It’s Independence Week here as we celebrate July 4th.  I’ll be celebrating with my family at a local parade and a possible visit to Old Sturbridge Visit (the kids aren’t quite old enough yet to deal with the Boston Pops).

I hear all the time that we are a Christian nation, or that America’s framers were all Christians. I’m not going to argue with either of these, but I want to spend this week thinking about what America would look like if we truly were a Christian nation.  And it’s not what you think. Neither political party has the market cornered on this.

If we were truly a Christian nation, there would be very few poor people in America.

The disparity between the rich and the poor in this country is unbelievable. It’s the largest in the world, actually.  The median US wage was $26,364 (in 2010).  The average couple spends $26,984 on their wedding (also 2010).  You can do that comparison.

And this disparity also impacts education.  The gap in education is growing, and education was seen as the great equalizer.  Students from poor communities—regardless of ethnicity—are generally doing poorly in school.  Parents from wealthier families are investing more in special programs for their kids.  Poorer parents—often single parent homes—struggle to make ends meet, so special opportunities are rare.

Now you may be quick to say, “Yes.  But people can choose to spend their money wherever they want, and that’s why we should have better education standards since teachers aren’t doing their jobs.”  And I would say that we have misplaced values.

The poverty line in the US sits at $23,050 for a family of four.  We had more than 15% of Americans living below the poverty line in 2010.

If we were truly a Christian nation we’d be doing something about this.  First by saying that it’s criminal to claim that the poverty line is at $23k for a family of four.  Second, by recognizing that most people don’t want to be in this position, and want to work hard.  I’m personally surprised by the number of folks who say it’s due to lazy folks looking for a handout from the government.  Yet minimum wage jobs nets you only $15K a year or so. If you work fulltime.  If not, well, then you won’t get any benefits and will make less than that $15K.

We don’t stand up for the poor because we don’t really care. We think they got themselves into this problem and we shouldn’t have to get them out.  Besides God helps those who help themselves.  (Which isn’t in the Bible, by the way.  Ben Franklin said it.  In Poor Richard’s Almanac).

But God says something very different.

Deut. 15:7-8. If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.

Ps. 140:12. I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor.

Is 41:17. The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst. I, the LORD, will answer them Myself, as the God of Israel I will not forsake them.

Luke 3:11. And [John the Baptist] would answer and say to them, “Let the man with two tunics share with him who has none, and let him who has food do likewise.”

Mt. 5:42. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

There are hundreds more.  Literally.  God cares more about the poor than we think.  I’ll gladly list more verses to prove this point. Hebrew Scriptures or New Testament.  It’s all over the place.

And we ignore it because we choose not to care.  If we were a Christian nation, we’d be doing more.  Instead we want to spend more and more (and rack up debt) for ourselves without considering those in any kind of need.  And we do this because we are selfish.

I’m not holier than any of you.  I have struggles here too.  My kids go to great schools because of where I live, and I am glad for that.  I make a terrific wage.  I give away a portion of my income to charities.  And I could certainly be doing more.

This is a real passion for God, but it gets lost in the politics of the day.  Churches would rather build bigger buildings and have more programs than give away more of their money to the needy.  I think churches should work at giving away at least 10% of their pledge income to organizations that reach out to those in need.

We need to fix this.  Either that or stop saying we are a Christian nation.  And we need to help those who aren’t Christians too.  I don’t think Jesus ever once asked to see someone’s attendance record for the local synagogue before he healed them.  He just did.

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Photo credit: Stock Exchange (MeiTang).

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My son created a card for me on Father’s Day, a class project at his elementary school.  He started with a piece of blue construction paper, and wrote the words “Happy Father’s Day!” on the front.  Inside he pasted in a copied sheet of a white paper that began with “My Dad is the most wonderful dad in the whole world!”  And then it contained lines with intentional blanks.  “He is as handsome as a_____________.”  “He is as strong as a _________________”

My son just finished first grade and can be wonderfully creative.  In this case he wanted to be funny.  I’m as handsome as a Dad.  My strength?  Like a bull’s.  The food I favor above all others garnered this answer, “Well, I do not know.”  He claims that he wouldn’t trade me for a Teddy Graham.

And my favorite activity? iPhone.

When I received this card, I laughed quite a bit until I read that line.  Honestly, that one stung.  It’s accurate, at least in his eyes (okay, it’s accurate in anyone’s eyes).  He didn’t embellish any on that empty line to make me laugh.  He just wrote down the truth.

I can get easily distracted.  Especially after coming home from work.  One of the curses of living where I work is the lack of a commute so I can process the day.  I can walk home in less than a minute.  (I’m not complaining, by the way.  I love that I can pop over for lunch or to grab something I accidently left at home or take some time in the afternoon to meet my kids at the bus.)  When I need a few minutes of downtime, my iPhone is my addiction of choice.

At times I get wrapped up in the social aspects of being online.  Seeing clever updates on Facebook.  Making some of my own.  Reading my favorite news sites for the happenings of the day.  Intently consuming Yahoo’s “Top 10 Foods You Love to Hate” story that earned top billing on their homepage.

But I can tell you, my iPhone isn’t the activity I want my son to remember about me when he gets older.  I want him to cherish the time we spent outdoors together, or reading books, or making a derby car for scouts.  I want him to know me as the one who loves to cook, who oozes passion for writing, who can’t wait to climb the next peak in the White Mountains.  I don’t want him to remember me with my eyes fixed on a smart  phone.

So while I sometimes want to connect with people online or to be up on the latest information, I know it can’t take the place of connecting with my family.  And that’ll mean putting down the phone someplace, maybe even turning it off for a bit, and intentionally building memories.  I’m starting now.  I’ve got next year’s first grade card from my daughter to work towards.

And at least I know I won’t be traded for a Teddy Graham.

What about you?  What’s your distraction of choice?  What do you long to be known for by your kids or spouse or friends?  Are you doing that?  I’d love to hear your comments.

__________________

Stock photo from Stock.Xchng by Horton Group (hortongrou).

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My first foray into the Episcopal Church happened at a place called St. Francis.  I declare upfront, I knew nothing whatsoever about Francis when I arrived there as a 20-something.  Even though I began life as a Roman Catholic, we made the leap into Protestantism—a pentecostal church—while I was in second grade.  Fox’s Book of Saints hadn’t been required reading up till that point of my life.  And my charismatic pastors growing up paid no attention to anything marked as important by the Vatican.

So my introduction came when that Episcopal congregation held a blessing of the animals on the front lawn one October.  I came because it intrigued me to know that a priest would actually bless animals, and also to watch the ensuing chaos of cats and dogs together.  They remained respectfully suspicious without flair ups.  I’d have to wait nearly 20 years to see that by none other than my own beagle, Buster, a rescue that is disrespectfully suspicious of other animals, cat or dog.  But I digress.

I follow Ian Morgan Cron on twitter.  Ian’s also an Episcopal priest who ventured out of Evangelicalism, and wrote a smashing memoir—Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me, A Memoir of Sorts—that I am still reeling from a good six months after having read it.  One day he offered a signed copy of his first book Chasing Francis for any that would write a review.  I accepted, recognizing I didn’t need to leave a favorable one, but knowing Cron has writing chops and I wouldn’t be disappointed.  I wasn’t.

Chasing Francis, a work of fiction, follows the journey of a mega-church pastor, Chase Falcon, who loses his understanding of faith while preaching one Sunday.  This crisis brewed under the surface for many months, deep questions about pain and loss and God.  Chase always could produce the right answer, little tid-bits of the faith to answer any question that came his way; that is, until his questions got too deep.

After the elder board forces him to take a leave, he travels to Italy to meet up with Kenny, his mom’s first cousin.  Kenny had been a Protestant who became a Catholic.  Not just a run of the mill Catholic, he became a Franciscan priest.  Cron writes, “A conservative Baptist becoming a Catholic is like the pope becoming a Mormon.  The long-haul viability of the cosmos is drawn into question when stuff like this happens.”

Kenny and the other Franciscans Chase meets share the story of Francis, the most beloved of Saints, while he is on this extended pilgrimage.  Chase discovers the stories of Francis’ hagiography, like the one of the town and the wolf and of Francis and the Sultan among many others.  And ultimately Chase rediscovers a faith, much deeper and richer than before.

Cron is a master story-teller.  While we hear of Francis’ life, we also learn of the conflict brewing at Chase’s mega-church and a growing friendship.  The novel reaches its climax with Chase sharing what he has learned in a manifesto for the church.

And for me, as a priest and pastor of a congregation, the novel shines most brightly at that point.  Cron has written a guide about how to be the Church, learning from Francis, a church-planter and remarkable saint.  Ideas about transcendence and community and generosity.  I won’t tell you how the book ends, if the mega-church he started comes alongside their minister or not.  I will only say that Ian Cron has written a fantastic, captivating novel, and it includes a clarion call for the Church of today.

You can buy Chasing Francis online.

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“A good story involves a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.” – Donald Miller

I attended Don Miller’s Storyline Conference this spring.  I read Don’s life-changing book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years while recuperating from the surgical repair of my tibial plateau fracture, and Storyline follows a natural progression from the book.  In short, Don invites participants to intentionally live a better story. But if you’re going to live a good story, then you need to overcome conflict.  Most of us eschew conflict like the plague. (The plague still exists by the way.  When I lived in Colorado, an open space area near us—home to a prairie dog colony—bore signs warning that the cute little dogs had contracted the Bubonic Plague. You could enter at your own risk.  It certainly made you think twice about walking there.  I high-tailed it back to my car.) So if conflict lies in the way of us living a better story, surely we shouldn’t plop back down on the couch and give up.  But most of us do. We’d rather grab a bag of Doritos and watch reality TV on the Food Network than engage in overcoming conflict.  (Okay, I’d rather do that.  Insert your own snack food and TV addictions). I suspect we do this for a few of reasons:

  • We think conflict will go away by itself and when it does we’ll get the story we want.  Why we fall for this magical thinking stumps me, but we do.  Conflicts standing in the way of a better life—like a deeper relationship with your spouse, tackling a fitness program, getting out of debt, planning the trip you’ve always dreamed about, starting your own business — don’t disappear.
  • We push off starting till tomorrow. Maybe we’ve heard Annie sing “Tomorrow” too many times, and never realize that if tomorrow is going to be a brand new day, we really have to start over.  If we live on auto-pilot, tomorrow will be a repeat of today.  And so will tomorrow’s tomorrow.  And before you know it, Christmas comes again.
  • We don’t know where to start.  The curse of our society lies in believing that everything happens quickly and easily.   But accomplishing goals takes work, a number of small steps put together.  Rather than throwing in the towel before we begin, doing one small step today makes tomorrow’s small step a little easier.   You have to live intentionally and begin plugging away.  What is one thing you can do today to move you in the direction of your goal?

I’m trying to put this in practice myself. I love to write, but have had trouble making the time.  I’ve started finding time in the early mornings which means rolling out of bed a bit earlier than normal. I also signed up for a 7 mile road race in August.  It won’t run itself.  I’ve been hitting the roads and the gym to get my body in shape.  It’s not “fun” but I know I’ll love the feeling when I cross that finish line.  The story I want to live involves being a writer and a middle-age man who’s in shape. What about you?  What are some of the conflicts you’d like to overcome so you can live a better story?  How are you living intentionally?  I’d love to read your comments. _________________________

Photo from Stock.xchng by Julie Elliott-Abshire (je1196)
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It’s early and I’m drinking my cup of coffee.  I bought a good sized mug when I traveled to Disney World earlier this year.  An old style Mickey graces the front as a waiter carrying a steaming cup of joe.  Two Lents ago I followed a cleanse, and I gave up caffeine entirely; these days I drink half-caf, and only one cup at that.  I know, that’s pretty weird.  I’m 40-something and trying to learn some new things.

When I traveled to Swaziland the summer following my college graduation, I tried to learn some of the local language, siSwati. It’s a Bantu language similar to Zulu, and most of the tribal populations in and around South Africa have kindred languages (sort of like Portuguese and Spanish).  I didn’t really succeed since most people also spoke English, but I learned a few words.  “Yebo” meant “yes” but also could be used in reply to a greeting.  “Babé” and “Maké” were my host parents, or any other person old enough to be my parent as a term of respect.  “siYabonga” meant “Thank you.”

But I learned something else about that one.  “Thank you” always took the plural form, the “si” at the beginning of the word.  Even if I said thank you to my Maké for making me breakfast, if I said thanks in the singular, she corrected me.  “Not ngiyabonga, but siyabonga,” she would say.  Always plural.  Always.

It took time but I discovered why.  If you said thanks for something, the Swazis realized there couldn’t be only one person involved.  The breakfast from Maké?  She cooked the toast, to be sure.  But someone else sold the bread to her at the market.  And that person probably made it.  But she bought the flour from another person entirely (never mind the other ingredients).  Someone delivered that flour, and another person placed it in the sack.  Surely someone worked the mill to grind that flour up, and the flour didn’t just magically walk into the mill.  Someone need to pluck the grain either by hand or operating a machine, and someone needed to sow that seed. The farmer got that seed from somewhere or someone.  And on it goes.

siYabonga.  Thank you.  All of you.  For the breakfast of toast and butter.

I learned gratitude there in Swaziland.  I often forget, of course.  I get lost in the culture of consumerism that penetrates nearly every aspect of my life and tells me I’m the most important and that I should do things for myself.  I sometimes give a half-hearted thanks to Melissa when she hands me something if I’m lost in thought, barely thanking her let alone a whole host of others.

But today, as I drink my half-caf in a mug bought in Florida, I remember.  Thank you.  Every single one of you that had a hand in bringing the coffee and the mug and the milk and the splenda to my home.  Wherever you are, whatever you do.  May this day be filled with blessing.  I am grateful for this mug and the coffee it holds.  siYabonga.

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I read a long quotation yesterday in my sermon from Archbishop Oscar Romero.  It was the only part of my sermon written out—I preached without a text—but I wanted to share it with you.

You can read more about Oscar Romero online.

Here’s what I read:

“It helps now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about: We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capability.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

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Sometimes as a preacher I have no idea where a text will take me. Parts of some texts are very familiar, and so there isn’t really anything new to say about them.  Or maybe we just focus in on the parts that we like that are familiar.

But today when we read Mark 3:20-35 I was caught by Jesus’ family and the scribes going after him.  It’s an interesting side note to the bigger stuff going on—Jesus’ line about a kingdom divided against itself.  But it’s pretty significant.  His family wanted to quiet him down.

And so I followed that trail downward and it got me to this sermon about the second half of life (from Richard Rohr) and other thoughts.

My sermon from today.

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In the denomination I grew up in—a church that believed heavily in a radical conversion experiences much like the Apostle Paul’s on the road to Damascus—would sometimes tell us that family members might not approve of our conversions and call us weirdoes or “Jesus freaks” or “Holy Rollers.”  If they did, we were to hold onto that as a badge of honor.  And maybe we needed to let go of those family members and their concerns in order to be more focused on Jesus anyway.  We’d be reminded of Jesus saying that to follow him you needed to leave mother and father and sister and brother.

Nowadays when something like that happens—when an individual finds a church and pushes away their family members because they don’t share the same beliefs—I might have serious doubts about the church or the individual.  Partly because I think the gospel has a lot to say about community and relationships and how we are to deepen those connections, and partly because I still carry some baggage from that time in my life.

But then I encounter a text like the one we read this morning, and I can’t help but remember those times.  Before the part we just read, Jesus had entered a boat to stop the crowd from crushing him, and he left them on the shore.  When he made landfall, he went into the hills to officially call the Twelve, and then he made his way to this house.  Mark tells us that the crowd has been tracking him and finds him again.   And, we’re informed, Jesus family is getting worried.  They hear about all the commotion he is causing, and they try to get control, because others are talking about him.  “He’s crazy!” they hear.  “He isn’t the same Jesus we remember when we were growing up.  He’s gone mad.”  I guess they say this because he’s been healing people, and a great deluge of folks from all over—as far away from Jerusalem—are making the journey up to Galilee to hear his teachings and to be healed by him.  His mother and brothers hear about this and try to make it go away.  Maybe they’ve been hearing snide comments at the marketplace, “Is it really true what I’ve heard about your Jesus?  Is he really pretending to be a rabbi?  It’s too bad; he was such a nice boy.”  So they want to put an end to it.

And then the scribes jump on Jesus too.  “He’s possessed!” they claim, trying to make Jesus look ridiculous or evil.  They want the people to stop following him.  A smear campaign seems the best chance to do away with this one that they don’t understand.  Jesus is getting too popular and pushing much too hard on the acceptable norms, so they resort to flinging mud.

This isn’t the comfy sort of Christianity that we like to promote, is it?  It’s easier to overlook this, to see these interactions as flukes in our Gospel stories.  But Jesus is coming into conflict with his family and the religious authorities, and he is our example and forerunner, the very one we base our life on.

A friend of mine encouraged me to read Richard Rohr’s outstanding book called Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.  Rohr, a Franciscan priest and frequent retreat leader, argues that many in our westernized culture never make it out of the first half of their lives, the part focused on identity and vocation and building a healthy ego.  He goes further by saying that many churches and clergy never get beyond this much either; sermons focus on calling and identity and making people feel good about themselves.  Additionally, because we often do such a poor job in the first half of our lives—maybe we had parents who never experienced the second half of life themselves, or we didn’t even know it existed, or possibly the circumstances of our lives left us in a state of arrested development—we often try to do it over again later in life.

Rohr’s main premise is that the second half of life can only begin through a major falling, a significant life change like a death or divorce, or a traumatic experience or failure.  When this happens—and he reminds us that we cannot make it happen, it just does, and it will—we have the opportunity to see that all of our life experiences leading up to this point was just introduction, it was only background.  The journey of forming, identity, vocation and whatnot was simply to create a container for the real story we have yet to embark upon.  The first half was necessary, of course, we couldn’t journey into the second half of life otherwise, and it must be done well.  But if we want to discover our true calling, the stuff that we were really sent here for, then we must enter into the second half of life even though we won’t want to.

He writes, “Sooner or later, if you are on any classic ‘spiritual schedule,’ some event, person, death, idea or relationship will enter your life that you simply cannot deal with using your present skill set, your acquired knowledge, or your strong willpower.  Spiritually speaking, you will be, you must be, led to the edge of your own private resources.  … [Y]ou will and you must ‘lose’ at something.  This is the only way that Life-Fate-God-Grace-Mystery can get you to change, let go of your egocentric preoccupations, and go on the further and larger journey.  I wish I could say this was not true, but it is darn near absolute in the spiritual literature of the world.”[1]

These are hard words, but I know them to be true in my own life.  I mentioned to you a couple of weeks ago the difficulty I experienced in Colorado at the church I served there.  I didn’t give specifics because on one level it is not entirely my own story to tell, and on another I am always suspicious of clergy or leaders who badmouth some other community or person in order to make themselves look good.  But I can say with certainty that in that place far from home, I faced and experienced tremendous loss.  Had I known now what was to happen, I would have not gone willingly.  But God had other things in mind, and in fact Melissa and I felt with utmost certainty that God wanted us to go.  The call to leave New England and move across the country was unmistakably clear.

I said to Melissa earlier this week that what I faced there was the most difficult experience of my life.  Even harder than burying both of my parents.

As a priest I hear stories from people when they experience the great falling that Rohr talks about.  An ending of a relationship, a traumatic encounter, a significant problem with a child or a debilitating illness.  My inclination is to wish them out of it, or take away their pain or try to make things better.  But I can’t, really.  I can pray, which I do, but I can’t do much else other than to say that I hope they know God can redeem this situation.  But it means them reaching their limits—recognizing that they don’t have power to get through on their own.   Eventually God can use this experience and help them move toward the deeper calling in life that God has always had for them.

Because that’s what is really going in in this passage from Mark.  Notice Jesus’ response to all of these attacks on his character: he talks about how he isn’t from Beelzebul at all.  Rather he came to tie up the strong man, Satan himself, so that he could plunder Satan’s home.  Jesus is telling those scribes and family members what he’s really called to do.  The beginning part there in Nazareth, well that was all introduction and first half of life stuff.  It was necessary, to be sure; Jesus needed a strong family home and strong sense of himself.  But he wasn’t called to be a carpenter.  He was called to something much, much bigger.  And he needed to leave home for that.  And have a major event like his 40 days of fasting and being tempted by the devil.

We are called to so much more too.  But you won’t often hear about that in our society that wants to keep us happy so we keep living our lives as consumers.  And it’s hard to explain to family members and those we love who knew us back in our youth, especially when we seem to change course, or experience a major fall.  They don’t know how to respond, so they try to restrain us and bring us back to our senses.

Yet Jesus gives us unexpected hope.  Mark tells us that he’s in that house, and his mother and brothers have finally arrived, supposedly to come and take him away.  They send word in to him to let them know that they are here for him.  “Who are my mother and brothers?” he asks.  And then looking at those around him, the ones desperate enough to follow him and seek his touch and to hear his stories and press in on him, he says, “They’re right here.  These are my mother and my brothers.  Whenever anyone does God’s will, they are my mother and brother and sister.”

God’s will.  These folks are doing the will of God in leaving their own homes to follow Jesus.  They are participating in God’s desire for their lives when they strike out and chase and push forward and soak it all in.  They themselves are well on their way to the second half of the spiritual life.  We can be too, if only we see in our misgivings and uncertainty and loss and failing the abiding redemption of God who yearns to have us embark on the true calling of our lives.   Jesus wants this for us.  He wants for us to truly engage in God’s will for our lives.  Can we do it no matter the cost?  Can we be among those he called brothers and sisters and mothers? Will we trust that when we are at our utter end, that God will be with us and give us the strength to go forward?


[1] Richard Rohr. Falling Upward. Jossey Bass, 2011.  Pg 65-66.

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I read Rachel Held Evan‘s fabulous book Evolving in Monkey Town (now called Faith Unraveled) recently.  Devoured it actually.  The last day or so.  It was that good.

It’s a memoir by a twenty-something recovering evangelical (I should probably say “fundamentalist”) Christian who thought she had all the answers, that is until she had doubts herself.  Especially when it came to God being portrayed as cold, hard and uncaring by tossing thousands of people into hell each day.  Rachel is the daughter of a more conservative theologian and grew up immersed in the evangelical Christian sub-culture (one that is very familiar to me) in Dayton, TN, home of the Scopes Monkey trial, hence the name of the book.  Her questions often are met with pat answers to inferences about losing her eternal salvation.

Rachel tries to reconcile her ideas and faith in God with the world as she has come to experience it. But it’s hard when she has spent much of her life being told she needs to be ready for questions from unbelievers so they can be led to conversion.  She mentions attending an apologetics camp in the summer to learn the appropriate way to disarm combatants of the faith.

While she is certainly questioning her upbringing, I don’t hear much anger in her tone. She’s both grateful, it seems to me, for what she learned and also eager to evolve in her faith.  If she didn’t have the faith of her childhood, I don’t know how much evolving would take place.

As an Episcopal priest, I both laughed and knew exactly what she meant when she described an email sent by a concerned friend.  This friend had heard that she’d “become a universalist, or a Buddhist, or something really terrible like an Anglican” because Rachel questioned if God really created so many people in order to damn them to hell.  The response from that friend led to a great conversation of “pond-scum theology” in which we should just be happy God lets any of us receive eternal salvation since we are all so horrific due to our sin nature and our complete non-redeeming value.

She gets to the very heart of the matter when she writes, “If I’ve learned anything over the past five years, it’s that doubt is the mechanism by which faith evolves. It helps us cast off false fundamentals so that we can recover what had been lost or embrace what is new.”  By writing that I’m sure she faced the scrutiny (and certainly the complete dismissal) of some still deeply entrenched in the more conservative circles of Christianity.  That she is bound for hell even writing that.

But questions about the wideness of God’s mercy when it comes to the execution of a Muslim woman in Afghanistan who would have been eternally damned (according to the worldview espoused in her childhood), and how to find heaven here on earth show that she has evolved in her faith.  Does she have all the answers? Heavens no.  But her questions are deeper, richer, and we are certainly blessed by finding our own story in hers and by asking better questions ourselves.

As one who has also evolved in the faith, has asked hard questions of God, and more importantly, in the issues of faith about God that I had always been taught, I found this memoir fantastic, poignant and very close to home. Even if your journey hasn’t been through a conservative Evangelical experience, I think you’ll find Rachels’ stories rewarding and thought-provoking.

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We made water propelled bottle rockets this week with Noah’s Cub Scout Den (I’m the Den Leader).  It’s a pretty easy project including a soda bottle or two, some tape, glue, foam board and an exacto knife.  It took a bit to get going — not surprising with eight first graders — but they soon got into it and were excited to try it out.

Even though the rockets were technically for our next Pack meeting (the big group of all Cub Scouts), we decided to give them a try even though the glue wasn’t quite dry and there was a strong possibility of destruction on impact.  They boys had a blast (no pun intended).  With the help of a dad, they put their rockets on the launch pad, someone did the hard work on the bicycle pump, and then one of the boys pulled a release string.  Up they went, some much higher than others, some in spirals of craziness, some with a loud woosh.  Seriously a blast (okay, that one was intended).

Some of my friends had those handheld plastic water rockets from the 70s and early 80s when I was a kid.  Same sort of principle on a smaller scale.  FIll up a plastic rocket with a little water, pump in some CO2 and once the pressure has built, release a trigger.  I suspect you cant’ find them today as much because boys like aiming projectiles at each other.

Noah oozed excitement. He couldn’t wait to see his launch, and wanted to pull the trigger-release string.  All smiles.  What surprised me was how much I loved it too.  Seeing what would happen when one of the boys let ‘er rip, watching how different designs impacted flight. Laughing hysterically when one of the rockets literally blew apart.

I’ve always loved the movie “October Sky.”  It’s about some boys from coal mining country who get consumed with making rockets around the time of Sputnik, and the science project that results.  It’s about following your dreams and passions and finding the joy in the simple things of life.

Sometimes it’s easy to lose your focus in life.  We get so used to consuming — be it entertainment, social media, food, and whatnot — that we don’t really experience all the fullness of life out there for us.  Like focusing on people rather than things or having fun.  Or taking an hour and building a water bottle rocket with my son and watching it shoot up into the evening sky.  That was a highlight of the day for me.  And today I’m drinking a bit more soda than I usually do so we can build another rocket this weekend.

 

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Whenever something politically happens like Amendment 1 in North Carolina, I hear arguments that if same-sex couples were allowed to legally marry or partake in a civil union heterosexual marriages would fail.

Ironically, when I’ve met with couples whose marriages are falling apart, not one person has ever said to me it’s because of a gay or lesbian couple.  So I think it’s safe to say that this is just an out for people so as not to face a more difficult political conversation.

I can tell you that when I meet with folks these are the issues that come up:

  • infidelity
  • lack of communication
  • money and finances
  • falling “out” of love
  • unmet expectations

And unfortunately, by the time a couple comes to see me it’s usually too far gone–the relationship is on life support–and divorce is on the horizon.

And I think the chief reason this happens is this: We can’t admit that there are problems.  We live in a world were everything appears to be perfect–we are inundated with this message day after day from Madison Ave.–and so when a storm kicks up, we hide it.  We don’t talk to one another or to any close friends.  We let our communication skills go to seed.  Anger and resentment creep in.  We look for solace wherever we can find it–be it in the arms of another person or in the bottom or a bottle–and we spiral downward.  All the time keeping the mask on that everything is okay.

We’ve gotten so used to the idea of divorce that it doesn’t really shock us nor does it snap us back to our senses in working at ways to make our marriages more healthy.  It’s almost inevitable when rough seas come up.  A couple assumes they weren’t meant for each other, and so they go their different ways.

Actually, they’ve decided either together or individually that what they have isn’t worth fighting for.

I think God wants us to have strong marriages that last a lifetime.  And unfortunately, that requires tough work.  It’s not easy.  But that might be a blessing in disguise.  We have a tendency to value that which costs us when we make it through the other side.  So keep at it.

If your marriage is on the rocks, I’m truly sorry because that’s a really crappy place to be.  I hope that you get help if you can, if not as a couple because your spouse is unwilling, at least on your own.  If you can’t find anyone, drop me a line.

And let’s realize that other couples and their recognized or non-recognized relationships don’t destroy our marriages. We do that all by ourselves, and it’s time to at least be honest about that.

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