Month: October 2016

Sorry – Not Sorry

creating sacred communities

Celebrities and politicians have long found themselves facing public scrutiny resulting in an apology for some private or public infraction.   After the person in question apologizes the next question usually is, “How sorry are they, really?”  Are they sorry they got caught, or are they genuinely remorseful for their actions?  When someone tells the world they are sorry, from whom are they seeking forgiveness and how does the public,  acting as one collective whole, decide they are forgiven?

Apologies are important.  They are expressions that show accountability for an action.  It’s a sign of maturity to apologize.  We teach our children at an early age to say “they are sorry,” when they take a toy being used by another child.  We teach our teenagers to be honest and take responsibility when they scratch the car or come in after curfew.  Sometimes we need the people we love to apologize…

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Sorry – Not Sorry

Celebrities and politicians have long found themselves facing public scrutiny resulting in an apology for some private or public infraction.   After the person in question apologizes the next question usually is, “How sorry are they, really?”  Are they sorry they got caught, or are they genuinely remorseful for their actions?  When someone tells the world they are sorry, from whom are they seeking forgiveness and how does the public,  acting as one collective whole, decide they are forgiven?

Apologies are important.  They are expressions that show accountability for an action.  It’s a sign of maturity to apologize.  We teach our children at an early age to say “they are sorry,” when they take a toy being used by another child.  We teach our teenagers to be honest and take responsibility when they scratch the car or come in after curfew.  Sometimes we need the people we love to apologize for actions that are bigger than small childhood infractions.  When someone has offended or hurt us and when we lose our trust in them, we can question if their apology means anything or not and we may even feel that saying they’re sorry is inconsequential compared to the pain they have inflicted.

Sometimes sorry isn’t enough.

How do you know when an apology is genuine or just a means to an end?  How do you know when an apology comes from a sincere place of contrition or if the apology is regret that they got caught?

The thing about an apology is that it is more for the benefit of the person who has committed the infraction, than the person to whom the apology is given.  People who are truly sorry, have a guilty conscience and they hope that by saying they our sorry that some how their conscience will be made clean.

John Calvin said, “The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul.”

I think as a society we have forgotten the meaning and the importance of true confession.  There is no app for confession. There is no short cut. It takes some mental and emotional discipline to find a way to confess a wrong doing, ask for forgiveness, and accept the consequences.   In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Why is it that it is often easier for us to confess our sins to God than to a brother? God is holy and sinless, He is a just judge of evil and the enemy of all disobedience. But a brother is sinful as we are. He knows from his own experience the dark night of secret sin. Why should we not find it easier to go to a brother than to the holy God? But if we do, we must ask ourselves whether we have not often been deceiving ourselves with our confession of sin to God, whether we have not rather been confessing our sins to ourselves and also granting ourselves absolution…Who can give us the certainty that, in the confession and the forgiveness of our sins, we are not dealing with ourselves but with the living God? God gives us this certainty through our brother. Our brother breaks the circle of self-deception. A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

October 11 is Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement.  Yom Kippur is the most important holiday of the Jewish year.  It is a day set aside to “afflict the soul,” to atone for the sins of the past year. This day is, essentially, your last appeal, your last chance to change the judgment, to demonstrate your repentance and make amends.

To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible. That must all be done before Yom Kippur.

The fact that Donald Trump read an apology saying that he was sorry for what he said 10 years ago about what he would like to do to a woman,  makes little difference to me.  I do not need an apology.  I feel more sorry for him.  I wonder if his parents taught him manners.  I wonder what provoked him to think it would be o.k. to speak that way, about anyone.

I really hope that Mr. Trump is truly sorry, not because the country need to hear it, but because he needed to say it.  I hope he feels a sense of atonement.  It would be good for him.  He would be a better person. So, I pray he knows what it means to say a prayer of confession and know that he is forgiven.  As a Presbyterian, he should know this.

We all need a day of atonement.  We all need to confess our sins and admit that we are sinners. We all think things we shouldn’t think, say things we shouldn’t say, and do things we shouldn’t do.  All of us.

When that happens, the only way to get right with God and with ourselves is by owning it, confessing it and making an effort to change.

Human decency begins with owning our own humanity and then trying to be better than that.

 

The Minister and the Salesmen

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There are times when I wonder what I am doing and why I am doing it.  There are times when I wonder if this profession is on the endangered species list.  It scares me.  There are so many distractions and temptations in our society to rest, to play, to get a job done, to just skip church all together.  Our culture simply doesn’t pause on Sunday mornings, and it never will again.

Sometimes I can feel, so, so cynical about the whole thing.

I question the relevancy of the church,  the meaning and the purpose of the whole thing.  I wonder if we are pretending that it’s 1946 and remembering the days when people knew hymns, understood Biblical humor and attended church on a regular basis.

And then you have those mega churches. Have you ever been in one of those buildings?  They are amazing.  They have bookstores and cafes and sound systems and light shows and awesome signage and flat screen TV’s and they are just so, so cool. And I think there is a commandment about coveting something or other and I wonder if God might have a problem when our primary question is:  “How do we compete with something like that?”

Because that’s what we are doing -right? – We are competing for the small percentage of people who might decide to get up on Sunday morning and find their way to a pew or a chair and sit and listen to scripture and bow their head and turn off their cell phone and focus on a God they do not fully understand or fully believe is there, but they have enough light of faith and hope to believe that they are not just talking to themselves.

The church can become a business model, just as quickly as anything else and pastors can quickly become the salesman, trying to sell the church.

I think when pastors start thinking like salesmen, we have lost our purpose, and I think it is really hard not to think like a salesmen.  It’s a lot harder to think like a minister.

Sometimes I wonder if ministry matters.

Then, God intercedes and I witness something – something I never would be privileged to be a part of, if God was not putting me in that place to see it.  It’s at these thin places that I know that there is much of ministry that does matter – and there is much that does not.

Here is what I witness.

I witness healing. I can testify to  you that healing happens.  I can tell you that I have seen true healing. I have seen people we never thought would get better, get better.  I have seen brokenness, repaired. I have seen relationships mended. I have seen hearts beat again.  I know that healing happens and I can assure anyone who questions if they will get better, that with time and patience you will be restored.  You may not be healed in the way you envisioned, but I can tell you, without a doubt, healing happens.

I  witness community.  I can testify to you that sacred communities, religious communities make the world a better place.  I have seen what it means to be a community in which people really care about each other, pray for each other, support each other.  I have seen a community broken and I have seen a community seek reconciliation.  I have seen communities clearly divided politically, and live together faithfully.  I know that the world is better when people strive to take the practices and beliefs named in their religious community and live them out in their families and work places. I have seen glimpses of what Jesus had in mind when he talked about the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

I  witness angels. I can testify to you that there are angels disguised as human beings all over the place.  I have seen them in the hospitals, in rehab, in schools, at food banks.  I have seen the passing glance of stranger to stranger and the acknowledgement that they are seeing souls.  I have seen the touch of a stranger, the kindness of a servant, the goodness of humanity.

I  witness the struggle.  I see the struggle adult parents have of seeing their parents age or lose their memory or get sick.  I see the struggle of parents stretched so thin between work and parenting, there is no balance in the chaos of the schedule,  only the pressure to do it all. I see the struggle to find space for quiet and contemplation against the screen that shouts and the phone that pings. I see the struggle of shame and the struggle to believe in the gift of grace.   What I know is that God is the struggle. God does not sit outside and wait to participate in our daily lives.  No, God is an active participate in the struggle.  God is the one who gives stamina for the day and grace for the failures and rest from the work.

I witness the saints.  Lately, more than ever before, I will have a moment when someone who has died, whose funeral I officiated years ago, comes to my mind. I remember their smile, and their family and their story.  I can feel their essence.  I remember what they valued and how they loved and what made them laugh. I can see their face. I remember their eyes.  They come before my mind’s eye, and they smile and I am blessed for just a second with the presence… and then they go away. But I smile, and thank God for the privilege of knowing their story and I am assured that they are o.k.

These are the things that matter – At least these are what matter to me.

Dear God,

I have lost you.   I have searched the house, turned over all of the cushions, pulled out all of the drawers, even searched the lawn, looking for you.  Actually, that’s not true. I haven’t really looked for you at all. I have just recognized that I have lost you, because I have been careless in my relationship with you. I have thrown you in the bottom of my bag and made sure every now in then you were still there and then I have carried on with my day.  Somehow I threw you out, mistaking you for an old gum wrapper.  I forgot you were there, and now I can’t find you.

I haven’t really looked that hard, to be honest.  You see, I have been distracted.  There is all of this work.  There is all of this stuff that seems so important.  It has to do with money and buildings and communication and administration and insurance and school and grades and bills that are due and phone calls to make and letters to write and cars to fix, and people to call and reports of war, and children in crossfires, and elections and friends being diagnosed, and children getting older, and I getting older, and parents getting older and friends losing their parents, and friends getting divorced, and body parts starting to turn into flab, and wrinkles starting to take over, and websites to check and forms to fill out, and lunch accounts to fill and dogs to be groomed and you see God, you are lost in the middle of all of that.

And I know I am not alone.  I know that I am not the only one who has lost you.

I know that all of that stuff will not go away. It’s called life.  Life happens. It doesn’t end.  There will always be a load of laundry in the dryer. There will always be changes. We cannot pretend that somehow all of that stuff will disappear. Life is here to stay.

God, do you think people care about the church any more? Do you think it really matters?  Do you think it makes any real difference?  There are so many people who have written it off, or who want it to be what is was, or are afraid of what it’s becoming.

Sometimes I worry about making the budget, or keeping all of the balls in the air.  I  know that I fall short all of the time of this impossible calling.  Sometimes that feeling of failure can become self-destructive and I realize that I have become self reliant instead of reliant on you. Forgive me.

Remind me that I am not you,  I am only a Witness.

 

Amen.