The Drug of Busyness vs. The Practice of Obedient Action by Chris Pollock

Rev. Michaele LaVigne

In this first tumultuous and devastating week of Lent, I’ve been reminded (again) that I don’t do well with sitting still. Especially in times of grief or chaos or pain – I find myself with this urgent sense to do something about it. Fix it. Help it. Prevent it from ever happening again. I want to call legislators, write articles, post and comment on social media, organize rallies, preach a great sermon. I want to do whatever I can to teach, comfort, help, fix, change... control.

And there’s the ugly truth. The anxious urgency I feel is actually more about my desire to control the chaos around me than it is about anything else.

I recognized this a few days ago, after I read the names and stories of the 17 students and teachers who were murdered in a Florida high school by a former classmate. Every negative emotion swept through me, and I was overwhelmed. And then I ran through the mental list of options of what I wanted to do next: Write a strongly worded letter? Put something on Facebook? Maybe I could just tackle a few items on my work to-do list? Clean something? Or sort that pile of clothes my kids have outgrown?

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My brain was moving just slow enough that I could actually notice what I was doing. In my anxious, fearful, and overwhelmed state I was groping around for something that would make me feel better. And what was the drug I craved? Busyness, action, anything to help me feel productive – even if it didn’t touch any of the real issues at hand. I just needed to feel like I was doing something to fight back this crazy, grief-inducing, chaotic world.

Several years ago I made a commitment to never take action on something if I was motivated by fear. (I can’t say I’m never motivated by fear; I just try really hard not to let it win.) And in this moment I realized that my urge to do something “productive” was really just a function of my fear of not being in control.

So – what did I do on that day when I felt anxious and overwhelmed? Ultimately, I decided, through the guidance and grace of God, to take a nap. I never actually fell asleep, but I rested and I prayed. Which is very different than worrying. As I prayed with my blankets heaped over my head, I succumbed to the sadness instead of fighting against it. I slowly came to terms with the “world as it is, not as I would have it” (The Serenity Prayer).

And, I also recognized that naps aren’t God’s only and final solution to the chaos and suffering of the world. He doesn’t pull the covers over his head when it all gets too much – and he wasn’t advising me to stay in that state, either. I was reminded that God does not invite us to an inactive life. Actually it’s quite the opposite. We are invited to participate in God’s life – and he is the one who never sleeps!

But there is a big difference in the way I go about doing things, and the way God does things. On my own, I crave busyness like a junky looking for her next fix – just a little something to take the edge off the chaos. God, however, invites me into obedient action as a part of what he’s already doing. And what is it that he’s doing? I have to remind myself from time – it’s just this little business of

remaking the whole world!
and reconciling all things to himself!
and making his kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven!

So yeah, I think my obedient action going in that direction is going to accomplish a whole lot more than my frantic and short-sighted attempts at keeping busy.

The challenge is that obedient action requires sitting still long enough to hear the invitation. Which means I can’t use anything to drown out the sounds of grief, injustice, and suffering. In fact, I have found that I am called into obedient action not by shutting those voices out, but as I sit with them. Our invitation to obedient action comes as we not only listen to grief, but grieve ourselves. It comes as we move from blaming others to repentance of our own. It comes as we allow ourselves to be fully present, fully aware in the mess and pain – and find that Jesus is fully aware and fully present there too.

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I can tell the difference between my own busyness and God’s invitation to obedient action pretty easily. For one, obedient action is almost always smaller and more personal than the busyness I choose for myself. It’s the difference between making a flurry of posts and comments on social media versus taking time to write a personal note of prayerful encouragement for a teacher, a city leader, or legislator. The busyness drug will never lead me to sit down over lunch with a lonely young adult – but that’s exactly the kind of thing God invites me to do.

But perhaps even greater, I can tell a difference because I’m different. The Michaele seeking out the busyness drug is frantic, stressed, anxious, and fearful. But the Michaele taking obedient action is at peace, confident even when taking a risk, and aware of God’s presence and activity. It’s pretty easy to tell which Michaele I want to be.

Often during Lent people fast something, or take on a new practice during the season to walk closer in step with Jesus as we journey to the cross. This year it seems God is inviting me to give up the drug of busyness, and take on the practice of obedient action. Perhaps you are being invited to do the same. I pray we may be given the grace and courage to sit still long enough to hear what we’re being invited to do. By God’s grace, we together can be a part of God’s very real and very good work of remaking this world. May it be so, Lord, may it be so!

Staying Awake: An Advent Reflection by Chris Pollock

Rev. Michaele LaVigne

As part of my slow-down-in-Advent practice, I’ve joined a group to practice Lectio Divina together once a week. Each Monday they gather at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, and one of their pastors leads us in reading and meditating on the lectionary text for the coming Sunday.

As I spent time with the words of Jesus in Mark 13.24-37 last week, I was struck by this scene:

“It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to keep watch. Therefore, keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

The words that kept standing out to me were “keep awake.” But these words did not strike me as good news. As spiritual as I wanted to be, the burning question in my mom-of-two-toddlers mind was: What’s so bad about falling asleep??

Now, I highly doubt that Jesus is advocating that we never sleep and turn into zombies. Quite the contrary, he’s the one who teaches us how to really rest. We have been created to sleep for a full one third of our lives. Scripture teaches us that we can rest because God is good and always at work, so we don’t have to be. So Jesus – what’s so bad about falling asleep?

With this question echoing through my mind, I imagined myself as the doorkeeper in Jesus’ story. What if I did fall asleep at my post? What would happen if I was woken from a dead sleep when the master came home? I imagined myself sleeping soundly, when suddenly a figure appeared looming over me. I doubt my first response would be kind or gracious. In fact, it would be the opposite. I can see myself springing into defensive action, assuming this was an intruder. In my attempt to protect my master’s belongings from this “thief,” I would be attacking the master himself.

And then I thought how the scenario would play out differently if I, the doorkeeper, was awake. If I were awake, I would see the light from the master’s lamp when he was still a long way down the road. I would study the pace and be able to discern if this was a person who knew the way, or a person who was moving hastily and didn’t want to be seen. As the master approached he would probably call out some kind of greeting or password to let me know it was him so I could open the door and he didn’t have to fumble for the keys. Maybe there was special knock he used to let me know it was him. But even if I missed all that, and he got to the door before I did – I would hear the sound of keys jangling, the door swinging open instead of being knocked down, maybe even dogs scampering with tails thumping to greet their master.

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In this scenario, I’m alert and aware. I have the presence of mind to greet the master warmly, and depending on how long ago I recognized him coming, I may even have some food or a cup of tea waiting for him. I will have thought about what he wants to know right when he gets home, and will be prepared to give the initial report.

And then I understood what Jesus was advocating. Of course he doesn’t want me to never sleep. But he wants me to be aware, alert, watching, actively anticipating his arrival.** And if I’m not, I will miss it altogether and may even work against it.**

In a letter to a friend in December, 1979, Father Henri Nouwen wrote these words to his friends:

“Happy times, Blessed Christmas and a very good new year. I hope that all the misery in the country and the world in general will deepen your hope for the kingdom of god, will strengthen your eschatological [the hopeful future of God] perspective, will make you more interested in the last book of the Bible, will make you more critical toward psychology and political sciences, will make you simple of mind and heart, make you pray more and love more and make your heart and mind open toward Him who is the Lord of life and who calls us to transcend all human endeavors.”
(from Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life)

This is my prayer for us as well. I think this is what happens in us when we choose to stare into the darkness rather than distract ourselves from it, or simply shutting down and falling asleep. And as we strain to see light coming through the darkness, we will see it a long way off. We will anticipate its arrival. We will celebrate it. And when it finally dawns complete – oh how we will rejoice!

King Jesus, give us courage to observe the darkness without flinching,
without distraction, without turning away.
This Advent, train our eyes to watch for, to anticipate,
and to rejoice at your coming.
And please come soon, Lord Jesus. Come soon.
Amen.

Texas Tragedy by Chris Pollock

Rev. Chris Pollock

Another Massacre, Sutherland Springs Church

I am tired of writing letters and blogs making statements regarding our position on these kinds of tragic events. As a result of the last shooting in the Texas church, we brace ourselves, scrambling for answers. But the answers given weren’t satisfying to us in past, are still not satisfying. In fact, we find ourselves to be discouraged even more.

As we enter into the holiday season, there is no sense of “break” regarding these kinds of events.

The prince of darkness and the kingdoms of this world are working hard. Because of this, Paul said that we groan inwardly as we wait outwardly.

Sadness. Fear. Questions.

I understand this.

In our confusion, we hold onto the words that Paul gives in Romans 8. He promises the depth of suffering we bear today is no comparison to the glory that will be presented to us through the ministry of the Son of God. In other words, ours is an outlook of hope: THINGS WILL NOT ALWAYS BE THIS WAY.

So we wait… actively wait.

Paul says, we wait, like a woman who is in the middle of pregnancy…

…we wait.

Anticipation. Pregnancy. A new baby. What a beautiful metaphor.

One of the best shows that has ever been on television is the old 1970’s sit-com MASH; a series based on the Korean War. MASH began as a comedy, but the themes at the end of series became very serious. The writers, who wrote during the height of the Vietnam War, explored issues of war, death, suffering, and even psychological pain.

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In one of the last episodes, a baby is dropped off at the M_A_S*H camp. No one knew where the baby came or to whom the baby belonged. The baby had no name. And yet, the baby, a character with no lines, was the central figure the episode and became the delight of the camp. A baby gave them the ability to continue their work, to make it another day, and to think, “Maybe, just maybe, we’ll make it home.”

At the end of the episode, Hawkeye Pierce, played by Alan Alda, said, “You brought a bit of light into a very dark and confusing place.”

The theological implications here are breathtaking – we too are in a very dark and confusing place… we groan. And yet soon, we will be invited to remember and realize, the presence of a baby – a certain kind of baby, a baby with a NAME! – the Savior of the world, the Prince of Peace, the Mighty God.

This baby was born into a world where powerful men killed children. This baby was born into a world where the politics of the day was cutthroat. This baby was born into a world that suffered serious economic shortfalls. This baby was born into a world where religion caused extremist activities.

And yet, this baby was born into the world, and through his life, his ministry, his death, and his resurrection,he has and will bring light to our very dark and confusing place…

There are no immediate answers to this tragedy. No politician, military leader, or psychologist is going to be able to help us make sense of this.

Nothing will satisfy our grief … yet.

But, someday (we don’t know when but we pray for it) the depth of sadness and grief we know will not compare to the glory – the joy, the love, the peace – that will come in our Savior, Christ Jesus.

So we wait with hope, with our prayers, and with the anticipation that this baby who’s name is Light and can bright light – true Light … God’s Light – to a very dark and confusing world.

Sweet C's 8th Street Dreams by Chris Pollock

While restoration is underway at the 8th Street Church, we are sharing the dreams God has given us for the 8th Street building and our new neighborhood. Sweet C first shared his 8th Street Dreams with us in song during our service on September 17, 2017. He said that Pastors Chris & Michaele and The Wallflowers provided inspiration for this song

Dreaming of 8th street

By Curtis "Sweet-C" McClain

Verse
Pastor shared what was on their mind
What was on their mind
Made the congregation shine
We've been looking for a church
Now we've found one in the search
God answers prayers and it's true
So Lord I thank you

Bridge
This place is temporary
While we're here we're visionaries
Seeing rows of chairs in the sanctuary
Welcoming believers and the ordinary

Chorus
So Now I am dreaming of 8th
Where feet walk, hands greet
Voices speak God's never beat
Where choirs sing as praise bands
Play drums and guitar strings
Preparing hearts for what the message brings
holding out hands, blessing us
For the week
that's my dream 8th street

Verse
Pastor said time for communion
While people came there was a reunion
Some formed groups of parish
to meet and to cherish
Everyone has a story
So to God be the glory

Every one in this place it seems
Has a 8th street dream


It takes work (& money) to make our dreams come true. Will you join us? You can give online through our parent church, Bethany First Church of the Nazarene; make sure to mark your gift for "Midtown- 8th Street Project." You can also send cash or check to PO Box 76266, Oklahoma City, OK 73147. Contact Pastor Chris Pollock at chrispollockokc@gmail.com if you have questions about giving.

What is the Function of the Bible? by Chris Pollock

Rev. Chris Pollock

Over the next few weeks, we are discussing big questions about the Bible. We will be adapting our sermons for this blog. This is part three of our sermon series, "Questions About the Bible".

We’re spending time on these questions of the Bible because The Bible is our primary tool for worship. We are unapologetic in this as it has held a central place in Christian worship since the early church and before.

When 15-year-old Sarah from my youth group wrote an email asking all about the Bible, she pointed to this very important question: What is the function of the Bible? What does the Bible do?

Here’s my short answer: The Holy Scriptures tell us the story of God’s activity in the past, so that we might identify God’s activity in the present, so we might move together into and know our part in God’s future.

Jesus’s own identity and vocation was shaped by the Hebrew Scriptures and he understood his own role within salvation history through the reading of these sacred texts.The Bible does for us what it did in Jesus: to reveal our identity and our holy vocation as we participate with God and God’s people in God’s long-range purpose for creation.”

We don’t read these sacred ancient texts simply to collect data and gain historical understanding – In other words, we don’t just read the scriptures here in worship, or in our individual private time, or for that matter in group bible studies, just to get information. We explore these texts with an “inspired imagination” as we are human beings – creative, insightful, wonderfully made, yet broken and flawed – human beings in the process of transformation.

SHOULD WE INTERPRET THE BIBLE?

And Sarah’s question about interpretation is a very important one in light of what the Bible’s function is among the community of faith. She asks, “Is the Bible open for interpretation?”

And in short, my answer to her is: “Yes. The Bible – The whole thing is and should be interpreted.” But like anything else, this answer needs to be expanded. So let me explain.

I would argue, whether we know it or not, we interpret the Bible – just like we interpret everything that comes across our paths. As human beings we are complex data processors, constantly receiving, translating, and then transmitting communication patterns.

We interpret EVERYTHING – We have our own “interpretive framework” and we come to the biblical text with those “rose colored glasses.” I am an American, white, upper-middle class, male, that is from the Midwest that speaks English, and grew up in a predominantly poor Nazarene church. I am a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a pastor, a teacher. I’ve had successes and joys, pain and tragedy. Sometimes I’m conscious of my world, but my psychologist friends tell me that most of the time I interpret the world without even knowing why.

But I interpret my world through this lens of who I am. And each person has his or her own rules or each culture/people groups have their own “rules” for language and imagery. And unless everyone plays by the same “rules” then the message can get really misconstrued.

My wife Holly and I have been married for almost 20 years. And if there can still be miscommunication among us, who know one another, speak the same language, live in the same house, raise the same children, have the same set of values -- then how much more confusion can set in when we read these ancient texts that were originally in a language that we don’t speak, in a culture that had values very different than ours, and that saw the world in a very different way?

I don’t know if you know this, but the world has changed a lot in the last 2000 years. In fact it has changed an incredible amount in the last 50-100 years. What was acceptable a few years ago no longer is.

In the early 1960’s, John Wayne was the biggest movie star and his film McLintock was shown in theaters everywhere. The reviews said, “McLintock is Magnificent.”

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But if you watch that movie today you’d be appalled. Notice that the feature line is this: “He can tame the west but can he tame her?” And the central scene is John Wayne actually bending Maureen O’Hara (an adult woman) over his knee and spanking her while a crowd watches in delight. That was only 60 years ago.

Even more recently, in the early 1980’s the most popular television show was called “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

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Throughout the show, iconic images of a dark time in our country’s history were images glorified in the show. It didn’t bother anyone in popular culture of the 1980’s. However, the events of the last several weeks have demonstrated our change of mind and heart regarding our symbols of a racist past.

This was not that long ago. The world has changed quickly.

Two young fish were swimming one day when an older fish swims by and says, “Hey boys, water’s great today.” When he passes, the one young fish says to the other, “What the heck is water?” Sometimes we don’t realize what we carry with us into the text, or the differences between our world and the world of the text.

So we have a task: We MUST DO THE HARD WORK OF INTERPRETATION and we do that together – under the guidance of God’s inspiring Spirit. That is one of the reasons why we read this together in worship.

So the first thing we do in interpretation is we dive into the world behind the text.

The World Behind the Text

Books have come out in the last thirty years showing “new revelations” – secret discoveries, new insights. I’ve driven by churches with signs: NEW SERMON SERIES: “Bible Secrets revealed.” “New discoveries theology,” which, to me, is DANGEROUS theology. In fact, it’s heretical. God is about REVEALING GODSELF. God wants to be known. He hasn’t filled scripture with special codes and puzzles that only a handful can understand thousands of years after it was written.

So here’s one important rule to always remember when reading the biblical text: it cannot mean something for us that it didn’t mean for the original hearers.

We want Christian Orthodoxy – right belief. So we dive deep into the text with “inspired imagination,” acknowledging that we come with our background, but also with our reason and our intellect, honestly exploring what the original author was saying, hearing it with the ears of the characters, feeling what they feel. We work to ask the questions that they would be asking – longing for the same transformation of identity that they longed for. We want to know what this meant to the early church as we believes it makes meaning for us.

So we ask the Historical Questions: What was the time and the culture like? Who was the author? Who was the audience? What were the political issues?

But we also ask the Literary Questions: What is the point? What is this author trying to say about the Nature and Character of God? And why has the church said, Yup! We affirm it.

Why did Isaiah say this? Why did the early church continue to go back to Jeremiah? What was Matthew intending when he wrote down Jesus’s parable? Why did Paul include this poem to the Philippians? Why has the church preserved and protected these documents?

The World Within the Text

The second thing we do when we are interpreting a particular text is to look into the world within the text.

The authors wrote within a particular genre and form. So we read it within the literary structure that is provided and we ask, “What kind of literature is this? What is the structure? How does that impact the way we view the message? Is it a narrative? A letter? A prophetic work?” Is what we are reading a song? Well then, let’s not read it as an instruction manual. Is it law? Well then we can’t read it as apocalyptic literature. We read the poem as a poem. Is it a personal letter? If so, we can’t read it like junk email.

We can’t say you read things literally. We read them literate-ly. We read the Bible within the literary framework(s) with which it comes.

Even though the Psalmist says it, we don’t believe the trees of the forest will clap their hands – because trees don’t have hands. It’s a metaphor. We know that rocks can’t cry out – because they don’t have mouths – and they are not alive.

These images are what English professors call, “personification.” This use of imagery doesn’t negate the glory and praise that God deserves and will receive from creation. In fact, it is just the opposite. The psalmist uses these images because language is so limited. This is the best he could come up with. The glory of God over creation will be so spectacular, so amazing, so ridiculously glorious, our ears have never heard anything like it!

We read all pieces of literature with a rule of interpretation.

I’ll show you what I mean.

What is this?

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It is a text. A specific kind of form of “literature.” You know because of the look. The bubbles. The tool bar. You can tell when it was sent: on July 8. You can tell who it was sent to: Margaret Ann… Who sent it? I did!

And there could be a lot of confusion if you don’t know the author. I sent this to Margaret Ann on her 49th Birthday. And if you didn’t get into the world behind the text to know our relationship you wouldn’t know she was a great friend of mine and that teasing is central to our friendship. You might mistake this text for being mean … but instead we both were laughing. I tease her about her age, she teases me about my bald spot. If you can do the work of exegesis, and know the genre and form you can see the message: Friendship. A really good friendship.

Or look at this. What it is?

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A tweet. From @LJBoo. Not a single complete sentence. Now my grandpa doesn’t know what this is. It would take some explaining. Because of new symbols (#) – a new language is created. But if you know the form, the genre, and the language, you know what kind of night we had together and how long we spent together.

Did you know the Greek language didn’t have punctuation? The original Hebrew didn’t have vowels. But once you learn the rules of the language you can understand the message.

The same with this tweet. Now you might say, “that’s weird.” You know what’s weird? Hashtags. Or you know what else is weird? Just using the first letter of words to write a sentence. LOL. BRB. ROTFL. There are literary rules in play when we do exegesis. We are constantly asking, what is the author trying to say?

Finally, What is this? An email.

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But you need to do some exegetical work to discover who the author is – and then in what context it was written – but once you find out you’ll have a physical reaction. Once you do your exegetical work and find out that this is from a 7-year old dyslexic Annabelle trying to type on her ipod while she sat next to me in church on a Sunday night: “Thanks for sitting by me.” your response will be “aww.”

So, Sarah asks - is the Bible up for interpretation? Yes. All of scripture must be interpreted.We get behind the text, we jump into the text, and we do the hard work of interpretation to find a text’s original meaning and importance.

But we interpret EVERYTHING through the love of God demonstrated to the world in his Son Jesus of Nazareth. In fact we could say, that the communion table is our new interpretive lens. What happened here displays and reveals the message of the written word to the whole world.