Maybe God is Telling me Something?

This morning I was reading today’s entry in Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (which is a helpful prayer book, by the way) and there was a quote from an early Christian writing called “Letter to Diognetus“.  This is a very brief letter from the late 100s AD.  Diognetus, to whom the letter was written, was the tutor of emperor Marcus Aurelius.  You can read the letter free online.

But before you do that…

Just a few moments ago I was finishing up James Davison Hunter’s amazing book  To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.  To my surprise, Hunter quotes the Letter to Diognetus near the end of his book.  He quotes the same portion I had read earlier, but he quotes a bit more.

Maybe God is trying to tell me something today?  

Here is what Hunter quoted (the italics is my favorite part):

Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor emply a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, procliam themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines.  But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities…and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life.  They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners.  Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.  They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring.  They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet they are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil doers.

In case you do not know, this was a time when Christians were a tiny minority in the Roman Empire and often faced persecution for their faith.  Some say it is the time in the history of the church that is most similar to where the church in the West is heading.

At any rate, it is challenging and thoughtful.

Halloween and Slavery

I first learned about modern-day slavery a couple years ago.  As usual, because I am a dork, it was from reading a bunch   of    books on it.  It is one of those subjects that the more you learn, the more you realize you do not know.  It goes tremendously deep and touches everything.  So many of the things we use in our daily lives have been at least partially brought to us via slave labor.

This question comes into focus with Halloween just a few days away.   I remember learning about chocolate from Not For Sale President David Batstone when he visited Penn State Berks.  For a while a group of us, myself and a few students, pledged not to eat chocolate made by slaves.  Then life moved on, other things came to our mind, and we (or at least I) just forgot.

The reality of slavery in chocolate came back to me when I read this recent blog post: “Here, Let me Ruin Halloween for You“:

The picture below is a photo of a young child gathering pods to harvest cocoa beans.  There are hundreds of thousands of children in West Africa who do this work.  And they are working for most of the mainstream chocolate providers in the USA.    A report from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture about cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast and other African countries estimated there were 284,000 children working on cocoa farms in hazardous conditions.  Many of them have been taken from their families, or sold as servants.  U.S. chocolate manufacturers have claimed they are not responsible for the conditions on cocoa plantations since they don’t own them.  This includes Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and the US division of Cadbury … who collectively represent pretty much every snack-size candy bar that will be available in stores this Halloween. 

 

The timing of reading this was appropriate.  My conscience would not let me hand out candy unless I was sure it was not produced by slave labor.

The good news is that there are many options to get fair trade chocolate:

Fair Trade USA

 

 

Endangered Species Chocolate

Equal Exchange

The bad news it, it is next to impossible to find such chocolate in stores.  Also, it is not cheap but I don’t think that should concern us so the reason other chocolate is so cheap is partly due to slavery!  I am hopeful because you can now find fair trade coffee in stores, perhaps chocolate is not far behind.

Finally, I do not write this post to guilt trip anyone.  Like I mentioned above, none of us are innocent in this.  Many things in our lives probably were partially from slavery (perhaps even this laptop I am typing on, look up “conflict minerals“).  For me, knowledge is the first step.  With knowledge comes conviction and after that comes changing our lifestyles.  My prayer is that my life would more and more reflect the love, peace and justice of Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Campus at Penn State Berks – Prayer at the Labyrinth

On a little-trafficked section of Penn State Berks is a huge concrete circle with what appears to be a maze painted on it.  Yet a maze it is not, for it is a labyrinth.  In a maze you can get lost, hit a dead end and have to try again.  A labyrinth, on the other hand, is a continuous path which through many turns and curves, takes you to the center.

Labyrinths are ancient devices found in many cultures.  Christians began including them in cathedrals during the medieval era.  Like many traditions found in the history of the church, with no precedence in scripture, labyrinth use among Christians is controversial.  To find out, just Google “labyrinth Christian” and you will find all kinds of arguments for and against.

One of our student leaders, Brandon, spends his summers working at a local Christian camp called Gretna Glen.  Early in this semester he suggested we invite one of his friends from camp to lead us in a prayer time while walking the labyrinth.  After a few scheduling conflicts we were able to do this on Tuesday night.

For college students today (well, for anyone) it is extremely difficult to get away from noise.  There is always something going on: a test to study for, an incoming text, a friend to meet up with, a computer to sit in front of.  It was refreshing for the students to walk to one of the quietest parts of campus shortly after dark on a cool fall night with the stars shining overhead.  At least for a few moments the noise was turned off.  As the students walked the labyrinth it was clear they were spending the time speaking to and listening to their Creator.

One of the clearest lessons was that life is a long journey.  Sometimes you may feel very close to where you want to, or where God wants you to, be.  Other times God seems distant.  But if you stick to the path, the path laid out for you by Jesus Christ, you will persevere.

At this point I want to say how this reminds me of Dante’s Divine Comedy which I have been reading.  It has been a tough read, but one thing that has stuck out to me is how Dante has, with help of course, slowly progressed closer and closer to God.  I recall the same thing from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.  Really all of this just takes us back to Jesus calling us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him.

Labyrinths are a helpful tool in our lives of prayer and discipleship.  Like guitars, church buildings, full-time paid pastors, Facebook, Twitter and many other things, they were not prescribed in scripture.  But like those things, they can be tools used by the Holy Spirit to draw closer to our Savior.

Civility and Fairness

Its a God-driven movement!

Its an evil, anti-American movement!

I have heard and read both sentiments in regard to the Occupy Wall Street protests.  Change a few words around, and I heard similar things about the Tea Party movement.

Like most political movements, sincere, serious Christian friends of mine come down on different sides of the issue.  Anger and vitriol flow from both sides, along with lacks of civility and fairness.

Here’s what I think: There are Christians involved in the Tea Party movement.  There are Christians involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Perhaps that needs to be kept in mind by Christians on both sides.

Some Christians are conservatives.  Other Christians are liberals.  Whichever side you fall on, realize that neither side is a perfect philosophy.  Both of these political philosophies have serious theological and biblical flaws.  At the same time, both probably get a few things right.

Further, both sides are guilty of being unfair to the other side.  If a few people at a Tea Party rally say racist things, it does not make the Tea Party, as a whole, racist.  If some people at an Occupy Wall Street protest sound like they are just lazy and wanting a handout, it does not make the whole movement lazy and waiting for handouts.  It is easy to pick the worst people in a group and use their inclusion as an indictment on the whole group.  But that is just not fair.

Once again, and it is important to keep this in mind, both sides do it.  Which leads me to another point: it seems that both sides use the fact that both sides do it to excuse their own doing it.  I was listening to a conservative political radio host last week complaining about how liberals can get away with saying terribly offensive things.  He complained that when conservatives say such things the media calls them out, while ignoring liberals.  Then he started saying some rather mean and nasty things about liberals.  The logic was: well they do it and we don’t do it…but since they do it I guess we’ll do it too.

Liberals do the same thing.  They ignore offensive things liberals say and emphasize the offensive things conservatives say.  Then when called out for offensive things they said, they excuse it by saying conservatives started it.

Overall, it sounds kind of childish. “He started it!” “No, she it me first!

Speaking of the media, I often hear conservatives complain about the main-stream media’s liberal bias.  If you define main-stream media as entities such as CNN and MSNBC this is probably true.  But I also hear conservatives proudly trump Fox News’ consistent victory in ratings as proof that most Americans are conservative.  If a conservative station is the most popular, does not not make Fox News main-stream?

My point is, both sides have powerful media outlets on their side.  Fox News will jump on liberals and MSNBC and CNN will jump on conservatives.  The constant playing the victim card, as if the world is against one side, gets old.

The whole thing just tires me out.  This was a mostly negative post and I am not sure how to end it.  My hope is that we would learn to be civil and fair to one another.  As a Christian pastor working with college students, I want to help the students avoid getting sucked into this sort of tribal, us-vs-them mindset.  Jesus crossed the biggest of all aisles in the incarnation, showed what it means to love one’s enemies and demands that we do the same.  May we figure out how to do this as another crazy election cycle comes into full swing.

*I recognize the irony of presenting absolutely no examples of anything I have been saying.  It comes from my perception from reading Facebook posts of friends, listening to the radio, reading news on the internet and so on over the last few years.

We Need New Heroes

Earlier this week Columbus Day was observed.  I did not notice until I saw we got no mail.  Once I confirmed that the post office was still in business, I remembered it was early October so it must be Columbus Day.

Then yesterday I was reading Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.  It is a prayer book, in the tradition of The Book of Common Prayer, but with an eye to the diversity of the historic church.  Often it contains brief summaries on aspects of the New Monasticism and other things.  For Columbus Day there was an entry titled “We Need New Heroes”:

Part of what we hope to do in this book, rather than read the Bible with imperial eyes, is to read the empire with biblical eyes.  In the church, we celebrate martyrs and saints, not warriors and conquistadors.  The church has a rich history of celebrating particular people. While the United States might celebrate Christopher Columbus, the church celebrates the lives of the saints on feast days.  We need to be about discovering lost relatives and forgotten ancestors.

I was reading Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the same thing struck me.  He was writing about Bonhoeffer’s invitation to preach on Reformation Day, October 31, in the biggest church in Berlin.  This was a day heavy with German Patriotism, and in 1932 the darkness of the Nazis that would soon engulf Germany was growing.  Bonhoeffer had already noticed this and called out the church that day for being more German than Christian.

Are we more American than Christian?  Do our churches have patriotic services, celebrating Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, remembering American heroes while forgetting the heroes of the Christian faith?  

I hope we take time to learn about, and learn from, the many Christian heroes.  Maybe we need to resurrect holidays that we Protestants think are too Catholic, like All Saints Day.

In the words of Jaroslav Pelikan: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.”

To start,

On Campus at Penn State Berks – Friends, Not Projects

A couple weeks back I visited a church to share about campus ministry at Penn State Berks.  I talked about many things, such as the story of the students picking up trash on campus.  Along with that, I talked about how we try to build a friendly community of Christians on campus that is open to all students.

Afterwards a woman in the church approached me, appearing quite concerned.  She shared with me that she was a former alcoholic and when she came to know Jesus she began attending a women’s Bible study at her new church.  The problem was that the women in the Bible study saw her as a project.  She said they were very friendly to her at the study, but they never invited her to anything outside the study.  Apparently the women in the study were good friends, often meeting up throughout the week for lunch or shopping.  The fact they never invited her to any of these things made her feel like their project.

She wanted to make sure that when new students come to CSF, whether to a social gathering, a worship night or whatever, that we make them feel like friends and not our projects.

It was a good reminder.  In the beginning of the year when new freshman join CSF it is vital that the older students do not just welcome them into CSF, but that they take the extra steps to become friends outside of official CSF gatherings.   Throughout the year when new students visit CSF gatherings the members of CSF must make sure these students feel like friends and not projects.

I was reflecting on when I was a student at CSF University Park.  Honestly, I do not recall one sermon Buzz taught (Buzz, if you’re reading this, sorry).  I do remember a few themes, illustrations and points but no concrete sermons.  That keeps me honest, as I need to remember that when I teach the students on Thursday night, it is likely that few of them will remember what I talk about in five years (or in five days!).  When I was a student, very few people, if any chose to come or not come to CSF because of the campus minister’s sermons.  We were part of CSF because of the friendships.

My prayer is that CSF at Berks would be the kind of community that had such a life-changing affect on me when I was in college, a place where all kinds of people are welcomed and accepted as friends.

Community Supported Agriculture Rocks

I love to cook.  

When I was in high school a representative from culinary school visited our home economics class.  I gave my name as someone who was interested in pursuing that path.  It was not until after I graduated from college that they finally stopped sending me things in the mail.  I like to joke that I still occasionally get postcards from the culinary school.

I did not cook much in college and seminary, mostly because it is no fun cooking for just yourself.  But I have cooked quite a lot since marrying Emily.  Emily has encouraged this hobby by getting all kinds of cool toys like a deep fryer, panini maker and rice cooker!

A couple months ago we heard about Community Supported Agriculture (CAS) and decided to give it a try.  Every other week we get a box of vegetables from Crawford Organics, a farm in East Earl, PA (which is where the mecca of buffets is, Shady Maple).  The cool thing is that we do not pick the vegetables, so we are forced to try new things.

Beets – I knew two things about beets: my family used to eat red beet eggs when I was a kid, and Dwight on the Office owns a beet farm.  When we got beets in our first box I was apprehensive.  But I found a great recipe for a beet salad with pears and gorgonzola cheese.  It was delicious.

Kale – Kale looks just like lettuce, to me.  I found a soup recipe that apparently is a knock-off of a soup The Olive Garden sells.  As far as I can tell, I made it correctly.  It was okay, but not amazing.  We just got kale again today and I am searching for new recipes, having already found some possibilities.

Rhubarb – Apparently the leaves of rhubarb are poisonous!  But rhubarb, or just red celery, is quite tasty.  Emily made rhubarb bars with the rhubarb (yes, Emily cooks too).  They were yummy!  And there is an entire website dedicated to rhubarb, how cool is that?

Eggplant – I had experimented with Eggplant over the summer, making ratatouille.  It was okay, but I think I found some recipes that look better.  When we got an eggplant in our CSA the farm had included a recipe for Easy Eggplant Mousaka, which was quite similar to Eggplant Parmesan.  Delicious!

Radishes – Today we got radishes.  Not sure what we’re going to do with them.  Emily might end up making a salad before I get home.

Besides eating whatever we are given and being forced to try new things, I have enjoyed knowing exactly where my food (well, some of it) is coming from.  If you enjoy cooking, and eating, check out CSAs!