June 2008


We looked at Paul’s letter to the Romans again this week, studying the last two gifts in the list laid out to the church in Rome.  This series, which will wrap up this Sunday, is a reminder of a few different things: it is a reminder that the church functions as a body.  We work together, each holding our own role: our own gifts and passions and talents.  It is a reminder that we are strongest and living most fully as individuals when we have the opportunity to use our gifts.  Even more, our community as a whole is strongest when it is made of passionate individuals living out their gifts and passions; we work together passionately to bring God’s kingdom to this community.

We talked, this Sunday, about also thinking of The Gathering as a band: we each have an instrument to play, and we must play it passionately.  Running with this analogy shows us that there is a rhythm to the way God created the world.  There are rhythms of stop and go and we learn to take time to stop.  There are rhythms of giving and receiving, rhythms of loving and being loved, rhythms of fasting or feasting, praying or laughing.  The writer of Ecclesiastes touched on this (Ecc. 3.1-8) and the writer of Psalm 65 that we read last Sunday, and the rhythm to Genesis 1, and the way God’s invisible qualities are evident in creation, and … there are many examples.  

So, the challenge for us is twofold.  First, we must play our instrument passionately.  We must serve, or lead, or exhort, or teach, or do whatever it is that motivates us.  We must search for places to build God’s kingdom with our gifts and we must play them with all that we have.  Second, we must continue to find God’s rhythm.  We find this rhythm in myriad ways.  We read our bibles and ask questions.  We pray and plead and rejoice.  We take long walks and look at the mountains.  We eat good dinners with people we love.  We plant a garden.  We watch a good, good movie.  We listen and look.  We are watching for God and what he is doing.

This week, may we be people who play our instruments passionately, people who are playing to God’s rhythm with all that we have.  And, may we be people who search and listen for his rhythm, taking the time in the early morning with a cup of coffee, or in the evening with a good book, or driving to work without the radio.  May we find God’s rhythm and play along.

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs.  Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Howard Thurman

We live in a world that where passion is often sadly absent.  Financial realities force us to take jobs that slowly drain passion from our lives; we learn to be efficient and productive, but we forget to be passionate.  Responsibilities beyond our jobs frequently siphon whatever passion remained.  Cleaning up kids’ messes, mowing the lawn, vacuuming the house, sorting and washing and folding laundry: the list only stops when we are urged to sleep by Ambien or valium.  The modern American life is one where highs are experienced vicariously through the television or internet.  It is a corporate culture that judges success on helping the corporation; it is a consumer culture where our biggest and most monumental decisions are what washing machine to purchase or what new pair of jeans to buy.

Our faith community has been talking about passion.  We have been looking at an ancient writing from an early follower of Jesus named Paul, who wrote to another faith community in the cosmopolitan city of Rome.  Rome, at this time, was the New York City of today.  It was a center of commerce and government and culture.  Paul’s letter to this community is a passionate letter, and it details his thoughts on God and life and freedom.  

Toward the end of this letter Paul encourages the community in Rome: he tells them that they have different strengths, different gifts, different passions.  And he tells them to live out these passions.  He ticks off passion after passion: if you love to lead, do it with zeal; if you love to show mercy, do it with cheerfulness; if you love to encourage others, then encourage to no end…  He is saying to the community that passion is paramount, and life without passion is not really living.

Almost two-thousand years later another man, Howard Thurman, further articulates this idea.  Dr. Thurman is not well known, though he was a mentor to a much better known man: Martin Luther King Jr.  Thurman reminds us to live lives of passion, to do the things that make us come alive.  He reminds us that the world will constantly ask other duties of us, and we are constantly aware of our individual needs, our family needs, and in today’s society, even needs from the other side of the world.

But what if we dropped our “needs” for a moment.  Do not misunderstand me: I do not mean to ignore financial realities or care for loved ones.  I mean what if we did not worry about getting a cleaner house or nicer car or more presentable children or edge at work or latest sports news?  What if our biggest concern each day was coming more fully alive, living more passionately?  What if we took time everyday to foster our life, whether it meant painting or writing or running or praying?  

Paul advocated this — living out our passions — and it sparked a movement still growing today.  Dr. Howard Thurman advocated this, and at least one person listened.  And Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement still moves and grows today.  Movements start not by looking at needs and duties, but by coming alive.  

May we be people who are coming alive.

 

I brought my lunch with me to work today: spaghetti and meatballs.  I had cooked it right before I left, so it was still warm when I got to the church (those of you who know me realize that I usually don’t waste the time to re-heat food) and I sucked it down while trying to finish this Sunday’s gathering.  Afterward, I printed something off in the main church office.  While in the main office I realized that there were a couple cookies left over from a funeral reception earlier this week.  Since I was at the funeral I figured, hey, I can have one of those cookies.  I picked up a big chocolate chip cookie and it was the consummate end to an already satisfying lunch.

I listened to a podcast today by a guy named Steve Chalke.  He’s from London and thus he sounds extremely bright with that British accent.  I found myself silently agreeing with him from time to time, enjoying his accent and message.  He helped found Oasis Trust and Stop the Traffikand was informative and funny.  Steve’s message was on Genesis 1, on man and woman being made in the image of God — all men and all women — and that we have a responsibility to live that out today: to treat others as image-bearers, to give dignity and respect to everyone, to stop human trafficking.  

Steve gave statistics on trafficking: human trafficking made more business that Microsoft last year, there are over 17,000 people trafficking every year in the United States primarily for the sex industry (which is probably a gross understatement, since no one puts “sex slave” on their census forms), 50% of worldwide trafficking is in children.  It was enough to move me, but almost too much information to get me to act.

Then, Steve gave an action point.  Which is nice.  Or convicting.  

He said that at least 12,000 kids have been trafficked into the Ivory Coast from Mali and are working as slaves.  A little research of my own shows that 284,000 kids are working in the Ivory Coast and other African farms in hazardous conditions.  The trafficked kids, the other children in hazardous conditions all work on cocoa farms, where we get our chocolate.  About 43% of the world’s chocolate comes from the Ivory Coast.  

I think about my chocolate chip cookie today.  Maybe the cocoa was picked by enslaved children.  Maybe it was picked by children period.  Maybe not — but I’m sure that some of my chocolate has been.  

What to do?  Only eat fair trade chocolate.  As consumers, we vote with our wallets.  When William Wilberforce fought to stop the slave trade in England, he encouraged everyone to stop eating sugar and show the plantation owners that they cannot hold slaves.  Today, we must do the same: stop eating chocolate that we cannot account for and eat only chocolate with the logo on this page.  

I want to make a difference with the way I spend my money.  I want to communicate that everyone is made in the image of God.  I want to live this way all the time, even when I’m eating a serendipitous chocolate chip cookie in the middle of a Friday.