Posts Tagged God

The Shiny Side Up from Rev. Susan Sparks – Laughter

“God is silent.   Now if only man would shut up.”    -Woody Allen
Hi y’all, welcome to the Shiny Side Up! A journal of infectious inspiration that will lift you up, make you smile and leave you stronger!

I am a spiritual seeker and a Leo. As such, I prefer chatty, outgoing deities. I want a God that wants to talk about the same things I do, i.e. me; a God that tells me when I wake up each morning that I look gorgeous; a God that says, “I love you” every five seconds and “You are so fabulous” every ten.

I didn’t ask to be born in August. I didn’t even ask to be a Leo. But since someone or something chose to put me on this earth during that particular planetary grade, one would think that he, she or it would take the time to ensure that my royal Leo requirements were met. Unfortunately, the deity responsible was, I believe, a Scorpio: a private, quiet sign that hates lengthy conversations.

You don’t have to be a fiery lioness to feel the weight of holy silence. We’ve all had that moment when we look around expectantly for some divine response — any response — and there appears to be none. Why does God sometimes appear silent? And why do those times seem to be the ones we most need holy assistance?

One thing I have learned over the years about Scorpios is that while sometimes quiet, they are loyal beyond imagination. Often found in the background, they are nonetheless always there — a bit like Forrest Gump. In the movie, Forrest magically materializes out of the background in some of the major historical moments of the time. Oh, here is Forrest with President John F. Kennedy! Oh, here he is with Elvis Presley! Oh, look Forrest is standing beside John Lennon! You had to look closely to see him, but he was always there.

The ancient Celts apparently agreed with my assessment that God is a Scorpio. In Celtic spirituality, in order to find God, you had to look pretty hard. But if you looked in the right places, God was always there. One of those places was what the Celts deemed “thin places”; places where the boundary between human and holy was so thin, so transparent, you could almost break through. These were the spaces where secular and holy, earth and heaven, ordinary and sacred came together. As the theologian, Marcus Borg explained: “Thin places are places where the veil momentarily lifts, and we behold God.”

Thin places can take many forms. Some might be geographical, like the desert, where all things are stripped away and life is down to its bare essentials. Others might be found in music, poetry, literature or art. Another thin place we don’t often think of is laughter. Laughter is the ultimate act of letting go. It clears our hearts of insecurity, neediness and stale expectations. It opens it anew to the words or songs or silence we were meant to receive.

With laughter, our hearts are laid bare before God. And in this place where all is released, all becomes possible.

One other thing I have learned is that Leos never believe anything is their fault. That is why it has taken me years to realize that God is silent through no fault of God, but because of my own baggage — my own inability to hear. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton explained: “Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time. This is not just a fable or a nice story. It is true. [And] if we abandon ourselves to God and forget ourselves, we see it sometimes.”

In the end, I still see myself as a Leo with a Scorpio creator. But through laughter, I’ve found a thin place where even Leos and Scorpios are compatible; a point where we let go and stop trying to make God into something; a place of repose where, resting in the mystery, we simply await God to reveal God’s self in God’s own time. No expectations. No disappointments. Just faith that what comes is holy and right and meant to be … Scorpio, Leo or whatever.

(This post is an excerpt from my book, “Laugh Your Way to Grace: Reclaiming the Spiritual Power of Humor.” Permission granted by SkyLight Paths Publishing.)

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When People Talk, It Can Make or Break Your Church – Bill Owen-

When People Talk, It Can Make or Break Your Church | Bill Owen, Leadership, Community, Center for Healthy Churches, Healthy Churches, Conversation, Speech

Unhealthy conversations that go unchecked damage culture. It leads down a path of dissension and decline, Owen writes.

Church people talk.

They talk about all kinds of things: the pastor, her sermon, how many people used to be in worship, and what we ought to be doing but haven’t yet.

This kind of talk can be threatening to a pastor, but it doesn’t have to be.

Having people care enough about what’s happening at church to talk about it is a good thing. Conversation creates culture. It’s the path toward vitality and growth.

Effective church leaders must learn that the surest way out of an unhealthy climate is by changing the narrative, by reframing how “people talk.” This process is nuanced, but the gospels help.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all began as conversations. These writing evangelists stood in a long line of communicators, stringing together stories told and retold, heard and recounted.

They gathered the best and wrote them down so parents could recite them to their children, teachers to their students and neighbors to their neighbors. Before long, friends from remote places were also talking about Jesus as the Son of God.

The political talking heads tried to spurn Jesus’ story by mocking him and killing him for blasphemy. But those who had been near him had gotten word to those now far off that he was so much more.

They re-authored the culture surrounding Jesus’ story all because church people decided to talk.

Conversations can be powerful.

If you think about it, not one of us would have ever come to faith apart from someone having said something to us. Words as simple as “Hey, why don’t you come to church with me?” Maybe it was “I’ll pray for you” or “God bless.”

Whatever it may have been, the fact is someone at one time or another said something that touched us, “spoke” to us or maybe challenged or even angered us. It whetted our appetites or made us curious enough to take a step toward God.

This is how church has worked for two millennia now. It thrives on people talking to one another. This is how a carpenter’s son from Nazareth becomes known all over the world.

People talk and word travels. People talk and lives transform. People talk and churches are established. People talk and systems get established like hospitals and nonprofits to help the poor, the sick and the broken mend.

Just think what churches have accomplished, are accomplishing and still can accomplish by how they focus their talk.

But beware: Having people care enough about what’s happening to talk about it can also be bad.

Unhealthy conversations that go unchecked damage culture. It leads down a path of dissension and decline.

Too often, we underestimate the effects of how people talk. Serious matters treated too casually or electronically reduced to 140-word tweets or diminished to emoticons or scrolled across the bottom of television monitors threaten the culture being shaped.

Talk is seldom cheap. What we say, when and how we say it, counts. It matters in every realm – political, relational and spiritual.

When political leaders articulate with moral clarity our highest values, citizens rally to form a more perfect union.

When friends surround one another during times of crisis, words of comfort and concern give strength and peace.

When a neighbor tells the truth in love to one who has asked for it, when a spouse ends a quarrel with forgiveness, when a teacher bends to encourage a student to use her voice because every child matters – it makes a difference.

Pastors should never underestimate the power of conversation, whether in the hallways, around the table or from the pulpit. It all matters.

It’s easy to settle for tepid, empty words – to exchange pleasantries, to bless the status quo, to comment on the weather or exchange sports scores.

Don’t be duped. While everyday banter can help build rapport and establish trust, left alone or left unshaped is not pastoral leadership.

Good pastors articulate a consistent, clear vision of a God-sized future; communities of faith respond.

Effective pastors are able to spread the message: “Here’s the picture; this is what we’re doing; here’s why we’re doing it; if things go right, here’s what the picture will look like a year from now.”

The really good pastors are able to use their pulpits to offer a prophetic call to congregations to follow the narrative of Jesus without feeling threatened by a low trust culture.

The best pastors are able to get their ministerial staff to be collaborative leaders shaping the new narrative while they lead teams.

When this occurs, specific steps of implementation follow and real ministry takes root shaping the church’s culture, spilling over into the life of the community.

I, along with my colleagues at the Center for Healthy Churches, work to help church leaders and churches identify processes that enable such a shift in narrative building.

Healthy churches and pastors know how to establish a high trust culture that focuses attention on what and how people talk. Churches that put a premium on healthy, intentional conversations thrive.

People are going to talk. Why not make it a healthy conversation?

Bill Owen is the south central consultant at the Center for Healthy Churches. He served previously as pastor of Mount Carmel Church in Cross Plains, Tennessee, before retiring after 32 years of ministry. A version of this article first appeared on the CHC blog website and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his blog, and you can follow him on Twitter @owenrevbill.


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God Works; We Work – Rev. Dr. Molly Marshall – Baptist News Global

As our nation celebrated Labor Day, giving attention to the role and dignity of workers, we should also consider the role of human agency in accomplishing divine labor. Theologians always interrogate such things! Surely the work of Christians is more than simply fueling the engine of capitalism; meaningful work also participates in God’s intention for the world. Yet, determining how God is at work in this world is one of the hardest theological challenges.

Think about the urgent crises confronting us. People of faith pray for deliverance, trusting God to hold back the waters of the sea or help them elude their enemies pushing them over the border in Myanmar or rid them of the malignancy growing in their bodies or quell the rising tide of white supremacy. Fervent prayer may not create the conditions for which they pray; however, many continue to trust that God’s providence will prevail. We must ask: through what instrumentality?

Reading narratives of deliverance in Scripture evokes hope for God’s mighty acts to be victorious once again. Many preachers and Sunday school teachers have followed the lectionary texts from Exodus in this extended season after Pentecost. We have noted the trickery of Shiphrah and Puah, the resistance of Pharaoh’s daughter and Miriam, and God’s call of Moses. We have pondered the extended saga of Israel in Egypt, questioning why deliverance was long delayed.

In these early chapters, the writer declares that God has “heard their groaning,” and “remembered God’s covenant,” “seen the misery of the people,” and has “come down to rescue them from the power of Egypt.” The suffering of the people touches the heart of God, although God leans the plans for deliverance upon humans who are themselves part of the oppressed. The means by which God has come down to rescue does not seem very sturdy, and how God will be involved is at question.

God’s commission to Moses is for him to go to Pharaoh and “bring my people out of Egypt.” God’s promise is very simple: “I will be with you,” and the proof that it is truly God who sends him is this: “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall all worship God here on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12). What? It is only after the liberation is accomplished that Moses will know who propelled him into this high stakes mission? Oh my!

I often hear persons wonder out loud why God does not work in our day as God worked in biblical times. It appears that God does indeed work in the same way, inviting people to shared responsibility for God’s handiwork, which we inhabit and stain and heal. I believe that God is always calling humanity to do the needed holy work and that God is the power behind the actions of those courageous enough to trust God.

In a world where things can go terribly wrong — such as the human evocation of climate change that wreaks havoc — God is using every means to mend creation. The incarnation of Jesus teaches that God’s primary means of conducting redemptive work is through a partnership with humans who were tasked at the beginning to tend God’s handiwork. A long, grinding and luminous history of evolution antedates the human arrival, albeit a particular stewardship is required of those whom God has granted dominion.

Kathryn Tanner reminds us that God works in history at a different level than humans. For Tanner, divine and human agency are not in competition with one another. Because God is not in the same order of being as creatures, God’s power is universally extended and is at work in all things. Thus, there is no zero-sum game that suggests the more God is at work, the less humans can do — and vice versa.

Tanner, rather, points us to a renewed vision of how the incarnation determines how divine and human agency can be at work in the same person, who is a paradigm for how God chooses to accomplish the divine purpose. She calls us to think about God as “gift giver,” who not only imbues the Christ with holy presence to transform the horizon of human hopes, but makes possible human participation in Christ toward the same goal of redemption. Her theological vision that Christ is the key to what God is doing everywhere in the world guides our thinking about how human work and godly work always interface. Through God’s humility, we are always ingredient to saving work.

In times of challenge, trusting that God is at work empowering humans to work for the good of all is reassuring. It also prompts courageous action. While it is common to think that we are waiting on God, actually both God and others are waiting on us.

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Independence Day 2016

12989702-waving-usa-flagEvery day of my life I give thanks for being an American. I had nothing to do with where I was born, but I am grateful for this accident of birth. I mean no disrespect for any other country. I was born into a working class family in upstate South Carolina. My parents were the salt of the earth. They worked hard to earn a living and to make a home for my sister and me. They were the kind of people who made this the great country that it is. They believed in the American dream and they instilled that belief in the two of us. They taught us that all honest work is honorable. They taught us to respect ourselves and that all people are God’s children.

My wife was born into poverty in West Virginia. Most would have said that she had no chance for a successful life. A caring public school teacher saw her potential and inspired her to want more for herself. Both of us received good public school educations. Both of us enjoyed wonderful, successful careers and after different paths we found each other later in life. Neither of us could have had the lives we have enjoyed any place else in the world.

I am proud that my country is still striving for that more perfect union. I am proud that we elected an African/American as president, but I will be just as happy when we elect a woman or a Hispanic. I will be even happier when those qualifiers are not even mentioned. Freedom and opportunity still ring from every hilltop and valley

I am thankful that we are free to worship or not to worship as we choose. I salute the flag. I proudly recite The Pledge of Allegiance and my spine tingles with the sounds of our national anthem, America the Beautiful and God Bless America. In the words of the country song, “I am proud to be an American.” My heart aches when our government abandons our time honored values of just treatment of our enemies. I do not deny that there are those who intend to do us harm and who strive to defeat our way of life; however, if we stoop to adopt their practices, the battle is already lost.

I pray without shame, God bless America. I pray for our leaders and for those who protect us at home and abroad. I pray that we will always be that land that proudly proclaims, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” We are a nation of immigrants and our society has profited from the contributions of all those who came.

As we celebrate Independence Day, give thanks for all of those who gave their lives that you and I could enjoy this great land of freedom. Give thanks for those who strive every day to make this a more perfect union. Give thanks for those whose political opinions are different from yours because that means that we are still free to disagree and to express those disagreements. I did not ask anyone’s permission to write or publish this article and there are no guards outside my door. I can read whatever I choose to read and I can travel whenever and wherever I choose without interference. I will spend the day celebrating with my family the blessings we enjoy but too often take for granted. We will bow our heads and thank God for our blessings. We must learn over and over again it seems that freedom isn’t really free.

On this Independence Day and every day of my life, I am blessed to be an American and I am grateful for the privileges and responsibilities that go with being a good citizen.

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