It’s Monday November 30

This weekend we showed our first video featuring member responses to the question, “What gives you hope?” As I mentioned in my sermon, I was intrigued by the comments made by one of our sixth graders about the Greek myth of Pandora.

I loved being surprised that our students are learning about Greek mythology. I get concerned that so much of our educational system, with its increasing battery of mandated tests, is being geared toward technical knowledge. We teach to the test. What gets lost in the mix is our humanity. We are not machines designed to spit out the products that perpetuate our materialist culture. We are humans designed in the image of God whose souls soar in the presence of beauty, whose minds imagine their way out of the quagmires of conflicted relationships, whose spirits connect across the boundaries of race and culture and religion.

The point of these cultural myths is to help us deal with the great questions of life, “Where did we come from?” “Why are we here?” And, “How did we get into the mess we find ourselves in?” That’s why it’s so important to learn and know these stories.

So, let’s get back to Pandora. In brief, the jar Pandora was given, once opened, released all sorts of evil into the world. What remained bottled up in the jar was hope.

It feels like that today doesn’t it? All sorts of evil permeate every corner of the known universe, every community, every cell of our being as we stare at the images on our screens. And hope seems to be bottled up.

If that is the only story we know, the only story to be told, life would be driven by our base instincts to compete and win, to survive, to get what we can, when we can get it, at whatever cost.

But, Advent reminds us we are part of a different story. Pandora is not the only story that speaks to us in our time. In fact, the narrative we live into as followers of Jesus is in stark contrast. Instead of releasing all sorts of evil into a good world, we extend all sorts of good into a world wracked by evil. Rather than bottling hope, we throw off the lid with each act of kindness and generosity and surprising grace.

We know, on our own, we can’t cure all the evils of the world but we can work to mend the parts that are under our influence. Each seemingly insignificant helpful action serves as a subversive agent of goodness and hopefulness overthrowing the cultural narratives laced with evil and despair.

We do have a story to tell this season. It’s the story of God entering a broken and despairing world and offering nothing but love—a patient and persistent love that casts out fear and co-creates hope.

It’s Monday. What is the story you are living in these days? Peace. Kai

It’s Monday November 23

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, that dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.” Anne Lamott

Hope is in short supply these days. The bombardment of scary images from the Paris attacks, the terror of constant threat and vigilance, and the horrific disregard for human life have, once again, walked us to the edge of the cliff of cultural despair.

A neighborhood in Beirut, a café and concert venue in Paris, a hotel in Mali, a fruit and vegetable market in a village in Nigeria. The terror of war leapt off our TV screens and landed squarely in our homes, our neighborhoods, our everyday lives. The distant drone attacks of our video game wars became palpable soul attacks on our everyday, walk around lives.

Neighborhoods. Cafes. Concert venues. Hotels. Markets. We live there. We work there. We play there. We laugh there. We celebrate there. Now, again, we are anxious there. We fear being there. We fear the others who are there with us.

Hope, if hope is what I/we feel in these moments, is in short supply these days.

But, hope is not simply a feeling. Hope is an act of the will, a courageous stance in the face of despairing life, a choice to make, to live, to share.

Arthur Brooks, in yesterday’s New York Times, spoke about gratitude in this way: “But we are more than slaves to our feelings, circumstances and genes. Evidence suggests that we can actively choose to practice gratitude — and that doing so raises our happiness.”

What is true of practicing gratitude is true of practicing hope. We are not slaves to our feelings, circumstances, and genes. Notice the active verbs in Anne Lamott’s quote above—show up, do the right thing, wait, watch, work don’t give up!

In the face of the present realities of our world we can retreat to the passive cocoon of darkness and despair—walling ourselves off from the fearful world and demonizing others; the foreigners, the refugees, or we can resurrect the stubborn hope that was born in Jesus’ people from the moment of the empty tomb. And then we show up, do the right thing, wait, watch, work and never give up.

It’s Monday. How will hope be an active verb in your life this season? Peace. Kai

P.S.   For people of Peace Lutheran, HOPE is our theme this Advent/Christmas season. I look forward to seeing you in worship and being people of Hope together.

It’s Monday November 9

To continue the conversation Pastor Doug started this weekend on what it means to love our neighbor (The Connective Spirit on our Path to Peace), reflect on this piece I wrote for the Renovare’ Book Club on the nature of work.

After completing my book, a story presented itself to me that captured the essence of the chapter, The Energy of Fruitful Work.

While my wife was working out on the elliptical trainer at our local Y, she was conversing with a friend about my son’s preparation for ministry. In the Lutheran tradition, candidates for ministry complete their college education and then have four more years of seminary education to fulfill their Masters of Divinity degree (As an aside, can you really master divinity?). My wife was questioning the four-year, post-college masters program, making the case that many master’s degrees consist of two or three years of learning at most.

Mid-sentence, her friend cut her off and said, “But Patty, we are preparing him for a sacred trust.”

As Patty recounted the conversation to me I was struck by two insights: 1) There are still people that consider ministry a sacred trust. Wow. That, in itself, was edifying.  2) Pastors are not the only ones who have been given a sacred trust. Through the orders of creation, all our work is a sacred trust.

Your work is a sacred trust. Yes, you, the CEO and the custodian; the real estate agent and the home builder; the Wall Street banker and the main street merchant; the health care worker and the health insurance provider; the teacher and the student; the office occupier and the home provider; each of you has been given a sacred trust. Your work matters.

From my Lutheran tradition, Martin Luther elucidated the concept of vocation by spinning a phrase that sounded something like this, “I’d rather have a mother at home changing the diapers of her child than all the prayers of the nuns in Germany.” Granted, Luther probably had issues with German nuns, except for the one he married. Yet, the point he was making is clear: Your work—at home, at the office, in the community, matters to God.

Timothy Keller, in his book Every Good Endeavor, articulated these two simple insights about the biblical foundation of our work: 1) Work is part of God’s plan. 2) God’s plan is realized through our work. That doesn’t mean we simply leave our bible out on the corner of our desks and hope someone asks about it so we have an opportunity to express our faith. Rather, for the kingdom of God to be realized in this world, we must live out the call and character of God throughout every structure of our communities.

Think about this: When was the last time in your church that you prayed for accountants in April? Now, reflect on the value created in our communities when accountants work with integrity and honesty. Instead, what most churches do is celebrate internal ministries. We commission leaders, teachers, servers, bulletin hander outers. By omitting our Monday through Friday lives from our Sunday celebration, we teach people that ministry is something we do in the church, inside the walls. The rest of our lives—good luck.

Think of the quiet revolution we could launch if every person who attended a worship service this weekend would imagine their Monday through Friday life as a sacred trust-a space given to them by God, for that moment in time, where they can embody always and speak about, when appropriate, the radical nature of the kingdom of love.

Let me be so bold as to say this: We don’t need more people on church committees arguing about the color of carpet in the gathering area or greeting people in parking lots or planning more spiritual experiences that excite for the moment but don’t transform the way we see our everyday lives. We do need people committing to beautifying their neighborhoods, welcoming the stranger and extending hospitality to the outcast, and transforming the environment of their homes and workplaces in such a way that they reflect the goodness of the kingdom of God.

As Keller notes in the above mentioned book, “Work has dignity because it is something that God does and because we do it in God’s place, as his representatives.”

It’s Monday. Your work matters. Your work is a sacred trust. Thank you for doing it! How will you reflect the kingdom of God’s love in your world today? Peace. Kai