stop the farmer.  He concludes that destroying them and rebuilding them to store more of his stuff is surely the wisest pursuit of action.  And then he is rebuked.

The trouble for me is how easily I can relate to the farmer and how hard it is for me to be at peace with Jesus command.  But, it is just that…a command.

The farmer stores his goods in the midst of others needs.  He “builds his own kingdom,” if you will.  Money is no question and neither is his desire.  Treasure is possession and not community.  Here in lies the lesson.

Christ does not command us all to give away all that we possess (although for some, this is exactly what he demands).  Jesus makes it clear that we are to give and give freely of our treasure.  Remember, “each according to his need.” The earth yields what is needed to feed us all.  Hoarding anything dismisses the need of others.  Sharing, as childish as the lesson seems, is at the heart of charity

So, back to my shed.

I don’t need all this stuff.  Do I?  I, me, Doug, do not need four fly rods.  I do not need eight baseball gloves or nine hockey sticks.  Yet, I have taught countless people to fish, sponsored community softball games and built a hockey rink in my backyard for family and friends to enjoy the winter months.

Dilemma?  I don’t really think so.

I have begun to prayerfully consider my needs and the ability to share my “treasure.”  This is the message today.  Do not hoard your possessions.  The person with the most toys still dies.  Let your stuff be a treasure for others.  Clean out your garage and empty your shed every once in a while for the sake of community and surrender. Empty yourself and be filled with Christ.

Oct
15

Housekeeping for Pharisees and people like me..

Real-Messy-House (1)I am pretty much a slob.  I always have been.  I have a tendency to leave dirty clothes on the floor, dishes in the sink and a mess just about everywhere I go.  “I will get it later,” I might say to myself as I discard whatever I habitually leave behind.  This behavior goes over well with my spouse as she loves to clean up after me.  Isn’t it the job of our mothers and wives to manage our uncleanliness for the sake of the household?

Pause here for dramatic skillet to the forehead as my wife reads over my shoulder and renders me unconscious.

Clearly, I am joking.  Not about me being a slob…this part is very true, but definitely about anyone else’s responsibility to clean my mess.

Uncleanliness is an interesting thing.  Cleanliness throughout time has been associated with preparedness.  When we are tidy, we are prepared for guests.  How many of us rush around our homes and are embarrassed about the underwear stuck in the ceiling fan when guests arrive?  Oh, maybe that is a Tooke thing?

In Luke’s gospel today Jesus is dining at a Pharisees home.  As cleanliness goes, the Pharisees would put all you neat freaks to shame.  A Pharisee would follow the most disciplined traditions of cleanliness as both a sign of purity and, you guessed it, “preparedness.”  So Jesus sits down to eat and doesn’t wash his hands.  Man alive, I wish I could have seen the Pharisee’s face!

The scripture says, “…The Pharisee was amazed.”  Jesus blurts out, “…you Pharisee!  Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil.”  To which the Pharisee surely responded, “How dare you accuse me of not brushing my teeth?!?”

Not really.

What is really going on here is a great rebuke by Christ.  The Pharisee may appear holy and devout, but still renders judgment from his heart. Christ is not talking about what we can do for ourselves, but what we must do for others. We may look tidy, but inside we are sometimes a mess.  We may appear organized but deep down our hearts are scattered.  We may front purity when our hearts are really stained.

Christ knows.

He knows about all of our disorganized messiness.  He teaches us in Luke 11:37-41, “…as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.” This is not self help.  It is diving intervention.  Christ doesn’t want us to fix ourselves.  We can’t.  he wants us to understand that in giving of ourselves a new self is given.

This line should rock our boat a bit.  My sloppiness and laziness are a sign of my selfishness.  My giving alms is the ultimate sign of humility and charity.  Building a tradition of giving both in our hearts and in our homes is building the kingdom of God on earth.  We are called to give alms because we are called to be a sacrificial people.  For the Pharisee, I am pretty sure he would not have connected the two.

So, wash your hands friends.  Clean your room and make your bed.  Be a giving person in order that others may see your charity and the preparedness of both your home and your heart.