Church as a Reflection of the Community

Best-of-New-England

When churches were being built in America they were often built in communities by people who live in those communities.  What happens when the church no longer reflects the community?

Ron Edmondson asks this question in a recent article on the website Ministry Matters.  In the article he lays out three options, and he stresses the fact that these are only his opinions but I think they are good ones.

  1. Become like the community
  2. Leave the community
  3. Slowly die in the community

There is a lot of great information in the article and I suggest giving it a read.

When Your Church no Longer Reflects Your Community

Ken Burns Civil War

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The documentary film, Civil War by Ken Burns, was my first real experience with the Civil War and is probably the reason I am as interested in this period of American history.

Originally produced in 1990 it aired to 40 million viewers on PBS and was honored with more than 40 awards.  The film uses more than 16,000 pictures, paintings, and newspaper clippings as a backdrop to tell the story of America’s bloodiest war.  The film was remastered in 2012 but remained in standard definition and in 2015 it was remastered again in high definition digital and will air starting on September 7th.

 

What religious freedom isn’t

 

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The idea of religious freedom is a bedrock of the American experience but has been used by both sides in a way that I do not think it was intended. America, whether we like it or not, is a pluralistic society and finding the balance between the rights of one religion, while not infringing on others is perilous at best.

The editors of New Century have penned a piece about this topic and I think it is spot on.

These days social conservatives are all about religious freedom. As the wider culture has tacked left, the right has shifted to a rhetoric of conscientious objection. The free exercise of religion, once championed most prominently by minority faiths and their liberal defenders, has become a prime conservative talking point.

While some liberals are broadly dismissive of such arguments, we Century editors are not. Religious freedom is a bedrock of American pluralism and its fertile religious soil. When religious rights conflict with others, such as the right of LGBTQ people not to face discrimination, finding a solution will not be easy. Competing rights must be balanced, which requires that we seek creative compromise. (See this issue’s news story.)

Yet some advocates of religious freedom seem to have something in mind besides free exercise for all. For example, some Christians trumpet religious freedom but seem uninterested in the rights of Muslims near Dallas who face fierce opposition to their plan to build a religious cemetery or in the rights of Apaches in Arizona who are fighting for a sacred site threatened by mining interests. When Christians decline to defend such groups, they betray their selective dedication to the religious freedom cause.

Read the Rest

Faith Without Works is Dead

A Meditation on James 1:27

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

Martin Luther was not a fan of the Letter of St. James mostly for the reason that it sort of took the wind out of the sails of his argument that we did not need works for salvation.  I love the Letter of St. James for many reasons but mostly for the exact reason Luther did not, it requires us to actually have to do something with our faith.  It is simply not enough just to have faith we have to be moved to do something with it or we are doing it wrong.

In response to the question from the young man asking Jesus about salvation, Jesus told him to love God and love neighbor.  We do not love our neighbor by ignoring his situation.  We do not love our neighbor by blaming him for everything.  We do not love our neighbor by not sacrificing the gifts that God has given to us to help him.  I will point out that the last part of that passage, and the one often left out, is “as yourself.”  In  other words, treat others as you want to be treated.  Want people to ignore you?  Ignore them. Want people to step over you if you ever, God forbid, find yourself on the street?  Ignore them.  I will also add that we love God by loving our neighbor the two go hand in hand.

This is not to say that our worship should not be beautiful and edifying but that worship, no matter how beautiful it may be, is empty and worthless unless it send us out to love by loving our neighbor.

The Amazing Story of Deborah Sampson

 

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Hunting around for something to watch on television I stumbled upon the program Mysteries at the Monuments.  I like history, so the idea of finding out of the way monuments and showing their story was appealing to me.  On this particular episode, there was a story about a bronze statue located in front of the public library in Sharon Massachusetts.  Dedicated one of its famous residents, the figure depicts a Revolutionary War hero.  What makes this sculpture unique is that it represents a woman, dressed in uniform and carrying a musket off to war. That woman was Deborah Sampson.

Deborah Sampson was born in Plympton Massachusetts in 1760.  Her mother was a descendant of William Bradford, once the Governor of Massachusetts and her father was a descendant of Myles Standish, the military leader of the Pilgrims. Patriotism was in her blood from both sides of her family.

Reading about the horrors of war, the patriotic Deborah decided that she had to try and enlist.  Enlistment of women into the army was prohibited so she cut her hair, bound her breasts with bandages, took on the name of her deceased brother, and enlisted in the military as Robert Shurtliff Sampson in 1782.  She had no trouble, she was five feet eight inches in height, unusual height for a woman in the 1780’s.  She became part of a light infantry company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment and was sent off with the regiment to fight.

On July 3, 1782, outside of Tarrytown New York, Deborah was wounded with two musket balls in her thigh and a large gash on her head.  Knowing that if she were transferred to the hospital should be discovered, she begged her comrades to let her die rather than be sent to the hospital.  They sent her anyway, and after her head was bandaged, she left the hospital.  She treated the musket ball wounds herself with a penknife and a needle and thread.  She was only able to remove one of the balls since the other ball was too deep.

After her recovery, in 1783, she was promoted and served as a waiter to General John Paterson.  During this time of service, Deborah was stricken with malignant fever and was sent back to the hospital.  Unconscious when she arrived the treated physician, Dr. Barnabas Binney.  While the doctor was examining her, he noticed the bandages around her chest.  Assuming it was from some other wound; he removed them and was taken by surprise by what the bandages were hiding.  Knowing that she would be discharged immediately, the doctor did not betray her and took her to his home where his wife and daughters nursed her.

In September of 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed, and the war was over.  Dr. Binney asked Deborah to deliver a note to General Paterson, and she thought for sure that her story would get out and she would be thrown out of the Army.  This was not to be and on October 25, 1783 she was given an honorable discharge at West Point New York from General Henry Knox, given a sum of money to cover her medical costs, and sent home.  She boarded a ship from New York to Providence Rhode Island and walked the rest of the way home to Massachusetts.

Deborah Married Benjamin Sampson in 1785 and had three children.  The family fell on hard times and in June of 1792 Deborah petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature for a pension for her service in the Army.  In granting her a wounded soldiers pension the Massachusetts Legislature wrote that she, “exhibited an extraordinary instance of female heroism by discharging the duties of a faithful gallant soldier, and at the same time preserving the virtue and chastity of her sex, unsuspected and unblemished.”  She was given a pension of 34 pounds plus interest dating back to her time of discharge.

The family was still on hard financial times and in 1804 Paul Revere wrote to Congressman William Eustace asking him to petition Congress to grant Deborah a military pension writing, “I have been induced to enquire her situation, and character, since she quit the male habit, and soldiers uniform; for the more decent apparel of her own gender…humanity and justice obliges me to say, that every person with whom I have conversed with her, and it is not a few, speak of her as a woman with handsome talents, good morals, a dutiful wife, and an affectionate parent.” In 1805, Congress granted her a military pension of four dollars a month.

IMG_2554She continued her fight for the pay that was supposed to have been given her as a veteran of the war but was being withheld because she was a woman and in 1809 she petitioned Congress again asking that her pension given in 1804 would be retroactive to the date of her discharge.  The petition was initially denied in until 1816 when the Congress approved her request, and she was granted a full and complete army pension.

Deborah Died of Yellow Fever on April 29, 1827, at the age of 66.  Deborah remembers not only for her fighting, and the fact that she was wounded and treated her wounds, but the fight that she waged the war for equal treatment not only for herself but for all veterans of the war.

I am glad I stumbled across that television program and glad was I was introduced to this heroine of the American Revolution.  I took some time the other day and stopped by her final resting place to say a word of thanks and to offer a prayer.  This simple patriotic woman, defying the odds and the establishment, did what she thought was right and fought for her country.

Churches and Their History with Slavery

Historian John Fea recently pointed out an article in the New York Time about how one Rhode Island Church is coming to grips with their past history of slavery.

We cannot gloss over our past nor can we replace it but we can, and should learn from it and provide the ability for others to do the same.

Here is a little sample from the article and link to the entire piece.  It is well worth the read.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — One of the darkest chapters of Rhode Island history involved the state’s pre-eminence in the slave trade, beginning in the 1700s. More than half of the slaving voyages from the United States left from ports in Providence, Newport and Bristol — so many, and so contrary to the popular image of slavery as primarily a scourge of the South, that Rhode Island has been called “the Deep North.”

That history will soon become more prominent as the Episcopal diocese here, which was steeped in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, establishes a museum dedicated to telling that story, the first in the country to do so, according to scholars.

Many of the shipbuilders, captains and financiers of those slaving voyages were Episcopalians. The church, like many others in its day, supported slavery and profited from it even after the trans-Atlantic slave trade was outlawed and slavery had been banned in the state. Among the most notable Episcopalian slaveholders were Thomas Jefferson, who was active for some time in the church, and George Washington.

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Donald Trump and the Bible

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In a recent interview on the Bloomburg Networks “With All Due Respect,” GOP Presidential candidate and member of the Presbyterian Church Donald Trump was asked to identify his favorite verse from the bible.  He was asked this because he claims that after his own memoire, the bible is his favorite book.  Now I don’t really care what religion the President of the United States adheres to but I would like to suggest a verse for The Donald to consider as his favorite in the event that he is asked this question again. Actually each of the presidential hopefuls could select this as their favorite.

Although I don’t agree with, well anything, that The Donald has to say, I appreciate the fact that he, unlike so many others, is not making religion an issue in the campaign.

“You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But is shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be a slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44).

 

Mindfulness and Email

Think Before We Send

Woman stand at end of pier above lake

Woman stand at end of pier above lake

As a follow up to last week’s essay on mindfulness I thought I would share some thoughts on mindfulness in communication especially email.  Email is here to stay and there is no way to avoid it.  It can either control you or you can control it.  Blind communication, like email and social media, can be very harmful because we are not sitting across from the person and cannot read their expressions to get the full meaning of the message at hand.  If there are questions it is best to ask before assuming anything because we know what happens when you assume.

So I came across this article by Soren Gordhamer  about mindfulness and email and there are four steps to a better, more relaxed you when it comes to this form of communication.  I have been guilty of sending emails that probably should have waited a day and I am sure I will do it again, but I will try and keep these tips in mind.

  1. Attend to Objective First. One of the complaints I often hear is email, and social media for that matter, suck your time away. This is true if you let it.  So just like anything else we need to have a plan.  Answer old email first them move on to writing new email.  If you need to save email into folders that allow you go back at another time, once you have the information necessary, and then answer them.  Just another world here, ignoring them will not make them go away.
  2. Give it a Day. This is a lesson I need to learn. Giving the email a day prior to answering it will allow us to really give this some thought. Very often our gut reaction is not the best reaction.  Write the email but then save it.  The next day, after we have cooled down, go back and read it again.  If you still think it is fine then send it.  I once wrote an email to everyone in the company complaining about an issue.  It was a long and rambling email and I was upset about the issue.  I clicked send and immediately regretted sending it.  I wanted to get it back but there was no way I could.  Funny thing is, due to a fluke in the system the email actually was never sent, so in a sense I was off the hook, but I did learn a hard lesson.
  3. No Email Will Make Us Happy. I used to constantly check email. I have it on my computer and on my phone and I was constantly refreshing to see if new messages arrived. I had become a slave to email and it was controlling me.  This is not a good situation to be in.  How much time did I waste constantly checking email only to be disappointed that none had arrived.  Set a schedule and stick to it and you will be a much happier person.
  4. Email is a Tool – And Only a Tool. Email is one form of communication and is instant and easy to send but it should never replace personal, as in in person, communication. A good rule of thumb is that direct, face to face communication, will often remove any doubt about what the meaning of the conversation as about. Follow up with an email just to clarify a point, but it should not replace face to face communication.

The bottom line in all of this is that email, and social media, do not give of a license to say what we want just because the other person is not right there in front of us.  Mindfulness and political correctness, as I mentioned in the previous essay, it is a reminder that there is another person, created in the image and likeness of God, on the other end and that person, and their feelings, need to be respected.  The Gospel tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, that is not political correctness that is doing what Jesus commanded us to do..

The Great Refusal

A Sermon on Matthew 9:16-26

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The Gospel of Matthew 19:16-26

At that time, a young man came up to Jesus, kneeling and saying, “Good Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you call me good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which?” And Jesus said, “You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

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This story is one of the best-known and best-loved stories in the Gospels. One of the most interesting things about it is the way in which most is us unite different details from various gospels to complete the picture. It is usually called the story of the “Rich Young Ruler,” but that is not necessarily the case. All of the gospels tell that the man was rich, for their in is the point of the story. But only in the gospel of Matthew, that we read today, says he was young (Matthew 18:18). It is interesting to see how a composite picture has been created with elements taken from all three gospels (Matthew 19:16-22); Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23).

There is another interesting point about this story, Matthew alters the question put to Jesus by the man. Both Mark and Luke say that the issues were, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19). Matthew says the question was, “Why do you call me good? One there is who is good” (Matthew 19:17). Matthew’s is the latest of the three synoptic gospels and his reverence for Jesus is such that he cannot bear to show Jesus asking the question, “Why do you call me good?” That almost sounds to him as if Jesus was refusing to be called good, so he alters the intro to the question, “Why do you ask me about wat is good?” in order to avoid the seeming irreverence.

The story touches on the deepest of all lessons for it has within in the whole basis of the difference between the right and the wrong idea of what religion is.

The man who came to Jesus was seeking for what he called eternal life. He was seeking for happiness for satisfaction, for peace with God. But his very way of phrasing his questions betrays him. He asks, “What must I do?” He is thinking in terms of actions. He is like the Pharisees; thinking in terms of keeping rules and regulations. He is thinking of piling up a credit balance-sheet with God by keeping the works of the law. He apparently knows nothing of a religion of grace. So Jesus tries to lead him on to a correct view.

Jesus answers him in his terms. He tells him to keep the commandments. The young man asks what kind of commandments Jesus means. Jesus then cites five of the Ten Commandments. Now there are two important things about the commandments that Jesus chooses to cite.

First, they are all commandments from the second half of the Decalogue, the half that deals, not with our duty to God, but with our responsibility toward others. They are the commandments that govern our personal relationships, and our attitude to others.

Second, Jesus cites one of the commandments out of order. He quotes the command to honor parents last when it should have come first. It is clear that Jesus wishes to lay particular stress on that one commandment. Why?  We have to speculate on this one. Maybe the young man had grown rich and successful in his career and then forgotten his parents, who may have been very poor. He may well have risen in the world, and have been ashamed of the folks in the old home; and then he may have justified himself perfectly legally by the law that Jesus has so unsparingly condemned (Matthew 15:1-6; Mark 7:9-13).What these passages show is that the young man could have done all of that, and still have legally claimed to have obeyed the commandments. In the very commandments that he cites Jesus is asking this young man, and us, what his attitude is to his fellow man and his parent, asking him what his personal relationships were like.

The young man’s answer is that he has kept the commandments; and yet there was still something that he knew he ought to have and which he had not got. So Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give it to the poor and follow him.

The young man claimed to have kept the law. In the legal sense, this may be true; but in the spiritual sense it was not true because his attitude toward others was wrong. In the last analysis, his attitude was utterly selfish. That is why Jesus confronted him with the challenge to sell all that he had and to give to the poor. His possessions are so shackled this man that nothing less than surgical excision of them would suffice. If a person looks on their possessions as given to them for nothing but their comfort and convenience, they are a chain that must be broken; if he looks on his possessions as a means for helping others, they are his crown.

The great truth of this story lies in the way it illumines the meaning of eternal life. Eternal life is life such as God himself lives. The word used for eternal does not mean lasting forever; it means as befits God, or such as belongs to God, or such as is characteristic of God. The great characteristic of God is that he so loved, and he gave. Therefore, the essence of eternal life is not a carefully calculated keeping of the commandments and the rules and regulations; eternal life is based on an attitude of loving and sacrificial generosity to others.

If we are to find eternal life, if we would find happiness, joy, satisfaction, peace of mind and serenity of heart, it will not be by piling up a credit balance with God through keeping commandments and observing rules and regulations; it shall be through reproducing God’s attitude of love and care for others. To follow Christ and in grace and generosity to serve others for whom Christ died are one in the same thing.

In the end, the young man turned away in great distress. He refused the challenge because he had great possessions. His tragedy was that he loved things more than he loved people, and he loved himself more than he loved others. Anyone who puts things before people and self before others must turn their back on Jesus.

Mindfulness in Conversation

There was a time, not long ago, that if you disagreed with someone it was on the basis of their argument and not on their personality.  Today it seems all the rage to not only disagree with someone now it is all the rage to destroy them as a person.  I front runner for the nomination for President of the United States (I will not mention his name but I believe you know who it is) has made a sport out of saying what is on his mind.  Many have championed his kind of “speech” and it had made him very popular with a segment of the population.  Sadly, this seems to be the way of all things.

Jesus addressed this sort of; say whatever comes to your mind, in the Gospel of Mark, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” Mark 7:20-22.

Coming out of the Buddhist tradition is this sense of mindfulness.  “Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.”  I would take this a step further and say that we should be mindful of how what we are saying will affect the other person.  Some might call this political correctness, but I call it being a Christian and always being conscious of how what we say will affect the other.

It seems that things like compassion and thoughtfulness have all been reduced to this sense of political correctness.  I am not sure when these virtues were corrupted by the political process and seen as weak, but it is time that we, right believing Christians take it back.  It is hard to “love your neighbor as yourself” when you try to destroy them.