Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Perils of Always Speaking Your Mind

Nowadays a segment of the American public seems so enamored with allegedly straight-talking politicians who simply blurt out whatever happens to be on their minds.  The sheer act of “saying what’s on your mind” is praiseworthy, regardless of the quality of the words that are thereby unleashed.  Whole swaths of the populace are sick-and-tired of well-modulated, thoughtfully- measured discourse—often labeling that as “politically correct language.”

There are still good reasons for not always “speaking your mind.” Most of us possess internal editors that shape what we say and veto our tendency to give voice to every stray thought that rattles around inside our heads.   For example:

    1.      Many of our thoughts reflect immediate visceral reactions—not seasoned, reasoned reflections.   The first thing that pops into our heads about something is rarely the last or best thought we’re going to have on that topic.  Lightning-quick reactions feel real at the time, but “counting to ten” gives us time to think more deeply. 

    2.      “Always speaking your mind” short-circuits the opportunity to check out what we’re thinking with other people.    We can become so monological—listening only to the echo chamber inside our own heads—that we miss out on the chance to discuss ideas with others whom we respect and whose opinions we value.  

    3.      Quite a few of our thoughts--if hastily spoken—will simply offend others and tear at the fabric of society.   Our internal editors serve the common good by preventing us from spewing forth words that are patently disrespectful, bigoted, or abusive.

    4.      Our minds are the playgrounds both for our better angels and our darker demons.   Much of what simply pops into my head represents that part of my personality that is captive to sin and cannot free itself.   (“Where did that come from?” I frequently ask myself.)  My internal editor, though not flawless, rescues me from regularly putting my sinful self on public display.

My goal is neither to protest freedom of speech nor plead for hyper-self-censorship.  It's not about refusing to rock the boat or risk disagreeing with others.  There is a time and a place for speaking up and speaking out.   And there is such a thing as contrived, confining, supercilious “politically correct speech” that simply obfuscates reality.

But too much of what is mislabeled “politically correct speech” nowadays is something else.  It is precisely the kind of speech we need more of:
    ·        Speech that is fact-based
    ·        Speech that reflects both heartfelt emotion and rigorous reasoning
    ·        Speech that arises out of deep conversation with others, including those with whom we disagree
    ·        Speech that serves the common good and builds up society 

  • Speech that illuminates, never attacks, those with whom we speak.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Opening Up Sacred Space

Pathways Summer Splash Worship Service
Camp Emmaus, Menahga, MN
July 23, 2016
Luke 10:38-42

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

“Let all who enter be received as Christ.”  

Those words, from the Rule of St Benedict, adorn the welcome sign that greets visitors to your sister camp, Shetek Lutheran Bible Camp near Slayton, MN.

“Let all who enter be received as Christ.”

This brief statement describes the primacy of hospitality in all communities of faith, all the places where Christ’s faithful people come together.

Receiving and offering hospitality is foundational in the Way of Jesus Christ, because it takes seriously the fact that you and I are always depending on the kindness and generosity of others.

This brief gospel lesson from Luke 10 focuses our attention on such hospitality.

And we’re not just talking about a Miss Manner’s brand of hospitality, either.   We’re talking about the deep, dependable hospitality that was such a staple of daily life in the ancient world.

In a world without convenience stores, budget motels, ATMs or highway rest-areas, ancient travelers staked their lives on the hospitality of others along the road….in the awareness that next time, you the host (today) might be a needy guest (tomorrow) in someone else’s home.

So here in Luke 10 Jesus shows up in the home that Martha and her sister Mary shared, and it seems at first blush that Martha is the one who offers lavish hospitality worthy of a guest like Jesus.

But Martha had a sister, and that sister, Mary, was of no apparent use to Martha…choosing instead to loll at Jesus’ feet, hanging on his every word.  

Even though she tried to look past it, Martha was doing a slow burn while she served.  It ate at her— the burden of all that hospitality falling disproportionately on Marsha’s shoulders, to the point that she finally blurted out to Jesus:  "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me."

As Martha dumped all that on her guest, she became quite inhospitable, by drawing Jesus into an intra-family squabble and by making her problem her guest’s problem--in fact accusing her guest in the process:  “Lord, do you not care….?”

But in fact, Jesus did care—he cared primarily about what Martha was doing to herself, trying so hard to be the “hostess with the mostesst”:   “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things…”

New Testament scholar Elisabeth Johnson points out that in the original language of this text, the word translated distracted “has the connotation of being pulled or dragged in different directions.”[1]

…which is to say that in her intense focus on hospitality Martha had completely lost her focus.

Life, especially the busy-ness of life in the 21st century, does that to us:  we try so hard that we blow it, we focus so intensely that we lose all focus.   In the process, our best efforts, even our attempts at “being hospitable” fall woefully short.

But that was not Mary’s problem here.   And contrary to what Martha assumed, Mary had not neglected hospitality--because Mary’s hospitality consisted of her attention, her focused listening to what Jesus their guest had to say.

Again, in the words of Elisabeth Johnson:  “There is no greater hospitality than listening to your guest. How much more so when the guest is Jesus!”

And this, my dear friends, is a word made to order for us, living in this time and place. 

We still, of course, pull off that surface-level, inch-deep hospitality.  We ready the setting, prepare the food, pour up the drinks, create the ambience—we do that with as much panache as our budgets and schedules will allow.

But what about the deeper hospitality, the Mary-like laser-attentiveness to the other person, our guest?   What about our capacity truly to attend to, to listen to, to be fully and physically present with one another?

Several years ago a provocative article in the NY Times asked:  “can you remember the last time you were in a public space in America and didn’t notice that half the people around you were bent over a digital screen, thumbing a connection to somewhere else?”[2]

That article, written by a neuro-scientist, suggested that with our over-focusing on “virtual relationships” by means of all our hand-held digital devices, we may inadvertently be stunting “our biological capacity to connect with other people” face to face, skin on skin.

We may be missing—as Martha did—the “one thing needful,” the “better part” that Mary lived for. 

God could show up in our midst, garbed in flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, and we might be pulled or dragged in so many different directions that we’d be oblivious to the greatest encounter with the greatest Person in our lives.

And we might miss the most wondrous miracle of all—not that a gentle soul like Mary would sit still for Jesus in her living room….but that Jesus would sit still for Mary--that we have in Jesus a God who graciously seeks us out, enters our space, continually pays deep attention to us, looks us right in the eyes to speak his “I love you” to us again and again and again.

Dr. Andrew Root of Luther Seminary, contends that “relationships…in ministry are the place, the very space created, to encounter the living Jesus.”[3]  

Let me say that again:   “Relationships…are the place, the very space created, to encounter the living Jesus.”

What happened so long ago in Mary and Martha’s home still happens among us in the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

Jesus draws near to us.  Jesus sits still with us.  

And like a good host—Jesus brings all sorts of gifts with him—clean water to wash away all our dirt, fresh bread with rich wine to restore and reinvigorate us. 

Jesus draws near to us and sits with us, fashioning soul-restoring relationships in the sacred space that God opens up between us.
And the one thing needful for us is to be there and be aware in that sacred space where Jesus shows up among us.  

One of the great gifts of outdoor ministries like Pathways is that our camps and retreat centers open up sacred space in which we meet Jesus Christ and encounter others as “little Christs” in our midst.

In a world that doesn’t always feel safe, a world that makes our heads spin, a world filled with cacophony of endless noise and distraction, a world that too often has us sitting side by side yet separated by a thousand miles of digital space…

In a world that leaves us feeling the way Martha was—distracted by many things, even good things like offering hospitality…
In this world as we know it….outdoor ministries like Pathways beckon us to step back, to turn aside, to pay attention to what matters most, to come into fresh awareness of God, God’s wondrous creation, God’s diverse people and God’s transforming Word.

I believe we need to think of places like Camp Emmaus and Camp Minnewakan as oases in our 21st century wilderness….oases where we and those we care about can tune out the distractions and tune into the heartbeat of the universe, in the God we know best in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This morning we pause to pay attention to this reality…and to affirm and bless those who do so much to fill this sacred place with rich relational space….where folks can meet Jesus Christ and encounter those in whom we behold the face of God.

This Mary-like focus on the One who matters most—Jesus and his Way—truly grounds us and energizes us for the Martha-like service this world so desperately need.

Thank God for this outdoor ministry that we love and share and support.   In places like this Jesus meets us and our fellow way-farers.   God opens up space between us where there is room for Jesus, room for you, and room for me….to be deeply attentive to one another and God-with-us…and thus, to have our lives restored again for service in God’s world.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

[3] Andrew Root, The Relational Pastor:  Sharing in Christ by Sharing Ourselves (IVP, 2013), p. 158.