God has place this wonderful creation in our hands. As U2 sings, "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away." We have this one life to live on this beautiful planet so enjoy these reflections on God, faith, life, and music. "After the flood all of the colors came out. It's a beautiful day."

Saturday, May 30, 2015

When Love Comes to Town

One of the new things I am having to get used to in Hinckley is the trains. Some of the trains are nice. They blow the whistle once maybe twice and rumble through town. But some trains lay on the whistle in the middle of the night all the way through town. As I was listening to the trains early in morning as one after another rumble along the tracks, I started singing one of my favorite songs by U2, When Love Comes to Town
When love come to town, I’m gonna jump that train. 
When love comes to town, I’m gonna catch that flame.
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down, but I did what I did before love came to town.”
This is on one of the tapes I listened to when I got back from Rome and heard the El rumble by my apartment every seven minutes. As I listened to this song, I remembered the train ride through Ireland on my Eurail Pass where I was sharing a sandwich with a Māori dental student from Australia when the most incredible rainbows I had ever seen was stretched over the rolling green hills. One of those God moments. I remembered rolling through East Germany on my way to Berlin as I argued with British Punks about Springsteen’s music being not a celebration of patriotism but about the loss of a friend to Vietnam. The guards with their submachine guns patrolling the halls were a stark reminder of the need for love to come to town. I remember rolling through the Alps at dawn watching the sun rise over the first mountains. So as the trains continue to rumble through Hinckley, I continue to sing
When love comes to town, I’m gonna catch that flame.
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down, but I did what I did before love came to town.”
The Gospel story is a story of the Love coming to town. As Jesus moves through Galilee, he transforms villages, people, and power. Jesus turns the darkness into light and provides hope when all seems lost. As Jesus walked by people jumped the train. They came to hear about God and to experience the power of God’s Kingdom to change the world.
U2’s song is about how love can alter a person’s life.
I was a sailor, I was lost at sea I was under the waves Before love rescued me
As the music played I saw my life turn around
That was the day before love came to town
When I woke up I was sleeping on the street
I felt the world was dancing, and I was dirt beneath their feet
I threw the dice when they pierced his side But I've seen love conquer the great divide

And when love, Jesus came to town lives were changed and darkness caught a glimpse of the light. When Love comes to town that love can rebuild those broken places. Love can bring people into wholeness. Love can bring those divided by hate and prejudice together. Love can change hearts, our hearts. There are many people searching for love, many people in need of love. We here at St. Paul’s are to bring love into the lives of the people we encounter. We are to help love come to town. So when you hear the train whistles blowing today and every day: be the love that comes to town.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Do you have to believe in the Resurrection to be a Christian?

Dear Sam,

Can you truly be a Christian if you don't believe in the resurrection?  you asked me this the first time right after the entire search committee interviewed me and your were driving me back to the hotel. I don't know if I realized at the time how this was a passive aggressive challenge to my faith. But at that moment I was in shock from the interview questions that you asked. They seemed to be from questions you would ask a pastor who was being interview in a nondenominational church not a United Church of Christ Church that is self-declared open and affirming. So after the interview as we are driving I am feeling like I have blown it. I didn't answer the questions correctly. My first attempt at an answer during the interview was to tell a story.

During seminary, I was taking the required History and Polity of the United Church of Christ at CTS even though I was attending McCormick. The class was rather difficult. Ironically the non CTS  UCC student was probably the most progressive and one of the few born and bred UCC from the congregational wing of the church. Most of the other members had gone to seminary as recent transfers from other denominations that were more conservative. Many were in the class because they were fearful of losing their standing in their own denominations because they were gay.  So we were discussing the statement of faith and I raised a point about how I wished it had stopped at our crucified Lord. You know following Paul, I preach Christ Crucified. Everyone jumped all over me telling me why we had to believe in resurrection. But no one remembered that we in the United Church of Christ believe in testimonies of faith, not tests of faith. That I come from a long tradition of people who questioned the orthodoxy of the church in order to push us closer to God. So while everyone is jumping all over me and sharing their stories of why resurrection is important to them, they didn't stop to consider that here in this polity class where we were learning our history, I come from the branch of the church that fought for and struggled for all people to be included. I come from the line that ordained the first black man, the first woman, the first gay man. That my part of the tradition on its good days speaks up for rights and inclusion. Without my branch, that has often been called the Unitarians Considering Christ, made it possible for them to come to a safe place to become a minister and that they just made this space very unsafe and unwelcoming for me.

I told the committee what I came to learn is that I believe strongly in Jesus. I follow Jesus with my heart and soul. But I sometimes have had questions about Christ. This struck home for me when in a theology class we had to read this article about "The White Woman's Christ and the Black Woman's Jesus." I struggle with Christ. I wrestle with Christ. I consider Christ. But I love Jesus. I want to follow Jesus and preach of his love. I want to share his vision of the kingdom of God that we can build together. I want to be held and healed by Jesus. Christ tends to get us into lots of trouble. Christ is a nice blond man with blue eyes who saved our sins so we could go to Heaven. He is forever happy and peaceful. But I love Jesus the man who struggle with his call. Who struggle with followers who didn't always get it. Who challenged the wealthy and privileged. Who welcomed the least, the last and the lost. Jesus stirs my passion and makes me want to follow but Christ has led Christians into senseless wars and genocides, has led us to exclude people. I want to follow Jesus, but Christ I can take or leave.

Now I know my answer probably wasn't as thorough and didn't include some of the nuances above but the gist of my answer was there but that answer led you to say to me:  "Can you be a Christian if you don't believe in the resurrection?" I honestly don't know how I answered the question in that moment. I do know my physically reaction to the question. When you dropped me off I cried. How could you fly me so far from home to a open and affirming congregation that is "liberal" and question my faith? I cried and then had to pull myself together for dinner. Luckily you weren't there for dinner so I didn't get asked the question until the next morning on the drive to my neutral pulpit. "Can you be a Christian if you don't believe in the Resurrection?"

I don't know how I answered. I know I spoke about people I know and love who have had very real encounters with Jesus. I know I spoke about how we have four Gospel's each with a different vision for who Jesus is and that I tend to be a Marken Christian. I spoke about how for many faith is an action not a set of beliefs.

But you know what I could have given you a time and date for when I said the magic words, the free pass into Heaven. I was going through my divorce, taking an online course on call, and was invited to attend a coffee break bible study with women. I went with these women to a Women of Faith Conference where we were invited to an altar call to say the magic words and become a Christian. Now I didn't do the altar call but I did say the magic words. I prayed the sinners prayer.
God, I know that, in my lifetime, I have not always lived for you, and I have sinned in ways I probably don't even know yet are sins. I know that you have plans for me, and I want to live in those plans. I pray to you for forgiveness for the ways in which I have sinned. I am choosing now to accept Jesus into my heart. I am eternally grateful for his sacrifice on the cross and how He died so I can have eternal life. I pray that I be filled with the Holy Spirit and that I continue to live as You desire for me to live. I will strive to overcome temptations and no longer let sin control me. I put myself in your hands. I pray that you work in my life and guide my steps so that I continue to live for you. In your name I pray. Amen
So I have a time and date when I invited Jesus into my life. I also have a date when my faith was affirmed by my home church and by the church that called me to be their pastor. But does that change my questions and doubts. Does that change my love of Jesus and my struggle with Christ?

So what does it mean to  be a Christian? Is it a belief? If I just believe the right things then I belong, but what if you don't believe all of the right things? What if you struggle and have doubts about sea's parting, miracles, resurrections, floods, dinosaurs, wives who couldn't exist but become wives any way, walls falling, whales swallowing, storms stilling, etc. What if you believe in the faith journey and struggles of the people of God, but for you the factual truth of some of the stories is not the entire answer for you. What if you take the words of your church that we believe in testimonies of faith not tests of faith. I can share my testimony. Just read through my blog and you will see me speak about my encounters with God. But I believe that faith is an activity not just a belief. Do we live as if we are hearing Jesus share with us about love? Do we live as if we believe that loving out neighbor is important? Do we try to be faithful to the Sermon on the mount, knowing we fail sometimes but each day, each dawn, each second we get that chance to try again to follow Jesus.

So Sam, I do believe I am a Christian but I may not be your kind of Christian. I find it sad that there are lines drawn that put some people in and some out and for you I am outside the bounds of what it means to be a Christian. I hope someday your boundaries are expanded, that your faith is strong enough, secure enough, to let in those who may disagree with you, may challenge your assumptions, may push you to think about following Jesus in a new and better way into the category of Christian. Until then may you and I follow Jesus, and love God with all of our being.
                                                                       Pastor Charlene
I Have Decided to Follow Jesus

“The Christian life is not about pleasing God the finger-shaker and judge. It is not about believing now or being good now for the sake of heaven later. It is about entering a relationship in the present that begins to change everything now. Spirituality is about this process: the opening of the heart to the God who is already here.”
― Marcus J. Borg, The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion To A More Authenthic Contemporary Faith

“Jesus died for our sins” has been understood. Among some Christians, it is seen as an essential doctrinal element in the Christian belief system. Seen this way, it becomes a doctrinal requirement: we are made right with God by believing that Jesus is the sacrifice. The system of requirements remains, and believing in Jesus is the new requirement. Seeing it as a metaphorical proclamation of the radical grace of God leads to a very different understanding. “Jesus died for our sins” means the abolition of the system of requirements, not the establishment of a new system of requirements.”
― Marcus J. Borg, The Meaning of Jesus

When serious people of good faith disagree, they've got to go back into the narratives and come at it again. One of the problems in the church is that people are not willing to do that. People have arrived at a place where they think they have got the answer.
- Walter Brueggemann

True religion is not about possessing the truth. No religion does that. It is rather an invitation into a journey that leads one toward the mystery of God. Idolatry is religion pretending that it has all the answers.
- John Shelby Spong

Christianity did not begin with a confession. It began with an invitation into friendship, into creating a new community, into forming relationships based on love and service.
- Diana Butler Bass

I have learned to prize holy ignorance more highly than religious certainty and to seek companions who have arrived at the same place. We are a motley crew, distinguished not only by our inability to explain ourselves to those who are more certain of their beliefs than we are but in many cases by our distance from the centers of our faith communities as well.
- Barbara Brown Taylor

Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.
- Anne Lamott