Why I Spent Two Weeks in a Tent

I just spent two weeks living in a tent, sleeping on a cot, walking farther than I have in

Jambo Tent
Our home away from home.

decades, taking really cold showers, and I probably had one of the best times of my life doing it.  For two weeks in July, I served as a chaplain, along with about 76 other pastors (including just about every denomination and faith you can name), at the National Boy Scout Jamboree which is held every four years at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Glen Jean, West Virginia.  While many people have heard about the Jamboree, many have questions about what a chaplain does and why the Boy Scouts would need so many of them for a single event.  Honestly, I

Jambo chaplain group picture
The chaplains of the 2017 National Scout Jamboree (photo by Father Senic Cirera, San Mateo, California)

 

 

 

asked myself the same questions before I went, and while some of the answers are simple, others take a little more explaining.

The easiest question to answer is why the Jamboree would need almost eighty chaplains.  Simply put, scouting has always regarded the spiritual life of its members to be an important value regardless of faith and with something over 28,000 scouts and 6,000 staff converging on the Summit for two weeks, this small city needed trained pastors to provide spiritual care.  As a member of a sub-camp staff, my tent-mate Michael Lavoi (a Mormon chaplain) and I were responsible for a “congregation” of more than 20 sub-camp staff as well as 2,000 scouts and their adult leaders.  As staff members, we helped out in registration during the busy arrival day, helping to carry mail, or wherever an extra hand was needed.   And, although the first few days were easy from a pastoral perspective, after everyone started getting tired we were called upon to help scouts, and adult scout leaders, mediate personal conflicts.  There were young people who were homesick, some that were in fights, leaders who knew about a death in the family of one of their scouts but whose family asked that they not be told, there were threats of suicide, thefts (yes, it happens even in the Boy Scouts), and everything else that happens when people live together.

But that isn’t all we did.  Chaplains took turns working shifts in the basecamp medical center so that one of us was either present or on call so that we could encourage the doctors and nurses but also to be on hand to provide comfort to scouts who were sick or injured.  We took turns offering worship opportunities, not only on Sunday, but every morning or afternoon.  Each scout had the opportunity to earn a special “Duty to God and Country” patch during the jamboree, and one of the requirements to earn it was to meet with their chaplain and talk about what their “duty to God” might look like in every day life.  That meant that many of our daily “office hours” as well as our evenings were spent meeting with individual scouts, or entire troops, to discuss subjects of religious significance.  Often, as we met with these young people, and shared meals with them, they asked other substantive questions about God, religion, faith, and other things.

Of course there was worship.  The first Sunday we were there, before the scouts
arrived, we held a Protestant service in the back of the dining hall and had somewhere between 300 and 600 staff in attendance.  A week later, the Protestant service was held in the stadium and, while we met in the pouring rain, there were still

Mark Dyer - Jambo with Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball
Left to Right, Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball (West Virginia Annual Conference),  Rev. John Partridge (East Ohio Annual Conference),  Scout Mark Dyer Jr. (Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference) Photo by Deborah Coble, West Virginia Annual Conference

probably two or three thousand in attendance.  Afterward, the United Methodist chaplains hosted a communion service (open to everyone) on Brownsea Island near

the stadium.  That service, officiated by West Virginia Area Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, was attended by 200 or more and the communion elements were served by the 15 

United Methodist chaplains alongside United Methodist scouts who had volunteered to help.  As I returned to my tent from our communion service, I noticed that the rain had finally stopped, and that may have contributed to the increased attendance (probably 5000 or more) at the Catholic worship service which followed ours at the stadium.

It’s worth noting that the Summit is enormous and covers 14,000 acres and adjoins 70,000 acres of National Park Service land in the New River Gorge National Park.  That means that nothing is close to anything else.  A walk to the bathroom is a quarter mile round trip.  A visit to the medical tent is a mile.  A trip to the stadium or to the chaplains’ headquarters can be two miles one way, and if you hike up to the top of Garden Ground Mountain to visit the Scottish games or the pioneer village, its at least three miles, all up hill, one way.  Over the course of two weeks, I walked about 75 miles and my partner, Michael, had hiked well over 100 miles.

But being a chaplain isn’t all work.  In two weeks you have the opportunity to live with, and share your life with, your fellow staff members.  Some of these scouters return every four years and request the same arrangements so that they can work together again.  There’s a chance to encourage young people and to build relationships with people of other faiths, and people from other states and other countries.  Not only was the jamboree attended by participants and staff from all 50 states, but also from 58 other nations.  Our leadership tried hard to make sure that staff members could get some time off and see some of the activities in and around the Summit, and although there isn’t enough time to see everything, as you visit you find yourself among young people from around the world.  While I didn’t get a chance to ride the half mile long zip line (the “Big Zip”), I did get a chance to climb a rock wall, navigate the treetop high ROPES course, and ride through all of the mountain bike courses.

Remember that while the Boy Scouts in the United States is mostly for boys, ours is one of the only countries where that is true.  All of the international troops are coed, as are the older youth from the Venturing, Explorers, and Sea Scout programs in the United States.  And so, while I was invited to participate by the United Methodist Men, whose office includes our official United Methodist scouting representative, there is a desperate need for female chaplains as well.  Out of all the chaplains present, only one was female and, since our denomination is one of the few who ordain female clergy, the United Methodist Church has the opportunity to fill this need.  Chaplains and other staffers at the Jamboree ranged in age from their 20’s up to well into their 80’s.

My two weeks at the Jamboree were probably some of the hardest and yet some of the most rewarding, and fun, that I have ever had.  They are indeed, memories that will last a lifetime.  But the next Jamboree is in four years and the United States will host the World Jamboree at the Summit in two years.  Whether you are clergy or laity, male or female, young or old, you have gifts and skills that can be used to encourage and bless the next generation of young people from around the world.

Think about it.

You should come.

Do The Homeless Really Need Help?

Processed by: Helicon Filter;In one of the hobby forums that I visit, a member recently asked this question: Are homeless people scam artists, or do they really need help?  He went on to say that he was completely against giving handouts to people at freeway ramps because he felt that these people were “either dope addicts or scam artists who actually make a living doing this and put on a facade and play on people’s emotions.”  He felt that homeless people were in that situation because of the choices that they made, and because they were too lazy to get off their butts and get a job.

While I am not an expert on homelessness, I have learned a lot in the last few years and have met a few of them as they came to the doors of our church looking for help.  So, what follows is a part of what I posted in reply.

For what it’s worth, I come into contact with homeless people on a fairly regular basis and I have friends who minister to that population of people pretty much daily. The answer to your question “Are they scam artists or really need help?” is “Yes.” There are some, for the most part a pretty small minority who are “gaming the system” but the majority really do need help. Quite a few “move through” homelessness and move on to a more stable life but many are trapped there for a variety of reasons. A frightening percentage is there because of mental illness of one sort or another, and they are very hard to help. Almost all types of residential treatment facilities have been closed so there simply is no “place” where they can receive the kind of care that they really need. Despite their illnesses, most of them are fiercely independent and don’t want to move in with their adult children, relatives, or accept long-term charity. While some of us struggle to see the difference between begging and accepting the charity of their own family, for them the differences are important.

It’s also important to remember that something like 2 out of 3 households in the United States are only two paychecks from homelessness so it doesn’t always take a lot the completely shift someone’s life onto an entirely different track. I’ve met folks who suddenly became homeless because of domestic abuse, house fires, divorce, death of a spouse or significant other, and abandonment. In many of these cases, they found themselves with no belongings, no identification, no money, no transportation, no vital medications, nothing. Some of them are eligible for VA benefits or welfare but in order to collect those benefits you have to have a permanent mailing address, which is the one thing that homeless people obviously *don’t* have.

It really is heartbreaking.

This is real.

Many are disabled, but a great many of them work, often as day laborers, some at regular jobs, even in semi-skilled fields like concrete and various construction trades. Many are single, but there are also a whole lot of families with school age children.

I’ve met several people who were daily making a difficult choice.

Imagine:

It costs $45 per day for a cheap motel because you don’t have enough money to pay for a month, or even a week at a time.

You work, but only make minimum wage (at best) so after taxes you get about $60 per day.

You can get some benefits if you can prove your identity, but through one circumstance or another (again, house fire, etc.) you don’t have any.

You can go to the courthouse, get a copy of your birth certificate, and use that to get a new driver’s license.

But the courthouse wants $65 to make you a copy and the BMV wants another $50.

Add to that the cost of the bus to courthouse, and basically losing a day’s wages while you wait in line.

So, do you get your ID, sleep under the stars or under a bridge, skip eating for two days, and risk losing your job, or do you go to work and spend all your money on food and a place to sleep?

These are the choices that many homeless people have to make every day. I’ve met them, sat with them, and shared stories with them over coffee.

To prevent abuse, and those who are really good at “gaming the system,” our church limits how much aid we can give one person and so our guidelines allow me to offer them a meal at a local restaurant, or a tank of gas, or a box of food (enough for a week or two), or one night’s lodging. I’ve had many people tell me to my face, “I’ll take the room for the night. I can stand being hungry, but I really need a place to sleep tonight.”

I’ve also met people who needed a place to stay even though they told me that they had family (even parents) who lived in the same neighborhood as the motel where we put them up. I can only imagine what sort of emotional, drug, alcohol, or psychological problems led to them not being welcome in their own parent’s home but it happens more often than you think.

So are there scammers? Sure.

Are most of them scammers? No, I don’t think so.

Do they really need help? Yes.

But what they really need is for all of us to be more vocal to our elected representatives at all levels to create systems that don’t trap people at the bottom, systems that make access to aid programs, many of which the homeless qualify for, easier, and to make access to basic identifying documents (like birth certificates) more affordable and accessible to people who are literally choosing between getting an ID and eating.

By all means, if you are unsure, then don’t give money to panhandlers. The people next to the freeway are often, but not always, the people gaming the system. Unless you work with them, it’s hard to know who’s who. But there is a significant population of people who really need help.

If you want to be a part of the solution, I encourage you to volunteer at a food pantry, or a clothes closet, or any one of many church and civic organizations that work with the needy and the homeless.  If you make it a regular thing (and not just show up once) you will begin to build relationships with them. It takes time. They’ve been burnt by the government, by charities, and lots of people who want to use them for their own purposes. They’ve been taken advantage of so many times that they are slow to trust, but if you take the time to really get to know them, and they learn that you are there because you really care about them, they might just share their story with you.

And it’ll probably break your heart.

 

 

 

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The Value of an Invitation

Invitation

We get four or five things in the mail everyday.

Most of our mail is junk.

Almost all of the rest is bills.

Of course, we get letters from my mom who still writes on paper and uses stamps, but the rest of our friends and family communicate electronically.

But one in a blue moon we receive an invitation.  Just a handful of envelopes arrive during the course of a year to invite us to baby showers, birthday parties, weddings, etc.  Many of those are migrating to electronic media as well, but even so, the number of invitations that we receive is relatively small.  I say this because in a mailbox, physical or electronic, that is filled with junk every single day, invitations are not only not junk, they are welcome, valuable, and often become the thing that gets opened first.

We like to be invited to things.

Even if we can’t attend, the invitation makes us feel valuable.  Someone thought of us, appreciated us, and took the time, effort, and expense to ask us to share a moment of time with them.  An invitation is a sign that tells the world that we are wanted.

Our church is no different.

Many of the people at Trinity came to church, sometimes decades ago, because someone invited them to come.  So why is it that we seem reluctant to invite others?

We shouldn’t be.

Thom Rainer spent four years researching unchurched people.  One of the things that surprised him as they compiled the results was that ninety six percent of unchurched people in the United States are at least “somewhat likely” to attend church if they are invited.  Think about that.  More than nine out of ten people would be interested in attending church, of only someone would take the time to ask them and make them feel wanted.

[Note: Thom Rainer’s entire article on http://www.ChurchCentral.com, “Survey finds many unchurched would come to church if invited”  is worth reading.]

What’s more, the people of Trinity Church are proving this to themselves and the results are increasingly obvious.  In the last few weeks, I’ve heard from several people (some of whom have recently become members) that they are here because they were invited.  I have been hearing this more and more often and I want to make sure that others notice.

Recently, one family said that they came because of an invitation, from me, that I don’t even remember.  Another came a couple winters ago when I gave them one of those little business card invitations and invited them to our Christmas Eve service.  Another family was invited by Ruth and Gary Sturgill, another by Brett and Beth Huntsman, several by Ronnie and Cheryl Wendell, and another after our Easter invitation postcards were delivered to the surrounding neighborhoods were combined with personal invitations to many of our friends from Perry Helping Perry.  Just this week, Chris Jukich greeted someone at the door that she met, and invited, at our community breakfast on Saturday.  There are more examples that I know about, and even more that I am forgetting.

So here’s my point:

People tell me that they want Trinity Church to grow.  It can, and it is.  We are growing because the people at Trinity are reaching out and inviting their neighbors, friends, and family to join us.  Some, like Marla Armstrong and Jan Gash, are inviting people all the time.  In fact, many of you are doing it.  I apologize if I didn’t mention you by name.

Thank you.

Trinity Church is a special place.  The people here aren’t perfect, but we are generous and friendly and have made this into a place where people can experience community, mercy, grace, and love.

We have something to offer.  You are probably here because someone invited you and you found something that you liked.  I hope that you have been blessed because you belong here.  I believe that you have, because many of you have told me so.

I encourage you to do the same for someone else.

We are already growing because the people of Trinity Church understand the value and the importance of a simple invitation.

You can make a difference.

Help someone else to feel wanted and valued.

Help others to find a home where they can experience community, mercy, grace, and love.

Join us in being “invitational.” Tell your neighbors, family, and friends about Trinity Church.

People need a place to belong.

Invite them.

There’s more than a 9 out of 10 chance that they’ll consider it.

 

 

 

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This is Not Barbecue Day

military funeral(Reprinted and edited from Memorial Day 2012)

 

Today is not barbecue day.  It is not “just” a part of “just another” long weekend.  Today is not dedicated to automobile races and baseball games.  Today is not another excuse to go camping.  Today we have gathered here to remember.  We have not come to thank our veterans; we do that in November, but to remember those who have fallen, those who have given their lives, so that we might have freedom and liberty.  We gather to remember men and women for whom words like duty, honor, and country have meaning and because of whom, these words are themselves more meaningful.

During the War in Vietnam, Marine Private First Class Gary Martini, braving intense enemy fire, raced through an open field to drag a fallen comrade back to a friendly position.  Seeing a second fallen Marine just 20 meters from the enemy position, Martini once again risked his life to bring the man back to safety.  Upon reaching the fallen Marine, Martini was mortally wounded but continued to drag his comrade back to his platoon’s position, telling his men to remain under cover.  As he finally struggled to pull the man to safety, Private First Class Martini fell and succumbed to his wounds.

Sergeant First Class Paul Smith, while under enemy fire in Iraq, organized the evacuation of three soldiers who had been wounded in an attack on their vehicle.  Sergeant Smith manned the machine gun mounted on their vehicle, maintaining an exposed position as he engaged the enemy forces, allowing the safe withdrawal of wounded soldiers.  He was mortally wounded in the attack but not before killing as many as 50 enemy fighters in order to save his injured comrades.

During the Second World War, First Lieutenant Jack Mathis, flying a bomb run over Vegesack, Germany, was hit by enemy antiaircraft fire.  His right arm was shattered above the elbow, and he suffered a large wound on his side and abdomen.  Knowing that the success of the mission depended upon him, Lieutenant Mathis, mortally wounded, dragged himself to his sights and released his bombs on target before he died.

These few examples give us only a flavor of the sacrifices that our men and women in uniform have made for our freedom and for the freedom of others, often total strangers, in other nations.  So highly do we value this gift we call liberty, that we are willing to expend the blood of our own sons and daughters so that others might enjoy this gift also.

Brave men and women wearing the uniform of the United States have fought and bled and died in places like Bunker Hill, Yorktown, Concord, Lexington, Saratoga, Bazentin Ridge, Belleau Wood, Manila Bay, Guantanamo, Gettysburg, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Beruit, Okinawa, Pork Chop Hill, Hamburger Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, Pusan, Inchon, Bastogne, the Ardennes Forest, Pearl Harbor, Midway, Saipan, Medina Ridge, Al Busayyah, Wadi Al-Batin, Baghdad, Kandahar, Khaz Oruzgan, Musa Qala and thousands of other places most of us have never heard of as well as places so remote that the places don’t even have names.

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania four and one half months after the Union victory over the Confederate Army in the Battle of Gettysburg.  On this day or remembrance, it is good to remember the words that President Lincoln spoke.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.


Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.


But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

This day is very much like the hallowed ground of Gettysburg.  There is little that our feeble efforts or words can do to consecrate this day beyond what the blood of patriots has already done.  As we gather here today our task is to heed the words of Abraham Lincoln.  It is for us, the living, to dedicate ourselves to the unfinished work for which these brave men and women have given their lives.  We must be resolved that these patriots did not die in vain.  It is too painful for us to remember their sacrifice each day, but on this precious and hallowed day we should take the time to remember.  We should honor their sacrifice by appreciating the things that they have purchased with their blood.

Be sure to avail yourselves of the freedoms that their sacrifices have purchased on our behalf.  Vote.  Don’t just vote for the politician that promises to give us the most stuff, vote for the men and women who hold dear the ideals of freedom and liberty.  Honor the flag that they fought for, it is more than just a piece of cloth because it stands for the things those patriots fought and bled and died for.  Stand when the flag passes by, sing the national anthem, and teach your children to stand, teach them to take their hats off and to hold their hands over their hearts.  It seems that lately I have been at sporting events where I see far too many people who are oblivious to the ceremony of the national anthem, while others are standing, they sit, while others are standing at attention with their hats held over their hearts, these others are busy talking on their cell phones.  We honor the blood of heroes by being courteous and respectful.

Now, I fully realize that all of us who put on the uniform of the United States did so to defend your rights not to stand, not to sing and not to hold your hand over your heart.  That’s fine.  If you are one of those who takes issue with it, what I ask of you is that you do so respectfully and that while the rest of us are standing and singing, you share a moment of silence and remember those brave men and women who gave you that right.

Finally, I ask that you honor the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform with your prayers.  You don’t have to pray to the God I worship, feel free to pray to whatever deity you choose, but pray for all of the men and women who, even now, are away from their families, friends and homes.  Pray for those who today, instead of attending backyard barbecues and swim parties with their friends, are far out at sea, standing guard or even laying in a bunk half-way around the world or eating cold Meals Ready to Eat out of a foil envelope while they huddle in a foxhole in the sand waiting for the next mortar round to drop on their heads.  Pray for the families of those who are away from home.  Today wives and husbands of these brave soldiers are doing what they can to hold their families together and their children are growing up wondering when, or if, their father or mothers are ever coming home again.

Today is not barbecue day.  It is not just a part of just another long weekend.  Today is not dedicated to automobile races and baseball games.  Today is not another excuse to go camping.  Today we have gathered here to remember.  Today let us remember the sacrifices that made us what we are and have given us freedom and liberty.  Today has been set aside as a special day of remembrance.

Let us all pause to remember…

…and may we never forget.

Immigration and the Church

Immigrants with Statue of LibertyWhat should we do with immigrants?

What is the right thing to do?

Does the Bible offer any help or insight into this problem at all?

With all the press and politics surrounding the issue of immigration, regardless of our personal feelings, we often wonder what the Bible can tell us about how the church ought to approach the subject.  We might also simply wonder if the Bible has anything to say about immigration at all.

It does. 

The position of the Bible is clear and consistent through both the Old and New Testaments.

Its teaching begins early.  In Deuteronomy 26:4-6, Abraham is described as a “Wandering Aramean” and the people of Israel were commanded to remember it whenever they brought a sacrifice to the Tabernacle.

The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor.

God’s instruction to his people included this instruction so that even generations later, long after they had settled and built houses and cities in the Promised Land, they would remember who they used to be.  God built this into their regular system of worship so that his people would remember that their forefather was an immigrant and they themselves used to be a nation of immigrants, nomads, and wanderers.

Thousands of years later, the writer of Hebrews echoes that same message saying, 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. (Hebrews 11:12-14)

This reminds the people of God that all of us are only passing through this life and that we are fellow travelers as we pass between life and death.   This entire existence is only a temporary stopping point on grand journey through eternity.  Throughout scripture, we are reminded that in God’s eyes we are all foreigners and strangers.

In Hebrews 13:2, the instruction is even more specific saying, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

But in Ephesians 2:18-20, Paul challenges us in another way with these words:

18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

Here, Paul says that not only were all of us foreigners and strangers in the eyes of God, the thing that made us belong to each other wasn’t ever our citizenship in any particular nation.  Instead, what makes us citizens, what makes us belong, what gives us a home, regardless of where we were born, what language we speak, or where we live, is our faith in Jesus Christ.

When we grapple with scripture, we begin to understand the larger picture regarding immigration.  Certainly, there is room for differing opinions about the policies of the United States, or the State of Ohio.  But we realize that no matter what policies we support, those policies absolutely must include treating foreigners and strangers the way that we would hope to be treated if our positions were reversed.  We are called to remember that our forebearers, and all of us, were once wanderers, strangers, and foreigners.  As so, as we meet the people who carry those labels today, we are called, by God, to treat them with humility, hospitality, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and love.

 

 

 

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Proof

Miracle

Sometimes we are witnesses to proof of God’s existence.

On Sunday (March 19th) I mentioned in both my message, and children’s message, that sometimes, when we pay attention, God provides evidence of his existence through answered prayers and miracles both large and small.  We are witnesses to many “everyday” miracles like the birth of a baby, sunrises, sunsets, and spring flowers but we also see and experience other things that are scarier, bigger, and sometimes simply impossible.  Our family all remembers the near miss that we had on interstate I-70 when a tractor trailer tire bounced across the median, missed our car by only a few feet, struck the cab of the tractor trailer we were passing and absolutely destroyed the left front wheel well like an explosion.  Only the sharp eye of our son Noah and the grace of God brought us home that day instead of to a helicopter trip to a hospital in Columbus.

As I said on Sunday, just in the ten or twelve years that I have been a pastor, I have met several people who ought to be dead, people of whom the doctors said, “We can’t explain why you are alive.”

In our Johnsville church, our lay leader was a dairy farmer by named Jim McWilliams.  One Sunday morning we interrupted our worship service to lay hands on Jim and pray for his brother.  That week, Jim’s brother was as work and was asked to use a cutting torch to cut the stuck lid off of a 55 gallon steel drum.  The labels on the drum and its documentation assured everyone that the contents of the drum were inert.

They weren’t.

Somehow, the documentation was all wrong and the contents of the drum, in reality, were highly volatile.  When Jim’s brother began to cut the lid off of the drum, it exploded and he was rushed to the hospital.  During the investigation they eventually found the lid of the drum.  It had been thrown by the explosion, went through the roof of the building and was found about a half-mile away.  The next week we heard that Jim’s brother, despite standing within inches of the explosion, received only bumps, bruises and minor burns to his face and hands.  When the doctors heard what had happened, both they, and the explosion investigators from OSHA said that they couldn’t understand why he wasn’t dead.

Many of you can tell the same kinds of stories and since that sermon, some of you have shared your stories with me.

This is an invitation.

I would like to share your stories.  I can help you write them and edit them if necessary.  After they are written and edited, I will post them on my blog so that others can be blessed, uplifted, and have their faith reaffirmed through our collective, eyewitness testimony.

Please, even if you don’t think that you are a good writer, put your story on paper (or email) and share it with me.

And together, we’ll share it with the world.

Called Over the Top

crazy

Be Outrageous. Be stupid.

Jesus said so.

Your friends are supposed to think that you’re crazy.

Seriously.

If you were here, I mentioned this on Sunday, but it’s worth saying again.  In Matthew (5:38-48) Jesus makes a series of statements that often begin with “You have heard it said, but…” in which he tells his listeners that the conventional wisdom, the ordinary assumptions of daily life, were just plain wrong.  Everyone assumed that the best defense against violence was to fight back, taking an eye for an eye, but Jesus says that the only way to reduce violence is to refuse to participate in it, to “turn the other cheek.”

Most of us have heard that before, but that was just the beginning.  He also says that” if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”  This is extraordinary.  In our litigious, twenty-first century society most of us make two errors in reading this.  First, we incorrectly assume that Jesus means for us to give a shirt to someone who won a lawsuit, but that isn’t it at all.  Jesus said, “If anyone wants to sue you…” so his instruction is to do an end run around the legal system, call it a loss, and just give it to them.  Our second mistake comes from our relative wealth and our expectation of the same on the Biblical story.   But Jesus was talking to people who lived in an entirely different world, most of them probably only owned one coat.  And so, Jesus’ instruction to “hand over your coat” is not only one of generosity, but one that is over-the-top, crazy, and disturbingly generous.  This is generosity that expensive and costly, and not just giving that is comfortable and comes from our excess.

Jesus continues, saying “If anyone forces you to walk one mile, go with them two.”  And, while this seems relatively straightforward, most of us still don’t understand the root of his comment.  As I understand the history of it, under Roman occupation, one of the standing rules that the occupied nation lived under, was that if any Roman soldier asked, any citizen had to accompany them for one mile and carry their pack, or whatever else they demanded you to carry.  So remembering that most people really resented the presence of the Roman soldiers in the first place, Jesus is saying that you need treat your enemies and the people you despise, and here it is again, with… disturbing generosity.

Why should we do all this?

Jesus answered that by saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  We are called to behave in these strange, unfamiliar, and unpopular ways because these are the things that God does.  This is how God behaves.  And if we have any desire to be associated with him, to be called “children of God” then we probably ought to act like God does.

But going this far still wasn’t enough.  Jesus pounds the point several more times to make sure that we really begin to understand just how crazy we’re supposed to be.  Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”  That’s pretty plain, but if you need a modern translation, here it is.

It doesn’t impress anyone that your love is “just as good” as the tax collectors, or that you are “just as loving” as everyone else.  Being “just like everyone else” means that you are no different than everyone else and that your faith is no better than their lack of faith.  The followers of Jesus Christ have been called to be different; we are called to a higher standard.  Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

So get out there.  Go out into your neighborhoods, and your places of business.  Be willing to take a loss.  Go out into the world and be extravagantly, disturbingly, generous even when it is costly to you.  Be so generous that people think you’re crazy.  Be nice.  But be so nice that everyone thinks that you must be crazy… or stupid… or both.  Be friendly and outgoing.  Be loving.  But your friendliness and your love should be so over the top that it gets people talking about you.

Be outrageous.

Be stupid.

Your friends are supposed to think that you’re crazy.

Remember our goal isn’t to blend in; our goal is to stand out.

Our goal isn’t to be “just like everyone else,” our goal… is to be perfect.

 

 

 

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