Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Christian Community’

Pluribus and Unum

The United States of America has somewhat of a schizophrenic community identity.  On the one hand, we relish in the idea that we are a “melting pot” of cultures; a country where people from any culture are welcome to legally come and establish a new home.  However, on the other hand, we worship the idea or myth of the rugged individual who comes to this country or who pioneers a new horizon; a country where an individual can realize the potential of all that he or she can become with enough hard work and luck.

For some time now, I have been pondering the sources of these attitudes within our American culture.  More specifically, I have wondered about our idea of the rugged individual who makes it on his or her own and how that shapes our relationships, politics and religion.  We love our pioneer stories.  We almost worship the entrepreneur who starts out with nothing and produces something out of a garage or shop that not only attains success but also produces wealth.  Our movies make heroes of the rebellious individual who beats the system or the status quo accepted by the larger majority.

This heightened sense of the individual over the community gives rise to many tensions in our society. Loyalty is no longer given to any one group but to the self.  So, individuals move from church to church, job to job, and even community to community for personal advantage.  Loyalty is passe’, whether it is to a marriage union or workers union.  Most Americans are looking for the “best deal” and “for the right price.”  We have taken the American Founders ideal of an individual’s freedom to pursue “life, liberty and happiness” to individualistic twisted ends.

Individualism fractures society more than it unifies it.  It seems to be the human tendency to move toward separateness until there is something that unites us – a common enemy, a common problem, or a common experience in the midst of disaster.  Once the threat has passed, however, jockeying begins all over for the selfishly personal “best seat at the table.”  Jesus’ disciples exhibited this same behavior despite the fact that it was Jesus who brought them all together and was the unifying factor.  Perhaps church bodies could learn something from their example and Jesus’ instructions to them.

Of course, the fracture of civilization and its relationships is nothing new to human existence. It is as old as the Garden of Eden where the break in community with other humans and with their Creator began.  However you tell the story and understand it, it perfectly illustrates the human condition.  From Genesis chapter three through history up to today, we witness the effects of the rips and tears in our social fabric.  The story of the Tower of Babel, when God caused confusion through language and culture, is only the pinnacle of this story.  Humanity has been on a steady descent ever since despite the attempts of world rulers and empires to bring a return to a one-world order according to their terms.  This has only led to resistance and further fractures in the global human community.

Washington D.C. Capital Buildings, Spring 2009

Washington D.C. Capital Buildings, Spring 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Of course, conveyors of conspiracy theories like to point to one of the Latin phrases on the reverse side of the United States’ Great Seal to show that the U.S. is involved in the same scheme. The Latin words

Reverse of the Great Seal of the United States.

Image via Wikipedia

Novus ordo seclorum” are taken by them to mean “New World Order” when, in fact, they truly mean “New Order of the Ages;” signifying the beginning of a new era with the birth of the United States of America.  The other Latin phrase appearing with it is “Annuit coeptis,” which means “God favored our undertakings.”  So, there is a bit of irony in the theories of conspiratists in that it would seem that they believe the U.S. is involved in some diabolical plan to take over the world with God’s blessings.

At any rate, the Latin phrase on the U.S. Great Seal which most Americans are more familiar with is “E Pluribus Unum.” This is roughly translated “out of many, one” or “one from many.”  In recent American history, it has been embraced to refer to the great cultural “melting pot” of this country.  However, at the beginning of American independence from Great Britain, it was an attempt to directly reflect the unity of the diverse thirteen colonies.

Modern Americans tend to forget just how fractious those early colonies were based upon their religious preferences, politics, loyalties to England, economies and ideals of the ruling classes. The contentions were never really settled until after the Civil War – and some would argue, especially from the southern United States, that it is still not settled.  Early on, the threat of secession from the federal union was always present; first from the northern states and then from the south.  Politics became divided very early over the preeminence of individual and state rights versus federal rights.  We still wage political battle over those ideas today.  This conflict may always be in flux and never really settled in our American democracy.

Interestingly, E Pluribus Unum was the motto of the United States of America until 1956, when it replaced with In God We Trust.” Until then, it appears on most U.S. coinage since it was mandated by law in 1873.  It first appeared on U.S. coinage in 1795 even though it was first proposed for the Great Seal of the U.S. in August of 1776 and finally formally adopted in 1782.  In the 1776 proposal, which Benjamin Franklin had a hand in, the seal had a shield with six symbols; each symbol representing the six main countries that provided immigrants to the colonies: the rose (England), thistle (Scotland), harp (Ireland), fleur-de-lis (France), lion (Holland), and an imperial two-headed eagle (Germany).  Those six symbols were surrounded by thirteen smaller shields, which were to represent “the thirteen independent States of America.”  Of course, the “independence” of those states and the others to follow would greatly change with the new constitution of 1883.

The idea that a country not formed by, from or for any one ethnic group can exist without fracturing into hundreds of splintering self-interest groups is still being tested.  The United States and its people are still very much a democratic experiment in the making.  The strength of our union requires every citizen and local and state government to bow to higher ideals than self-interest.  This, in part, was the empowering force behind Abraham Lincoln’s administration and other leaders to seek to preserve the union with southern states who attempted to go their own way.

Even in many American churches, the unity of the church fellowship takes pre-eminence over selfish desires and goals. There is a desire on the part of the individual to be a part of something larger than just the small cosmic consciousness that the individual inhabits.  Becoming and being a part of a community of faith enlarges one’s life and capacity for living in and through the lives of others as believers pray, worship and serve together.  The essence of the Gospel and the Church’s theology is that the Creator, through His incarnation in His Son, Jesus, has come to bring true unity in human and divine relationships.  As the apostle Paul would have it, the enmity or hostilities created by cultures, languages, skin colors and offenses to God have been removed by the peace offering made by Jesus the Messiah on the cross.

So, we are not merely “pluribus” – many independent individuals or states of being seeking to find out own way. We are also “unum” – formed as Americans in our democracy to unite around those ideals that make us a unique light to the rest of the world.  We are a cosmic declaration that people from different parts of the world, with different skin colors, abiding by different religious convictions can not just merely co-exist but also become unified for the common good of each individual in its society to pursue life, liberty and happiness.  It was this very audacious and precarious idea that caused most of the America’s Founders and the truly wise and understanding today to constantly invoke the help and aid of Providence.  And so, it seems, as long as the help of heaven preserves our union and democracy, we will continue to be E Pluribus Unum.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The Guilted Parent

Life offers us very few guarantees. We would like to thing, for instance, that all our efforts at our career would guarantee us success and wealth.  Or, that the time we invest in spiritual pursuits would insure us against troubles and pain in this life.  Or, that the investments we put into the lives of our children would promise us perfect kids who become perfect adults and in return raise perfect grand kids.  But there are no guarantees.

The problem lies in our constant search for those guarantees. We want a secret formula: put this into your life or your kids and this will be the result.  We want magic talismans: quote this Bible verse, pray this prayer, do these spiritual things and this will be what you see.  So, we run from book to book, conference to conference, in an effort to find the magic bullet that will kill our fears about the future.  While self-education and awareness is wonderful, there is no formula, talisman or bullet that will guarantee us against failure and disappointment.

No where is this more evident than in the frantic efforts of many Christian parents. Believing that a child enters the world tabula rasa (with a clean slate) upon which the parent can determine the outcome of a child, these parents go through all sorts of spiritual and mental contortions to do so.  The problem arises when a child does not “turn out” as expected.  This places a considerable amount of guilt upon the parent (and sometimes the child as well).  The rest of the Christian community looks upon the wayward or prodigal child and blames the parent for doing something wrong or not doing something right.  There is not a lot of grace or mercy available for parent and child.

It is faulty think that says the parent can always produce the child. It is a lie that guilts a parenting into believing that good “christian” parenting will produce godly children.   There are instances that we are all aware of where even under the best parenting and spiritual guidance a child has self-determined to go his or her own way completely contrary to how they were raised.  At the same time, there are plenty of instances where a child has come through and come out of a background that is filled with all kinds of social and spiritual problems and obstacles to be a success materially and spiritually.  This defies the psychological determinism that plagues so much of our Christian philosophy and theology about parenting and families.

It is the lie of psychological – or spiritual, in this case – determinism that has produced all the Christian formulas and programs available today. They each offer their own guarantees to raising successful kids as if child-rearing and child-training were a trouble-free, risk free endeavor.  In a B.F. Skinner-like approach, a Christian parent can produce godly children as if they were planting a garden or training a family pet.  One only needs to throw in a few well-placed Bible verses.

Thus, Christendom has produced the guilted parent; an impossible weight of legalism towards the parent-child relationship. It is as if the Bible was a parenting manual filled with formulas and spiritual laws that, if carefully followed just right, would produce guaranteed outcomes.  Thus, if the child did not turn out “right,” then it can only mean that the parent screwed up somewhere and did not follow exactly the prescribed formula or spiritual law.  The guilted parent syndrome is not helped by the “testimonies” of successful and winning parents who have raised obedient, respectful, compliant children who live faithful Christian lives with no missteps or disappointments.

Edsel, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010

Edsel, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

I have known parents who have carefully read and faithfully followed all the advice of Dr. James Dobson and Focus on the Family. Yet, despite all their frantic and careful studies, they had a child(ren) who seemed determined to live a life completely opposite of their parents’ values and lifestyle.  I have other friends who systematically followed all of the rules from Growing Families International and their Growing Kids God’s Way curriculum with seeming success, until one of their children did not seem to respond to their carefully crafted efforts.  Both of these parents were at a loss and suffered under a load of guilt and shame for the outcome of their kids.

It is interesting to note that even in Scripture, some of the most successful people of God were followed by ungodly children. At the same time, some of the most wicked characters in the Bible produced righteous children who did incredible things for God.  Finally, if one were to measure God’s success as a successful heavenly Father based upon the actions and activities of all of his children, by the measurement of the material commonly marketed to Christian parents today, he would be a failure!

This has been our experience within my family. My wife, Kelly, and I are well-educated (both with Masters Degrees).  We have read the books, watched the videos and listened to the speakers.  Despite having our home full of books and constantly reading to our children, we have two children out of our four who had a very hard time learning to read and so don’t like to read.  Imagine this from a child who has a father with a personal library that numbers over 3,000 volumes.  Doesn’t make sense according to the formula we were given about helping our children become “readers.”

We also have always been involved in church, spiritual pursuits and openly talked about spiritual things with our children. We read the Bible, prayed around the dinner table, regularly included prayer for missionaries and surrounded our lives with very spiritual people.  We have not done this perfectly, but we have done it to the best of our capability and knowledge we had at the time.  Nevertheless, we have one child who has chosen to live a lifestyle with a set of values that are completely contrary to how he was raised.  Again, this doesn’t make any sense according to what we have been told all these years.

As with so much of our modern Christianity, and much of humankind’s approach to God in general, we have reduced life with God to a formula rather than faith. Like the legalistic religious rulers of Jesus’ day, we have made our own set of laws about parenting that are too heavy for many to bear.  We leave those who are not able to perform according to these rule and regulations outside “the ark of safety” to drown in their guilt and shame.  But Jesus came to introduce a different way.

Living according to these “Christian parenting laws” only proves our failure. The apostle Paul reminds us that “the Law brings death” – and that can apply to just about any spiritual law or legalistic religious system.  Only faith in what Christ has accomplished in his death and resurrection can bring life to parents who have children who are spiritually and morally wayward.

  • It is a faith that believes that his grace is sufficient for all our sin and their sin.
  • It is a faith to believe that the Holy Spirit of the risen Christ is still able to work in their lives and return them to the heavenly Father’s household of faith.
  • It is faith that believes that God graceful and merciful intervention can make up for all of my – or anyone’s – parental mistakes and short-comings.
  • It is faith that believes that the spiritual seeds that were planted at one time in a child’s heart will one day mature into a harvest of righteousness despite what fruit or weeds might be apparent there now.
  • It is faith that believes that God’s love as heavenly Father is greater and more abundant than my earthly parental love.
  • It is faith that believes that God accepts me even as a mistake-ridden and faulty parent to my children.
  • It is faith that believes that just as God’s unconditional love accepts and embraces me; it will also accept and embrace my child no matter where they may be on their own spiritual journey.
  • It is faith that believes that the same God who is our righteous and holy judge is also our merciful and loving counselor.

It is time to set the guilted parent free. It is time to replace formulas with faith.  It is time to reject psychological and spiritual determinism with a trust in God’s power to do what we ourselves cannot guarantee; which is children who worship and serve him.  Let the guilted parent be set free.

These thoughts came about as I finished reading “The Myth of the Perfect Parent” by Leslie Leyland Fields in Christianity Today (January 2010, Vol. 54, No. 1).  There is a follow-up interview with Donald Ratcliff by Katelyn Beaty that the reader may want to see.  Some of the terminology and ideas that are in my Blog came from Leslie Fields article.  Follow the link to see the complete article.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Read Full Post »

A few years ago, when I was pastoring a church in West Richland, Washington, I received a phone call from someone who needed help with rent.  As much as I wanted to help this person, our church’s benevolence budget was way over drawn as it was and there were no monies available anywhere else.

I asked, “Have you tried the various help organizations in our community?”  The answer was affirmative.  However, they were not able to get the help they needed.  I felt helpless.  All I could do was offer a few suggestions, words of encouragement, and a prayer.

The Tri-City community is blessed to have so many help organizations for those in need:  Martha’s Cupboard, Salvation Army, Saint Vincent DePaul, Union Gospel Mission, the local food banks and many others.  Volunteers who just have a big heart to help people in need staff these.  However, their resources are also often limited and overburdened too.

Like many churches in the Tri-cities area of Washington State, our church got its fair share of calls from people who needed help.  Sometimes, they were systematically desperately going through the phone book calling churches.  Other times, they are calling blind, hoping for a kind voice and helping hand.

Sure, there are the ‘frequent fliers:’ people who abuse the system and live dependent upon the benevolence of others.  But many more people are sincerely in need.  Often the help they need is only temporary, until a job, a place to live or other steady help is obtained.

Most often, it is the working poor – those who have jobs but the pay is inadequate to meet even their basic needs from month to month.  Then, when they suffer a financial catastrophe like the car breaking down, a hospitalization or a few days missed from work due to sickness, they are in need of outside help to get them through the month.

Multnomah Creek Above Multnomah Falls, Spring 2010

Multnomah Creek Above Multnomah Falls, Spring 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

In all of this, I see first hand the wonderful advantage of belonging to a church family.  The church family provides a wonderful safety net in times of distress and crisis.  It becomes like an extended family that rallies support and help.

Within the churches that I have been involved in over the years, we have showered food upon families financially strapped; helped get cars fixed that were depended upon for work; chipped in together to help with medical bills; and volunteered to take care of children during a family crisis.

I know for a fact that this is repeated many times over in most, if not all, of our churches around the country and even the world.  In the community of faith, we take care of one another because we love one another.  Above and beyond a benevolent budget, we will spontaneously extend ourselves to help one another.

Your church family is your best source of help.  Develop those relationships with your own expressions of love and care for the others there.   Someday it will come back to you.

If you have not made an effort to be a part of a church family, now is the time!   There will come a time when you will need someone else’s shoulder for comfort, arm for strength or heart for courage.  Then is not the time to depend upon your fingers to find help in the Yellow Pages.  Then is the time to have church friends and family to call.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Read Full Post »

There is a highly significant relationship between the ability of a Christian or church body to demonstrate love and overall spiritual health.   Ask yourself how you are doing in demonstrating love to others.  I am not talking about how you are doing at “feeling” loving toward others.  I am addressing how we are at “doing” loving things for others.  Biblical love is always other focused.

I challenge you to look at all the ‘one another’ passages of the New Testament.  You will find that the church is called to love, serve, encourage, forgive, restore, help, build up, and be at peace with ‘one another.’  This is a huge challenge.  It is our sinful human nature to meet our own needs first.  Even in loving, often the focus on whether we “feel” love or loving toward others.  This is just another deceptively simple form of self-gratification.  The focus is upon me and my feelings instead of another’s needs.

The Biblical definition of love is fruit, action, and deed.  The secular concept of love as a feeling which overwhelms you (if you’re lucky) and may disappear is unbiblical and counterfeit.  Held up for us to measure ourselves against is the love of God expressed in the sacrifice of Jesus, his son, upon the cross for our sins.  We are reminded in the New Testament that we have done nothing to deserve God’s love.  In fact, before we were lovable or could even return our love to him, he loved us first.  He initiated this relationship and invitation by serving us – washing our feet, healing our wounds, and paying all the costs to buy us our freedom from slavery to Satan and sin.

As loved-ones, he now asks us to love others in the same manner and way in which he loved us.  This goes far beyond mere sentimentality or sympathy.  It digs deep into costly actions that display a patient and gracious love.  The world is dying to see this kind of love displayed.  Where it is displayed, it transforms lives and cultures.  The truth of the matter is – unfeigned, practical love has a divinely generated magnetic power far more effective than any formal evangelistic program, which depends almost entirely upon verbal communication.  People do not want to hear us talk about love; they want to experience how Christian love really works!

This will require us to step out of our comfort zones at times.  It will mean looking past our close circle of relationships and work to include others who are unknown or new to us.  It will mean making time for one another.  It will mean doing loving actions far beyond my capacity to evoke loving feelings.

This means for most of us that we must confess the sin of being too busy.  We have pushed the margin on the limits of our time and energies so that we cannot do what Jesus would do in our world, our church, and our home.  Biblical love is a commitment to be a person with a high love quotient that includes and serves others.

Orchid, Cancun, Mexico, Summer 2003

Orchid, Cancun, Mexico, Summer 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

In the Christian community we call the Church, it will mean extending forgiveness, grace, and mercy toward others in the body of Christ to the same extent and measure that I have received it from my Heavenly Father.  This will challenge us toward long-suffering and gentleness to keep the bonds of peace and unity even when we have been wronged, hurt, or taken offense at someone else’s thoughtless actions or words.

Through such a community that actively displays such forbearance in its love; the world will be attracted to the message of Jesus.  It is only then that his life, ministry, and message take on a real quality that cannot be refuted.  After all, Jesus said, “They will know you by your love for one another.”  He was not just talking about people witnessing the good feelings that Christians have for one another, but the self-sacrificing serving love that cares for the least, last, and lost among us.  Then they will know that we really are followers of Christ.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Read Full Post »

Unmarried Culture

In our American culture, marriage gets a bum rap. It is touted as an archaic institution by liberals, yet an institution in which homosexuals want equal share.  Preached as an option for couples by our television sitcoms, a marriage commitment is shunned or looked upon with suspicion at best.  As a result, we have couples living together in ‘trial marriages’ despite the research that proves co-habitation before marriage actually lowers the success rate of couples, not raises it.

Unfortunately, the Christian community in America is not fairing any better in their marriage relationships.  The divorce rate among Christians versus non-Christians is negligible at best.  The co-habitation of Christian couples before marriage is rising with the cultural tide.  How can the Church speak to a broken world if its relationships are broken, too?  How can the Christian community set an example of God’s righteous ways if we do not walk in them?

Leaves In Fall Colors, Howard Amon Park, Richland, Washington, Fall 2009

Leaves In Fall Colors, Howard Amon Park, Richland, Washington, Fall 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almber, Jr. (2010)

Our Creator offers people an answer to their brokenness. Not only can our broken relationship with our Heavenly Father be healed, but our broken human relationships can be restored too.  The answers are provided for us in his Word.  Our submission and obedience to his ways in all of our human relations is the ‘healing Balm of Gilead’ we need to be made whole.  The real question is, Will we apply it to our wounds?  Will we submit to the Spirit’s surgery to remove the diseased parts of our lives so that we can be healed and made whole?

God calls his followers to live in the fullness of his blessings for every part of their lives.  This includes marriage relationships.  The answer lies in honoring the Marriage Covenant we made with him and our spouse.  Unfortunately, too many people think the marriage contract they signed after the wedding ceremony is all they need to honor.  As long as it remains intact and unbroken by divorce, then they are honoring God.  But this is untrue!

Many couples live in a divorced relationship even though they still have the state’s marriage license.  They are merely co-habitating under the same roof.  The love of Christ, his forgiveness, mercy and grace, and the Fruit of the Spirit are all absent from their relationship.  There is no life in the marriage any more.  Just as harmful, nothing to inspire young people to want to enter into a marriage relationship!  Rather, it screams, “Don’t get married!”

God calls his people back to honoring their Marriage Covenants – to honor “the spouse of their youth” (Malachi 3:14).  Every married couple must recognize that “the LORD made them one.  In flesh and spirit they are his” (Mal. 3:15).  Why is this so important to the Lord?  Because he is “seeking godly offspring.”  Every Christian’s marriage witnesses to the world that God’s purposes and promises are true – or not.

The remedy to the present unmarried culture is marriage relationships that are lived out as God intended.  Imagine marriage relationships that become the envy of children, youth, young adults and the rest of the world.  What would happen if the marriage relationship became the prime example where the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23) – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – were displayed to the world?  Who knows for certain, of course.  But I would like to think that marriage would be much more attractive than it is portrayed right now.  On thing is for certain.  It has got to be better than the unmarried culture we live in right now.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Read Full Post »

We have all seen them.  A highlight tape from a sporting event.  Or, it might be a highlight tape of one particular athlete’s accomplishments.  When I coached football, I would sometimes help put together a highlight tape together for the team or a player.  It was fun watching all the great moments – touch downs, incredible runs, interceptions, fantastic pass receptions, bone crunching blocks and tackles.

What those tapes never showed you, however, was all the other moments.  The lost games, fumbles, dropped passes, jumbled plays, and missed blocks and tackles.  They also didn’t show you all the hard work behind the scenes such as the two-a-day practices before the start of the official season or the hours of conditioning training, often spent in the rain and cold.  But all this would miss the point of the highlight tape wouldn’t it?

Our cultural appetite for victors and heroes, victories and stars, has bled into other aspects of our lives as well.  We have grown so used to consuming only the highlights of others that we now mentally prepare and practice our own “highlight tape” to show to others.  Whether it is sharing our life over a meal, posting it our social network site, or writing it on our resume, we have learned to self edit our lives.

This is not always a bad thing.  There are appropriate times to only give the highlights of our accomplishments and life journey.  This could be for a job or meeting someone new.  There are times when naked vulnerability is not socially acceptable because the time, place, and or person is all wrong.

However, on the flip side, when do we have an opportunity to put away the highlight tapes and share our failures, regrets, and shortcomings.  The game of life continues to unfold while we are in play.  Who is there to coach us to become better?  Who do we have to help us become better at who we are and what we do?  What outside instruction and encouragement urges us on to finish well and finish strong?  My guess is that if all you live by and show others is the personally edited highlight tape of your own life, then the answer is no one.

Unfortunately, the Church at large in our western culture has become captivated by this social phenomenon.  Sunday mornings are little more than highlight tapes of “successful ministry” and “spiritual” lives.  The congregants are told these stories and shown this view to supposedly inspire them to become better Christians.  However, I wonder if we have not misled them.  I wonder if we have not left the most vulnerable among us wondering if they could ever measure up to what they see and hear on the platform.

If I were to never know anything else about the game of basketball except by what I saw on a career highlight tape of Michael Jordan, I would immediately assume that there is no way that I could play the game, let alone compete.  Watching the outstanding physical abilities displayed in his aerobatics, his sixth sense leadership on the court, and his finally honed jump shot would not encourage me to get out and play the game.  I would be content to just be a spectator; one who vicariously lives the sport through a hero or role model.

Perhaps spectators are what we have unwittingly created in our American churches because all they every see are persons that they assume they cannot emulate.  Thus, the average congregant assumes that there is no way they could ever be good at this spiritual journey we call following Jesus.  Any attempts that have resulted in failure only reinforces the idea that they don’t belong “out on the court” or “in the game”.  Instead, they grow content vicariously living their spiritual lives through super-spiritual leaders and speakers.

Personally, I have grown tired of going to another conference where all I see are the highlights of someone’s ministry.  I have no desire to watch and hear anothet highlight show of  how such-and-such church has become successful.  My years involved in church ministries has taught me that there is a lot more that goes on behind the scenes than what we are told.  Personal interaction with “successful” ministries and churches has taught me that there are a lot of growing pains, missed opportunities, mistakes, and even casualties in the story that do not get to be told.  And often I am told that the reason is that “no one wants to hear bad news”.

I am not recommending becoming a community of  “Sad Sacks” and naysayers.  I have never thought that a pessimist was better off than an optimist, but just the opposite.  Negativism can become a cancer that destroys not sustains healthy growth and living.  However, vulnerability should not be mistaken for negativism and pessimism either.  We would do well to learn to distinguish between the two.

Ron on Giant Rock Seat

Ron on Giant Rock Seat, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almber, Jr. (2009)

The most profound growth and changes in my life have often come after someone shared with me his or her struggles.  It was often someone I looked up to as successful or spiritual.  Then, in a moment of vulnerability they shared with me their struggles, starts and stops, and failures.  Instead of being crushed by them and defeated, they had discovered a way to stand back up and keep going.  These moments have always left me inspired, thinking, “If they can go through that and make it, then I can too.”

By discarding the constant use of our personal life highlight tape we move beyond the veneer of our lives, which is so thin anyway.  Healthy vulnerability shared at the right moment, in the right place, with the right people does not weaken our lives but strengthens them.  It also encourages and strengthens those we share our lives with at those times.  The question that begs to be answered, I believe, is are we providing a place for that in our lives, churches, or faith groups?  Where do we remove the masks to become real to another person?

If all of your conversations on the faith level are only punctuated with “Praise God brother/sister!  Everything is going great!  God is good all the time!  I live such a blessed life!  The church was packed!” then it might be time to ween yourself off your self-edited highlight tape.  Find a personal and place to become vulnerable again.

One of my favorite sayings is, “God is never disillusioned with you.  He had no illusions about you in the first place.”  After all, who are we really trying to hide from – God?  Nice try.  The one who sees everything knows our life’s successes and failures.  It is the reason why one biblical imagery of a human standing before God is in nakedness.  How embarrassing is that?  God caught us all naked – with our spiritual pants down!  And still, he forgives us, accepts us, and loves us.  Perhaps it is time the community of saints he formed start to look and act the same way toward all.

I am not suggesting that Sunday mornings become a group counseling session or that the pastors and leaders reveal the most intimate failures of their lives every time.  Nevertheless, perhaps more opportunities can be given for them and others to pull up their sleeves and show the hidden “scars” from the spiritual battles they have waged.  Maybe, every once in a while, the ministry highlight tapes could be discarded for a more real view of what can be expected of all of us in our journey with Christ.  That just might encourage more of us to join the team.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

Read Full Post »

It does not take a Ph.D. in history to know that human existence has been fraught with warfare. I doubt that there ever has existed a time of peace on earth.  Somewhere war between two groups of people or more was and is always waged.  It began as long ago as Cain and Abel and continues right down to our present day.  We continue to see it in the tribal or ethnic warfares of Africa, the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, and Sri Lanka.

One would think that our human evolutionary process would have taken us past this need to annihilate one another after some thousands of years of our living together on earth.  But, alas, no.  Neither physical nor social evolution has brought us to an any brighter end than when we began.  Indeed, at times in our common history it appears that we have de-evolved back into cannibals; take the wars and genocides of the 20 century, for example.  These all took place at the height of western rationalism and scientific achievements.

The tendency to devolve into unthinking brutes is no more apparent than in the present state of American politics.  I am constantly amused by the “Letters to the Editor” in my own local paper, The Tri-City Herald.  Each week, social and political conservatives and liberals take turns lambasting one another.  The vitriol is bitter.  The hate is evident.  Each side uses over-generalizations, unfair caricatures, and name calling to publicly flay their opponents.  Of course, it is couched in language that is supposed to make us think it is all really intelligent and thoughtful when it is apparent that it is not.

This is nothing new to American politics.  It goes way back; before even the founding of our great nation.  Politics and religion in America have always been the cause of great divides between its citizens.  More than once in our history it has turned extremely nasty.  For example, one only needs recall the early colonial embattlement between Christian sects.  Crossing a colonial border with the wrong religious credentials could get a person thrown in stocks or worse.  Our early protestant heritage created an extremely hostile environment to immigrant Catholics, especially Irish Catholics in the mid to late 19th century.  It was still a major issue for Protestant Americans when John F. Kennedy (an Irish Catholic) ran for president.

Our greatest historical black eye came to us in our own Civil War.  This was essentially an issue over politics; the role the federal government was or was not going to play in state governments.  As we know, the pro-federalist north won the fight over the anti(con)-federalist south.  Federal government has continued to grow stronger and stronger since that time.

Those in power have always used the seat of power to promote their political and social agendas.  So we have in our history a crazy-quilt pattern of abuses by those in authority.  One only needs to note the persecution of those who tried to bring about changes: the anti-slavery activists who were vilified and persecuted; the women suffragettes who were frequently jailed; the unionists and socialist who were imprisoned and killed; the communists who were jailed and castigated in society; the civil rights activists who were beaten, jailed, and killed.  And the list goes on and on.

What we seem to have entered into today in American society, however, is a new level of hostility.  The “middle ground” that has always helped America keep her head seems to have shrunk to a non-entity or have been muffled by the screams of the extremist hostiles on both both sides of the debate.  Not only is the dialogue that does take place extremely uncivil but both sides are simply shutting down dialogue all together and shutting one another out.

As such, we frighteningly have taken on the characteristics of the tribal warfare that has plagued other parts of the world.  How far are we from the hostilities between the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda or the Luos and Kikuyus in Kenya?  How different are we from the Serbs, Croats, and Albanians of the Balkan nations?  What makes us unique from the Catholic/Protestant or Unionist/Nonunionist war that has plagued Ireland?  How are these examples any different than what we presently see displayed in our own society between the Republican “tribe” and Democratic “tribe” or the conservative “tribes” and the liberal “tribes”?

Sure, we can boast that the difference is we do not now have the physical violence they have experienced (though we have admittedly had it in our past).  However, I’m left wondering how long that will last as long as both sides of the debate continue to demonize one another and paint each other as “the enemy”.  When the United State of America descended into the Civil War of  the 19th century, it took many by surprise that it had come down to an act of war.  Soon, friends and even family members were divided and shooting one another on open battle fields on American soil.

The Capital Building, Washington D.C.

The Capital Building, Washington D.C. ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

Given the fact that humans seems to have not evolved at all and that we still have a propensity to kill one another over skin color, religion, ethnic differences, political view points, and social statuses, we should tread very carefully into this 21st century.  We are not so far away from our tribal cannibalistic ancestors.  We will war with one another just because we are different from one another.

We also need to keep in mind that this great nation of ours is still an experiment in Democracy.  We have not proven that we have succeeded yet.  The story is still unfolding.  The end is still to be written.  Are we truly a nation that is still the “great melting pot” of the world where people of different ethnicities, religious and political backgrounds can come together and co-exist peacefully and in harmony?  Or, will we descend into a bunch of hostile tribes who huddle together and plan how to annihilate all competitors for food and control?

The way out of our present dilemma and stalemate is to return civility and a generous spirit back into the public discussion of what is best of the whole nation.  This will take a concerted effort especially by the more moderating voices in the public arena.  Places where incivility and unkindness are displayed in any form must not be tolerated by the crowd at large.  We do not need laws and government interference in the public forums.  What we need is self-censureship and self-control by all those involved.

What is also needed is for those who call themselves Christians to act like the One they claim to follow. Identity in the Kingdom of God trumps any social or political or ethnic identity.  If in the New Testament “there is now, therefore, neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave or free, neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:28, see also Romans 10:12), then that truth is needed now as much as it was then.  The unity we are called to in Christ is lived out in the family of God as adopted sons and daughters from every walk of life on earth.  Who are we to determine who gets to be a part of the family of God and who does not?

Our recent historical lesson should be the African nation of Rwanda where supposedly 80% of its population claimed to be Christian.  Yet, that religious identity and calling made no difference in how one looked upon or treated persons from the other tribe.  Ethnic identity trumped Christian faith and calling.  Millions died and suffered because the Church abandoned its true identity as brothers and sisters in Christ apart from tribe.

This is just the opposite of what Christ calls us to.  It is the same for Christian Americans who come from different political, religious, or ethnic backgrounds.  Let us not stand around singing “We Are One in the Spirit” with only those who look and think like us.  Let us sing that in the midst of our great diversity as a the Bride of Christ, the family of God, and a Democratic nation.

Finally, two childhood sayings come to mind when I listen to the public debacle we have come to call town meetings or community forums.  The first is “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  This is not to say disagreement should not be voiced.  By all means, it should be.  However, whatever is said needs to remain focused on the main point and not degenerate into accusations and name calling.  The second is this, “It is not what you say, but it is how you say it that is important.”

The tone that we bring to the public discussion will in some part determine the response we get from the other side of the aisle.  It only helps our cause, not hinders it, when we treat each other and contrary view points with respect and kindness.  Perhaps these should be posted at our next meetings before we break out the machetes and machine guns.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: