Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mid-life Lesson #27: The Eucharist is for babies, too

It is precisely within what some have called the ‘first stage of faith,’ that is, ages two to six, where children possess the greatest and most lasting responsiveness to images, rituals, and symbols. Given this, it should become increasingly clear as well that the denial of the Eucharist to the youngest of baptized children is nothing other than the denial of the primary way in which they actually can participate in the symbolic, ritual, and image-laden liturgical self-expression of the faith community.”[1]

Because liturgy is its own best catechesis, and the best way for anyone to learn about communion is to participate in communion.

[1] Maxwell Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation, 374-375.

New epigram for this blog?

Now taking votes... should the following quote become the new epigram for Lutheran Confessions?

"Our freedom is that which Christ graciously promises in baptismal living where we are free to serve the neighbor in need, unencumbered by preoccupation with our own salvation."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Pentecost/The Absence of Christ

Audio of my sermon for Pentecost Sunday. Hovering around the John 15 text and Christ's statement that it is better if he goes away, digging deep on the relationship between the Spirit and the Father and the Son.

But really digging in on the threefold Dadaist statement of Jesus that the Spirit will prove the world wrong about judgment, righteousness, and sin.

Listen if it interests you. Pentecost blessings to all.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pentecost = Easter ≠ Christmas

If you were to rank Christian festivals in order of their importance, what would come first, second, and then third? If we use our own cultural Christianity in North America as a gauge, Christmas comes first, with Easter a close second (and a side conversation could be had about Halloween, but let's not go there, other than as an aside).

So, Christmas, then Easter, and then?

Here's the interesting truth. Within Christian tradition, the highest festival is and always has been Easter itself. Here cultural Christianity and historic Christianity overlap.

However, the elevation of Christmas is of later vintage. The incarnation of the Word of God in human form is a big deal, no question, but as a feast day and festival, it never was as central.

There is another festival in the Christian tradition that has always ranked as high as Easter, the second great feast of the church. Unfortunately it's just that we don't give it as much cultural credential as we should. This festival comes fifty days after Easter, and so is named for those fifty (pente) days--Pentecost. 

This year this festival just so happens to fall on Memorial Day weekend. I'd venture to guess that more people are observing Memorial Day than Pentecost this weekend. Am I right?

In historical perspective, however, Christians rank Pentecost as the other great feast of the church because it is the celebration and commemoration of the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father and sent by the risen and ascended Christ, upon the early Christian community. Since the Holy Spirit is the continuing presence of Christ with the people of God, giving life, inspiring the continuing preaching of God's Word, hovering over the sacraments, and giving its many gifts, there is ample reason to see why the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is important for the church 
If you have never heard or read the story, you can read it in Acts 2:1-6, and you can read Christ's promise to send the Holy Spirit in John 15:26-27.

If Easter is proof of the life-giving power of God in Christ beyond death, Pentecost is proof of the life-giving power of God continuing not just in Christ, but in all those who have heard the gospel and are now empowered by the Spirit.

Pentecost is an evocative day. Christians think of fire, baptism, breath, wind, languages, life. They often wear red on this day (fairly easy to do in Razorback country). They baptize on this day (our own Pentecost worship will include the baptism of a child). Some Christians get quite animated in celebration of the Spirit. Christians of my tribe (Lutheran) go crazy by lighting votive candles or changing the paraments to red.

I do wonder why we pay less attention to Pentecost than Easter or Christmas. Perhaps it is less material, more "spiritual." Perhaps it is a little more difficult to comprehend, because the face of Christianity (Christ) goes away and ascends to the Father and then sends this Spirit. Wind is hard to depict or capture. It's a strange situation, Christ going away that his Spirit might come. Presence in absence. An enigma that is also life-giving is more difficult to depict or contain.

It's a strange day. Fifty days earlier Christians were celebrating Christ's resurrected presence with them. Then he goes away, and sends this wild Spirit. Christ isn't around or available. Christ is with the Father. It is the Holy Spirit, sent by them, who continues to make Christ know, according to Christian faith and tradition. 

And that is just a little weird and wild, because we live in a culture that likes to put religious faith into neatly wrapped up categories, making faith about rules and morals and customs and guidelines. If God is on the loose, alive in the Spirit, in even just a few of the ways signified by Pentecost, then religious faith, Christian faith, is actually about freedom and righteousness that sometimes transgresses traditional morality. 

The Spirit is the spirit of life and energy and hope and community and joy. Or as we say in the confirmation of the spirit's presence at each baptism: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, spirit of joy in God's presence. 

Which is why Pentecost is my favorite feast of the church year. Remember to wear your red.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Mid-life Lesson #28: Things aren't going to hell

I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard a sentiment fairly similar to this one, "I don't know, pastor, it sure seems like the world is just a lot worse place than it used to be."

Every once in awhile, this sentiment is uttered in the context of great suffering and trial. The person who speaks it witnessed or experienced unspeakable tragedy. I weep with them, and mourn. And in those cases, I understand why it is said, and I sympathize.

However, most of the time I think the sentiment arises either--

a) because the speaker has romanticized and idealized their own past, or
b) the speaker watches too much television and reads the newspaper and forms their worldview from those two sources

Often it is an admixture of the two.

If you actually think the world is as it is portrayed in the newspaper and on television, the world is pretty horrible. The concentration of sensationalized horror is pretty high. But if most of us, by comparison, read instead our lived experience, or cull other sources than the morning paper or nightly news, we would see how far off the mark this sentiment really is.

There's a verse in Ecclesiastes that addresses this situation well.

Eccl. 7:10 Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?”
For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. 

If you don't trust the NRSV translation, then consider the NIV:

Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”
    For it is not wise to ask such questions.

The point is clear. It is not a sign of wisdom to compare the present to the past, and come to the conclusion that the former days were better than the old days.

By implication, although Ecclesiastes is not as forthright on this point, we could as easily imagine Qoheleth (the author of Ecclesiastes), saying,

Do not say, "Why are the present days so much better than the olden days?"
     For it is not wise to ask such questions.

Ecclesiastes does come close, when it says,

What has been is what will be, 
       and what has been done is what will be done;
       there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

My point in all of this is simple: Things aren't going to hell. Quite the opposite, if we hope and trust in the God we know in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, then things, generally speaking as they chart their course into the future, are on their way to God. The future is coming to us, and it is life in God. And the present time, mystery of mystery, is also in God's hands.

Sometimes I think the worry that the world is falling apart arises out of an unwillingness to embrace the beauty of the new. Certain people, having tired of needing to change more than a few times as culture and history march inexorably forward, simply give up in their embrace of what is next.

However, even young people who have gone through less change are still tempted by this spiritual malaise, albeit in a slightly different variation. Sometimes they are not open to the past impinging on their glorious present, because they never have had to change, and the culture, especially our culture, tends to valorize their youth and cool factor.

Generations are judgmental in both directions on this point. Often youth can't see what the older generation valued as being valuable. The older generations, on the other hand, worry about the future (quickly becoming the present) being placed in the hands of the youth. And some people who are older are actually young. And some people who are younger are prematurely old. This is not strictly a factor of age. It is a factor of mentality. It is a measuring rod for wisdom.

My generation has been at risk often of saying, "Boomers suck." Boomers are at risk of saying, "The youth are scary." And so on. I think the sentiment on either side needs to stop, and grow up.

If there is a way forward in all of this (and I trust there is), the way forward is the same way as always. It's a two-part recipe.

1) Be radically open to the new and different that comes to you from your neighbor, especially your neighbor who is older/younger, richer/poorer, stranger/familiarer, closer/farther than you and to you.

2) Think assets. What is it that this new present brings that is gift, not threat? Map the assets and opportunities rather than detriments and dismissals.

Ask, How are the present days actually quite a bit like the olden days? That's the best question, because any good historian will tell you that every generation, in certain ways, shares the same kinds of worries, and the same kinds of questions. Everything old is new again, and everything new is old.

I might add mid-life lessons #28a and #28b: First, don't watch television, especially the news. Second, Ecclesiastes is a totally under-rated book of the bible, and is at the heart of my spirituality as a pastor and theologian.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mid-life lesson #29: Alcohol ain't that great

About nine years ago I gave up drinking alcohol. The only alcohol I now consume is a small amount of wine in the weekly Eucharist. Other than that, I don't touch the stuff.

Without going into an overly long biographical sketch, during my twenties I became increasingly addicted to alcohol. I took up brewing beer as a hobby in order to justify it. I lived in Slovakia where alcohol is an integral part of much of the culture. Then I moved to Wisconsin, where drinking is also endemic.

But the primary responsibility is with me. I have a problem with alcohol. If I drink some, my brain wants more. Lots more.

So one day while talking with a counselor about my depression, I finally admitted that I was drinking. My counselor's immediate response: "Are you ready for yesterday to have been the last time you drank alcohol?"

My stomach rolled over, I swallowed, and then I said, "Yes. Yes."

Since then I haven't been drinking, nor do I intend to ever take it up again. I don't participate in any programs like AA. I have been blessed in simply being able to stop. I know others have different stories, so my story is neither prescriptive nor valorous. It's just how my story has gone.

I have mixed feelings about how to talk about drinking with those who still do. Clearly some people can drink without needing to drink to excess. Good for you.

However, because I have seen alcohol destroy so many people and so many families, it is hard for me to encourage drinking even to people who aren't addicts.

Mostly I recommend that people not drink, either because of the temptations, or because of the impact it has on others.

I also love the clarity of mind I have since quitting. I sleep better. I'm healthier, period. I know, there are some moderate health benefits from drinking red wine, etc. However, overall I don't see any real benefits to booze, I mostly see the harm.

So I tend to say, without moralizing it (or trying not to moralize it) that life generally speaking is better without alcohol. And I thank God for the freedom I have as a non-drinker.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Updated bio

Clint Schnekloth is lead pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas. He previously served as pastor of East Koshkonong Lutheran Church. He lives in East Fayetteville, with his wife and three children, all ages six and under. Previously, Clint has served as a global missionary with the ELCA in Kosice, Slovakia, Camp Director of Camp Shalom, Maquoketa, Iowa, and various gigs as youth minister and camp counselor.

Clint grew up on a farm in Scott County, Iowa. He was the sixth generation born on the farm of German immigrants, but has as an adult found himself adopted by Norwegian institutions, including time at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, and most recently East Koshkonong, the oldest Norwegian Lutheran Church in the United States.

Clint is a recipient of a Siebert Foundation grant, and is currently writing his dissertation for the Doctor of Ministry degree at Fuller Theological Seminary. His focus is on social/new media and faith formation. Previously, Clint was a fellow at the Center of Theological Inquiry in their Pastor-Theologian program.

Clint serves on the Advisory Council for Word & World and the Editorial Board for the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Connect Journal. He also serves as the preaching series editor for the Journal of Lutheran Ethics, and has supervised pastoral interns.

Clint is a regular contributor to The LutheranThe Little LutheranLutheran Forum, the Journal of Lutheran Ethics, and Word & World. He also freelances for Augsburg Fortress publishing house. His most recent projects with AF include seasonal essays for Sundays & Seasons, lessons for Washed and Welcomed: A Baptismal Sourcebook, material in the Spark Bible, and an Advent Book of Faith bible study for 2011.

Clint is available for speaking engagements on religion and technology, theology and literature, and reading the bible theologically.

He spends lots of time with his family, and in any time that remains, he goes running, eats BBQ, and listens to far too much indie rock and jazz, especially now on Spotify.

Check out his other blog,

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mid-life Lesson #30: Preaching Without Notes

"He worked neither from notes nor from a text first written out, then memorized; he prepared only by prayer and study" (165). This is William Harmless's brief description of Augustine's preaching method in Augustine and the Catechumenate.

This is precisely how I have been preparing to preach for almost a decade now. Not that my sermons in any way compare to Augustine's. But the description of the process preparing them is quite similar.

Furthermore, I would break down my sermons into one of two types, similar to a description Deferrari offers in his essay St. Augustine's Method of Composing and Delivering Sermons.

Extempore--Those given after some previous meditation on the subject, but with no extensive preparation.

Strictly extempore--Given unexpectedly and without any preparation of any kind.

Most of the sermons I give are of the first variety. Perhaps one or two per month are of the second.

"Augustine notes that working from a prepared or memorized text hindered the ability to keep one's rapport with the audience... he says that he prepared with prayer. He had, of course, worked on some texts long and hard in his study."


As part of my dissertation, I have a chapter where I examine how to develop this extempore approach in terms of the neurology and formative aspects of it, and will provide a link to that essay (or perhaps post it as an e-book) at some later date. No method for preaching is built in a day, and there are many ways to preach. I do not offer this as prescription for everyone. But the above gives about as concise a sense of how I have learned to preach without notes as I can offer.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Why does God seem so volatile and irritable in the Old Testament, yet forgiving and merciful in the New Testament?

Recently received a note from a camp director, and thought it worth blogging a response. Admittedly, what I'm offering here is from the hip, summarizing a lot of different reflections and resources I've read over the years. But perhaps an immediate, from the hip response is in some ways more helpful than an articulate, nuanced, subtle, and possibly obfuscating academic treatise. 

Anyway, here's what she wrote:

Could you help me answer some of the college counselors theological questions? I would greatly appreciate your time and responses and links to any good articles or blogs.New question from college summer staff: Why does God seem so volatile and irritable in the Old Testament, yet forgiving and merciful in the New Testament?

Here's my response. 

First, I'd tell them that in my experience, a lot of people who read the OT experience this difference between the OT and the NT. There simply is a lot more war, violence, and violent action directed by God in the OT and the NT. So, they were astute to notice this, clearly they have been reading their bibles. 

After agreeing, in the sense that this is something anyone reading it would notice, you are right to ask why it seems this way. And I think the most fair response is that, where the OT covers a broad swath of history, and looks for salvation history in the call of a nation and all the vicissitudes of that relationship between a nation and God, the New Testament centers in on the life of one man, Jesus, and the community that is formed out of his death and resurrection. 

There actually is a lot of violence in the NT, but it is almost completely directed at one person, Christ. That story is told four times in the NT. It is the violence of the world thrown at Christ while God doesn't save Christ from the violence. So in another way, there is actually a lot of violence in the NT, but it arises out of God's "passivity" rather than activity.

So why is God seemingly more volatile in the OT? Well, for one because the community that lives with this God is coming to a greater and greater understanding of God's work of judgment and mercy. In the early parts of the OT, God is clearly anthropomorphized in a variety of ways. However, as people have mentioned, God is also in the OT more merciful than we sometimes notice, especially because we get so distracted by all of the blood.

But if the OT encompasses more history than the NT, it is not surprising that God will come across in this way, since God is doing nation building, relating to nations as a whole, and so on. Furthermore, and perhaps this is why God is perceived as loving and merciful in the NT more than in the OT, in the NT we have the witness of Jesus Christ to who the Father truly is. So one way to read the OT is to read it now as Christians with Jesus goggles. Clearly Jesus read the OT and had a very different perspective on God than those who read it and find God vindictive. So read the NT, and look at how it uses the OT. Do you think those who read and interpreted the OT in the NT experienced God as volatile and vindictive? I don't. So reading about the use of the OT in the NT can go a long ways towards finding the unity in the two testaments rather than some kind of false and problematic supersessionism.

If I were going to read some theologians on this topic, I'd probably read Walter Brueggemann's Old Testament Theology, a good smattering of Ellen Davis, and any theologians working on the use of the OT in the NT, such as Richard B. Hayes.

One final footnote: Contra those who function out of an outright or disguised supersessionism (the New Testament is somehow superior or transcends the Old Testament) I would actually argue that the Old Testament is, for the most part, working out of a truer theological anthropology than the New Testament. But that would be for another essay. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Advocating for SNAP

An update from Bread for the World.

We need your help. The dramatic cuts of $169 billion to SNAP proposed this year in the U.S. House of Representatives would have a devastating impact on all of our congregations’ efforts to address increasing need.

Every church across America would need to come up with, on average, an extra $50,000 dedicated to feeding people — every year for the next 10 years — to make up for these cuts.

Don't get us wrong. We firmly believe in reducing the deficit and balancing the budget. But we also believe it should not be done on the backs of those who can least afford it. Congress must protect and strengthen programs in our federal budget that help hungry and poor people at home and around the world.

Can we count on you to personally discuss this with your member of Congress during Bread for the World's Lobby Day on June 12? Recent studies show that personal visits to members of Congress are the most effective way of influencing their decisions.

Register here for Lobby Day.

Help us convince Congress to protect funding for programs needed by low-income people in the United States and for foreign assistance that is focused on reducing poverty.

Grace and Peace,

David Beckmann
President, Bread for the World

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mid-life Lession #31: On Missing the Point

There is a tendency to think, in this era when missional church is all the rage, that the new and main question for the church is, "Who will we reach? How will we be sent? How will we reach the world?"

These are not bad questions per se, but they are not actually the central, core missional question. In fact, they aren't even close. Those are the last gasps of a breathless body.

The real question, the authentic and missional question, is quite different. It is not a question addressed internally to the body that is now supposed to go out in mission together. It is a question asked of those on the edges, the liminal ones, and even beyond, to other peoples, other faiths, other traditions, other groups. It is a question the church is called to ask everywhere and always, with humility, grace, and genuine concern. It is a question the church is called to ask with love, which means we are called to ask it ready to learn from the answer, and change and grow.

What is this question? Here it is:

"Are we missing the point?"

Some of the dangers of the missional era (which were/are equally the dangers of the attractional era) include an assumption that those outside the church are really just looking for a slight remix of what we have going on in the church. Or, we can go all "Steve Jobs" on people, and assume that people don't know what they need, but we can create the need in them (church as iPad).

Again, these aren't completely wrong-headed. There's truth in both.

But if we lead with, "Are we missing the point?" we lead open to the possibility that it is the church that needs to repent, it is the church that can learn and grow, that perhaps those we think don't have faith do have faith, just faith different than we had expected. We start from reconciliation, repentance, openness to the religious faith of the other.

And the other, whoever that is, does not get a loud message from us. Instead, they hear a question, an opportunity to share their perspective. It opens the door to ask further questions, like how, why, what, where.

I figure most people who read this blog are "inside" the church in some way, so this last question might not work, but I'd like to try. If you are reading this and you are not part of the church I'm a part of, but you have experienced us, in clumsy and strange ways, trying to reach out to you, might you answer this question,

How are we missing the point? How am I missing the point? I know just enough at this point in my life to know this isn't a bad question to ask, at any age.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Biker Blessing 2012

Biker Blessing

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church Parking Lot
Fayetteville, Arkansas
May 12th, 2012; 11 a.m.

-- (Total time: about 10 minutes, following donuts and coffee)

Pastor: Friends in Christ: Today we give thanks to God and we seek God's blessing as we gather to bless these bikes and riders to the praise and glory of God.

Scripture, Acts 23.24 "Also provide mounts for Paul to ride, and take him safely to Felix the governor.” 

Brief (2 minute) meditation by pastor: Faith on the Road

Song: Canticle for Departure, from Heartland Liturgy, Jonathan Rundman (pastor on guitar and sings it for group)

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.

Let us pray.
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, ruler of the universe. You made the whole earth for your glory; all creation praises you. We lift our voices to join the songs of heaven and earth, of things seen and unseen.

You stretched out heavens like a tent; you divided the day from the night; you appointed times and seasons for work and rest, for tearing down and building up. You blessed your people through all generations and guided them in life and death: Abraham and Sarah; Moses and Miriam; Isaiah and all the prophets; Mary, mother of our Lord; Peter, James, John, and all the apostles; and all the saints and witnesses of ages past, in whom your Spirit spoke and moved.

We give you thanks, O God, as we set apart this group of motorcyclists to your glory and praise. Grant us faith to know your gracious purpose in all things, give us joy in them, and lead us to the building up of your kingdom; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

The blessing of almighty God, the Father, the + Son, and the Holy Spirit, be with us all.

All y'all, start your engines. 

[individual blessing offered at driveway of parking lot as bikes head out on the road]

Monday, May 07, 2012

Mid-life Lesson #32: That when you stop learning you are dead

I was prepared in seminary for preaching, teaching, counseling, exegesis, and historical and theological inquiry, among other things. I think I might have studied Hebrew and Greek a little bit, and there was that one class on death and dying and twelve weeks of CPE. Oh, and I took a three year break for mission work in Slovakia.

So yeah.

Then, during the last ten years of my ministry, I've been shaped to lead an organization, preside at liturgy, conduct weddings and funerals, design contemporary worship, write stuff, start Facebook groups, and in general be a cool cat. There's way more, but that gives a sense. I might have had a few kids and started a blog.

But I digress.

What I am now learning, for the first time, or at least in a much more concentrated fashion than ever before, is how to be a person of faith in conversation with inquirers--the unchurched, dechurched, and overchurched, the ostracized, hurting, turning and returning.

I find myself in this new year logging a whole new kind of time, time spent over coffee (or lunch or walks) with inquirers into the Christian faith. Often as much as five hours per week. Some of you who are on just such a spiritual journey, the journey back to the church, or near the church. Or the journey of trying to get the church to be more like the church, etc., read this blog. I thank you for teaching me anew what is central to the life of faith, calling me back to the main things: things like Jesus, being real, seeking justice, listening well, caring for the poor and marginalized, and so much more. I thank you for honoring the church and the Christian community by not giving up on us. You inspire me with your faithfulness.

One thing I'm convinced of: the rites of Christian initiation for adults, what we call the catechumenate, is absolutely the way forward as the church and inquirers journey together in faith. I have a team coming together this summer to start our first inquiry process this fall. It's kind of an egalitarian process we're putting together, because some of the inquirers are on the planning team for the inquiry class, and some of us with "experience" will be learning as much if not more than those inquiring. Like one thirsty person leading another thirsty person to water, hopefully not like the blind leading the blind. :)

Never in my life have I felt more like I'm doing what church should be about--conversion--and it makes me both nervous and giddy.

Over the past 18 months or so, I've had a wide array of conversations with adults in our congregation and community who are looking for a process of spiritual growth and formation in faith. It just keeps popping up, and I've been learning that some of our old approaches to how welcome newcomers just isn't cutting it. They have been telling us they need and want more than we are currently offering.

Some have said, "I wish I could do adult confirmation." Others are interested in being introduced to Christianity for the first time, in preparation for baptism. Still others are regularly in conversation with adult inquirers, and want to learn more about how to help have those conversations and facilitate connection into Christian community.

Often, the people who are connecting to our church are connecting precisely through the newest people.

Given how many adults are currently on this journey in our congregation, and given that we are continually welcoming new people on the journey with us, God has been clearly letting me know in a variety of ways, I believe, that I need to take a step and formalize a process for adult faith formation.

So I'm doing what I always do in situations where I feel ill-equipped to handle everything on my own. I'm forming a team!

I have a good friend (well, we've never met, but I still consider him a good friend), Paul Hoffman, who has written a little book that describes the catechumenal process they host at the church he pastors, Phinney Ridge Lutheran in Seattle, Washington. Over the course of 15 years they have developed a process that welcomes many adults into the Christian faith annually. It takes time, it takes intentionally, but it is beautiful and rich and helpful for their journey of faith. It's called Faith Forming Faith: Bringing New Christians to Baptism and Beyond, and you can see more about it here:

Since it is available on Kindle, you can download the first chapter for free and read it to get a sense.

The reason I like this book is that it simply describes how Phinney Ridge integrates catechumenal ministry as a core practice of their congregation. It is a process many churches use for faith formation for adults, and I would like to start this fall with it being the primary way new adults come into and are formed in faith in our congregation. It is not another program. It is not a class at which one receives information. Instead, it is a process of faith formation that ties worship and community and learning and faith altogether in a holistic thread.

Our denomination has also recently published a resource that I'm digging into, Go Make Disciples: An Invitation to Baptismal Living.

This whole post is just an initial foray into getting some of my thoughts on this shift out in print and to open up a conversation. At the risk of inviting conversations on multiple topics here, here are my questions: 1) Do you consider yourself an "inquirer" of some kind into the Christian faith? How is this going for you? What connections are you making? What do you need? 2) If you do offer the catechumenate, tell me more of your story? What are you reading? What are you learning? Who are you partnering with? What is God up to?

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Mid-life lesson #33: Loving your neighbor means having time for them


This is what bearing fruit, glorifying God, and discipleship look like in practice, on the street.

A while back, I can't really remember when or where, I read a commentary on the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) parable that referenced a relevant study of seminarians*. Seminarians were sent between two buildings with instructions to do something at the other building. The instructions on how quickly to get to the other building varied in their urgency. Then in an alleyway between the buildings they passed a man slumped in a doorway who coughed twice.

The dominant factor, above anything else, that contributed to whether the seminarians stopped or even perceived the man in need, was surprising in its simplicity. Those who stopped perceived that they had time to stop (see the link above for a simple summary of the 1973 study). Apply this to the Good Samaritan story, and you start to wonder, perhaps the priest and Levite who passed by on the other side did so not because of their religious habits (although certainly that played a role), and perhaps the Samaritan wasn't kinder or more merciful than others walking on the road.

What if the Samaritan we call good simply had more time, or at least was traveling with an internal disposition that he had time to spare?

Love and "having time" are close cousins. We experience people as saintly when they listen and have time for us.

I find this to be consistently true in my own life. I confess to being more hurried and busy than I would like. On the other hand, as one simple example, this morning after a run I was sitting on the front porch chatting with my spouse and rocking our one-year-old. It was a gorgeous Arkansas morning and pleasant to simply sit and rest and chat. While we sat there, a neighbor walked up and asked for a ride to the auto body shop. Not only did I give him a ride, and not only did he perceive that it would be fine to ask, but additionally, I took pleasure in helping him and giving him a ride.

And I was available, and enjoyed doing it, because I had the time.

This weekend I'm going to preach on another passage of Scripture, John 15:8: My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. I have a suspicion--no, more than a suspicion, a conviction, that if I am going to preach well on glorifying God, bearing fruit, and becoming disciples, I'm going to need to address the issue of time. Perhaps it is the only actual issue.

Yes, we can attempt to cajole each other into being better people. We can read a passage like John 15 and threaten with the whole vine and branches thing. I have my doubts on whether or not this works. Or we can compare notes on who is a better disciple, who is really "sold out" for Jesus. However, I think the jury is out on that one also, the whole "comparing our spiritual growth" thing.

But having time for others, making space in life for the needs of others, making enough space in our lives to even notice the needs of others--this is measurable, and concrete, and real. And it is the work of saints, the work of disciples, the fruit that endures. Time, we might say, is God's glory. God always has enough of it, and then some. And thus so do we. As Jesus also encourages in that John 15 passage, "Abide in me as I abide in you."

Dude, abide. Abide. Abide.

Darley, J. M., and Batson, C.D., "From Jerusalem to Jericho": A study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior". JPSP, 1973, 27, 100-108.