Tag Archives: faith

The Identified Patient

When there’s a breakdown in some families, you can sometimes find that everyone is clear that if ONE person changed, everything would be fine.  “If she just got her act together… if it wasn’t for her… if she just wasn’t here…”  What’s clearest, to anyone looking in from the outside, is that the problems, breakdowns or frustrations all stem from the presence and nature of one person.

Ever been “the identified patient?”  It’s a lousy position in which to be.  Any move you make, any breath you take, any cake you bake is evaluated from the position of the problem you are to the rest of the household.  Sort of the way a mountain creates its own weather, the identified patient creates atmospheric issues of life in a community.  It doesn’t really have to do much more than be there, just being present creates turbulence, crowdedness, disquiet.

Consider how the identified patient might feel in that setting.  They don’t have to try.  They just have to be there and they’re wrong.  If they say something, they’re wrong.  If they do something, they’re wrong.  But they don’t have to do or say anything… we just all know they’re wrong and will only, always, ever be wrong.  They’re in the way, roadblocks, hampering movement forward and so the best thing is just to ignore them or get rid of them, if possible.

But then someone comes along who wonders if anyone has ever climbed the mountain… and gives it a shot.  It’s treacherous, the air gets thin, sometimes it feels like they’re dying, but then, as they get to the top, suddenly a vista opens up, the world is clear.  They can see forever.  They’re glad they made the trip.

That’s what happens sometimes when the identified patient is not attended as a “patient” but as part of life, as a person.  It’s a hike, no question, and sometimes its more of a climb than a hike.  Mountains get driven up by a lot of ancient trauma from below.  But when someone takes the time and makes the effort, they can learn the mountain and can reach a spot where they see clearly and they also love the mountain.

There’s a story Jesus tells of the guy who is a problem.  Jesus tells those who follow him to go one-on-one to sort out the problem the guy has or is.  He goes on, if that doesn’t work then bring another with you and if not then, bring in some authority for help and if not then, get the community to come together to clear things up.  If that doesn’t work then “treat them like a tax collector or sinner.”  This has been used as a road-map on kicking someone out of the church… but that’s not how Jesus treated tax collectors and sinners.  He didn’t kick them out.  He chose to get to know them, to climb the mountain.

Just when you figure someone is nothing more than a pain in the butt, so we should just dismiss them… Jesus comes along and says, “Nah, …get your gear!  We got a hill to climb!”  Who does this guy think he is?


Power Addict

It’s been interesting, in a frightening sort of way, to watch the rise of Donald Trump.  One interesting moment came in the numerous responses to the support Trump is receiving from evangelicals.  I guess I’m surprised at the surprise expressed in many of these articles or blogs.  Evangelicals (with a capital “E”… I consider myself an evangelical) are addicted to power and that’s what they are aching for.  The Donald delivers the fix.

Like all addictions, power is subtle.

It seeks to take us, body and soul, completely by undermining our relational guidelines.  Relationship keeps us out of addiction.  As we depend on others, give to others and are grateful for others, we desire life and living.  We are satisfied in many deep and abiding ways.  An addiction grows as it replaces this satisfaction with want and it does that sometimes in the very cells of our bodies.  Very gently, addiction replaces our relationships with separation so that, over time, we ache for no one and nothing except the feeling we receive from the drug of choice.

This can happen with power.  We feel like we can “make things happen.”  We love when people give in and do as we want.  Evangelicalism, in its worst forms, has focused on bending people to its will through conversion.  Unfortunately, it moved away from conversion to Jesus and following him to conversion to a culture.  The culture was what it created around Jesus… “Jesus stuff.”  Jesus stuffConferences, trinkets, study Bibles in all colors, studies, videos, radio stations, clothes, pundits, separation from other culture… all to build a sense of protection and worth that didn’t rely on God’s grace.  It sought to make people believe its culture and to fall into line with behavioral patterns.  The trouble is that these patterns are focused on perfection and purity and not on relationship with people or God.  The aim is to be good, not to be real.  The dominance with its pressure to submit individually, in groups, through teachings, music and books, reveals the greater importance of power and authority over other people.

When the Moral Majority came into a period of national attention, the movement became focused on wielding political power.  Candidates fed this need by wooing the leaders.  Those following the leaders began to feed on the trickle-down obsession.  Even though the national attention shifted away because the hollow core was revealed through cascading scandals, the need and the need to feed remains.  Trump is simply giving them a free ride and they’re basking in the high.  When they realize that they have gained no ground but actually fallen into a deeper expression of loss, they’re going to get angry, but it won’t matter.

The example of humility, abiding in trusting God’s power, seeking others’ significance provided by Jesus has nothing to do with this community any more.  As has been the case for over 2000 years, the future of faith will be led by those who pray and assist their children to discover the One who is the heart of that conversation, the One who guides them deeply into relationship with other human beings, rather than those who anguish over it not being forced in schools anymore.



I was just reminded of an incident that happened a while back and that speaks to the difference between God’s action and coincidence.  It feels like that’s a good thing to consider as we walk into Christmas celebration.  Faith is believing in something unseen.  And at Christmas it feels good to consider in what we put our faith.
The incident took place at the closing of the church I founded in a shopping center.  Nine years after it began we were shutting it down.  It was sad, but it seemed clear that it was the only choice.  We held our last worship service, got our books in order, hauled off all personal items and were left with all the standard “non-interesting” pieces of church- tables, chairs, shelves, small rugs, music stands, desks, platforms… those kinds of things.  We sent out word to area churches that if they needed any of these items they were welcome to come on this particular day and time and take anything they wanted for free.  We set up a small crew to help carry, take down names for those things that were too big to fit into some vehicle and went about the clearing.
I went off for lunch at one point and when I came walking back into our space people were immediately calling me to the phone.  Mark, a pastor friend, was calling to ask about a particular item.  He said, “Geoff, you know that podium you use for preaching, I was wondering where you got that.  I want to get one like it.”
He was speaking of a conductor’s stand I bought from which I preached.  It looked like a music stand but it was plexi-glass and very wide.  directors-standI would have my notes and a book or two and even some other papers on it when I spoke.  I had chosen it specifically for preaching and that’s how it was used through the life of our church.  Now it sat in the midst of all the music stands, just waiting to be carried off in the bunch.

I said, “Mark… do you know what’s happening here today?”

He said he didn’t and that began my story of our situation.  He was stunned, disappointed and left wondering.  I concluded by saying, “So, if you want it, it’s yours.”  We made arrangements to meet because he lived and worked some miles away.  He was starting his own church at that time and had been thinking through what to use as a pulpit when he remembered mine.
It occurred to me, as I pulled it out of the crowd of black music stands that something had happened.  On this random day, at this random time Mark called for this particular stand.  The stand, which was designed for a totally different purpose, had been specifically chosen by me for the preaching and teaching of God’s word.  It was a dedicated instrument.  No one in our place ever allowed it to be used for anything else.  People always asked if it could be moved.  It had become sacred by its use… special.  That day, when everything was sailing out the door, this one item was called for particularly.
What occurred to me was that God laid claim to it.  When I hung up the phone I thought, “God’s saying, ‘You can let all the rest of this stuff go, but this piece… this is mine.’”  It continued and continues now, as far as I know, in that singular purpose – the preaching and teaching of God’s word.
Just a bit of wonder there and it makes me wonder… coincidence or God?  Why would you put more faith in coincidence than God?  Like the Higgs Boson… a thousand scientists stood outside, all night, to get the chance to see the Hadron Collider try to demonstrate this particle was real.  Up to that time they couldn’t see it and couldn’t measure it.  They could only see an effect, a “bump,” they interpreted as evidence.  That’s what we call faith.


Most Important

Sometimes I just need to remind myself of this…
In no particular order, at some point in time it was decided that the most important thing to God was…

  • sacrifice
  • rules
  • baptism
  • communion
  • going to church
  • Bible study
  • proving the Bible is true
  • being pure
  • love
  • ritual
  • order

None of these things… really truly not one of these things is the most important thing to God.  The most important thing to God is us.  Just us.

And the most difficult thing about that is that as soon as we learn it, God wants us to participate in telling, showing, living that into the lives of others.

The last distressing and revealing thing we discover is that the most important thing to God is not ME… it’s us.  And it is us being with him.  It’s when God is included in us being us.  That’s the most important thing to God.  All of us being us with him.

God’s love is perfected in us… 1 John 4:12



You may not know this but I never tell people how I vote on things… not even my wife.  So, it’s a big deal for me to write out that I voted against the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s change in their Book of Order that changed the definition of marriage.   Some people may say they’re not surprised, but maybe, just maybe they would be surprised by the reasons.
Along with the definition, here’s what got changed…

  • a pastor is allowed to perform weddings for marriages that are legal in their state
  • the requirement that at least one person in the couple be a professing Christian was removed
  • the pastor was made a “witness” of the wedding instead of consecrating it
  • the couple makes “promises” instead of vow

Here’s what these changes can mean…
When a pastor is told they can perform marriages that are legal in the state in which they live, that makes the authority of the church stand under the government or “the state.”  Back in the 1930’s a group of German Christians got together in the town of Barmen and they wrote out a document that made it vividly clear that the state never leads the church.  They did that because the Nazi party had announced that the state is the “head of the church.”  These folks wrote a declaration or confession that Jesus is the head of the church and not the state, ever.  In that time and place, they created their own death warrants by signing that document.
But, if the state is the one leading then there’s no need for at least one person in a couple to be a professing Christian.  But, then why have a pastor?  Why do this ceremony in a church?  Traditionally, weddings are worship services in which a marriage is consecrated (set apart as dedicated to God) with a community of believers.  The pastor acts as the representative of the gathered community to bring the two people together.  If neither person needs to be a Christian then shouldn’t the two people just go to a justice of the peace or a judge?  I mean, a “Church Wedding” is not about having a fancy day in the pretty building, right?
But if it is then a pastor is just a “witness” like everyone else.  They don’t actually perform a role in a worship experience or act with God’s participation.  They just agree with the uniting procedure these people are doing in front of other people who are there to see these folks do it.  God is not a necessary part of the experience.
This seems to allow the participants of the ceremony now described to shift from the solemnity or high standard of making vows to each other to that of simply making a promise.  It’s been my practice in weddings to point out that vows are different.  Like, a promise can be, “I’ll see you next Thursday.”  That’s different from the particular bond or covenant inherent in a vow.

So, yeah, I voted against this change.  I’m willing to extend the benefit of the doubt that those who crafted the words didn’t realize what the implications were.  But I do realize the words were crafted and I do feel the implications are impactful.

Abnormal Love

Been thinking about Love this week.  I’ve been thinking about all the shouting and screaming going on about hatred, discrimination and retaliation and that’s made me consider Love.

In the midst of all the cannon fodder, the people who are used as target practice by those shouting the battle commands from both sides, we may recognize Love as a casualty, lying there in the field and bleeding seriously. Right now the battle has moved beyond acceptance and rights and into the determination of normal.  And it is not about seeking normal even, really.  It is about accepting one point of view as normal.  It is about making one opinion mean normal.

Deciding what’s normal is different from loving.  When I come to the command of Jesus, “Do not judge,” then I stop and think, Christians were never commanded to decide what is normal.  They were never told to stop people from doing what wasn’t beneficial or from what might master them.  They might warn them or try to talk with them, but they were commanded to love.

There is a united force explaining what normal looks like. It all makes me worry that loving the one who is different doesn’t matter.  I think I was commanded to love the one in front of me, no matter what they brought, who they were or how they acted. suffering2 If they didn’t want love, or walked away from it, or beat me to a pulp and hung me on a cross for it… that was supposed to be okay, if love was expressed.  What was done to me was not going to change the strength, course or truth of love.  In fact the harm done to me might express that love even more.

It seems appropriate this week to look at Love as a new casualty once again, this beaten and brutalized person who never met a homosexual, never spoke with a prostitute, never touched a leper… who only knew human beings.  This one who knew that deciding what was “normal” wasn’t the point.


Seeing is Kneeling

“Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart…”  If we’re not talking about having a vision, then what a fascinating thought to think that God, the one who rules my heart would become my eyesight.  We sang this in church the other day and this is how the song was introduced, that we come praying for God to become our eyesight, that we would share that kind of intimacy.
What becomes true for people who follow Jesus is that seeing is kneeling.  What we see moves us to bow before God whether in seeing beauty and awed into wonder, or seeing destruction that makes us seek understanding of it or the power to oppose it.  We are moved to kneel by what we see because we do not deny what we see nor make excuses for it.seeing
I am a big movie fan.  I love good stories told well and I love exploring the world through stories.  I admit I’m a fan of science fiction and horror (not gore, but horror) for the same reason I enjoy roller coasters.  But there are movies that fit into genres I enjoy that I choose not to see.  This is because I know the indelible connection made by the imagery.  By indelible I mean that I know this imagery will never go away and that it will affect my soul.  It will cause a change within me.  So, even though I believe I’d have a good time I don’t go because I don’t want that change within me.
There is a story being told to our generation that calls us to be blind.  It suggests that brutality can be mixed into sexuality and achieve pleasure.  “50 Shades of Grey” suggests that if acts of pain are consensual or seemingly consensual that they are harmless.  Yet, the story of Christian Grey… (what a fabulous choice for a name… suggesting “Love… almost”) is one that includes a history of abuse and a deep need for control.  Abusive control reveals a lack of worth within the one who applies it and it creates a lack of worth within the one who receives it.  The idea that this is a joint decision doesn’t change the impact on the souls of those involved.
So, the story calls us to close our eyes, the eyes of our soul and to pretend that the imagery will not affect us this time.  It will not cause change.  It will not call us to delight in the thought of control over another, to getting what we want as we want it.  It will not cause us to consider deeply that the things we have heard from the voices of life that shelved our worth were true.  But the truth is that they will.  The imagery will change our souls.
So, seeing must be placed under the truth of God’s love for us, the one who taught us that we had worth we almost cannot believe.  There are women, men and children in the world for whom domination is not something that gets mixed with popcorn and soda.  They are severely taught that their worth lies in the hands and voice of the one who controls.seeing1
Seeing, recognizing the difference even in the dark, is something that comes from within us.  It is an aspect of our souls.  So, the things, the stories, the people who call us to close the eyes of our souls are asking us to bow to them and to allow them to change us.  Seeing remains kneeling.  With God, it also means eyes wide open.