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Posts Tagged ‘Washington State Beaches’

Healthy Holistic Spirituality

Since Jesus’ departure from earth his disciples have attempted to follow his path of teaching and practice.  Unfortunately, he left behind ideas and concepts about a Kingdom.  He did not leave behind a lot of details about how this spiritual life should work – organizing the church, spiritual disciplines, and a myriad of other details that constantly change with times and cultures.  We are left to work that out as we commune with him through his Holy Spirit and the fellowship of the saints.

Surprisingly, for the most part, the church has performed fairly well.  It has its black moments in history.  It has suffered backsliding and experienced renewal and revival. It has been mixed with earthly governments and rule to its own demise and suffered through the revolutions of breaking free from them.  It has fallen prey to wolves in sheep’s clothing and expelled or rejected their rule and authority.

Nevertheless, the message and work of the Kingdom continues on and changes lives.  The message is that God has sent Jesus, his son, to restore the broken Creator-creation relationship with people everywhere and the work is that he is present in and among his people through his Holy Spirit to undo the works of evil and the Evil One.  As such, the church has been a major force throughout history in serving the poor, the hungry, the widows, the sick and the orphans.  Today, there is much work being done through its services to provide clean water, free health clinics to villages, free education for children, and working to eliminate preventable diseases.

Still, most of this type of work goes unnoticed by the world’s skeptics, cynics, agnostics and atheists.  This is not to suggest that the effort is to have some kind of global balance sheet of “good things” versus “bad things” done by Christians.  Nothing will satisfy those who look with anger and prejudice against others for whatever reasons.  The point simply is this:  The Kingdom of God has always been about a message accompanied by a work.

When Jesus ministered on earth, his sermons most often followed his work among the sick, demon possessed, oppressed, poor and outcasts of society.  He was not satisfied with staying in the local synagogue preaching and teaching.  Neither was he content with staying where he was most popular and most successful according to statistics.  He was always about his Heavenly Father‘s business.  There was work to be done.

The Acts of the Apostles recounts many early sermons.  Almost all of them followed some work by miracle or powerful demonstration of the Holy Spirit.  James expects this pattern to be continued and chides his readers through his letters for having faith without works.  As such, their faith was dead and worthless.  Faith not only has a message but it has a work that it must do.

Starfish and Sea Anemone, June 2003

Starfish and Sea Anemone, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

I am wondering if believers in any given congregation in our area can identify these two things in their local church.   What is the message of the church?  Can they summarize it precisely and succinctly so that their neighbor or co-worker could understand it?  Just as importantly, what is the work of the church?  What work does their local fellowship of believers do to undo the work of evil and the Evil One around them?  What activities are their congregation engaged in to affect the lives of the least, last and lost of the community they live in?

The church’s credibility is not just in the integrity of its message – something we in the Evangelical churches like to focus upon.  The real credibility of the church is in the work it does that aligns with its message:  God has come to restore humankind and creation to himself by inviting everyone into relationship with him and work with him to undo the work of evil and the Evil One.  While we work on getting the message out, it might be time to also roll up our sleeves and get to work in the world around us.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Clam Shell in Black Sand, June 2003

Clam Shell in Black Beach Sand, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Towards A More Civil Public Discourse

One of the strengths of a true democratic system of government is the ability to have open public debates concerning the issues that matter to our nation.  No one individual, political party or system of thought controls or sensors the discussion; even to the point of publicly protesting before governmental buildings, outside political gatherings and in town meetings.  In many other countries of this world, such open protestations would be met with government oppression, brutality and even imprisonment and possibly death.

American citizens should appreciate these freedoms.  I strongly believe that they should be guarded and practiced.  However, I also believe that there is a danger today of allowing this form of public debate and open protest to degenerate into a deconstructive melee that will damage our system of public debate rather than promote it by the way we conduct ourselves.  Too often in today’s political climate the open discussions in our newspapers, talk-radio stations and sidewalk protests devolve into a hostile mob that demonizes everyone who does not think like they do.

This is group-think at its worst.  There is no open and honest dialogue with the opposing viewpoint in many cases.  Instead, they are rallies to cheerlead a particular political or social agenda without regard to the other side of the argument.  The other side is not even welcome to the table.  They are seen as “the enemy”.

This is not about the political left or the political right.  It is not about Republicans, Democrats, the Tea Party or Coffee Party advocates.  I am more concerned about America’s tone and tenor in the discussion.  Where is the “civil” in our civil public debate and discourse?  What happened to dealing with issues rationally and objectively?  Is there really an honest discussion taking place for the benefit of all people if one side of the debate is not present?

I am not suggesting that debate be dispassionate.  Neither am I suggesting that individuals or groups should not boldly and strongly affirm and assert their position.  What I am suggesting is that there is a way to do that without demonizing and alienating the other side of the debate.  When our debate descends from dealing with issues and facts to finger-pointing, name calling and generating misinformation about the other side’s position, we have to ask ourselves, “What are we really accomplishing?”  I would venture to answer, “Not much.”

Granted, from America’s earliest political days, public discourse has been heated and mean.  (Something I address in an earlier Blog Post: “Let’s All Calm Down!”)  For a great picture of how mean it could get, I recommend William Safire‘s book Scandalmonger.  After the colonies won their independence from England, some of our earliest leaders were dismayed  how fractious and uncivil American politics quickly became.  George Washington despaired over the hostile divisions of the American political arena.  Individuals who were compatriots in the Revolution became bitter enemies afterward.

Another period of American history that turned into civil war instead of civil discourse was prior to and during Abraham Lincoln’s term in office.  The issues of states rights, federal government powers and slavery were issues that consumed American politics from its earliest days.  Reading the diatribes of the times, one senses a growing hostility between parties to the point that by the time Abraham Lincoln gained office he despaired whether the divide could even be healed.  It turns out he was both right and wrong.  The great divide in American politics and society could be bridged, but only by war.

It is precisely this type of “war” language that we are hearing once again on the fringes of the public discourse surrounding American politics and the accompanying agendas.  Whether it is the Health Care Reform Bill, abortion, socialism versus capitalism, taxes, gun ownership or any of the other number of “hot button” issues, the divide between the sides is growing into an unbreachable wall that will not permit constructive dialogue and problem solving.

History teaches us that the “fringes” of public thought soon become the primary movers for social reform.  Therefore, it would be wise for us to pay attention to how our public discourse is being shaped by them.  Again, I am not addressing the issues or topics discussed.  I am more concerned about the way in which they are being discussed.  The process of debate shapes us as much as the actual decisions that come out of it do.  How are we allowing the way we discuss and debate these issues shape us as a people and nation?

I am particularly dismayed and shocked at how Conservative Christians, or just Christians in general, conduct themselves in this public discourse.  We most often come across as the most angry and hostile.  Our points, which are very good ones, are lost in the screaming and yelling at the opposing side.  However passionate one might feel about a particular political issue, as a Christian, one must ask, “How does the way I conduct myself and communicate my message reflect the Kingdom of God and its King?”

Christians live in the tension of existing in two kingdoms: the Kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God.  We are primarily citizens of the Kingdom of God first and foremost.  Therefore, as citizens and ambassadors of that Kingdom to this earthly one, we should be concerned with how our actions and words portray the Kingdom of God and its King.

I am not suggesting that silence is the answer.  Neither is not caring what happens to and in this world.  We are called to bring the Kingdom of God to the world in which we live through our lives and our witness.  The issues of righteousness and justice are central to this mission.  However, the manner in which we strive for those things is just as important as their substance.  For by the way we conduct ourselves we reflect the nature and character of not only the Kingdom of God but also the nature and character of its ruler – our Heavenly Father.

Beach Pebbles, Ozette River Camp Site, June 2003

Beach Pebbles, Ozette River Camp Site, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

My experience has taught me that the one who begins yelling the loudest has already lost the debate for he or she has no further substantive content or cogent arguments to make to prove his or her point.  There is a more civil way to conduct a civil public discourse.  Let me humbly recommend a few action points that may help us towards a more healthy and constructive public debate:

  1. Have a first hand knowledge of the issues and their facts.  Do not depend upon the pundits or politically slanted news organizations to give you objective truth.  Remember, they have an agenda that sells and makes them money.  That’s their primary concern.  If they truly worked for resolutions, they would be out of business.  It’s in their best interest to stir up the debate, not resolve it.
  2. Turn off and tune out “the screamers”.  Those yelling the loudest, as I said above, often do not have anything more constructive to bring to the argument other than passion.  While their passion is good, at the end of the day, it will not win the debate of substance.  If you get a conservative or liberal news source – internet, print, TV, or radio – make sure you are balancing it by listening or reading to the opposing side.  Make sure you know the rational points and objections the other side of the argument is making.  This will sharpen your own points.
  3. Read and learn from history.  This is not the first time that American politics has gotten heated and ugly.  It is not the lowest we have reached in the political forum.  However, to avoid delving deeper or repeating the mistakes of the past, it is important to know where we have been and where we have come from in our collective history.
  4. Openly invite and welcome the opposing side to the discussion.  Two things can only be accomplished by this:  First, you will learn the objections and points of the other sided.  Second, you will strengthen your position and ability to communicate your point.  You will also learn the weaknesses in your own argument, which will send you back to studying and learning about the issues and facts.  You may be surprised and change your mind as a result!  Or, you may win a friend and the debate by being better equipped.
  5. Learn the difference between a public rally and public debate.  More of the former takes place than the latter.  Rallies are good for energizing and mobilizing political partners, if that is what is actually happening.  However, in my experience, they too easily devolve into pointless and nasty caricaturizations of the opposition.  A debate will have the opposition present and allow it to fairly communicate its points.  It will require clear and cogent communication, but, just as important, listening.
  6. Finally, for those who are Christians, remember the bigger picture of the Kingdom of God.  It is not bound by the boundaries of a political party or social agenda.  The Church of Christ is growing and propagating in some of the most hostile political and social environments our world has to offer.  God is bigger than either political party.  We are called to represent and be communicators of that Kingdom to this world.  How we do that is just as important as the substance of our agendas.  Do our words and actions reflect the nature and character of the One we way we follow and serve?

There are no easy answers and solutions to resolving differences of opinions.  It is why we call the discussions of these things “debates,” after all.  However, I am firmly convinced and convicted that as mature people interested in the good of all humankind and creation that we can do a better job of being civil in our public discourse.  The way we conduct our public debates shapes us as much or more so than the substances of those debates.  Cherishing and honoring this important democratic process is important to our future as a nation.

Good constructive debate over the issues and facts is healthy for our democracy.  Hostile demonization and threats of violence only send us back into the times of tribal warfare or, worse yet, civil war.  However, I have faith in people, especially the American people, and especially the American democratic experiment that we can turn towards a more civil public discourse.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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What’s For Easter Dinner?

Something that has plagued me since…well, I cannot remember really…has to do with the American traditional Easter meal.  Why do we serve ham?  Virtually everyone I know serves an “Easter Ham” for dinner on this special occasion.  I find it a curious practice and tradition, especially among Christians.

The Christian celebration of Easter coincides with the Jewish Passover.  It commemorates the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.  It reflects the same salvation story that Jewish people to this day tell concerning their deliverance from Egypt into the Promised Land.  Before Jesus’ crucifixion, on the same night that he was betrayed, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples.  It was also an eerie portent of what he was about to go through as the Paschal lamb of God for the sins of the world.

So, why ham?  Is it some kind of Gentile celebration set against the Jewish celebration?  Was it first established as a way for Gentiles to poke their thumb in the eye of Jews?  Think about it.  Of all the un-Jewish meats to serve near the Passover – ham?  Why ham?  Did it start out as a protest of sorts against a contrived Jewish conspiracy?  Was it meant as an overt insult to Jews and Muslims?  Does anyone else find this a fascinating query or is just me all alone out here?

The most often given explanation given to me when I’ve asked friends is that it is a tradition – pure and simple.  Suddenly, Gentiles sounds like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof:  “Tradition!”  Well, how did that come about in the first place?  There is definitely no connections with the original celebration surrounding Easter and Passover.

A quick search of the history and origins of eating ham at Easter turns up some interesting suggestions that seem very plausible.  It seems that as Christianity developed and further divorced itself from its Jewish roots and heritage, it embraced the customs and traditions of the Gentile cultures it was introduced to in the middle ages.  This is true of most Christian holidays: Lent, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas.

Can you say, “syncretism”? A dictionary definition of “syncretism” is, “the combination of different forms of belief or practice” or “ the fusion of two or more originally different inflectional forms.”  Missiologist often use this word in reference to places and cultures where Christianity has adopted non-Christian beliefs, values, and practices.  Could this be applied to what we eat at Easter?  I will let the theologians and missiologists wrestle with that question.

Sea Anemone, Barnacles, and Muscles, June 2003

Sea Anemone, Barnacles, and Muscles, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

In my search for answers, two basic ideas come out of the reason ham became the meat of choice at Easter.  One was a practical consideration.  Traditionally, animals were slaughtered in the fall and preserved for winter use by smoking or salting.  When Spring arrived, marked by the vernal equinox, a celebration ensued and the last of the winter meat was eaten.  In eastern and northern Europe, the meat of choice was pork since the pig had been domesticated early in human history.  It was also the easiest meat to preserve for long periods of time.

The other reason has pagan spiritual reasons.  In Europe, the pig was considered a “good luck” symbol.  Eating pork in the spring was a way of celebrating getting through the long winter and the anticipation of another good year of harvests and abundant new livestock, especially pigs. Maybe it was just good luck to have anything left over from winter to eat in the spring.  I do not really know, but it seems likely given the harsh living conditions of European humans in the middle ages.

Of course, the pagan roots of the Easter Bunny, Easter eggs, Egg hunts, and Easter candy have been argued for many, many years.  Its connection with the pagan goddess Oestre, Eastre, Ostara or Ishtar has already been pointed out. (Which is a reason I prefer to avoid calling the day “Easter Sunday” or “Easter” but “Resurrection Sunday” or “Resurrection Day”.)  However, I have never heard anyone mention any problem with the Easter Ham.  It is curious to me since it seems to be so forthrightly anti-Semitic.

It turns out, that most of the world celebrates Easter by eating lamb.  So, Americans and northern Europeans are in a minority.  Since America has heavy influential roots stemming back to northern Europe, this should not surprise us.  It seems we brought our pagan religious practices with us – properly syncretized to Christianity, of course.  So, how do you like your ham cooked?

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Imagine yourself at work on an average day, no better or worse than any other.  Along comes a religious man who you have heard about from friends.  Suddenly, he stops and watches you.  Then, speaking directly to you he says, “Follow me, and I will teach you change the course of people’s lives.”

What do you do?  Do you leave everything, quit your job, and follow such a man and his wild offer?  Will you risk all you know and have accumulated to be taught and trained by him?  What guarantee do you have that this endeavor will pay off?

Essentially, this is the call that Jesus gives to everyone who would follow him.  We all want to be a part of something larger than our own life.  There is a strong desire in every human heart to live a life that leaves an impact after we are long gone from the early scene.

However, we often give our lives to many other things of lesser importance.  What are more important, material gains or spiritual gains?  Friends won to entertain us or souls won into eternity?  Expanding personal resources or advancing Kingdom of God resources to accomplish Kingdom work?

It gets complicated, doesn’t it?  As one person said, “What is best is often sacrificed on the altar of good.”  Our lives get filled up quickly with important things, things that rob us of being a part of something bigger than ourselves, kingdom things, and spiritual things.  There is a danger in not being able to weigh the important things in our lives.

Sea Anemone, June 2003

Sea Anemone, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

An incident a couple of summers ago in San Antonio, Texas, illustrates what I’m talking about.  It was a hot, 99-degree August day when a ten-month-old baby girl was accidentally locked in a parked car by her aunt.  Frantically, the mother and the aunt ran around the auto in near hysteria, while a neighbor attempted to unlock the car with a clothes hanger.  The infant was bawling at the top of its lungs, beginning to turn purple and foam from the mouth from a combination of her anxiety and the intense heat inside the car.

It had quickly become a life-and-death situation when Fred Arriola, a
tow-truck driver, arrived on the scene.  He grabbed a hammer from his truck and smashed a backdoor window of the car to free the baby.  Was he heralded a hero?  Not so.  According to an article in the San Antonio Tribune, he is quoted as saying, “The lady was mad at me because I broke the window.  I just thought, ‘What’s more important — a baby or a window?'”

Most of the choices we make in life are not between what is trivial and what is important.  Rather, most of the choices we make are usually between what is important and what is more important.  We do this when,

  • we set up our family’s financial budget.
  • we set dates on our calendars.
  • we take our hard-earned money and give 10% to the Kingdom of God’s work.
  • out of an already busy life, we take time to gather in worship on Sundays with other believers to learn God’s Word, worship, pray, and rejoice together.
  • we use our personal time and energies to serve others in their time of need or to teach and mentor them.

Jesus is always calling us to follow him and become disciplers of other men, women, youth and children.  He is always calling to us to take up his cross and follow him.  He is always inviting us to lay aside what is important to us so that we would fulfill what is important to him.  Answer the call.  Today is the day to decide what is most important.

©Weathestone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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There is a story about a little girl who, on the way home from church, turned to her mother and said, “Mommy, the preacher’s sermon this morning confused me.”

The mother said, “Oh, why is that?”

The girl replied, “Well, he said that God is bigger than we are.  Is that true?”

Yes, that’s true,” the mother replied.

He also said that God lives within us.  Is that true, too?”

Again, the mother replied, “Yes.”

Well,” said the girl.  “If God is bigger than us and he lives in us, wouldn’t he show through?”

Sometimes the simple words of a child can reveal such great truth.  Shouldn’t Jesus show through us?  Indeed, if we are living our life for him, we will allow his light to shine through us.  Matthew 5:16 tells us to “So let our light so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven.”

Too often, we dismiss the importance of Jesus showing through us through the good works that we do for Him.  However, Jesus made it clear that this is an important part of our witness to the world.  The things we do for others should be like a bright neon sign that declares, “Followers of Jesus here!”

Gareth and Cara at Sunset, Strawberry Point, 2002

Gareth and Cara at Sunset, Strawberry Point, 2002 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Jesus is made real to the world – our children, friends, neighbors, and family – by the work we do in his name.  It is the type of fruit on the tree that identifies the tree.  It is the same way with the spiritual fruit born in our lives.

Unfortunately, the church culture has more “bark than bite” when it comes to the gospel.  We frequently do not “walk the talk.”  This is why it important that everyone who calls himself or herself a follower of Christ find the place where they are to serve.  A disciple cannot grow to be like his or her master if he or she does not do the same work the Master did as an example for us to follow.

Jesus’ example to us is most clear when he washed his own disciples’ feet.  Those who should have humbled themselves to wash their master’s feet and offer to wash other’s feet instead argued, stubbornly sat waiting for someone else to do what was necessary, and allowed the honored guest at the table do it instead.  How awkward.  At least Peter had the sense to protest.  The others seemed content to let Jesus do it!

Nevertheless, we can be guilty of the same servant apathy today.  The problem is not that there are not enough opportunities to serve and minister.  The problem is that there are not enough servants.  Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful!”

There are a great many opportunities for the Kingdom; more than anyone can count or imagine.  “But the laborers are few.”  The greatest need is willing servants who will humble themselves to do what is necessary to reap the rewards of the harvest.  “Pray…to send forth laborers…”

One of the strengths of a healthy, vital church is that ministry is not clergy driven.  It does not depend upon a “professional” or recognized “pastor” to be initiated or get done.  Everyone being a minister and serving others is a value embraced by everyone in such a fellowship of believers.  Everyone is a priest with a position to serve someone else for the glory of God.  God’s light of glory shines through them.

How does God “show through” you?  What good works do you do for the least, last, and lost around you that brings glory to God?  In what way are you personally engaged in the harvest fields of the master?  Does a life of serving others mark your life like it marked the Master’s?

I encourage you to let God be bigger than you.  Allow Him to do something bigger through you than you could ever imagine.  Who knows, someone may see what you do and give thanks and praise to God for it.  All because you allowed God to show through.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Natural Sand Sculpture on the Beach, June 2003

Natural Sand Sculpture on the Beach, June 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Grey grit sifted and filtered
washed and rinsed with
waves

Silky silicon folded and laid
molded and shaped with
wind

Soft silt lifted and moved
around and over with
water

Ground granite coarse and rough
worn and divided with
weather

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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