I HAVE A MOSQUE IN MY BACKYARD

    I have a mosque in my backyard.

    Not an imposing, be-domed stone edifice with spindly minarets—it actually looks like a small, utilitarian, B-Flat type of building. If you didn’t know it was a mosque, you might think it was someone’s home or a private office of some type.

    You can imagine the sidelong looks I get when I say that I have a mosque in my backyard. You can perhaps also imagine the interesting comments and questions, too.

“REALLY? Creepy.”

 

“Isn’t that weird?”

 

“How did they manage to get that past zoning requirements?”

 

“Are you going to move?”

    I tell everyone that is it not “creepy” at all, as the people I’ve met have been quite friendly. To be honest, I’d rather have a mosque in my backyard than any other type of business, like a Turkey Hill or Target. Every Friday, the streets around the mosque fill with cars as the people gather for prayer. Some wear casual clothing while others wear more traditional clothing, such as long robes and hijabs. Saturdays must be youth group day, as the open yard fills with kids shouting joyfully as they play soccer or chase a Frisbee. Their parents join in the game, or sit and watch, chatting in the afternoon sun. It is like any other gathering of folks enjoying a beautiful afternoon of fellowship.

    Ramadan is coming soon in May, and the mosque becomes an even more active gathering place in the evening. One night, my daughter called me in her room shortly after I’d turned out the light. “Mom, what is that “mooing” sound I hear?” I stopped and listened, then opened her window. Floating on the warm breeze came a low, humming murmur from the mosque, not unlike the gently lowing of a cow.

    I smiled. “It’s the mosque. The people are worshipping tonight. Should I close the window?”

    “No, leave it open for a while. Sometimes it keeps me up, but I like the sound.”

    I like it, too. I will say one night around midnight, again during Ramadan, I was awakened by loud yelling out in front of the mosque. It looked as if people were in the parking lot, talking and joking with each other at their cars after the worship service. Children were cavorting in the alleyway, and I had a hard time getting back to sleep.

    I was grumpy about this, and mentioned it to my husband the next morning. The next day, my husband went over to the mosque and talked to the imam, saying that we didn’t want to complain, but that it had been quite noisy the previous night. The imam was extremely apologetic and assured us it wouldn’t happen again. It didn’t. I think they know they are in a precarious position in our current tense political climate and don’t want to disrupt anyone in our neighborhood. They knew any little infraction could bring them much unwanted attention.

    This makes me sad, and makes me question the carte blanche we receive as Christians in small-town America. For example, my own church is two blocks away from me (and therefore, from the mosque). Our church has had many loud celebrations or gatherings outside on our grounds, yet no one in our neighborhood has complained about the noise level (at least, not to my knowledge). We are allowed to be outside freely, playing loud music, shooting basketball, riding bikes, barbecuing, and creating a general raucous without worrying if our neighborhood community might get offended and call the police on us. The difference is that we’re not Muslims; we’re Presbyterians. We get extra grace.

    As a B-Flat Christian, I want to try to be a grace-giving neighbor to my Muslim neighbors. I want to be empathetic to their situation and imagine how intimidating it would be to be the only Muslim place of worship in an area surrounded by a myriad of Christian churches. I want them to know that they are welcome to worship in peace, and I will do my best to assure others in our neighborhood that it is our duty to “3 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews, NIV). That’s the funny thing about angels—you never know if they might be wearing a crucifix or a hijab.

    Some day, we may indeed move, but I can assure you, it won’t be because there is a mosque in my backyard.

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The B-Flat Shepherd Boy Who Would Be King

 

Reading Time: 2 minutes

A few weeks ago, I was deeply moved by the lectionary reading from I Samuel 16:1-13. It recounts the story of the prophet Samuel and his search for a new king for Israel. It is such an interesting story in that Samuel has been sent by the Lord knowing just about everything necessary for the task: where to go (to the house of a well-off sheep-herder, Jesse, in Bethlehem), what to take (a heifer for a sacrifice, and a horn full of oil for the anointee), and what to say (“I come in peace to sacrifice for the Lord”). What was missing? The Lord hadn’t happened to mention exactly whom the lucky anointee was going to be. Turns out, it was going to be a B-Flat shepherd boy named David.

 

[My sisters and family should skip this next part. I’d really like to get Christmas gifts next year, and you might have second thoughts if you read it. Ahem.]

 

I can relate to David a bit in that I’m the youngest of four daughters. Being the youngest certainly has its advantages—your parents have already dealt with the drama of three other girls, so they’re exhausted and pliant by the time they get to you (kidding). Furthermore, you’ve watched all your older siblings, seen the stupid mistakes they’ve made, and resolved to be not more obedient per se, but smarter than they were (not really kidding here). I have no doubt that’s how David was. He knew he was the youngest son of seven and had to make his own way in the world without the help of an inheritance. He was, nevertheless, a faithful son, and was determined to learn the family business by keeping the flocks like all his brothers had before him.

 

As the youngest child, it can be a little lonely, too; you are forever known as “the baby,” and often, you play by yourself because you are too little to participate in the games of older siblings. I was four years younger than my next oldest sister, and nine years younger than my oldest sister. I learned to entertain myself, and I’m sure David did, too. When you’re a shepherd camping out in the wilderness for days at a time, you must learn not only to entertain yourself, but to be responsible for others who are utterly dependent upon your intelligence and skill. Shepherding is hard, smelly, dangerous work, especially for a young boy like David. David would, by most standards of the day, be the absolute, last choice considered for king.

 

The Bible story is engaging and quite “Cinderalla-esque” in nature, in that Jesse parades each one of his fine older sons before Samuel, each one certain to win the Lord’s favor and to be anointed as the next king of Israel. It is verse 7 that is so compelling here:

 

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (NRSV)

 

In other words, verse 7 says: “Someone who has the physical characteristics of being a strong leader may not have the yielding spirit needed for My work. Yet, someone who looks young and inexperienced (maybe even someone considered to be “B-Flat”) might have the resilience and willingness to do the job better. ” While confidence is an attractive trait, it can trick us into a false sense of thinking we are as smart as God is. Samuel certainly thought he could predict God’s choice, and was astonished to find himself anointing the handsome yet seemingly unremarkable B-Flat son, David, instead.

 

I fervently believe that God has an ingenious sense of humor. God is utterly predictable in that He is totally unpredictable, which is how He likes it. He is the God, after all, whose Son was born in a stable. He is also the God who watched that same Son die on the cross. No one could have predicted that choice.

 

As a B-Flat Christian, I want to be astonished and overwhelmed by the things I cannot possibly imagine or predict that God will do. As Gerard W. Hughes states in his book, The God of Surprises, “Because we are all liable to self-deception and tend to use God and Christ to justify and support our own narrow ways of thinking and acting, we need the institutional and the critical elements of the Church as a check to our self-deception, but ultimately it is Christ himself who is our teacher. Christ is a mystery. We can never possess the truth of Christ: all we can do is beg to be possessed by him, his truth and his love ‘which is beyond all knowledge.'” (p. 110)

https://www.facebook.com/beck.lister.9

 

 

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Being more than B-Flat Through Christ, Connection, and Correction

 

Reading Time:  2 minutes

In previous posts, I’ve shared that I need Jesus Christ as my DIY video to guide my way; that I need Connection with others who are sharing in these struggles with me; and finally, I need Correction.

From Matthew:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I can feel my chest and throat constrict when I read those verses because I know they are about and for me. It doesn’t matter that Jesus spoke them centuries ago. Jesus is looking straight at me as he says them, with that “don’t you get it?” look, and I am ashamed. Reading the Bible does that; some passages pluck a chord deep within, and this is one of them for me. I need to read this passage every day to remind me why I am attempting to be a Christian, not just a “good person of moral fiber.” As a Christian, I am supposed to be more loving, forgiving, and uplifting than those who aren’t. It is natural for us to love the people who love us in return—that’s easy! No, this passage is more about judging who is worthy of my love and forgiveness, and Jesus says here “EVERYONE.” He doesn’t say under his breath “but not that rapist over there, ” or “but not that person who says rude things to you,” or “but not that person who just gave you the middle finger.” If he really meant what he said, he means even people who, in my mind, are undeserving.

This, my friends, is an incredibly sobering thought, and this is my daily struggle: that I do not get to decide who is worthy or deserving. For me, it is my greatest weakness, because I like to think I know who does warrant grace. Every day, I have to claw my way back up that slippery slope of forgiveness and take a hard look at the embarrassing part of me who wouldn’t mind pushing someone else down that slope, instead of reaching out my hand in forgiveness. I’d rather watch them tumble to the bottom, saying with a self-satisfied tone, “that’s what you get!”

That is when I turn that DIY video back on and watch Jesus heal the ear of the soldier who is there to take him to his torture and death. That is when I go to church and sit with others who are waging their own battles, and who comfort me in my own battles without even knowing it. That is when I make myself pray for those people who are nasty, mean-spirited, and hateful, because I HAVE to. They need my help, my understanding…because I’m a B-Flat Christian, but I want to be better.

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Why go to church? It’s about CONNECTION

Why go to church? It’s about CONNECTION

March 27, 2017

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In previous posts, I discussed how Jesus and his DIY videos in the Bible provide a life pattern for us as B-Flat Christians. This isn’t something we experience alone, however; we need to connect with others along the way.

Why go to church?

As a B-Flat Christian, it’s possible that you don’t even go to church. In fact, it’s more likely that you don’t go to church. You believe in God, you try to do the “love your neighbor as yourself” thing, you even say a blessing before you eat dinner. Isn’t that enough? Why does church matter?

According to multiple on-line articles, recent research states that most millennials don’t attend church because they feel it is irrelevant to them and not speaking to their needs (recklesslyalive.com, thesaltcollective.com, discuss this issue). As a result of this, there is a narrative that the Church is in a coma and the prognosis is that the Church isn’t going to make it. Perhaps I am clueless, but I don’t believe this, and we as B-Flat Christians should collectively dispute this narrative. I will not deny there are kernels of truth here and there, but let’s drill a bit deeper.

Below are some statements I’ve heard or read lately about why Church is losing membership today. I’ve added some thoughts to “ponder in your heart,” as Mary did after the whirlwind of Jesus’s birth (Luke 2:19). I love that word—ponder—because it suggests more than just thinking about something. It indicates a fond, intimate look at something, holding it up to the light, looking at it from all angles, again and again.

1) You can go to church by watching TV on Sunday morning, or even by listening to gospel on the radio (according to Maren Morris, anyway), right? Church can be anywhere you happen to be, and frankly, anywhere is pretty much where you’d rather be.

PONDER THIS:

You can think you’re going to church by watching TV, listening to a podcast, listening to the radio, whatever, but it’s not church.

So if Jesus is our DIY model, then why didn’t He just do it all on his own? He could have, you know—God can do anything. Instead, Jesus found others to help him, and without those others, the New Law of the Gospel wouldn’t have gotten very far.

Church is about community, which means it’s about being with others. It’s about sharing thoughts, burdens, dreams, sorrows. You can’t share these things with an inanimate object—a TV, a computer screen, an iPod. Writing a comment on someone’s Facebook feed is not a conversation.

I’m not saying watching a religious show isn’t a fine thing to do, but it should not replace walking with others, making discoveries together, and being a source of hope for your community by lifting up the poor and disadvantaged.

Church is about time, a very precious commodity, and is another reason why many B-Flat Christians don’t feel like going to church. If you are allergic to committees, then don’t serve on one. If you don’t want to be responsible for Sunday School, or provide flowers for the altar, or be an usher, tithing, or any of the other duties you equate with “going to church,” fine. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “I want to go to church, but don’t make me do anything.” Okay. If that’s what you can handle, then do it. I cannot imagine you will not absorb something your soul needs on the days you do go to church.

2) There are a lot of things to get done on Sundays. Your kids probably have soccer practice; the house is a wreck and needs cleaning; and it’s the only day you have time to go see a movie. Why waste it going to church?

PONDER THIS:

Most churches have many choices of when you go to church, and often, will include more than one service on a Sunday.  Some churches offer services throughout the week, so you can take advantage of one of those, can’t you? And if a formal church service isn’t what you’re after, then find a Bible Study, or small group, to be part of. Small groups often do other things outside of the meeting time. Others need to hear you, to get to know you, and in our society today, it’s CRUCIAL that people continue trying to find ways to come together and just talk.

 3) Why go to church and force yourself to listen to what a bad person you are? All that confession stuff—what is that really about? Your self-esteem takes a beating every day as it is, whether it’s your kids rolling their eyes at the comment you just said that, to you, sounded quite hip; or your boss, who tells you once again that your latest project demonstrates the innovation of a toenail. On Sunday, you need to be lifted up, not told how you need to fix yourself.

 PONDER THIS:

Confession is not fun, nor is admitting the fact that you can be a jerk. You know you are. I sure am. Church provides a time for self-reflection, a thing our culture tends to do only on the surface. Not that we aren’t involved in ourselves, heavens, no—how many selfies do YOU take a day, by the way? How many times do you update your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts? How often do you count how many “likes” you have on a recent post? We can refer to ourselves as “our culture,” or “millennials,” or “Gen X-ers” or “Baby Boomers” (please take your pick, or insert something else) but WHOEVER want all things personalized.  We are so self-involved, believing that all things that are not dedicated to our own needs and self-gratification are not valuable.

Looking at yourself in the mirror isn’t really looking at yourself. You need to look in an internal mirror. If you don’t like something you see, then you need to determine how you will make it right. Whether it’s praying, apologizing to someone for something you’ve said or done, whatever, self-reflection and bringing about change in yourself is part of confession. We don’t tend to do this much on our own at home or at work; if you do it at church, you feel more accountable some how. It becomes a shared experience, too, where everyone is confessing together, as one united voice. There is undeniable power in hearing a group of voices in a chorus, whether it’s confessing short-comings, reading the Psalms, praying, or reciting the Creed.

Yes, Christians can be hypocrites.  News flash: Christians are not perfect and have tons of short-comings.  You are also a hypocrite, about things you probably do not even realize.  It is still not a reason to deny that church could be a place to help you discover, and even improve things about yourself

4) And then there’s the music. If you go to church, you’ll have to listen to those stuffy hymns like “Bringing In the Sheaves” (insert “obnoxious contemporary Christian music,” or “dumb liturgical chant stuff that you don’t know” as needed instead). The choir is less than stellar, and the organist spends half of his time trying to sound like “The Phantom of the Opera” or something.

PONDER THIS:

This is a centuries old argument, but the fact is that music is still being used in creative ways to enhance worship, no matter what type. Perhaps the number one thing that churches argue about is what type of music should be in the service. My own church has had this discussion for years, and while we now have a contemporary service, there are still some residual negative feelings about it.

As a young sophomore in college, I had to take Music History for two semesters. I was astonished to discover that this disagreement about music has gone on for literally CENTURIES. During the Renaissance, the musical aesthetic was balance, symmetry, predictable and resolved dissonances, and utter beauty. Palestrina is probably the composer who personified this style. Cut to the 1600’s, and suddenly, you hear a totally new aesthetic in the concert hall—monody (a single voice accompanied by a chordal instrument), stile recitativo (having the emotional expression of the text be the main point of focus in all musical compositions) and opera (telling stories through music using monody and stile recitativo together). Claudio Monteverdi, one of the most cutting-edge and monolithic composers of this time, composed amazing pieces that utilized liturgical texts, and portions of the Mass, but in a way like no one had heard before, because he also composed operas. It seems natural that some of that new secular style would begin bleeding into his new sacred style.

Guess what? People hated it. They said, “Wait, that’s what we hear at the opera during the week, not what we’re supposed to hear in church. This Monteverdi guy breaks all of the rules of what appropriate music to worship the Lord is supposed to be like.” Sound familiar?

I feel very strongly that music is a personal expression, and therefore, is experienced by each person differently. To account for this difference, Church needs to provide a variety of styles that will appeal to the congregation. Congregations must understand that the Holy Spirit speaks to everyone, and how the Spirit speaks to you is not how it speaks to me. That is really OK. It must be OK. We must stop making value judgments about music—calling it “good” or “bad”—because it does not help unite us, does not further our cause, and basically, is unnecessary.

5) Why go to church when all there are is old people anyway? You need to go to a church where there are youth, young adults, children. You don’t have anything in common with old people, and everyone says churches who have no young people are dying. If you don’t see any youth in the church, you should turn right around and walk back out.

 PONDER THIS:

I think we all realize that the hair in our congregations looks grayer than it used to. Most people would admit that older folks were brought up to go to church on a more regular basis than those in subsequent generations.  Going to church is more habitual, as a result, for older folks. Now, explain to me, why is that a bad thing? Why do millennials (or 80’s people like me, or Gen X-ers, or whomever) think that going to church with old people is uncool? I know, church should be full of people from all walks of life and all ages, but if my church has more older folks, when did that become a bad thing? When did going to church with people who “look just like me” become the desired norm?

The way our culture treats the older generation is, in my opinion, pretty awful. Often, people don’t live near their grandparents and don’t have a strong relationship with them. The new “thing” for older folks is to go live together in retirement communities, away from young people, away from children. Worse yet, when old folks become infirm, they go into nursing homes, “the last bus-stop before glory.”   This separation of old people from the rest of society is alarming to me.

I feel Church provides a wonderful opportunity for young people to mix with and get to know older folks. My children have “adopted” some of our older church members as second grandparents, as my parents don’t live close by. My daughter in particular loves to make her Sunday morning rounds in church, hugging tons of older folks who look forward to her hugs every week. If we went to a mega-church full of screaming youth, I can’t imagine how she would feel comfortable doing that. For our family, it works.

Furthermore, my church provides numerous social activities for our older folks. Frankly, many of the older folks in my church put me to shame with the amount of community organizing they do through my church, whether it’s making quilts for newborn babies, providing a free noon meal for the homeless on Saturdays, or just getting together to go see a musical show. Our older folks are active, and what’s more, they’re retired. They’re hungry to get out and do things, and have no plans to slow down any time soon. I am speechless and awed by these folks and can only hope to be as active as they are now. We younger generations have a ton to learn from these wise, gracious, and funny people.  Church is a great place to do this.

6) Of course, the worst is the pastor. This guy sounds like Ben Stine on downers. He’s intelligent, but good heavens, it is so dull sitting there listening to stories about prophets and people who died centuries ago. Half of that stuff seems irrelevant to us in the twenty-first century.

 PONDER THIS:

A pastor’s vision and leadership for the congregation is, admittedly, important, yet it is not of sole importance. Our church went through a period of around three years where we didn’t have a consistent pastor. Our pastor had become gravely ill, and while he was getting medical help, we had a series of guest pastors. When that pastor decided to not return to our church, we had an interim pastor, and then began the difficult process of finding a new pastor. While we did lose some members, we somehow weathered this time and made it through.

I will admit, I was angry at those who left our church at the time. To me, it was like giving up on a marriage—you don’t just leave, you try to stay and make it better. I realize those people had to leave, and I can only hope they found a church elsewhere. We now have a wonderful pastor who is trying to guide us to what we are supposed to do in our community.

While having a pastor again is encouraging, I feel the pastor should not BE the church; it is the members who compose the body of Christ. No one person does that. A pastor is a shepherd (from the Latin “pastor”), a person who looks out for the sheep and leads them to where they need to sleep, eat, and be safe. The thing to keep in mind is that the sheep will exist without the pastor; so, a pastor should not be synonymous with the Church. A pastor’s sermons should be inspiring, but sermons aren’t what a church is about, either. Church must be more than that—it needs to be what happens on Sunday, but also what happens outside of the sanctuary. Church must happen in, and abide in, people.  Hearing the stories of how the people in the Bible handled their relationships with God really can inform our own relationships with Him today.

Which brings us back full circle to—WHY go to Church? Because Church isn’t a place you go to—it is people. Church is you. Church is your friend; church is also that person you disagree with (otherwise known as your enemy, whom you are supposed to pray for and let slap your other cheek, by the way).

While I feel Church needs to make some radical changes in order to stay relevant, I will also add that if millennials (again, insert here whatever generation you are part of) want to blame their absence on the church itself, they can do that, but that’s too easy. “They just don’t understand me in Church” is a cop out. I do not mean to sound like I am denying the Church has much to occupy it in this difficult time of transition. It is just that I’m tired of hearing about how people feel that church doesn’t cater to a certain generation’s mentality. If you feel that, then you are not going to the church that suits you. Find one that does. Even better, find out ways to change your church to make it suit the population that attends it; but giving up and blaming the church—All Churches–is unfair.

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Christ–the Best DIY Video Ever

Reading Time: 2 minutes 

 I relate better to concrete examples when trying to understand a concept. I think most people would admit they do, too.

For example, Youtube has revolutionized our lives and helped us acquire all types of new skills, from learning to play guitar to knitting a sweater. Watching someone else do a skill makes it much easier to grasp, because we are seeing everything come together on the screen rather than just reading about it or following an instruction manual (most of which are on-line these days anyway).

So, in my mind, Jesus was the greatest Youtube DIY video ever,  come to life. I think it was God’s way of saying, “That’s it, no more talking about the Ten Commandments—it’s time to show them what I mean when I say I love them and that they must love each other. They worry about the stupidest things—not working on the Sabbath, what not to eat, what not to wear, whom they should include or exclude….I need to speak to them directly, to really live with them and get to know them on their level, and get them to know Me. I need to SHOW them.”

So, He did. If you ever want to get a Cliff’s Notes version of Jesus’s belief system, just read the Beatitudes (Matthew 5, NRSV).

1When Jesus[a] saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

For a fun spin on things, I thought I’d make an American version of how some successful people might  think the Beatitudes should look for us today in our country:

[Disclaimer: I know I’m not the first blogger to make a list like this—just google “anti-Beatitudes” and see what you find. ]

–Blessed are those who work really hard, for they will be known as “successful” and make a ton of money.

–Blessed are the powerful, for they will kick everyone’s butts who are weaker than they are.

–Blessed on the driven, for they will definitely come first in all things.

–Blessed are the happy, for they followed the rules and earned all the good things they deserved.

–Blessed are the busy, for they will get so much done every day and gain the recognition they crave.

–Blessed are the Americans, for they deserve everything they want at any cost, because we’re “the good guys.”

Luckily, instead, Jesus’s version preaches to the struggles of the every day person—the B-Flat Jew of that time. Those words are still appealing to us in this century, because they are words and situations to which we can all relate. At some time in our lives, all of us have felt poor in spirit and meek, and are thirsting for righteousness. We are starving for peace and mercy, and yet, we know in the deepest chambers of our hearts that we are not peaceful or merciful to others. We still crave those things. Most people crave those things, too, Christian or not.

The Beatitudes speak to me with simplicity, encircling me in their “illogical logic.”  It is not only reading those words, but by watching Jesus live those words–in a real-life DIY video–that teaches me the complicated steps of acquiring this difficult skill called Life.

 

 

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Why are you a Christian?

Why are you a Christian?

Reading time: 2 minutes

Silly question, you say.  But have you really pondered it?

You probably know many non-Christians, as do I. If you have conversations with them (and I hope you do), they may even say “I don’t have to be a Christian to be a good person.” Guess what? They’re correct. Atheists and agnostics alike can do everything we as B-Flat Christians can do. In fact, many of them do even more than we B-Flat Christians, and can put us to shame for the prodigious amount of volunteer and philanthropic work they do. I’ll be honest and say I see and read about many supposed Christians who are far from the moral, generous people God made them to be, including myself.

So, why be a Christian at all, if you can be a good person without being a Christian?

Perhaps you think I’m going to say “because you’re going to hell if you don’t believe in Jesus.” In my opinion, hell should have nothing to do with it. If the only reason we choose to be Christians is to avoid getting that “giant spanking from the sky” when we die, then life is truly bleak indeed. In his book The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith argues that God is not an angry authority figure for whom we perform in order to gain favor, and whom we always disappoint.

If God were our parent, he would withhold his love, just as our parents did when we behaved badly (“Go to your room! No dinner for you”). If God were our teacher, we would get an F (“This was a poor effort”).  If God were our judge, the verdict would be “Guilty as charged.” (p.  78)

Smith also contends that we should not be about trying to earn God’s favor—that is called legalism, and it is a form of superstition and attempt to control God (p. 96).

My feeling is that, though the Bible, movies, books, and legends claim hell is a place of unending fire and damnation, I am convinced that such a description is a way of putting hell into a box that we humans can understand. No one—NO ONE—knows exactly what heaven and hell look like, so pinning our entire behavior on a place we don’t know about is useless.

Even when Jesus described heaven, saying it was “a place of many dwelling places” (“mansions” in the King James Version)(John 14:2) I think he was trying to put into words what was indescribable in order to paint a picture for the disciples—a bunch of B-Flat guys, who could only imagine what a “mansion” looked like.

Do I want to go to heaven? Yes, but only God can decide that, and I can’t earn my way there by my behavior. He gives His love freely, whether I follow all the rules or not. As a B-Flat Christian, I can truly say I do not follow the rules every day, and even go against the rules on both a conscious and subconscious level. I’m not proud of this fact, but it’s true.

So, if I’m not a Christian to avoid going to hell, and I’m not a Christian to curry God’s favor, and I’m not a Christian in order to be considered a good person, then again, why be one at all?  There are days when I know life would certainly be a lot easier if I weren’t.

The answer for myself always involves three things: Christ, connection, and correction.

 

 

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Can a B-flat Christian be special? March 24, 2017

Can a B-flat Christian be special?

Reading time: 2 minutes

 

Luckily, the Bible (and all of history, actually) is bursting with examples of people who were living lives that were quite ordinary, but ended up doing unexpectedly astonishing things. The first B-Flat Christians in the Bible that come to mind (though they actually were Jews at the time) were the first Disciples Jesus called—Peter and his brother, Andrew.

Think about it. No, really think about it.

These fellows were commercial fishermen—not like the brave folks who go out fishing for Alaskan king crabs in the Bering Sea that you can watch on “Most Dangerous Catch.” These fellows got up in the gray-dark of early morning to get their nets ready. They went out on a boat every day and threw those nets in the water. They brought back their catch for the day, cleaned it, and prepared it to sell. They fixed any nets that had torn so they would be ready the next day. They got up the next morning, and the entire process began again. I think we could safely call these guys “B-Flat.”

What in the world could Jesus, the Messiah, have seen in these smelly, less than astute men that made him think, “Yep, these guys are who I need! They’re going to build my kingdom on earth! They’re going to be written about in the Bible, inspire a new religion, and change the world!”

I have decided that it is the very fact that the fishermen were ordinary that appealed to Jesus. Ordinary Folks in Biblical times were even more B-Flat than you and me. They were more than likely not highly educated and had no preconceived notion of religion other than keeping the Mosaic Law (avoiding eating unclean foods, observing the Sabbath and other holy days, etc.). They worked hard; fishing is a physically demanding career that requires commitment and self-motivation. Most important, though, was that their minds, were open–“unsalted” and “unlit.” They were ripe for becoming “The Salt of the Earth” and “The Light of the World.” They certainly had the stamina for the long haul Jesus knew was coming.

Now, think even further. What made the fishermen listen to Jesus? What would cause them to stop their work for the day—and eventually, for their rest of their lives—and give ear to some wild-eyed son of a carpenter? Ah, there it is. Yes, I’m saying that Jesus was from a B-Flat background, too! Isn’t that amazing to think about? Don’t read that statement and think that I’m saying that Jesus wasn’t special—of course he was. Yet, every Christmas, we read in gospel of Luke how Jesus the King came into the world and are reminded how very “un-kingly” his entrance was.             .

Yet, even as a twelve-year old boy, it was beyond a doubt that Jesus was unique and had a compelling personality. I remember what my twelve year old son was like, and believe me, I cannot imagine him teaching in the temple with eloquence, charisma, and, as the Bible says, “with understanding” as Jesus did (Luke 2:41-52). I think it was fairly obvious that Jesus was going to be way more than B-Flat for the rest of his life.

I would also, add, however, that it was because Jesus was known for having blue-collar roots that the disciples did listen to him on that first day. Had he been a scribe, a priest, or a Pharisee, I can’t help but think those fishermen would have felt intimidated and unworthy. They would have remained hidden behind their ordinariness, remaining B-Flat fishermen, never imagining they would bear witness to the Son of God on earth—and become True People of God themselves.

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March 23, 2017

If you’re a musician, you know what a B-flat is: it’s a note on the scale in Western music. Flats are sometimes the black notes on the piano, and B-flat is located to the left of B-natural.

B-flat can also be used as an adjective, too. Musicians often refer to something as being “B-flat,” meaning “ordinary,” “common,” or “normal.” This probably is because many beginning instrumental pieces are in the key of B-flat, making them easier to play for youngsters who are just learning notes and rhythms.

It can also mean something more negative, as in “boring,” “un-exciting,” and “dull.” For example, “That’s your basic B-flat pizza—not really good, not really bad.”

So, why would anyone want to be a B-flat Christian?

Who strives to be ordinary, or worse, dull?

No one.

Yet, I feel certain that many Christians imagine themselves to be exactly that–just “average” people, myself included. They believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible, but they lead fairly every-day lives both in and out of church. They go to work, they take care of their families, take an interesting vacation now and again…but so does everybody, right? Certainly, they know they have talents, but they feel they possess no skills that are earth-shattering or worthy of admiration, much less acknowledgment. They spend a great deal of time thinking they should be doing great things with their lives, but feel tentative and unsure and how to do so, since they don’t think they have what every charismatic, True Person of God should have:

 

A Compelling Life Story.

 

You know what I’m talking about.

The True Person of God overcomes circumstances that would devastate ordinary people; events such as surviving multiple types of physical and emotional abuse, addictions, lack of education, homelessness, depression, life-threatening disease, loss of a loved one, financial ruin….any of these things are what propel the True Person of God into a life of service and godliness. True People of God bravely face the myriad of tests put before them, and they do more than just survive—they succeed beyond belief, and go on to plant churches in Third World countries, to study at prestigious religious institutions, to write best-selling books, to have movies made based on their amazing lives, and to appear on the Today Show.

And then there’s me (and I’ll guess, many of you).

I was brought up in a loving Christian home in a wonderful family. My three sisters and I have had our ups and downs, but truly, we are from a background of privilege, affluence, and love.

Addictions? Not really, though I do love to shop. While I might enjoy my glass of wine, drugs have never appealed to me. In college, I was offered drugs on several occasions, and it never even crossed my mind to take them. I was a hopeless goody-goody, and frankly, was too much of a control freak to give in to something that could take over my body and my life (yeah, that hasn’t changed, either).

Depression? I do take depression medication, which helped me a great deal, but my depression is not at all the type of depression that haunts many people I know and robs them of sleep, peace, and joy. I manage mine with a small amount of Citalopram and function normally.

I am a professionally trained musician with a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate in music education performance. I currently teach at a small liberal arts college whereby I am certainly not wealthy, but I make enough to pay our bills and to have health care.

I am happily married to a thoughtful, funny man with whom I have two thoughtful, funny children. My husband did have a major bout with Stage 3 colon cancer, but he fought the good fight and is cancer free today.

I have a wonderful church family and attend church every week, not because I feel obligated, but because I enjoy it. My church is full of people who reach out with gentle, healing hands to those in our community who need it. My church is not perfect, but it is trying to discern God’s purpose for us.

Basically, I am a boring person whom God has showered continually with blessings for no reason at all. I have had very little conflict in my life, and feel embarrassed by how easy my life has been. [I can hear you yawning as you read this. I’m yawning just writing it.]

I am a true example of your basic, vanilla-flavored B-Flat Christian. So, how can my life be an inspiration to anyone? How can anything I write have an impact on you? When there are countless compelling life stories out there to read, why would anyone read this blog at all?

I want to grab you by the hand and take you on a journey where we can explore how extraordinary we truly can be. My aim for this blog is to write about B-Flat people and events, and to try to look at them closely through a different lens. I want to attempt to see the boring machinations of the mundane as events that can lead to moments for learning, growing, and changing.

I hunger to see ordinary objects—water, bread, wine, salt, and light–transformed in ways only Jesus could transform them. In so doing, I hope to embrace being a B-Flat Christian, to celebrate it, and to uncover the hidden and utterly common-place transformations I see every day in this mysterious journey we call life. I hope that we, too, as B-Flat Christians, can celebrate our ordinariness while continuing to strive for even better selves. I want to self-reflect, but also church-reflect, on a deeper level, and discuss questions that continue to chew at us.

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