Monday, August 29, 2011

Purity and Fallenness

Let me begin with a big sentence: Purity, in and of itself, has never been all that exciting to me. I took a gemology class in college once, and I remember seeing pictures of completely flawless diamonds. Completely perfect diamonds were completely boring to me. I know of people who spend lots of money on perfectly pure water (Britta, Tynant, the most expensive...Fiji), but that has left me equally unexcited. I can't tell the difference between tap water and Brita (there is a difference with Fijian water:-). And I don't inherently value perfect days, perfect, vacations, perfect cars (whatever), but all of them leave me feeling purely and perfectly unfulfilled. What excites me most is the segway, the convergence, the connection between that which is perfect and that which is fallen...

I remember a story once that Jesus told, of a perfect meal that was prepared. Not only was this a perfect meal, but it was a perfect party. It was "pure" party - it was so perfect. I imagine the meal that Jesus spoke of had the perfect ingredients, and the most incredible table decorations, and the most consummate wines. I imagine that the meal that Jesus told about had perfect dinner guests and perfect music. However, there was one hitch to this perfect meal. None of the "perfect" people actually wanted to attend. Don't get me wrong, all people were invited, but none of the "perfect people" wanted to come. This apparent incongruity between the perfection of the meal that Jesus wanted to serve and the imperfection of the "rudeness" of the guests that Jesus wanted to invite was deeply unsettling to God.

But then, God did an incredible thing. God invited all of the imperfect people to come to the dinner. God invited all of the non-Brita people, all of the un-Hope diamonds to come. He said, "Go out into the streets and invite everyone who is unfit to come to this meal." The exact Biblical story goes something like this;

2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding party for his son. 3 He sent his servants to call those invited to the wedding party. But they didn’t want to come. 4 Again he sent other servants and said to them, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Look, the meal is all prepared. I’ve butchered the oxen and the fattened cattle. Now everything’s ready. Come to the wedding party!” ’ 5 But they paid no attention and went away—some to their fields, others to their businesses. 6 The rest of them grabbed his servants, abused them, and killed them.

7 “The king was angry. He sent his soldiers to destroy those murderers and set their city on fire. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding party is prepared, but those who were invited weren’t worthy. 9 Therefore, go to the roads on the edge of town and invite everyone you find to the wedding party.’

So, the meal was perfect, but the guests ended up not being so perfect. But that is what is so beautiful about the story. It was the consequence of purity and fallenness, height and lowness, loftiness and degradation, that was so beautiful.

So, that's what I'm going for in my life and my ministry. I'm going for the consequence of purity and fallenness, astronomical heights connecting with indefatigable lows. What is most beautiful about Jesus Christ, our God, is that HE, a perfect being came into our broken and utterly fallen world. It was the convergence of purity and fallenness...

All For Now,

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Movie For One

Last Wednesday night I went to a movie by myself. Actually, I should probably start this blog post by describing the average week of an ordinary pastor. The week picks up on Thursday with sermon writing, and gets busier on Friday with weddings, funerals and weekend activities, and then crests on Saturday with worship prep, and then the week finds it's apex on Sunday. Then, like the Dow Jones Industrial Average on an August afternoon in the year 2011, the week literally plummets on Monday, until it picks up again on Thursday. So, anyway, I went to a movie Wednesday night, all by myself. Haley and Star were in bed. I wanted to see a movie. Downtown Paso Robles was as sleepy as a door mouse on Ambien on Wednesday night. I found myself watching ("The Help" - a great movie, but let's save that for another blog post) the movie all by myself. Really, it was just me, my large bowl of popcorn, a super-sized Sprite, and a massive screen. And I loved it!

As the movie credits in the beginning began to flash on the screen, I felt like the director was offering me a private showing. When there were funny parts in the movie (of which there were many in "The Help"), I hooted out loud, myself...and to anyone who could hear. When there was a part of the movie I particularly liked, I yelled out, "Wow, that's funny. Ha, Ha, Ha!!!" It was just me, after all. It didn't matter who heard me. I wouldn't be bugging anyone. As the movie carried on, I stretched my legs way out in front of me, into the two chairs ahead of me, relishing the lack of complaints that I heard from anyone about my decorum or poor movie manners. It was wonderful!

So, here's what I've been thinking. What if we thought about our faith as....A Movie for One. What if we viewed the God of the Universe, Jesus Christ, who came to the earth, as a visit that was just intended for One...You, Me, whoever. What if we thought, just for a moment, about the death on the cross, our salvation, as being a gift for just one - You, Me. Now, I know that this thought is entirely non-congregational, selfish, self-centered and a little egotistical. Yes, I know the arguments about how our faith today has become too "me-oriented." However, at some level our faith is very personal, it is extremely individual, it is highly focussed on one, by one, by one. Jesus said; "What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance"—Luke 15:4-7.

What this thought has helped me to consider is how unselfconscious I felt in the movie theater that evening, yelling out loud by myself. And how unselfconscious I would like to feel about my faith if I thought of it as a Movie for One. I have been thinking about how free I would feel praying to God, hooting at God, laughing with God about my life, about God's life, if it were just a Movie for One.

All For Now,

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Folding Your Way To Heaven

The last two blog posts I've written have been a tad bit on the serious side. So, I wanted to offer a thought or two on about Spiritual matters that are not quite so heady...

I have been folding a lot of laundry lately. Yes, I, Graham Baird, a hot blooded Scottish-American male have been folding a lot of laundry. And I have been doing it with a smile on m face. Sometimes, I have even been known to strike up a lusty little whistle while I fold away at my house (children's underwear, tee shirts, tube sox, the whole nine yards). I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that I have gotten into a big argument with Star and this is my way of getting back into her good graces.

But, No, I am not in the doghouse. No, I am not trying to suck up to my wife. No, I'm not trying to win the award for husband or father of the year. No, I am not particularly adept at making the clothes that I fold fit into perfectly symmetrical shapes. What I have been doing lately is seeing the daily task of folding laundry as a Spiritual act of discipleship.

Let me explain....

Spirituality, as it has commonly been understood throughout the centuries by Christians has often been about the practice of taking ordinary and mundane tasks associated with life, and finding a deeper meaning in them. John the Baptist searched for locusts and wild honey in the desert as a Spiritual task. Moses heard God's voice while shepherding a flock on the far side of the desert. Paul developed a sense of Spiritual rhythm while erecting tents for wealthy business class people.

The Bible is rife with other examples of basic daily tasks which people underwent in the first century which had a kind of rhythm and routine to them - Spirituality. It is not a coincidence that Jesus chose mostly fishermen to be the very first and innermost disciples in his ministry. Fishing in the first century was always partly about fishing but mostly it was about mending nets. The nets that the disciples used were called AMPHIBLESTRONS and they required hours and hours of tying tiny knots and mending holes. This, I believe, was a dynamic of spiritual growth for the disciples. It required patience and attention and rhythm and cadence and assiduousness for them to fix the nets. Ministry requires the same kind of attention.

One of the historical figures I have always looked up to, though have never emulated from a Spiritual or theological standpoint has been Mahatma Ghandi. At the very core of Ghandi's social revolution was the concept that Indians should spin their own broad cloth rather than purchase cloth from Great Britain. Spinning their own broad cloth required Indians to spend many hours at their own weaving and spinning looms, putting fine threads together. The image of Ghandi on his knees spinning raw cotton into thread has become an emblem of his spiritual and national revolution. So important was the spinning loom for Indians that they placed it on the very center of the Indian flag.

I have always felt that one of the reasons that the women of the first century Judea were so much at the center of social life was because they spent so much time collecting water. Water retrieval around the year 1 AD was, and it still is, an act of belabored love and attention. The women, and it was always women, would walk many miles to a well. They would wait in line to fill their buckets or jars or flasks, then they would walk all the way back to their villages in the hot afternoon sun. This regular, rhythmic, cadenced, activity must have helped many of the women who surrounded Jesus have a deep sense of Spirituality. In one story that we know of, Jesus meets a by a well, helps her to find the kingdom of God. "The Samaritan woman said to him, 'You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?' (John 4:9).

So, I am going to keep folding. I will fold and not protest about it. I also won't brag about the amount I have been folding. Please don't offer me any praise for this web-blog. That might detract from the Spiritual quest that I am on. To be honest, I find the act of folding laundry somewhat soothing. Probably the reason I don't mind it is because I am not forced to do it, and have found a spiritual reason for it. But as an up-shod, folding the laundry in the house isn't hurting my marriage too much either...And I am getting a lot of clothes folded at the same time.

Wash on, Wash off...Fold in, Fold out...

All For Now,

Part of the reason for my increased domestic

Sunday, August 7, 2011

"Just Come Along, It Will Be Good For You"

I want to tread for a moment, ever so carefully, into political waters, but only in order to make a larger point about evangelism. Highlands, as you may know, is assiduously a-political, and so are most of it's pastors. We never talk about party or political affiliation, we never promote one party or another, we do speak strongly about moral issues, but not from a political standpoint. We are a-political not because we don't believe strongly in politics. Nor do we feel that politics aren't very important. But most of all we feel that calling ourselves followers Christ is our first and most important calling.

That said, I just heard a powerful illustration about the import of reaching out to people when they are in a time of need, and inviting them to "just come along," simply because it will be "good for them" to be in attendance.

Throughout the entire 1960's, former Secretary of State James Baker III was an active member of the Democratic party in Texas. James Baker had worked with Lloyd Bentzen and others in the Democratic political establishment of Texas in order to further the causes that he felt were near and dear to his heart. Towards the end of the 1960's James Baker's first wife, Mary Stuart McHenry was diagnosed with a very scary, and what would turn out to be terminal case of breast cancer. James Baker was, of course, grief stricken and comatose with fear and dread over the potential loss of his life's soul mate and wife. Mary would eventually succumb to the ravages of breast cancer in 1970. James Baker became a broken man. Nothing could console him. Nothing would pull James Baker out of his sadness and depression.

One day, a man named George Herbert Walker Bush (he was then known as he is now by his two middle initials H.W.) connected with James Baker at the Houston Country Club. From across the room H.W. could see that James Baker was enshrouded with a cloud of grief and that he carried a heavy weight upon his entire countenance. H.W. strode across the room and said, "James, you don't know me, but I'm George Bush, and I knew your wife, and I am so sorry for your loss." "Thank you," said James Baker. "I know that she was an amazing woman and there will never be a replacement." "Thank you" said James Baker again. "There is one thing I wanted to ask you, though" said George Bush, "and that is if you would be willing to come this afternoon with me to a rally I am hosting for my run for US Senate." "Oh, no, thanks" said James, "I don't think so, but also, remember I am a Democrat not a Republican." "I know," said Bush, (and then he said the words) "But...Just come along, It will be good for you." For some unknown reason James decided to attend that rally that afternoon - that it couldn't hurt to go to a rally, that maybe it would actually be good for him. And so he went...and the rest is history. James Baker eventually joined the Republican Party and became one of the most influential Secretaries of State of the past century.

Obviously this illustration, told in the midst of one of the most divisive political seasons in the United States' history, cannot be seen in an entirely a-political, non-political light. Obviously politics today is as loaded as a cruise missile, and unfortunately, nearly as dangerous. However this story, for me, is such an important example of the power of just inviting people along to something. People don't have to understand why they are attending an event, or a small group, or a church service, or a worship night, or a weekly Bible study, or whatever. The only important thing is that we "invite people along" because it will be "good for them." And what is also exceptionally important as people are "invited along" is the transformative impact of being a part of a larger group of followers, of believers, of people who offer hope and joy and perspective.

So, invite someone to "just come along." Tell them, "It will be good for them." Who knows, you might just change history in the process...

All for Now,