The Great Divide(s)   Leave a comment

The relentless message we receive from the media is that we, in the US, are more divided than ever before in the history of the nation. We are divided over politics, morals, race, ethics, social policy… and the list goes on. And yet for those of us who claim to be Christians and who look to the scriptures for guidance, we are called to seek and value unity above all else (John 17:9-24). 

The upcoming election threatens to amplify and exacerbate our divisions. Do we have anything to offer that will demonstrate how unity can be cherished in the midst of differences in opinion and conviction?

My recent reading and listening has uncovered some really wonderful thinking that has been done on this subject and I want to share some of them with you.  They offer real help and hope in places where I often feel helpless and hopeless and are greatly influencing my thinking and communication right now. 

Firstly two books, both address the challenges with real life illustrations and practical suggestions 

Compassion and Conviction – The AND CAMPAIGN’S guide to Civic Engagement“ 

“Mobilizing Hope – Faith inspired activism for a Post Civil Rights Generation 

In January of this year Andy Stanley the Pastor of North Point Community Church gave a series of messages entitled “ Talking Points” which provide a great framework for riding out the storm together!

If you are concerned, as I am, that the church should do all we can to provide a clear and unmistakable witness in these times, that we can demonstrate that relationship and civility can be preserved, then I encourage you to read and listen widely. Engage with people you think you will disagree with as well as those who will make you feel comfortable. But don’t let it end there, talk (not text text or social media!) about these ideas with your friends, especially those with whom you think you might disagree.  Have these conversations not in order to change their minds but to understand one another better. (I know that, given the present restrictions, that is difficult but it can be done and it is worth it!)

One final thing I urge brothers and sisters in Christ I urge, regardless of what you hear on social media, or some else tells you, don’t allow a perception or assumption to divide you from each other. Take the time to listen and learn from each other. If I had a dime for every time I have heard the words” Oh I never thought of it that way” in the past few months I would be a rich man!!  

Posted September 8, 2020 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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What Price Will We Pay for Unity?   1 comment

I have never been more aware of the presence of diversity of every sort in our small congregation. It brings me great joy and I believe it is a gift from God and represents an unprecedented opportunity at this moment in history. 

At the same time I have never been more aware of the divisions and potential divisions that this diversity is surfacing amongst us. I see people not coming to the family table or even leaving the table because they find the conversations difficult and that deeply saddens me.

I want to make one more attempt to call you all back to the table. Why? Because the one thing that Jesus prayed for as He approached the cross was “ that they might be one.” He did not pray that we would all agree or see things the same way but that we would be united . In other words that we would remain at the family table because our love for one another is more important than agreeing with each other.

I recently listened to these two instagram posts that express very powerfully the pain that comes when the unity of the family table is disrupted. PLEASE LISTEN TO THEM!

Now please  ask yourself, what ever emotions were aroused by what you heard, am I willing to take the risk of staying at the table with my family.  I am willing to wrestle with the differences in opinion amongst us, confident that we are all trying to be fully devoted followers of Jesus. To do this not to have my mind changed but so that we can understand each other better. 

How can you do this? You can join a Race to Equality conversation, take the risk of contributing even if you think some might disagree with you. If you don’t feel able to do that call me, an elder or a member of the Race to Equality Team and have an open and honest conversation. (I deeply appreciate those who have already done this and had conversations with me)  

At this moment the issue on the top of the table is racism, closely followed by the issues raised by COVID 19. But approaching rapidly and ominously is the election in November. The decision we all face is will we let any or all of these divide us. Will we let them drive us to leave the family table because some of our family see things differently than we do. Or will we stay, accept the struggle and discomfort because we want to be part of the answer to Jesus prayer that we would be one.

I wanted to close with this Fourfold Franciscan Blessing that just seems so appropriate for us right now :

May God bless you with a restless discomfort
about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships,
so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression,
and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for
justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer
from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may
reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that
you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able,
with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.
AMEN.

How good it is to center down   1 comment

I have not written for while mostly because the relentless cacophony of opinions and perspectives that assault us on every subject under the sun has been somewhat overwhelming.

I have been reading ” Mobilizing Hope – Faith Inspired Activism for a Post Civil Rights Generation” by Adam Taylor* and I came across this wonderful devotion from Howard Thurman’s “Meditations of the Heart” that I thought I would share with you:

 

How good it is to center down!

The streets of our minds seethe with endless traffic;

Our spirits resound with clashings, with noisy silences,

While something deep within hungers and thirsts for the still moment

    and the resting lull.

With full intensity we seek, ere the quiet passes, a fresh sense

    of order in our living;

A direction, a strong sure purpose that will structure our confusion

    and bring meaning in our chaos.

We look at ourselves in this waiting moment –

    the kinds of people we are.

The questions persist:  what are we doing with our lives? –

    what are the motives that order our days?

What is the end of our doings?

Where are we trying to go?

Where do we put the emphasis and where are our values focused?

For what end do we make sacrifices?

Where is my treasure and what do I love most in life?

What do I hate most in life and to what am I true?

Over and over the questions beat in upon the waiting moment.

As we listen, floating up through all the jangling echoes of our turbulence,

   there is a sound of another kind –

A deeper note which only the stillness of the heart makes clear.

It moves directly to the core of our being.  

Our questions are answered,

Our spirits refreshed, and we move back into the traffic of our daily round

With the peace of the Eternal in our step.

How good it is to center down!

Howard Thurman

*( By the way this book has one of the best chapters on Racial Reconciliation and Racial Justice I have read)

 

Is it Politics?   4 comments

Ever since becoming a pastor I relentlessly resisted  the introduction of party politics to the church in any form and I have not moved from that conviction. However recent events have caused  me to think carefully about exactly what this means.

Recently as I was preparing a sermon I read once again the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). I was prompted to give particular consideration to the “Levite” and the “Temple assistant” that “passed by on the other side”. In all likelihood, their decisions were significantly influenced by the fact that, if they had chosen to cross over and help, they would have been rendered ritually unclean which would have been extraordinarily inconvenient. So they chose to leave the injured man to be someone else’s problem. (This link will take you to the sermon I mention and the relevant section is at timestamp 1:00:45)

As I contemplated this I realized that this had, albeit in a rather different context, been true of me. There have been times when rather than take the risk of being perceived as “political,” I have kept quiet on issues, that if I am to “do what Jesus did” I should not keep silent. 

There are issues that can be termed “political” that if we are to be faithful followers of Jesus must not be seen that way. Reading the gospels makes it so clear that Jesus was passionate about the treatment of the poor and oppressed. His compassion was expressed both in His words and his actions. So if we are to follow Him faithfully we can do no less 

A while ago a march of protest was held here in Pacifica following the tragic death of George Floyd, an action that our own Police Chief described as “reprehensible.” The underlying issue was the need to demand changes to the patterns of systematic racism that are deeply embedded in our culture, so deeply embedded that many of us are only just becoming aware of their existence. I believe that by marching together I was able to stand in solidarity with those who have suffered from those injustices.

I was convicted that I should join that march because injustice is not an issue of party politics. Issues of justice and righteousness are issues that as a follower of Jesus I cannot keep silent about. I was also convicted I should not keep silent on such issues in the future. There were some who were troubled by my participation. I am grateful to those who gave me the chance to explain my thinking. However, I recognize that by being prepared to take a stand I will take the risk of being classified as “unclean” and aligning myself (and hence by implication our church)  with some political perspective or other. However, I believe that risk is one I must take.   

As the pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship, I will continue to resist any attempt to bring party politics in any form into the church family. However, we will try to have the courage to speak out against patterns of injustice wherever and whenever they surface. We will recognize that there will be differences of opinion about many issues amongst us but we will do everything we can to respect one another and keep “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.

Reconciliation   1 comment

Sometimes people send you things that you know that you just have to share. As we engage with the ongoing question of racism and racial unrest in our nation, one of our church family, Shannon Randolph, sent us a prayer that expresses powerfully how I feel. I asked her if I could share it with you:

Reconciliation

We acknowledge our part in this time – our responsibility in this season. We come, with heavy hearts. On our watch, we have abdicated our duties with the sins of omission and commission, choosing not to see what is clearly in front of us. The foundation of Your throne, righteousness and justice, has not been upheld by Your people who know this. Now the fruit of our apathy, denial, disregard and ignorance is manifesting. We plead guilty to it all. We have not stewarded Your heart expressed in diversity. Every human is our brother. Though our hearts cannot truly comprehend or feel the weight of this egregiousness, still we come and repent. We want to change our ways. We fall on Your mercy, asking for help for our weak flesh. We can do nothing apart from You. We are Your people, called by Your name. We humble ourselves and seek Your face. We turn from our wicked ways. We know You hear from heaven and will forgive our sins. We repent of any participation in racist words or actions that we have fed the beast that has led us to this place in history. We take on this lifestyle and present our lives to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Holy Spirit pierce us until we practice every ‘one another’ in Your word. Lead us and show us how to do this. Heal our wounded hearts so we can do what’s in Your heart to heal our land. Have Your way.

Psalm 60:2-3
You have made the earth tremble, You have broken it. Now come and heal it, for it is shaken to its depths. You have shown Your people hard things and made us drink the wine of bewilderment. 
Acts 17:26 Lord, You have set the boundaries of peoples and nations, even appointing our time in history.

Lord, increase our sensitivity.  We bow in Your grace, that our words would become appropriate actions, that we would face correction, own our mistakes, apologize for wounds inflicted and represent You well.
Jesus, You came to reconcile ALL things to Yourself, the things of earth and heaven, making peace through Your shed blood on the cross. We focus on the triumph of the gospel. Let the redemption of reconciliation begin in this arena. Bind us together with cords of love that cannot be broken, that we may be made one, as You prayed, that the world would know You are love
.

Decree: Our current national pain of racial injustice will become the burning wick of revival and justice, fanned into the flames of the Great Awakening.

Posted June 23, 2020 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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In a Hurry?   Leave a comment

I have written often in the past weeks about the impact COVID 19 is making on the epidemic of busyness and hurry that has been infecting our culture increasingly in recent years. In many ways this epidemic far more subtle and dangerous than the current pandemic and threatens to last long after our current hardships are a thing of the past. Unless of course we decide together to take steps to make sure it does not!

It would seem the strategies that must be adopted to conquer this sickness are far more difficult to articulate. There are no vaccines or antibodies, there are just choices and decisions. These choices however may be strange and difficult for those around us to understand. If we find it difficult to wear a mask for the safety of others how easy will it be to resist the temptation to over schedule and allow the joy of family time to be squeezed out once again?

This short passage from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin explains the challenges of setting and implementing effective strategies to slow down and trust God and His word.  

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability— and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually— let them grow, let them shape  themselves without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you. And accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete                                            Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

The time to begin thinking and planning patterns for the future is now so we are as ready as we can be as we move forward. Have you any ideas you can share with us?

Posted June 20, 2020 by jolm15 in Uncategorized

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Whose Life Matters?   1 comment

If you read what I wrote recently about” generalizations and assumptions” the content of this blog should not surprise you. I am getting increasingly frustrated with the steady flow of reminders that “all lives matter”

Of course they do! What line of thinking leads you to the assumption that when someone says “black lives matter” that somehow the implication is that other lives do not? 

Recently I read a couple of things which respond to my frustration very powerfully and since I have a pathological aversion to entering to social media “ discussions” I wanted to share them with you to make it clear how I feel.

Firstly I was reminded of the story Jesus told in Luke 15:3-7 where he tells of the shepherd who has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost. He immediately leaves the ninety-nine and goes in search of the one.

Does that imply that Jesus did not care about the ninety-nine? Of course not but it was the one who in danger that he needed to give his full attention to until they were safe.

Right now we are being reminded that the lives of our black brothers and sisters are at risk in ways that we may have been overlooking for a long time. ( if you think I am wrong take time to watch the documentary “13TH” and form your own opinion).

The second was this almost amusing analysis I saw on Facebook ( yes I look at it sometimes !) It was shared by Kevin Dodd who I do not know but to whom I am very grateful. It may not have the authority of scripture but its simple logic is powerful:

‘When the Boston marathon was bombed everybody’s profile picture went to “Boston Strong”. 

Nobody said, “ All cities are strong!” 

When the shooting took place in Las Vegas everybody changed the profiles to “Stand with Las Vegas”

Nobody said, “ What about the people who were shot in my city?”

Have you ever seen someone counter a breast cancer post by “ what about colon cancer?”

But for some reason when someone posts that “black lives matter” it turns into the all-inclusive ‘all lives matter”

It is not an either/or a proclamation. When there is a crisis we have always rallied around that particular group. It does not diminish or discredit any other group. It just brings awareness and support to the group that needs attention”

So that is where I stand. Disagree with me in any way you like but please do so on the basis of a thought-through opinion based on facts. Please avoid using the absurd assumption that because I assert that something matters it automatically implies that nothing else does.

Thankyou.

Can We Change?   1 comment

Generalizations and assumptions infuriate me! People assume they know which political party I would support just because I am a Christian. When assumptions are made about what I believe or don’t believe about a range of ethical or moral issues. All this without asking or listening to what I might say.

Recently I have been learning some very challenging lessons about some much more fundamental generalizations that are deeply embedded in the culture of our society. It is hard to realize that because of these, often unconscious, assumptions, people that I love sometimes experience life very differently than I do. Confronting the idea of “white privilege” that I never realized I had but that is a very painful and sometimes daily reality for many of my friends who live without it. It is also hard to find some of my friends seem not to be able to see these things and find the very idea of them offensive. Perhaps they, like me, have not yet really listened to the life experiences of some of those close to them. 

I had never considered what it is like to feel genuine fear for my children when they leave home; to dread what the consequences might be if they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and say the wrong thing. I have never wondered if my neighbor of more than twenty years might greet me in my driveway and suggest I “go back to the islands” again! I have never left the supermarket to have someone pass me and accuse me of bringing COVID 19 into the country. These are real experiences of real people! I could go on… But neither have I been the family member of a committed and caring policeman or woman who, because of the reprehensible behavior of a few who wear the uniform, feel judged and alone. Each of these completely unacceptable experiences are the consequence of unacceptable generalizations.

 At the risk of being accused of an oversimplification of these incredibly complex issues, I want to make a couple of suggestions for some small steps forward and be part of change. I suggest we all take some time to listen and learn about those we know who are different than we are. That we make time to ask them about their experiences that are different than ours.  Being a man of course I want to “fix everything today”! I know this is not possible and the journey forward is long but taking these steps is certainly changing me and that’s a start. I feel sure it can be for you as well if you take the risk! 

No longer silent   Leave a comment

These are times when we must not keep silent! I am publishing this lament,  which I shared during our Sunday service this week because I believe these are issues on which we must persevere relentlessly until we see change. (If you prefer to see/ listen here is a link to this part of our Sunday service)

I feel greatly privileged to be the pastor of such a gloriously diverse church. However in recent days I have been challenged. Many of my closest friends are ethnically different from me and because I do life with them on a regular basis I have found it easy to overlook the fact that often they and their families experience life in a different way than I do. That although the news reports of lost lives that we have had recently in Minnesota and Georgia and incidents like the one in a park New York bring deep sorrow to me, they touch their lives in a far deeper and personal way. Although there is no way as a white male I can fully enter into their pain I want to find a way to stand with them. 

As a pastor in a place that is populated primarily with people like me who experience white privilege through accident of birth I have a strong sense that we should take some action to stand for what we believe and  stand in unity with all our brothers and sisters. Please resist any attempt to politicize what I am saying or respond in any way that does anything other than unify us in these difficult times.

Recently I have been learning about lament and so this morning I am going to lead us as  a church in a prayer of lament. We we see laments in many of the psalms and in other parts of scripture. We begin by turning towards God in our pain and not away and we cry our complaint to him. We follow that by begging Him to fulfill the promises He has made and finish by expressing our trust in Him as our only refuge and strength. 

Heavenly Father, we come to you in deep sorrow over recent events that cause some of our brothers and sisters to live in fear. events that seem to repeat themselves with such regularity that there is little time for recovery. Events that cause many of our friends deep grief, fear and sometimes isolation. It has been so easy for us to say this is not us. But it is us this is our country,  these are our communities and our people. We stand with the prophet Isaiah and confess “ we are a people of unclean lips. ( Is 6:5) Like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane our souls are overwhelmed with pain. 

All of this comes when we are experiencing unprecedented chaos all over our world thousands are grieving the loss of loved ones and many more remain sick. All around us are those with passionate and diverse opinions about the way forward. Often they express these perspectives in ways that have an increasing tendency to divide rather than unite. Our minds are flooded with questions as to  why these things happen? How could you allow it ? Where are you, and have you forgotten us?

We plead with you Heavenly Father to forgive us for times when we have not spoken or acted when we should, and for those times we have said or done things we should not have.  Forgive us for the times we have not “learned to do good, we have not sought justice or helped the oppressed when we have failed to defend the cause of the orphans or to fight for the rights of widows.”( Is 1:17) Bring the judgement you promise. Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24)  Bring the healing and comfort you promise to those in deep sorrow and restore the years the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25). Fulfill your promises to redeem and restore our devastated and broken world that we may experience the peace that passes all understanding you promised and the perfect unity you prescribed. As the Psalmist says “ send [us] a sign of your favor, then those who hate [us]] will be put to shame, for you O Lord help and comfort [us}.(Psalm 86:7)

Heavenly Father we know that despite what we see and feel You are our refuge a strength a very present help in trouble. We know you are King of Kings and Lord of Lords.   We know that even what the enemy plans for evil you turn it for our good and we long for your return in glory when you will wipe away every tear and until that day we ask that you will give us strength and courage to be your hands and feet to each other and the world around us. Show us how to stand for truth and justice while remembering that vengeance is yours and yours alone. We ask all this in the powerful and mighty name of our risen Lord Jesus 

Amen

A Matter of Choice   Leave a comment

A recent short car journey had me catch a snippet from an NPR program in their “ Hidden Brain” series. The episode was entitled “The Choices Before Us: Can Fewer Options Lead To Better Decisions?” In the few minutes that I listened, I heard someone living in East Berlin at the time the wall came down. She observed that after they got used to the excitement of a vastly increased number of consumer choices they began to notice the possibility that they were noticing a decrease in quality. Another contribution came from a lady whose parents met each other on their wedding night.  Although her friends always expressed their horror at such an idea she observed that her parents were happily married and gave their children a great family life. All this served to pose the question as to whether the assumption that the more options we have the better off we are may in fact not be true.

Each year our church begins the year with 21days of prayer and fasting as a way to spend some more focused time seeking God for His plans for the year to come. Many of the fasting practices involve choosing to reduce on the number of items on our meal tables or alternatives for entertainment and hence reducing our choices. Many share how beneficial this time is to their mental and physical health.

In his book “ A Celebration of Discipline” Richard Foster says that the practice of fasting reveals the things that control us. We quickly discover the things that are most difficult to surrender, and these are the things that subconsciously control our lives. 

One way to look at the challenge of SIP is that we have been forced to fast from many of our choices. We cannot have the range of shopping opportunities, we cannot choose from the same number of entertainment opportunities and the list goes on. We find this really hard, but as a friend of mine said recently in a zoom small group meeting “My suffering is direct result of my privilege.” If we did not have so many choices we would not find it so hard to do without them.

I wonder if the very fact that some people are finding blessing in the slower pace of life, and the increase in time with families, is at least an indirect result of the fewer choices we have as to how we spend our time. 

Many however they are not so fortunate. They did not have many choices in the first place and so perhaps they are experiencing fewer changes. Perhaps as we ponder how the decrease in the number of choices available to us has enriched our lives, we can consider how we can build on that enrichment. Also, might it be that if we did not have to take quite so much time making choices, we might be able to give more time to helping those who are really suffering without choices?