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.

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 Day 22

Today’s readings are Psalms 104, 106, and 154 (text provided), and Proverb 24.

Psalm 154
Spoken by David when he was contending with the lion and the wolf which took a sheep from his flock

154 O God, O God, come to my aid; help Thou me and save me; deliver Thou my soul from the slayer.
2Shall I go down to Sheol by the mouth of the lion? or shall the wolf confound me?
3Was it not enough for them that they lay in wait for my father’s flock, and rent in pieces a sheep of my father’s drove, but they were wishing also to destroy my soul?
4Have pity, O Lord, and save Thy holy one from destruction; that he may rehearse Thy glories in all his times, and may praise Thy great name:
5when Thou hast delivered him from the hands of the destroying lion and of the ravening wolf, and when Thou hast rescued my captivity from the hands of the wild beasts.
6Quickly, O my Lord (Adonai), send from before Thee a deliverer, and draw me out of the gaping pit, which imprisons me in its depths.

Psalms and Proverbs Reading Day 21

Today’s readings are Psalms 103 and 105 and Proverb 23.

Psalm 103: Verse 6, think on this in both physical terms and spiritual terms. What are the similarities and differences between the two?

Psalm 105: This psalm offers a brief retelling of the Exodus plagues narrative and the entry into the promised land. Read some of the wording here and compare it to what we read in Exodus, the rest of the Pentateuch, and in Joshua. Is the tone different?

Proverb 23: Verse 4: “Do not wear yourself out to get rich.” How often to we see folks, church folks, doing this today?

Psalms and Proverbs Reading Day 20

Today’s readings are Psalms 96 through 102 and Proverb 22.

Psalm 96: Verses 7 through 9, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.” Are we lacking in that nowadays?
Psalm 97: Verse 10, What do we think about a passage that says God “hates” something?
Psalm 98: Verse 9 “He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” Can this confuse someone who is going through significant struggle in this life?
Psalm 99: Verse 6, “The cried to the Lord, and he answered them.” Will God answer us or is this reserved only to the High Priests and Prophets?
Psalm 100: Verse 2 “Worship the Lord with gladness; some into his presence with singing.” Think about this in relation to how we worship every Sunday.
Psalm 101: Verse 6, “I will look with favor on the faithful in the land.” What about those faithful folk who seen out of favor?
Psalm 102: Read this one twice and comment as to how it speaks to you.

Proverb 22: Verse 6: “Train children in the right way…” What would we say to someone who has multiple children in various stages of faithfulness? They were raised the same, why did they not turn out the same? What might that say about this passage?