Rendering Caesar: God & the World

This year my eldest is 8 so when we explained the presidential election, we had a lot of discussion about voting for the person who would be best for everyone, not just me. We explain that greed/selfishness is about valuing oneself over the community, talk about a  heave conversation.

Here in Acts 5:1-11 you have stories of community. After all the lovey-dovey sharing philosophy and the idea that the group will be of “One Accord”<–such a beautiful Idea

But here we are Ananias & Sapphira don’t actually live up to the ideal (ps there’s a reason why we don’t know their names its a depressing story). They sell land and don’t share the profit equally, so they are brought before the community to give account.

I think this is the moment when they could have explained, or apologized, and been int he clear, but they don’t. First Ananias, then Sapphira, lie. Then each of them fall down dead…WHOA!

But here’s the thing, they don’t share their stuff, but more importantly, they don’t share of themselves. They are not honest, they don’t do the work of being mutually accountable. (And note the community doesn’t do the sentencing, they just hold the couple accountable, God does the judging thing)

Put in the context of Jesus, we have Luke 20:20-26 the famous “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar” story. Its a fun one because “spies” try to “trap” Jesus by asking whether taxes should be paid or is that against Jesus’s religion?

Jesus responds by turning the idea on its head. First he subtly mocks the idolatry of money, noting that Caesar’s face is on the money–when Jews make no images of God, nor any idols. Then he says give to Caesar what is Caesar, but give God what is God.

The implications are bigger than world vs. God, thought. The implicit question becomes who do you want to belong to? Do you want to be rendered to Caesar or God? Do you want to be in the power of powers, principalities & politicians–as Nadia Bolz-Weber will say–under the rule of laws and checks or under the grace of God?

One of the words for God in the Old Testament is Accountant or Reckoner, Al-Hasib. It is used in the Old Testament for when God reckons the faith of Abraham (and then in turn asks Abraham to reckon the stars). This is become God keeps the story, the account of your faith, hearing the entire story, understanding the slip ups, keeping track of all of the details. God is the accountant not because God is ready to write us off, but because our God is ready to listen. Just as the church, the ecclesia, the gathering of the community was ready to hear Ananias and Saphira’s account.

Who do you belong to?

I am convinced that we, as humans, need to share our material goods because its good practice for sharing of ourselves. If we are unlikely to share our stuff, then we will never share of our very souls. However, the gathering of the church, the ecclesia, the community, is where we practice sharing our accounts, where we do the reckoning of our faith. We practice faith in community, because the sharing is a basic part of our faith. Church is where we practice sharing our goods and of ourselves. This is where we form the basis of community.

And if that isn’t a political realization about how you live your life, then I don’t know what is. God’s story is the community building story. And how we belong to that community: through rules, powers, principalities and politicians, or by graciousness, mutual accountability and God

Lets go and be that community.

 

Reverse Black Friday Experience

Thursday morning at 6am I went to help with Equinox, which is a Thanksgiving meal program that serves about 10,000 in the Albany area….

I was really pleased to do this for the following reasons

1. My family is not the greatest financially, so I’m more able to give time

2. I have a 5& 1/2, 3 & 1/2, and a just 2 year old at home, so the theory of giving time is good, but not always possible, however my mother in law was in town, so I was able to feel like my husband had back up (he does the kid thing all the time, but he’s also our chef so……)

3. We are in the area….I usually don’t work over Thanksgiving, which means this is when we usually go to family (family comes to us for Christmas)…but this year we did a LOT of traveling…so my eldest asked his grandparents to come up and they obliged…

4. I got around to actually volunteering! They gave me the early shift, which I appreciated because it meant I really had the whole day to spend Thanksgiving with my family.

Immediately this made me feel better about the entire holiday…you know feeling worthwhile and all that…

I worked for two hrs…after which they practically kicked you out, so the next volunteers can get in…

I sorted bread, putting 2 bread products in a bag (trying to pair English muffins with the gigantic loaves so its more even) to be ready to pick up by the drivers who start their runs at 8am….

But my favorite part was the line….I had flashback to Black Friday…there they were over a hundred people sitting in their camp out spots (some since 3am I heard) waiting to be “drivers” to deliver the food…families and friends all sitting with boxes awaiting their food….

If we all did this…lined up one day a year to help people (instead of shopping) what a difference it would be….

Maybe it isn’t all year long…but I like to think how small starts…like volunteering for 2hrs…can make a huge difference

(The food is gathered in city hall since its the only place big enough to hold it all….a formal dinner is served to 500 people and 9,500 people get it delivered)

 

Also! Check out this for more Survival Strategies

Money, money, money

 

This is a conversation I had with my sister earlier today….

Izzy: I don’t want to be a grownup anymore
Me: I’ll be a grown up as long as I don’t have to worry about money all the time anymore.
Izzy: Ok, deal…

Student Debt (“According to the federal Reserve Bank of New York, almost 13 percent of student-loan borrowers of all ages owe more than $50,000, and nearly 4 percent owe more than $100,000. These debts are beyond students’ ability to repay, (especially in our nearly jobless recovery” read more in the link)

Student Debt is a national issue–if you don’t have crippling debt, chances are your child or grandchild does. I recently got told by an older pastor that she just “couldn’t relate” to my debt issues even though her daughter was stuck in the position I was describing…

You know the situation where you are working as hard as you can (usually not even in your field) and you are receiving neither self fulfillment, nor enough money to pay your bills….

I’ll say what I’ve said many times before–almost everyone I know is looking for work. Either they are looking for a better paying job, or they are looking for another job on top of the one they are already doing.

Look, if I knew I was at least on my way to paying down my/our family debts…I would be ok with this whole adulthood thing…but until I can, I feel like a failure as an adult–and if that’s how I feel how does the rest of the millennials deal?

When your in debt…

Maybe this is really obvious to other people, but apparently its not really helpful to go to a big stewardship conference when you are about $100,000 in debt. (at least it not if your me….)

There I’ve gone and said it. My family and I are over $100,000 in debt, and the end seems nowhere is sight. We live paycheck to paycheck, my husband works three part time jobs, I work one fulltime job. I try to tutor (although I’ve let that fizzle recently). We rent out our extra car, and we have wonderful people who we pay (not very much) to help us to take care of our 3 boy-boys. We try to stay off the credit cards, but when bills come they come. And maybe we could have put off having children, but every time we’ve had a child someone has been home (first two were during our summers at grad school and the third was when my husband was looking for a job by my new church) so we know we are saving a TON on childcare. We are done with that (we think) and I guess we could have not had kids, but honestly that so does not work for us. So we can’t really see what else to do……

Here is the part that gets me…We’re not alone. Most people my age are struggling with debt. I’m lucky that I have a job with benefits (which frankly is why we have 3 kids) but really, we aren’t really “making it” so to speak.

So when I went to the kaleidoscope stewardship conference, I really wanted to hear about the United States’ problem with debt, in the context that we pray and promise the forgiveness of debt. I wanted intellectual conversation, theological discussion. I probably would have settled for the fact if someone (besides me and my big mouth) had raised the issue…

What the conference was: A great bag of tricks and tools, and a new set of language to think about stewardship–a training for stewardship teams or world-weary pastors, a way to address money in (primarily) big churches or churches with undergivers.

A nice way to think about these situations are like this (your planting the seeds of stewardship)

328 × 272 – colsdioc.org

What it discussed: Healthy financial practices–including giving, personal relationships, thankyous, ongoing stewardship (instead of a once a year thing), and some reflection about where people do put their money and why it isn’t church (instead). For thoughts about wealth and how it effects judgement read this fascinating article..

575 × 300 – staparish.net

What it didn’t include:

ways to leverage Time and Talent as well as money, (much) theological discuss, what to do if you were in financial distress (or are already in debt), and the fact that we are moving on from institutional religion to something else in Christianity….

The story was pay your debts and then you can get on with your life…..apparently I will never be able to get on in my life.

I guess I pictured the conference to be more about this…

and less about this

367 × 224 – salempresbytery.org

If your interested in my theology of debt read my brilliant post about Ruth here!

But here is the long and short of it.

American’s Don’t God to Church (this report notes that “overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.”)…ok so again an indication our “stewardship” approach should probably be more about sharing what we’ve got rather than raising money for the instituion….

All Americans have to deal with debt (sequester anyone??), ESPECIALLY those Millennial/Nones we (us religious people) are so desperate to connect with….

We pray for, Christ promises and we attest to the forgiveness of debts.

Anyone else notice that Christianity is dropping the ball here?

I vote we find a way to REALLY address debts and the feeling of worthlessness it induces (again read my Ruth post for more on this)

And since I’m one of those in deep debt. I pray we do it soon!

 

Graph from the fascinating article linked above

When your heart is breaking….

Yesterday my heart broke….It was a difficult day with sad decisions and a good look at how temptation effects our lives….

Isn’t it interesting how it is easier to believe and remember evil than good? (for more on Good and Evil look here)

If you preach a sermon 90% about gospel and 10% about sin, most people remember the sin portion.

Why is evil so much easier to connect with? I think some of this has to do with our insecurity. Ted talk The Power of Vulnerability tackles this issue with storyteller/researcher Brene Brown.

In fact a lot of people I know don’t believe in Hell (Christians obviously included)…

So why then are the “less happy” endings more believable??? Why is it that “truth is hard” is the “real world” mantra

I don’t think life is shit and we struggle through it the best we can. I don’t think life is brutish, nasty, short. I think there is MORE than that.

But when my heart breaks, when difficult decisions are made, when people don’t show love and care towards one another, when people-hate-the-sin-not-the-sinner, when they fall back on smile-Jesus-Loves-you, when they use religion (as the TED video says) to provide answers instead of exploring faith), when people struggle with addiction, when parents don’t take good care of their children….

When these things happen, when its clear that the world is not perfect because of our self doubt, it is important to remember Jesus made us and loves us exactly the way we are…

Jesus believes that we are equipped, as those made in God’s image and as co-creators, to spread the good news…

https://i0.wp.com/radiofreebabylon.com/RFB%20Images/CoffeeWithJesus/coffeewithjesus500.jpg

How do we know this? Because Jesus spent time as one of us. Jesus went to the desert and endured the Devil telling Jesus …you are not good enough, you are not a success, you can’t help in God’s work, you need (food, drink, success, fame) Me, the devil, to get there…Matthew 4:8-10 (Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”). And Jesus says, no, the way is through love and God, its through knowing myself as an intricate, important and beloved part of God’s plan and I don’t need to be perfect/in control/married/successful/rich to do that…I just need to be grounded and centered on God (Matthew 4:10Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.) Take that evil. Yes, evil exists, yes life is difficult, no I don’t think we have to accept the chains of temptation, we don’t have value our “Success” the way the world does. Instead we can depend on God (we don’t need to dull the pain or even control it), we can know Christ has been there, understands that we stumble and loves that about us, because we are stumbling on his path, we are doing the best we can, and we are created in his image. We participate in Lent, so that we can participate more fully in Easter–we participate in Lent, because its a part of life, but we also participate in it so we can acknowledge that EASTER wins!!! All the time, everytime (even during Lent, Easter creeps through on Sundays!!!) Easter like Christmas, needs to be lived (see my post on Being Christmassed for more)

comic

Please note: I discuss heartbreak and difficulty as a tangible part of life (for more look at Anne Lamott’s thoughts here)

BUT: The Good news has written the ending for us, and we can Participate in God’s Celebration…we don’t have to just watch or hum along to God’s Concert–we can party and scream all the words<<——–THIS IS THE MESSAGE, try to remember this, don’t walk away already forgetting the good news

Good News: Jesus is the Savior

Better News; So you don’t have to be (subtext you get to help!!)

So the hard decisions were made, I am continuing to pray, to live into hope, to put into practice God’s love and care and to trust that my participation although it feels small is important and that the love I show has had meaning…and really knowing that heals my heart even as its broken (just as God heals are brokenness in a broken world)…I wonder if this is how Christ feels when he makes loving and difficult decisions on our behalf…Good news JESUS is the savior….Jesus loves ALL of us, no matter what. Amen.

Think One Person Can Change the World?????

We do too

Image

That’s where they got me. I mean I was pretty sure that Oberlin was the undergraduate program for me. I had talked to the dweeby guy, stood up to my counselor “You sure you want to move that far away” (um…DUH I hate high school), and all, but when I got the packet with Oberlin’s old motto, it got me.

I also probably should have realized that I was going to be a minister then, because I was kind of like one person has changed the world (ie Jesus) and he has totally empowered me to do the sameImage

…ah the confidence of youth….

But if you know me, I am the eternal optimist, so I hopefully haven’t become too cynical since then, even though the world keeps on giving me worst and worst news….bad economy, little jobs, sucky compensation for work done, the evaporation of pension funds, the need to put off life (marriage, house, children etc) due to the aforementioned problems, wars, fiscal cliffs, national debts and taxes.

However I believe there has been a cultural shift in the last election–it hasn’t really to do with the president but more the fact that racism and bigotry has been limited due to the backlash for some representatives comments Re; gays, women, abortion, etc.

Part of that change was examined in my last post Open Source Culture (Go Millenials!)

Thanks to a recent conversation with my philosophical compadre Charlie, I have crystalized some of what I have been writing towards in the last couple of posts. (PS he totally pointed out that at least in a democracy we all have a vote that is value–talk about power)Image

Churches need to do the following to Change the World

Build a Community that

1. Forgives Debts: That’s right, be proactive, do a kickstart, open donations, find some way to address indidividual’s debts in your community–I suggest starting with student debt since that is the least questionable kind of debt. What if we as the church worked to communally Forgive as many debts as possible?

Image

2. Be multigenerational: Church is one of the few places where different generations interact who are not related. Embrace this. Keep young people in church, give them a special space to be look at one example. If we make those connections that otherwise can’t be made, then we are providing a service. (and of course this means making worship accessible to those spiritual but not religious people).

3. Finally Educate, educate, educate. Why are people in debt? In pursuit of education. What if church’s provided free community education: relieving debt and bringing generations together in one fell swoop (HA, wouldn’t that be wonderful?) I would love to spearhead a million different educational opportunities for my community, because that is a concrete way of helping people.

THink one church can change the world????

Open Sourcing and Laziness

Image

Ok, so what if this open source movement which started with the music companies and the digital downloading (actually it started with the record button on VCRs but I’m too youngImage to remember that). Was a cultural shift today? If you look at communities sharing businesses, etc. this generation is into open source

Examples include Relayrides, carsharing, CSA, community gardens, couchsurfing, firefox, anything Wiki and of course probably the most famous and one of the first Linux

Opensource means sharing information freely so that the community benefits. Granted making money by sharing your car isn’t a direct example of open source, but the free sharing of when you use and don’t use your car helps to free it up so others can use it (see what I mean). It also can hint at laziness because your are using someone else’s work/resources to get information. You didn’t do the work yet you get to benefit from it!

When it comes to Spirituality, my generation also tends to take a more open source perspective, enjoying all of the knowledge that comes from religion and then choosing what they want to practice (hence spiritual not religious can mean anything from a vague idea of God, to a number of spiritual practices that just to happen to exist via the church). I think this is a piece of culture of millennials that older people are missing. In fact there is a slight movement towards Open Source Theology/Christianity Read Landon Whitsitt’s book  or blog(http://landonwhitsitt.com/2012/11/27/pecans-and-pastors-continued/) or checkout http://www.opensourcetheology.net/ and the Bible without Religion Project http://jimpalmerblog.com/rfv-bible-religion-free-version-by-jim-palmer/.

Which brings me to the “lazy” idea. There is this idea that unemployed people are lazy, and since roughly %40  of those who are unemployed are under the age of 30 I take great offense of this. Every single person I know is looking for a job, those who are employed are either underemployed or unable to make enough to support themselves/their families (this is esp. true for families where one spouse has found employment and the other is more limited in their geographical choices). It isn’t that we are lazy, its that we can’t find work, and we have to make do in the in-between. (And if you think people don’t want to be working, do me a favor and offer someone a job and see what they say)

In the meantime we are making do by sharing, by returning to trading times, goods and services for things instead of money. Something that started as an internet phenomenon (free information: its everywhere) became a necessity as we couldn’t get to work, and the reality that working harder has not meant that we do better/make more money or are more successful. Since we’ve seen through the promise of “work hard and you’ll succeed” (because that’s what we were told growing up).

If you mean we won’t work harder for little to no rewards, if you mean that we don’t have our eye on the prize, if you mean we are less possessive and are becoming instead an open source generation: then yes, I guess your right we are lazy Instead we are doing what we need to make ends meet and then using our extra time creatively.

But I, instead, see it as a cultural shift away from materials and valuing information, a place where timeand space are seen as more definitional than profession or monetary status. Image

Yes, boredom helps creativity, and yes we as a generation are bored, there is little to no meaning in our lives, and all the things we were taught to strive for (no student debt, professional fulfillment, financial security) are inattainable–but that boredom is giving us creativity. And if that is a side effect to our so called laziness, I’ll take it.

I see this as a moment for change…

Go Laziness, Go Openness, Go Millenials, I wonder what we will do next

Image

Money=Symbol

I still remember when the stock market was falling. I had just decided (luckily) to stay another year in school, and the market was doing horribly, and everyone was running around like chickens with their heads cut off saying “the sky is falling, the sky is falling” no wait…that’s chicken little. ImageThey were actually saying “The market is falling, the market is falling” which of course just made the panic and therefore the downturn of the market worse…

2 things get me about this

1. If someone with authority had just said, Stop, calm down, let’s take the time to think about this–instead of throwing money at the situation as quickly as possible things might have gone better (and I am totally bipartisan in my blame here)

2. Money is not what we think it is…

Anyone remember when gas was under a dollar a gallon? When I was 10 (that would be 19yrs ago–yes you may do the math of how old I am 🙂 ) I remember gas sometimes being as cheap as $.89

And when I asked my congregation if they can remember one cent candy, most of them could (alas that was before my time) ImageThe point being that a dollar is not really a dollar, and that money is just a symbol.

To us it means status (yes)Image but its more than that, we trust the value of the dollar, to us it means security something we can depend on. But you know what? Money is not security. People like to think about money in the bank, or land ownership as guarentees. People like to talk about job security (is there such a thing). Heck, we even have a system of money that is named Social Security.

Do you know that our dollars aren’t backed by silver anymore? It used to be money was the symbol of the silver that backed it up in the treasury–now its backed up by nothing.

So what I have a question, what makes money an effective symbol? Probably its quantifiable and tangible nature. We have put a piece of paper out to symbolize commerce, and so we are able to better conceptualize it.

This is why tithing is so important, it isn’t just about giving money to the church–its about your relationship with God. If you give money to God regularly, then you are going think about God whenever you deal with money, hence changing the very way we deal with money in the day to day–it changes the symbol. (Maybe this is why research shows the only way money makes you happy is if you give it away see amazing TED Talk http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_norton_how_to_buy_happiness.html for more)

Now…what if God was our security? What if we depended not on pieces of paper but on God to bring us through. What if we, in essence bank of God.Image

How much God do you have on you?

Do you have enough to get you through the week?

Can you share some God with me today?

Need more God, better go back to the bank (Church) where theres enough God to go around..

As the church, are we “generating interest” in God? Are we growing our funds? Are we accruing more God through our actions?

Image

Because after all, God doesn’t grow on trees…

PS Scripture Matthew 19, note 2 things 1. When the man is foolish, Jesus loves him first before he responds in ANY other way, Jesus loves him & 2. Jesus promises to increase everything a hundredfold–which is great because it clues us in to the fact that this love isn’t really quantifiable…hundredfold is a better interpretation than a hundred, because it isn’t exact, it is more a SYMBOL of what is going happen (besides who can handle a hundred spouses, speaking as a married woman who finds polygamy BIblical yet crazy, I couldn’t even handle two 😉

Anyway, the point being, Possessions are just symbols

17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Hunger Games

Sometimes I feel like we can really relate to Hunger Games. Luckily things aren’t quite as bad as during the depression, but for me student debt is a real and heavy weigh in on my life as I tot up the bills and work towards providing for my family.

My friend Charlie says student debt is palpable (we graduated the same year) you can see it weighing people down when they enter a room.

So, here we are, hunger games–who are we sending out as our sacrifice? Who are we going to watch struggle for entertainment. You know what happens in hunger games, everyone is hungry for something. Even the rich city people are always eating, eating, eating (then they throw up to eat more). Why? Because they feel empty inside.

Jesus addresses emptiness, not by telling people to deal, not by pointing out people’s faults, and certainly not by giving them false platitudes.

Jesus sits with people, Jesus meets people, gets to know them, and (always) calls people by name. Maybe that’s what everyone is hungering for–even those of us who hear their name called out by crowds, those who are followed by the paparazzi and have their lives on public display (Duchess of Cambridge anyone) really just want someone to REALLY know them, to REALLY be present with them and to REALLY call them by name.

If the Hunger Games are about the games we end up playing because we are feeling emotionally, physically and spiritually hungry (um…like we do in politics maybe), then Jesus is not about Games. Jesus is about reality, Jesus is about being the real you, Jesus is about the truth of the world, and the Real-ity of Re(a)l-ationships! And if we are asking who is going to be the sacrifice, the answer was, is and will be Jesus Christ, and we don’t need “God in the white house” Imageto know that (did anyone else see that meme?). Because God is bigger than the white house, God is bigger than America and God is bigger than a world economic downturn. If you think we have control over where God is, frankly that is are humanity showing (oops)

If you don’t believe that, then there is no point in preaching the gospel in third world countries, because they are in no way on equal footing to our problems.
Image
Say it with me, Jesus is about Love and graciousness (not being judgmental, putting our morals on others or creating the world for Christ). God is HERE, love is HERE, let’s act like it. And please let’s think before we say something about how “other people were raised” or what “real morals” are–God loved, talked to and did not make anyone feel bad about their mistakes, he forgave and gave them a chance to change. If Almighty God can do that, then we should at least try to do the same–ImageRemember, no one convinced anyone of anything by yelling insults to them over the internet. People have been changed through true acts of lovingkindness (or hesed as its called in the Old Testament).