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1. This is an idea I got somewhere on the internet and then adapted a bit. Take What You Need says the poster. For a few years now, we’ve had one regularly on a bulletin board in a heavily trafficked area of the church. I’m amazed at the results it gets. Little tabs bearing the different fruits of the Spirit disappear regularly. “Patience” is always taken first. Not sure who takes them. Maybe it is just middle schoolers messing around. That’s okay too.
2. As the Reformed Church in America bickers and battles over welcoming and affirming LGTBQ persons, the “correct” thing to say—for both sides—is that we don’t want to split, that we should look for a better way forward, that church unity matters deeply. I believe it is a genuine desire. But recently someone I respect murmured, “Maybe we should just split and be done with it!” Was that just venting some exasperation? Or does it a signal a significant shift?
3. Swearing Like Jesus Swears—sounds like a possible popular book title or great clickbait. A few weeks back, I silently called someone not the nicest of names. I wasn’t pleased with myself. As I thought about this, I tried to recall how did Jesus swear? Or at least, what derogatory names did he use to express displeasure with someone? What if I would call my nemesis, “You whitewashed grave”? Or maybe, “You sniveling varmint!” (Luke 13:32). Perhaps borrow his cousin’s colorful phrase, “You brood of vipers!” I’m almost certain my use of insulting names would decrease.
4. We often hear about the graying of the church, how the American church is aging. It is a serious concern. However, I can’t believe we are aging any faster than season-ticket holders for the symphony, art-house movie patrons for the matinee, or PBS viewers after 6pm. Do you ever notice that only old men ride Harley Davidsons or drive Corvettes? These audiences and markets have to be aware of their demographics. I wonder how they address it?
5. Perceptions change over time. This is a homemade sign along a road I sometimes bike. R U Heavenbound? It used to annoy me. I read it as accusatory and fear-mongering. Maybe it actually is. But now as I’ve gone by numerous times, I read it differently, as more invitational. I gladly answer, “Indeed, I am” and pedal on joyfully.
6. What could convince me that abortion foes are truly “pro-life”? Sure, they could be more concerned about children’s nutrition and health care, capital punishment and climate change. Even then, why do I so often get the feeling that too many abortion foes are really motivated by a desire to punish people for having sex? “You had your fun, now you must pay!”—seems to be an underlying attitude of many. Of course we can’t overlook the connection between sex and conception. Nonetheless, abortion foes would ring truer if they could distance themselves from that cliché accusation that they are the kind of people who are always afraid that someone somewhere is having fun.
7. “What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever witnessed a stranger do for someone?” a website recently asked. Doesn’t quite fit the category, but it brought to mind my father. When he finished washing his hands in a public restroom, he would take a final paper towel to wipe down the countertop, edge of the sink and faucet handles for the next person. It’s a habit I should acquire.
8. Heard someone suggest recently that instead of “Father,” we might do better comparing God to a grandparent. Even those of us with the best of fathers have issues of approval and expectations and anxiety surrounding dad. Grandparents just have this wholehearted delight and hope and trust in their grandchildren. Maybe God’s love for us is more grandparenty.
9. We know about the colored triangles that the Nazis used to identify prisoners at their death camps. Double yellow to form a star of David for Jews, pink for homosexuals. But I had not heard of purple triangles for religious prisoners—primarily Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’m not prone to compliment Jehovah Witnesses. But if Nazis want to eliminate you, maybe it means you’re doing something right. A few religious pacifists and seminary students also wore a purple triangle. Is there some way we could redeem or appropriate the purple triangle today?
10. My biggest purchase during a recent trip to France was a replica of what Protestant women prisoners painstakingly scratched in the stone of their cell. Resister. Resist! The etching is commonly attributed to Marie Durand. She was imprisoned for her faith at age 19, spending the next 38 years, 1730-1768, in the Tower of Constance in Aigues Mortes, France. How many years did it take Marie to inscribe that word in stone with no real tools? Resist, indeed!
11. While traveling, I was next to the gate for Grand Rapids in the airport. I think the Grand Rapids airport is one of my least favorite places in the whole world. Before all you civic-minded Grand Rapidians get upset, let me say it is a fine airport. Just laden with too many bad memories—difficult meetings, disappointing decisions, painful rejections, good-byes, exhaustion, cancer, and funerals. Do you have locations you try to keep away from, painful places that you avoid?
12. For some people it is the Oxford comma, but one of my pet peeves in Christian writing is when “he,” “his” and “him” are capitalized when referring to God or Christ. There’s no good reason for it in the original language. Seems grandiose and pious—and not the good sort. By the way, do we have a definitive answer on whether Jesus in the possessive should have an S—Jesus’s? Use of the S in addition to the apostrophe seems to be gaining favor, but please don’t pronounce it as Jesuses.
13. Heard a favorite theologian of mine, James Alison, recently. One of his throw-away lines, a complete aside to the topic at hand, really amazed me. “We tend to think of our past as fixed and the future as open. But redemption through Jesus Christ means that our future is now fixed but re-understanding and reordering our past is still open.” Let that roll around in your soul for a while.