| Some of David's Thinking |
Tuesday, 31 May 2011
M. Scott Peck in his book What Return Can I Make recalls a conversation that he once had with a client. In a casual manner, the patient said that on the preceding evening he had run out of gas. Sensitive to a problem, Peck asked, “Is this the first time you’ve ever done that?” “Oh, no.” “How often do you run out of gas?” “Oh, not often. Maybe three or four times a year.” “For what it’s worth,” Peck commented, “I’ve never run out of gas.” “Well, the problem is the gas gauge in my car,” he explained. “Once it get down to a quarter of a tank it becomes unreliable.” “Why don’t you get it fixed?” “I suppose I should.” “You really seem quite comfortable about it. But to me it seems a problem that you’re trying to avoid.”
The next week his patient was driving around looking for the apartment of a friend. At the outskirts of the city he stopped at a gas station to ask directions. His gauge read a quarter full. He didn’t buy gas. In the maze of streets at the center of downtown, he ran out of gas.
He said to himself, “Maybe if I coast down the hill, it’s just possible, by God’s grace, that I’ll run into a gas station.” As he coasted down the hill with the prayers, sure enough, there was a gas station. Without applying the breaks his car stopped directly in front of the right pump. Later that day he decided that God probably had better ways to spend time than providing him with a gas station when he needed it so he had his gas gauge fixed.
How do we interpret that experience? In his book Peck offers a psychological explanation. I’m drawn to a theological one. It seems to me that Peck’s patient was looking for some sort of sign that God cared. I suppose that if God provided me with a gas station at a critical moment I, too, would be impressed. And, I might be willing to disregard all of those occasions when God has left me stranded, gasless.
What do we expect from God? Have we overlooked the profound gift already set before us as we search for a sign? Life and running out of gas seem synonymous. None of us live long without problems. But life, too, has been created for celebration, and God has created the means whereby we can both celebrate and affirm life even beyond our problems. Without ignoring the pain that we have, without rescuing us from different situations and circumstances by building a gas station at a strategic location, God offers us a companion in crisis. The promise revealed through Christ is that both in joy and pain we are not alone; that even when we choose to bring on a problem by refusing to fix a gas gauge, God will be with us on that lonely country road. God neither breaks the gas gauge nor builds the gas station. God participates in pain we create and pain imposed. God, through Christ, participates with love and care and wisdom. Now and then, when we realize that, we also realize how important we are in God’s creation. That truth we can always celebrate.
See you in Sunday School and Worship. Bring someone with you.
Tuesday, 24 May 2011
Around 5:30 every morning, the first item I read in the Dallas Morning News is the comics. One of my favorites over the years has been Doonesbury. Recently, Gary Trudeau’s story line has featured a conversation between two characters, one of whom is offering all his worldly possessions to the other. A neighbor is giving everything away because time as we know it is going to end on October 21, 2011.
I’ve always been fascinated by the writings in the Bible that speak of the strange figure of the Ancient of Days in the book of Daniel, the dead in Christ rising in the air of which Paul speaks, the coming of the Son of Man in the gospels, and the bizarre images in the Book of Revelation; there is mystery and intrigue in these ancient writings.
Several years ago some of these images came alive in the Left Behind series of books. These novels have sold over seventy-five million copies. The Left Behind series is based on apocalyptic theology, which has its roots in Judaism, and is well represented in some of the writings of Paul, the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Mark, the Book of Revelation, and other places in scripture. Apocalypse simply means “to reveal” or “uncover” as in the Revelation (Apocalypse) to John, the concluding book of the Christian Bible.
When some folks talk of “end time” theology these days the conversation eventually turns on an event called “the rapture” when Christians are taken out of this world before a great time of tribulation occurs. The word “rapture” appears nowhere in the Bible. I have a friend who says, in response to the bumper sticker that says “Warning: In Case of Rapture, This Vehicle Will Be Unmanned,” that he is going to follow one of those cars because he has never owned a Cadillac.
Many, if not most of us mainline Protestant pastors, have gone from one extreme to the other in addressing this subject. We have either laughed at this kind of thinking or we have avoided it altogether. Ten years ago was the first time I preached on a text from the Book of Revelation.
There is a particular brand of apocalyptic thinking that is now embedded and holds sway in a great many folk’s minds these days. This version of eschatology (the end time) holds that the Bible, read correctly, contains a time for the final events that precede the end of history, “the rapture” being one of these events. These folks believe we are living in the last days of history as we know it. This understanding is subject to endless variations. For some, whereas in the 70’s the bad guys were the Russians, according to some these days (post 9/11), they are, in reality, Muslims.
The rise of apocalyptic thinking and belief often intensifies during times of great national or international tension and anxiety. The problem with using apocalyptic imagery and language the way many are today are applying it is that it releases us from any responsibility for the care and healing of creation or of reconciling relationships. If the world is going up in a great tide of violence and blood, why worry about the environment, being peacemakers Jesus calls us to be (Matthew 5:9) in a world driven by greed and war, or reconciling ourselves to our brothers and sisters?
How do we understand and appropriate this particular world view with that of a belief in a God who comes to us in the midst of our lives and promises to be with us? The vision presented in the Book of Revelation is one of a slain Lamb who rules. The message of the book is one of faithfulness: holding fast to the faith of our baptism. Being a Christian is living out one’s baptism in the world for which Christ died.
There are several books in my library that I find helpful on this subject. Anyone is welcome to borrow them. Two are In God’s Time by Craig C. Hill and Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America by Amy Johnston Frykholm. The first is a scholarly biblical approach that is very accessible. The second is a volume that examines apocalyptic literature from a number of perspectives including critical, literary, social, and historical.
The gospel of Jesus Christ gives us a hope for the future, a hope in a God who loves creation and all who live within it. The urgency is that we share this good news with those who are without hope. We share with them the life changing, unconditional love of God in Jesus Christ.
Monday, 09 May 2011
While waiting for Pamela Smith to cut my hair, I read Rolling Stone magazine’s top five hundred songs of all time. There were no hymns on the list. “Jesus Is Just Alright With Me” didn’t even make it. The top five songs on the list are: (5) “Respect” – Aretha Franklin, (4) “What’s Going On” – Marvin Gaye, (3) “Imagine” – John Lennon, (2) “Satisfaction” – The Rolling Stones, and (1) “Like a Rolling Stone” – Bob Dylan. For a boy growing up in the sixties that list is hard to argue with.
At number two is the Rolling Stones “Satisfaction” – I Can’t Get No Satisfaction. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger wrote “Satisfaction” at the end of their first U.S. tour. Keith Richards woke up in the middle of the night with the words “I can’t get no satisfaction” and a riff of music in his mind. He turned on the tape recorder he kept beside the bed for just such purposes, sang the words into the tape recorder, and went back to sleep. He said in his autobiography that the tape contains two minutes of him singing the words “I can’t get no satisfaction” and forty minutes of snoring.
Mick Jagger wrote the rest of the words. Mick says that the lyrics are a commentary on American materialism. What does it say about a culture when Mick Jagger thinks something is too materialistic? What he realized during the U.S. tour was that the goal of advertising is to keep us from ever becoming satisfied.
In the first two verses he wrote: When I’m driving in my car / And that man comes on the radio / He’s tell’n me more and more / About some useless information / Suppose to fire my imagination / I can’t get no, oh no, no, no / Hey hey hey, that’s what I say / I can’t get no satisfaction. When I’m watchin’ my T.V. / And that man comes on to tell me / How white my shirts can be / But he can’t be a man ‘cause he doesn’t smoke / The same cigarettes as me / I can’t get no, oh no, no, no / Hey hey hey, that’s what I say / I can’t get no satisfaction. In other words, American advertising is designed, in large part, to make us dissatisfied with our lives by making us suppose there is something else we need in order to find satisfaction in life.
Here’s the question: What really gives my life a sense of satisfaction? What in life truly satisfies? There is the satisfaction that comes from a good meal, our favorite team wining a game, or buying something we really want. Another kind of satisfaction comes from a sense that we are fulfilling our potential, making the world a better place, and helping others; this kind of satisfaction almost always involves personal sacrifice. This is not as pleasurable or popular as the first kind. However, there is a recent study in the Wall Street Journal that indicates the more we have a sense of fulfilling our potential in life, helping others, and making the work a better place to live, the less likely we are to experience illnesses like coronary disease, osteoporosis, or even Alzheimer’s.
As the community called church brings us into relationship with God and others who are also experiencing fullness of life through prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness we find wholeness. We find satisfaction.
Tuesday, 03 May 2011
Last week my friend Dr. Susan Nearpass and I were talking about endurance of life, why some people live longer than others. We were discussing characteristics people nurture during the course of their lives that enable them to experience longevity. One of the characteristics we talked about that enabled people to live longer is the ability to deal with change. I remember the opening line of Dr. M. Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Traveled: “Life is difficult.”
We have experienced many changes at Kessler Park UMC over the past ten months. We are anticipating a new Minister of Music before the end of this month. We have acquired the services of Charles Harrison for four to six months to build a healthy and sustainable foundation for youth ministry in KPUMC. Our goal is to have a new Minister to Youth and their Families in place by October. My hope is to move the position from part-time back to full-time. Buy me coffee and I’ll tell you why this is a holistic approach for the church for both the short and long haul. The Holy Conversations group will begin meeting with a retreat at the church on Friday night, May 13, and Saturday morning and afternoon, May 14. And, as of July 1, I will have been pastor of KPUMC for one year.
The Holy Conversations group is as follows: Michael Van Amburgh, Chuck Bealke, Jeff Chandler, Betsy Dorman, Traci Dorman, Allison Garza, Bob Heard, Nell Lind, Cindy McSpadden, Missi Mulligan, Bill Nelson, Amy Palmer, Norlynn Price, Eugenia Williams, and myself. Please begin praying for these people and continue to remember them in your prayers daily. Their primary mission in our congregation over the next six months to two years is to serve on this committee; it is their top priority. They are presently reading the book Holy Conversations: Strategic Planning as Spiritual Practice for Congregations by Gil Rendle and Alice Mann in preparation for the retreat. They will be in conversation with you and will communicate with you so that you don’t have to wonder what they are saying or doing.
Holy Week was an amazing experience for me this year – from Palm Sunday on the lawn to a magnificent celebration on Easter Sunday. May the sanctuary be so filled in the days ahead.
This blog is written by Senior Pastor David Carr, (email,
214.942.0098 ext 25).