Communion and Feeding the Hungry

My family showed love through food.  As my physique likely portrays, we showed love through rich, delicious, and absolutely terrible for you food.  There was always a plate for another mouth at our table, and they would walk away full.

Also, people have dreams about my grandma’s scalloped potatoes and bacon.  Like I said, rich, delicious, and terrible for you.

We also where poor.  It would never be said – we always called ourselves “lower middle class” – but the reality is that we were poor.  Despite that, our table was always open.

It always fascinated me that there would be people who would not offer up their table to their neighbors.  There is very little in this world that I love more than feeding friends and having fellowship with them.  Honestly, it brings me a selfish amount of joy to give friends, family, and strangers alike a delicious meal from my hands and from my resources.

The idea of eating a lavish meal in front of people who could not afford to join me feels absurd.

Three things have lined up to make it really relevant this week.  One, the NFL changed the Super Bowl to the first week in February 15 seasons ago.  Two, some ingenious people created the Souper Bowl of Caring in 1990 to collect food for the hungry to coincide with the big game.  Three, protestant churches are not creative and typically have their monthly communion on the first Sunday of the month.

Interestingly, I also had a conversation around that passage in 1 Corinthians that our Words of Institution come from.  It’s oddly apt that we would choose this passage from a larger passage about how rich people where gluttonously eating in front of poor, hungry people and creating a divide, and how doing that was a grievous sin against the Body of Christ.

I have more than enough.  I am not rich by Corinthians standards – or 2018 American standards – but I have plenty.  I just bought a new TV, I have an expensive computer, my car starts every morning, we are not living on scraps.  I have more than enough, more than I probably thought I would ever have growing up.

And so I am helping feed the hungry on the day that I share a meal at the table with my Lord and the saints of every time and place, and a day that I cheer against the Eagles because I don’t particularly care who wins, just that the Eagles lose, which I realize means the Patriots win, but I really couldn’t care less about that.

I encourage you to use this Sunday and our communion as an opportunity to feed the hungry and help the needy.  If you are in Fort Wayne and want to contribute to me losing my beard, Grace will definitely take your donations.  But if you are anywhere, there is a church or school or another group that is collecting soup this week.

For more national information, check out SouperBowl.org, though it may not be the most up-to-date information on groups collecting.  Or just give to food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, and whoever else feeds the hungry.

Souper Bowl of Caring

We don’t eat our meal with our savior alone, and no one should go hungry, especially when we eat that meal.  Let’s help make that a reality.

Peace,
– Robby

How I (Suddenly) Became Progressive

I have been trying to find where my outside church ministry in Fort Wayne and Indiana is leading me – that ministry you do because you are called to just a little bit more than just being a preacher, hospital visitor, and administrator – and I found myself attending a presbytery justice advocates group.

As we talked, I found myself hearing the politics and concerns of the groups and found myself agreeing with them, not in a surprising way but in a, “Yes, my people.  I found my people.”  Then one of the people call the group “progressive.”

I was a little bit taken aback.  I’m a moderate, certified fence-sitter.  I have strongly held political beliefs, but they don’t fit neatly in the adversarial binary off the American political system.  The only thing “radical” about me is my insistence that those I minister to and I myself love radically and the sheer volume of coffee I drink.  I don’t lean left, I never have.  I used to lean right, but I’ve centered myself.  My positions tend to be more logical than anything, seeking first to love than to actually see things work.

If you see me or talk to me, you don’t think progressive.  At all.

But I realized something in that meeting: I have become a progressive, in a way.  I didn’t change all that much – I fleshed out more theology and stopped giving benefit of the doubt to one side, which didn’t really change all that much about me – but I can easily be labeled a progressive now.

I didn’t change, but the line moved, and I’m on that side of the line.

Here are some things it became progressive to believe or observe:

  • That all people – all of God’s children – should be able to participate in the fullness of the church, no matter their lifestyle, brokenness, or who they love.
  • That there is still racial inequality in the United States of America and Christians are called to speak out against it despite their political allegiances.
  • That there is economic inequality in the United States of America and Christians are called to speak out against it despite their political allegiances.
  • That people should be able to go to the doctor and not need to make a decision between eating or healthcare, rent or healthcare, or any other necessity of life or healthcare.
  • That people should be paid a fair wage.
  • That the rich should not gain their wealth by the abuse of their workers.
  • That Christian allegiance is to the cross, not a flag.
  • That Christian allegiance is to Christ, not a world leader.
  • That all Christians are broken, all Christians desperately need the saving love of our savior, and that none of us can cast a stone against another sinner.
  • That Christians are called to protect, lift up, hear, and speak out for the vulnerable and the weak, using whatever privilege and power we have to help those and speak for those who do not have that privilege and power.
  • That wealth is not a blessing from God but simple a resource for use to better God’s creation and show Christ’s love.
  • That Christians cannot act in fear and are called to act against their own well-being when it comes to showing love.

I used to believe that the vast majority of these things were boilerplate Christian values.  There may be some deviation if we really want to break them down to the most minute subtleties, but I thought this was pretty basic Christian doctrine for the mainline.

The reality, I’ve learned over the past few months and even couple of years, is that these believes and observations make me progressive politically.

I was taught that not being strongly conservative made you a liberal.  I was taught that being liberal was evil.  I was taught that being a liberal Christian meant that I didn’t believe anything.  I was taught that the progressive church was the coming of the Antichrist.  I was taught that disagreeing with the narrow doctrines of the conservative church was tantamount to being not-Christian.

And our binary, adversarial political tribalism has made it to where a prophetic voice is discounted and ignored because it is simply seen as an attack from the other.

When did being a moderate make you progressive?  I don’t know, but it has, and I guess I’m a progressive now.

I guess being a progressive means that you value showing love above all.

29Jesus replied, “The most important one is ‘Israel, listen!  Our God is the one Lord, 30and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  31The second is this, ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself.’  No other commandment is greater than these.”

– Mark 12:2-31 CEB

I guess being progressive means following the Greatest Commandments.

I guess I’m progressive now.

Peace,
– Robby

Loving Rapists and Terrorist

This week I attended a Boundaries and Ethics training, and I had a wonderful conversation with a couple of other young pastors about the message of the gospel.  Later that night, I tweeted this:

I like provocative tweets, and that’s exactly what I meant to say.  If you read the gospels (especially Matthew 5:43:48) “Love your enemies” is pretty much the command.

Everyone loves their friends and who it’s easy to love.  Our command is to love all; in practice, that means to actively love our enemies.

The conversation on Wednesday revolved around one thing: Jesus wasn’t kidding or pulling punches when he said, “Love your enemies.”

We were a bit cheeky about it.  “No really, love your enemies.  No, really, love your enemies.  No, really, love your enemies.  Terrorists and rapists and pedophiles included. *NOT MY POLITICAL PARTY* included.  No, really, love your enemies…no, REALLY, love your enemies.”

Then we started talking about boundaries.  And I realized today that my tweet, which I stand by and would tweet again, might have been oddly timed.

One national conversation this week was how many women and non-CIS people have had their bodily autonomy and sexual boundaries broken, sometimes in small ways and sometimes in violent, terrible ways.

I would claim it is a universal experience.  Everyone woman I have ever talked to about it has had it happen, even if it was the cultural norm even 30 years ago.

So I wanted to write a little bit about loving rapists and terrorists.  Because I don’t want any to hear what I wrote as accepting and downplaying the horror victims feel.

Because it is horrific, and should be named as such.

Loving someone does not mean to make their sins and their atrocities okay.  To love someone does not mean to downplay what they have done or pretend it didn’t happen.  To love someone does not mean to tell their victims that they aren’t victims.  To love someone does not make them not a rapist or terrorist, and it does not make rape and terrorism okay.

Much the same way that God loved us and provided salvation even if what we do is not okay.  Jesus didn’t make our sins okay, he didn’t make us killing each other and tear each other apart okay, he didn’t make our destruction of our planet okay.

None of that is okay.  All of it is still horrific.

But we are still loved.  And so we are supposed to love all, include those who we find horrific and who victimize.

Love and not hate.

There is something that my tweet misses, and it can’t be included to make it pithy, but it needs to be said.  The ultimate message is to love all, but there is a certain bias towards the weak and the powerless and the victimized.  Jesus loved the broken by healing and caring.

And love the money changers in the temple by turning over the tables.

Love comes in different forms, and love is not telling a rapists or terrorist that what they are doing is okay and allowing them to continue.  Love is healing, which includes healing the victim and healing the perpetrator so they can stop creating victims.

Love is calling sin sin, horror horror, and terror terror, and creating healing for the ravages of sin.

And love is trying to stop sin.

I can’t write the practical method of loving a rapist or a terrorist that also heals and does no harm to their victims, but I know that I must love them even if I despise them.

You are called to to the same.

Hopefully that through just the right amount of more mud into the muddy waters so it’s murky enough to be helpful.

Peace,
– Robby

Silence in Tragedy and Atrocity

It is always a weird feeling when you can’t say anything when you are in a profession built about having answers and preaching the Word.  But here we are.

I’ve spent two days mourning the senseless violence that has once again ravaged our nation.  I’ve cried over the devastation of the natural disasters that have destroyed life and home of thousands, and felt rage over the lopsided and frankly sickening response to different groups of Americans having their homes destroyed.

I have prayed, and I have not heard an answer.

I want to fix the world, and I can’t.  But I am expected to have a response because of my profession and my faith.

And I don’t have a response that will be helpful or could possibly be heard in a helpful way.  So I will pray, and I will remain silent, and I will pray.  Because that is all I can do.

I know there is a call – even from my own denomination – to speak out and call our congresspeople and scream about it, but I don’t know what to say or what to ask for.  I know there is an army of people who would be willing to tell me what I am supposed to ask for, and another army who also know exactly what to ask for, both armies asking for exactly opposite things.

I don’t know, I am lost, and my voice wants to be heard but I have no words.

So now I pray:

God of peace and love, provide us peace and love, mold our hearts for peace and love, and help us to feel Your peace and love.  Amen.

And I remain silent until I have a word that might help instead of tear apart and break down relationship when we need, more than anything, loving relationship.

Jesus loves you and I love you.

Peace,
– Robby

Jesus Loves You and I Love You

I simply need to put that out there.  No matter who you are – your sexuality, your political party, your attitudes, your biases – Jesus loves you and I love you.

I can’t contribute anything unique or helpful to the conversations that are happening around us, I don’t have the energy to add my voice in a meaningful way other than to say Jesus loves you and I love you.

Peace,

– Robby

A Random Memory (And a Rabbit Hole)

I had a memory flood back to me like that I hadn’t thought of in a while:

When I was young, I really struggled with spelling.  I mean, I still struggle with spelling, but I have those wonderful red squiggles to help me out now.  Anyway, I remember sitting at a parent-teacher conference in fourth grade – I think – and there was conversation about how I was still not reading chapter books and I was still using “inventive spelling,” which was unacceptable at that level.

I guess.

This memory is always spurned by a slightly earlier memory, I think first or second grade.  I was trying to write “The Indians are our friends.” and what I wrote was “The Indians are are friends.”  I knew they were different words, but I didn’t understand the spelling difference.

Chronic bad speller.  I legitimately thank God for whomever added the squiggly lines to Word, and also whomever added them to browsers.

That one popped into my head because I meant to type “our” and I typed “are.”  I deleted, corrected, and then the memories flooded back.

There is always a third thing that pops into my head.  There is a story from this guy talking about a girl on social media who is obviously a teenager with teenage theories and beliefs.  He goes through how dumb she supposedly is – again, probably because she’s a teenager1 – and yet she always used the right version of there/their/they’re, as a righteous condemnation of anyone who gets it wrong because “she’s dumb, and even she can do it.”

I wonder how much brilliance is ignored because communication isn’t everyone’s forte.  Sometimes saying something is more important than saying it properly.  Sometimes the thoughts get ahead of the grammar, and the thoughts are much more important than the grammar, yet we condemn anything not written properly as stupid.

I’m as guilty as anyone.  I’m a little bit racist in this regard, in fact.  There is a pronunciation of “ask” that makes me immediately discount the speaker as less educated and less wise.  Now, I recognize this about myself and I consciously snap myself out of it – I have casual racism within me, like anyone else, and I believe just acknowledging it and then putting it aside when it happens will make me, and anyone else, better at interacting with the world – but it’s a thing for me.  And it almost made me discount the wisdom of someone in CPE, someone who brought a lens to my experience I was so very lucky to have because her presence was so very atypical to the CPE process.

We need to become better judges of the thoughts expressed to us and stop using our biases against certain types of communication in that judgement process.  How often have you discounted something because it isn’t well written?  How often have you discounted something because the speaker is angry, or upset, or emotionless?  How often have you discounted someone because they lack education, or are highly educated?  How often have you discounted someone because of their level of privilege, be it high or low?

Because I have.  Probably every day.

There was a great article – and if I find it, I will tweet it and link it here – that has an argument that we can’t possibly be fully “woke” and trying to attain the title of “King Woke” or “Queen Woke” is a fools errand.  Instead, we just need to acknowledge our biases – in the terms of the article, racism, but all biases that divide and silence – and do our best to set them aside as we live in this world.

So I issue a challenge.  Read a poorly written article and judge is based on the merits of its argument, not the quality of its writing.  Read an article arguing a position you disagree with – hate, even – and evaluate it honestly, not biased by your current preconception.  If we do this, we can both widen our minds and also widen our arguments when we come up against something we find abhorrent, attacking it at its core and its logic instead simply in a way that can be described as “divisive” and “political.”

And instead of pretending you have no biases – and especially no internalized and/or casual racism – acknowledge it and work to set it aside.

Maybe we can start interacting with each other and loving each other fully if we try.

Okay, I need to stop procrastinating.  Hopefully this mind-dump makes sense.

Peace,

– Robby

1For anyone my age and older, you should be insanely thankful that all the stupid thoughts you had as a teenager were not recorded as a permanent record for all to read forever – and to nail you to the wall about because you are a stupid teenager. Every election around/after 2032 should be pretty entertaining…

In the Name of My Sanity (Or, Sharing the Works of Our Hands)

Something in my last post that is absolutely true is that I want to write about something not awful.  The darkness in the world has been a reason why the previous iteration of this blog remained kind of active over the past three years, but only writing to respond to travesty is soul-killing for me.  Cathartic, but soul-killing.

So I decided I’m going to write something happy.

Last night we had a delicious meal: butter-fried steak, roasted tomatoes, sauteed bell peppers, blanched and cooked green beans.  It was heavenly.

All of the major ingredients came from the hands of someone whom loves us.  The steak came from a couple of parishioners who are responsible for us not buying ground beef for the past three years.  The beans and tomatoes came from the generous excess of another parishioner who loves being able to give away the excess from her garden.  The bell peppers came from our pots, and I think it is important to love myself.

At Bible study last night there were four pints of grape tomatoes, a pound or two of green beans, and a dozen eggs to share because of the excess of the loving work of the gardeners – and Marv’s chickens – and God’s creation.

And it is freely and joyfully given.  We have offered – many times – to pay for the eggs, and the offer is always declined.  By the end of the summer anyone who wants to can tomatoes, beans, beets, or really any food has ample produce to do it.

There is something absolutely wonderful this level of generosity.  I haven’t bought sweet corn since we moved to Cascade.  From the moment I moved here I have felt loved and part of a family under God.

I’ve struggled with how to respond to the darkness of the world – and I still struggle with it as I also consider how to respond to potential reactions to my words – but I have been preaching an answer for basically my entire ministerial career:

Show love to those around you.

Yes, I can tell you to not be racist and disavow those who are and publicly condemn acts of hatred, but last night, eating from the generosity of others and receiving more generosity last night, I felt more love and more welcome.

If we can live our lives like that in our small circles, and do that will all people, we will reduce the darkness in our world.

I can’t fix the racism of our nation, I can’t heal the deep wounds that it has caused, but I can show love to all.

Show love to all.

Peace,

– Robby

How Do I Help? What Do I Say?

Is there an answer to my questions?  Can I actually do something?  Because I just do not know.

I am so sickened that I can barely speak, and I certainly am struggling for words.  The President’s words today blaming victims and defending proud and violent white supremacists fills me with so much anger and fear, and I know that I cannot remain silent.  If I remain silent, I cannot step into the pulpit in faith every again.

But I have no idea what to say.  Do I comment on literally everything?  Do I try to scream into the voice of screaming and hope my voice comes through?  Do I just cry?

Because I do not know.

How do I fix this?  How do we fix this?  How does anyone fix this?

I want to help.  How do I help?


I can do this, and I must do this:

I condemn the President’s words today fully.  There is no equivalence between the two groups and I stand with those who were and are protesting the white supremacy groups of this country.  I mourn with the family and friends of Heather Heyer, and I pray for the recovery and resolve of all those who were injured by the terrorist who plowed his car into the protestors.

President Trump’s words are indefensible, and this is not debatable.  I write this as a pastor, as Christian, and a human being.

If you are offended by this, or you think I am speaking out of turn, this is addressed to you specifically.  If you are not offended by President Trump’s words, this is addressed specifically to you.  If you want to minimize the anger and fear this event caused, this is addressed specifically to you.

Every commandment, every call, every bit of Christianity is based upon two commands, and this is a direct violation of the second:

Love your neighbor as yourself.

I stand with those who stand against hatred and bigotry in all forms.

That is the Christian response.


I love you all, even if this addressed to you.  I pray for this world and pray that we can stop hating each other.

And I pray that the world calms down enough that I can write something joyful on this blog soon.

Peace,

– Robby

Sleep On It

Last night a young couple came and essentially tried to convince Nora she’s going to Hell.  I’m not going to name-and-shame what church they came from, but it was very close to home.  It made me furious that the version of the gospel that was being sold in my neighborhood, and because I was busy feeding the sheep I lead.

I am still furious, but I’ve decided to bite my tongue a bit on it, trying to figure out how best to respond.  I don’t know if a public response is best, or a conversation with their pastor asking why this is an acceptable mission practice, but what I’ve written is 95% of what I will say on the matter.

I am very happy I started writing my response last night and waited until today to post it.  It was poorly written, crafted out of anger and exhaustion, not helpful but rather condemning and accusatory.  My thoughts weren’t wrong – again, I’m still angry about it – but I couldn’t write it in a pastoral way.  As I sit in the office this afternoon, not able to focus on real work, I am having a hard time being pastoral again.

So instead of talking about that, I decided I was going to do something else: talk about how to be a mature adult.  Last night I was ready to send all sorts of e-mails and a “Letter to the Editor” and try to get a meeting with the other church in town and create a united front against the teachings of this church.  Today, my vision has cleared a little bit and I can see the folly of that.

Often times sleeping on it is the best option.  Responding out of blind anger would do two things: get my supporters in an unhealthy frenzy and break and line of communication or compromise between this church and my own.  That accomplishes nothing but making me feel good and righteous, which, in its own way, is what caused that brand of theology.

Feeling righteous feels really damn good.  Having people in a fury affirming your righteousness feels amazing.  Judging and condemning the other feels really good.  It all would have made me feel great.

And accomplishes nothing more than divide an already divided and spiritually struggling community further.

I wasn’t home last night because I was preparing for Bible study at the church.  We are studying 1st Timothy.  Last night was chapter 1, including a difficult conversation on verses 9-10.  This verse that includes a word whose translation we can’t guarantee and whose interpretation partially caused to the ELCA and the PC(USA) to both have a major splits and vocal proponents on each side of the debate risking their careers for what they believe God is directing them to do, including a professor I never got the chance to study under because firing him meant money was continuing to come in.

Last night I wanted to add my voice to the larger argument of scripture and sin in a way that furthered the frenzy and anger.  Today I want to share the message of the gospel that is love and salvation, not condemnation and growth based upon fear and guilt.  I want to provide community today, not provide a place to fulfill an obligation so someone can get into Heaven.

I slept on it, and now my anger has calmed so I can actually be light instead of darkness, as dim as my light is today.  I approached it with calm, understanding and love, and now I can respond with calm, understanding, and love.

I will close with this.  If anyone who is local to Cascade, Iowa reads this, know that the message in the church I am leading is not that message.  We believe that we are broken and need Christ, but we will not drag you in with the threat of Hell if you act differently than us or have sins that we don’t struggle with.  I am not ignorant of what has happened with this congregation, and I am not ignorant of why someone might not feel comfortable or welcome in the walls of that church – and that saddens me greatly – but the message from my pulpit is love, compassion, and hope, not judgement nor condemnation.  If you are seeking that, the doors are open to you (and everyone from every walk of life).

You are loved, and that is the message of the gospels.

And don’t respond to stuff out of anger.  It doesn’t help; it only feeds your ego and self-righteousness.

Peace,

– Robby

How Do I Pray For Everything?

Facebook is the source of 90% of my discouragement.  9% being impatient, 1% trying to figure out my digestive issues while remembering they aren’t even approaching debilitating and are probably 100% as minor as the doctor suggested, 90% reading Facebook.

I just opened up Facebook after briefly opening and then closing and I found these things to pray about:

  • A retired police officer passing away.
  • Celebrating young life.
  • The American political situation.
  • Ditto, again and again.
  • Problems with our natural world.
  • The beauty and joy of summer and enjoying our natural world.

Then the song changed on my playlist and I stopped scrolling.  Each bullet point was a specific post, posted by another person, which a specific thing I should be praying about.

How do I pray for everything?  If I spent time listing everything that I hear – not even seeking out but just hear – on a daily basis in prayer, I would have little time for anything else.

And I don’t know the answer to my question.  There are prayers that are all-encompassing of much of that, but then why do we pray for anything specific?  And I don’t pray to Vending-Machine Jesus or Magic Genie God, so listing my every concern and joy seems…odd.

I find myself wanting to come up with some profound thing to pray, some profound solution to this struggle within me, but I can’t.  All I have is this humble offering:

God, give me words and voice for the pains of this world, heart and joy for the things of this creation that bring us joy, and peace to know that I am doing what I can do, in my broken state, to bring more light to this world.  I mourn with those who mourn, celebrate with those who celebrate, and I ask you for peace in this world, but also peace in knowing that this world is temporary and you provide us with a new world without tears, pain, or mourning.

Please give your servants strength, please give your servants voice, please give your servants joy, and please give your servants peace.

In the name of our exemplar, our teacher, our savior, and our Lord Jesus Christ, amen.

Peace,

– Robby