Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How Will You Respond?

If you have turned on the news or listened to the radio either yesterday or today…there seems to be only one thing that everyone is talking about…

The Grand Jury decision on the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, MO.

It has been all over the place and just about every single person has something to add to the conversation.  Many people are hurt, sad, afraid, but mostly angered…

But how do we respond to that anger?

A little while back I wrote a post in response to the violent attacks that took place at Kroger (you can read that here http://youngsterstheology.blogspot.com/2014/09/an-eye-for-eye.html).

After the Grand Jury’s decision was released, Michael Brown’s family released a statement.  The following is a segment of that statement.

“While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.”

Again, I go back to thinking about the same Marcus Borg words that I reflected on in that previous post. 

How do we respond?

How do we respond when we are angry or upset?

Sometimes we may want to lash out, react, just do something with all that anger!

But when everything settles down….and you calm down… does that accomplish anything?

Was that the right way to handle the situation?

They say hindsight is 20/20…and I don’t think I can look back at my life and honestly say that how I responded when I was angry was a “good” way to handle the situation.  Normally I had to go back and apologize for what I did and the excuse was always, “I am sorry.  I was angry.” 

But, that is not an excuse if you ask me.

I wasn’t acting like myself...I was angry!

But James 1:20 says that angry does not produce the righteousness of God.

There are also numerous places in the Bible that states that we cannot serve two masters.

To me, one way of interpreting that is that we cannot properly serve God if we are angry.  Anger is a master that makes us act out of character and do reckless things.  It is distancing ourselves from God and as James says, we are not producing the righteousness of God when we are angry.

Something else really stuck out to me in the Brown families statement. 

It in, they say they understand that emotions are going to be felt and that people will want to respond emotions.  But again, how do we respond?

They ask that people channel that frustration to make a POSITIVE change.

Don’t just get mad about something that has happened and do something…instead do something ABOUT it.

Growing up…I was a HUGE Michael Jordan fan.  One of my greatest memories was being able to see him play live against the Trail Blazers in 1998 during an exhibition game at the Pyramid.  For a boy going up in that era, you either loved him or hated him.  If you hated him it was probably because you were a Knicks fan.

Anyway, one thing that I was always impressed by was his drive.  He wanted to be a basketball player.  He tried out for his high school varsity team…and didn’t make it.  This angered him. 

His response?

Worked hard and became basically the greatest basketball player ever.

I also remember when I was in high school.  I was cut from my high school soccer team.  I was hurt.  I was not happy.  I was so angry at the decision.

It took some time but I spent the next year working my butt off and tried out again...and I made it.

I know these two examples are a far cry from being on the same level as what is going on in Fergason, but why can we not still apply the same lessons.

If something is wrong or if something angers us…we have a few options in how we respond.

1.     We can just do something out of anger.
But then ask yourself…will you be happy with it later?

And more importantly, were you producing God’s righteousness with those actions?

Or you can do something about it…

Take that anger and channel it towards something that can then help further the Kingdom of God…

How will you respond?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Don't Worry About Tomorrow...

No matter how hard we try, we can never fully prepare for the future. One cannot plan for the future,
yet for thousands of years, humans have been trying to do so. Through practices such as augury
and astrology, the generations before us have been unsuccessfully attempting to find answers or hints
of the future in their surroundings. We are always looking for answers or some insight into the future
that can help us better prepare for it, but does it really help? Looking back at these absurd, antiquated
traditions makes one question if the generations that came before us truly were poisoned by the lead in their cup. Calendars and classification systems have been built around horoscopes, but today, one is considered a fool for even giving them a second thought. As we look back on our attempts to predict, plan, and control the future, we realize humans will probably never be able to tell or even prepare for the future because we simply do NOT know what the future holds for us.

To this day, most of us wake up to the buzzing of an alarm clock or fall asleep at certain hour. We let time control our lives in the present through clocks, and we have schedules to plan for the future.  Being organized may be conducive to having a stress-free life, but if you let your attempts to control the future take hold of you, the tool you once thought would help you through the day could lead to paranoia instead.  If one solely focuses on the future, I believe that they are missing out on the present. 

God asks us to live our lives to the fullest and bring honor to his kingdom. Being anxious hinders our ability to fully understand our surroundings. Without an understanding or awareness of God’s kingdom built around us, we cannot grasp the complicated and constantly changing world we have been blessed with.

A new chapter of my life is rapidly approaching. For the past 16 years, I've been at the same schools as thirty or so boys in my graduating class, and as we head to different colleges, separation is unfortunately inevitable. It will be strange being surrounding by 20,000 new faces next year without having people I've grown up around with beside me. The value of relationships you have made in high school will begin to lose value over time, and they will continue to get replaced by more recent friendships. Even though we still have another semester ahead of us, a lot of boys in my grade are realizing that our high school days are limited and easily counted. Boys have already begun the college process, and many are flocking towards the same universities. In my grade, ten to twenty boys will probably attend the same university as I. As we try to plan for the future, we may at first find comfort in it but we cannot let it take full control of our actions.

We have been aimlessly playing video games and ping pong in the senior lounge for the past 10 weeks -- living in the moment rather than worried about the future. Although what we’re doing may not be the best use of time, is it so wrong to live life in the moment for a bit? God’s plan is unknown to us as we try to live our lives in his name, yet we keep living. Perhaps not having a complete understanding of what’s to come may not be so bad after all.

The future is frustrating, and our attempts to further understand it only bring more confusion, so maybe today’s trouble is enough for today. Tomorrow will bring worries of its own.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On Sundays, We Go to Church.

Just like every Tuesday, I sat at my desk trying to think of a topic to write about.  Luckily I had some visitors in my office that helped me out.  They began asking me questions about people that I have met and how they come to be Christian.

I thought about this for a bit and realized that the story that I know best is my own.

So, here it goes, the story of how I became a Christian.  It is not always a pleasant story full of smiles.  It was and still is a long journey; a struggle many times that made me question and doubt. 

The simple answer to the question is that I am a cradle Episcopalian.  Baptized in 1989 by my Godfather, The Rev. Dwight Helt at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Duncan, Oklahoma. (Pictured above, my mother, aunt, and uncle, my oldest sister, my cousin, and then all the candidates for baptism, myself (the cute blonde on the left), my sister, and my two cousins)   Then later went through Confirmation in 1996 and was confirmed by the Right Rev. Gary Coleman at St. George’s Episcopal Church.  From that perspective…I have always been a Christian.

But just like that classic Billy Mays catch phrase….there’s more.

While my mother was the one who would take me and my 2 sisters to church, my father would go play golf.  He was and still is not the most religious person you will meet.  When you grow up as a church goer, you act like a church goer.  And me being the stubborn young man that I was…often disagreed with my father, especially when it came to religion.

For a young person who is not only trying to figure out their own faith and place in the church, that is difficult.  For a young person who does not have the greatest relationship with their father…it was even more difficult.

As I got older, my sister’s became more and more involved in the youth programs at our church, St. George’s.  At the time I was too young, but was always dragged along to drop them off and pick them up.  I was that little kid who was not old enough to be in youth group but desperately wanted to.

When I did start going to youth group, I was hooked.  I instantly became very involved and active in just about every single thing you could at the church.  Even at one point dressed as Buddy the Elf, yellow tights and all, and danced around the Nave during announcements screaming that Santa was coming and that everyone should come to the Christmas Carnival that the youth were hosting.

Then there was that other side of me.  I would then go to school and I was the quiet shy kid. 

Why I loved going to church...was that was where I felt comfortable.  That was where I felt accepted and loved.  I felt comfortable to do the craziest things…like dance around in front of 150 people wearing yellow tights…and not be judged.

Church was my outlet.  It was my home away from home. 

I also remember the pain and struggle of when our youth group at St. George’s fell apart.  Our strong proud program had become 3 people who met twice a week to talk about what we could do to save our program…but we finally realized we were fighting a losing battle.

At that time, I had already begun coming to Holy Communion for youth group.  Many of my friends were members here and I had lost that sense of home at my own church.  I wanted to be back in that atmosphere again.  It was then that I began going to Holy Communion full time.  To be honest, it was not for some big spiritual change or that I felt called to go there.  My youth group had died and my friends went to Holy Communion.  It is as simple as that.

The rest is history as they would say.  I became very involved with the youth group at Holy Communion until I went to college.  Stayed connected and involved in the church throughout college and then got offered this job to work here!

But behind the scenes…but how did I become a Christian?

To be honest, I would have to go back to the basic act of my mother taking me to church when I was younger.  That was the first building block.  But there are many others.

I look back at my disagreements with my father over whether or not God even existed.  Even at such a young age…I was so adamant in my stance that God was real!  Whether or not this was because I had such a strong belief at the time or I just was really good at disagreeing with my dad, we may never know.

Now, while thinking through this, I even went back to some of the reflections I wrote and gave when I was younger.  There is always one common thread in all of them.  It was the people that made church what is was for me.  I did not go for “church”.  I went because I loved being in that atmosphere. 

While that side of my Christian life was going great, I struggled with other sides of it. 

I am a firm believer that as we grow up, so does our relationship with God.  For the longest time, saying that I was a Christian was good enough.  Just going to church, even if for the wrong reasons, worked fine for me, but then I wanted more.

I was hungry for something else but did not know how to go about it.  I began to doubt and argue with God.  Even spent so much time so angry at God for not providing me with answers or not guiding me.  I essentially turned my back on the God side of the church and solely went to be with my friends. 

This continued for a little bit until I was challenged again.  I was asked why I said these things in church if I did not know what I was saying.  If I was just saying them and I didn’t believe them, then I was a liar.  That it would be better to not say these things than to say it with an empty heart.  For some reason, as a 17 year old high school student, I took this very personally.

I slowly began to work my way back to fixing my relationship with God.

It wasn’t easy.  It took a lot of time.  And it is not like a run where you there is a set finish line.  You do not go a certain distance and then collect your medal that says ‘You are now a Christian!”

How did I become a Christian?   Well…I don’t know what specific thing made me a Christian.  But what makes me a Christian is this…

I don’t know the answers.  I struggle with my faith on a regular basis.  Some days I feel very close to God and some days a feel very distant.  My relationship with God and the church is constantly changing and evolving as I grow and change as a person.  What my faith looks like now is not what it looked last month and is not what it will look like next month….it is always changing and growing and evolving.

It is a constant journey and often times a struggle.  It is challenging.  It is difficult.  It forces me to question myself and ask if I am living right and doing things the right way? 

But why do I do it then? 

Because it is important to me.  It is something I care about and what to do.  Because when I was younger…it was something my mother instilled in me.

 On Sundays…we go to church. 

That was what I was taught as a child.  That was my first step on the journey. 

That was where it all began.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Syrophoenician Woman and the St. Jude Mother

The story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician Woman is one of my favorites
in the Bible. It is a tender story, with a happy ending; it is a story of a
desperate woman who, against all odds, succeeds in getting her beloved
daughter healed. But, it starts out with rather unexpectedly harsh words
from Jesus, who does not want to throw food to the dogs, an
uncomplimentary term with which he equates her. Consider the context:
Jesus, a Jewish man and a leader of his people, has ventured with his
disciples into Gentile territory, and is approached directly by this Gentile
woman, who has heard of his ability to heal. In those days, it would have
been unheard of for a single woman, especially a gentile woman, to be seen
in public, not only unaccompanied by her husband or male relative, but
also to approach a single, Jewish male. To do so would have put her at risk
of being banned from the church, or even being arrested and stoned to
death. Yet, here was this woman of great faith, desperate to have Jesus heal
her daughter, who was afflicted with some demonic disease that no one else
could cure. She responds to the derogatory remark of Jesus by saying that
even the dogs will eat the crumbs spilled under the table by children. A light
bulb goes off in Jesus' head, and he thinks, " you know, you are right, my
ministry and the kingdom of God should be available to all people, even to
Gentiles and women with demonic children". Jesus has been taught a
lesson by this humble woman and he changed his position in the matter,
and the daughter is healed. I personally like to think that this story reflects
the human side of Jesus, a person capable of making a mistake, learning
from it, and correcting it.
This story parallels a meaningful event that occurred in my life several
years ago, during my seminary experience. I served as an assistant chaplain
at St. Jude Hospital and my assignment was to visit patients and their
families in an effort to provide support and to pray with them when
appropriate...mainly, I was there as one of God's representatives. On many
occasions, I visited rooms where there were many family members present,
some of whom were totally uninterested in my visit, carrying on separate
conversations, and with a television blaring in the background...obviously,
not a scene conducive to having a very effective pastoral discussion. On this
day, however, the room I entered was rather dimly lit, the television was
not turned on, and the room was occupied only by a young woman and her
one year old. The child lay quietly, receiving IV fluids and sedation to
control his symptoms, for he had become unresponsive to further chemo
and radiation treatments for his inoperable brain tumor. The mother--we'll
call her "Nicole"-- was a slight African-American woman in her mid
thirties; when she smiled at me, I could see a couple of missing teeth, and
she wore glasses and had what appeared to be a "lazy eye", one that looked
to one side. It occurred to me that she may have neglected some of her own
medical issues in order to care for her son. They had spent most of the past
3 months in the hospital, and she had never left his side. She was extremely
grateful for all the care they had received at St. Jude, and told me that she
prayed daily for all the doctors and nurses there, as well as all the other
little children receiving treatment there. When I asked how she passed the
time, she smiled and pointed to two open books on her small bed, adjacent
to her son's hospital bed. One was a prayer book and the other a Bible, open
at the time to Luke's Gospel, where several verses could be seen
highlighted. She said she drew her strength and courage from reading and
praying from just these two sources. For a moment, I was speechless, and
choked with emotion. Here I was, an apprentice chaplain, there ostensibly
to offer her comfort and support, but it was she who was giving me a lesson
in faith. This slight, soft-spoken woman, whose son was dying with brain
cancer, was a tower of strength, one whose faith enabled her to endure
great suffering. After gathering myself, we said a prayer together, and I left
the room knowing I had been on sacred ground.
On my dining room table at home I have a beautiful glass bowl on which
are inscribed these words from the Book of Hebrews, "Do not neglect to
show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some may have entertained
angels without knowing it". There are angels like Nicole out there...if we
look for their presence, our lives might be transformed.

-The Rev. Deacon Randy McCloy