Grace and Reconciliation

This was a very unique week. Strangely, I think I found a great deal of spiritual knowledge and development in professional wrestling this week. My best friend and I traveled to New Orleans this weekend for WrestleMania and all the events the surround that. Saturday night was the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony. There were two very big stories with this that I believe can have theological meaning.
The first is a story of reaching out to someone and that someone coming back from a terrible situation. The second person to come out during the ceremony goes by the name of Jake Roberts, though that is not his real name. He goes through a reasonably brief chronicle of his life, talking about how he was unfaithful to every woman he ever knew, except for a wrestling ring which he compared to a lady, and that once he lost the physical ability to compete in wrestling, he turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of not being able to compete. He also said that he was often jealous of some of his friends who had died before him and often asked God why he was still here when all he wanted to do was die. He said that he didn’t want to commit suicide because of the additional pain it would cause his children. But through all this, a good friend of his reached out to him, helped him get back on track, and really recreate his life. He’s made amends with all of his children and the rest of the people he hurt over the years. Not to go too far in comparing Jake’s friend to Jesus Christ, but that really is something of an indication of how far Christ will reach for us. We are never too far gone down a path of self-destruction for God’s love to be available to us. It is always there and will always be there. This was a man who was determined to end his own life and be done with it all, but a friend reached out to him and quite literally saved him. That’s Christ, always there. But even closer to home, how much can I do personally to help someone who is in need? Well, given the situation, I don’t see why I couldn’t be just as much help to someone as Jake’s friend was to him. In fact, I strongly suspect that would be the Christ-like thing to do.
The last speaker at the Hall of Fame spoke a lot about forgiveness. His wrestling name is Ultimate Warrior and he legally changed his name to Warrior; this has become something of a running joke among fans. Warrior went into the Hall of Fame this year after basically not speaking to WWE leadership since about 1996. Warrior had several disputes with them over the years and one of the worst came when WWE produced a DVD about his career that was basically 2 hours of other wrestlers badmouthing him on camera. He came back with some fairly terse rebuttals. All in all Warrior was generally not well regarded for several years. However, late last year, that changed. Both sides came together, mended their past difficulties, and determined that Warrior would go into the Hall this year. Theologically, this is a good example that we should forgive each other of wrong doings and that we will never be satisfied if we are seeking vengeance against another. If we are unable to forgive others and move on from the situation, we will never have closure on that particular situation. Sometimes forgiveness is difficult, but it is almost always possible. Secondly, if we seek vengeance, there will never be satisfaction. I think that vengeance is something that we will never find enough of. We will continually seek it until it consumes us.
Finally, something that doesn’t have a happy ending. Three days after Warrior was inducted to the Hall of Fame he died. We really aren’t guaranteed anything. Not the rest of today, not tomorrow. All these theological teachings that float around, do I follow them? Do I live in such a way that dying tomorrow would be no problem? Can I do better? Nothing is promised to us on Earth. I sometimes forget that.
Strangely (or likely not) the reading this week in Intro to Theology was on salvation. What is salvation to us? What does it mean? To me, salvation is not about getting a big mansion on the big side of Heaven. Salvation, to me, is about taking on the name and mission of Jesus Christ and helping others, just as Christ did. I can be the person who reaches out to a friend who is in dire need of help. I can be the one who forgives even when it doesn’t seem like forgiveness is deserved. Theological lessons can come from many places, some of them quite unexpected. Certainly professional wrestling is as unexpected a place as one might ever find. But this week, I found a lot of spirituality in professional wrestling.

Comments: It’s interesting reading back through these. Talking about Warrior and forgiveness, I have come to see that forgiveness can mean many things and will not look the same for all people. As we see with this story, forgiveness also might not come quickly; in this case it took 17+ years. Also, I see my writing as being different now. I try to rarely refer to Jesus Christ as simply “Christ” because that’s not his name, but rather a title. So my preference now is to always call Jesus by his given name. Not that it’s wrong either way, I don’t suppose, just something that I have done.

Why I am Pro Choice

So, read all the way to the end.
Here’s the deal, in a counseling situation, I would always recommend that a person consider keeping the child, adoption, or any other option prior to considering abortion. This current debate with Planned Parenthood seems to miss the point that for individuals, the decision to go through with an abortion is an arduous process and not something that the vast majority of folks will arrive at quickly and without significant thought. Read this article if you want some personal stories. There is also the scare tactics involved with saying that without PP and other organizations, we’ll see some huge increase in back room abortions and such. I do not believe that to be the case. No, onto the issue at hand.
First, I think there are various degrees of how pro-life/choice a person can be. On one side of the situation are those who feel that abortion should never be allowed under any circumstances. On the other side are those who feel that it should be available to anyone, at any time, under any conditions. In the middle there are those that might say that abortions should only be available for specific circumstances; victims of rape, incest (which is just a specific kind of rape, really), and mother’s health being typical circumstances given. I’m sure there are various viewpoints in between those three. So, where does pro-choice come in for me?
So, let’s look at the two major points that people give for abortion being allowed: health of the mother and rape. (another reason given is the health of the baby and potential for sustained life, but I can make my point without that) So, the first reason is actually pretty simple. If a physician indicates that the mother’s life is at risk if she carries the child, she would be “justified” in having an abortion. But I don’t think it’s quite so simple. Sure, a physical ailment would be easy to determine. As an example, I once knew someone who was told that due to a heart condition, pregnancy could kill her. Simple definition. However, what about mental health? Someone who would be unable to take mental health medication and carry the baby? The situation is a little muddier now.
Next, we move to rape. Well, what is rape? Forced sexual intercourse, obviously. The problem with using “rape” as a determination of eligibility for an abortion is significant. First, how would “rape” actually be defined? Would the perpetrator have to be convicted? Would the woman have to make a report of rape to the hospital and/or police department? I have a few issues with using “rape” as a justifier. Roughly 2/3’s of all rapes go unreported. So if a woman is raped, but she does not report it, is she not eligible for an abortion? Also, what about a situation where a woman “consents” to sexual intercourse in an abusive relationship because saying “no” would cause her husband/boyfriend to beat her half to death with a baseball bat? Is she not eligible for an abortion because she gave positive consent but was under duress?
I hope anyone reading this is really confused right now. That’s the point. This is a very confusing situation. My major issue with the pro-life movement is that it misses a lot of points. If your position is that abortion should never be allowed, that’s fine. I don’t agree with that position, but I can understand it. My issue is with those who would say that abortion should be allowed under certain circumstances. Who should determine whether or not those circumstances apply to a particular person? I’m pro-choice because I think that determination should rest on the individual. Was she raped or was she coerced into consenting? (technically that’s non-consensual as well, but if she gave positive consent, it would be difficult to prove non-consent) Did she consent to sexual intercourse even though she really didn’t want to do anything? Is that rape? My main problem is that I do not think the government should make a law determining what should be the limits. Also, guess what, even if it’s law that you can only get an abortion under certain conditions, those being rape and health of the mother, only one of those is really legitimate. Health of the mother can easily be determined by a doctor. However, with rape, that could easily by circumvented by someone who knows the system and wants an abortion. Simply go to the hospital and say “I was raped, I want a medical exam, and I do not want to notify the police.” (because police do not have to be notified if a person states she/he was raped and comes to a hospital…in the vast majority of cases anyway)
So, I’m pro-choice. I’m pro-choice because even if I believe that abortion might only be “justified” in cases of rape or medical necessity, rape is such a broad concept and virtually impossible to define in this context. Even if we say this, the determination of “rape” must lie with the individual.
Now, theologically, there might be eschatological consequences for choosing abortion in any circumstance, but those will surely be determined by Someone with much more knowledge than I.

5000 Kids Died Last Night and You Do Not Care

I had some interesting times this week, but I am not sure what I can consider to be “growth” and what I can consider to be simple observation. First, my Ethics professor quoted Christian mission worker/minister Tony Campolo from a sermon or other address some years back “Last night, while you were sleeping, 5,000 kids died of starvation or diseases relating to that, and you folks don’t give a shit. But what’s worse is that you’re more offended that I just said shit than that 5,000 kids died last night.” That stood out to me so much that I actually stopped the video for his class, looked up the quote, and posted that on my Facebook page (quality use of time, to be sure). But that quote really struck me. I think it struck me like it did because I really feel like it’s the truth. In virtually any congregation nationwide folks would be far more worked up about a minister or other speaker uttering a vulgar word across the pulpit than saying that 5,000 kids died while they were sleeping. A friend of mine did not agree with me on that, which is no real surprise given he doesn’t agree with me on very much as all theologically even though we are both LDS, but that didn’t really bother me. What bothered me about the whole deal was his general view of how much folks do within our congregations. Perhaps his experience has been vastly different than mine, but I simply have not seen a great amount of local outreach in my present congregation.
He and I were both in the same congregation in Virginia and there, we did a significant amount of community outreach. The results are clear. In the LDS Church, local congregations are called either Branches or Wards depending on size. When he and I were there, it was a Branch with about 75 people attending weekly. However, what we did was monthly service and outreach activities at a local food bank and some other, smaller, activities. Now, that congregation is a Ward with about 150 people attending each week, this in only 3 years. I have no doubt that a significant part of that growth was based on that community outreach. Here in [removed], we do virtually nothing of the sort. I won’t say “nothing” because that would be untrue, we have done one project at the Ronald McDonald House in my 2 1/2 years here. Yet, we wonder why our growth has been effectively stagnant for my time here; we have grown, but I’ve been quite honest with my bishop that I believe that is because we had seven families move into the city this past summer and not because we’ve actually “grown.” I wish we could do more here. I’ve tried to start projects and they simply have been forgotten. So, quoted statement by the professor really brought some of these feelings that I had more or less just put into the back of my mind bubbling right back to the surface. I think, quite honestly, that folks in my Ward would be ready to riot if someone cursed across the pulpit, but at the 5,000 comment, 98% of them would just go home and say “that’s so sad about those kids….hmm…what’s for lunch.” Of course that makes it virtually impossible for the 2% who want to make a difference to do so; they either go elsewhere to be a benefit or throw their hands up in disgust and join the rest.
I thought the video from this week was great. Both video’s actually. They really brought to light the fact that we often forget that we can get a little angry with God when He seems to be silent, but also, to me, that perhaps that is His way of saying “you’re a tough guy/girl, you got this on your own.” Not saying He is deserting me, just that He is trying to tell me that I am strong enough on my own.
Finally, I went and did some work with our missionaries on Tuesday. For the first time, I really noticed that I was much better at teaching than I had been before. So, while I am improving in that area, I still have this feeling, as we talked about during the mentor phone call in December, that perhaps I could have looked around a little harder and found something that is more applicable to my ministry goal as a chaplain. Hopefully this upcoming week can can be a week of better growth within myself rather than irritation about things I wish I could change.

Moral Counseling and Deserving What You Get

Some of the questions that you asked in the Week 4 reflection report I actually answered in my classes and work this week.

First, when I mentioned that my opinion doesn’t matter in the context of ministry, I meant that as I am counseling a person, my opinion should not factor into the conversation unless that person asks. This week the discussion in Ethics was about homosexuality. One of the discussion questions was about a person who came in and said a male friend had mentioned that they should get married. This was apparently in the context of a relationship. The person requesting counseling had been celibate through high school and college but the case stated that he had reservations about how his friend was interpreting the Bible. My response was that in the context of counseling him, my opinions about homosexuality are not important because helping him is the most important thing. My saying that I do or do not agree with his choices would seem to me to be an ineffective counseling strategy. Given that his choices are not self-destructive (within the context of the case study, though in reality there are other factors) and not illegal, it would be my responsibility to help him find, through prayer, scripture study, and conversation, the decision he felt was best for him. I may not agree with the decision he comes to but if that is the case I have to then make sure he knows that I am accepting of his decision and that he’s still fully welcome as a child of God. This is one of those gray areas in ministry. How do we counsel people when their views are different from our own?

I also studied some on Job this week for Old Testament. One of the conclusions I came to from this book is something of a quote from a Clint Eastwood movie: “deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” So often I think folks tend to think that they “deserve” good things because they’re church going folks or that non-church folks “deserve” bad things, afflictions, and so forth. To me, Job shows that there is evil in the world that can affect anyone but that even outside of God’s influence, folks still make a great many of their own decisions.

Last Saturday during my weekly meeting with the missionaries, we worked with them to plan things out better. They tend to focus so much on lessons and baptisms that often times they fail to actually invite folks to come to church with us on the upcoming Sunday. I have noticed that through my work with them. To me it seems like getting the folks to church on Sunday would be a little more important than a follow-up appointment and another lesson but it often seems like getting folks to church is just way down the list of things to do. There was a person on the list last week who had said he would get baptized but after three lessons that have been spread over about 5 weeks he’s never come to church on Sunday…it interests me how they would consider that to be acceptable. Now, I firmly believe that folks can come in entirely ready to accept Christ as their savior, be baptized, and all the rest from day one, but after five weeks of meeting with someone I have to question whether they are really serious about this whole church thing. In his defense, he apparently does not have a way to church, not sure if he does not have a license, does not have a car, or both, but, again, it seems to me that if there was real commitment he could jump on a transit bus as he’s seemingly in good condition financially. I talked about this with others involved with the mission effort and they were in agreement with my assessment. After the Gathering Week we are hoping to work with them to put a better focus on getting folks to church over baptismal numbers.

Overall, this week has been difficult for me in class and work. On top of the regular forum postings for four classes, there have been papers due, and other time consuming works. With work, I had to work overnight on Tuesday, which is normally not a problem, however I did not find out that I had to work overnight until 6:15pm Tuesday afternoon when I was already 15 minutes “late” to a shift that no one told me I had to stand. So that took up much of my classwork time that night and most of my time in general on Wednesday since, as you can imagine, I was rather tired after being awake for nearly 24 hours. Life can do that to us, I suppose. I’ve also struggled mightily with the case-study for class which we talked about already. Either way, I’m looking forward to the Gathering Week activities and hope to get back together with everyone.

Ask me in Ten Years and Politics in Church

So, as a preliminary comment here, this is the weekly reflection I most worried about posting when I started posting these each week. I didn’t know how I would edit the original text to fit into this format and still seem fairly friendly. I ended up just removing about a paragraph worth of stuff. Congregational politics are tough. Sadly, I think many church goers are apt to blame the victim when he or she stops attending church rather than taking a long look in the mirror and asking what caused them to leave. People, generally, don’t leave church for no reason. Some people find information about a church’s history and that causes them to leave; those are difficult situations. Some are wronged by other members of the congregation, yet we choose to blame the person who stops attending for being offended by the comments. “Well, he/she chose to be offended” some might say. And while that is true to a certain degree, there must still be some hard looking in the mirror to determine what went wrong. In this particular case below, a person was wronged in ways I won’t mention, he was shunned, and stopped attending. Yet many want to place blame on him for leaving even though he was wronged by a huge portion of the congregation. The details don’t really matter. It’s the concept. Ask why people leave the church…I just deleted a sentence…I was going to say, again, that “you” should look in the mirror to determine if you did anything to cause this person to leave, but then I remembered that you’re perfect and that you’d never under any circumstances do anything that would cause a person to leave church. So, don’t worry about looking in the mirror, just point some fingers and find out how everyone else caused this person to leave, and then make sure to place the blame back on the person who left because he dared by offended by your perfection.

OK, on to the original text…

I read some interesting passages in different books. The first passage was in James Cone’s Black Liberation Theology. I got a very strong through the chapter that I read that Cone was doing everything he could to change God into a 1970’s African-American. To me he was walking a very, very fine line of molding God into his own image rather than working to mold himself in God’s image. When we do that in our own lives, I feel like we start walking a dangerous path. I also suppose this is why there are so many different denominations out in the world. Each group interprets God just a little differently. The question, however, is whether or not denominations or individuals are trying to mold God into their personal theological image or if they are molding into His? I have to remind myself of this. God is not necessarily who I want Him to be. He is who He is and has always been. I have also had to try to separate my own personal views from my theological views.
Second, in my Christian Ethics class, we read about genetic embryo modification, in vitro fertilization, and other forms of “unnatural” pregnancy. One of the questions our professor asked was how would we deal with a person in our congregation or our lives who came to a different moral/ethical conclusion than we hold? This question is very relevant for me given that my goal is chaplaincy. I may have individuals come into my office seeking council who have very different ideas of what is moral or immoral. Within this context, I think I will have to recognize that my moral/ethical opinion really does not matter. It does not matter if I think a particular situation a person is going through fits into my definition of what is moral or immoral, so long as it does not violate any regulations or laws, of course. My job will be to make sure each person gets the help that he or she needs regardless of whether or not that persons moral/ethical standards line up with mine. That was the comment I made in the discussion online with the semi-humorous side comment about asking me in ten years how this approach has worked for me as a chaplain. I really hope that this is one of those ideal views I can hold onto and remember as I go about ministry. It doesn’t matter what I think is moral, it matters that I can give a person the help that he or she needs at a given time.
Keeping in line with this, I made another comment in that same class about how we must simply be someone who facilitates the Spirit guiding others. We are not able to cause a real conversion in someone, we simply have to give them the “water” so that they can drink it. But if they decide not to drink it, we simply have to keep providing for them until they make the decision to change. We have to show each person that we are there for them and care about them unconditionally.
Beyond this reading, I met with a man this week who has not been to church in several years. His reason for not coming is that he was driven off several years ago by a particular family in the congregation and how they treated him. [comments removed] This is really my first experience with how congregation politics can damage others. It really is quite sad to have to sit and listen to a story like the one I heard and not be able to do anything to change the local culture going forward. I wish there was more a I could do to change things.
It was very interesting how the different readings came together for me this week and how I can see how relevant those readings and principles will be for me in my ministry. I certainly think the ministry involves much more gray area than I had originally anticipated.

Week 3

This week I saw a very interesting mix of school and real life. In the Christian Ethics class I am taking, the material this week is on euthanasia. We visited a family who’s son suffered a gunshot wound to the head in November and is now paralyzed, can’t speak, and is minimally functional in a way that we might call normal. It is very interesting to deal with that as a real issue rather than some abstract concept. Now, this is not to say this family ever considered taking him off forms of life support, he seemed to be able to breathe on his own while we were there (he is stable enough to live at home). Nor am I trying to say that I would recommend what the discussion this week would have called passive euthanasia, that being stopping medical treatments necessary to prolong life. However, that does not mean, to be sure, that another family may not have considered that. It does not mean that a well-meaning physician or even, perhaps, a pastor would not have recommended they abstain from additional treatment at some point in time during the previous few months. Seeing ethical things like this in real life is interesting. Before the reading week, the topic was abortion. Thankfully, I did not have any first hand knowledge on one of those. But I have to sit and ask myself how will I deal with these issues once I am, hopefully, a chaplain somewhere?
Along these same lines, I met with the Navy chaplain on my base during the reading week. He and I discussed some professional development ideas and also talked about some of the unique aspects of military chaplain ministry. We talked about how some folks are “spiritual hypochondriacs” in that they always feel like something is wrong ,are always negative about life, and so forth. He told me with some real honesty that these people can be very difficult to deal with on a regular basis but that we have to be sure that their needs are being met. He also told a story about one of the most unique situations he’s dealt with. He was chaplain on a deployed ship a few years back and had a situation where a male member of the crew had sexually assaulted a female crew member. He said that on the first night he spent quite a long time in the hospital with the young lady who had been assaulted and the next day he had to go visit the young man in jail. Both of them were under his care and he had to help them both. He, again, was quite honest that this is something that would virtually never happen in the civilian counseling area, but is something that chaplains can have to work through. This was one of the more productive professional development conversations that I have had since beginning this journey.
Finally, I had to help on Thursday with some transportation of missionaries. I drove for an hour with this one good young man and it was interesting to hear him talk about things. Asking questions like “can we try to be too perfect and is that a bad thing?” Certainly I don’t really have the answer to that but my opinion is that, yes, we can try too hard to be perfect if it starts to take away from family and life in general. Our basic conversation on this was that you can try to be dedicated in following the commandments from God without trying to go well above and beyond in attempting to be perfect. He and I also talked about what he wants to do after his mission in life. He wants to be a doctor…noble career, but I find that virtually all folks who are serving want to be something like a doctor, dentist, lawyer, or upper business type. Though I would never say this to them I sometimes ask myself “doesn’t anyone just want to be a ditch digger?” Not literally a ditch digger, of course. Then again, I have to suppose that it depends on where they are from, most of the guys we have now are from urban areas in Utah (though this particular person was not) so have that mindset. I suppose a young man coming from rural Wyoming or somewhere like that would have a different idea of great work. Also, when I talk to these folks, my pride in my military service comes out. I almost always recommend folks try for military service because of the education finance benefits that come from what we do. I actually find this quite rewarding, giving brief counseling to these folks. I sometimes wonder if they even remember what I say (or perhaps if they even care) but I like to think that I have a reasonable amount of experience that I can share with folks. Hopefully they think I’m intelligent and find a little bit of value in what I say. This was certainly a good week for personal and professional growth.

Searching for “IT” at Church

This week I had what I consider to be quite a breakthrough spiritually. A little background on how this happened. A friend of mine from work and I had talked about playing this golf course that is very good (like top 50 out of about 17,000 in the world good) but we had never played there. We started talking about it a bit last week, he called, found out the offer a military discount, and all of a sudden, we were booking a starting time and planning to make the drive over. We get there and the course just lacked that “it” that makes something really connect. I’d seen pictures of the course, talked with people who had played, seen professional events played there, and so forth, so I had huge expectations about the course. I did not feel like the course quite met those expectations. As I said before, the course lacked “it.” What I mean is that the course lacked that thing that you can’t quantify or really describe that makes certain movies, songs, speeches, or other things really connect with you beyond just the words and mechanics.
I had a thought pop into my mind about this and wondered if we sometimes do the same thing with church? Are we too busy looking for that mysterious “it” in our churches that we miss some of the great things about the church? I think that often times we do get too busy looking for “it.” This goes beyond being able to feel the spirit, that is something that I think we should be able to recognize. Looking back, I feel that perhaps the gentleman I described last week who I feel has left the church was too busy trying to find “it” to stop and notice what was great at church and what was great in his life.
Second, I had to ask it having these huge expectations about something can affect what we think? Looking back, the golf course that we played was almost certainly one of the 5 best courses that I have ever played. How much of the course and the journey around it did I miss because I had huge expectations and played around expecting to find “it” in order to meet those expectations? Again, I surely feel like this is the case in churches. We work so hard to get new, unchurched people into our congregations, but how well do we temper their expectations for what the church will be and what it can provide? I think we talk our churches up into this level of greatness that is nearly impossible to attain. So, when we get new folks, they come in expecting greatness that might never happen, either because of “reality” or just their perception. But what happens when they leave disappointed? Ideally, they give the church another chance and stay around. But in reality, we know that is not the case most of the time. A person is disappointed and then decides to leave. We have to be sure in these cases that we are not setting expectations so high that people end up leaving with heads hanging in disappointment.
I used this in a lesson we taught today to a guy who was recently baptized in our congregation (I actually performed the baptismal ordinance, the first one I did). I brought up a passage from Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book where she writes about telling the new members of her congregation honestly that they will eventually be disappointed in something the church does. She asks them to commit at that time to stay around when such a thing happens. That’s an interesting point of view to have, but quite truthful. I put it that way to him at church today. This congregation will disappoint him if he stays in this area for long enough (he’s a student, so he might move in a year or so). I also told him to keep his expectations reasonable. Don’t set the expectations so high that they’re impossible to meet. I felt like it was necessary to tell him honestly that churches are not perfect. That might seem like common sense, but I wonder if that is the honest message we give to folks.
So that was a pretty big step for me spiritually. I need to make sure my expectations are reasonable in all areas. Churches are not perfect no matter how much we might want them to be. I can’t let my expectations to cause me to look off in all directions for the mysterious “it” while the greatness is there looking me in the eyes.

Coming Together and Growing Apart

Continuing the Weekly Reflections from earlier in the year…
This week was interesting for me. I saw what I consider to be a rather significant breakthrough in myself and the concept of sin as I see it during a conversation with a friend. I also found out that one of the men we baptized late last year has effectively stopped attending church, though I have not yet found out exactly why that is the case. Also from Sunday I heard of a conversation with some of our leadership which fits in like with my opinion of the above mentioned member stopping attendance and it makes me glad that I left church early.
The basis for the conversation I had with my friend comes from a blog post I wrote about youth homelessness in the LGBT community in Utah. Roughly 40% of the teenage homeless population in Utah are both LGBT and self-identifying as from active LDS families. I said flat out that I feel like some of our lower level church culture, directly opposite of leadership teachings, is either directly responsible for this figure and if not directly, then responsible in an enabling role. It’s quite frankly a bad situation and I both do and do not wish I was out there to help. My friend, this was not a private conversation, it was posted on Facebook for the world to see, brings up his familiar point about acknowledging and condemning sin. He also brought up his go-to Bible passage, that of the woman taken in adultery. He always likes to whip on the final passage of ‘go and sin no more’ while basically skipping over the first part about casting stones. He believes that by my focusing on the final sentence that I do not want to acknowledge that sin is present. Over the course of the conversation, I eventually came to see, surely not an original view, that while Christ certainly admits that she was a sinner, he was willing to let them stone her to death after all, he forces them to admit that they are not perfectly clean either and they decide not to stone her. It really occurred to me that we can acknowledge sin without casting the stones at the person. We simply are not clean enough to cast those stones at another. Saying that something is a sin is completely different from saying it’s a sin and also casting someone off out of society. I had never really thought of it this way. In many ways this ties into something that I read this week in my Intro to Theology class, though I just thought about it right now as I am writing. In our book we read about something called a “principle of correlation” and part of this is that you are unable to receive answers through study if you are not asking questions. I had a question answered this week about sin. We can admit that something is a sin but still invite that person to our table as a friend. Admitting is not the same as condemning.
Secondly I had noticed for a few weeks that one of our newly baptized members had not been coming and for the few weeks before that he had been coming late. I asked the missionaries who had worked with him about it last night and apparently he has stopped returning their phone calls as well. This is the man I likened to Eeyore. I feel like two things have happened here; this is complete speculation right now, I will try and get some more facts this coming week about it. First, I feel like the missionaries tried to promise him that if he joined everything would just be “spring daisies and cinnamon.” I was slightly uncomfortable with this at the time and I have to wonder if my discomfort was correct. I feel like he was promised a great many things and those things either have not happened at all or he is in too much of a Eeyore mindset to see them. I’d like to be wrong in this, maybe he’s working three jobs every day of the week and is unable to come to church because of that, but I strongly suspect he feels like he’s been sold a load of garbage. Of course this fits in with my ever evolving concept of God as a being who is effectively unable to wholly deliver you from a situation but is able to give comfort during that situation. That seems to me to be a better message, but I don’t know. Second, I feel like we failed him as a congregation. We put this huge pressure on getting convert baptisms but them once they are baptized, we basically let them roam and do their own thing. I feel like once they see the true colors of the congregation and how we treat each other, they leave. It’s quite sad, really. I feel like I do everything that I can to make people feel welcome but there is only so much one person can do.
Finally, my wife told me today that she and her friend were talking and that there was a conversation during the third hour of our church services on Sunday that might have gotten rather heated. Apparently, a member brought up to some of the leadership that we have this huge push for new baptisms and converts but what are we doing to keep the people who are already coming? Certainly this goes right in line with what I just said about the man who stopped attending. I left after our primary worship service and did not attend Sunday School or the combined men/women’s group meeting (where the conversation happened) because my kids were being fussy. Looking back, I think perhaps God’s way of saying “you should probably leave now, stuff’s about to happen and you’ll say something unkind.” Maybe I am interpreting that wrong and they really needed to hear exactly what I might have said, but I feel like no matter how much they might have needed to hear it, they would not have wanted to hear it and would not have accepted any of it. I know it’s a poor attitude to have and I think it’s not as blunt as it seems typed in words, but I’m really glad I leave here in 3-4 months, biting my tongue every day only works for so long.
It was good to see how things came together this week. I feel like I really see the different in “seeing” sin and condemning it. I feel like I have seen the damage that making promises you can’t keep can do and it is a disservice to all parties involved. Finally I feel like I heard God speaking to me this week in a very strange, almost illogical way. Sometimes things happen and we don’t understand them. I’m becoming more and more comfortable with that and the thought that God can’t reach His hand down and deliver me from something, but he can give me the comfort to get through it and that is significant. I hope we can pass that on to more people (if it’s “correct” anyway).

Psalms and Proverbs reading Monday June 29

Today’s readings are Psalms 140 through 145, Psalm 155 (text below), and Proverb 30.

Psalm 155
Spoken by David when returning thanks to God, who had delivered him from the lion and the wolf and he had slain both of them
155 Praise the Lord, all ye nations; glorify Him, and bless His name:
2Who rescued the soul of His elect from the hands of death, and delivered His holy one from destruction:
3and saved me from the nets of Sheol, and my soul from the pit that cannot be fathomed.
4Because, ere my deliverance could go forth from before Him, I was well nigh rent in two pieces by two wild beasts.
5But He sent His angel, and shut up from me the gaping mouths, and rescued my life from destruction.
6My soul shall glorify Him and exalt Him, because of all His kindnesses which He hath done and will do unto me.