Painting Others Into the Picture

I have a picture of a painting called The Journey of the Magi to Bethlehem from a 15th century Italian artist named Gozzoli. Even though we know very little about the magi, it is safe to say this painting is not historically accurate, since everyone in the painting looks and is dressed like a mid-15th century European. It does seem a little odd at first, but it is a way for the original audience of the painting to place themselves in the story: they, too, are invited to see the king.

Today (January 6) is Epiphany, when we celebrate the arrival of the magi. If I were to paint a picture of this moment for today’s white church in the USA, I don’t think I would do what Gozzoli did, but rather try to paint it exactly as it occurred, without a single white European in the picture.

We are living in a very unwelcoming phase of our country’s history. This morning’s news reports that there plans to build 700 more miles of wall or fence along our border with Mexico, at the cost of billions of dollars. People aren’t thinking twice about this, because we live in a climate that encourages us to view anyone different than us as a potential enemy.

Epiphany reminds us that every person, whether “different” than us, or “the same” as us, is on the same journey of discovery. Christ calls – and welcomes – all of us, and as followers of Christ, we are called to be the same sort of welcoming people. Every time we refuse to be welcoming, we reveal that the greatest threat to our well-being is ourselves.

We have no real enemies, only fellow travelers. May we give them food, water, shelter, and compassion for the journey.

Did you want to see the painting:  Click here

Thanksgiving…for the Future

Thanksgiving is one of the times of the year that we are in agreement with the cultural mindset around us.   Even most of our unchurched neighbors will doing something that we believe in this week:  giving thanks.   But most people are giving thanks in one direction, while we are called to give thanks in both:  backward and forward.

In Deuteronomy 26, Moses gives the people instructions on what to do when they enter the promised land.  It involves giving thanks to God for what God has provided, but it is also more than that.  The instructions include bringing the firstfruits to God – the first of what is gathered.  That demonstrates not only thankfulness for what God has done, but trust in or thankfulness for what God will do (provide enough for the future).

We celebrate Thanksgiving at the end of the November, when the fields are empty and the storehouses are full.  Real Christian thankfulness is showing our gratitude when the fields are still ripening and the storehouses are empty.   Because the defining feature of our faith as followers of Jesus Christ is our belief in something that has both already happened and not happened yet:  Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death for us, but, while we know that, we won’t completely experience it until later, when we die.

If we don’t push our thankfulness in both directions (back for what has been done, forward for what God will soon provide), we lose the generosity toward others that Christ demonstrated before us, the generosity that moves others to share and grow and follow.  So, this Thanksgiving, don’t only look back with thankful hearts:  look forward with hopeful ones.

Avoiding the Nostalgia Trap

I was out walking last week, and there was a moment, between the sunlight, the temperature, and the smell of the lawn I was passing, that I was instantly transported back to the high school soccer field.

I have great memories of the excitement of the competition, of seeing my skills improve over the years, of scoring a couple of goals from my position on defense, of the close bonds between the 4 of us seniors who formed the back-up defensive line. (There were 3 juniors and a senior who started ahead of us, who called themselves the Iron Curtain, so we called ourselves the Venetian Blinds.)

In that moment last week, I thought how nice it would be, to be back at soccer practice, with Coach Ziogas running us through drills, to be joking with Eric Chamberlain while we waited for our turn, to experience the simple thrill of kicking a soccer ball as far as I can in the direction want it to go.

I thought it would be nice, because it was an incomplete memory. My body cannot make my mind recall the fatigue, the gnats, the taste of the hose water (well, that one, I think my mind can bring back). I certainly don’t want to go back as a 46-year-old, and if I am truthful with myself, there is a lot my 17-year-old self didn’t enjoy either.

Nostalgia is a dangerous obstacle to living as we should in the present. It offers an incomplete view of the past that damages our perspective of the present. As soon as the Israelites were out of Egypt, they had a nostalgic view that made them see the present as worse than it was. Instead of moving toward the promised land, they wanted to re-enslave themselves in a world that was worse than they remembered.

It is ironic that the church, who holds as a core belief that the best (Jesus Christ’s return) is yet to come, is so often caught in the snare of nostalgia. It’s ironic, but not surprising: we can easily edit to the past to make us comfortable, but we can’t do that as well with the present. So, we look back with longing, remembering the bread, but forgetting the chains.

Jesus says “No one who puts a hand on the plow and looks back is fit for God’s kingdom.” (Luke 9:59, CEB) You cannot look back and look forward at the same time.

We have to look back to learn, but we cannot move forward by moving backward. Nostalgia provides easy fuel for our racism, sexism, anti-immigrantism, homophobia, and pushes all of us not closer to God, or even closer to the past that we think we miss, but farther from the kingdom of God that we are called to build.

If you want to look back, look back with clear eyes and see not only the sunshine and the winning goals, but the cold rain and the injuries. Then you will see that the present is not so bad, and offers kingdom-building opportunities that you couldn’t have imagined in the good old days. The way to God’s bright future is through the present, not the past.

Harvest Fair – This Saturday!

Harvest Time has finally come!  We are making all the last-minute preparations to welcome you to our 14th annual Harvest Fair, this Saturday October 8.  Crafters will be filling the parking lot and sidewalk from 10 until 4.  Delicious food will be on sale in our kitchen and out on the grounds.  A full day of entertainment is planned for you as well, plus crafts and games for the kids.  We hope to see you there!

Don’t miss your last chance for the new directory!

We have scheduled a make-up picture day for our photo directory, for Monday, Sept 26.  You can sign up on line by clicking on the following link.  Remember:   It is FREE to get your portrait taken, and every group  or individual that gets their portrait done with get a FREE 8×10, and a FREE copy of the new directory.  You will have the opportunity, of course, to purchase pictures, but there is no obligation.

FRIENDS AND EXTENDED FAMILY:  Come have your picture taken as well!  It doesn’t have to go in our directory, but you will still get a FREE 8×10 (and the chance to purchase pictures).

Bring in a canned good, and receive $5 off your order!

https://www.securedata-trans14.com/ap/oxfordunitedmethodist/index.php?page=10

 

Daybreak

If you wrestle with the fact that the church isn’t perfect, even though we follow the Perfect One, or if you don’t know how to respond to people who want to know why Christians still mess up so much, consider this quote from Gregory the Great:

The dawn intimates that the night is over, but it does not yet proclaim the full light of day. Are not all of us who follow the truth in this life both daybreak and dawn? We do some things which already belong to the light, but we are not free from the remnants of darkness. It will be fully day for the church when she is no longer darkened by the shadow of sin. It will be fully day for her when she shines with the perfect brilliance of interior light. This dawn is an ongoing process. When the dawn has come, the day will retain nothing belonging to the darkness of night.

Every Day Is Election Day

The conventions are over, and we have three months of…something to look forward to. It is probably going to be very ugly, and I pray we will do our best to rise above our fears. If you are a registered voter, you have the opportunity to vote for the president. Between now and November we will hear and read about many polls, and some of us might even be polled to see whom we are voting for. Now polling is often pretty accurate, but here’s the thing: until you actually step into the voting booth and cast your vote, you are not a voter. You are just a person with an opinion. Your intention to vote for someone doesn’t help elect them: only your actual vote does.

Jesus doesn’t need our votes – he is King. But, every day it is our choice whether or not to demonstrate our support for his kingship. And just like our support for a political candidate isn’t real until we step into the voting booth, our support for Jesus Christ’s kingship isn’t concrete until we move from feeling and opinion to stepping into the world. Love Jesus? Then help your neighbor. Love Jesus? Then gather with fellow believers and worship him.

Every day, the world is wondering: who are the people who believe Jesus Christ is their king? We “vote” for him not with our intentions or opinions, but with our hands and feet. Step into the world, step into God’s world, and offer a caring hand. That makes your love for Jesus real to the world.

The Dark Freedom of Feeling Powerless

We read or watch the news, and we feel overwhelmed and helpless.  What can we do in the face of senseless violence, or oppression in communities that we are not a part of?  In the face of such struggle, our actions could not possibly make a difference.  In seeking justice, we are frustrated at the feeling of powerlessness.

But, here’s the thing:  we are not powerless.  The dark truth is choosing to believe we are powerless gives us the freedom to do what we want, rather than what God would have us do.  There is a difference between being powerless, and not seeing immediate results from our actions.

At the end of his earthly life, Jesus Christ appeared to be powerless as he fought for justice, leaving this world crucified on a cross.  Jesus set aside his power to be in solidarity with those harmed by sin in this world, and was arrested, tortured and killed.  And what was the immediate result?  Was the emperor overthrown?  Did Pilate lose his job?  Nothing appeared to change, but we know everything did.

It might not appear to make much of a difference, but we always have the power to love our neighbor, which Jesus defines in the parable of the Good Samaritan as actively engaging ourselves in the life of someone who is hurting – showing mercy.  The battle for justice is long, but it can begin for you with acts of mercy.  Who is hurting in your world?  You have the power, and Christ calls you, to cross the street and enter into their hurt with them.

From Benedict of Nursia:  “However late, then, it may seem, let us rouse ourselves from lethargy.  That is what scripture urges on us when it says: the time has come for us to rouse ourselves from sleep.  Let us open our eyes to the light that can change us into the likeness of God.  Let our ears be alert to the stirring call of his voice crying to us every day: today if you should hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

Put on Your Best Smile for New Photo Directory!

We are very excited to partnering with LifeTouch for a new photo directory!  You can click on the link below to schedule your appointment.  It is FREE to get your portrait taken, and every group  or individual that gets their portrait done with get a FREE 8×10, and a FREE copy of the new directory.  You will have the opportunity, of course, to purchase pictures, but there is no obligation.

https://www.securedata-trans14.com/ap/oxfordunitedmethodist/index.php?page=10

Praising. Caring. Serving. Sharing.