9.27.2016

[Simmering sermon] God-made boundaries

Hopkins Road is a narrow, somewhat curvy two-lane road that travels along northwest Delaware through White Clay Creek State Park. At one point, the road crosses state lines into Pennsylvania...for about 200 feet. Then you're back in Delaware.

I learned this the other day by driving along with road with Google Maps on. I was coming home from visiting some parishioners and had navigation on since I'm still finding my way around. One of the recently added features in the app is an audible welcome message when you cross a state line. The Google Maps lady will say, "Welcome to [state]." I did a double-take when I passed through that very short section of Hopkins Road and heard, "Welcome to Pennsylvania. Welcome to Delaware." Ironically, the home I had just visited straddles the Delaware/Maryland line (and yes, they pay property taxes to both states).

It's a reminder of how arbitrary man-made boundaries are. Whether it's drawing foursquare lines on the pavement or drawing boundaries on a map, we ultimately just make them up. We as adults tend to giggle at children for their imaginary world of forts and hideouts and "no boys/girls allowed," but sometimes I would prefer their world to the adult version of imaginary boundaries where we go to court and fight wars to defend them.

Our last house backed up to a large vacant lot that was owned by a cemetery. Our small backyard was enclosed by a 6-foot privacy fence (built by a previous resident), and if you opened the back gate you walked out into a large open field. During the sale of that house, when we were under contract with a buyer, we suddenly got a letter from the owners of the property behind us with an ominous notice that they would be building their own fence along their eastern boundary, the part that backed up to our house and 4 other neighbors. The letter asked us to take notice of where they had put stakes in the ground marking the county's line where their property ends ours begins. The stakes, we realized, were placed roughly in the middle of our already small backyards. There were other neighbors with fences around their yard also, and apparently, the residents who put the fences up, some of them decades ago, put them too far to the west. So, right in the middle of trying to sell our house, they were threatening to claim the rest of their property (when they weren't even using the acres they already had) with a construction date that was two weeks away. Ultimately, they decided to back off and not go through with the plan, but there were some tense phone calls and meetings.

All over an imaginary line.

When you look at a map of the United States and the boundaries between the states, you see some very straight lines and others that are jagged and all over the place. By and large, the clean, straight lines are the imaginary, man-made lines. Typical of us humans, I would say. We like our clearly-defined, neat and tidy boundaries. But the jagged, irregular lines dividing the states are largely natural, God-made boundaries, like rivers and shorelines.

Think about it. The man-made boundaries are straight and tidy. The God-made boundaries are jagged and irregular, following no predictable pattern.

If you ask me, that says a lot about God's character, how God works, and how much regard God has for our imaginary boundaries.

The first Sunday in October is World Communion Sunday, a day when we focus on the global nature of the church and the diversity of believers that make up the body of Christ in the world.

Now more than ever, the church needs to proclaim our faith in a living Spirit who calls all to his table without regard for the imaginary boundaries over which we fight and which divide us. It is fellowship at the table where Jesus broke down the most boundaries and angered those who preferred straight lines. The table of Christ remains the place where we are all nourished from the same bread and cup, as children of the same God.

8.31.2016

A story of new neighbors [excerpt]

I would estimate that there were 125 to 150 of them. Teenagers, all of them. They all had on a red name badge and many were carrying large backpacks. Nearly all had dark hair and skin some shade of brown. A majority of the females were wearing various head coverings — shaylas and khimars.

They had just arrived the night before, and many of them had a look on their face that’s hard to describe — a mix of eager anticipation, apprehension, and tenacious attentiveness. Some seemed really anxious about doing something wrong. One girl stopped me and asked me if it was OK to pour her drink out.

At the same time, there was laughter and talking. They whispered and giggled like any other teenagers. As they sat down with their breakfast, they didn’t spread out or leave a chair between themselves and the next person like I and my colleagues tended to do — they seemed to crowd into as few tables as possible next to each other. A few who had smartphones went to the edge of the table to take a group selfie.

I tried to read their name badges as they walked by me. Below their names, many of which I probably couldn’t pronounce correctly, were the names of different countries. Liberia, Pakistan and Bahrain were among the ones I saw... [read the full article at Baptist News Global]

8.03.2016

Joining the Team [excerpt]

All institutions begin as some sort of movement or local effort. People believe in something or see a need and organize to make it happen. There is a common goal and mutual understanding. Often, in the terminology of 20th-century sociologist Herbert Blumer, there is then formalization and institutionalization. Movements become institutions in order to improve efficiency, secure funding, centralize leadership, etc.

However, over time, if people do not remain as active participants, or if later generations are not educated about the essence and purpose, they eventually disassociate themselves from the institution of which they were once a collaborative part. That which was once the work of the people becomes seen as a separate entity apart from the people, and sometimes even the bane of the people.

That’s an oversimplified version of how, for example, what started with the Hague Congress eventually became Brexit.

It’s also how a pledge of “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor,” and a Constitution for a new government, eventually became the wave of “don’t tread on me” hyper-individualism that we see today.

There is a lot of fear and anger, as well as dissatisfaction with the status quo. A lot about it is justified or understandable. But I fear it’s causing us to shoot ourselves in the foot... [read the full article at Baptist News Global]