The United Methodist Church sponsored a full-page advertisement in The New York Times on August 16, 2017 to proclaim the church’s position seeking racial justice. The page directs readers to the website www.umc.org/embracelove which quotes Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” The page states, “We recognize racism as a sin and seek to eliminate it. As followers of Christ, we embrace love and affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God and therefore work toward societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened.” There are links to stories, resources, and tools for you to learn more about the issue of racism and ways to advocate for the fair treatment of all people.
The Reverend Dr. Beryl A. Ingram will be our guest preacher on Sunday, August 20. The Reverend Dr. Ingram has been part of the Pacific Northwest Conference since 1970, first as a Lay Member from Fowler United Methodist Church in north Spokane, and after ordinations in 1983 and 1986, as a clergy member. She is passionate about worship and was a member of the Hymnal Revision Committee that gave us the UM Hymnal 1989. Through the years she has served as camp dean for more than a dozen years, led both planning and spiritual growth retreats, and served congregations in Bellevue, Orting, Tacoma, and Snoqualmie. She was awarded the Ph.D. in Christian Social Ethics and Worship from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York in 2002. Now “retired”, she has become an ardent rock hound and geology buff, and when invited, she enjoys preaching engagements such as filling in for your pastor on Sunday, August 20.
This past year in our Adult Sunday School we were timely in reading Jim Wallis’ book about politics. But like the campaign and its aftermath it became tiring. We are still living in a political quagmire in our country that I don’t see going away soon. I imagine some of the things we discussed this past year will resurface, but the focus of our study this fall will be different.
I have chosen for us to read Marcus Borg’s book Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power and How They Can be Restored.
We will be talking about language and what we mean when we use words. I chose to go this route in response to what I think we all witnessed in the election regarding language: There was a lot of lying going on, but not just that – there was use of words that were meant to conceal, distract and confuse (to say the least). What do people mean when they say “fake news?” Does everyone mean the same thing? As is true in the political world has also been true in the theological world. We use words and phrases assuming their meaning, and assuming that everyone else shares our interpretation. This is far from the case. Even the most basic theological words like “salvation” and “sin” are misunderstood. One of the things Borg did throughout his career was to point out when words are misused or abused, because this often opened people up to an epiphany and transformation in their faith. This book is a compilation of some of the more significant misuses of theological words.
If you’ve been in this class you know that it is an open discussion. We often go off on tangents and that’s all right, to a degree. My feeling is that the first text is us, the book is the second text that we use to help us discuss our lives and faith. I think this book will be a good foil for such discussion.
We meet again on September 10 at 10:00 am. Everyone is welcome. P.Jim
Rather than “Wednesday Stud,y” this fall we will be reading the Gospel According to Mark, so it will be, “Wednesday Bible Study;” Wednesdays, 9:30-11:00 am. Why Mark? Why not start with the first gospel – Matthew? Because Mark is the first gospel, written around 70 CE. Matthew was written at least two decades later.
We will begin by investigating the historical context – there are two on them. There is the original context of Jesus, and then the context in which Mark is writing his gospel. Biblical scholars often emphasize one or the other. Some focus their efforts on gleaning from the gospel what is true about Jesus and what is Mark’s interpretation – after all the main point is to find Jesus in the Gospel, right? Other scholars say that it to look for Jesus in the text is to ignore the narrative function of the text. Mark is not sharing history, he is telling a story, and each part of the story is woven together creating a meaning. My approach is to accept both interpretive perspectives for their merits; it isn’t an either/or game. My sense is that the narrative approach will be the harder for most people to understand and accept. This is because we still tend to subconsciously read the gospels as history – that they are telling us directly what Jesus said and did. That is to focus on the first historical context. The narrative approach focuses on the other historical context – Mark’s. Then there are a number of interpretations of that context. Some scholars say Mark was written in Rome in the late 60s the face of the persecution of Christians by the Emperor Nero. My sympathies are with those who believe it was written near Galilee before or after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in response to the Jewish revolt in 66-70CE. There again, some feel it was written before the Temple was destroyed and those who think it was after. In any case, from the narrative perspective it is vital to discuss the historical context of Mark’s community. In essence, Mark was portraying Jesus in such a way in order to respond to the experience of Mark’s community. Mark wasn’t writing a gospel to share about what happened – over two decades after the death of Jesus there were many stories circulating – who know what was historically accurate? Mark used the resources available to him – many of those circulating stories, and wove together a story that would call his people into discipleship in Jesus Christ. For those who interpret from this perspective the point of writing a gospel wasn’t to register what happened – it was to evoke faith in the people – and in the case of Mark’s gospel it was to do so in very dangerous times.
There are many ways to read the Bible: devotionally, Lectio Divina, as literature, etc. But true bible study is a complex, difficult and illuminating task. We live in a world in which most of us do not know the Bible. With all the new technologies in the world – all that entices us constantly it’s likely we will know the Bible less in the coming decades. My fear is that it will be left to the fundamentalists to read – and that would be a tragedy.
I recognize that because this class meets in the daytime it isn’t convenient for many people. I would be willing to entertain a Sunday evening class too if there were enough people interested in participating. If you have interest, please let me know. P.Jim
This fall I will be focusing on language. Whenever there is an election I am reminded of the importance of how language is used. Whenever there is conflict people use language to make points and disparage others. This is nothing new; it’s even in the Bible. A part of bible study is to figure out just what words meant when they were used. This past week Tom Roe read from the eighth chapter of Romans where Paul uses the terms sarx and pneuma which are rendered as “flesh” and “spirit” in the NRSV. Taken literally it would mean that to pay attention to our bodies will lead to death. As a matter of fact this interpretation lent itself to focus on sexuality. But as I said briefly on Sunday, the word sarx means much more than the physical body – it involves worldly things. In our day it would be about material possessions and wealth.
This fall the Adult Sunday School class will be reading and discussion Marcus Borg’s book, Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power and How They Can Be Restored. What have words like “sin” and “salvation” meant to us in the past and what do they really mean? I have no doubt that this book will generate good discussions.
In the Wednesday class we will be reading the Gospel According to Mark – which is the first gospel written. In this study too we will spend time on the meaning of words. We will start with the word “gospel” ; evangeleon in Greek. Most know that it literally means “good news” but how was it used? One way it was used was to announce the victory of the Roman armies. Knowing that, Mark is already challenging the powers that be – just by using this word.
If you have any questions about these classes please contact me. P.Jim
Our United Methodist Church is a connectional church. Every United Methodist congregation is interconnected to other churches throughout the denomination via a chain of area conferences. This is the opposite of the non-denominational or independent churches we see popping up out of the blue all around us. At the Mill Creek Fair there was a booth for the Redemption Church – I had to look it up. Canyon Creek Church recently purchased the only American Baptist Church on 35th. Like many of these churches Canyon Creek was started by a single person. On the Church website it says: “Canyon Creek Church started as a final graduate school project for Brandon.” Connections are not mentioned. In these church websites there is often a tab called Our Story – but as a historian I find the story short and lacking. It is simply about a person or small group of people on their own starting a church. Pretty consistently these churches are fundamentalist. They believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, exclusive salvation in Jesus Christ. Sometimes I wonder if the people who flock to these churches ever read the stated beliefs on the church websites? A teller at our bank, noting my check was from a church asked about our church and when I asked her where she went to church she said, “Blue Sky Church in Bellevue.” One day the lead pastor saw the blue sky come out of the clouds; an unusual and attractive name for essentially a Calvinist Church. They purport to believe in election: “We believe that God acted before creation in choosing some people to be saved.” Of course, this implies that most people are not saved. I wonder if the teller knows this. When these churches do have a deeper story they do not claim it; they don’t disclose their roots in the Reformation and John Calvin. This is reflective of our culture. Historical connections are often seen as a liability.
As a connectional church we may be counter-cultural but we are not counter-kingdom. (That is, Kingdom of God, Kin-dom of God, Economy of God, Rule of God, etc.) I’m quite sure that heaven is connectional. One of the problems in our society is an emphasis on the individual, independence and freedom at the expense of relationships and communities. In a sense, the election of Donald Trump is a product of these values. We have elected a person who is a narcissist! President Trump is critically concerned about himself more than anything else, especially the things that connect us. Naomi Klein has written a new book: No is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World we Need. She says that we respond to a Trump presidency as a united front; we must become more connected. People who are concerned about the environment, Black Lives Matter, abused women, people who are outraged by healthcare in America all need to recognize the ways we are hurting and fearful, and work together. I am encouraged by a resurgence of passion for better values like compassion, equality and justice. I want to believe that this energy can be used to bring another “Great Awakening” in America. And we have an important role in this as a connectional church.
In this context our connectional character is not merely how we are organized, it is a part of our message. To be connected is the way to create peace and justice; the way to mirror the Kingdom of God in our world. We want people to come to our Church because we are oriented toward that Kingdom in a way that more independent and non-denominational churches are not. We have an important mission in the world, especially now. We cannot be complacent or mum about it. How can we get our message out there? I think our booth at the Mill Creek Fair was a good thing to be doing. What else can we do to share with the world our vision of a connectional heaven? P.Jim
Recently I’ve been following college NCAA baseball; the Oregon State Beavers are rated #1 in the country! It is exciting, anxiety provoking and ultimately… sinful. We often talk about having a “winning attitude” which can mean having a positive approach toward the game being played – but it isn’t just a positive approach to the game, it is restrictively attached to the results of the game, and when that is done things get problematic. Winning necessitates the defeat of the other. The experience of going through a losing season with a child who is playing a sport will tell one about the negative power attached to being the one often defeated. This is no simple matter in our culture. Sports are serious business – emotionally and economically. Winning brings power and losing brings shame. We don’t see it; how this dynamic of having a winning attitude becomes a sinning attitude.
This week David Brooks wrote an op-ed in which he quotes another op-ed written by H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn of the Trump Administration: “The President embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.” Brooks says that this sentence, essentially, exposes the “Trump project” as one of selfishness and competing for gain – that is, a winning attitude. I am upset with the Trump Administration for backing out of the Paris Accord on the environment for reasons I have often expresses – concern for the environment and future generations. But what also upsets me is the attitude that we must take care of ourselves regardless of others. Brooks says that Trump went to Europe and stuck his thumb in all of our allies. Brooks goes on to claim that people are “wired to cooperate.” I would say more than that, people are interdependent – inextricably connected to each other so that the actual path for success (winning?) is through cooperation.
My son Kenneth was signing up for classes in the fall at American University and one of them will be When Worldviews Collide, and that is what we have here: a winning attitude and a cooperating attitude. Let me quote a part of the Social Principles on Justice and Law:
Believing that internationally justice requires the participation of all peoples and nations, we endorse the United Nations, its related bodies…WE commend the efforts of all people in all countries who pursue world peace through law. We endorse international aid and cooperation on all matters of need and conflict….
These words are rooted in a cooperating attitude. A Christian worldview is a cooperating worldview. It uses words like invite, welcome, include, etc. Jesus even said “the last will be first and the first will be last.” Which worldview do we want to live by? How do we respond to a worldview based upon a winning attitude, when it means win at all cost – even at the cost of the planet?
This Sunday is Peace with Justice Sunday and there cannot be peace or justice if we live by a winning attitude. This isn’t about politics. This is about faith and discipleship – David Brooks will tell us that.
Here are the 2017 graduates at Cedar Cross United Methodist Church.
Natalie Kendall Church will be graduating from Glacier Peak High School on June 12, 2017. She plans to attend University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. She will run cross country for the Mountain Lions in the fall and play Lacrosse in the spring. Her parents are Dan and Janet Church and she has a sister Stephanie and a brother Trevor.
Kenneth James Clarke will be graduating from Henry M. Jackson High School on June 17. Kenneth will be in the School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C. His focus will be global health and environmental sustainability. As the recipient of an United Methodist Scholarship, he looks forward to being active at the Kay Center for Spirituality. His parents are Reverend James Clarke and Reverend Paula McCutcheon and his brother is Aaron Clarke
JacksonCruz will graduate from Everett High School with plans to attend Central Washington University in the fall to study Music and Broadcast Journalism. His parents are Matt and Tracey Cruz and his brother is Alex Cruz. Jackson has been a trumpet member in the Everett High School Jazz Band and French horn member of the Wind Ensemble. He has also been a member of the school theater group, helping out in school play productions as a lighting technician, back stagehand, band member and actor.
Sadie Hermann-Ballein will graduate from Cascade High School. She will be attending Western Washington University in the fall. Her parents Christy Hermann and Deirdre Ballein and her siblings Josie and CJ HermanBallein are very proud!
Theresa Christine Hobson
Theresa Christine Hobson, will be graduating from Cascade High School. Theresa is the daughter of George and Jennifer Hobson, and the sister of Ashley Ballenger and Aaron Hobson. Theresa plans to attend Everett Community College. She is interested in the Fire Science Program, Photography and Videography. She will start off working on her core requirements toward an Associate Degree and then transfer to Western Washington.
Aaron Russell Hobson, will be graduating from Cascade High School. Aaron is the son of George and Jennifer Hobson, and the brother of Ashley Ballenger and Theresa Hobson. Aaron plans to attend Everett Community College. He is interested in Sociology and Business and the track and field program. He will start off working on his core requirements toward an Associate’s Degree and then transfer to Eastern Washington University.
Caitlynn Lark, the granddaughter of Robert and Flora Refling, will graduate from Western Washington University in Bellingham on June 10, 2017 with a degree in Elementary Education. Her parents are Carrie Refling-Lark and Larry Lark of Mukilteo.
Anna Molver is graduating from Seattle University on June 11, 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. She is the daughter of Miriam and Jack Molver. Anna has enjoyed internships at Seattle Bio Med, and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and she is an ongoing volunteer for several years at the Swedish Hospital Cherry Hill Cancer Education Center. After graduation, she plans to continue living in downtown Seattle while she applies for jobs in the public/global health setting.
Taylor Michelle Rogers is graduating from Glacier Peak High School. She is the daughter of John and Amy Rogers. Her brother is Ryan Rogers and her grandma is Joan Pearson. Taylor will be attending Western Washington University in the fall.
Pastor James Clarke’s sermon for Mother’s Day, May 14, 2017; the Fifth Sunday of Easter. The scripture text is 1 Peter 2:2-5 and John 14:1-14.
I’ve been thinking about being a parent a lot these days. I’m sure it has something to do with the imminent departure of our son, Kenneth, to the other side of the continent. I’ve been blessed in my life to have been a hands-on parent:
Hands on diapers
Hands on binkies
Hands on tissues
Hands on the nebulizer
Hands on clothes that don’t match
Hands on fast food against my better judgment’
My wife, Paula, and I shared a single church appointment for 18 years when our children were young, meaning I was the parent in charge for half the time. With our older son, Aaron, this included all that was necessary to keep him alive
Being with him in the hospital when he got sick
Sleeping on the floor next to his bed
And waking up every hour to listen to his breathing with a stethoscope
Hands on parenting.
Life changes when one becomes a parent as anyone who’s been a parent knows. Parenting is sacrificial. A baby’s needs are non-negotiable. The loss of independence is irredeemable. Once a parent, always a parent and all the sacrifice – all the loss – all the work – ultimately tells us much about God.
The texts for today are not overtly about parenting, but there are connections. The mention of “spiritual milk” in the text from I Peter. The spiritual milk must come from somewhere, which got me to thinking about the whole business of God as a Father or a Mother.
When I say that I was able to be a hands-on parent, it implies that I was able to do what is usually associated with being a mother: Rocking a child to sleep and dealing with them when they are screaming in Safeway. I’m pretty sure my Father never had to deal with that one.
My parents fit the stereotype. I went to my Dad to get perspective and wisdom. I went to my Mother go heal my wounds.
The word “Father” is such an ubiquitous image of God in the Bible it loses its force – it’s more like a name than a metaphor. What’s more, “There are many rooms in my Father’s house” is a text that is often used at memorial services, so for me it has an almost morbid aspect.
So I thought it would be interesting to change the gender of the parent in this text and say: There are many wombs in my Mother’s body. Feels different, doesn’t it.
When we consider God as a mother we are bound to imagine more of the hands-on tasks of parenting. God comes closer. Less the guiding disciplinarian parent – more the nurturing parent who has Kleenex in her pockets.
This text is a part of what is called the Farewell Discourses. Jesus is talking to his disciples before he leaves them. The image of a Father feels like a stern parent just giving advice. The image of a Mother brings to mind tears.
Did Jesus cry when he left the disciples? Did the disciples? Something about imagining that comforts me. We need advice and wisdom sometimes and other times we just need a big hug.
When I say goodbye to Kenneth in Washington, D.C., I’ll probably figure I’ve given him enough advice over the years. I’m guessing I’ll be giving him a big hug and there may even be tears. Don’t forget, in the face of Lazurus’ death Jesus wept.
We don’t want to see fathers cry because we value strength. We value the fatherly oriented parental tasks: Guidance, discipline, perspective – parenting from a distance – so as to create independent entrepreneurs, and not emotional fathers who like quiche, and talk about beauty and sadness. If anyone does not get respect in our world, it’s a mother or anyone who does the hands-on parenting.
We were talking about this a bit in our Sunday school class a week ago — in the positive sense, about how much hands-on parenting changes a person, inculcating empathy, intuition, patience, and spontaneity, but in the negative sense, how all that motherly, nurturing stuff is always fighting upstream against our culture, which values economy above all things.
Imagine going to a job interview and being asked about your strengths, and you say, I’m a very nurturing person, and I have empathy, patience, intuition and I listen well. Do you think you’d get the job? I’m not talking about preschool teacher here.
I think often in interviews we force ourselves to say we are motivated, confident; we have drive and persevere; all traditionally masculine characteristics.
Economically, there is no reason to have a child, which I’m thinking about since we are sending Kenneth to a reputable, private university across the country where tuition per year would get me an Audi rather than my little Fit.
Hands on parenting gets lip service, but no help from the economy, and little help from the government. We can talk all we want about Family Values, but if it doesn’t translate into paid maternity leave and paternity leave, then it’s hollow. In the United States, 12 weeks are allowed without pay. In France, it’s 16 weeks at full pay.
Years ago, I read a book entitled The War Against Parents by Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Cornel West which expounded upon the grim realities for parents in America. They say that parenting is the ultimate non-market activity. Nearly all families need two jobs, meaning less time with children.
There was a time when having children provided security But now that we have Social Security and Medicare. Raising children is a waste of time and money.
Parents feel sandwiched and stressed so that when they are with their children they get reactive and you can forget about quality time as an antidote. Quantity time is what is needed – being present. And as we continue to put the economy first, parents have less and less time with their children and there are consequences for it.
Hewitt and West refer to a comprehensive survey of parenting having 90,000 participants. The Journal of the American Medical Association determined youth who have experienced a strong bond with parents are less likely to commit suicide, participate in violent crime, abuse drugs. This is the heart of the matter.
In our Sunday School book, Jim Wallis says that we must put parenting first, that parenting is more important than anything else in our society. I thought to myself, ‘He can say that, he’s the editor of Sojourners. He’s the CEO!
I have been blessed to have been a “hands on parent”. I still hug my boys. I learned many practical things, but it’s the spiritual things that move me.
Parenting is a spiritual experience and a means of grace. It teaches empathy, intuition, patience, sacrificial love, eros love, that feeling when you see your child at a distance and your heart melts…. What an incredible human being. And suddenly I know more about God. That there are many wombs in God’s body.
Economically, it was a bad decision to job share for 18 years. According to the economy, all that time hanging out at the playground, pushing him in the swing one more time, is empty and non-productive time. But then, we saved Aaron’s life.
We lost a great deal of retirement money on that decision, but the spiritual wealth that comes with pushing one’s child in a swing and rocking them to sleep at night…
On Wednesday I went to hear Bruce Galvin tell us about the changes ahead for our healthcare and pension. It’s always going to cost us more. But every time I go to one of these I get that feeling…. financially speaking…. We haven’t made the best decisions.
Economically speaking, it is probably a bad decision to send Kenneth to American University at $63,000 per year. We should be putting more money into our retirement account. I’m sure Bruce would say it’s not a good investment…. depending upon what we are investing in and to see Kenneth’s face when he can go to the university of his dreams… What’s really important to us? We will be pinched financially, but I’m fine with my Honda Fit and I like tofu, beans, and rice
There are no rewards for being a parent. No promotion or special recognition. No bonus. But in my life, it has been one place where I have experienced God. God’s love… like a parent’s love.
Incongruously, being a hands-on parent is another way of resistance in a system that doesn’t respect parents much. Remember, it’s the ultimate non-market activity. Making it consequentially a form of resistance. There’s “Family Values,” but the system is not set up to value parenting.
I think the government needs to be reminded that parents are just as much people as corporations and deserve just as many tax breaks.
Speaking of taxes, I think that in the same way Jim Wallis refers to the national budget as a moral document, one’s tax returns can be considered a spiritual document. It identifies dependents, investments, gifts and charities, work… What do our tax returns tell us about our devotions and priorities?
I think Wallis right – parenting ought to be our first-priority. But it is countercultural to do so. We still live in a male culture. Strength, accomplishment and a fat wallet still rule the day.
We value Entrepreneurs over Servants. Wealth is the primary sign of success. And there’s a limited amount of room in the world. Boundaries are placed on love and grace.
But the perspective of mothering… of being a hands-on parent has made my heart strangely warm with the knowledge that there are many wombs In our Mother’s body.
That with Her there is boundless grace. That She is a Hands-on God with Kleenex in her pocket. And she sometimes uses them for herself as She ponders beauty and sadness.
Pastor James Clarke’s sermon for Creation Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, April 23, 2017.
Can we imagine if Jesus was sending out his disciples today?
Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts,
No bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff.
This is severe!
If we imagine it today it would be:
Take no cash
No change of clothes
No back pack
Not even shoes
No car — of course
And no cell phones either!
One has to wonder if they would have gone!
I think a little cash would help; but maybe not a credit card. A change of clothes; but not a suitcase. A couple pair of shoes. but not a dozen.
But even if we modify it like this, I still don’t think the cell phone goes with them.
Imagine traveling like this: No car – no reservations because we have no credit card. No suitcase. No access to the internet. What would this feel like?
Have we ever risked going on vacation with one pair of jeans? Or gone on a road trip without a destination?
We build security around these things – car, credit card, cell phone. It feels a little less safe to travel without these. But isn’t there also a sense that it might feel more… free?
I like the idea of not carrying a suitcase. I always seem to pack too much and I feel burdened by it.
We have made a car essential in our world; so much so that it’s hard to imagine not having one. But consider if we had better public transportation, the freedom we could feel not having to make payments’ pay for insurance and worry about the car having problems. I was on a first name bases with my mechanic when I still had the Escort!
Did you know that universities often provide bus passes to students? It reminds me of when I lived in Tokyo. I loved it! And there was no traffic!!!
There’s a Buddhist saying: Fifty things, Fifty worries. Life in a monastery is austere – no matter which faith. One doesn’t have belongings of one’s own, and usually one has just one pair of shoes or sandals, in the case of Buddhists. The point in either Christianity or Buddhism is that less is more, or less is better than more, when we talk about discipleship.
Today is Creation Sunday and the earth is in peril. It is no secret that I am upset about what is currently happening in our political world regarding the environment recently. But let me give you just a little history so you can better understand where I’m coming from.
My Father was an important person in my life. He taught at Oregon State University in the Religious Studies department for over 30 years. When he started out, he taught the 101 class and some bible classes. I remember he had a class on the Sermon on the Mount.
In the early 1970s, he took a sabbatical at University of California (Santa Barbara) and studied biology and ecology. Upon returning to OSU, he then taught a course entitled “Human Ethics and Ecology.” To say that my father was an environmentalist…. It is written on the epitaph by his memorial bench.
I grew up understanding the dangers of climate change 40 years ago!! We had one car in the household, a 1974 Toyota Corolla stick shift. My dad walked to work. I rode my bike everywhere. Did you know there are no longer bike racks at high schools?
I have grieved for decades watching us give homage to a desire for more… and bigger and then we throw it away. Bigger houses. Bigger cars. More credit to buy more things particularly since the 1980s after the credit boom and we could buy things with money we didn’t have!
It is as if we have been looking in the face of danger and saying… We don’t care! Or, are we just blind?
We live by the Cult of More in America. That is, if we have more, or do better, or get newer. We will be successful and happier. It’s the American Dream! Whoever has the most toys at the end wins. The myth of the upgrade.
I remember when Adidas shoes first came out. Prior to that we all just wore Converse. Anyone remember Converse? And we were happy
Converse were black, but Adidas were white with stripes – green, blue, red and black – in the beginning.
Suddenly it became important which shoes one bought. It was about status and identity. It included competition. I recall the week it was decided the black ones were the coolest. It created a junior high boys’ status crises. And then nobody was happy but the dominant boys who had made the decision and had the money to buy them.
This resulted in insults and bullying if you didn’t have the right shoes…. “Mom, I need black Adidas.” “I thought you told us to get the green ones?” “Yeah, but not everyone’s wearing black”
And so goes, the power of domination. Those who have money have the advantage. Shoes divided people – eventually we had $100 Nikes which re-imagined the world we live in today.
We have way too many choices today. In high school, while I was wearing some pretty cool shoes, I worked for Baskin-Robbins 31 flavors. On the face of it, we think incredible flavors like Baseball Nut, Chocolate Almond Fudge, Strawberry Cheesecake and Rum Raisin.
Wonderful! Right?…… Wrong! There were so many flavors, it became difficult to choose. So, instead of getting one scoop, we got two, or three, and even if we got three scoops, we thought about the ones we didn’t choose. Which created anxiety. And speaking of anxiety, after we ate the three scoops, we felt guilty and worried about our weight.
When people came into the store, they first had on happy faces. Then they would wander along the glass looking at all the flavors; looking troubled…. and not happy. It was a pattern: 31 flavors; 31 worries. We were actually happier with vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. What we need today is a prophet. And there’s no profit in it, I can tell you.
Have we read the prophets? Have we read Jeremiah?
Jeremiah 22:13-17 (from the Message)
Doom to him who builds palaces but bullies people,
Who makes a fine house but destroys lives
Who cheats his workers
And won’t pay them for their work,
Who says, ‘I’ll build me an elaborate mansion
With spacious rooms and fancy windows
I’ll bring in rare and expensive woods
And the latest interior décor
So, that makes you a kind –
Living in a fancy palace?
Your father got along just fine, didn’t he?
He did what was right and treated people fairly
And things went well with him
He stuck up for the down and out
And this went well for Judah
Isn’t that what it means to know me?
But you’re blind and brainless
All you care about it yourself
Taking advantage of the weak
Bulldozing your way, bullying victims.
I found a commentary on-line of Jeremiah from Theology of Work. It says that Jeremiah was principally concerned with greed.
God calls people to a higher purpose than economic self-interest Jeremiah looked around and found that greed – unbridled pursuit of economic gain – had displaced the love of God, as people’s chief concern. Jeremiah is calling them to lives of integrity. Otherwise their piety means nothing to God.
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggmann said a similar thing in his commentary on Jeremiah:
All persons, but especially the religious leaders, are indicted for their unprincipled economics…. This community has lost every norm by which to evaluate and assess its rapacious and exploitative greed.
Greed is not good – period. Gordon Gecko may have said so. But the Bible doesn’t say so. Jeremiah doesn’t say so. Always wanting more is not good because it inevitably leads to division, domination, anxiety and poverty.
Ironically, shoes that I would call Converse are back in style.
Do we live by More or Less? Which will bring us freedom, love and integrity? I believe the Cult of More is killing us and contributing to killing our planet.
Again, on-line, I found a whole movement where people are trying to live with less. There are the Minimalists. Like vegans, they are fairly severe. Willing to live in those tiny homes – have you seen them? On Netflix, there’s a documentary about the Minimalists
Then there are the Essentialists who believe in trying to decide what is essential and getting rid of all that is extraneous. That can be very different for different people. But it is an important and transformative question for all of us.
They both speak of Life-Editing. Some of what one is supposed to do with Life-editing:
Buy quality because it lasts longer and doesn’t end up in a landfill
Get rid of books – go electronic (personally I don’t agree with this one
Get rid of paper too
Take a walk
Live in smaller space
Take time to share in your family
Re-consider all your children’s extracurricular activities
Buy a smaller, more fuel efficient car
Let go of perfectionism
Assess holiday spending
And so on.
In the same vein, I suggest Soul-Editing where we would consider all that we have and do and how they connect to our love of God in Jesus Christ’
Assess our possessions.
What gives us a sense of God’s presence? And what distracts? Do we have anything like those new Adidas shoes that brings anxiety to our hearts and damages relationships?
Consider our spending.
What will this do to bring us a sense of spiritual integrity? What will this do to build up our community?
What about our investments?
Mike Slaughter has recently written a book entitled The Christian Wallet and he has a whole chapter of investing. And remember it was our Annual Conference through the work of Jenny Phillips that petitioned the General Conference to divest from fossil fuels.
What Jeremiah saw was people who would come to the Temple, but never search their souls and ask, what does this have to do with my faith in God?
Very simply, I think we are called to do the same. And I believe that we will find that less is actually more in the ways of the Spirit.
We are in the midst of a very dangerous time in two ways for our souls and for our planet. And they are linked.
Our souls are lost to mindless materialism. And our planet is suffering from congestive heart failure. And we’re still smoking in spite of the doctor’s orders.
Denying climate change is akin to saying smoking doesn’t cause cancer. And now, to continue the metaphor. recently we’ve gone back to cigarettes without filters, so to speak.
As long as we live by the Cult of More, we are hurting ourselves, others, and the planet.
So… what’ll is be………More or Less?