Friday, September 16, 2011


Rev. Will Bowen, of Kansas City, Missouri, had an inspired moment as he was taking a shower one evening. His congregation, like many others, spent inordinate amounts of time on complaining, criticizing, gossiping, and sarcasm -- usually related to fairly trivial matters within the church. The light bulb that appeared over his head in the shower led him to encourage his folks to pledge to stop doing those things.

OK, many pastors have had that idea.

But Bowen took it further. He issued rubber purple wristbands (no latex), and asked the people to go for 21 consecutive days without complaining. The wristbands not only were a reminder of the pledge to be a non-complainer, but also, if a person took the pledge, started counting down the 21 days, and caught him/herself making a complaint, the person was supposed to move the wristband to the other arm and start over with the countdown.

Rev. Bowen required 3 1/2 months to manage a 21-day streak of no complaining. Others in the congregation took as long as 7 months.

Amazingly, the idea spread, and is spreading. If you look at the official website you will learn that over 8 million purple wristbands have been distributed throughout 106 countries. That's a lot of complaining that has ceased! More is happening all the time.

Reasons for a complaining attitude are described on the group's website, and include the desire for attention; the avoidance of action and effort; setting up a "pre-excuse" for not doing anything helpful; boasting; and, controlling others.

Regular complaining has a negative impact on the health and psyche of the complainer and disrupts relationships. Indeed, the stated purpose of A Complaint Free World is "to create a happier and more positive life."

It's difficult to think of anything bad to say about that.

Would I be complaining if I suggested that surely, someone will come up with a negative response?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Say What?

The United Church of Christ has a wonderful slogan, "God Is Still Speaking," which to me is different from, "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it!" The former indicates that God's intentions, hopes, and will for Creation still are unfolding and coming to light as humanity grows toward fulfillment of God's vision for life. The latter warns us that everything is decided, finished, and there is no chance beyond conformity to someone else's ideas for anything more or better.

There are candidates for national office who suggest that God speaks to and through them (although, they are competitors and may not always agree), but what they say sounds more like the conviction that the final standard for what is right, good, and perfect was recorded indelibly long ago. Is God merely repeating him/her/itself?

I admit that repetition is important in order for most people to undergo any manner of transformation of their hearts and minds, but I also don't find surprising the concept that we may not have complete awareness of the Eternal God's nature, wisdom, and desires.

One person dreaming of moving into the White House declared (as a "joke" we later learned from those who sweep up such messes) that the recent earthquakes and hurricane made things dicey and inconvenient for millions of people because of the debt ceiling debates and other economic strategies of the federal government. This insightful observation went along the lines of "What does God have to do to get our attention?"

Sunday marked the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington, at which Martin Luther King, Jr. relayed his "dream" to the nation and beyond. Were Dr. King's speech, the speeches of others that day, and the fact that hundreds of thousands of people showed up to confront the nation about bigotry and injustice indicators that God was speaking? How many of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement were clergy? A lot. Mass meetings were held regularly in churches. Speeches and songs of the movement included image after image pertaining to God and faith. Bull Connor reportedly said, "I just couldn't stand their singing."

Is the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots God's message that affluence, avarice, greed, materialism, exploitation and all the rest determine who deserves to be blessed? I mean, there is such a thing called the "prosperity gospel" that is wildly popular and sought-after these days.

As I look at the story of God's people in scripture it seems evident that God wasn't about corralling people into a tight place, but rather sought (and I believe seeks) humanity's fullest potential for life, love, and meaning -- not that we would rise to equal footing with God, but rather that the gift of life given to us by God would be known as the blessing God intended for it to be.

We ain't there yet.

Separating, limiting, discounting, condemning and worse won't make it happen. Perhaps the self-selected few who can grab the reins of power and control will find a measure of satisfaction or what they think will give them happiness, i.e., wealth, leisure, a sense of superiority, a chair on top of the heap. But, what they also will end up experiencing are anxiety, fear, suspicion, and paranoia as they begin to recognize the resentment and anger of most of the world's population, expressed in increasingly dangerous ways.

Perhaps God speaks in all of that, too, making the point that friction exists between privilege for a small group and desperation for most.

Friday, August 19, 2011

...Neither Does Building An Ark

I'm sorry to follow up my previous post with another on the same subject, but it just annoys me that there is such dedication to the idea by some Christians that they must prove the Bible is "true." This time, it's the building of a gigantic boat that will be the main attraction of a proposed theme park in Kentucky. "Ark Encounter" will be the next project to be developed by the folks who brought you the Creation Museum, which "opened in 2007 and attracted worldwide attention for presenting stories from the Bible as historical fact, challenging evolution and asserting that the earth was created about 6,000 years ago."

Fine. If you want to spend time on that, go ahead, but I still don't see how constructing a boat 500 feet long by 80 feet tall proves anything. I also don't understand why it is deemed necessary to make such "proofs" in the first place.

Is it their own insecurity being worked out by the "Answers in Genesis" ministry that is behind all of this? Is it an effort to please God and "earn" a spot in Heaven? Is it an attempt at achieving moral or religious superiority? Is it viewed as an occasion for evangelism and conversion of non-believers?

I still maintain that the truth of scripture rings through when the lives of "believers" reflect God's love for humanity and Creation; when compassion and justice are chosen as responses to others instead of exploitation, violence, and oppression; and when the richness of the diversity of God's Creation is celebrated rather than disrupted and condemned.

When I see those and other all-too-rare occurrences, I think, "God is present." I don't need to have an ancient story "proven to be true" to recognize the truth that God wills life abundant and everlasting.

Just glean what you can about God from the witness of those who wrote what we now refer to as scripture and apply it in daily living. Develop a relationship with God through prayer, worship and other spiritual practices. Connect with fellow believers and draw on each other's presence, insight and experience to grow in your own faith journey.

Doing all of this, it seems to me, a person -- a believer -- will find truth overflowing.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Bumper Sticker Doesn't Do The Job

Years ago I was interviewed by a search committee for a congregation in my denomination. They were looking for a pastor; I was considering a change in my career path. I didn't have great hopes for this particular opportunity, given what I had heard about the congregation, but it was close to where I lived. So, I checked it out.

In the course of the interview a woman on the committee asked the defining (for her) question: "Do you believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God?"

I said, "No," and I knew that marked the end of my candidacy. I went on to explain that the scriptures are a witness to the faith of the people who wrote the words on the parchments over a period of 900 years or so, and that modern believers need to exercise some care and wisdom in interpreting that witness within the context of our times. After all, the texts were written in different eras, in non-English languages, in countries far away where cultures, traditions, and world-views differed vastly from our own. The Bible didn't just fall from the sky, intact as a rule book written by God with 20th or 21st Century North Americans in mind.

But, I guess I'm wrong -- at least in the eyes of many who find it a religious virtue to embrace the scriptures "AS IS," despite contradictions and factual and historical errors found throughout.

Now I read there is a 53-year (and counting) effort to "correct" the text, specifically the Hebrew Scriptures, referred to by Christians as the Old Testament. The "Bible Project," as it is known, "shows that this text at the root of Judaism, Christianity and Islam was somewhat fluid for long periods of its history, and that its transmission through the ages was messier and more human than most of us imagine."

I think some of us already were aware of that at least being a possibility...

Manuscripts discovered in caves and elsewhere don't always match. Stories were transmitted orally around camp fires for generations before they ever were written down. Editors and compilers had their own agendas. On it goes.

On one level, I suppose I can understand why the scholars of the Bible Project are trying to get everything aligned and as accurate as possible. But, to what end?

We can't nail down God (That's been tried; it didn't work. See "Christ, Jesus"). It strikes me that the more we try to do something like that, the more of an effort we are making to take ownership of God. The word "domesticate" comes to mind.

Personally, I find the scriptures to be what I call a "living word." This living word inspires people throughout time as they wrestle with their realities in life and the world. The message of God's love for humanity and Creation shines through the ancient texts from beginning to end. That message alone can keep us going.

God and my faith are not threatened by the possibility that allegory, parable, or myth were devices used to try and explain the mysterious ways that God interacts with who/what God has created. In fact, I find it liberating to understand that God is deeper and more pervasive than anything ever written to describe God's nature and being, because long-ago perceptions of reality often just don't compute in our post-modern milieu.

Taking the scriptures strictly at face value, frankly, is too small for me, and certainly sells God short. It simply cannot be all there is when you're talking about The Eternal and Almighty.

It seems, though, we don't have to be concerned about the Bible Project causing great upheaval any time soon in Biblical awareness and understanding: "This is an endeavor so meticulous, its pace so disconnected from that of the world outside, that in more than five decades of work the scholars have published a grand total of three of the Hebrew Bible's 24 books. (Christians count the same books differently, for a total of 39.) A fourth is due out during the upcoming academic year. If the pace is maintained, the final product will be complete a little over 200 years from now."

Meanwhile, God's Word speaks to the lives of people diverse, distant, and unique.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

John 11:35 (KJV)

Perusing the "religion headlines" on a website, I was struck by the overwhelming number of stories and reports that had to do with violence, human discord and division, and downright hatred. I'm not aware of any faith that promotes spiritual growth, awareness, or peace through such adverse activities or mindsets. Yet, these dominate the "news" related to religious groups and issues.

One article describes how Christians reacted to the appearance of a self-avowed atheist on FOX News: "(Recently) Blair Scott, communications director for American Atheists, was on the FOX News show America Live with Megyn Kelly. As soon as Scott returned home after the show, his inbox began filling up with hate mail and threats. Equally distressing, the Fox News Facebook page was soon inundated with death threats aimed at Scott and atheists in general."

If you look at the article, you will see screenshots of Facebook postings that reflect poorly on "followers" of Jesus.

Some are referring to the Norway shooter as a "Christian Terrorist." He wrote over a thousand pages about how non-Christians should be removed from Europe. He did not propose that the removal should be accomplished through polite suggestion or invitation. (Of course, when many first heard reports of the bombing and massacre in Norway, the immediate assumption was that Muslims had something to do with it. What a surprise that it was a "follower" of Jesus.)

The bigamist on trial for sexually assaulting underage females objected to the charges and demanded that his trial be stopped immediately. When the judge thought otherwise, the accused pulled out a "letter from God" that promised "sickness and death" to those involved in calling him to account for his actions.

Meanwhile, churches are facing challenges, struggling for survival, even disappearing after many long years of existence and ministry. Some cannot imagine or understand why. After all, the Christian faith promotes new life, peace, hope, healing, and many other blessings. Correct?

Someone seems to be missing the point. Lots of someones.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bringing In The Sheaves

What inspires a person to go to a church service when he or she normally does not attend? For some, it might be an event, change, or challenge in life that gets the person thinking in a new way, perhaps raising the possibility that seeking God's presence would be a good idea. For others, a personal invitation from a friend, family member, co-worker, or other acquaintance brings them to church. My sense is that when people observe the transforming effect of an active spiritual life on someone's attitudes, priorities and behaviors, it garners attention.

I don't think that a pre-race prayer at a NASCAR track will do the trick.

According to an online article, a Tennessee pastor offered an invocation prior to a race at Nashville Superspeedway. The only content of the prayer described in the article was that the minister, a person named Joe Nelms, thanked God for his "smokin' hot wife," which evidently was a line borrowed from the Will Farrell movie, Talladega Nights.

Nelms explained his rationale this way: "I want to get somebody's attention, so that's been our desire every time we've been up there, to try to make an impact on the fans and give them something they'll remember, and maybe they'll go home on a Friday night or a Saturday night and say, 'Maybe I ought to get up and go to church in the morning.’"

Personally, I'm not a fan of invocations at sporting events, secular building dedications, or similar non-religious activities or places. I just don't find meaning in such prayers. To me, it's phony, and there already is enough of that connected to the faith.

So, I can't imagine anyone who "prayed" along with Joe Nelms was inspired to find a house of worship that weekend.

Churches struggle these days with attracting people. Some try catchy phrases or amusing sentiments on their marquee signs. Others offer spaghetti dinners or similar programs. On rare occasions I have heard of churches handing out money to people who show up on a given Sunday morning.

Worship styles, music, dress codes, theologies, and doctrinal matters all enter into play as congregations wring their hands over how to get more "meat in the seats."

Unfortunately, the magic technique for which so many search and pray does not exist.

It seems to me that the best approach to being the church is to find ways to be faithful to Jesus' call, "Follow me." That includes being persistent and creative in expressing love for God and neighbor.

People who study such things tell us that the current generation of spiritual seekers is looking for something to which they can give their hearts. They are looking for authentic relationships.

I don't believe they are looking for gimmicks.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Frivolity

As I stood waiting to check-out at the grocery store I got caught up on the latest celebrity headlines and laughed out loud at photos of "stars" and their attempts, through surgery and injections, at stopping the effects of time on their glamorous faces. Naturally, the most unflattering pictures were published on the cover of one of the informative tabloids littering the counter.

Also catching my eye was a commemorative issue of Oprah's magazine, which always depicts herself on the front. This one celebrated her many years on television, and was emblazoned with quotes and teasers enticing us to buy and read about how her TV show changed lives and the world as we know it. Better grab it soon. It's a steal at $11.99.

Thinking that was the ultimate bit of Oprah awareness for my day, I was chastened to read online that someone dared refer to her as the "Antichrist." Now, I'm no fan, but I never entertained this particular notion.

The article states that "Oprah Winfrey is evil - that is, according to Mike Bickle, head of the International House of Prayer (IHOP). After a video of Bickle comparing Oprah to the 'Antichrist' uncovered by the People for the American Way Right Wing Watch surfaced earlier this week, entertainment sources including the Hollywood Reporter eagerly picked up the story."

I am not familiar with Mike Bickle, so I can only speculate about his credentials, spiritual maturity, and sanity. Likewise, his organization.

While I considered his prophetic insights regarding Oprah, I noticed the attached "slideshow" taking us through a list of other Antichrist candidates. Naturally, the Current Occupant and most recent past president were on the list, as were the pope and Sarah Palin. I understand people attaching such a label to them (and those who fill their slots in other times and eras).

But, others on the list surprised me. Prince William? What did he do? (What DOES he do?) Steven Spielberg? Even if you don't like his movies, that's no reason to suggest he will usher in the end of time!

One person on the list I never heard of is named Rebecca Black.

Supposedly, "Rebecca's first name means 'to tie' or 'to bind,' which, combined with her last name, could mean 'To tie to darkness.' And while the lyrics to Black's undeniably catchy hit song encourage listeners to engage in 'reckless rebellion' by 'jumping in an already crowded vehicle and taking off into Satan knows where,' it's the obsession with 'getting down' - the direction to Hell - which seems most damning.'"

OK. Also, I noticed in the photo she wears black fingernail polish - surely, a give-away!

I guess Antichrists come and go (John Lennon, MLK, Jr., Ronald Reagan, et. al.) and exist in the eye of the beholder.

But why must we spend so much time on figuring out who it might be? And why is it always someone well-known, powerful, or popular?

Me, I don't try to guess. Besides, people of faith know the outcome of whatever ensues when or if he/she/it appears.