Posted in Different Scriptures, Different Thoughts

Encanto (lots of spoilers – beware)

We finally joined the millions of you who have already been singing about Bruno for months, and I wanted to spill some thoughts before they faded. I thought the movie was pretty great for many reasons, but as a pastor – one continued to buzz through my imagination: The Madrigal Family is a beautiful allegory (on some levels) for the Church.

The meaning of the word “Encanto” can mean “charmed” as in magical, but there also seems to be an element of alluring, charming, even grace that draws others in. Here is a family that – in their healthiest moments, exists for the good of their surrounding community. They are not given such enchantment only to enjoy on their own, but to be a blessing where they have found themselves dwelling. If they would lose their source of enchantment, they would cease to be a light to the city. Their community would notice, and be wounded without their presence. One question we often hear in measuring our effectiveness as a local church is: If your church closed it’s doors this week – would the community notice/be impacted? The allegory here brings another powerful question: If your church lost the power of the Holy Spirit this week – would your community notice? May we pray for the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (& it’s fruit) to increase and bring the kind of revival Mirabel sings about as a new foundation comes at the end of the movie.

Another obvious connection seems to be the concept of “What’s your gift?”, and the over-emphasizing of the obvious/impressive gifts, over the inherent value of each individual as part of the whole. I don’t need to go too far down this road, as the connections make themselves. How often do we (hopefully inadvertently) communicate the importance of certain gifts over the greatest gift and power of being and living as a beloved and loving child of God? May we seek ways to empower and invite all voices & gifts into the ministry and liturgy of God’s gathered people as we seek to join Jesus together.

Once we open the door to such “gifts”, we begin to see some particulars revealed in the characters themselves:

  • Isabela – Some of these connections are painfully obvious in our Western culture of advertising and image-curating to make our churches (& people on stage) attractive/attractional. But this puts unhealthy pressure/emphasis on Isabela to appear perfect, and paints an photoshopped image that often distracts from genuine faith.
  • Luisa – This connects with both “spiritually strong” and “physically able”. Spiritually, we often rely so much on a small group of leaders within a church, not acknowledging that they feel vulnerable and weak at times too. Do we model and guide into healthy habits of serving and resting, inviting/allowing others to serve? Physically – often the less public, but highly valued (and often over-used) for their willingness to serve and give hours of devoted physical presence. Instead of relying so heavily on Luisa’s – what if we painted a picture (or built a ministry) of everyone owning and investing in the life and work of God’s people? Even if that means discovering some limitations (as it should).
  • Pepa – There are people in our churches who seem to “control the environment/weather” according to their mood that day/week. To Love them is not to empower them only when the weather is good, but to help them develop healthier responses (and spiritual fruit) to have & offer peace that is not dependent on their circumstances.
  • Camilo – So often we train (whether purposefully or de facto) Jesus followers to “be all things to all people” with good intentions. But what we sometimes get are people who seem like shape-shifters to a world that is already suspicious of inauthentic relationships. How well do we help people know themselves fully in the light of Jesus Christ – trusting that God has made us (& is forming us) each uniquely capable of revealing His Love to our world?
  • Dolores – She hears everything. Do we use her knowledge to manipulate situations and people to our advantage, even without realizing it? Or do we help her discover how to use her gift for discernment in listening well to the Holy Spirit for the sake of and in the lives of those around her?
  • Antonio – Has a gift and a special connection to nature/science. Do we listen to his understanding as a special revelation of our creator? Or do we deny what he brings to the table, afraid that what he says will contradict our previous/preferred understandings?
  • Bruno – The one willing to speak honestly about the trajectory of our “family”. Will we listen honestly and have difficult but necessary conversations about how we can better care for the elements that are causing our home to crack? Do we care enough about the community we exist within, and our mission as a family, that we can be honest and vulnerable about changes that may need to happen even deep down to the foundations/patterns we’d laid long ago? For many Christians, the song is right – “We don’t talk about Bruno”. But we should.

Finally, what commentary on “Encanto” would be complete without Abuela and Mirabel? This is obviously a church that (rightly) empowers and celebrates women in leadership, yet also honestly confesses that even women can mess up when they focus on blindly protecting the status quo over healthy vulnerability. It’s interesting that they movie doesn’t “beg the question” of what Abuela’s gift was…yet we’re never told. Often the local church operates under the assumption that we don’t ask questions about those “at the top”, when Jesus sure seemed to critique religious leaders heavily. May we never be so confident in our place of leadership that we forget our role as those who wash the feet of those we serve.

From the Abuela’s to the Bruno’s – may we see the gift of the intricately woven and living “whole” for the sake of the community/world, more than we emphasize the giftedness of any one servant who is only one piece of the mosaic…or as scripture puts it, one small part of the body. May we each discover new insights about how God invites us to actively join His activities – not just within the walls of the church building – but as the living Body of Jesus Christ that is sent (bearing the Bread of Life) as Julieta’s into a consuming world, in need of something that will actually bring/heal life as we consume it…

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.”

1 Corinthians 12:12-14

Posted in Different Learning, Different Thoughts

shortages

As we were living in Hungary, one thing we could not miss when watching international news coverage, was the fascination and humor most of the world watched with as the United States somehow panicked for the last remaining rolls of toilet paper. It was mind-boggling to us, as we’d never seen such a scramble for the white rolls of bathroom tissue. Surely it was just being over-dramatized, we thought. Perhaps this is just happening in the large cities. But as we talked with friends, and checked online, we saw that the strange phenomenon was happening widespread, even as most people confessed to being mystified by it themselves. Even as it was happening, memes popped up and late night talk show hosts made fun of…well….Americans who seemed to find comfort when facing the unknows of a pandemic with the dependable reality of knowing we could at least “take care of business” through it all.

Since returning to the US, it does seem like “Shortages” continue to pop up in the news. It doesn’t even take someone with a conspiratorial eye, to begin to wonder if many of these are simply well-placed advertising campaign strategies. But some legitimate shortages (most recently, Maple Syrup in Canada or Cream Cheese in the US) are still causing people and companies to think strategically, or to alter plans for consumption altogether.

Some might say that the reason Western Culture seems to notice “shortages” in ways that seem newsworthy, is that many of us have grown up or become accustomed to knowing that pretty much every “commonly-used” product we could imagine was readily available somewhere within a drive or an online order. It hasn’t taken long for this to impact our kids as they grow – with Christmas lists that often show no known limitations or boundaries. There are aspects of this we can be proud of – whimsical notions of “anything is possible” that we believe is healthy for our children as they grow. But it can also create a false sense of reality that most of the world still does not experience. Most places in the world continue to live with limitations, (and we do, if we’re honest enough to confess it), and that does not always mean a negative thing.

Now toilet paper is in a very unique category of “things I really hope we don’t have to learn how to do without.” But there is a sense in which limitations, and shortages, should be embraced a bit more readily as a positive path to spiritual growth as they come.

We live in a giant world with changing seasons, shifting climates, varying cultural backgrounds, many geographic features, and challenges as we tend to sowing and harvesting products in ways that justly care and provide for all of those involved. With so many variables, we should have limitations. We should have some foods that are only available in certain seasons. We should be thankful for what we can attain easily, and have a bit of wonder about what they have in other areas.

One of the beautiful aspects of Advent, is that we not only imagine what it was like to anticipate Jesus arriving for the first time, we imagine what it will be like when Jesus arrives fully. When Christ is revealed finally to be Lord over all things, and the Love of God swallows up all the cosmos, bringing together Heaven and Earth like never before – all things are made New. In those days (yet to come), there will be a growing shortage of shortages – as the full provision of God and His Good creation are revealed as enough (and also our hungers and consumption are brought into full alignment with His good and pleasurable ways).

In response to remembering this, we can celebrate in many ways. I would highlight two today:

  1. When possible, we can order/purchase something simple that doesn’t seem like it should be available to us because of season or location. Enjoy it on purpose, and share it with a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or child – imagining with them the coming age when all necessary things will be available and provided by Lord Jesus right on time.
  2. Purposefully choose to limit yourself of something. Sure, it may be at the store – but it’s not technically in season, or you’re not sure of the just working conditions/pay for those who labored. Choose something that you purposefully will “go without” this year. If it impacts the lives of others, don’t get all preachy – but if it involves kids – explain to them why you’re choosing to go without. Talk about being purposeful in our anticipation of the day when all that we need will always be provided – and not only us, but those brothers and sisters all over the globe.

No matter how we respond to Advent in particular, may we Christ-followers be leaders of the Way when it comes to responding to product shortages with peaceful confessions of our limited resources. We should not be surprised, and should be among those who generously seek community-beneficial adaptations when such shortages impact those around us.

May the peace of God who has already begun providing everything we truly need, fill and dwell in our hearts – and arrive through us as we share life together in community…both this Advent, and into the new year…

“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:33

Posted in Different Scriptures, Uncategorized

Your Kingdom Come (a long post)

Matthew 6:10 “Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (NRSV)

I remember praying the Lords’ Prayer when I was young, and really enjoying this verse.  Of course, I learned it in King James, so it was “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done.”  It was poetic that way.   I’m not sure I ever spent much time wondering what it meant though, because everyone around me wasn’t too worried about the Kingdom of God Coming – even thought that was what Jesus had taught us to pray.   Instead, everyone seemed more focused on “Thy Kingdom is where I’m going to arrive”.

The focus, then, was less on the Kingdom – and more about me.

It’s interesting for us to note, that nowhere in the Lord’s prayer does it say, “And Jesus, let me get into Heaven someday.”  The emphasis here is not on an individuals’ eternal security and destination.  The emphasis is on a restored and healed relationship here and now.  The emphasis is not about where we will go “someday”.  The emphasis is on how we join together in praying God’s Kingdom arrives “on earth as it is in heaven.”

So what does this mean?

There’s a story I remember hearing around the campfire many times growing up.  It seemed to be a favorite, and I’ve changed it a little…but I think it gives us a great way…a parable…of thinking about the Kingdom of God.

Many years ago in a world similar to ours, there were no humans yet.  The world was filled with animals and creatures of every kind and size.  They couldn’t get along, and constantly fought over who was the greatest creature in the land.  The bear argued that he was the greatest, because he was huge and strong, and could defeat anyone in battle.  This led to huge arguments and chaos, and God couldn’t take all the noise.  So God decided to throw a blanket over the entire sky, making it completely dark for all the animals.  The fighting continued.

Finally the bear who had been bragging about how tough and strong he was, decided he could climb up to the sky and rip the blanket off.  He commanded the snakes to weave themselves together tightly and rigidly, in order to form a tall ladder he could climb.  Sure enough, they formed a giant ladder, and up he began to ascend, one rung at a time.  As he reached the top of the highest rung, he took a gianst SWIPE across the night sky.  As he did this, he lost his balance and fell down, down, down…SMASH onto the ground.  They say his snout used to be long, and when he fell he landed face first, which is why his snout is so much smaller today.

Next the elephant and the moose began to fight about who would try next.  They both felt like they were the obvious next choice, and as they fought, they rolled right over the beaver’s tail – which is why it’s still flat today.

The fighting continued until the Jaguar was able to get everyone’s attention.  Now in those days, the Jaguar was one of the prettiest, dazzling, filled with color animals in Gods’ creation.  He felt pretty sure of himself and his ability to draw attention from both creation and the blanket.  He felt like he could simply climb the ladder and command the blanket to fall, and down it would come.   The other animals thought this option at least stood out as unique, so they voted on trying it.  As the Jaguar climbed, he took his time.   He smiled to the left, making sure all the animals were looking up at him, admiring his colorful coat and his bravery.   He looked to the right, making sure the animals were all appreciating the way he skillfully climbed, and the way his eyes glowed with such an adventure.  As he slowly made his way up the ladder, he was taking so long that the snakes began to lose their hold.  They shook and trembled at the confidence of the Jaguar, and eventually lost their hold – and the Jaguar tumbled down, down, down, WHAM!!  As the Jaguar hit the ground, his colors fell off in every direction, bringing color to what we call the wildflowers today…and leaving the Jaguar completely black.

Next, the voice of the vulture rang out above the others.  He reminded them of how incredible a flier he was.  He offered to fly up and tear down the blanket.  Without waiting for other to agree, he pushed off and began to flap his wings.  WHOOOSH, WHOOOSH, WHOOOSH – he was flying so hard and so fast, he didn’t even realize how close he was getting.  Finally POP!  The vulture’s head burst right through the blanket.  The animals below could only see the vultures body, and could see he was struggling, because all the heat from the sun was concentrated on his head and neck.  He was pushing hard as he could to get his head back through the blanket, and finally he freed himself and fell down, down, down, BOOM.   The animals gasped when they realized the vulture had lost his beautiful long head feathers, and from then forward the vulture has only a red bald wrinkly head.

The animals complained, “We’re going to live in darkness forever!!”  As the cries quieted down, they finally heard the soft, timid voice of the hummingbird.  He was offering, “Um….hey everyone. I know I’m not the biggest, or the strongest, or the wisest…and I’m not sure I could tear down that giant blanket.  But I think I could do something.”

The hummingbird flew up and poked one small hole in the blanket, and light began to shine through.   He flew over a bit, and POP, poked another hole….then another, and another, and another.    As the light began to shine through, all the other animals were silent.  Slowly they began to talk, and be thankful for the light.   They began to laugh, and smile, and see the value in each other.  As God saw they were beginning to get along again, he removed the blanket.  But he knew they might forget what had happened, so every night he replaced it as they rested, so they might look up and remember what had happened that night.  The bears’ swipe still exists, we call it the milky way.  The hole from the vultures’ head, we call the moon.  The first hole poked by the hummingbird was the biggest, and we call that the north star.

It’s a silly story, although it’s whimsical and filled with imagination. We know scientifically, it’s not true, and yet it helps give an illustration to the words from our scripture.  We join Jesus in praying, “Your Kingdom Come”.

We know that God’s Kingdom that Jesus talks about here is not something we’re “waiting for”.  Even within this prayer, Jesus says, “On earth as it is in heaven.”  That means God’s Kingdom IS, RIGHT NOW, fully in heaven.   So when we pray for the Kingdom of God to come, we’re not praying for a point on a timeline to arrive.

We’re not praying for a traditional “KINGDOM” the way that we think, with all our Disney Movies, and Braveheart, and Game of Thrones.  We’re not praying for a giant walled city to plop down on earth.    When the word “Kingdom of God” is used in scripture, it often means where the “REIGN AND RULE of GOD” exists effectively.  Those places where the dominion of God is made manifest.

We are just like those animals.   We look at the world that exists around us.  We see the darkness that has come because of sin.  We know that just on the other side of what is visible – is the realm where God is fully present and Lord over all things.  We join with God in the mission of proclaiming the Reign and Rule of God in and through our lives.

We use phrases sometimes to get each other excited about what is happening for the sake of the Kingdom.  Our family was excited to join the Kingdom work in Hungary.  We may even say things like “Break new ground.”  or “Take new ground.”  or “Gain new ground for the Kingdom”.  But in reality – we know that by his death and resurrection, Jesus has become Lord over all things seen and unseen.  Listen to the words from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (1:15-20)

So here’s the truth: The Kingdom of God has arrived.  Jesus knew everything was about to change, and was announcing the Kingdom was “at hand”. It’s just on the other side of the veil, and the veil is thinner than you and I might expect.

The only problem is – the world has spent so much time living under the blanket of darkness, and figuring out ways to become “okay” with it.  How do we respond?

It’s not about being filled with pride about the strength of our movement or numbers.  It’s not about planning an event that climbs the ladder and takes a giant SWIPE on our own abilities to remove the darkness.

It’s not about getting distracted, figuring out the best ways and strongest ways to make the biggest impact, all while accidentally stepping on others underfoot – as the elephant and the moose, to the suffering of the beaver.

It’s not about becoming so focused on one person and their amazing gifts at attracting attention, or making Jesus “look good” so that everything becomes built on their abilities…like the Jaguar.

It’s not even about “aiming high” and trying to fly higher than anyone has ever gone before – and sticking our necks into places where we might get burned – based on our own desires – really healthy desires, to remove the blanket.  We may just find ourselves burned out, like the vulture.

Instead, humbly, Jesus calls us to be people who pray.  People who, like the hummingbird – recognize the Kingdom is already there, just beyond the veil.   It’s not my job to remove the entire veil.  But it’s within what God has empowered me to do – to join God in the Kingdom arriving in many small ways, shaped just the way God has created me.

So how do we join God in doing so?  Empowered by the Holy Spirit, living as the presence of Jesus on earth still today, looking to the Father as Jesus did – we join in acts of Love, offering grace, and inviting others to know the Love of God not just as theory or theological fact – but as tangible and transforming presence.  Proclaiming by our very lives, that there is a reality just beyond the world we’re presented with.  There is a system of power, and a way of life built on love that goes deeper than any pattern or system our world is familiar with.  It’s not about us transforming reality, but about us helping the TRUE reality to arrive as we offer ourselves to God fully.

It’s not about you starting a Bible study, planting a church in your neighborhood, or volunteering 20 more hours a week in what happens at church.

It’s about you seeing your neighbor, your enemy, or that person you walk by every day and usually pretend not to make eye contact – but this time, actually seeing them with the eyes and heart of Jesus.  Proclaiming in that moment by the way that you respond, that the Reign and Rule of God’s Love is more important than any other system, any other social influence, any political correctness, or even more important than what is expected of you as an evangelical Christian in America.

It’s about the Reign and Rule of God being more important than any other identifier we claim.  It’s about the Kingdom of God becoming more important than our nationality, more important than our brokenness, more important than our egos, or our bank accounts, or anything else we might be tempted to make decisions according to.

Yielding all of these things, we submit ourselves to make decisions according to the Kingdom of God.

This sounds mysterious.   It sounds so mysterious, we might even be tempted to use it as an excuse.  Well….shucks….how am I supposed to know what GOD would do in this situation?  God is so mysterious and otherly.  You know what I’ll do for now?  I’ll pray about it.

Unfortunately, “I’ll Pray About It” has often become our way of saying “I’d rather not do anything sacrificial or uncomfortable about it right now.”

Thankfully, we aren’t left in the darkness when it comes to how the Reign and Rule of God are proclaimed and arriving in our visible reality today.  It’s the next phrase of Matthew 6:10 – YOUR WILL BE DONE.

It’s a command, an imperative statement.  It’s simple and humble, and completely different than the ways people were used to praying to their Gentile Gods.  There were plenty of Jews, who’d been taught forms of prayer to God.  There were also many Gentiles in the crowd, who were used to attempting to “bend the ear” of their god that this prayer was worth hearing.   They’d swear upon this or that, or make great sacrifices and declarations.

In contrast, the prayer Jesus teaches his followers…not only to pray, but to live lives shaped by – is this: “Let your will be done.”

We know that God’s will is not mysterious and unknowable.  We have that promise in Romans 12:1-2.  “Therefore I urge you, my dear brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

So even though there may be moments of discovering how God’s will is to be worked out in our individual lives, homes, families, churches, and situations – we know the overall will of God.  We know what God desires, and the ways of the Kingdom – because we’ve seen it revealed in the life and words of Jesus Christ.  We read just a few moments ago – Jesus – “in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”.  We have the words of Jesus himself – “the Son can only do what he sees the Father doing.”  So if we want to be involved in doing the things that Jesus would do, it’s important to pay attention to what His Love looks like – both in the days recorded in scripture – and as the body of Christ works to reveal His Love through the Church today.  Not to mention, simply to serve “The Least of these”, whom Jesus has said “whatever you’ve done for the least of these, you’ve done for me”.

This is the will of God.  It doesn’t have to be a GIANT SWIPE across the sky.  It doesn’t have to be, becoming political or social medial leaders or influencers in order to shape public policy, or get a million likes on a status update.  It doesn’t mean we have the most popular church in town that all the (fill in the blanks with whatever the current target audience is) want to go to.

It simply means….who are we, and what can we use to proclaim the Kingdom of God’s Love today?   Not on our own strength, but humbly stepping forward and saying – “I know there’s an unseen reality here that is much more substantial than the reality we see and perceive, and I’m going to live according to it.”

But that’s hard sometimes.

We live in a world of Bears, and Moose, and Elephants, and Jaguars, and Vultures.  When Jesus stepped up to live in a way that proclaimed “Thy will be done”….he spoke those words in a prayer of tears….asking the Father if there was another way besides submitting to a long, anguishing death on the cross.  When we humbly offer ourselves to God….and say God, allow my life to be shaped by this prayer…..we offer ALL of ourselves.   Our goals, our desires, our pride, our comforts…..ALL.

We bring it to the altar, and say…..God….I’m not the strongest.  I’m not the wisest. I’m not the (whatever)-ist.  But I can do something.  I know your will as revealed in Jesus, and I know your Kingdom is right here….right now.  Use all of me, to help make that visible.  Use all of me, to proclaim your Lordship here.  Use all of my family, my resources, and everything I previously thought was mine…..to make one more place where the light of your Lordship can shine through.

Your Kingdom come….on earth, as it is in Heaven.

And we have a promise that one day, the veil between earth and God’s full Kingdom presence will be worn so thin, nothing will hold it back as God completes what He has already started.

Remember – we’re not waiting for His Lordship to become a reality – He IS ALREADY Lord of all things.  What we’re waiting for….and what we’re actively involved in participating with every moment of our lives – is making that Lordship known, proclaimed, and visible as His Love transforms lives and communities even now.

Will we offer Him everything toward that end?   Will we pray this prayer…and allow it to shape our lives, as we’re called to “pray continually”?