Saturday, December 20, 2014

Recommended Reading: 12-20-14 Edition

Each week (more or less) I send out an e-mail to my congregation with my thoughts including stuff I've read over the past week that I want to pass along.  I haven't put my lists up on the blog in a good while so here are some that go back a ways, but if you missed them, they are still worth reading, clicking on, listening to or watching.

 Recommended Reading from 12-20-14:
  • "One Sentence that Pastors and Church Staff Hate to Hear"--so very true!
  • Test your Bible knowledge with "7 Common Misconceptions About the Hebrew Bible" 
  • I always think it is worth noting when I actually agree with something David Brooks writes, so here's one I agree with (mostly).  He writes that police unions are a barrier to police reform and protestors must stay the course if they want things to really change in our nation's law enforcement.  (His other comments about unions in general I'm not so sure about.)
  • Have you heard the term "White Privilege" or had it said about you?  What does the term really mean?  Here are some thoughtful ways to consider the subject--including the idea that what we are talking about is really "Black Exclusion."
  • Last weekend was the two year anniversary of the killing of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  This "Open Letter" from a teacher describes how things have gotten worse for school children not better since the massacre.
  • You may think you're not racist, but science says you are--me too.  Check out the data here. 
  • More science that proves you and I are not as open-minded as we think.
  • Like millions of listeners, I've been captivated with the weekly podcast Serial, which reports over 12 episodes about a 1999 murder of a teenager in Baltimore and the conviction of her ex-boyfriend of the murder.  Although the podcast didn't provide an answer of who really committed the murder, it did provide a powerful examination of the failures of our criminal justice system.  
 Recommended Reading from 12-13-14:
  • I attended a "Pray-In" that was described eloquently by Dr. Molly Marshal, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary here in KC in this essay: "Why not a 'Pray-In': We Aim to Transform Those Things Which Appear to Broken to Fix."
  • I don't know whether to laugh or cry, about Texas governor Rick Perry justifying the poverty in his state with the words of Jesus: "The poor you will always have with you.". When Jesus said, said these words (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8) he was talking to his disciples who were rejecting the woman who anointed him prior to his death. They criticized her for anointing him with costly perfume rather than giving money to the poor. Jesus' point was that they did not understand his death was imminent and was a necessary part of his ministry. His point was NOT that we are relieved of caring for the poor as individuals or a society. (If you don't believe me read the Sermon on the Mount and his parables) It's not a prediction OR maybe it is and Jesus knew that there would always be politicians who would use religion to justify bad politics that oppress the poor and profit the rich. Either way these words of Jesus are not a justification for people--especially Christian people--to be apathetic towards poverty. Ugh!
  •  If you think all the protests about racism and police brutality are misguided, because neither Michael Brown nor Eric Garner were innocent angels, think again.  Charles Blow has an excellent essay about why the "Perfect Victim" argument ignores the context of racism in our culture.
  • Zach Phelps-Roper--grandson of Fred Phelps--is the latest defector from Westboro Baptist Church.  I found this article about his life post-Westboro to be a fascinating read.  
  • Two weeks ago in my sermon, I mentioned an op-ed by Frank Bruni in the New York Times about the lack of empathy in coach class on planes these days serving as a microcosm of the lack of empathy in our society.  Here's a link to that op-ed.
  • The United Church of Christ response to the Torture Report.  
  • There's been a fatal school shooting every five weeks sine the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School two years ago--including one in metro KC.  
  • Three weeks ago a gunman shot up downtown Austin, TX.  It turns out he was part of a Christian extremist group like many such "lone gunmen."  Why doesn't the media call them "Christian terrorists" the same way they use the term "Muslim terrorist?"
Recommended Reading from 11-26-14:
Recommended Reading from 11-8-14

Grace Even When the Sewer Backs Up

This week the sewage line at our house backed up.  It was pretty gross and our basement smelled pretty foul, but it could have been so much worse.

I realize that it's strange to be thankful when your sewer line backs up, and it's not like the smelly event was something we wanted to happen, but like I said, it could have been so much worse.

Just a day earlier, I woke up with a sensation I don't normally have--thankfulness.  I usually have to work at being thankful; it doesn't come naturally to me.  Yet, I woke up with the feeling that I was thankful I had a nice house to live in--one with plenty of problems, but overall a nice one.  As I said, thankfulness is not the feeling I usually wake up with; normally I'm cursing the alarm and confused about what day it is.  Still, I found myself considering the many people who don't have the blessing of a place to live in and I felt thankful.

(Maybe I've just been hearing too much of Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas" in heavy rotation on the radio station playing Christmas music.  Cue Bono singing, "Tonight thank God it's them instead of you!")

The day after this mysterious bout of thankfulness, Jen calls me at work to inform me that she and my younger son went downstairs to the basement for something only to discover a sight and smell that was grosser than gross.  That was the bad news, but the good news is that we were able to get a plumber and his wonderful auger out to our house first thing the next morning.  The young man with the auger was amazingly knowledgeable about sewer lines--I found out more than I ever wanted to know about human waste disposal, tree roots entering clay sewage lines and remedies for said invasive tree roots.  More good news--our sewer line wasn't broken and in need of a multi-thousand dollar repair but rather the augering (is that a word?) took care of the problem.  Even more good news--they were running a special and the bill was $75 lower than normal (is December a slow month for sewage backups?).   

Yes, the clean up involved lots of steps I would rather not describe in detail along with a tremendous amount of bleach, but after changing the diapers of two kids and housebreaking multiple dogs, we weren't strangers to this kind of work--not really.

Jen and I discussed how much worse things could have been.  This could have happened on Christmas Day.  It could have happened the day after Christmas when my mother-in-law arrives to stay with us for a week.  It could have happened when we were out of town.  It could have happened any number of times with much more inconvenient scenarios.  As I've already said, it could have been much more expensive.  Since our knowledge of sewer systems is pretty limited, we would have probably accepted whatever our friend with the auger told us.  He could have charged us way more and we would probably not have questioned him.  Thank you God for honest plumbers!!!!!

At a different time in my life--okay at many, many different times in my life--I would have only seen the negative in this situation.  I would have used the backed up sewer as an excuse to back up the sewer in my mind and spew all sorts of nastiness  on anyone unfortunate enough to be stuck listening to me.  I would have fed the part of me who likes to feel like a victim and play games of "who has it worse?" when in reality so many people have it worse than me.  Instead--with a lot of help from my wife--I was thankful.

In theological terms, we call moments like this grace.  They are moments of grace, because when they occur God gives us the insight to recognize our own blessings and to live for a while within that knowledge.  I believe it is more than merely looking on the bright side of things, but instead it is a divine gift that we learn to accept or we don't.  The more we do accept such instances of grace the better people we are--the more thankful we are, the less selfish, the more humble and the less narcissistic.

Don't get me wrong, it's not like I live in such moments of grace all the time.  This morning Jen and I sat at our kitchen table splitting a banana.  The banana was new and not quite ripe.  I opened my mouth and out came, "Bananas!  They're either too ripe or not ripe enough!"  My wife responded, "Oh yeah, it's a terrible thing to have enough fresh fruit to eat every day.  Shut up and eat your banana."  Somewhere in the distance I heard my mother saying something about starving children in India. . .  

Grace and Peace