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

Love Thine Enemy

43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you

– Matthew 5:43-44 CEB

Last week at Bible study one of the men, with a pained look on his face asked:

“God created everyone and loves everyone, and that includes the terrorists who killed those kids in England, right?  How do you accept that?”

I responded with a comment about how those who are dying as terrorists are usually just horribly misguided children, and those in charge are the ones pulling the strings, and that we should mourn their death, as well, because they are loved children of God.

A good response, I supposed, but what I wanted to say was, “Yeah, it’s be really freaking nice if God would come down and explain to us how He loves someone who would murder a bunch of innocent children for simply going to a concert, innocent children who did nothing wrong.”

How do you love your enemies?  How do you look at someone who means harm to the most innocent of us, and say, “I love you. God loves you.”?

And even if you can look at the misguided footsoldiers of an evil master with love, compassion, and sympathy, how do you look at those who are brainwashing them and using them as disposable tools of violence, and desiring the destruction of the innocent, all for selfish and hateful gain?

Or let’s go out a step further.  How do you look at a politician who makes decisions that you know – or at least strongly suspect – will have a detrimental effect on the lives of the weak and innocent, all to the gain of the powerful, and say, “I love you.  God loves you.”?

And how do you not just fall to your knees, screaming at God, “Why do you love them?  Why do you allow them to be in power?  Why?”

I don’t know.  I don’t know, and I can’t pretend to have an answer.  I gave an answer when the question was presented to me, but I don’t know.

But that’s what we are called to do.

God loves us all, even those we condemn as evil and irredeemable.

I’ve been asked recently what I believe the future of the PC(USA) is and the answer I keep coming to is this: if we can learn to work with each other and see each other not as enemies but brothers and sisters in Christ, and if our focus can be on showing Christ’s love with the world and not on yelling at each others, we might stand a chance; if not, we will die out.

I realize, writing this, that even if we do see each other as enemies – the though of which makes my soul mourn – we still are to love each other.  I know that I have pastors, ministers, and faithful people of the entire spectrum who may see the link to this, and I ask you all if you are showing love to those you disagree with, even if you see them as your enemy, or are you simply showing them hate and judgement?  Because tearing ourselves apart will not do anything for the body of Christ or for us individually.

Love your enemies, and also learn who an enemy is.  But most importantly, love your enemies.

Peace,

– Robby

A (Hopefully Adequate) Reflection for Memorial Day

Every year I participate in the Memorial Day Mass here in Cascade, as I’m invited to share something for 15 minutes.  This year I decided, since I’m going to spend time writing it, and because I haven’t had anything to add to the blog in a couple of weeks, I’d put this up.

God bless all those who give themselves for the security of our nation and our world.  No politics, not partisanship, but thanksgiving that there are people willing to give their very lives so that I may remain free.


Psalm 18:31-36, a psalm of the warrior David:
31 For who is God, but the LORD?
And who is a rock, except our God?–
32 the God who equipped me with strength
and made my way blameless.
33 He made my feet like the feet of a deer
and set me secure on the heights.
34 He trains my hands for war,
so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
35 You have given me the shield of your salvation,
and your right hand supported me,
and your gentleness made me great.
36 You gave a wide place for my steps under me,
and my feet did not slip.
– Psalm 18:31-36 ESV

I did not serve in our military.  I have no concept of the sacrifice and loss of those who served.  My Memorial Day will be marked by grilling and beer.  I live a quite comfortable life where I can stand here, before airmen and soldiers, sailors and marines, and preach whatever message and gospel I wish, and I can do that and know that I will walk down the center of the sanctuary and no one will harm me.  I benefit every day – every single day – from the sacrifice of warriors and servants and people much stronger than me, benefit every day from lives given to give me freedom.  I stand in awe.

This year I struggled to prepare for today.  I found my mind switching back and forth between wanting to emphasize the warrior and wanting to mourn the fallen.  My soul wanted nothing more than to be the best servant of those gathered here today, especially those who did serve and did provide for the freedoms I enjoy and take for granted, my heart wanted nothing more than to touch someone who was struggling today because they mourn the loss of someone they loved, or miss someone who is battling, or struggle with the realities of returning to normalcy after war.

There is a part of me, as I stand before you, that simply wants to leave this pulpit and say nothing because I just do not understand the sacrifice that was given, and I do not understand the loss of loved ones who gave everything they had to give to make sure I could sit comfortably at my laptop and write something I hope approaches adequate on this sacred day.  There is a part of me that knows, no matter how hard I try, I cannot make okay the pain and hurt that the sacrifice of life that soldiers give brings.  There is a part of me that knows, no matter how much I labor over this, I cannot be adequate.

But I know I can say this: I am thankful that strong women and men, stronger than I am, were willing to lay their life down for me.  I can say that I stand in awe at the willingness to sacrifice on behalf of all Americans, even pastors who talk too long and think too hard and worry about such trivial matters as having the right words on a day like today.

Psalm 13, another psalm of the warrior David:
13:1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
– Psalm 13 ESV

I do not know the sacrifice of battle, I do not know the loss that many in this room have experienced to provide my freedom, but I can imagine the pain of watching a friend die because I have seen the moment of death.  I can imagine deciding to give everything for someone else because I have seen stronger people than me make that decision.

I can imagine, but I do not know.  I do not know what you all gave, what you all experienced, the difficulties of service, but I am thankful for what you were willing to give to me, and to everyone else in this room.

I cannot help but think of that verse from the first letter from John as I think about Memorial Day: “This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”  And also its parallel in the gospel of John: “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.”  So many of those who have served followed the path of Christ, being a bodily sacrifice for others, giving their very existence so that others may live a fuller, better life.

I stand here in awe.  There is no other word I can use to describe the feeling of being able to stand in front of so many people who were willing to give up everything so that I can stand up in front of you.  The irony of me preaching to you on this day is not lost on me; in fact, it brings me as close to speechless I as ever am.  I am just a preacher who has given very little in the grand scheme; you all have given so much, and we gather together today in honor of those who gave more, who gave exactly everything they could possibly give.

I just want to stand here in silence for 1 minute, 60 seconds exactly to just remember everyone who died in service and who served and have now left this world and passed on to the next.  60 seconds to let the weight of their sacrifice sit on our shoulders, remember that it is the greatest love and sacrifice one can give.

(60 Second Silence)

Psalm 61, a closing psalm of the warrior David:
61:1 Hear my cry, O God,
listen to my prayer;
2 from the end of the earth I call to you
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I,
3 for you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.
4 Let me dwell in your tent forever!
Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah
5 For you, O God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
6 Prolong the life of the king;
may his years endure to all generations!
7 May he be enthroned forever before God;
appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!
8 So will I ever sing praises to your name,
as I perform my vows day after day.
– Psalm 61 ESV


Peace,

– Robby

P.S.: The psalms are taken from the ESV, the epistle and gospel verses from the CEB.

Doubt (and Hip-Hop)

So as a 30-year-old, VERY white, rural-raised and rural-serving pastor, I am finally getting into hip-hop.

Really.  I’ve listened to DAMN. quite a few times, HNDRXX and FUTURE have made it into my rotation, and obviously Coloring Book and Awaken, My Love have been listened more than is rational because I’m a white guy just now getting into hip-hop.

(Note: I believe Awaken, My Love is one of the greatest albums ever released, and it will age like Abbey Road and Kind of Blue.  But again, super-white and super-uncool.)

I found myself listening to Logic’s Everybody and specifically “Confess” with Killer Mike last night and the speech that Killer Mike does at the end of the song stopped me cold.

The whole song is wonderful (if rough and clearly NSFW) but here’s the speech in question.

Lines like this just dig so deep into everything that I am thought in my doubts and my struggles:

But tonight, I am in this church
Asking you to show yourself, to reveal yourself to me
Because I’m tired and I don’t know what else to do
– Killer Mike

Go right to Thomas.  Go right to any prayer that goes unanswered.  Go right to begging God to save the body and life of the people you love most, and God not giving you a “Yes.” to that prayer.  Go right to seeing violence and hatred and the powerful forgetting God and believing in their own divinity while the weak yet faithful are sacrificed and slaughtered.  Go right to see the new nation of South Sudan tear itself apart, like so many other African nations.

Go right to a world covered in darkness after that glorious Easter event, and tell me you don’t want to scream those exact words at God.

Killer Mike captured Job, captured the Samaritan woman at the well, captured Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, captured every pained cry every hospital and hospice everywhere.

If only I could have that much vulnerability in the pulpit.  How much more powerful would our preaching be if those words – universal words of pain and doubt – would not just come from our lips as we deliver God’s Word, but be a norm of our preaching?  How much closer would I be with the people I serve if that sort of vulnerability would so effectively come from my tongue in the pulpit?

So if you out there, do something about this
‘Cause I can’t take it no more
Help me
– Killer Mike

That’s soul-baring prayer.  That’s bringing everything to God, out loud, not hiding behind being proper or PC, but just brining everything to God.

May I be that vulnerable.

Peace,

– Robby

Do Something

I awoke at 6:30.  Yesterday my big toe hurt a little; today it was killing me and, come to find out, I am struggling to walk (and Dr. Google diagnosed me with gout, which is a bit deflating, not going to lie).   The dog was very sluggish this morning, which caused me to worry until she finally decided it was time to wake up and want to go walk right that instant (and don’t forget the toe).  She got a very short walk.

I got to the office and went to update the printer firmware that I’ve been meaning to update for months but kept forgetting to bring a USB cable with me.  I went to the printer, and could not for the life of me remember what I set the administrator pin to.  I spent 20-30 minutes kicking myself, trying to find how to factory reset the printer, and then finally remembering the incredibly simple and easy to remember pin that I set up.

THANKFULLY the firmware update went without a hitch and Google Cloud Print set up super easy.

That gets me to about 20 minutes ago.  I don’t want to do anything.  The office is cold – I really thought we were done with needing the heat last week – and my toe is still killing.  I’m out of filtered water and the tap water is questionable most days.  I think I slept well – Nora was complaining about storms and I’ll tell you, I have no recollection of a storm last night – and I have caffeine in my system, but I feel exhausted and all I want to do is curl back up in bed and try again tomorrow.

I have work to do.  I hadn’t even considered Sunday in a concrete way until right before I typed this sentence.  Computer games and distractions are calling my name, and it would be so easy to succumb to that temptation and get nothing done today.

I was ready to walk out the door and go to lunch WAY early when something just kind of starting gnawing at me:

Do something.

Sometimes we get to the point where there is too much to do and we just don’t know which task to tackle first.  Sometimes there is a LOT of things that are outside of your hands and you are just twiddling your thumbs, waiting for it to others to take action so you know where you stand.  Sometimes you just can’t focus and the office you actually kinda like becomes oppressive and draining.

Sometimes you just want to curl up and give up for no particular reason.

Do something.  Do anything.

That’s part of why this blog is a thing for me.  It’s something real, tangible, helpful to do.  Is it the work I have to accomplish today?  No, no it is not.  Is it going to impress some church looking at my PIF?  Very unlikely.

Is it something that I did, that I accomplished, that I can say to myself that I was capable of working on?  Absolutely, and I can already feel my motivation coming back and getting my mind ready to do the work after lunch.

I don’t know, maybe I’ll post it and take it down tomorrow, but for me, those two words kind of got me out of the rut and back onto the path of accomplishing actual work today.

Do something.

Peace,

– Robby