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epa02317367 Taylor Strowger (10) from Darfield explores earthquake damage to Highfield Road, 30km west of Christchurch, New Zealand, on 05 September 2010. It will take at least a year to rebuild the  centre of Christchurch, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said on 05 September as aftershocks continued to rock the city in the wake of a devastating 7.1-magnitude earthquake.  EPA/DAVID WETHEY AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT

The fault lines grow more sharply defined daily in our polarized society. So many of us are so sure we are so right about so much that we’ve spawned multiple versions of “Political correctness”. Their specific content varies according to where we are, whom we’re with, who might overhear us. But all are variations on the theme: “Feel free to express yourself—as long as you don’t say this, do that, go there, embrace and affirm Them.”

 The faultlines fragment our legislatures, our churches, our families, our schools, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, our media. The increasingly bitter presidential race is the loudest, most visible–and most obnoxious?—sign of our fragmentation. Some folks continue to study candidates and issues with an open mind. Others choose to sit on the sidelines. Once again their first choice–“None of the Above”– isn’t on the ballot. But a great many have made their decision, can’t conceive of changing their minds, and speak of those who disagree in terms ranging from impolite and inappropriate to vicious and profane.


Breathe. Inhale. Exhale.  Again.  Once more. That’s better.

Where should the church stand with regard to our nation’s politico-socio-economic-spiritual faultline? Some say “as far away as possible!” Others urge everyone to study the issues—in private, at home—and vote. And please, PLEASE don’t disturb our peace by mentioning this stuff on Sunday morning. Still others have chosen their side and feel called to persuade everyone within reach. How, we wonder together in our self-righteous holy huddles, could an intelligent person, a sane person, a fully-devoted (thinking-like-me) Christian, a real (thinking-like-me) American, possibly choose otherwise?

Sixty years or so ago our nation found itself similarly polarized. That fault line was black and white, not red and blue. The Civil Rights Movement was begnning to transform every aspect of life in the old South—and beyond, for those who had eyes to see. Folks on both sides were convinced of their side’s absolute righteousness and the other side’s absolute unrighteousness, even wickedness.

In the midst of this foundation-shaking chaos lived a white man named Will Campbell. He’d grown up on a farm in Mississippi. His parents had taught him their Baptist faith—so well that he’d been ordained a Baptist minister at age 17. After serving his country in World War II, he completed his education (Wake Forest, Tulane, Yale Divinity School) and returned to the South. In 1957 Will Campbell was one of four ministers who escorted the Little Rock Nine, the black students who integrated Little Rock, Arkansas public schools. In the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s he supported, organized, and participated in numerous marches, sit-ins, and other actions. He founded an organization called The Committee of Southern Churchmen, which published Katallegete, a journal whose title is the Greek word translated “Be reconciled” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

In 1965 Will Campbell met an Episcopal seminary student named Jonathan Daniels. Jon was helping register black voters in Lowndes County, Alabama. He and his fellow workers literally risked their lives daily to do what we take for granted today–thanks to the courageous efforts of people like them. One day Will heard that Jonathan and another man had been shot by a sheriff named Thomas Coleman. Campbell’s book Brother to a Dragonfly describes the conversation Will had with his longtime (agnostic) friend P.D. East.. In a previous conversation, East had pushed Campbell to define the Gospel. The result was, “We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway.”

Now as Will relates the story, P.D. said, “‘Come on, Brother.Let’s talk about your definition. Was Jonathan a bastard?’… I knew that if I said no he would leave me alone and if I said yes he wouldn’t. And I knew my definition would be blown if I said no. So I said, ‘Yes.’

” ‘All right. Is Thomas Coleman a bastard?’ That one was a lot easier. ’Yes. Thomas Coleman is a bastard.’

“‘Okay. Let me get this straight now… Jonathan Daniel was a bastard. Thomas Coleman is a bastard. Right? Which one of these two bastards do you think God loves the most?’

“[P.D’s] voice now was almost a whisper as he leaned forward, staring me directly in the eyes…He leaned his face closer to mine, patting first his own knee and then mine, holding the other hand aloft in oath-taking fashion. ‘Which one of these two bastards does God love the most? Does he love that little dead bastard Jonathan the most? Or does He love that living bastard Thomas the most?’”

The agnostic had led his Baptist preacher friend to–conversion: “I remember trying to sort out the sadness and the joy…then this too became clear.

“I was laughing at myself, at twenty years of a ministry which had become…a ministry of liberal sophistication…denying not only the Faith I professed to hold but my history and my people—the Thomas Colemans. Loved. And if loved, forgiven. And if forgiven, reconciled. Yet sitting there in his own jail cell, the blood of two of his and my brothers on his hands. The thought gave me a shaking chill in a non-air-conditioned room in August.”

Will began to understand how ordinary white people like Thomas Coleman and black people were both oppressed by the racist system in the South. Will began reaching out to “racists”, including Klansmen and their families. He hung out with them, sipped whisky with them, officiated at their weddings and funerals–and took intense heat from both white and black “liberals” who couldn’t understand “we’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.”

In 1998 Will Campbell attended the trial of Sam Bowers, Grand Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He was charged (again) with ordering the murders of numerous civil rights activists in the ‘60’s, most notably Vernon Dahmer. Sam Bowers sat alone on one side of the courtroom. Dahmer’s large extended family sat on the other side. During the trial Campbell sat with the Dahmers some of the time and with Sam Bowers some of the time. One day a puzzled reporter asked him why he did that. Will growled, “Because I’m a [damn] Christian.”

So to answer my question—I believe the church’s place relative to the red and blue faultline running through American society is standing tall with our feet planted firmly on both sides. Our place is both with neighbors who are easy to love and with those we struggle to love.  We need some “damn Christians” who know from painful, joyful experience that “we’re all bastards but God loves us anyway”. That love frees us to love our neighbors more than any idolatrously-enshrined political, religious, or ideological orthodoxy. That love can grow a new generation called to share Will Campbell’s passion for “reconciliation”:

…”if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived! All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation.  In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!”  (2 Corinthians 5:17-20 CEB)


Happy Birthday

My mother Rosalie Higgs was born Jan. 19, 1913. She died Jan. 2, 2012, shortly before her 99th birthday. My brother-in-law Mike Bunch put together the collage below as his way of giving thanks for her life. But his website ( refused to cooperate this morning when he was ready to post it. So I’m doing that for him on behalf of our family. FYI the picture in the lower right-hand corner shows Mike taking Mom for a motorcycle ride at Mike and Kathy’s wedding reception. Mom was approaching 90 at the time.




Thinking Without the Box

Recently Lucas and I were playing trains. Our 3-year-old grandson is a Thomas-the-Train mega-superfan. The fictional British railroad fills his room, his consciousness, even his wardrobe.  During a rare break in the action, Lucas picked up a blue bag full of large puzzle pieces. “Let’s do this puzzle,” he said. Why not? It wasn’t too early, I thought, to teach him the divinely ordained rules of puzzle assembly. (I’m sure they’re in the Bible somewhere, I just haven’t found them yet.) Rule 1—Look at the box lid for a picture of the completed puzzle. When I asked for the box, the answer was, “What box?” It’s more challenging without the box, I thought to myself, but still doable.


I assumed that Rule 2 had been followed– Be sure you have all the pieces before you start.  So we moved on to Rule 3—a) First find all the border pieces; b) then fill in the rest. Everybody knows that jigsaw puzzles, especially for young children (and older grandparents), have a rectangular border with uniform straight edges and four easily identifiable corners. That’s the way we’ve always done it. But the creators of this puzzle clearly didn’t get the memo. And “without the box”, who knew they’d gotten so wild and crazy? We found sections of color (red, yellow, blue, green) like a border should, but we (I) couldn’t see how the sections fit together.

Since we couldn’t complete Rule 3a, we worked on Rule 3b—“then fill in the rest”. We started finding  pieces of the picture that the puzzle would become—Thomas the Train (surprise!), the village square, other trains, etc. Grandparents’ Exception No. 1 came into play a few times—“Expect the young children working on the puzzle to dismantle sections you’ve painstakingly assembled.” But so did Exception No. 2—“Expect surprising  breakthroughs from your helpers/ dismantlers just when you’re most stymied.”  The same hands that threatened to undo progress also put the missing piece into place more than once.

But assembly ground to a halt when Rule 2 (Be sure you have all the pieces…) reared its ugly head. Nothing new was happening. Lucas was losing interest. I was increasingly suspicious that we weren’t playing with a full deck. (Some folks have thought that about me for years.) Then my daughter, Lucas’s mother, cruised by. “I know where some more pieces of that puzzle are,” she said. She quickly produced them (from a place I never would have looked) and we had everything we needed. The interior part of the puzzle fit together into a pleasant Thomas-the-Train English village scene. When we saw the completed outer edge of that picture, we saw how the different colored sections of the rounded, cloud-like, non-traditional border fit together around it. We were no longer “puzzled”.                                                                                                                       IMG_00000151

“Thinking outside the box” is a buzzword that’s become a cliche. The real challenge is thinking without the box. So many situations offer no template that says, “This is how your finished product should look.” Don’t underestimate the value of experience and accumulated knowledge. But expect to use that experience in new ways as the accelerating change and expanding knowledge draw us into uncharted territory. How can we cope with global climate change? Can we cooperate sufficiently in our global village to achieve meaningful change? How do we adapt to changing global social, economic, and political realities? How can the church adapt to its new position at the margins of society instead of in the center of the village square? How do we help children grow up strong and healthy in this society of changing family structures and values? How do we learn to live our whole lives well when they’re liable to be so much longer than our parents or grandparents’ lives? How can centuries-old systems and structures (like the Roman Catholic Church, the US Constitution, and the traditions and governance of mainline churches) adapt to 21st-century realities? You get the idea.

Rule 1 (Look at the box lid…) needs some work. The picture on the box lid is our shared vision for the future. What do we want our planet, our country, our church, our family, the rest of our life, to look like? Rule 1 might become something like, “Let’s figure out where we want to go together that will be good for everyone before we get too far down another road.”

 Rule 2 (Be sure you have all the pieces…) will permeate our planning, visioning, and living into the future. Breakthrough pieces may come from anyone, anywhere, any time. Let us be far more open and far more humble in order to receive those solutions from the most unlikely sources. Let us not allow pride, prejudice, self-interest, or political/academic/churchly correctness to exclude a “breakthrough” piece that could bring wholeness to a a collection of scattered broken pieces.

We’ll want to modify Rule 3 (First the border, then fill in the rest). Lucas and I applied it backwards to put that puzzle together. We had to complete the inner section of the puzzle in order to see how the border fit around it. The new version of this rule won’t be linear—“First do this, then do this…” It will be more like, “Start wherever you see connections. Let your understanding of  the puzzle develop as you live with it. Stay open to surprising new connections and the discovery of new pieces from unlikely sources.”  

“The Grandparents’ Exceptions” might become the Elders’ Exceptions in this broader application: 1) “Expect the youngsters to dismantle some of the things you’ve worked hard to build—for better and for worse.” 2) “Expect from those same young dismantlers the most amazing breakthroughs  when you least expect it.”  

I’m still going to look for the box lid whenever I start a puzzle with Lucas and his sister Amelia. But if it’s missing in action, we’ll think without the box. That’s more and more the nature of life in our world. It’s the world where they’ll grow up, raise their families, dismantle some stuff we wish they’d left alone, and bring astounding, unexpected , transforming breakthroughs.

Gordon Cosby–A Saint Worth Knowing and Following

Gordon Cosby died recently at the age of 94. Cosby was born in a small town in Virginia. The Baptist church in that community helped him grow up into Christ and to discover and respond to God’s claim on his life. Cosby served as a military chaplain in World War II. Following his military service, Gordon and his wife Mary started the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C.’s Addams Morgan neighborhood. Their intent from the very beginning was to build a no-frills, intensely-focused faith community that would make maximum impact on its community and the wider world. Cosby described that lifelong purpose in his writing: “For me the central question is what it means to be the authentic church of Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected. What is its nature? Its essence? And how can that essence be structured and expressed so as to become a healing agent in the world?”(Cosby, Becoming the Authentic Church)

Church of the Savior understood that its calling was to serve those whom we more fortunate people call “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40, 45). Not coincidentally, these were the very folks Jesus claimed as the focus of his mission—“the poor…prisoners…the blind…the oppressed…” (Luke 4:18) The church warmly welcomed all to worship and to participate in its life and ministry. But the bar for membership was (and is) set very high compared to typical mainline churches. “Apprentice” members attend the School of Christian Living one evening a week for two years before they may become full members. This period of preparation equips apprentice members either to join an existing mission group or, along with at least two other persons, to  call together a new mission group. An apprentice may become a full member only after completing the two-year School of Christian Living and becoming an active part of one of the church’s mission teams. Members may join for only one year at a time and must re-apply each year. If you don’t re-apply, your membership automatically lapses.

How has this policy worked? Seventh-Day Adventist pastor Monte Sahlin, a long-time friend and colleague of Cosby and the Church of the Savior, writes that “Hundreds of faith-based ministries have been started over the years, including a community health center, a residential treatment center for women with AIDS, hundreds of units of low-cost housing, a jobs program that placed 800 unemployed individuals last year, FLOC (For the Love of Children, a movement that revamped how foster care is done in DC), Alabaster Jar (a movement of artists who are people of faith and express faith in their art), the influential Wellspring retreat center, a small college, and Potter’s House, what many consider the original Christian coffeehouse ministry which still operates in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood on Columbia Road in Washington.”

Church of the Savior clearly wasn’t and isn’t for everybody.  Cosby’s own words describe the sort of people who came to call this faith community “home”: “If you love the church but are disillusioned, disheartened, discouraged by what it has become- we invite you to dream with us. If you are weighted down by the choices you have made for your own life, and you long to become the freed and freeing person that God desires, unleashing the gift of who you really are- we want you to dream with us. If you are hungry for the passionate, healing way of Jesus and would be our companion on the journey–we need you to dream with us.” –(N. Gordon Cosby, Becoming the Authentic Church)

No frills. No meaningless “church busy work”. No “playing church”. No spectators allowed. Everybody’s in the game all the time. No “holier-than-thou” contests. No power struggles worthy of a corporate boardroom. No petty church fights over who gets the credit or the blame. Church of the Savior, like every  faith community, is composed of human beings for better and for worse! But they follow Jesus together with the intense single-minded focus taught and modeled by their long-time pastor. (He retired officially in 2008.) United Methodist pastor Dr. Dean Snyder describes “…Gordon’s passion, his willingness to take risks, his determination to do something rather than nothing about the wrongs of our society, his always wanting to figure out how to do it more effectively and in more Christ-like ways, his doggedness to get past symptoms to the heart of the matter…Gordon did not seem to care about credit. His concentration was totally upon applying the truth of Christ to conquer and heal poverty, racism, addiction and disease…”

Gordon’s “passion…willingness to take risks…determination…doggedness…concentration…” have made him one of the most famous “not-famous” people on our planet. You can’t find him in Wikipedia! His passion for “applying the truth of Christ” squeezed out worldly pursuits like building an impressively-padded resume,  writing  (and profiting from) “How I Did It and So Can You” books for those who’d rather imitate than innovate, or building a church monument to himself.

Today is Good Friday. I can’t escape observing that Cosby’s discipleship model of “…passion…willingness to take risks…determination…doggedness…concentration…’ turned out to be the recipe for Jesus’ crucifixion—and for the world-changing revolutionary movement that followed. Do we dare  embrace and follow Cosby’s discipleship model? Doing so would launch us on a journey of discovery through which we’d discover, each in our own context,  transforming answers to the question that drove and shaped Gordon Cosby’s remarkable mnistry: “…what it means to be the authentic church of Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected…And how can that…be structured and expressed so as to become a healing agent in the world?”

The Word of the Lord–from the Sports Page!

Frank Deford may be my favorite secular “preacher”. He’s a sportswriter with a keen sense of moral and yes, even spiritual, issues in the sports world. [Please bear with me, non-sports-fans. We’ll get to those issues soon.] Deford’s latest commentary on NPR addressed the recent doping scandal in baseball and the upcoming Baseball Hall of Fame election. This is the first year that Barry Bonds and Roger Clements, the two most prominent players implicated in the scandal, are eligible for election. Some baseball writers have expressed their intent to vote for Bonds and Clements. Don’t do that, Deford warned—loudly! He insists (and I agree) that athletes using illegal drugs are cheaters plain and simple and their cheating should never be rewarded.

It’s not just that they helped themselves. The unfair advantage that Bonds, Clements, and other ballplayers gained disadvantaged other players: “…the dopers did not just pad their own statistics,” Deford wrote. “They keep score in games; by definition, sports are zero sum. By taking unfair advantage, the druggies hurt the players who played fair.” Deford recalled the doping scandal at the 1976 Olympics. He named eleven US runners and swimmers who finished just behind medal-winning East German athletes in their events. The East German athletes were later proven to have used performance-enhancing drugs. “By taking unfair advantage, the druggies hurt the players who played fair.”

The case is clear when we see US runner and silver medalist  Frank Shorter stand by as his illegally-juiced East German competitor receives the gold medal.  It’s harder to identify the victims of drug cheating in a team sport like baseball. Would a drug-free Bonds have set the record for most career home runs? Or would it still belong to Henry Aaron? Would Clements have pitched as powerfully? Would his New York Yankees have been as successful? Obviously we can’t “do-over” all the games in which Bonds, Clements, and other illegal drug users played. But we can at least refuse to reward their bad behavior and in that small way affirm the vast majority of players who play by the rules.

NOW HERE’S THE MESSAGE FOR FANS AND NON-FANS ALIKE: My actions reach far beyond myself. When I cheat my way to victory in baseball, bicycling, horse racing, or Life, I hurt everyone else involved. Those relatively few illegal drug users hurt all the other players, the fans, and the whole baseball community. Playing–or living–by a lower standard is never just about me. It lowers the bar for all involved. It’s easy to lower the bar—and much harder to raise it back to that higher level. Politicians, are you listening? Parents, are you listening? Pastors and church leaders looking for quick fixes, are you listening?

The good news is that the reverse is equally true. One person who steps up and lives at that higher level raises the bar for everyone on the team, in the business, the family, the neighborhood, the church. Abraham, Moses, Esther, and David did that.  Jesus did that supremely—and paid the supreme price. Countless followers of Jesus have dared to follow him in that high-level life the Bible calls “abundant life” (John 10:10). Most have paid a steep price for their faithfulness—Luther, Wesley, King, Mandela, Mother Teresa. Make your own list. Let’s share them through this blog. We’ll be amazed and inspired.

As the message draws to a close, I suspect that Brother Deford, like every good preacher, would call for a decision Will we settle for Lowest-Common-Denominator living on the baseball field or anywhere else in life? Or will we be that “one person” who steps up and lives at a higher level? Will we be the one who raises the bar and lifts those whose lives touch ours to higher, fuller, deeper life?

This morning we heard the news of the shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. One man, James Holmes, devastated the life of dozens, perhaps hundreds or even thousands.  I’m waiting to hear stories of people who stepped up to help others in the aftermath of the tragedy. I’m also wondering if some of the people in Holmes’ life over the years—family, teachers, friends, etc.—are asking themselves if they missed opportunities to make a life-changing difference with him. We don’t get do-overs. We do get all the forgiveness we need and can accept. We do get new opportunities to live at the highest level we know.

Paul sometimes used sports metaphors to make his point. Once he compared following Jesus to a long-distance race(Philippians 3:12-14). A little later he described  the focus that empowers that high level abundant life: “…keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8 CEV)

Too Much of a Good Thing

I’m going to try to take a tiny bite of a huge issue—our relationship with food. Food is good for us. We can’t live without it! Food is a gift given by God in the process of Creation (Genesis 1, especially vss. 26-30). God’s repeated affirmation of Creation as “good” and finally “very good” includes all forms of food–and also us humans. We are made in God’s image (Genesis  1:26) and God provides all we need to fulfill God’s purposes for us—including the food necessary to maintain our physical selves.

Before Jesus taught us to pray for it, God had already provided the raw material for “our daily bread”. But our relationship with food has mushroomed into so much more. Food has acquired multiple layers of social, spiritual, and emotional meaning in our culture. Social occasions, family gatherings, holiday celebrations, and religious ceremonies all revolve around the centerpiece of food. (Consider sacrificial offerings, Holy Communion, and potluck dinners.)

The “daily bread” for which Jesus taught us to pray is still far from a sure thing. “Daily bread” is a daily crisis for hundreds of millions of our fellow passengers on Planet Earth. Even in the developed world, the disturbing (and frequently-denied) truth is that “daily bread” is very precarious for very many people. You probably didn’t notice it at the 4th of July picnic. But millions of our fellow Americans didn’t get sufficient nourishment that day—or any other day.  

Now consider all this in the context of our nation’s obesity epidemic. We are caught in a massive disconnect  between our diets and our lifestyles. If you’re not sure what this “disconnect” looks like, here are some snapshots:  

  1. Our sedentary lifestyles are incompatible with the high-calorie, high-carb diets of an earlier time when people burned more calories in daily life—walking, chopping wood, working on the farm or in the garden, not logging hours of screen-time, etc.
  2.  Much of the food we learned to choose from childhood or family associations has strong emotional attachments. Unfortunately that “comfort food” isn’t usually the healthiest  choice.
  3. Processed foods and fast foods add mountains of sodium, sugar, and fat and relatively little nutritional value. Soda and other sugary drinks represent 7% of the nation’s caloric intake, and those are mostly empty calories.
  4. As a nation we are eating out more and being served portions fit for a crowd—or at least a small group! As good obedient children we strive to clean our plates so a nameless child in India or Africa won’t starve because we wasted food—as our (grand)mothers warned us!
  5. Fill in your own examples and share with the rest of us!

Now here’s today’s tiny piece of this super-sized  issue: How and where  does the church address this disconnect? How and where can individual Christians and local congregations get involved? Let’s start with “Why”. Let’s set the answer in the context of Creation care: How do we care for God’s gift of food? (Note this also includes global hunger issues)? How do we care for ourselves, we humans made in the image of God who are a key feature of Creation?

Let’s add one more piece: “You surely know that your body is a temple where the Holy Spirit lives. The Spirit is in you and is a gift from God. You are no longer your own.God paid a great price for you. So use your body to honor God.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20 CEV) Paul’s addressing Christians in a culture where orgies and fertility cults are common. Don’t treat yourself that way, he says. You’re too good for taht. You’re created in God’s image, endowed with a “spark of God”. When God entered our history, he did so—as one of us! Your body is too precious to waste. “…Use your body to honor God.“

What would “honoring God” with our bodies look like in your church’s day-to-day life? Not as another program or activity on an already overstuffed calendar, but as an understanding that permeates every aspect of its life. “Use your body to honro God” might mean

  • We’ll have fruit or veggies as well as sugar-snacks at fellowship times.
  • We’ll feed the youth something besides high-calorie, high-fat, high-sodium pizza.
  • We’ll make sure healthy choices are available at potlucks so our fellowship doesn’t expand everybody’s “pots”. 
  • We’ll address developing a healthy body image and resisting unhealthy cultural pressures in our children’s and youth ministry.
  • We’ll still (or maybe for the first time) address sexuality with adolescents and their parents.
  • We’ll help families develop healthy, balanced lifestyles so that all can “use your body to honor God”.
  • We’ll work with folks labeled “disabled” to help them find ways to honor God with their sometimes uncooperative bodies.
  • We’ll address ways to cope with high-stress commuting lifestyles, including transitioning to something different.
  • We’ll work with folks battling various addictions. We’ll reject a shame- or guilt-based model in favor of a Creation-care model that invites folks to overcome addiction so we can be free to “use your body to honor God”. 

Too much of a good thing can make us sick–even God’s gift of food. The right amount of food, exercise, and all the other elements of a full life can help us lead the “abundant life” (John 10:10) that Jesus insists is God’s will for every one of his precious children.

If you want to know more–check out these articles:

“Soda, Supply, and Demand: Can We Share a Taste for Change?”, Dr. David Katz

“Former Coke Executive Slams ‘Share of Stomach’ Marketing Campaign”

“Weighing in on Sugary Beverages and Obesity”, Susan Blumenthal, M.D.


Jesus Kissed the Easter Bunny???

“Can anyone tell me why we celebrate Easter?” the teacher asked. A seven-year-old girl answered in her best “Here’s a wild guess” tone–“Because Jesus kissed the Easter bunny?” The teacher was my daughter. Working hard to keep a straight face (and to keep from embarassing the child), she told the girl to be sure she came back the next Sunday (Easter) to learn much more. Karin says this girl [whom we’ll call Janet] attends irregularly, mostly because of her not-very-stable home life.

We laughed about this incident when Karin retold it that night. But underlying the laughter was a sadness. Janet’s confusion isn’t an isolated example. Janet represents countless children who don’t know the basics of the Christian story. They live in a confusing conglomeration of cultural myths (Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, The Grinch,etc.) and elements of traditional religous stories. Their young minds may well hear both cultural myths and traditional faith stories as equally “mythical”. The confusion is heightened when the faith stories are “out of context”, i.e., when they’re not rooted in a family’s consistent faithful lifestyle.

The confusion isn’t only in young minds. My wife went to the store to get some Easter cards–a big-box retailer, not a “Christian” store. “It’s really hard to find Easter cards about Easter ,” she proclaimed upon her return. Her diligent search for bunny-free, egg-free cards that celebrated the Christian holiday in Christian terms had yielded minimal results. Her experience reinforces the uncomfortable truth. Organized religion is increasingly marginalized in our society. We no longer see throngs of traditional Ozzie-and-Harriet families spending every Sunday morning at their neighborhood church. Too many churches have hidden their heads in the sand in recent decades while two and now three generations have grown up with no significant Christian memory. They don’t speak our language–and for the most part, we don’t speak theirs.

But Janets (and Jameses) keep showing up  every Sunday morning. Somebody in their life thinks they should be there. God keeps giving us new chances with these children (and the adults in their lives). Our wise/foolish God trusts us and our “perfectly imperfect” faith communities to be the source through which they experience Limitless Unconditional Love. Here are some things we can do to be ready for Janet and James next Sunday:

1) LET’S GET OUR STORY STRAIGHT. Let’s learn our story well enough to be able to tell it to one another–and to a stranger. Let’s be sure our leaders,  teachers, and families (in all their diverse forms) know the basic stories of our faith and why those stories matter.

2) LET’S LOVINGLY HELP JANET LEARN THE STORY. “Be sure to come back next week” was a good start.  Janet doesn’t always have control over that. Inexpensive children’s books that tell the Christmas and Easter stories are readily available. Keep some on hand to send home. A teacher might give it to whoever picks up Janet with a  brief explanation–“Janet was curious about this. We covered as much as we had time for. Perhaps you could help her at home.” Or a teacher might ask the whole class to work together to tell the story.

3) KEEP WORKING ON OUR WELCOME. Many newcomers are remarkably uncomfortable about their first visit to a church. Little things we take for granted can turn them off. Special care and attention  can “seal the deal” and touch them deeply because they aren’t treated that well anywhere else in their lives.

4) DARE TO MAKE THE CHANGES NECESSARY TO MAKE ROOM FOR JANET, JAMES, AND THEIR FAMILIES. Most folks in nearly every church I know say they want to reach Janet, James, and their families. But when ” crunch time” comes and we face the reality of adjusting programming, Sunday schedule, worship styles, and $pending, tremendous resistance arises. I’ve seen it happen too many times in too many places. Janet and James are important–but not important enough to disrupt my comfort zone in my church.

Whose church?? Maybe that’s the problem. When we really get that part of the story straight, all the other pieces will begin to fall into place. Janet, James, and their families will be more welcome than they ever dared to hope. All of us will be amazed by the depth and power of the God whose love we know in Jesus–who never kissed any bunnies as far as I know, but loves them just the same as he loves every one of God’s creatures–including you, me, and Janet.