"Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." - Matthew 19:24 NIV
Does this quote from scriptures make anyone else uncomfortable, or is it just me? I don't consider myself rich by American standards but according to Oxfam, if you make over $32,400 per year, you are one of the richest 1% of God's kingdom on Earth? So by that standard, a lot of us - most of us, probably, are rich!
So does that mean it's easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for each of us to enter the Kingdom of God? That can't be! Right?
Surely Jesus meant the stingy rich person who doesn't tithe to the church and doesn't donate to charity, right? So wait a second, maybe I am not giving enough? If my wife and I go out for a nice dinner and some wine and fail to donate that money to charity, does that make us the stingy rich person?
And what about taxes? On one hand, some politicians tell us that our taxes are there to help the poor. So that's enough, right? But wait, isn't that rendered unto Caesar, and if so, how is that what God expects us to do when it comes to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and healing the sick?
How can I manage my money, support my family, enjoy our lives together, take care of the needy, and still get into Heaven?
Is anyone else struggling with this?
Faith is complicated. So let's talk about it.
"For the Lord himself][will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will be with the Lord forever." - 1 Thessalonians, 4: 16-18
When I was 12 years old, I lost my first pet, Doofus. He was unlike any cat my family had ever had. He followed me around like a dog, waited at the bottom of the steps of the school bus when I was dropped off at home, and laid in the hammock with me while I read my books. This was our daily routine until the morning he was hit by a car. I was the one who found him, and before I was absolutely sure it was him, I ran into the house yelling for my mom and cried in her arms. My brother verified his death. At 12 years of age, I understood what the word dead meant, but I couldn't fully embrace the finality of it. My brother cheered me up within hours and had me laughing. Within days, I had a new kitten, and my focus was on her.
It wasn't until I was an adult that I had to face death beyond my pets -- grandparents, mother-in-law, aunts, uncles, close friends, and more. At this point I started facing the reality of death -- the finality. People give their condolences, and say that our pets and loved ones are watching over us. How do we know that? I ask myself this often. I also ask myself, "Do I really want them watching over me? Do I want them to see my personal life from day to day? No, I'm not sure I do. If heaven is perfect, why would they see our heartache and pain along with our happiness?"
I don't know that I'm unique in my thinking. I believe everyone questions what the afterlife is like. As a Christian, I fight with these thoughts often. What really happens when we die? Is there truly a heaven? First Thessalonians, chapter 4, verses 16-18 state "For the Lord himself ... will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will be with the Lord forever." ... the dead in Christ will rise first. What does that mean? Are we sleeping in death until God gathers all of us together? In the book of John, Jesus approached Mary after his crucifixion and told her not to hold on to him because he had not yet ascended to the father. He had died three days earlier and had not yet reached heaven. What does that mean for us?
There are so many more questions that run through my brain after reading these verses and after each and every person or pet I lose to death. My questions for you today, though, are what does death mean to you as an individual? How has death shaped your relationship with God? How can we stay strong in our Christian faith when faced with the inevitability of death whether it be our own, our pets' or anyone else's?
Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.
I love the book of Proverbs! To me this book is filled with hundreds of educational fortune cookie messages. So many words of wisdom, advice and instructions. In fact King Solomon is credited with writing most of this book as a way to instruct his decedents and the young men of Israel. He had the right idea! As a teacher and parent I agree that we are responsible for teaching not only our children but future generations.
Like a modern day teacher Solomon instructed his readers on a host of topics such as wisdom, trust, discipline, obedience, and truth. This approach is the very definition of education. Instructing your students on as many topics as possible. He did not have to worry about the separation of church and state and could include spiritualty issues and talk about God
Many people will read the title of this blog entry and may immediately think about Christian schools vs public schools. Over my career I have taught in both settings and both were fine institutions. In one it was just easier to talk about God, and in the other I could listen to students mention their faith and teach them more about faith through a lifestyle evangelism approach.
Faith and education is not just a constitutional issue. In a formal classroom setting it is there as a teacher has faith in her lesson plans to lead to success in learning. It is there as a student has faith in his teacher to help and guide him to success and faith in his own abilities. Another portion of this topic is the lifelong process of educating ourselves and our children in matters of faith, the Bible, and service to our faith. Are we doing enough to encourage and strengthen our faith?
What do you think? Is faith a part of education? Or education a matter of faith? Both? Maybe we need King Solomon’s help.
- Janice Joos
Ex. 35:30-31 “Then Moses said to the Israelites: See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel] [he has filled him with divine spirit, with skill, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft”
Most people of faith would agree that mankind's ability to invent new technology is one of God's greatest gifts. The harnessing of fire led early humans into the first villages, gathering around community fires for light, warmth, cooking, and protection from dangers lurking in the darkness. We first domesticated crops and livestock because we had invented weapons and tools. We came to understand biology to invent new medicines and medical treatments. We created machines to augment both our strength and intelligence.
Many technological inventions have clearly led us closer to God, whether it's the Johannes Gutenberg's movable-type printing press, which brought the first mass production of the Bible, or musical instruments, which let us worship God with song in new ways.
But does technology also sometimes push us away from God? Weapons of war and mass destruction have given us the power to vaporize millions of people faster than the blink of an eye. The Internet has given most of the world immediate access to information, but does it create distance between us, fragmenting the Body of Christ? Do Social Media and unsavory Internet destinations create new challenges for families, friendships, and married couples? Does the possible invention of therapeutic cloning, re-growing severed spinal cords or cancerous organs, run the risk of reproductive cloning, effectively moving past being created in God's image, but in some ways BECOMING God?
There are some things of which we can be certain: God loves us unconditionally, and technology will become increasingly prevalent in our lives. As people of God, how do we enjoy the fruits of God's gifts of invention, without letting it come between us and God?
Faith is complicated. So let's talk about it.
- Ron Minto
“The Lord God took the [person] and put [them] in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”
(Full disclosure… I work in the environmental protection field and have science degrees in geology and water resource management.) I recently returned from spending Earth Day in Washington DC and slogged down a rainy Constitution Avenue in the March for Science at Washington DC with my teenage daughter and nephew. Motivation for the trip was to participate in this county’s great democracy and voice my concern for our country’s current direction in environmental issues, to celebrate the role and value of science, and to take advantage of a great excuse for road tripping to Washington DC with 2 teenagers. Over 600 satellite Marches occurred around the world celebrating the innovations and hope that science offers along with calls for continued funding and support.
The timing of this trip and my background prompted me to volunteer and lead the next Cold Brewed Theology session focused on the environment and faith. Perhaps I just can’t say no to Vicar Dan :)
Nature is one of my sacred places where I feel closer to God and connected spiritually. For others is may be a quiet church pew or moment kneeling bedside… we all have a place. I marvel at the rhythm of waves on a beach, soothing sounds of a flowing river, crack and flash of lightening, quiet cloaked fog and the harmonic hum of the bees when I crack open on of my hives. It fascinates and fills me with wonder and I often think about how these natural forces and backdrops underlain the bible stories of old and how God orchestrates it all. Although some days I struggle to reconcile how it all fits together.
Unfortunately, in my line of work and in our modern world it is impossible to deny human impact of the Creation and I find myself questioning and seeking the appropriate response. How do we respond to events such as the water crisis in Flint, global warming, species extinctions, toxic algae blooms and other environmental disasters such as Deepwater Horizon? What about the secondary impacts tied to climate change such as drought, more intense storms and the societal ramifications?
I researched the Lutheran Church views on the Environment and found the ELCA social statement on “Caring for Creation” https://www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Caring-for-Creation. I also found other articles about the linkages between faith and environmental views and action, including this one from Audubon: http://www.audubon.org/news/can-faith-motivate-environmental-action. According to ELCA’s social statement, the church “is deeply concerned about the environment, locally and globally, as members of this church and as members of society.” “Even as we join in political, economic, and scientific discussion, we know care for the earth to be a profoundly spiritual matter.” Position statements and caring for the environment unite us across all boundaries. Faith Climate Action Week (April 17-23) just ended, Pope Francis issued a ground-breaking encyclical in 2015 on “Care of our Common Home”, challenging former positions and calling for action on climate change and other issues. Never before has a Pope addressed the environment in such an important document and in another break with tradition, the encyclical addressed not just the world’s Catholics, but “every person living on this planet.” This link offers a summary or different denominations statements on the environment http://earthministry.org/faith-statements/.
I cannot help but sense a renewed nexus between faith and caring for the environment. We are the earth-keepers of God’s fantastic and inspiring creation. How does faith inform your views and actions on protecting the environment? As individuals, congregations, and communities, what can and should we do? Think about it and get back to us.
- Amy Klei
Psalm 100:1 “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth”
In high school I played the snare drum in marching band. In the Fall we played at every football game. Our only Spring event was the Rocky Point Saint Patrick’s Day parade. The path started at the top of a hill, stretching the entire length of the town, ending in our “downtown”, creating a parade route full of hills and valleys. For me, marching bands are the highlight of every parade, not because of the melody or the harmony, but because of the rhythm. As a drummer, I tune into the cadence, the rhythm that keeps the band in step with one another. The snare drums, toms, bass drums, quad drums, and cymbals, all making a joyful noise to the Lord, together they drive the band forward. A cadence is simple on the outside, but complex once you break it apart, creating the rhythm of the atmosphere.
Music plays an important role in our lives, no matter what style worship we prefer, choir and organ with hymns, or jamming out to 80’s hair metal on our way to work. Music allows us to express ourselves as well as tune into something greater than ourselves. When we join an ensemble we become the instrument, used to express our deepest emotions and ambitions.
God uses rhythm and song to tell us about God’s love for us, to explain God’s story, and even to create God’s community. So, what is your rhythm? What is your song? How do you connect with God and the community on a deeper level, joining together to create something spectacular? What is your cadence, the simple repeating rhythm that keeps you in step in the right direction? Think about it, and get back to me.
- Vicar Dan
1 Corinthians 10:31
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”
Between the first and second year of seminary, most seminarians complete a summer of chaplaincy at a hospital entitled Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE. My summer CPE program was at WakeMed, a level 1 trauma center in Raleigh, North Carolina. I was living with my brother and his wife at the time because the internship wasn’t paid. They were both so generous in letting me stay in their spare bedroom for the summer and so I tried to find ways to help out around the house.
Almost every night, after a full day of sitting through classes and visiting patients at the hospital, I found myself warming up the grill to cook dinner for the three of us. Each Wednesday WakeMed hosted a farmers market, at which I would pick up multiple ears of corn and the most massive zucchini I have ever seen. Anything I could fire up on the grill I would purchase at the market. Between prepping the chicken, zucchini, green beans, corn, etc., warming up the grill, cracking open a beer, standing over the flames to make sure things cooked perfectly, plating, serving, sharing in the meal with my loved ones, and cleaning up, I found myself transitioning from anxiously participating in God’s presence in the hospital, to finding the peace of God within myself.
The grill in my brother’s backyard was a holy space that summer. Soaking the corn in water reminded me of my baptism, flipping the chicken was therapeutic, and sharing in the fellowship of the meal was not unlike the meal we share together each week. Paul encourages us to do whatever we do for the glory of God. Specifically he points to eating and drinking as examples. Now as an intern living alone, I find myself cooking in single servings, but the art form is no less holy.
God sent manna from heaven to Moses as God’s people were wandering the desert. Jesus multiplied 5 loaves and 2 fishes to feed the multitude. The Torah has numerous laws about what God’s people could, and couldn’t eat. Bread is the physicality of which many in this world encounter Christ in their lives. Food, and the art of cooking, is holy. It nourishes our bodies, our souls, and all that is ours. This time around, before Cold Brewed Theology, I invite you to think back to your own life. Is cooking, or baking, a holy moment for you? Do you host, share, and participate in meals, sharing holy conversations, and who is around that table? What flavors do you encounter God through? Is this getting you hungry? Think about it, and get back to me.
- Vicar Dan
- The water cooler is an interesting item in a work environment. It is a sustainer of life as it fills up our water bottles or cups to keep us going throughout the day. It is also a place where we meet up with co-workers to get a break from the workday. The water cooler is a space to exchange ideas, share stories, and to take a break from “busy-ness”. The “water cooler” is not just in an office environment, nor does it have to be a physical water cooler. A place that gives us life, a space to help with self-care, can have many forms in the work place. For me, the water cooler is my morning coffee at my desk. Without it I am useless for the rest of the day, but with it I am actually productive. One’s “water cooler” can help define one’s workspace, whether that be at home, in an office, or in retirement. It can also help define ones vocation.
Vocation is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as "a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action; especially: a divine call to the religious life," but I'm not sure this hits the nail on the head. One’s vocation, or calling, expands well beyond only those who work in the church. Your calling from God, through Christ, is to serve and love your neighbor. I am pretty sure plenty of people are served and loved outside the church. In fact, if I had a way to count, I bet there has been way more people served outside of a church, and loved outside those four walls than within it.
The idea of Cold Brewed Theology is to slow down, to cultivate your own theology, and to really think through the hard questions. What is the Theology of your Water Cooler? Where do you go to recharge? Is God in this space? What gifts has God given you to participate in your vocation, to love you neighbor, and to serve your community? Think about it, and get back to me.
- Vicar Dan
Dan Potaznick was the Vicar at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Dublin, OH from the summer of 2016 to the summer of 2017.