Old Books, Good Friends

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WP_20140818_003On a lighter note, Teresa started rereading one of our favorite series of novels, and I followed suit. We’ve been fans of David & Leigh Eddings for a long time enjoying The Belgariad books and the same host of characters into The Mallorean books. We’ve often read his two related trilogies, The Ellinium and The Tamuli. He’s a masterful story teller, so much that we even read Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress, both retellings of each other and much the previous books. Can’t get enough! One scene in The Ellinium caused me to shout in surprise and almost throw the book the first time I read it. Good stuff. 

Digging into the first book of The Belgariad I was struck by a re-introduction to one of the main characters, Durnik the Smith. I would have thought, being the tenth time I’ve read this series over the years, that I couldn’t be surprised by anything. But I had not thought of Durnik in so long, it was like reconnecting with an old friend. Sound silly? We are big re-readers at our house, Teresa and I both. Rereading beloved books series is a comfort. This time is was also a welcome reunion.

Have you reread anything lately? Do you operate with the kind of imagination that relates to the most beloved characters on a level close to friendship and deep affection? Jumping into these novels again has reaffirmed for me the gifting with which some novelists have blessed my life. Of course, the characters are fictional, but the blessing of sharing imagination and fantasy with the likes David & Leigh Eddings, R.A. Salvatore and Frank Herbert over the years has been a tangible, palpable joy.

AMDG, Todd

Suicide. Grace. God.

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genieIt’s hard to say goodbye to someone who has been an integral part of the American experience for so many years, and yet someone the vast majority of us did not really know. Robin Williams was a comedic genius who gave us so many voices to enjoy. He could make us laugh with only a facial expression, but when he opened his mouth, and who knew what was going to come out, we would all be giddy and goofy with anticipation. What a soul! He will be missed in this life, and cherished and loved for his gifts.

He was also a human being, and had all the flawed brokenness that is so endemic to our daily struggle. Like many others, he was not immune to depression because of money, fame or success. Probably the money, fame and success were some of the things that could exacerbate his depression. I’m not doctor, so I don’t speak from medical training. I’m just someone who has grappled with depression my entire life, and I can relate to the reality of the best times bringing on the worst. If you have asked, “How could he be depressed with all the money and fame?” then you’re probably not someone who has struggled with chronic depression. For you this could an opportunity to realize how difficult it has been for that friend or family member to deal with their depression. It defies logic. It is very real. It is not chosen.

So while we mourn and look around and listen to one another, there were a few things I’m not always hearing and I wanted to make sure got clearly said…

1) Depression doesn’t separate you from God’s love. No one should assume that struggling with chronic depression is in any way necessarily an indicator that someone has rejected God, lost God’s love or is trying to live life without God. There is no scriptural basis for that kind of judgment or condemnation.

2) Depression is never bigger than God’s grace and love. That goes for anyone who attempts suicide, succeeds at suicide or is a survivor left by a loved one who commits suicide. To be reminded that God’s grace is bigger than suicide is not to say that suicide is ok. Suicide is painful, hurtful and devastating for the survivors. And yet, suicide also flows from some of the deepest pain and anguish that we carry as humans. As our hearts are moved and made raw by the anguish of suicide, can we believe that the heart of God is any less moved? There’s no scriptural basis for saying that suicide is an instant separation from God… that’s a traditional teaching that needs to be corrected.

3) Beware the isolation. I’m not speaking here specifically to Robin Williams’ experience, but in a broader sense… don’t go it alone. Chronic depression and the feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and shame that it engenders will move you to separate yourself from others. Please don’t. Seek people. Start with a doctor who can help you determine if there’s a medical need that requires treatment, and get with a healing community… your friends, family, church, synagogue, temple, mosque, etc.

4) Don’t help isolate people who are depressed! Please, don’t turn away from someone who is struggling with a depression that you don’t understand. Help create a community of hope and healing where you live. Read, study and pray to be prepared to be a healing presence for someone in need. Be prepared to love and to help as much as someone will let you.

5) For my fellow followers of Christ, if a “Christian” blogger or group speaks of suicide in a judgmental, accusatory fashion, lacking the grace and love we expect from Jesus, then for the love of Jesus DO NOT SHARE THAT BLOGGER! Why is it that the worst opinions and perspectives I have seen on the death of Robin Williams have been from “Christian” groups? This is not as it should be, and the solution is ours to enact. I refuse to link to them and expand their influence by sharing their hate and/or ignorance, even to refute and disown their words. Please, please, please be discerning.

If you’re up against that wall, when depression and it’s crippling grip have a hold, I’m yours. Email me, ok? We’ll chat. I’ll give ya my email, in code so the spammers can’t get in the way… it’s reserve7 @ gmail. com. Squish that together without the spaces and you got me. We’ll walk some road together. If you don’t like me, find someone else! We’re in this together.

“But no matter what comes, we will always taste victory through Him who loved us. For I have every confidence that nothing—not death, life, heavenly messengers, dark spirits, the present, the future, spiritual powers, height, depth, nor any created thing—can come between us and the love of God revealed in the Anointed, Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:37-39

AMDG, Todd

For some, there are days that are hard earned, when holding on takes every bit of faith and hope… celebrate the victory! Luka Bloom celebrates that in his song, You Survive.

Here are a few other resources…

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 24/7: (800) 273-8255

Suicide Hotlines by State

Crisislink

The Trevor Project for our LGBTQ youth,

and for our veterans… Veterans Crisis Line.

The Voice Bible: Enjoying Some New Sounds

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the voice bibleI am totally addicted to our scriptures. I have this wicked old King James Bible that I bought at a thrift store last year for a quarter, some of you know it and have seen it, and well… sometimes I just smell it. It smells so good, the old leather and old paper. I also have to confess that I have most of the English translations on my shelf. I’m sure there’s a few I don’t have, but I have the biggies.

Just yesterday I bought a paperback copy of The Voice, which was introduced a couple years ago, but I don’t claim to spend a lot of time watching what is hitting the scene year to year. I was just snooping the shelves at Barnes and Noble and saw it, picked it up and decided to give it a good home.

First thoughts…

This really is a new thing. The goals and diversity of the translators, scholars and artists all come together to create a rendering of our scriptures that is both informative and engaging. In a time when many of us are becoming increasingly conscious of the deficits in some of our traditional readings and interpretations (due often to our favorite English translations), The Voice is helpful for re-hearing the message.

I dig the screenplay aspect. I like that the The Voice will break dialogue into a screenplay format instead of just trying to maintain columns with quotes and paragraph breaks. It does take a little getting used to, since other notes and summaries are included in the text of a passage. My only angst is that pages can almost become cluttered with everything going on.

I’m excited about the way it lends itself to the public reading and presentation of scripture with creativity and life. Wow, that was a long thought. I was so blessed in July to spend a couple of days with Dr. Nancy Gross up at Princeton Theological Seminary to study and practice the public reading of scripture, along with four days refining presentation skills with Dr. Michael Brothers. (You’d think I would be a decent preacher by now, right?) What a great summer to stumble onto The Voice! I’m beginning to tie lots of cool ends together in my head as I read through the translation.

Here’s a review of The Voice that I thought was a balanced approach to weighing it’s strengths and weakness, a review by Dr. Ben Witherington. But of course, the best way to experience a new translation project like this is to, well, experience it. I recommend The Voice if you are finding your engagement with scripture to be a little dry these days. It might be a fresh wind of joy to help rediscover the depth and grace of our sacred writings.

AMDG, Todd

Un-Branded Truths

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reserve7:

It’s a long one, but I’ve been thinking about this lately and recently had a good conversation about unbranding truths!

Originally posted on toddthomas.net:

equals human first runI wrote the bulk of this blog a couple of weeks ago and promptly forgot to finish and post it. I wrote it just after the Mother’s Day parade gunfire in New Orleans, as we reeled as a nation from the Boston Marathon attack and the women rescued in Cleveland after a decade of imprisonment. But honestly, I started forming this post in my heart a little earlier than that after reading of the young woman in Canada, Rhetaeh Parsons, who ended her life after being raped and bullied by her classmates. You’ll have to excuse me if it offends anyone that I don’t refer to it as an “alleged” rape. It offends me that when a young woman is oppressed to the point of ending her life that someone might still doubt the veracity of the crime done to her.

I am inured at heart by the violence…

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Will We Live Up To Their Faith in Us?

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for the children we prayI’ve been thinking about the children on our Southern border and the need for us to move in a gracious, welcoming, valuing way to address their needs. But it’s not just about their needs. I believe an essential part of who we are as a nation and a people is on the line.

The child immigration crisis in the South is a test of our nation’s values, beliefs and future, and we run the risk of disappointing ourselves as much as neglecting these children. The more I try to hold all the facets of this problem in balance the more I am convinced that we face a unique moment of challenge and opportunity as a nation. Ten and twenty years from now, will we have a generation in our nation that includes these children, I’ll call them Hopers, among us at universities, schools, workplaces and communities across our country? Or will we have a shameful memory of not responding to the hurt and pain of our most vulnerable neighbors?

What is it that causes those parents to hope for so much from us? I’m stumped trying to imagine what the parents of these children must experience in their daily lives at home and what they must imagine we will do as surrogates for their children. Why do they believe in us so deeply and so optimistically? I don’t know, but I do believe this: We have not set a trajectory of hope or healing in our response to these children. We have been afraid and sometimes angry. It’s time to change the conversation and set a new trajectory that will lead us all, all of us, to a blessed and shared future.

Can we live up to what their parents have believed of us? Are we as good as we have believed? More and more I’m beginning to be a Hoper, myself. I want to hope in us and believe in us, too! I want to see us face such a challenge and opportunity with an amazing grace and the poise of a nation that knows all too well about displacement and the painful legacy it leaves behind. We have this amazing opportunity to change the way we act as a species, a nation, a culture and as neighbors. It truly is one of the greatest tests of sharing that I think we have ever faced. And we can be amazing if we choose to be. I hope we shine.

I know the arguments about lawful entry to our country. I understand the fear of validating the practice of just shipping children wholesale across the desert to our border. I get the worries, I understand the indignation, and I share some of the trepidation. We still have to hope. We need hope as much as these children need hope. We still have to act. We still must regard the sanctity of human life and our connection with all people as a central priority to safeguarding our own future, our shared future.

Let’s not fear anymore. Enough with the indignant outrage. Let’s put aside our worry. Let’s embrace these children and face tomorrow with them. They are here now. They are ours. They are us. Let’s share the hope and belief in us of those parents.

I don’t have all the answers to the problem at the border, but we must respond with dignity, hope, love and concern for these children. We must respond, sooner than later. Let’s shoulder the cost of welcoming.  Pray. Sign petitions. Donate to relief work. Speak peace. Love these children.

Let’s all be Hopers.

AMDG, Todd

*Here’s a timely warning about neglect and an example of creative thinking to find longer term solutions to problems like this, from David Gergan and Daniel Katz. I thought it was a good read, worth consideration.

*No need to go into detail about how I’m getting involved, but here is an article from the Dallas Morning News with links to Texas area relief groups and opportunities to join their work…

dallasnews

*Here are some petitions and perspectives…
change org daily kos first focus paxchristi

No Wonder God Loves You!

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street preachers

My family went to enjoy a baseball game last night, the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles! It was a fun evening, marred only by the street preachers.

It’s another one of those times that I feel bound as a pastor to apologize to the rest of the world, Christian and otherwise, for our fellow believers who just don’t get it. To everyone who, like my family, had to run the gauntlet of 5 or so screaming preachers from the Metro to the park: I’m sorry.

I’m kinda over making excuses for these street preachers, you know? I used to always point to their good intentions and hope that they were yelling the kind of message that at least person might need to hear, but I’m over it. Next time I’m going to sincerely ask them to stop, even though they won’t, in the most loving and polite tones I can manage.

There are some real issues here that I believe are just WRONG… first, they have not a clue to whom they speak, so why would they open their mouths? Second, they operate on the worst and most negative assumptions about their neighbors, some of whom are really awesome people. And third, they aren’t “biblical” in the sense of preaching as Paul (whom they mentioned repeatedly as we passed by) or Jesus (on whose behalf they claim to be speaking).

Is it a problem to not know to whom you are speaking? Absolutely. The ways that Jesus spoke to people varied greatly, always having to do with the intimate reality of their lives and needs. Jesus didn’t have blanket zingers and one-liners to throw at people with angry shouts and glaring. These street preachers can multiply hurt in people’s lives by piling on accusations and condemnation on some who do not need anything else heaped on them. So much of the time, because their message assumes that the people walking by aren’t people of faith, they are just yelling inappropriate conversion one-liners at people well on down the road of spiritual growth.

Ah, and there was that word: assume. Their assumptions are that everyone passing by them is gross, sinful, rebellious toward God, mean, defiant, stubborn, willfully ignorant, etc. Why do we have to assume the worst of our neighbors, even when they seem different from us? Paul didn’t do that… just look at the way he spoke so respectfully with the crowds in Athens  in Acts 17.

And this style of intrusive preach/yelling is not really a the biblical style. These street preachers are not following a biblical example. The closest we could find might be the idea of an Old Testament prophet like Jonah walking three days across the length of Nineveh. But then, Jonah had some serious people issues, too. He was angry when people turned to God… he wanted them to burn. In the New Testament we find no such example of preaching. Even John the Baptizer, probably the most fire and doom preaching you’ll find in the New Testament, was preaching by the river to those who came to listen. He knew his audience and they had asked for a message.

I’m not just out to criticize and blast these street preachers, because despite their not having any way to know their audience, despite their working from such negative assumptions of people, and despite their not continuing any constructive biblical tradition, they just might have some good intentions down deep. So how about we work through some alternatives?

“No wonder God loves you! You rock!”

Want to start a fun conversation that is truly reminiscent of a biblical style of proclamation and message? Start with that that one… “No wonder God loves you! You rock!” I saw a wondrous variety in people at the game last night, all shapes, sizes, colors, religions, economies and more. When some folks on our row left early they offered an almost whole bag of roasted peanuts to Ike. There was a lot of beauty going on in the people at the stadium. It was a rough game for Nats fans, and the park was half filled with Orioles fans… but everyone was gracious and well behaved as far as I could see.

And why not give an affirming, gracious message to people? You know, it’s the whole “For God so loved” thing. Why do we seem so motivated by anger and disgust when our message is a kingdom of grace?

“Free Water!”

How about giving away free bottles of water on a hot night outside the park? That’s nothing new… lots of ministries have done this in many contexts. And if someone asks, “Why are you giving away free water?” you can answer, “Because I love you!” You do, right? That’s why you’re there, right? Love?

The only down side I can imagine to giving away free water would be some angst from the people trying to sell water outside the park. Maybe go the week before and warn them so they can plan to be selling salty snacks to compliment your gift? And don’t say that you don’t have money for water… all those electric megaphones and battery packs weren’t cheap!

“Can I pray about anything for you?”

How about offering to pray with people? Why not ask if anyone wants to write a concern or a joy over which you promise to pour your heart and prayers? Start with the poorest of the folks who are there to beg for money, the homeless veterans and musicians playing bucket drums. Shake their hands and give them a hug and a few bucks, then ask what you can pray about for their lives and needs. By the way, this is also a great way to get to know the people with whom you’re talking. Wow, imagine having a message of grace shaped by your hearer’s life instead of a pre-printed placard that won’t make much sense to them! Boom, baby! 

See, it’s not hard to think of things to do when you drop the ugly assumptions and let some love tenderize your soul. You begin to see people differently, not different from you, but as people you love and are moved to bless, instead of them being scary people who need to be cursed and condemned.

By the way… anyone want to do some of these things? I’m kinda excited to try them myself. Let’s go love some people!

AMDG, Todd

I Want to Be Your Pastor Because You Intrigue Me

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napowrimo april 2 2014.pngI want to be your pastor because you intrigue me. Sounds kinda selfish when I say it like that, huh? But it’s the best way to say it. I’m interested in you, your story, your likes and dislikes, your talents and your experiences. And I’m willing to listen.

There’s an outward movement in Christian spirituality that comes directly from the teaching of Christ and certain Pauline texts which push the envelope on being aware of the people around you. Jesus teaches a “neighborliness” in Luke 10:25-37 that has nothing to do with proximity or gain, but everything to do with seeing needs and moving outside my own wants to serve others, being aware and not just passing by other people’s lives. Paul follows up with a lot of statements about caring about one another, but my favorite is found in Philippians 2:1-11, Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

We miss something very important to being human and being a Christian when our religion and spirituality lead us to tell others what to be interested in more than listening to what interests them. 

Now, I will at times fail at this very thing I believe so deeply. There will be times I’m caught up in being busy, and I will fail. There will times that I am so interested in my own interests, so excited to tell you what I’m thinking, that I will fail… I am a “preacher” after all.

What I ask, no… what I invite you to do is break in on me. Maybe even, well… shush me. Just do it with some grace and some love. Give me a chance to hear you and understand. I might be distracted some days, but I still want to get to know you.

Please be you, and I’ll try to be me. When we get the authenticity right God’s amazes us, and I’m excited to see where we might go. It’s always been our struggle, to quit bringing God some manufactured gift, some consolation prize, instead of the reality of our open selves, “Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” Psalm 51:15-17.

If I can serve you today, as a pastor and a friend, just let me know.

AMDG, Todd