Faith and Questions

questionsRecently I was asked to be the person who got to answer questions from the 6th and 7th grade confirmation classes.  It’s affectionately called “stump the pastor” (in this case “stump the intern”). And the students did a great job of asking questions and trying to stump me.

One theme of questions kept popping up. It was the theme of science and theology (specifically the Bible) and how they interact.  The questions ranged from “Does the Bible say the Earth is flat?” to “What about dinosaurs?”

Some of these questions were the same questions I had while growing up.  I had questions, but I didn’t have a place where I could ask them.  My confirmation class and youth group didn’t provide the space to ask these types of questions.

I think this might be a common experience for some people; that growing up there questions 2wasn’t the space to ask questions about our faith and the Bible.  These students are getting the chance to ask these questions.  While some people don’t need to ask questions, other find it extremely important.

If we have questions, it is important to ask them.  Job asked his questions.  Jonah asked his.  Moses asked his.  Nicodemus was afraid of being seen asking his questions, so he came to Jesus in the middle of the night to ask his, but he was able to ask them.

Some people are afraid to ask the questions because well, they are afraid of the answers.  They are afraid that if they ask the wrong question, they might get the wrong answer.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  We don’t have to be afraid to ask questions when things don’t make sense to us.  We don’t have to be afraid of what we discover in the process. Sometimes what we need isn’t the answer to our most pressing questions.  Sometimes what we need is the journey to find the answers to our questions.

God will honor the questions.  God is not afraid of our questions.

 

In Christ,

Travis Segar – Pastoral Intern

Landfills & Empty Hearts

It is trash day on our street. The bins are lined up at the end of driveways like sentinels. By the end of the day, truckloads of fragrant offerings will be off to the landfill. “Every year, the United States generates approximately 230 million tons of “trash”–about 4.6 pounds per person per day. Less than one-quarter of it is recycled; the rest is incinerated or buried in landfills.” (1)  A bunch of what goes into the landfill is food we never ate, stuff we’ve grown tired of and replaced, the packaging for stuff we just acquired to replace the old stuff.

landfill

One of the new construction projects near my house is a beautiful structure. I wondered what it was to be for some time. A medical office? A new company headquarters? Turns out it is a self-storage complex: Space for stuff when your stuff outgrows your space. Turns out it is one of the fastest growing industries in the country.

We live in a culture that grooms us to have a core identity as consumers. We have become so good at it we don’t know where to put what we consume. As Pope Francis says in his encylical, Laudato Si: Care for Our Common Home“The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” (Chapter 1, paragraph 21)

We are faced with an environmental crisis (if you disagree because you look around your house and all seems well, please, for the love of God, look, study, read. It is a crisis for your neighbors in this world, which means it is yours – we are our brother’s keeper). The answer to this crisis has often been framed as a simply a need for new and better technology. We just need to think better, and acquire better stuff to handle the problems. That notion is rubbish too.

francis

First off, we humans don’t respond well to anything less than an immediate threat to our selves. Joseph Sittler, the prophetic Lutheran theologian said in 1962: “I do not believe that our relationship to the earth is liable to change for the better until it gets catastrophically worse. Our record indicates that we can walk with our eyes wide open straight into sheer destruction if there is a profit on the way-and that seems to me to be what we are doing now. I have no great expectation that human cussedness will somehow be quickly modified and turned into generosity or that humanity’s care of the earth will improve much. But I do go around planting trees on the campus.”

The deeper crisis is a spiritual, moral and social crisis. The very ways we think and the systems that make us think that way are broken. Pope Francis sums up the reason we have so much trash and need storage lockers: “The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs to buy, own and consume.” (Chapter 6, paragraph 204) We are empty inside. We try to fill that emptiness by gorging on food, things, activities, recreation. Our basements, garages and calendars are full of things we have and things we do. Yet, none of it satisfies because we’re chasing the wrong things, spurred on by systems that depend on keeping us feeling empty. Do more, buy more, dream of more, and you’ll be happy. But happy never comes. All that comes is the rapidly approaching cliff we’re racing toward when life will be no more.

Thomas Berry, a wise and insightful writer with a spiritual and ecological insight notes: “[O]ur human economy is derivative from the Earth economy. To glory in a rising Gross Domestic Product with an irreversibly declining Earth Product is an economic absurdity.” We measure things and success by profit and accumulation – it is all we know. We need to re-learn how to evaluate life and living.

Gus Speth is a lawyer, a former Yale University Dean and advisor to nations around the world. He puts his finger on the very heart of our environmental crisis:  “I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.” 

The first thing we need to stop consuming is the lie that we are consumers and life is made happier by the accumulation of things and activities.

Pax Christi,

Tim Olson, Lead Pastor

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

New Heaven, New Earth

During the season of Easter (which lasts into June, not just one Sunday), we will gather in worship under the theme New Heaven, New Earth. This image set the tone in the very first reading of scripture we heard as Easter dawned. “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17)

This new creation is evidenced in all four of the gospels as they tell of the resurrection. Each state that the women went to the tomb “on the first day of the week” either very early, or while still dark. The language launches us backward to the opening verses of Genesis where creation begins on the first day of the week in chaos and darkness. A new creation is happening in the resurrection of Jesus.

New Heaven SquareWhat this new creation is all about is anticipated in other places. Isaiah sees the end to violence and lives lived in oppression; a creation where wolf and lamb peacefully coexist (Isaiah 65); where swords are beaten into plowshares (Isaiah 2:4); where all the nations of the world are gathered in peace at the feast table of the Lord. (Isaiah 25).

In 2 Peter 3:13, we hear of a world where God’s agenda of peace justice and righteousness are the norm and standard: But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”

Perhaps the most compelling vision of the promise of God’s creative activity is in the last book of the New Testament. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more…  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1,3-5)

So, how do we respond to these visions and proclamations of a “new heaven, and a new earth?” On the one hand, if you love life the way it is and hope that heaven is simply a continuation of all that already is, this word of newness can be unsettling. We humans hate change and the loss of control. It sounds like lots of change beyond our control. It is.

One of the spiritual challenges of faith is to always be discontent with the status quo. I am not who I shall be, and certainly not what God calls me to be. The world may seem comfortable in front of my TV watching Netflix, as I much snacks I don’t need. But that patina of comfort and success is very, very thin. It rubs away with even a tiny amount of reflection and spiritual elbow grease. My comfort is often at someone else’s expense. My “happiness” is a mask for the anxiety, pain, and trouble boiling beneath. I’ve just gotten good at denying it.

If we are aware of suffering – our own and the world’s, then these images of a new heaven & earth might make us throw up our hands in joyous dependence and passively wait for God to just get ‘er done. I can surrender to my helplessness and wait for God to install the big fix.

The truth is that this new creation is already begun. In the resurrection of Jesus, God began the process of pulling, pushing, recreating us and everything into something new. The signs of that new creation are all around us if we look. When healing happens – new creation. When peace triumphs over war and violence – new creation. When tears are wiped away and mourning turns to dancing – new creation is already here.

That said, the new creation is not yet a fulfilled reality. We are living in the already/not yet of God’s new heaven and new earth. That means we are anything but passive. We have seen verified the veracity, the truth, of the vision of a new heaven and new earth resurrection. Knowing how the future will unfold, what the outcome is, we become active in anticipation of a new heaven and new earth that will triumph over the brokenness of this world.

We are to live as joyful malcontents. Malcontent because we are dissatisfied with every rotten and stinking thing about this world and refuse to accept it as normal. Joyous because we know how the story ends. Our ethics and moral values are shaped by the future vision of peace, justice, healing, life, and everything else shown in the vision of a new earth and heaven. We wait, not passively, but actively bringing about and proclaiming God’s new creation. We are part of the process of creating a new heaven and new earth.

Pax Christi, Tim Olson

 

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Why is Holy Week Important?

Last Sunday, we began worship waving palms as we remembered Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  We, like the crowds, were all for him.  He is our guy we proclaim!  He is the one who will bring the Romans down.  He will bring us freedom.  He would change the world.  The days of oppression will be behind us. How fickle the crowds can be.  Human behavior today isn’t any different.  Our support for a leader can falter depending how the wind blows.  We prefer to follow the crowd than to think for ourselves, and so the festivity of welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem leads to a different kind of kingship than the people envisioned.

dali st john crossThis Sunday, we will celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord.  Churches will be filled as we worship the risen Christ who overcomes death’s grip and gives us life.  On Sundays we celebrate.  Every Sunday is a little Easter.  But what happens during the rest of this holiest of weeks, from the waving of the palms until the singing of Alleluia’s, looks a bit different.  From Monday – Friday, Pastor Tim, Travis and I might be with people who experience hardship caused by lack of financial resources.  This week I spoke with a woman who is unable to pay her utility bill due to her husband’s health problems.  She cannot work as stress has stripped her of an appetite and she has lost 30 pounds causing her to be drastically underweight and aggravating her muscle disease.   Recent weeks paint a picture of our church building filled with grieving families as a loved one is laid to rest.   Other times we may be visiting people who are in the hospital, nursing facilities or people at home dealing with chronic illness or facing death.

Your own experiences may see a week that is filled with joys and sorrows.  Sometimes we wonder, “Where are you God?” in the midst of the chaos, stress, relationship issues.  It is then that we realize we can’t do life by ourselves.

Holy Week shows us another side of God.  On Maundy Thursday, Jesus, aware that his closest friends will abandon him in the coming hours, eats a Passover Dinner with them.  It is an intimate meal where he shares bread and a cup, filled with love for each person present.  He takes this opportunity to teach them since he knows his time is short.  Jesus takes a towel, ties it around his waist, and washes the feet of each disciple.  This is a job that is normally designated to the slave in the household; not a leader, not a teacher.  So, Jesus teaches them what love looks like, and how love acts.  Then, on Good Friday, Jesus shows that love on the cross.  The crowds and even his closest friends are gone.  Hanging on the cross Jesus suffers humiliation, pain, and isolation from God.  According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus cries the words of Psalm 22, “My God, My God why have your forsaken me!”  Soon it is finished; breath is no longer needed.  Death has come and his body is prepared, wrapped and placed in a new tomb.  Saturday is a day of silence, rest.  We hear nothing from God.  But God is at work in God’s way.

I find solace in a Savior who knows and experiences life as I do. I trust a Savior who understands human emotions, who knows humiliation. I need a Savior who experiences pain and suffering; a Savior who understands isolation and rejection; a Savior who understands me with all my quirks; a Savior who even questions and doubts God the Father’s presence; a Savior who died in all his humanness, but also will rise because he is God.  I find consolation in knowing that as I experience the highs and lows of life, and all that comes with it, I am convinced that nothing can separate me from the love of God – not suffering, dying or death, because Jesus, God incarnate, has been there and has risen.  I am convinced that I have a Savior who loves me, more than I can ever love him back.  I need Jesus each day of the week, not just on Sunday, because Jesus is about life everyday. Jesus gets right down in the trenches of everyday life and lives it with me.  I meet Jesus much more in the suffering and challenges of life than I may even be aware.  Holy Week shows me a different kind of Jesus, that’s one reason Holy Week is important.

In Christ, Pastor Pam Schroeder

 

copyright © 2019 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Silence

I recently stumbled on an article that was published some time ago by the Harvard Review.  The title, The Busier You are the More You Need Quiet Time, sums up the article, .

The authors seem to think they have found some new truth that no one else has realized: We need quiet time.  Interestingly enough, it is new, at least to the culture we live in today. These authors have “discovered” something that Christians have known for centuries.  Silence is good for you.

We need silence in our busy lives.  We live in a culture where there is pressure to do more and be more.  This means we are always busy and we tend to have less time for ourselves, less time to be still, and less time to just be.

Some of us find the idea of silence hard to fathom.  We think that there would be no way for us to be able to spend some time alone and be silent, even if we wanted to be silent.  The struggles of life make it hard to think that there would be time in our busy schedules to even pencil in silence for 10 minutes. psa 62

Others of us, think that carving out time to be silent would be a dream.  We know we are tired and know that we need something to energize us.  But we don’t know what exactly would help our tired bodies and souls.

Silence offers a retreat from too much artificial sound.  Traffic and machinery noise marks our culture and often is oppressive not only for our physical and emotional health but for our spirits as well.  The incessant chatter of advertising hype and program sounds on radio and television add to the static. Music, which can soothe the soul , unfortunately, is often distorted into a noisy and manipulative marketing tool.  In a world overstuffed with noise, persuasive speech, even sermons and prayers, can bounce back from our ears like repetitive advertisements–becoming clanging cymbals, signifying nothing.

One way to practice silence (and solitude) is to be quiet in a quiet place for some time. Perhaps you take a walk on a nature trail or sit beside a lake or a creek. Or a quiet spot in a park or your backyard may work well. Even a secluded chair inside your house may work — as long as all your communication and media devices are turned off!  It can start off small, with a few minutes, and then gradually get longer and you learn just be still in the moment.

The point of our time in silence is to do nothing.  The point of our time in silence is not to make anything happen.

In silence we’re learning to stop doing, stop producing, stop pleasing people, stop entertaining ourselves, stop obsessing — stop doing anything except to simply be our naked self before God and be found by God.

In Christ,

Travis Segar – Pastoral Intern

 

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church