musings of a saint and sinner

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


We have a young man in our church who is profoundly autistic. His hands and limbs don't work as they should. He can barely talk. I think one of the very few words (perhaps the only one) he can say is "Bye", but he makes the most of it! He often rocks back and forth and rhythmically hums. We might say that nothing in his body really works as it should.

Recently, he has been given a keyboard on which he can communicate better than through his mouth. However, it is still arduous labor for him to write ANYTHING on that keyboard. He struggles for a long time before he gets something out.

We are at camp and he is joining us this week. During campfire, I was asking the kids to tell me about God Sightings. At one point, this young man attempted to share a thought. He only got a "J" out though, so I said I would come back to him. It was not until the end of campfire that he got his whole thought out.

Would you like to know what he wrote?

It wasn't "Life sucks."

It wasn't "I hate my body."

It wasn't "I'm frustrated."

This is what he wrote: "Jesus is good."

When his mother read it to us, tears sprang into my eyes. If this young man whose body does not work, who has to struggle in agony to convey a single, simple thought is not complaining but saying that Jesus is good, then I am humbled. I complain daily about so many less significant things than he deals constantly. This young man taught me last night that God is good even when life is difficult. Simple faith. Not elaborated or complicated. Just "Jesus is good."

Thank you, Lord.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

No more babysitting!

Here's something else I have been thinking about: I am increasingly frustrated by the way mainline churches (and I can't just pick on Lutherans here) keep their parishoners "in their place." I call it "glorified babysitting." Was the way of the old ministers with their emphasis on visitation really the best way? It is still the expectation of churchgoers...especially the old folk. They feel that the pastor should preach, lead worship, and be chaplain to them. The pastor should do lots of visitation and make them feel good while doing it.

Now, I know that to a certain extent pastors ought to mingle with the people and make them feel good because that helps people to realize that you care about them. And when people feel cared about, they don't feel that they are a "project" for you. They are loved and that's why you speak the Word to them, because it is good for them and because you love them. Also, some pastors are more geared towards individual interaction, and so the pulpit is a difficult place for them. Perhaps they speak the Word better in small groups, counseling sessions, and home visits.

However, I think that sometimes all this pastoral care can become babysitting. And sometimes people never grow up. When I was growing up in the fundamentalist church, perhaps it was my limited perspective as a child, but I saw the pastor as first and foremost a preacher. He was there to teach us about the Bible, but in such a way that he made us hungry for the Word ourselves. He was there to fuel our faith, not to have faith for us. I didn't think that a good pastor did a lot of visitation. I thought a good pastor preached the Word. I didn't necessarily expect that a pastor would be at the hospital if I had a surgery or broken leg. He might be there, he might not. Christian friends probably would be though. And if I had an illness, I could come to church and have the elders lay hands on me (as it talks about in James). But I had a responsibility to study the Bible and grow as a Christian, beyond Sunday mornings.

We mainline preachers have got to stop babysitting people. We've got to start realizing that our job is to empower the saints, to make them hungry and thirsty for God and for the Word. Our goal is to "work ourselves out of a job" in a way. Only then will our churches stop depending on the pastor to tell them what to believe and start growing in maturity themselves.

Now that is tough. I'm leading a young adult Bible study right now. I know I will soon be gone and no longer able to lead the group. So I want them to lead sessions from time to time, in order to be used to it. One of the members of the group wants to go so far as to have everyone take turns leading. And the group actually WANTS to! They are growing...and taking ownership of their faith! Yay! But...gulp! Don't they need me anymore? It feels good to be needed. It feels good to be the spiritual "expert." It certainly means I have to let go of my pride and my need to be needed. But if I do that, they will grow and they will benefit. If I do that, I will be able to see that God used me to bring them together and to launch this searching the Scriptures for themselves. And that is a miracle and an awesome thing. It is a far better thing than me having to dominate all the time.

Ephesians 4: 11 He is the one who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God's people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ, 13 until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God's Son that we will be mature and full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different or because someone has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will hold to the truth in love, becoming more and more in every way like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.

Hebrews 5: 11 There is so much more we would like to say about this. But you don't seem to listen, so it's hard to make you understand. 12 You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things a beginner must learn about the Scriptures. F28 You are like babies who drink only milk and cannot eat solid food. 13 And a person who is living on milk isn't very far along in the Christian life and doesn't know much about doing what is right. 14 Solid food is for those who are mature, who have trained themselves to recognize the difference between right and wrong and then do what is right.

I Peter 2: 2 You must crave pure spiritual milk so that you can grow into the fullness of your salvation. Cry out for this nourishment as a baby cries for milk, 3 now that you have had a taste of the Lord's kindness

movie raves

Here are some fantastic movies, some of which didn't get a lot of press, which deserve to be noticed and "talked up."

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson light up the screen in this less-than-perfect family. Harrelson's character struggles with his wife's success in the literary field (his success at music has escaped him), but she shows him agape love, always trying to understand where he is coming from. She is gracious and kind, resourceful and clever...and when necessary, tough. It brings Proverbs 31 to mind. The movie is also a stylistic treat, full of witty dialogue and jingles.

Shopgirl: Why was this movie not raved over, talked up, and given Oscars? It is as uncomfortably honest as a real romance is. I can't say that I "liked" the film...Many parts of it hurt to watch. It is awkward and unconventional. But I thought to myself, what I am seeing here is real. And because it is real, it is genuinely funny. In the relationship between Ray and Mirabelle, you cringe and think, This should not be happening. And so you should. It shouldn't feel right because it isn't. And Jeremy is right for Mirabelle, but he isn't perfect and they may or may not live happily ever after. He may have learned a thing or two, but he is still Jeremy...he is still wierd and flawed and a bit self-absorbed. The music, while swelling at times, somehow does not overwhelm the film. I had to ask myself why this was. And I think it is because the music and the acting are telling us the same story. If we were to isolate one from the other, we would get the same emotional story from either one. The music only enhances what we are already seeing on the screen. But the biggest rave should go to Claire Danes. This is a woman who can really act. So much goes on on her face without her saying a word. That ability to convey emotion without being rescued by (the easy way out), words, is the rarest gift in Hollywood. She is amazing...

A Prairie Home Companion: As a newcomer to the culture of white/Scandinavian Minnesotans, it has taken me a while to catch on to the ENORMOUS phenomenon that is Garrison Keillor, but as I have slowly done so, I have just fallen in love with his gentle, understated storytelling and love of the eccentric. He is what you would get if the Coen brothers were gentle and quiet. This movie lets us in to the world that seems to constantly tumble around in his head: a word of characters, folksy music, self-deprecating humor, sometimes (mildly) bawdy jokes, and speech that is fundamentally concerned with the story. This is not a one-plot driven is a celebration of stories plural. Keillor speaks not with propositions and positions, but with stories. It is his dialect, his language. And I adore it. Not only that, but in this movie you find out that Lindsay Lohan, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Woody Harrelson, and John C. Reilly can really sing!

Thursday, June 01, 2006


I just read Chasing Daylight by Eugene O'Kelly. He was a CEO when he was diagnosed with advanced, inoperable brain cancer. He was given about three months to live. In the time that remained, he chose to be very intentional about embracing life and showing his family and friends what they meant to him. He embraced what was happening to him, instead of running away from it. The book gave me some peace about what is happening to my Dad. It gave me some peace about my own mortality too. And a sense of how to embrace the moment.

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