Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

So Many Colors . . .

Both the wife and I are pastors.  We are pastors in a denomination that believes and preaches diversity . . . the need for congregations to be diverse.  Both of us would be quick to admit that since we entered the ministry over thirty years ago, our denomination has done a remarkable job at becoming more diverse . . . or at least attempting to be diverse.  We recently were having a conversation about how churches have preached and begun to embrace diversity.  We remarked at how much the “church” has shifted in welcoming people of different colors, races, cultures, and sexualities into the fellowship.  We nearly broke our arm patting ourselves on the back at the success we have been a part of . . . and, it is true . . . our denomination has become more diverse . . . after all, a lot of our congregations in the denomination have an unofficial motto of “all are welcome.”

At least on the surface it appears that we are beginning to get this diversity thing down; but, I am not too sure.

On the surface I think that we are trying really hard to accept people who are different from us . . . different in the way that they look, different in the culture they come from, different in the way dress, different in the way that they express their sexuality . . . it is a form of acceptance of differences, but in the end, I think that we—the “church”—are still missing the boat.  I don’t think we are as diverse as we might look. Yes, the “church” has begun to remove the physical barriers that separate us . . . color, race, culture, and sexuality . . . but, the reality is that the congregations we worship in are not as diverse as we think they are.  They may look diverse, but when it comes to living one’s faith . . . well, I think that most congregations are still pretty homogenous.  We may look different, but we think a lot alike when it comes to our faith.  When it comes to congregational theology, we are not too diverse.

The bottom line in life is that people are different.  People look different.  People also think differently . . . primarily because of the same reasons we have those difference in visual and physical diversity . . . we are raised differently . . . live in different cultures . . . so, why wouldn’t we think differently?  Yet, I have rarely encountered a congregation that was not pretty homogenous when it came to their faith and theology.  Even more eye-opening was that undercurrent that expected people to believe and think in the same way.  I say “undercurrent” because it is not consciously expressed, but it is there none the less . . . present in non-verbal cues . . . present in the silence.  I think that churches and congregations have learned to accept those who look and act differently, but struggle with those who think differently. 

Thinking differently . . . believing differently . . . it is all a part of being diverse.  Yet, I think that the “church” fails at this level of diversity . . . fails to the point that it is killing the “church”.

It is sad when the diversity of thought dies.  Many years ago, singer/songwriter Harry Chapin sang to this idea in a song titled Flowers are Red.  In this song a young child is coloring in his kindergarten class . . . coloring away and using every crayon color in the box . . . colors everywhere!  The problem was that it was not time for art . . . after being reprimanded the teacher told him he was wrong in his coloring:

She said, "It's not the time for art young man
And anyway flowers are green and red"

"There's a time for everything young saw
And a way it should be done
You've got to show concern for everyone else
For you're not the only one"

And she said, "Flowers are red young man
And green leaves are green
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than they way they always have been seen"

Of course the child disagreed:

But the little boy said
"There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower and I see every one"

Being a child . . . well, the child bends to the teacher’s way of thinking.  Bends so that he can fit into and be a part of the class . . . to avoid being lonely and left out.

Eventually the child moves to another town . . . begins a new school.  At the new school the teacher is different . . . tells the children to color away . . . use every color; but the child cannot do it . . . he replies:

"Flowers are red, and green leaves are green
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen"

I think that there are many who have grace the doors of many churches and congregations to experience the same sort of reception to their coloring outside of the lines . . . of considering all the colors of the rainbow . . . of thinking for themselves.  I think that they are the ones out there identifying themselves as the “spiritual but not religious” . . . those on the outside longing for the fellowship of God’s family, but finding no way to be welcomed because they think differently . . . think outside of the homogenous boundaries found in most churches and congregations.  And, that is where I think that the “church” is failing the diversity test . . . failing it miserably.

Oh, we give it a lot of lip service . . . but, we fail.

If we are going to truly be the family of God . . . we have got to embrace diversity completely . . . we have to accept it all . . . not only the way that people look and act, but also the way that they think.  It is one thing to say that all people are welcome at the table for the meal, but it takes a little more effort to want to sit at the table and actually relation to one another . . . to talk . . . to dialogue . . . to learn and grow . . . to come into conversation . . . to hear.  It is to want the best for one another . . . isn’t that what love is all about?  Wanting the best for the other?

Over the years, as a pastor, I have come to realize that my role in the process of faith is not to try and sale people a “package” . . . a “one size fits all” package; but, it is to assist people in discovering their own relationship with the God who created and loves them for who they are.  My role is to be a companion on the journey, not the trail boss.  Because of that I ask more questions than give answers . . . I discuss more than act definitive . . . enter into conversation.  I have found that it is in the conversation that the answers are discovered . . . not for me, but for others.  As a pastor it is arrogant to think that I have all the answers and the only way.  Hey, there are so many colors in the rainbow and I want to discover every one.  Pastors should be open to the Spirit in its many forms and shapes and movements.  Pastor should learn to accept diversity not only in the way that people look and act, but also in the way that they think.

I am sure that to some this sounds like blasphemy . . . but, is it?  Or is it just another way of thinking?  Is it diversity?

Someone once said that “united we stand, divided we fall.”  The whole story of God is one towards restoring the family . . . of bringing all of creation back into relationship with God and one another . . . of accepting who we are in the face of God and one another . . . of being that diverse gift of life God meant us to be . . . of being family.  There are so many colors . . . shouldn’t we want to experience and know every one?  There will be no Kingdom of God until we can truly embrace diversity in its wholeness . . . in its holiness.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Even Introverts Gotta Play

My introversion kicked in today at work . . . I had had enough.  It was time to drop out.  I have been working non-stop for the past four weeks at both of my jobs . . . every single day for the past month . . . and, unfortunately, I still have another two weeks to go before I might get a whole day in which I am not doing one of my two jobs.  Both my jobs involve interacting and being present to PEOPLE.  People drain introverts . . . and, around 11:00AM this morning, I had had enough.  My body started to shut down.  My mind was becoming muddled and muddied.  I was tired . . . worn out . . . at the end of my rope.  So, I took the afternoon off . . . a small reprieve before finishing this marathon of extraversion that started a month ago and will end in another two weeks.

I realize that most of you who are extraverts won’t understand this, but that is one of the major differences between extraverts and introverts.  Extraverts are energized by people . . . introverts are drained.  It is not that we introverts dislike people, it is that we just prefer and need our alone time.  That is where we introverts get our energy . . . that is where we find our groove . . . that is where we find what we really love doing.  It is just the way we are wired.  Unfortunately, it has been a long, long time since I have had my “alone” time.

I was reminded of this in an article that appeared in the “lifestyle” section of MSN.com talking about 22 Fun Activities for Introverts.  I’m kind of a sucker when it comes to articles about introversion . . . especially when it is something that might be helpful; so, I read the article.  True to its title the article (by an introvert I am assuming) listed 22 activities that introverts would probably enjoy.  Of the 22 activities, I am solidly embedded into six of them: photography; writing; solitary outdoor activities (hiking, bird watching, etc.); reading; traveling alone; and, when I was more physically active—running.  These are six things that I enjoy doing alone . . . doing by myself.  Of the 22 suggested activities, I am involved in approximately 25 percent of them.  The others I had a little more difficulty with.

Now, keep in mind, these are activities to be done alone . . . by one’s self.  The 16 activities I do not do:

  • ·      --Listening to podcasts.  I have listened to podcasts, but I have not made it a regular part of my “alone” . . . probably because I feel as if they are a lot like a telephone call or a one-sided conversation.  I have a good friend in Michigan who loves podcasts and is a BIG introvert.

  • ·        Get artsy . . . draw, paint, and so forth.  The wife got all the artistic skills in the family . . . I mainly draw conclusions and paint myself into corners.  Not much “artsy” in my bones or DNA.

  • ·        Learn to play a musical instrument . . . if it is not the “play” button to my Zune, it ain’t going to happen.  I have attempted to learn musical instruments in the past, but I have no sense of rhythm and a person has to have rhythm to play an instrument.  I admire those who can play instruments.

  • ·        Cook or bake . . . I can do both . . . fairly well; but, cooking and baking is not something I find relaxing or entertaining . . . it is something I do out of necessity and survival.  If something happened to the wife, I will continue to exist on something more than cereal.

  • ·        Create a YouTube channel . . . actually I have one.  I created it when I needed a place to place a few Carol King videos I recorded in Missoula in order to put them on my Facebook page.  This one intrigues me, and I have often contemplated actually doing this or podcasts . . . but, that is what we introverts do . . . we contemplate these things for a long, long time before jumping in with two feet.

  • ·        Puzzles . . . do puzzles the writer suggested.  I am lousy at puzzles.  I remember the day I was really proud of myself when I finally completed a puzzle in about six months.  I was beside myself with pride at my accomplishment.  When the wife asked me what I was so happy about, I explained that I had finished the puzzle in less than six months . . . the box said three to six years.  She let me down softly.

  • ·        Take an online class.  Not the way that I like to learn.

  • ·        Learn to knit . . . as long as there are stores where I can buy my clothes, I will never ever learn to knit . . . I’d probably poke my eye out with one of those needles.

  • ·        Play games . . . primarily video games.  Nope.  Not happening.  Not happening because I believe that if humans created the game, then humans should be able to kick the game's butt.  I got tired of getting my butt kicked.  The only game I play—by myself—is solitaire on the computer when I get really, really bored.  I have play it 1,365 times . . . I have won four percent of the time . . . this is why I do not play games.  I am a poor loser when I am playing by myself.

  • ·        Garden . . . ha!  This has always been a “family” activity that becomes a “John” activity . . . I do the weeding, I do the cleaning . . . I do it all.  It is not pleasing . . . it is work.

  • ·        Watch movies . . . I used to do this, but just haven’t been motivated to do it even though I probably have over 2,000 movies sitting in the closet from those years I spent the weekends away from the family with no cable TV.  Now, if I start to watch a movie, I catch myself sleeping before it even gets to the middle.  Has nothing to do with being an introvert . . . I am getting old.

  • ·        Meditate . . . nope, not me.

  • ·        Get handy and fix things . . . hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm . . . again, not me.  I am better at breaking things than fixing them.

  • ·        Volunteer with animals . . . I love animals, but I already have enough pets in my life . . . I’ll give my loving whenever I’m around dogs and cats, but I don’t want to spend my spare time taking care of other people’s pets.  I pick up enough poop in my own yard.

  • ·        Learn a new language . . . shoot, I need to learn the one I speak.

  • ·        Build models . . . seems a little ridiculous to spend time putting together a plastic model, sit it on a shelf and let it collect dust . . . then I have to dust . . . sounds like work.  Now, if it is to build models like Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Gisele Bundchen, or Heidi Klum . . . well, they can hang out on my shelves any time they want.  That is the type of modeling I admire . . . but, if two are involved is it really “alone” time?

I might get into the areas of podcasts and YouTube . . . not to listen and watch . . . but to put out there for others to listen and watch.  I guess I have to think about whether or not I have something to say or video worth other people’s time.  Plus, I do not find much rejuvenation in many of those activities . . . lots of work and frustration.  Now, the six things that I do . . . well, those are a whole other ball game.

Lately, photography is my number one choice.  I love taking pictures . . . lots of pictures.  You have to take lots of pictures to get a good picture.  I always tell folks that you have to take hundreds of pictures to get one good picture.  I take my camera most of the places I go when I am not working.  I believe in attempting to tell a story with pictures.  Right now my primary picture taking involves birds and my grandchildren.  I use Facebook as the place to share my photos . . . I also post my bird pictures at http://revjmk.tumblr.com/. 
Writing . . . well, you are reading my writing.  I also write a weekly column and newsletter for the congregation I serve . . . http://us2.campaign-archive1.com/?u=70af6bc8e224ee30770a5ebd5&id=713e91220e&e.  I also write a weekly sermon . . . http://homileticdump.blogspot.com/2015/11/take-away-stones-john-1132-45.html. And, I blog.  I think the writer got that one right.

I like to do outdoor activities.  I enjoy going on hikes . . . even with others even though I lag behind or get way out in front . . . but, I enjoy these by myself.  The problem is that the wife does not like me hiking by myself.  I enjoy critter creeping and taking trips by myself.  I just like these by myself.

Reading . . . I have always loved to read.  As a kid I was one of those who read under the covers with a flashlight.  Still love to read . . . read every night before I go to bed.  Reading leads to better writing.  There are tons of books lying around the house . . . I appreciate books.

I guess I appreciate articles written by those who think that they are helping out introverts.  The author of the MSN.com article assumed that he or she is helping us introverts out, but I think it is a little overwhelming the number of suggestions.  I will admit that I have dabbled in a few of them, but at my age I think I have found those areas that bring me the most satisfaction and energize me the most.  It really doesn’t matter because most introverts will figure it out on their own . . . after all, it is a personal, individual thing.  Again, something that extraverts don’t understand.

Which brings me back to the fact that I am even writing about this . . . as an introvert I needed to get off by myself, spend a little time alone, and play.  Play with words.  Play with ideas.  All by myself.  Even alone, we introverts know how to entertain ourselves.  We are not bored.  We are not lonely.  We are not shy.  We are not weird (though others might think we are).  No, we are just introverts.  Even introverts need time to play . . . even if it is playing by themselves.

Trust me . . . you will like us better if you just let us play by ourselves.  Everyone will be happy.  It is amazing how much better I feel . . . I really needed this time.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Unbearableness . . . Uncomfortableness . . . of Being

In the Old Testament of the Bible to be born with a disability was viewed as a sign of disfavor with God . . . to be sinful or the result of sinfulness within the family . . . to be considered one on the outside of the “chosen”.  In the Old Testament to have a disability was not good, and as such, the individual was treated different . . . ignored, ostracized, pitied, exiled, and even killed . . . after all, the disabled apparently did something to upset God and get the consequences of their sin.  In the Old Testament those with disabilities . . . physical or mental . . . were sent out of the circle to take their places in the shadowlands.

It doesn’t get much better in the New Testament.  The treatment of those who have disabilities is still seen as some sort of grave offense against God and others causing the disability . . . they still remain outside of the circle . . . still exist in the shadows of society and the world in which they live.  The only saving grace of the New Testament is Jesus.  Jesus demonstrates through his actions towards those with disabilities that those with disabilities are as much a part of the family of God as anyone else.  Jesus . . . in the New Testament is constantly tearing down the walls that separate to bring those who are in the shadows . . . to destroy the misconception of sinfulness that separates anyone from God. 

Despite the shift towards inclusion between the Old Testament and the New Testament, things really haven’t changed a whole bunch through the generations since Jesus’ fleshly presence in the world.  There is still a lot of stigmatizing . . . a lot of separation . . . a lot of exclusion . . . a lot of discrimination . . . a lot of injustice . . . that occurs to those who have some form or sort of disability.  In spite of huge scientific advancements and research . . . great enlightenment . . . the plight of those who struggle with disabilities—physical or mental—has not gotten much better than it was in the times of the Old Testament. 

The word “stigma” has been attributed to the word “stigmata”.  Stigmata connotes the “marks of Christ from the crucifixion”.  Within the realm of those who follow Jesus . . . or those who calls themselves Christian . . . Christianity . . . the stigmata was a positive sign.  It was a mark of being touched by God.  It was viewed with reverence and awe . . . a sign of holiness.  Shoot, having the stigmata was a good thing as it shot people up the ladder towards sainthood. 

But, that was then and this is now.  Today the word “stigma” is seen as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.  Today “stigma” is a negative.  On the one hand, I guess, it is fortunate that the implications of the word “stigma” is not reserved for any one group . . . “stigma” seems to be an equal opportunity negative that is used freely to separate people and groups from the perceived and acceptable society.  For example, ask any elderly person whether or not growing old is seen as a negative and they will tell you that it is.  Growing old and being old is not an acceptable state of being in our society.  Watch television and tell me how elderly people are viewed . . . check out the advertisements in magazines and newspapers (one can only put up with so many commercials for Depends and Viagra) . . . the elderly are not portrayed in the most positive light.  That is a stigma.

As I stated, stigma is an equal opportunity negative.  Off the top of my mind I can state at there are stigmas associated with those who are: disabled (mentally or physically), elderly, poor, uneducated, gendered afflicted, race afflicted, religiously afflicted, culturally afflicted . . . those are the broad stigmas; but, there are the smaller stigmas.  I can attest, as a University of Nebraska football fan, that there is a stigma I have been labeled with . . . the mere mention from me of my favorite college football team brings an array of assumptions and opinions as to who I am.  Trust me, in this off-year of Cornhusker football I have been taking a beating.  Anything and everything that is unknown or unacceptable or not like us has the ability to become a stigma that we place on others.  Anything and everything is fair game to be marked with disgrace and unacceptance . . . it all has the ability to be stigmatized.

Basically “stigma” is a “mark”.  In the field of medicine a “stigma” is a visible sign or characteristic of a disease.  In its original meaning a “stigma” was a mark made by a pointed instrument.  Sometimes it was referred to as a tattoo . . . it was a mark or a spot on the skin.  At one time, within religious circles it was considered as a positive; somewhere along the line it became a negative.  As a negative it finds its life in ignorance, fear, and misunderstanding. 

By now you have probably figured out that I have a hard time with the word “stigma” . . . I don’t like it.  It has lost it purpose and its meaning—at least from its original meaning and intent.  It does more harm than it does good.  It has become a hammer to pound others into a pulp . . . a means of exiling those who are different to the outer spheres of the shadows.  I do not care for anything that separates people from one another.

Stigmas make it difficult to accept who God has created an individual to be . . . makes it hard to be one’s self.  Stigmas make people uncomfortable with who they are.  Stigmas separate . . . discriminate . . . alienate . . . and, even kill those who are not acceptable in the values of society.  The problem is that often the values of society are not dictated by the people who make up the society but by those who are selling something.  If a person wants to know what is valuable in society one only has to look at its advertising and media to understand.  Being old is not valuable.  Be unhealthy is not valuable.  Being disabled is not valuable.  Being uneducated is not valuable.  Being poor is not valuable.  Being different is not valuable.  We live in a cookie-cutter society and if we do not fit the mold . . . well, we are unacceptable.  When the world we live in rejects us it is difficult to live up to whom God created us to be.  Stigmas are only a sign of the illness inflicted upon us through the world in which we live in.

It sucks.  It sucks to live in a world of stigma.

Shoot . . . I am a walking billboard for stigma.  First of all, I do not fit the image of youth so expounded upon all of us each and every day . . . I am 57 years old, have gray hair, and a Dunlop edging its way toward a tractor tire around my middle . . . I am an AARP card carrying member.  In the eyes of society, I am old.  Being old is a liability.  Second of all, I’m not rich . . . shoot, I don’t even have half the toys society tells me I should have at this stage of my life . . . the big house, fifteen cars, umpteen technological gadgets . . . the big vacation on some exotic beach . . . and, lots of stock in those drugs meant to help my first stigma out—Viagra and anything associated with the sex drive of a twenty-year.  I am an ordained minister . . . trust me, it is a stigma.  I am considered to be ultra-conservative . . . a fundamentalist . . . a Bible-thumper . . . non-beer drinking . . . Gaither-loving individual.  Being a Christian minister is a stigma.  Those only scratch the surface of the stigmas associated with who people perceive me to be . . . wrong or right, I am categorized.

And, we all are.

Because we are categorized, we are separated . . . we are divided . . . we are pitted against one another.  Before we even know one another we are already separated and pitted against one another. So often those divisions . . . those stigmas . . . are based on ignorance (not stupidity—though that is often a big cause of stigmas—but ignorance) . . . based on fear . . . based on differences.  Rarely are the roots of ignorance able to stand up to experience.

And, that is a shame.

There is no place in the world . . . no place in our lives . . . for stigma.  There is especially no place for stigma for those who claim to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.  Where the world erects walls, Jesus tears them down.  Sadly, though, even those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus, use stigma to order our world . . . to separate ourselves from that which we do not know or understand.  The result is that we lose out in discovering a whole array of wonderful and beautiful people who could easily be blessings in our lives.  There is something fundamentally unfaithful about that . . . something that goes against the call of God in our lives to “love one another”.

I do not believe that call has called any of us to make the lives of those in the world to be uncomfortable in who God created them to be . . . broken or unbroken . . . whole or partial . . . rich or poor . . . educated or uneducated . . . black or white or Native American . . . gay or straight or bi . . . healthy or unhealthy . . . able or disabled.  I do not believe that God ever intended the idea of stigma was meant to be a negative, but rather a simple mark of who any of us was created to be.  There is no room for stigma in the journey of those who follow Jesus . . . for those who claim an intimate and personal relationship with God.  There is no place for stigma of any kind.  Plain and simple . . . in my estimation, stigma is a sin.

I believe in a God who desires a relationship with all of God’s creation . . . each and every one of us.  I believe that through Jesus this invitation towards relationship with God . . . and, with one another . . . is demonstrated and lived.  Through Jesus it proven that it can be done despite the fight that society puts up against it.  There is no room in the world for stigma that separates . . . differentiates . . . and, even kills that which we do not understand.  No, Jesus said, to love one another.

The Bible tells us that we are all created in the image of God . . . all of us.  If this is true . . . where is there room in our lives or world for stigma?  Did you ever think about that?