"A New Understanding"
In 1980, when I taught high school at Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, I was technically a “missionary.” But I never “brought anyone to Christ,” nor was that ever in my job description – I was supposed to love my students and support who they were, not remake them into someone else. Those students who practiced the native religion were treated as well as those who practiced Catholicism.
This school was located on Holy Rosary Mission, a Roman Catholic Mission for over 100 years. The school was named after the Native leader who brought Catholicism to the Pine Ridge Reservation, but practicing Catholicism was not a requirement to attend the school. My high school classes contained students who practiced the Native religion. The reason they attended my school was that we sent the highest percentage of students on to the local community college, as well as to other colleges.
In the late 1800s, Holy Rosary understood its role as to train its students to be like white people, thus mirroring the U.S. Government’s policy to assimilate Native Americans into its “normative” culture. Students, who were required to be boarding students, were beaten if they were caught speaking their native language instead of English. This practice, along with the treatment by the U.S. Government, almost destroyed Lakota culture, and seriously damaged Lakota society. The generation prior to the one I was teaching was considered, to an extent, a “lost” generation due mainly to the effects of lost identity and the effects of alcoholism.
By the time I arrived, things had changed. Not only did the school teach the Lakota language, but it also strongly supported native culture, especially at the elementary school level where pow wows were part of the curriculum. New teachers were given an orientation that told us, among other things, that the Lakota people were a right-brained people (they start with the whole and then arrive at the parts, whereas the dominate U.S. society is left-brained – it starts with pieces and then creates the whole).
We were told that we would need different teaching techniques that took this into account. We were also told that looking our students directly in the eyes was extremely disrespectful in Lakota culture – the teacher who had been there the longest looked down at her notes whenever she spoke at faculty meetings. Another thing that they emphasized was that use of story was an extremely important part of the manner in which the Lakota communicated (can you tell that this experience has had an influence on my preaching?). We needed to accommodate to the culture in which we found ourselves, not the other way around. The “mission” of the school was to support the people we served to become the people whom God had created them to be, not our vision of who they should become.
The Roman Catholic and the progressive mainline Protestant understanding of “mission” has changed tremendously – to the extent that the President of the United Church of Christ has apologized to the people of Hawaii for the fact that Congregational missionaries helped the U.S. Government overthrow their monarchy.
Today, our “mission” work in the progressive mainline churches focuses on meeting people’s needs, on showing them the love of Christ. The hungry person cannot hear the Good News of God’s love when their stomach is growling; nor can the parent living in poverty hear it when their child is sick or they cannot see. This new emphasis is seen especially in Islamic countries in which it is illegal to proselytize.
A woman I know was a medical missionary in Turkey, where proselytizing is and was illegal. She did her best to embody Christ’s love and healing presence to the people of Turkey. She could talk about Jesus only if she was asked. Her love and respect of the people she served spoke volumes, and helped establish the idea that Christians really can respect the culture in which they find themselves. That love is still present today when you hear her speak about the people of Turkey.
This is the type of work that First Presbyterian Church of Schenectady supported when it supported Tom Little of International Assistance Missions, from Delmar, who was recently murdered by the Taliban while returning from a trip to dangerous parts of Afghanistan. The Taliban misunderstood what Tom Little was doing due the baggage that comes with the word “mission.”
Today's mission challenge is to love as Christ loves.
Grace and peace,
“Do Not Be Afraid”
I was curious just how many times this exact phrase occurs in the Gospels:in the NIV translation, 12 times; in the RSV translation, 7 times; in the KJV translation, once. (Of course, the idea is raised the same amount of times in each translation, but different versions of the phrase are used. The KJVlikes “Fear Not”.) The Bible understands how many things there are which causes fear to arise in the human heart.
My two favorite instances occur in Luke 12:32 and John 14:27. The first deals with our spiritual welfare - Luke 12: 32"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (NRSV) There is nothing that God wants more than to share God’s kingdom with us. It is NOT God’s desire to send us all to hell. This is reinforced by John 3:16.16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[a] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
God is not a hate-filled being, but rather one whose very essence is love. And that love is directed to us. The only unforgiveable sin is believing that you have committed the unforgiveable sin, because then you do not open yourself to the presence of God’s love and forgiveness.
God’s kingdom is something that we can experience here and now as well as upon our death, and that is what the second verse deals with - John 14: 27” Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (NIV) The peace of Christ is not something that the world can take away from us. It “surpasses all understanding.”In the midst of a tornado, it is there. In the midst of persecution, it is there. In the midst of recession, in the midst of war, it is there, just as Christ is there with us no matter what we are experiencing.
We are not alone, we never are.
But it is so easy to be afraid. Our world is changing faster than we can comprehend. Humanity’s knowledge is doubling every 7-9 years, depending upon who you ask. My grandmother would not recognize the world we inhabit, but she would recognize Christ’s presence with us. Jesus remains constant no matter what is changing; no matter what is happening around us, the peace of Christ remains available.
“Do Not Be Afraid.” But how can we not be afraid when we cannot predict what the day will bring? How can we not be afraid when we cannot control where we go and what those around us do? We are not in charge anymore.
But we have never been in charge. We have never even been asked to be in charge. God has been in charge and the Creator of the Universe is still in charge. The Creator understands that which has been created, knows where it is going, and directs it along the way. Our God understands so much more than we do.
“Do Not Be Afraid.” We must listen to what God says and open our hearts to God’s presence. That is the only way that that peace can enter in. It can never enter into a closed heart and mind.
May we all open ourselves as fully to God’s presence as we are able.
"Connections and Gratitude"
Let’s see - November newsletter, so I get to talk about Thanksgiving. And this is probably at LEAST the tenth time I’ve written a Thanksgiving Pastor’s Letter. What can I say that you haven’t heard before? I bet that some of you could write this yourself. After all, we’ve all lived through LOTS of Thanksgiving dinners.
While Thanksgiving itself is a secular holiday, it is based on the important principle of giving thanks. Those of us with a thankful attitude are rewarded through the way we experience life. Those of us whose life is based on “gimmee this and gimmee that” find life does not meet our expectations. But we already know all this. What can I say that you haven’t heard before?
I went to the Homiletics magazine website to find out what they have to say about it. Their article began with this idea: “When Jesus said he was the bread of life, he didn’t mean he was to be our entire spiritual diet.”
I started laughing, especially when the article told us to imagine Thanksgiving dinner with just bread and water. Perhaps if we were starving we would appreciate a dinner of bread and water - but what we really want is the apple pie, and the turkey and stuffing, and definitely something made out of chocolate, and wine and cheese and crackers, and...
Oh, yes, and saying the blessing before we eat.
What the article reminded us of was that we really do need that blessing, that acknowledgement of the foundation of this secular holiday. That acknowledgement that the Pilgrims made when they made it through their first hard winter, a winter that only a remnant survived. That acknowledgement that God has been with us the entire year, that whatever we have been through that we are not alone.
But Thanksgiving - and our spiritual life - is much more than that.
I remember when my parents were alive and I was living on the east coast. I would get in the car on the day before Thanksgiving - and the 4 hour drive would take about 7 hours. If I was lucky. And I felt that the trip was worth it, as my sister and her family would do the same - only their hour drive took only an hour and a half. Visiting with her was worth that extra 3 hours. We would eat, and then play pinochle - and I would win. (Okay, I would only win 75% of the time. You need to lose every once in awhile or they won’t play with you.) But it was not the winning that made this a memorable time, it was the re-connecting. It was especially worth it when my brother and his wife made it as well.
Re-connecting. We need these connections with other people - with our family and our friends. Christ is the foundation of our spiritual life, but our church and friends and family are necessary parts of a whole, healthy spiritual life. And these connections that we have are a major part of that for which we are thankful on the third Thursday of November each and every year.
Grace and peace,
"Jesus as Gift Day"
When I worked for Herberger’s Department Store in North Dakota, we got our Christmas Shop items in August. (Just as we got our bathing suits in February.) It took about a month to get things set up “just right,” to encourage people to buy things – which they started doing in September. Then we started getting ready for Black Friday in October by clearing out storage so the new items would fit; in October we started filling the empty spaces. By November there were no empty spaces, and so things started getting placed on the selling floor.
The two weeks before Black Friday were hectic, getting as much out as possible, and displaying items temptingly; but it was Black Friday that was REALLY hectic. Our SMALL store broke a record last year by selling over $100,000 that one day. Then the struggle to keep things in order really began – as things were NOT in order the day after Black Friday. Specials sales hit again just before Christmas, and again the day AFTER Christmas. And national worries over a bad Christmas sales period, which could have sent our country back into recession, were alleviated.
How did we get caught up in our country’s welfare depending on Christmas sales, and NOT upon our spiritual state? We needed strong sales last year. We need strong sales this year as well. Don’t we need strong faith as well? Does America’s spiritual bank account resemble our national debt?
Where is Jesus?
I know that you have heard this before. I have said it before. And the well-being of our economy DOES depend on strong Christmas sales. But how did we get here?
Say the word “Christmas” to a group of people, and what does it mean to them? What does it mean to you?
Spirit (my dog) is right ...Christmas is Jesus-as-gift day.
I tried to explain the difference between gift and present, but she didn’t get it. And she needed a “P” word in her column, which is NOT “gift.” As I see it, “presents” are obligatory and MUST be of a certain value. A boss gives the assistant such a present – no more and no less; and the assistant gives the boss a present – no more no less. God forbid if someone gives you a present and you don’t give them one!
A gift is freely given, with no strings attached.
God gave us the gift of the baby Jesus, born to grow, to live and to die – and to rise, in order to give us the gift of the resurrection. God wants us to give thanks, but does not withhold love if we don’t give God something in return. God wants us to live a certain way – because living that way is good for us. God gifts us with love, whether we deserve it or not.
All that God asks is that we give thanks, that we love God in return. And God patiently waits until we get around to doing it. We are not deserted by our God at any point in our lives, no matter what we may do.
Christmas – or Jesus-as-Gift Day – is the celebration of the greatest gift ever given to humanity, for we could not have been given the gift of the resurrection until Christ had been born. And for this gift, we give thanks.
May Christ be present with you this season.
Grace and peace,
2010 April - July
2008 July - September
2008 April - June
2008 January - March
2007 October - December
2007 - July-September
2007 - April - June
2007 - January - March
2006 - October - December
2006 - to September