Deep Theological Discussions…

Everyone wants something different in a church and the way we choose to worship can be deeply personal. The irony though is that for such a “deep theological discussion”, Sally and her neighbor never really scratched the surface. Lost in the discussion of HOW we worship is WHO we worship. During the time of Jesus, the Samaritans and Jews had profound disagreements about the correct way to worship. They couldn’t even agree on what mountain God resided and therefore must be worshipped on. When Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well, he addresses this argument by telling her that a time will come when people won’t worship God on either mountain but will worship Him “in spirit and in truth…” As disciples, this is the kind of worship we are called to. But it also doesn’t hurt to take up money in envelopes…
Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns

before me;

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add,

divide, and measure them;

When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he

lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;

Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

This classic poem by Walt Whitman is a profound reminder that knowledge of something and the experience of it are two very different things. It is indeed one thing to listen to lectures about the stars, it is another entirely to look up at them in wordless wonder. All description of God pales in comparison to the experience of God. Our theology and our arguments may be met with much applause in the lecture room, but if we are not connecting people to the presence of the living God, chances are they may leave our church tired and sick.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…




The Monk and the Scorpion

There was once a monk meditating beside a stream. He was finishing his prayers when he noticed a scorpion trapped on a rock in the middle of the stream as the waters were steadily rising, threatening to drown the creature. Moved with compassion, the monk waded into the stream and tried to rescue the scorpion. Each time he picked up the scorpion, it stung the monk and he dropped it back in the rock. Another monk, passing by, witnessed the exchange and called out to him, “you fool! Do you not know it is the scorpion's nature to sting?”

“Yes!”, replied the monk, “but it is my nature to save!”

This Buddhist parable has a profoundly Christian message. In Christ we have been shown God's nature is to save. He will keep picking us up and picking us up no matter how many times we sting Him. God does not walk away from His creation. As disciples, we are called to take on the nature of Christ, loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us, giving to anyone who asks of us, forgiving 7 times 7 times, and taking up our cross. Like the monk, we can become weary of being stung. Consider the two inevitable endings of this parable… Eventually the waters rise and the scorpions last sting results in its being drowned, as it falls into the flowing waters where his rock used to be. The monk walks away satisfied that it did everything in its power to save a creature who simply would not be saved… OR… maybe the seventh time, the scorpion overcomes its nature and allows itself to be rescued. This hope is what makes the nature of the monk stronger than the nature of the scorpion.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…


The Diagnosis

After complaining about a severe headache for weeks, a man finally goes to the doctor. The doctor looks him up and down and can't find anything wrong with him.

“Are you getting enough sleep?”, the doctor asks, “sometimes staying out too late and not getting the proper sleep can cause headaches.”

The man said, “Yes. In fact, I'm in bed by 8pm every night, just after I've said my prayers.”

“Do you smoke?”

“Certainly not. I would never put such filth into my body. My body is a temple of The Lord!”

“Are you a heavy drinker?”

“I resent the accusation! Why I've never touched the poison!”

“I apologize”, said the doctor, “It's just my job to ask… how many partners have you had in the past year?”

“I'll have you know I've remained celibate my entire life, thank you very much! I don't even allow myself to think of such temptations!

The doctor scratched his head for just a second then asked, “Where does your head hurt exactly?”

The man pointed to the areas that were causing him trouble and the doctor nodded knowingly. “It's just as I suspected,” said the doctor, “your halo is on too tight!”

Is your halo on too tight? I fist encountered this humorous parable in “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning. When our religion makes us joyless and prone to hold others in contempt, you could say our halo is on too tight. When Methodists celebrate holy communion we say a prayer of confession in which we confess our sins to God. The prayer ends with the line: “free us for joyful obedience in Christ out Lord.” For the disciple, obedience is a joyful response to the grace that has been extended to us for our failings. If our obedience is not joyful, then we aren't doing it right. Perhaps it is time to loosen our halos.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…



The Question

There was once a monk who was famous for speaking only in questions. Anytime anyone would come to him needing advice, he would give them a question to meditate on. One particular day, a Priest came to him and said, “I am here on retreat and was wondering if you could give me a question to meditate on while I am here.”

The monk prayed very deeply for a moment then whispered, “What do they need?”

The priest though about this for a second and said, “that is indeed a very good question to ponder but I was hoping for a question having less to do with my vocation as a priest and more to do with my own personal spiritual quest for truth…”

The monk prayed very deeply for a moment then whispered, “What do they really need?”

What do they really need? As a person in ministry, this parable really resonates with me but all of us, as disciples, are called to minister to the needs of others. We cannot easily separate our interior life from our exterior acts of service. They are deeply intertwined. We certainly need to find times to retrat from the world and recharge and reconnect with God. Sabbath is commanded of us. However, that time is spent so that we can come back ready to meet the needs of others. When Jesus asked Peter three times “Do you love me?” After Peter said, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you!” Jesus replied, “feed my sheep.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…


A Miraculous Man

A famous Sufi sage was approached by one of his disciples who told him, “I know a man who is so miraculous he can walk on water!”

“Big deal,” the sage replied with a yawn, “frogs and mosquitoes walk on water all the time.”

The disciple, eager to impress his sage, said, “I have also met a miraculous man who can fly!”

“So what?” said the sage, “do not birds and butterflies fly regularly and with ease?”

The student, sure he was on his way to impressing the sage, replied, “I have also heard of a man so miraculous he can disappear in one town and reappear, moments later, in another.”

“Yes,” replied the sage, “but so can Satan. All the powers you've mentioned are useless. A truly miraculous man is one who loves his fellow human beings while remembering God in all things.”

As disciples we are called to love God and love others. This is much easier said than done. In fact, many times it seems impossible. The sage was right. To manage this is the truest miracle. The apostle Paul felt that without the miracle of loving God and others, all other miracles were useless. That's why he told the church in Corinth, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…


Calvin’s Dilemma…

In this classic Bill Waterson strip, Calvin is certainly on to something. If God turns out to be a big chicken, his dinner choices could indeed prove to be consequential in the afterlife. The way one imagines the divine is profoundly important. Were we to die and discover God was not the old bearded Caucasian male depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, would we have a harder time defending our actions? Would our choices be harder to defend to a minority God, a third world God, or a female God? The truth, is that God is beyond human (or poultry) categories. God is just God. He cannot be limited to the value systems of a single tribe. He is the God of all creation and all human beings our created in his image. Perhaps this is why the God of the Bible is so adamant about not being depicted at all. When asked to describe himself, God simply says… “I Am!”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…


Origin of the Teacup

Suppose you walk into a room and find a hot cup of tea on the table. You ask aloud, “How did this teacup come to be here?” In response to your question, I might tell you one of two stories:

Explanation #1- The process starts with the the molecular compound known as h2o pouring in its liquid state into a steel vessel, which is then sealed and heated by an exterior source. As kinetic energy passes from the exterior source to the liquid, the temperature of the liqiud rises until stabilizing at the boiling point (which in average atmospheric conditions is approximately 212 degrees Farenheit). At this point in the process, the h2o begins to convert from a liquid state to a gaseous state. As the vapor rises, it fills the steel vessel and it attempts to expand. Restrained by the shape of the vessel, the vapor forms a jet which then passes through a cylindrical tube situated at an angle at the of the top of the vessel. At the end of the tube are two small holes. As the jet of vapor passes through the first hole, so too do the sound waves formed during the boiling. As the jet passes through the second hole, the sound waves spin off in vortices at a high frequency. At this point in the process, the steel vessel is removed from the exterior heat source and tipped at a 90 degree angle st that the remaining hot liquid flows freely through the tube into a second smaller vessel. At the bottom of this vessel is a packet of herbs and leaves which combined with the hot liquid forms the solution commonly referred to as tea.

Explanation #2- In the beginning, the table was empty and bare. But your wife loves you. She knew you had a tough day at work so when she arrived home before you did, she decided to make you a nice cup of tea to calm your nerves. She went into the kitchen and got out that old red stainless steel tea kettle you two bought on your honeymoon in the smoky mountains. She filled the kettle about halfway and set it on the stove then she spent a few minutes checking messages on her phone. One of them was from you. You told her you were sorry for snapping at her on the phone earlier; you were just having a real stressful day. She thinks of a couple different responses, but finally just deletes the message and decides to let it go. After she heard the whistle she poured the water into a teacup and put in the last bag of Twinnings Irish Breakfast Tea, stirring in a teaspoon of honey just the way you like it. She also blew on it slightly and took a sip. She doesn't really like tea but she always takes a sip to make sure it's not too hot and in case her tastebuds may have changed their minds. Just then, she heard your car pull up so she put the teacup on the table and went to the bedroom to rest.

Which of these stories would you say is the most true?

This is my embellishment of an analogy used by John Polkinghorne to describe the relationship between science and faith. Each story answers a set of questions the other cannot. Your level of satisfaction with the respective stories will depend on what you are really asking when you ask “how did this teacup come to be here?” If you are inquiring into the process of how cold water becomes hot tea, the first explanation will be the most satisfying. If you are wondering more about who poured the tea and for what reason, the second story will be more satisfying. The writer of Genesis didn't know what we know about the scientific process by which the universe was created, or by which life evolved on our planet. But he did know a story about who created us and for what purpose. A story that is true. Likewise, the writers of our current scientific models can tell us a great many things with stunning accuracy, but there are a great many intangible things that cannot be explained through mathematics and observation. Things like: who created us and for what purpose? Religion and science are both plentiful wells and we can draw from both so long as we understand the difference between “how?” and “why?”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…



Sherlock Holmes and Watson Camping

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go on a camping trip. After a good dinner, they retire for the night, and go to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes wakes up and nudges his faithful friend. “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”

“I see millions and millions of stars, Holmes” replies Watson.

“And what do you deduce from that?”

Watson ponders for a minute.

“Well, astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful, and that we are a small and insignificant part of the universe. What does it tell you, Holmes?”

Holmes is silent for a moment. “Watson, you idiot!” he says. “Someone has stolen our tent!”

This old joke is a favorite of mine and I do think it serves as a wonderful parable about human nature. Sometimes we human beings make things way more complicated than they need to be and we miss the obvious. Religion and theology are supposed to help us connect our everyday experiences to a God that is beyond our comprehension. These tools do help us to make sense of the night sky but if we're too busy looking up at the sky and pondering to notice our neighbor in need of that our own tent has been stolen then we are severely missing the point. The book of James reminds us that true religion is this: “to look after the orphan and the widow in their distress and to keep oneself unpolluted by the world.” Pure and simple… One might even say: “elementary”.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…



Standing On One Foot

During the period of the second temple, there was a gentile man who decided to devote himself to becoming a Jew. He had heard that the two greatest teachers of Judaism living in Jerusalem were Rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel. The man was unsure of which Rabbi to study under so he devised a test to choose his teacher

First, the man knocked on the door of Rabbi Shammai. When Shammai came to the door, the man said, “I am interested in becoming a Jew but I don't nearly have the time to devote to it that your followers do. Could you please sum up the Torah while I stand on one foot?”

Shammai replied, “What a ridiculous request! Look at all my students studying inside! They have devoted their entire lives to reading Torah and you propose to learn it in mere seconds? Begone!”

So the man continued on to Rabbi Hillel's house and knocked on the door. When Hillel opened the door, the man again said, “I am interested in becoming a Jew but I don't nearly have the time to devote to it that your followers do. Could you please sum up the Torah while I stand on one foot?

Hillel thought for a second, then said, “Alright.” As the man stood on his one foot, Hillel spoke these words: “That which you hate, do not do to your neighbor. This sums up the entire Torah and the rest is just commentary.

When the man put his other foot back down, he entered Hillel's home and became one of his most devoted disciples.

Most of the world's religions have some version of the “golden rule” and yet the world continues to be rife with conflict. For the Christian, loving God and loving neighbor ought to be the twin poles that keep us oriented and yet we too often fail at the latter out of our zeal for the former. Loving others is the essence of loving God. Doing good is the essence of serving God. The Torah (and indeed the Christian scriptures) are summed up in the call to “do unto other as you would have them do unto you.” The rest, as Hillel reminds us, is just commentary

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…