Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Song to Change the World

(This first appeared as a column in my church's newsletter.)

“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” Luke 1:46-47

In Luke’s Gospel, we are treated to one of the most beautiful moments of the Bible. As Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth to share the news of her pregnancy, she bursts into song with a glorious hymn that is known as the Magnificat. 

“The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name.”

It is a wonderful and beloved song that has been adapted in countless songs and prayers over the years. (My personal favorite is a toss up between the version in “Holden Evening Prayer” and “The Canticle of the Turning.”) Like many familiar texts, however, it is so well known that we can sometimes forget the radical nature of its words.

“God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.”

Mary sings in the song of God turning the world upside down, suggesting that the birth of Jesus is the start of a new order. In this new order, those with wealth and power are “cast down” and the poor, hungry, and weak are cared for by God.

“God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly…”

In the stories we retell every year, we can see the way that Jesus began upsetting the status quo from the very beginning. Lowly shepherds are the first to hear the good news of his birth, wealthy astrologers from afar show up in a backwater town to bring gifts to this new child, and King Herod sends his army after him because he knows this child spells doom for his tyranny. As his ministry continued, Jesus continued to turn things upside down, comforting the sick and outcast and arguing with religious leaders and the powerful. Finally, he even turns death inside out on Easter weekend.

“He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy…”

For Advent this year, my church going to spend time considering this important and beautiful song that foretells Jesus’ meaning for the world. Under the theme of “Inside Out,” we’re going to look at the ways Jesus turns inside out how we view God, how we live, and even our very hearts. How do these words challenge our assumptions about ourselves and the world and push us out of our comfort zones? We will sing this song and listen for how it speaks of hope for today as well.

“Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”

In this busy season of shopping and planning and parties, it may be good to hear a song that reminds us what God’s love means. In a world where there is so much crazy, trouble, and heartbreak, maybe things need to be turned inside out and upside down. 

“…according to the promise God made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

In God’s Amazing Grace,

Pastor Ari

"Wipe away all tears for the dawn draws near and the world is about to turn." -"Canticle of the Turning" (Hymn adaptation of the Magnifcat by Rory Cooney)

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Worst Ad I've Seen All Year

This advertisement is disturbing.

If you can't read the smaller version I've added to this blog, you can see the original here. In brief, Microsoft is promoting their new line of Office products by suggesting workers are wasting a lot of potential work time by being away from the office. Microsoft can enable them to work anywhere! Bathroom? Work space! Vacation? Meeting time! On a date? Email!

Just imagine being able to work every waking moment of the day, every day of the year...

Of course the sad truth is that for many people, life already feels like this. We are one of the hardest working nations on earth, but we're also one of the most stressed out, exhausted, and suffer from a variety of health problems that are probably related to the first two. We don't even take all of our vacation.

There are a variety of reasons for us to reexamine the mindset that thinks the life this Microsoft ad promotes is a good idea. But combatting overworking isn't just an economic or health issue. It's a faith issue.

I say this is a faith issue for several reasons. I think for decades or centuries, we in America came to make industriousness synonymous with being a good Christian. There are lots of reasons for this, but I put a lot of the blame at the feet of our Puritan founders. (Long story short: Puritans came to see economic success and hard work as evidence of a healthy inner-faith and therefore worked hard to "prove" their salvation.) As we've largely combined Christian and American values, for better or worse, we've come to largely assume that working hard at our jobs is both the American and Christian thing to do.

But as Christians, we are called to do more than our jobs. Martin Luther insisted that all Christians have vocations ("vocation" literally means "calling") given to them by God. And, yes, the one that pays the bills is part of it, but Luther was also insistent that God calls us to be parents and friends and siblings and spouses and many others that may not be jobs, but are key to sharing God's love in society, practicing faith, and maintaining our own faith. Ignoring our kid's soccer game or doing work while watching a movie as a family is neglecting all the other vocations God has given us to give and receive love in our lives.

God calls us to invest in relationships. Because we have been given a restored relationship to God, we are drawn to restore relationships with others. Work has its place in our society and there will certainly be times we do need to work long hours, but it isn't all that we are. We earn a living at work; God gives us life to be shared.

From the Gray,
Pastor Ari

“Today is all you’ll ever have. Don’t close your eyes.” -Switchfoot, “This is Your Life”

Friday, November 6, 2015

What is Normal Anyway?

This morning my church hosted a network meeting of Cross+Generational ministry workers in our area. In the course of our conversation, we discussed mental illness and the difficulty many people have talking about their own or a loved one's mental illness, even though it isn't nearly as unusual as people think.

We stigmatize many issues like mental illness as not being "normal" and therefore feel uncomfortable talking about them, but perhaps the problem is our idea of "normal."

Statistically, it is more likely than not that you or someone you love has experienced mental illness, addiction, miscarriage or fertility issues, incarceration, sexual assault, or abuse. By definition, then, it isn't the person who has never dealt with any of these issues that is "normal," it's all the rest of us who have. And if that's the case then why do we so often treat all these topics as taboo or strange? Especially in church?

As I think about this further, isn't it in the Bible and Christian theology that it's normal to be broken and imperfect? That we experience troubles?

Jesus said he came not for the healthy but the sick (Mark 2:17), and he meant the sin-sick, the heartsick, the sick and tired of life, and sick to death of hiding my troubles.

If that's true, then church is where we bring our struggles and hurt to break down stigmas and taboos, not where we hide them. Then church really is for normal people, but normal doesn't mean what we thought it means.

From the Gray,
Pastor Ari

“We made an art out of neglecting what we don’t want to see.” -Jars of Clay, “Skin and Bones”