Unleashing the Scriptures

Unleashing the Scriptures

bibleThe room was small, one of those cramped “pretty” rooms found almost exclusively in churches.  The furnishings were nice if not slightly, well, no actually, they were completely dated. A picture of Jesus hung on one wall and directly across was an even larger picture of some long gone saint of the church.  It truly was difficult to tell who was watching over whom on those walls.

There were six souls in that room as well.  Five of them in a state of restless listening and the sixth was just in a “state.”  They were all pastors, but this sixth person was probably on the verge of finding some way out of that calling.  The sixth pastor was hurt.  The sixth pastor was angry.  The sixth pastor felt abandoned.

One of the listeners eventually quietly offered a word of Scripture…something about a yoke being easy and a burden being light.  Another of the listeners offered a word from the Word that reminded number six that a worker was worth what God had paid for them.  Number six remained in a “state.”

In the silence that followed, a person already in the room would have heard hearts breaking and aching to reach a colleague.  An observer walking in would have thought there was a death in the family but there was no one relative that united these six pastors – only a calling to serve.  A stranger off the street – an outsider – might have sat among them and offered advice about finding a new path.

Eventually the painful silence was broken by the words of one of the listeners.  It had to be one that was not only listening to the pastor in the “state” but also listening to the Holy Spirit.  They said, “When I was being examined for ordination, the people on the Board used to say to one another, ‘Would I want this person to be my parent’s pastor?’  Well, Scott Sears, I want you to know something.  I would not only want you to be my parent’s pastor but I would welcome you to be my children’s pastor, anytime.  They could not ask for anyone with a better heart to lead them spiritually!  You ARE a caring pastor no matter what anyone else says.”

The state of the sixth pastor…my troubled state…melted away in the presence of Jesus found in colleagues and friends and sisters and brothers.

Yes, there were words from the Scripture.  These were words that I had read and heard on my own along with others like a passage from Isaiah that was shared by another friend – “’Remember,’ says the Lord, ‘remember that I have plans for you.  Plans for good and not evil.”  But on their own, these words just didn’t bring comfort…didn’t bring understanding.

It was only when I was together with a group of loving, forgiving, trusting Christians – a place where I could be myself and be loved – that the Bible and the very Word of God that is Jesus came alive.

Yes, I know that there are times and sometimes circumstances that keep people from being together in groups to study the Bible and to hold one another accountable.  But the single most common reason people are not in some sort of Bible Study group is simple – they just don’t want to take the risk.

I speak from experience on this one folks – a painful yet wonderful experience that showed me once again that the greatest place to seek understanding of God’s word, God’s will and God’s way is with a group of loving Christians.  (This was not the first time being in a small group made a difference in my life and faith and I am quite certain it won’t be the last.)  If you don’t have a small group…build one.  If you think you can’t build one…then call me and I will put together those that call so that they can have one another to help, to build up and to encourage in the Word.  (And don’t worry about being stuck at home, or work or school…there are always ways for people to get together.)  The group I met with and continue to meet with today drives hours to be together.  Why?  Because!  Simply because.

One of the books I read in seminary which happened to be written by one of my favorite seminary professors, Unleashing the Scriptures, argued that Christians really should not be trusted to read the Bible alone – it was a book written in community and should be studied in community.  Although I may not go to that extreme, the author, Stanley Hauerwas, is absolutely correct – Christians are a community…not a group of individuals.  We must, must, must read the Bible together.

It’s been well over 18 months since that day in the room with that pain and those tears.  But the words and the Word…well, nothing has dulled them from my memory.  Thanks be to God.

Election Day Prayer

Rev. Cindy Briggs-Biondi, a colleague in the West Virginia Annual Conference shared this prayer earlier today.  I thought it was fitting for the day and it also carried me back to those days when I sat in Dr. Hauerwas’ classes at Duke.  Those were challenging times to say the least, but I learned a lot…mainly, though, I learned that I don’t have all the answers.

Enjoy the prayer…or not.  It should make you think.

“Sovereign Lord, foolish we are, believing that we can rule ourselves by selecting this or that person to rule over us. We are at it again. Help us not to think it is more significant than it is, but also give us and those we elect enough wisdom to acknowledge our follies. Help us laugh at ourselves, for without humor our politics cannot be humane. We desire to dominate and thus are dominated. Free us, dear Lord, for otherwise we perish. Amen.” -Stanley Hauerwas

A Week for Children… Tuesday – Let’s Talk About Abortion

Yesterday I shared with you a fairly non-controversial video that I found on YouTube to start the week off looking forward to a Children’s Sabbath on Sunday. That video was safe. It didn’t take much to put it together and it certainly didn’t share much about me – beyond the fact that I truly do care about what violence is doing to our children today. But once again…that’s pretty safe. No risk involved there.

Today, I want to venture into territory that is at least a little more worthy of conversation if not downright risky and yet still has everything to do with children. At best, I hope I can spark some Christian conversation on a topic that seems to me has been captured by our culture. I really hope that this conversation is what begins here today because I don’t pretend to have all the answers about a very difficult issue…I just think that we are going about our conversations about it in all the wrong ways. So, it is my hope that you will read these words with care because they are shared to start a conversation…not to end any relationships!

So, with that lengthy introduction allow me to say that I am not a “Right-to-Life” person as many people define it. At the same time, I want to equally declare that I am not “Pro-Choice” either.

I cannot recall all the conversations, teachings, and books that led me to the discovery that both of these cultural definitions of abortion are wrong. I just know that it has been a long journey for me and one that is filled with as much personal agonizing as a person can have about the issue of abortion. I know that I was greatly affected by the teaching of Stanley Hauerwas on this issue. The book, The Church and Abortion, along with the “Durham Declaration” included in that book has also shaped me. But I have also been shaped by my own journey, my own story, and the stories that have been shared by many friends – both Christian and what I like to call pre-Christian. Whatever the sources of these beliefs, I know that this is where I am today.

I do not hold to the “right-to-life” position on abortion because I do not believe that we, as Christians can claim that life is somehow linked to some legal sense of “rights.” I think when we begin talking about this issue in that way – a way that starts with “rights” – we are forgetting that we are a people who have placed our very lives in the hands of God. In a very real way, we gave away our lives when we were baptized and to claim that anyone has a “right” to life ignores the fact that this is actually God’s domain. God is the one who gives life. God is the one who takes life. It is not a right that we grant to anyone – even ourselves – it is a gift that we receive and a loss that we mourn.

Now, I am not saying that life is not important. It is VERY important. But it should also be shaped by the way we see the world as Christians. In the very earliest days of Christianity, there were Christian parents who would prefer to see their children martyred rather than let then be brought up outside of the Christian faith. THAT is hard for me to imagine and almost impossible for me to imagine doing – and yet it is part of the history to which I am bound as a Christian. Life, and the way we live that life is so very important that there are some things for which we are willing to die. Yet, life is not a right that we have.

At the same time, I find the whole idea of “Pro-Choice” to be equally distasteful to me as a Christian. The very words assume that we live in a world in which all the people share the same playing field, the same backgrounds and the same possibility for their future. If the video in yesterday’s blog post proved anything, it proved that our world is not full of choices – at least not for everyone.

Unfortunately, in the broken world in which we live, some women have to choose between not having a child they conceived and facing a very violent future for themselves and their child. That violence may come in the form of economic hardship or it may come at the hands of an abuser. Either way the violence is real in the way it affects the life of the woman and the child. This is not a real choice…or at least it is not the same choice that someone has who is in a place in life where they are “safe” economically or physically.

For us to say that abortion can truly be a “choice” for any one person is to claim that the world is treating each and every person the same. I am not sure when that ever happens.

So…I don’t like “Right-to-Life” and I am certainly not “Pro-Choice”…where does that leave me exactly?

I think it leaves me looking at this whole issue as one of “hospitality” rather than legal battles and legislation. I believe that as Christians we will only eliminate abortion when we truly begin living out our calling to welcome everyone as Christ welcomed us. This means embracing every child – from a planned or unplanned pregnancy. This means embracing every woman – those who cannot have children but desperately want them as well as those who have had an abortion and are living with it and those who are mothers in any stage of life. This means embracing every man – those who turn out to be good at fathering children but not so good at parenting, as well as men who are great fathers and those men who are suffering from having aborted a child – and yes, you can trust me that this last group of men exist.

I know that I read somewhere that Mother Teresa once said to a group of Americans, “Do you really want to end your fighting about abortion? Then give me your children. I will take all of them…no matter what.”

I think that once WE get to the place where we are able to say those very same words of welcome to every child, woman and man around us – and live those words of welcome with our actions and even the use of our time, money and other resources – then, we can really talk about ending abortion.

Once again, if you have read this far, I pray that you realize that I am not making light of a very real issue. I am simply trying to help us all see it and talk about it in different terms, especially during the week that we celebrate gift that children are to us. I pray that you will give me the grace I need to find the words to get it right.

Wanna join the conversation?