Listen To Article
The cupboard in my soul that holds wonderings, trivia, and odd observations is overflowing once again. Time for another installment of random things. Here’s ten bits and pieces, in no particular order. If you don’t like one, try the next.
1.) Smokers seem to be one group of people it’s acceptable to dislike and discriminate against. I observe a little cadre puffing away, like modern-day lepers, huddled together against the cold drizzle or biting winds. Outcasts. Forced to stand about two-feet off the hospital’s grounds or across the street from the school campus. I wonder, isn’t this where Jesus would be hanging out?
2.) We just switched from red to green a couple weeks ago in our congregation. I’m talking about the color of the church season — and the chancel paraments and stoles we wear. Consensus says we should have been green since mid-June. We keep red up for a variety of reasons, not least because red seems to be shortchanged in the agreed-upon calendar. I was talking about this with a colleague more informed and invested in such matters than I. I loved his flippant reply, “We’re Protestants. We can do whatever we like!”
3.) Increased crying is a symptom for several diseases. I’m pretty sure that I, and many of my good male friends — men of a certain age — don’t have those diseases. But we’ve all confided in one another that we cry embarrassingly easily these days! No one warned us of the onset of incontinent tear glands. Is our condition related to Covid? Are we making up for lost time? People embracing. Subaru commercials. Sweet memories. Dog rescue videos. Singing hymns. Grandchildren. All these things and more can set us off. Glennon Doyle says, “Why do I cry so often? For the same reason I laugh so often. Because I’m paying attention.”
4.) If I, rather than Guido de Bres, had written the Belgic Confession, I think the two means of knowing God would have been Jesus Christ and Bob Dylan. (FYI: the Belgic tells us they are “the creation, preservation and government of the universe,” and the “holy and divine Word.” And following Karl Barth, I always wonder if this isn’t a bit off-target. . .anyway.) Like scripture, Bob’s music continually surprises and refreshes. Words I’ve heard 100 times suddenly jump out at me. The depths, the hidden treasures, the turns of phrase. A recent example, “Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain” from 1997’s, Not Dark Yet. If you want some apocalyptic energy try When the Ship Comes In (1964). For nostalgic longing, Bob Dylan’s Dream (1963). And the cover of his 1963 Freewheelin’ album has to be the purest expression of youth, energy, and love ever.
5.) A while back on NPR I heard a segment on “How to Pick a Therapist.” It wasn’t trying to convince you that therapy would be good for you. Its aim was more like, if you’re nearly ready, then here are things to watch for, questions to ask, red flags, and more. I wish someone would do a “How to Pick a Church.” It wouldn’t be about theology or “worship style.” In other words, not “If you don’t believe, here’s how…” or “Why Methodists are best” or even “What to look for in a great lead guitarist in a praise band.” Instead, it would be more social and “horizontal” cues. How can you suss out a strong and welcoming community? What are indicators of health and what are red flags that you can detect rather quickly and easily? What practices should you watch for and what might you want to watch out for? I’m not the person to do this. But I invite you to share your insights and experiences.
6.) Last spring while in Santa Fe, New Mexico, we saw the “miraculous” staircase in the Loretta Chapel. It’s a rare and genius type of spiral staircase. To make it even better, there’s a story that it was built by a mysterious, itinerant carpenter who appeared and then disappeared without explanation. Many believe it was none other than St. Joseph the carpenter, himself. Okay, I am fond of little, endearing churchy tales, especially if there is an obscure saint involved. And of course, I hold them lightly. But as I was having my heart strangely warmed, I wondered, “Do tales like this make Christians look gullible and obtuse?” To many a secular person, we might as well claim that the Seven Dwarfs built the staircase. Enchanting or embarrassing? What do you think? (I’ve since learned that historians are quite certain the staircase was built by a reclusive, French rancher.)
7.) After 9/11, I recall moderate Muslims being told, “If you don’t want to be perceived as dangerous, you must control your radicals.” Seems like these days moderate Christians and moderate Republicans face a similar (impossible?) task.
8.) Proposal for a gigantic research project for some brave soul. Find every new church plant that in some way existed, no matter how fleetingly, since 2000 in the Reformed Church in America. How long did it last? Overall, what is their average life expectancy? How many ever made it to being formally organized as a congregation? How many still exist today? How many are staying with the RCA in the current fracturing? Finally, how much money has been spent on these projects?
9. The war in Ukraine seems like the first “good war” in a long, long time. I mean a war with almost no protestors and broad public support in the US (until gas hit $5 a gallon). I haven’t even heard anything from the historic peace churches — Mennonite, Brethren, Quaker. I’m not calling them out, just curious. Given the historic Mennonite tie to Ukraine, I’m puzzled. Or out of the loop.
10.) You don’t have to agree with me on welcoming and affirming LGBTQ persons in the church. But if you say something like, “Scripture is crystal clear…” or “All true Christians know…” then you have a very shallow understanding of scripture and you sound a bit like a cult leader.
Last winter, our Elders and pastors were invited to meet with the Classis Exec Team after our congregation issued its Welcome Statement. The conversation was a bit stilted but amicable. At the close of the meeting, my colleague and wife, ablaze with the Holy Spirit, said to the group, “You may not agree with us. That’s okay. What you may not do — if you have any integrity or do not want to bear false witness — is say that we do not know, trust, and love scripture, or that we are not Christians.” Amen!