Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a deacon dad walking humbly & seeking justice

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The motions

I’ve been using the book God, Cornbread, and Elvis: Pondering the Things of Everyday Life by Joe E. Pennel, Jr (former Bishop of the Virginia United Methodist Conference) for my devotional time.  In one of the ponderings from Bishop Pennel, he talks about going into a small town and seeing the same set of characters playing checkers and whittling.  He observed that the “whittlers whittled, but they ‘never made anything.’ (111)”

Pennel warns us about doing the same.  We get comfortable in the ministries or the missions we’re involved in and we forget to see God among us.  We forget to look for God.  We forget to find our growing edges.  We forget to listen to and for God who is calling us to grow.

I think at some point in our faith journey, we all struggle with going with the motions.  As if something was tugging at our hearts, telling us there is more to this faith stuff then what we’re experiencing.  In what could easily be the best episode in Buffy, the Vampire Slayer‘s 7 seasons, “Once More with Feeling” was a musical episode.  In that musical, Buffy sings a song that captures this feeling (disclaimer: the only video I could find on youtube with the actual episode, not the best quality, but if you want to learn some Italian, there you go)

I was flipping through the channels the other night and came upon a PBS special where the guest was talking about how everyday brings a gift.  This guest went on to say that at the end of the day we should look back upon it and see what the gift was.  It struck me at the time, that one way to break us free from going through the motions, is to take a little bit of time at the end of each day to reflect, not just, on where we saw God, but also where did we see God’s gifts to us that day.

Desmond Tutu

Someone in our Forgiveness Bible study this week mentioned this interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  This is only a small sampling of the interview, which is a really good interview.  In this clip, Archbishop Tutu discusses forgiveness in the context of South Africa.


There are, to say the least, different ideas about evangelism.

May the Spirit lead us.

Gran Torino (2008)

I went and saw Clint Eastwood’s film Gran Torino (2008) tonight.  In the film, Eastwood plays Walt Kowalksi, a Korean war veteran who, at the beginning of the film, has just lost his wife.

In the opening scenes, it is clear that Walt does not have a close relationship with his sons and his grandchildren.  One son repeatedly tries to convince him to move out of his Michigan suburb, that has become mostly an immigrant neighborhood, and move into a retirement community.  Walt refuses.

Throughout the film, we learn that Walt’s wife was a devout Catholic, while Walt hardly ever darken the doors of the church.  According to the new young priest, her last wishes were for Walt to go to confession.  Which, of course, Walt refuses.

As Walt grieves the lost of his wife in his own ways, his next door neighbor’s teenage son, Thao, is being pressured by his cousin to join an Asian gang and be a “real man.”  Thao finally agrees, and his initiation is to steal Walt’s 1972 mint condition Grand Torino.  The night that Thao attempts the robbery, Walt hears activity outside, grabs his gun, and heads out there.

Little did either of these guys realize, but this moment would begin a mentoring relationship between Walt and Thao (who lives with his grandmother, mother, and older sister).  Walt mentors Thao in handy-man type projects around the community, in getting a job, in selecting the right tools, and in life in general.  Through this mentor relationship, both Walt and Thao grow.

The gang activity in the community gets worse.  Walt, in an act of self-less and redemptive  love, decides to finally put an end to the violence.  I don’t want to say anymore because it will ruin the ending, but Walt does go to confession.  Eastwood’s closing scenes make the movie totally worth it!

Rise Above

The following is a talk I gave at Sunday Night Alive on February 22, 2009.  SNA is a youth worship service once a month provided by New Season United Methodist and the Steve Kropp Band.

Anger, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition, is “a strong feeling of displeasure or hostility.”  There are lots of things in our lives that can cause us displeasure or hostility.  For example: getting grounded by your parents, your lunch money is stolen, a teacher accuses you of cheating when you didn’t, you see your bf or gf at the movies with someone else.

Anger is considered by the Roman Catholic tradition as one of the seven deadly sins.Which is tricky, considering that anger is a very human emotion.But even the most “holy” of the Bible have expressed this emotion.

In Exodus 32, Moses has been spending some time hanging out with God at the top of the mountain.For the Hebrew people at the bottom of mountain, Moses has been hanging out with God too long.They start to get antsy.They plead with Aaron, Moses’ brother, to make them a god.So, they take all the gold in the camp and create a golden calf.When Moses comes down from the mountain he turned into the Hulk.For Moses to be angry is perfectly human.Moses’ anger burned hot and he broke the original 10 Commandment tablets.

Genesis 1:27 says that in the image of God, God created humankind.In Judaism, and likewise in Christianity, there is this understanding that my relationship to you is also my relationship to another image of God.

In the Hebrew Bible when anger leads to cruelty, violence, oppression, or persecution – things that distort my relationship to another image of God – then anger is a sin.It is sin when it disrupts our relationship with another image(s) of God.  Look at what Paul says in Galatians 5:14.

The whole law is summed by that one commandment.Leviticus 19:18 is where that commandment is originally stated.At the core of Leviticus 19 is a summons to holiness – a call to live a holy life.Leviticus 19 starts off with God saying live a holy life, for I am your God and I am holy.We are created in the image of God, the image of God dwells within us, God is holy, we too can be holy.

In Luke 10, Jesus tells a story,a story we refer to as the Parable of the Good Samaritan.This was a surprising story to hear at the time.Jews and Samaritans hated each other!They did not associate with each other.

In telling this story, Jesus, as Jesus tends to do, shatters all the categories of who are and who are not the people of God.It was the Samaritan, the  unclean, the social outcast, and the religious heretic, that followed the commandment to love your neighbor.It was the Samaritan who understood that his relationship to the Jew was his relationship to another image of God.

Rise above what anger can lead to.Remember the holiness code in Leviticus 19 – do not hold a grudge, do not seek vengeance, instead love your neighbor.When Jesus was being persecuted by the Romans and nailed to the cross, instead of rising up against the Romans, instead of calling on the power of the Creator, Jesus uttered these words: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Anger can be like an over boiling tea kettle, you have no idea when it’s going to run over or who it’s going to burn.

Dr. Bailey realizes that if she responds out of anger, she will be no better than her patient.She could have responded out of anger to her patient, and her anger could have revealed itself through cruelty, violence, oppression, or persecution – distorting the image of God in others.Instead she says, “We will rise above.”

Rise Above.

When Jesus concluded his parable, he asked the lawyer which of these men showed loved for his neighbor.The lawyer answered the one who showed mercy.Jesus, the Great Teacher, knew that as long as we are on this earth, we are never done learning and growing.Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

Go and love your neighbor.

Go, and as James says, “be slow to anger and quick to listen.”

Go and be holy.

Go and rise above.

Plunder the Egyptians

Albert Outler, in his Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit, discusses how John Wesley “plundered the Egyptians” in order to communicate the Gospel.  Wesley, whom Outler calls a “folk theologian”, found ways in which to effectively communicate the Gospel to large crowds.

Outler explains that the early church father, Origen coined this metaphor upon reading Exodus 12:28-36.   A metaphor, as Outler explains, “pointing to the freedom that Christians have (by divine allowance) to explore, appraise, and appropriate all the insights and resources of any and all secular culture” (77).

The 20th century theologian Paul Tillich, in his Theology of Culture, suggests that religion and culture need to come together like a fine balanced weaving.  One cannot over power (or over shadow) the other.  A balance between religion and culture is needed, Tillich argues, in order to effectively communicate the gospel.

Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster, in their book The Godbearing Life, suggest that one of the roles of youth ministry today is to translate the gospel.  We can translate  the gospel using elements of culture such as literature (both classic and modern), science, philosophy, flim/television, and technology.   If we do not make the connection between our lives, our world, and the Gospels, then the Gospel will never get translated.

Wesley was known as a man of “just one book”, that book being the Bible.  For Wesley, Scripture was primary.  According to Outler, “It was [Wesley’s] profound sense of the Bible as a ‘speaking book’ that gave him his freedom to ‘plunder the Egyptians’ and guided him in the use he made of their treasures” (80).  Wesley lived in the Scriptures. And by doing so, he was able translate the Gospel  he lived in, in an effective way that took the Gospel to places it otherwise may never have gone.

Aren’t we called to do the same?

Random Quote

Dr. Cornel West on leadership:

“You can’t lead folk without loving folk.  You can’t save without serving.”

A WalMart Bench

A few weeks ago my grandparents went to a local Wal-Mart to pick up a few things.  As they entered the store, my grandfather told my grandmother to go and get what she needed, he was going to walk through the store and meet her in the middle.

As my grandfather came down the center aisle of Wal-Mart, he saw a boy who was afflicted.  His father was sitting on a bench with his head in his hands.  As my grandfather walked pass the boy, the boy asked my grandfather to sit on the bench with him.

So my grandfather did.  And he proceeded to have a conversation with this young man.  Everytime the boy spoke, his father elbowed him, as if to say, “Be quiet!”.  Despite that, my grandfather kept talking with this boy.  Eventually, the boy begin rubbing my grandfather’s head as they talked and patting his hand.

After some time, my grandfather stood to go and explained that he needed to go find his wife, but that he would be back before he left.  After he found my grandmother, he took her to meet the boy he met on the Wal-Mart bench.  The boy saw my grandfather coming and became very excited.  He had a grin that filled his face!  The father, who earlier didn’t want his son speaking, approached my grandfather and expressed his thanks for my grandfather taking the time to sit on a bench in Wal-Mart with his son.

It turns out that this boy was around the age of 30 and had a mental disability.  While many others had passed over this young man, my grandfather stopped and took a few moments to wit with this young man on a Wal-Mart bench.

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