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IV Press Article 7-19-19 ### What do you believe?

“Childlike surrender and trust, I believe, is the defining spirit of authentic discipleship.” — Brennan Manning

 “When I take a knee, I am facing the flag with my full body, staring straight into the heart of our country’s ultimate symbol of freedom — because I believe it is my responsibility, just as it is yours, to ensure that freedom is afforded to everyone in this country.” — Megan Rapinoe

 “I believe alien life is quite common in the universe although intelligent life is less so. Some say it has yet to appear on planet Earth.” — Stephen Hawking

 “I believe that the greatest form of prayer is praise to God.” — Billy Graham

 “I believe that a man is the strongest soldier for daring to die unarmed.” — Mahatma Gandhi

 Belief. Faith. Conviction. There are many words that we use to define the things we hold to be true, to be right, to be important. The above quotes are examples of the variety of ways people declare what they believe.

Religion is a word that tries to describe the behaviors, practices, world views, texts, morals, ethics, holy places and times, and structures that connect humans to things transcendent, supernatural, spiritual.

The word religion, from the Latin religare, literally means to connect or bind. It is where we get the word ligament, the connective tissue between bones.

So it can be argued that when we say, “I believe,” we are connecting to those things beyond ourselves that guide us, inspire us and challenge us.

Our beliefs guide us. You’ve heard the sayings, “Practice what you preach,” or “Walk the talk.” They imply that we can recognize when someone says they believe something, but their behavior doesn’t affirm their words. Words and actions go hand in hand.

“But if we say we love God and don’t love each other, we are liars. We cannot see God. So how can we love God, if we don’t love the people we can see?” (1 John 4:20)

Our beliefs guide us. And we cannot hide our beliefs behind our words.

Our beliefs inspire us. When I was ordained, a friend of mine gave me a print of Picasso’s Don Quixote. It reminds me of the song “The Impossible Dream,” from the musical “Man of La Mancha” that says, “To fight for the right without question or pause to be willing to march into Hell for a heavenly cause.” My belief in Jesus’ example of self giving love for others inspires me to do the same. Even when it’s hard.

Our beliefs challenge us. Did I mention that the things that guide me and inspire me are often really hard to do? Case and point. Jesus said we need to love even our enemies. I’ve never really thought of people that have hurt me as enemies, but they certainly have said and done things to me that have hurt. And it seems to me that the way to loving them is to begin by forgiving them.

I believe the ultimate act of love is forgiveness. It’s what God did. God loved us enough to forgive us even when we weren’t asking to be forgiven. That’s something difficult to get my head around sometimes — that God loves you and me, that we didn’t earn that love, and that we cannot lose that love. God’s love is what guides me, inspires me, challenges me.

I never thought about this until recently when, reading a book called “The Good and Beautiful God,” I realized that the uniqueness of Jesus’ message, his good news, is we don’t earn God’s love. We don’t earn our way to eternal life. Not sure about that? Read the story of the Prodigal Son. Anyway, that is what I believe.

And you? What do you believe?

 

The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro. 

https://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/columns/what-do-you-believe/article_a6bea1a6-a9a9-11e9-b4f5-37abdcae82ea.html

IV Press Article 7-5-19 ### Don’t get too caught up in the fireworks

The Old Testament reading for last Sunday, according to the Revised Common Lectionary, was about the ascension of Elijah. To those not familiar with the story, Elijah was one of God’s prophets, who didn’t die, but was “taken up to heaven by a whirlwind in a chariot of fire and horses” (2 Kings 2:6-14). Stories like these were often told about great leaders in ancient times. 

Taken up in a whirlwind of fire. Sounds a lot like fireworks, doesn’t it?

The problem Elijah faced was how to mentor Elisha, his follower and newly anointed prophet concerning the fireworks of Elijah’s ascension. The problem was a common one. All too often people focused on the fireworks, and not the life and message of the one they were remembering.

It’s like the story of Jesus’ ascension where the disciples are standing there, watching Jesus ascend into the clouds. It took two men dressed in white to snap the disciples out of their looking up into the clouds, reminding them that Jesus had given them work to do, the work Jesus had begun and had entrusted to them (Acts 1:9-14; 2:14-21).

The question facing Elijah, and Jesus as well, was how to make sure their followers paid attention to the mission that God had called them to. Prior to Elijah’s ascension, he spent time with Elisha teaching him to focus on the prophetic mission to which God had called them and not to be distracted by his fiery ascension. Jesus spent 40 days after his resurrection teaching the disciples all that the scriptures had said about his ministry, death and resurrection.

The question for Christians today is whether we are truly focused on the mission Jesus called us to, or are we simply enamored by all the fireworks around us.

One of my favorite stories about Jesus captures the essence of his mission, of what he came to teach us about our place within God’s creation, and how we grow in our relationship with God. It’s a pretty familiar story.

In a confrontation between Jesus and some of the church leaders Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was. Everyone knew the answer. Jesus responded with his own question. “You know the scriptures,” Jesus said, “what do they say?” The church leader said, “Love the Lord you God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”

“Good answer,” replied Jesus. But in order to show Jesus up the church leader said, “But who is my neighbor?”

Jesus told a story. A man was attacked on the road, beaten, robbed, left for dead. A priest came by and ignored the man. Likewise a priest’s assistant. Both leaders in the church. Then an enemy of the Jews, a Samaritan of all people, saw the man and took care of him. He bandaged his wounds, took him to an inn and paid for his stay.

Jesus asked, “Who was the neighbor?” The church leader reluctantly replied, “The one who showed compassion.” Jesus said, “Then go and do the same.”

The one who showed compassion.

Something that often gets missed in the story that, to help the man would have made the two church leaders unclean, that is, they would not have been able to continue with their church duties until they had gone through the process of becoming clean again, which involved ritual washing, and time.

So the question they asked about the man was, “What will happen to me if I help him out?” The question the Samaritan asked was, “What will happen to that man if I don’t help him out?”

In the midst of all the fireworks this week I hope we are all asking the right question.

https://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/columns/don-t-get-too-caught-up-in-the-fireworks/article_5701018a-9eab-11e9-babc-97109aea0e94.html

IV Press Article 6-21-19 ### Viewpoint: Memories of my father

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“Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”?” — John 14:8-9

 

Last Sunday, Father’s Day, was a time to remember the full meaning of fatherhood, and that no matter what kind of relationship we have had with our fathers, an ever-present God longs to be in relationship with us as witnessed by the life of Jesus. I know I have come to my faith through the love and care of both my mother and my father.

In May, I wrote about my mom. Today, I want to write about my dad. WWII Navy veteran, engineer, quiet, well read, inquisitive — that was my dad. These are some of the memories of my dad, who died in 2004, that I’ve been thinking about recently.

I remember when I was a teenager, and beginning to surf, I wanted to get a St. Christopher medal to wear as a necklace. All the guys had them. I told my dad and he asked me why I wanted to do that. More importantly he also asked me whether I knew who St. Christopher was.

I confess I had no idea. But I realized I had better find out if I was going to wear a medal bearing his image. So I did.

That was dad. Something else he used to say to me was, “Always tell the truth. That way you don’t have to remember what you’ve said.”

When he would wrestle with my brother and me he would say, “Someone’s going to get hurt, and it’s not going to be me!” I remember the first time I said that while wrestling with my son I distinctly heard my dad’s voice, and not mine.

One time in church I was sitting between Mom and Dad, and when we got up to sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” my dad broke into a bass harmony while my mom began to sing the alto part. I was completely taken by the sound of musical harmony. I think that was the beginning of my interest in music. “Holy, Holy, Holy” remains one of my favorite hymns.

Dad was pretty patient with us kids for the most part. I was in high school when the first Super Bowl was played. Being played at the LA Coliseum, the game was blacked out locally. My brother and I decided we could take the small black-and-white TV we had, carry it up the huge pepper tree next to the house, and set it up on the roof, which was flat. Dad kept a watchful eye, but never said we couldn’t do it.

We set up an aluminum antennae guaranteed to get the San Diego station, and we sat there for three hours watching nothing but snow. And an occasional ghost of a figure move across the screen. Dad never said we were stupid, or crazy. He just let us figure it out.

Among my favorite times were Sunday afternoons making homemade ice cream. We had this wooden bucket and crank. We’d get a 25-pound block of ice and break it up, pack the bucket, throw in the rock salt. Mom made the custard and we would put it in the bucket and crank. One time I wanted to crank, so Dad let me. I made it around about four or five turns and couldn’t go any more. Then I felt dad’s hand on mine.

And together we made ice cream. I have the feeling that’s just like God’s love for us.

 

The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro. 

https://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/columns/viewpoint-memories-of-my-father/article_e4170800-93c3-11e9-b427-5344a350a1f2.html

IV Press Article 6-7-19 ### What golf can teach us about God

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“Jesus asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all

and servant of all.’”

—Mark 9:33-35

 

I realize this might sound a little weird, but my golf game helps me understand the fullness of this passage in Mark’s Gospel. No, really. Anyone who plays golf knows that the harder they try to hit the ball, the more difficult hitting the ball becomes. That the harder they swing the less success they have in hitting the ball farther.

Golf is counterintuitive.

I think being a follower of Jesus is also counterintuitive. The desire to be first, to have power, to be independent, and self-serving is not what Jesus asks of us. And he models it for us in his life, and death.

One of the things I’ve noticed about the Gospels is that, while Jesus is always moving toward Jerusalem, he is mostly dealing with interruptions. Someone is asking him to do something for him or her, or the disciples are in need of another lesson in what it means to be a disciple, someone is sick, or outcast, or has died. Interruptions.

But Jesus always takes them into account. He listens. He heals. He brings life. He welcomes and embraces. He forgives. He puts the needs of others ahead of his own, knowing all the while that those interruptions are actually the heart of his teaching about greatness, about what it means to truly be first.

“First where?” you ask. “First in the Kingdom of God” is his answer. And there’s the rub. There are those who claim God, but market in lies, putting themselves at the front of the line, excluding those they don’t like. They thirst for power in order to elevate their own status usually at the expense of others. They talk about greatness as if, well let me give you an example: There used to be a T-shirt that was popular that said, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” The toys, of course, were usually expensive things.

God’s reign is never boastful or demeaning. God’s reign does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. You see, it’s counterintuitive to what we might be led to believe about greatness and power.

Counterintuitive. Like golf.

So here is the other thing golf has taught me that helps me understand what it means to be first by being last, and a servant of all. Too often we golfers focus on outcomes. Scores. Our handicaps. “What did you shoot today?” is often the first question asked of us. But is that all golf is? Is it just an outcome? Most of the times that I’ve really enjoyed a round of golf were focused less on outcomes, whether I break 90, or 80, but on the friendships with those I am playing.

I’ve learned an acronym recently that I think just might help my game. N.A.T.O. Not Attached To Outcome. That’s it. Not attached to outcome. The connection between this and my Christian faith, especially my vocation as an ordained person in the church is one I had never realized until now.

When I was first ordained I was ready to go out and save the world. It didn’t take long for me to be reminded that saving the world was already done. And Jesus has invited me to take part in the ongoing work of salvation he started. You’re invited, too!

The outcome is not my responsibility. N.A.T.O.

https://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/columns/what-golf-can-teach-us-about-god/article_04c7b372-88c2-11e9-b341-a7a326d9537f.html

IV Press Article 5-24-19 ### Finding community in an age of fantasy

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I confess, I have not watched one episode of “Game of Thrones.” Not one. But I have seen most of the Marvel Super Hero movies, including the recent “Avengers End Game.” What these blockbuster shows have in common is what I think attracts so many fans to them. Both are fantasies. So, why are fantasies so popular in our culture?

Stories of fantasy have always had an important place in our lives. Supernatural events, creatures, miracles, magic, they were the stuff that allowed us to make sense of the world and the events that seemed to control our everyday living. This worldview existed until the rise of modernity, which began with the Enlightenment.

The Age of Enlightenment, and its resulting secularization of thought offered a worldview where political discourse and reason replaced belief in things like miracles and magic. But the stories remained, raising questions whether this transition was permanent or reversible, that we might be thrown back into the premodern world.

And despite our best efforts to have some control in our lives, we live with the uncertainty of changes in our climate, the needless gun violence that pervades everyday living, and has now entered into our sanctuaries, and the general sense of the need to belong. Things have become relative, uncertain. All this is to say we live in a pretty anxious time. We didn’t go back to a pre-modern era, we entered the post-modern era. Enter the superhero.

There is a direct correlation between our anxiety about the future, and the rise in popularity of stories about super heroes and fantasy.

I mean, wouldn’t it be nice if there really was a Justice League or Avengers that protected us all from evil and harm? Wouldn’t it be great if, after years of betrayal, war, killing, and palace intrigue, people came to the realization that peace is achieved only through democracy? (I haven’t seen a GoT episode, but I have read a lot about the concluding two episodes)

And wouldn’t it be great if we could elect someone who would single handedly solve all of our problems?

I believe one of the failures of Christianity in the last 80 years or so is the shift from inviting people into communities of compassion, to simply offering a personal escape vehicle in the form of a confession to Jesus that earns a ticket to heaven.

In the invitation to community people are challenged to live together, self interest is replaced with a concern for the other, and “I” receives its identity through the “we.” A “ticket to heaven” mentality has led to how the church in general often talks about God as “out there” somewhere, always judging our behavior, rewarding the “good” people and “punishing” the bad people.

But, according to scripture, God is not “out there.” And God’s desire is not to punish people. To the contrary, God’s revelation through Jesus is that God’s judgment is a judgment of love. And that the greatest act of love is forgiveness.

Entering the world of fantasy through books and movies, and comic books can be a much-needed break, but it is the work of community building, building communities of compassion that will give meaning to our lives. In fact, if you have seen the Avengers movie you might have noticed that most of the film was about the relationships of the people that mattered, the sense of family that mattered, the sacrificial love that lent meaning to what it is to be fully human.

Within the community Jesus creates we are offered what he calls an abundant life. It is a life centered in having compassion for others. These communities do exist although we don’t hear much about them.

But they are no fantasy.

The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro. 

https://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/columns/finding-community-in-an-age-of-fantasy/article_35382776-7dbe-11e9-97d4-873c8eb39680.html

IV Press Article 5-10-19 ### Memories make Mother’s Day special

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Sunday is Mother’s Day in the United States. Traditions honoring mothers go back centuries, and virtually every country in the world holds Mother’s Day celebrations.

Our modern Mother’s Day holiday began in 1907 when Anna Jarvis held a memorial celebration for her mother at St. Andrews Methodist Church, in Grafton, W.Va.

The celebration became official by the presidential proclamation of Woodrow Wilson in 1914.

My mom grew up in Yakima, Wash., one of five children. Her nickname was “Captain” given to her by her dad because she was the one who kept the other siblings in line. She met my dad in Tacoma in 1945. They were married soon after, and she gave birth to their first child, a son, in 1947.

That would be me.

Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2008. She died in 2012. She was 88. Every one of us has a mom story. Maybe more than one. Some are sad, some hilarious, some poignant. Mothers Day for some is not a big deal. For others it is a major gathering of family. I get that. There is no “one size fits all” for anything we do.

I have three very distinct memories of my mom. The first one is her chili. She was a pretty good cook, and her ground beef chili was a favorite of mine. Good chili flavor, a little heat, she would fry tortillas flat, like a tostada, and we would pile on cheese, tomatoes and lettuce and dig in.

I still make her chili.

The second memory is from the time I was in college. I was involved in theater productions, and got the part of the ingenu in the play “The Fantastiks.” There is a part in one act where the boy (me) encounters a couple of scoundrels along his journey. One is a Shakespearean actor, and the other is an Indian. They looked and acted like Laurel and Hardy. Anyway, these two made their entrance out of a large trunk, first the actor, and next the Indian. My friend Ernie Hood played the Indian. Tall and thin, he wore a Long John dyed brown, a breechcloth and a one-feather headdress.

While the Shakespearean actor was bloviating, Ernie would sneak up to the side of him. Now Ernie had a “bit” where he would clean his horned rim glasses using his breechcloth while the actor carried on. It usually got a laugh. One night when Ernie came up out of the trunk, his breechcloth got caught somehow on the trunk, and unknown to him was back in the trunk. When he got to the “bit” with his glasses, he bent to clean them, realized the breechcloth was not there, and stood straight up with eyes wide open, in shock.

My mom, who had attended EVERY performance, was the only one who laughed. I’ll never forget her laugh.

And lastly, I took Sara to meet my mom right after we were married. By then mom had Alzheimer’s and would spend time with my sister living in Torrance. We got there, and as we visited, my mom started telling Sara about her son, who was a pastor in Laguna Hills, and that she might want to go to church there. She was talking about me.

I was sitting right next to her at the time.

My mom still remembered me even though she didn’t recognize me. It was quite a moment. It was also the last time I saw my mom.

Sunday is Mother’s Day. I’ll be thinking of my mom, and all she has been for me, her love, her laugh, her chili. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

 

The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro.

https://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/columns/memories-make-mother-s-day-special/article_073b1dfc-72c8-11e9-aa6b-cbd62446ddaa.html

IV Press Article 4-26-19 ### VIEWPOINT: In the end, love will win

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Easter Sunday is one of the most joyous days of the year for Christians all over the world. We celebrate the triumph of life over death, love over hate, inclusion over exclusion. But, this year, in the midst of our celebrating, we also felt the shock, pain and anger, over the bombings of churches in Sri Lanka. 

Very much like the feelings we felt when Muslims were killed while in prayer in Christchurch, New Zealand, not so long ago.

The reality of the world we live in is that no one gets away clean when it comes to our actions that divide, and judge, and turn to violence. We are all guilty. I know we don’t want to admit that. We’d rather be the victim all the time, blame the other for all that is wrong in the world, hide behind our self-righteousness. Again, no one get away clean here.

Sometimes I think the worst response we make in response to this reality is to say, “Well, that’s just the way things are.” Which is to say, things can’t change, God really has no power in the world, faith is just naive, or simply a way of checking out, giving up, smothering the pain with a false sense of security.

And the violence continues.

Some ask, perhaps many ask, “Why does God let these things happen? Why does God allow suffering in the world?” It’s a valid question.

The scriptures are clear on two things regarding suffering. The first is found in Genesis, when we learn that humanity, represented by Adam and Eve (the Hebrew word Adam literally means humanity), in its desire to acquire the knowledge of good and evil, we acquired the power to choose between the two.

This powerful knowledge was the risky thing God allowed in order to have a relationship with us humans, a relationship based on choice. The risk was, obviously, we could choose evil. But a true relationship with God had to allow that freedom to choose otherwise it was not possible for us to have a true relationship with God.

Evil, then, is the turning away from a relationship with God.

The whole of the scriptures is the story of how God works to make things right in light of that risky allowance. From Noah, to Abraham and Sara, to the prophets, God works to make things right. In the end, God makes the decision that the only realistic way of making things right with the world is to enter the world. Emmanuel. God with us. The Word becomes flesh. Jesus of Nazareth.

That’s the second thing. Jesus confronts the powers of evil represented in the civil authority and the religious authority, both evil in the systematic oppression and violence they have come to believe are the real powers in the universe. And those powers do exactly what they always do. They violently destroy the one who challenges their authority, their world view.

And so God suffers.

Just like we do. Just like we have. The depth of love God has for us humans is that God was willing to suffer so that we would never be alone in our suffering. God is right there with us. Walking with us through the difficulties and the pain. God was with those Muslims murdered in New Zealand, was with those Christians who were murdered in Sri Lanka. Wherever there is suffering there we will find God, in the midst of it all, working to bring something life-giving out of it all. That’s the true meaning of Easter. The cross of Good Friday has been neutered. Death has lost its grip on us all.

No matter what else happens, in the end, love wins.

https://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/columns/viewpoint-in-the-end-love-will-win/article_27b81912-67c0-11e9-8f2a-a73aae769e5c.html

IV Press Article 4-12-19 ### The power of mystery

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The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.

—Albert Schweitzer

 

I remember reading about the life of Albert Schweitzer, a remarkable person of many talents. He was a well-known organist, theologian, physician and author. His book, “The Quest for the Historical Jesus” was on many seminary professors must read list. The interesting thing about the book, which was Schweitzer’s doctoral thesis, is that, in the end, all Schweitzer could say about the historical Jesus is, “He comes to us as one unknown.”

Albert Schweitzer had read every book ever written about Jesus, had read Scripture throughly, and concluded that the historical Jesus was difficult to pin down. One of the characteristics of religion, of any religion, is the practitioner’s sense of mystery. The element of mystery is what draws us into relationship with the divine.

Another early 20th Century theologian, Rudolph Otto, in his book, “The Idea of the Holy,” wrote that any encounter with the divine is both terrifying and fascinating. We want to run away, but can’t because we are so drawn to it.

The ineffability of God is what draws us to God. The mystery of God is what draws us to God.

I mean, if we knew all there was to know about God how exciting would that be? Some of you might be saying, “But we do know all there is to know about God,” or at least our preacher does! If that is the case, let me ask you a question. We just read or heard about the first photo of a phenomenon in space called a black hole. Einstein predicted they were present, but we never had visual proof until now.

We know a lot about the universe, but we don’t know all there is to know about the universe. So if that is the case, and God created the universe, how can we claim we know all there is to know about God, but can’t say the same about the thing God created?

And what about the fact that God says over and over again, “See, I’m doing a new thing.” How can we know God completely if God is always doing something new, something we didn’t expect?

Jesus is a great example of God doing a new thing. No one expected Jesus. Oh there were clues scattered throughout the Scriptures. But no one expected Jesus.

That is why this next week is so important for Christians all over the world. It’s the week we call Holy. In fact, early Christians thought it so important they took 40 days to prepare for it, took a week to enter into its mystery, celebrated it for three days, and reflected on it for 50 days beyond that. Almost one out of every three days each calendar year is spent on Easter, whether preparing, or celebrating, or reflecting on.

But sadly, in our hyper-busy, overly networked lives we Christians might barely spend one day, Easter Sunday, celebrating the most significant event in human history. And that event?

God has entered into human history, revealed to us that death is not the ultimate power in the universe, showed us how to be truly human, gave us the opportunity to participate in the work of creating communities of agape love (agape love — a love for, and active work on behalf of, the least and lowest).

The mystery of this all comes to us in the actions of washing each other’s feet, sharing a meal of bread and wine, standing in the presence of the power of death, a death we enter into ourselves in order to experience the fullness of life as God intended for us.

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

https://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/columns/the-power-of-mystery/article_69c7627a-5cbe-11e9-8d47-db6bf7621654.html

IV Press Article 3-29-19 ### MY VIEW: Recognizing the power of a whisper

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Do not fear to hope tho’ the wicked rage and rise,

our God sees not as we see, success is not the prize.

Do not fear to hope for tho’ the night be long,

the race shall not be to the swift, the fight not to the strong.

—    Rory Cooney

I remember hearing this song’s refrain way back in 1985. It’s a really good hymn/song. But, like a lot of things, over time, the words slipped from my memory. Until today. What triggered my memory was an article I was reading in the paper that said, in part, “while hope can be inspiring, rage (caused by fear) is intoxicating.”

Hope can be inspiring, but rage/fear is intoxicating.

Think about that for a moment. What do you fear? What do people tell you that you should fear? The news we read is often fearful, the news we watch is often fearful, the conversations we have are often fearful. Even some Christians preach fearful messages. Which strikes me as odd since God says, “Do not be afraid” or words to that effect quite often in the Bible.

In fact there are some who suggest the Bible says “Do not fear” or “Do not be afraid” 366 times, one for each day of the year, and an extra time for leap year. My own search of the Bible came up with only about 145 times the phrase is found in scripture.

But here’s the deal. I don’t think it really matters how many times God tells us not to be afraid. Once would be enough for me. But God says it often. Often enough that we Christians ought to take it seriously.

Fear is a powerful emotion to be sure. I do believe it is intoxicating. One of the reasons it is powerful is its aggressiveness. And, conversely, God is not aggressive. Some of you will probably disagree with this, but if God is as aggressive as fear, why is fear so dominant in our cultural discourse?

What I have come to know, and believe, in my own faith journey is that God prefers to whisper while fear has to shout. The irony is fear has to shout because it knows it is the weaker power. The scriptures tell us that God is love. Not, God is like love, or, is close to love. God is love. That being the case, Love (God) is the greatest power. And love has no need to shout.

Another hymn/song, written by Gregory Norbet, is based on words from the Prophet Hosea. “Come back to me with all your heart. Don’t let fear keep us apart.” It is a beautiful, gentle song. Like a whisper. “Long have I waited for your coming home to me, and living deeply our new life.” This is God speaking to us through the prophet.

We are now in the midst of the Season of Lent, a time of deep reflection on the mystery of God’s love expressed through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. For Christians it is the holiest time of year. It can be a homecoming of sorts.

We live in a world that shouts at us all the time that we must live in fear. God speaks to us again and again, softly, gently, like a whisper: Come back to me with all your heart. Don’t let fear keep us apart. Live not in fear, but choose to live in hopefulness. It is a choice you can make every day.

Do not fear to hope.

https://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/columns/my-view-recognizing-the-power-of-a-whisper/article_872deef8-51b8-11e9-aa49-4f118b3c467e.html

IV Press Article 3-15-19 ### MY VIEW: Doubt is an aspect of faith

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Question. Who said, “Love your enemies”? If you said, “Jesus,” you are correct, but, who said it first? If you said, “Mo Tzu, the Chinese contemporary of Confucius,” you would also be correct. Who knows? There might be several others who have said love your enemies. The prophet Jeremiah comes close when he tells the people to pray for the welfare of the city, when the city in question is actually the city of the Israelite’s enemy. Does the possibility that there might be multiple answers to the question challenge what you thought to be the one true answer?

Does it raise doubts about what you know, or think you know?

Is doubting such a bad thing? Put another way, is it acceptable for a person of faith to have doubts about his or her faith?

I would submit that doubting is an important aspect of one’s faith. That’s because faith demands that we trust in things we cannot explain or prove, or even understand at times. Rev. Eugene Peterson paraphrased Hebrews 11:1-2 this way:

“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.”

Faith, this firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living, is what sustains people despite all the evidence to the contrary. Faith allows room for doubt.

Yet many who claim to have faith seem to have based that faith on the assumption that facts and proofs are available. In other words, some base their faith in certitude. They are certain about what they believe. They make no room for doubt. And too often this leads to judgmentalism and hypocrisy.

Something I have said, and written before, is that I have “bet my life” on the teachings of Jesus. For me that is a statement of faith. My faith tells me that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. Emmanuel. God with us. My faith tells me that Jesus was crucified, and died and that three days later he rose from the dead, a sign that humankind’s bondage to the sin of idolatry and death had come to an end. My faith tells me that God continues the work of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, building God’s kingdom here on earth, because one day God will make God’s dwelling here on earth, a renewed and transformed earth, and we humans will reclaim our original work of caring for creation.

I cannot prove that any of this is true. To be sure, there is evidence that this is true. But what is often evident is not always based in fact or proof. (Maybe that is why Jesus told us we must approach God like little children).

On my desk, and it has been on the desks I have sat at for the past 20 years of ministry, is a poem by Robert Frost. It is a constant reminder of the wonder and mystery of God. A God we can only know through faith:

 

I often see flowers from a passing car

that are gone before I can tell what they are.

I want to get out of the train and go back

to see what they were beside the track.

I name all the flowers I am sure they weren’t;

not fireweed loving where woods have burnt—

not bluebells gracing a tunnel mouth—

not lupine living on sand and drouth.

Was something brushed across my mind

that no one on earth will ever find?

Heaven gives its glimpses only to those

not in position to look too close.

—    Robert Frost

 

 The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro.

https://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/columns/my-view-doubt-is-an-aspect-of-faith/article_1b321b68-46b2-11e9-8b6e-4f46a4438543.html

IV Press Article 3-8-19 ### Our doors are still open to all

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As pastor of the United Methodist church here in El Centro I would like to add to the opinion piece in yesterday’s paper (March 6) by Celia Rivenbark (“Not even Methodists can limit God’s amazing grace”).

There were three plans submitted to the General Conference in St. Louis. The plan the Council of Bishops recommended, the One Church Plan, was defeated.

What does that mean for the United Methodist Church?

It means that, in the words of our Bishop: “By now you have probably all heard that the General Conference Special Called Session is now over, and the Traditional Plan prevailed (53 percent, 438 votes, to 47 percent, 384 votes). Although it does have repressive ramifications to our LGBTQI community, the Judicial Council has ruled much of it unconstitutional. At the same time, this decision is also symbolic in its implications because it signals a turn of the United Methodist Church to a more judgmental and political entity that is against inclusion and for exclusion.

“Put simply, the delegates voted against inclusion and for exclusion of certain people based solely on their sexual orientation. Keep in mind that, because we are a global church, the vote reflected the interpretations of scripture from very conservative members outside the United States. Sixty percent of the American delegates supported the One Church Plan that allowed for churches and conferences to make their own decisions on scriptural interpretations of Biblical language about human sexuality.

“In a way, we could be violating the decision by putting up a sign that says, ‘All Are Welcome.’”

Ok then. What does this mean for us?

Our Bishop has also made it clear that, “We must lead our people within the geographical context we find ourselves in the West. We have been open and inclusive for decades, and I don’t see why we should change that about us. We live and let live and it is totally consistent with the theology of John Wesley.”

John Wesley, the 18th Century Anglican Priest, and leader of the reform movement that became known as Methodist, once said, “Though we may not be of one mind, can we not be of one heart? As to that which does not strike at the heart of Christian teaching we (Methodists) say, ‘Think and let think.’”

Wesley’s understanding of the heart of Christian teaching is Christ’s command to love one another, and detailed in the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 25, indeed, the whole of the New Testament.

In the coming months and even years there will be more information available, and decisions made about how we define ourselves as Methodists. One thing for certain: We are not united. Having said that I am reminded by one of our own that we just need to keep on doing what we’ve been doing, and that is to be loving, compassionate, life-giving followers of Jesus Christ as we work daily to make our community and world a better place, a place where people will know God’s love and grace.

Our hearts, minds and doors are open. To all.

The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro.

https://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/columns/our-doors-are-still-open-to-all/article_3000dadc-413c-11e9-b73c-b34a4777f704.html

IV Press Article 3-1-19 ### MY VIEW: What's wrong with good enough?

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“The trick, it seems, is to be able to hold both things very close — the gratitude and the misery — and then, with a semblance of faith, to let them fly.”

—Elizabeth Aquino

The tendency in our culture is to think everything as binary. Good or bad. Black or white. Up or down. Winners or losers. Which is why the concept of greatness is, de facto, the thing we are told we should strive for. From Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” to Ronald Reagan’s “Make America Great Again,” the ideal is greatness. In fact, the notion of greatness as a worthy goal is not debated. What constitutes greatness may be debated, but not the worthiness of greatness itself.

But what about that which is ordinary, that which is everyday? Christianity has lived with a liturgical calendar for centuries. It outlines the days and seasons of the church year (which begins, by the way, with the First Sunday in Advent each year, and ends with the Celebration of the Reign of Christ the Sunday before Advent) with different colors and biblical themes. There is the Season of Advent/Christmas/Epiphany which lasts about 40 days, give or take. The Season of Lent/Easter/Pentecost lasts about 97 days, give or take.

The rest of the church year is called Ordinary Time.

And since we Christians spend most of our time in ordinariness, the question might be, “What does it mean to live ordinarily?” It almost seems to fly in the face of our quest for greatness. But, what if living an ordinary life is actually healthier than striving for greatness?

Said another way, “Why not strive for the good enough life?” In my Wesleyan Christian tradition I was taught to live by three simple rules. First: Do no harm. Second: Do good. Third: Stay in love with God. Each day I try to live by those rules. Through good times and bad, when I’m full of life and when I’m dog tired. At the end of the day it might not be considered great by some, but it is good enough. Sometimes my best is better than other times.

You see, ordinary is not really a measure of adequacy or ability, but, rather the effort to take on the difficulties of daily living, extending oneself for the benefit of others. I think that is what Jesus meant when he said the greatest commandment is to love God, self and others. As a parent, I want to be the kind of father that exemplifies and teaches my children to be resilient, compassionate and loving despite all the evidence to the contrary, that they are able to make their way, and leave the world a better place than they found it.

Writer Avram Alpert adds this, “Being good enough is not easy. It takes a tremendous amount of work to smile purely while waiting, exhausted, in a grocery line. Or to be good enough to loved ones to both support them and allow them to experience frustration. And it remains to be seen if we as a society can establish a good-enough relation to one another, where individuals and nations do not strive for their unique greatness, but rather work together to create the conditions of decency necessary for all.” (“The Good Enough Life,” New York Times, Feb. 20, 2019)

Eastern faith traditions are centered in this middle way or good-enough lifestyle. It’s goal is to achieve a balance in life. But I also believe Jesus offers the same kind of balance, a way of living in harmonic relationship with the divine, with self and with others.

Wouldn’t it be great if we focused each day on living a good-enough life?

The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro. 

https://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/columns/my-view-what-s-wrong-with-good-enough/article_aa86b398-3bc5-11e9-998e-7fda9d28c678.html

IV Press Article 2-15-19 ### MY VIEW: What’s love got to do with it?

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Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. Many of us celebrated by doing romantic dinners with significant others, buying roses, or champagne, or chocolate. Rich food, especially desserts.

All in the name of love.

St. Valentine has come to represent the essence of love and all that love means to us. On the other hand, I’ve been at Vons while men line up with flowers or chocolate or balloons (that say “I love you!”) or maybe all three. On their way home from work. I know I’ve spent last-minute time putting together something I hope would be meaningful for Sara, something that let her know I loved her. This year we planned ahead and decided we would have a nice dinner, a nice bottle of wine, and we would get each other a card. That’s it.

But, for us, that is enough for now.

So the question I have is about love, what it means for you, and how love makes sense in your life. Because if you know anything about St. Valentine you know that love for him meant his martyrdom. Which is why he is a saint.

St. Valentine lived in the third century near Rome according to some accounts. He was arrested for marrying Christians (which was forbidden) primarily so that they would not be forced to serve in the Roman Army. He was arrested, and when he would not stop his work (and also because he apparently tried to convert the Caesar to Christianity), he was beheaded. He was canonized late in the fifth century.

Feb. 14 was the day he was martyred, which is why that is the date we celebrate his sainthood.

What kind of love motivates someone to give their lives for another? What does that have to do with romance? As the song says, “What’s love got to do with it?”

In the Greco-Roman world in which Saint Valentine lived, there were three words for love. In English there is only one. While context is very important in English (I can say I love ice cream and I love my wife, and mean two different things, and most will get that.), the Greek language is more specific. The three words for love in ancient Greek are eros, philios and agape.

Eros is, generally, thought of as romantic love. You know, the flowers, chocolate kind of love. What we mostly celebrate on St. Valentine’s Day. And there is nothing wrong with romance. In fact, Sara and I have a mini celebration of our anniversary every 15th of the month, which is the date we got married. It’s always a special evening in some way. We also have “date night” on Fridays as often as we can. Busy lives often distance people from the intimacy they need, so it’s good to build in specific times to step back and simply spend time together without distractions.

But eros love is not for anyone but my wife.

Philios might be best understood as a love for one’s brothers and sisters, including those we are not directly related to. The City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, is a compound Greek word meaning just that. That kind of love is not romantic, but is a genuine concern for the welfare of those we are connected to.

And then there is agape. Often called God’s love. Jesus used agape in his command to love one another (John 15:12). It’s a love that is willing to lay down one’s life for another. For Christians it is the active advocacy that we have for the well-being of creation and all that live in it. It’s a love transcends all other loves, allows other loves to exist. It’s how God loves us.

Whether we like it or not.

 

The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro.

https://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/voiceofthepeople/my-view-what-s-love-got-to-do-with-it/article_aef35cec-30ad-11e9-bc24-dbac94b2dda7.html

IV Press Article 1-18-19 ### MY VIEW: A man who knew the secret

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“The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.”

— Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

This weekend we remember one of the saints of the church, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Above, and within my commentary, are some of his many quotes.

He talked a lot about justice. Justice is talked about a lot in the Bible as well. In fact, the words righteousness and justice mean virtually the same thing.

So anytime you hear the word righteousness, you might remember that righteousness is justice. And vice versa. But, is righteousness/justice a fixed condition? Or does it have the capacity to evolve?

 

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” 

 

I raise the question because there seems to be a lot of confusion about what righteousness/justice means in our culture, indeed throughout the world. Build the Wall. Lock her up. Impeach. Me too. Times up.

I would argue that even the Bible reveals an evolution in the concept of what constitutes righteousness/justice. Or perhaps a better way of saying this is the Judeo/Christian Scriptures are aware that humans have the power to bend their interpretations of them in order to support their particular applications of righteousness/justice.

 

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

 

Similarly we might ask whether the Declaration of Independence claim that “All men are created equal” means only men, or are women included?

With apologies to Seth Godin (one of my favorite bloggers), there was a time when righteous men, settled their differences with swordplay, or with pistols. There was a time when women bound their feet, and shamed those who didn’t. There was a time when righteous men owned slaves.

Over time those so-called righteous behaviors have become unrighteous, these so-called just behaviors are now considered unjust. But here’s the rub. We live in a culture that, even as most people have come to recognize the human capacity to act with compassion, to embrace diversity and inclusion over singularity and exclusion, to believe we humans are capable of much more than we often realize, there are those who insist that the former ways are the correct ways despite the harm caused by those ways.

 

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

 

And so, on this weekend of remembrance and celebration, there are some who will show contempt and disdain. While many want to share their gift of abundance, a gift and not an entitlement, there are those who want to build higher walls to keep others out. When many welcome others, not because they look or act like them, but because there is the belief that all means all, there will be those who firmly believe they are superior, that their way is better, that they are chosen.

This is the world we live in. But hasn’t it always been like this?

 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

 

One of my favorite jazz albums is called Land of Make Believe, by Chuck Mangione. The title track has a verse that goes like this: “In your world there was a King / Who once said, ‘I have a dream,’ / Now there’s a man / Who knew the secret.”

That man died, was assassinated, 50 years ago. For what he said he knew. This weekend we remember him. But what he knew is not a secret.

Is it?

https://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/columns/my-view-a-man-who-knew-the-secret/article_256586aa-1acb-11e9-a7c8-fbc79eac3a0a.html

IV Press Article 11-9-18 ### Viewpoint: Being blessed doesn’t mean a care-free life

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The Beatitudes is one of the better known passages from the New Testament. They are the beginning, or prelude, to what we call the “Sermon on the Mount.” They are in the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus’ primary mission was to announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God, and that Jesus was the personification of what it meant to live life in God’s Kingdom. The Sermon on the Mount outlines what we can do to live the Kingdom life. The Beatitudes are the prelude, or summary of what it means to recognize someone living in God’s Kingdom.

The nine Beatitudes, or “blessings,” are broken into three sections. Contrary to the notion that they represent characteristics of different people on their faith journey, they describe the process by which we become followers of Christ.

The first three are:

•          “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 shall inherit the earth.”

When we realize we have put our faith into many different places, or things such as money, power, prestige and so forth, and we realize that we are still left wanting for something more, we come face to face with our poverty of Spirit. Recognizing our poverty of Spirit leads us to mourn, to mourn what we have lost, mourn what we have become, mourn what we have missed in life.

But we find comfort in our mourning, which leads to humility, or meekness. Now meekness is not being a doormat! It is recognizing that without God we can do nothing, and that placing our trust in other things to find meaning is ultimately lacking.

The next three are:

•          “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake for they will be satisfied.”

•          “Blessed are the merciful for mercy shall be theirs.”

•          “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.”

In response to this new awareness, we begin to hunger and thirst for righteousness. In Scripture the words righteousness and justice mean the same thing: God’s desire for healing and reconciliation, forgiveness and restoration of wholeness for the human community.

And that leads to the practice of mercy. To be merciful is to emphasize with and advocate for the well-being of all those who are in need, physically and spiritually. Acts of mercy lead to purity of heart. To be pure in heart is to place your life completely into God’s hands. It is the affirmation of the one God. There is no room for other gods in our lives.

The last three are:

•          “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.”

•          “Blessed are those who are persecuted for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

•          “Blessed are you when people revile you on my account.”

We are called to be peacemakers. It isn’t enough that we have peace. The peace of Christ is something to be shared. But this takes courage because there will always be pushback from the powers of violence and hate. We will face persecution of some kind. People will revile us, and oppress us because of our faith in Jesus. After all, isn’t that what happened to Jesus? Should we expect any less?

In our day and age we won’t necessarily experience physical violence, although some of our brothers and sisters truly do. Ours is more often the loss of friendships, public humiliation, marginalization, disrespect.

And when that happens what does Jesus say to do? Rejoice! He says to rejoice! Because we have been welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven. Here and now. Not later on when we die. Here and now. God is here and now.

And we are blessed.

 The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro.

https://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/columns/viewpoint-being-blessed-doesn-t-mean-a-care-free-life/article_69fbb962-e3c4-11e8-a09a-971fb979f7a1.html

IV Press Article 9-14-18 ### MY VIEW: How to practice a politics of compassion

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Politics. Mostly yelling. Deep divisions. Both sides challenging the other. Polarization. Which lead to paralysis. And nothing gets done. Jesus actually lived in a similar time. But he challenged people to practice a different kind of politics — a politics of compassion.

The challenge of living compassionately is embedded in the Shema, the ancient Jewish command to love God with everything we have, to love our neighbors, as we love ourselves. It was the answer Jesus gave to the scribe who had asked what the greatest commandment was. And Jesus went so far as to say the whole law and the prophets rested on that command.

So, what does a politics of compassion look like? One of my seminary professors, Dr. Frank Rogers, described it this way:

Rabbi Lea Rosen and her lesbian partner recently had moved into a town where Lea was to be the new rabbi for the Temple there. They moved into a home that was kitty corner from Jack, an angry kind of person who, it became clear, was very anti marriage-equality.

One day Lea came out to her car to find a flyer attached to the car’s windshield by a huge stone, one that could easily shatter the windshield. The flyer said, “Anti Marriage Equality Rally this Saturday at the Park at Noon,” and scribbled on the flyer was a note to Lea that said, “I dare you to try and stop us!”

Rabbi Lea was shaken, and for the first time felt physically threatened. Her first thought, one many of us might have in a moment like this was to fight back. To threaten back.

But she knew deep in her heart that that kind of response would not change anything. So she and her partner prayed. And listened. And then Lea acted.

She wanted to know more about Jack, what his story was. Jack was a Catholic, a deacon in the local parish. He also thought himself the “best chili-maker in the whole state!” Jack was also active in the work of the animal shelter.

Lea came up with an idea. She got all of her friends together and planned a chili cook-off for the Saturday of the marriage equality protest. The proceeds from the cook-off would go to the animal shelter. Saturday came and the two groups, the protesters and the chili cookers, came to the park.

Now, the chili cookers were having such a great time that the protesters really wanted to join them. Lea went over and invited Jack to join them saying, “I understand you are the best chili-maker in the town,” to which Jack replied, “in the whole state!”

Lea continued, “I wonder then, maybe you could come over and taste some of the chili and give your opinion.” Reluctantly, Jack went.

To make a long story short, Jack and Lea, over the course of the next year, became friends.

One day at the coffee shop Jack asked Lea how she knew she was a lesbian. She shared her story, and then asked if Jack had ever known a gay person. “My younger brother was gay,” he answered. “He had AIDS, and when he told our parents, they ostracized him. The church ostracized him. He went to another town where he died alone. That was 10 years ago.”

“In my tradition, when someone dies, we say a Kaddish for him. I would be honored to say a Kaddish, our prayers for the dead, for your brother. Would you join me?”

So Jack joined Rabbi Lea in the Temple, and, together, they said the prayers for Jack’s brother. And a wound from long ago began to heal. Two people, once politically opposed, shared their humanity.

The politics of compassion.

The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro. 

https://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/columns/my-view-how-to-practice-a-politics-of-compassion/article_a1882a5a-b7af-11e8-aac2-cfd08aff99e3.html

IV Press Article 8-31-18 ### MY VIEW: Live like a champion today

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In the 23rd chapter of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus addresses the crowd concerning the actions of the church leaders. He tells the people that the church leaders do not practice what they preach, and then goes on to speak directly to the church leaders.

“Woe to you hypocrites!” says Jesus. More than once. It is the focus of the entire chapter.

As a church leader, a pastor, I must take this chapter to heart. We pastors all have to. Anyone in church leadership has to.

Because the hypocrisy Jesus addresses in Chapter 23 is a problem still today.

Many of you know I am a Notre Dame fan. I was in graduate school there in the early '80s, in their summer sessions, studying liturgy. If you have ever watched a Notre Dame football game, you might have seen the players leave the locker room for the field and touch a sign that says “Play like a Champion Today.”

Well, a few Christmases ago, Sara gave me a gift that hangs in my office. It is the same sign design the players touch as they head out to play. Except mine says “Pastor like a Champion Today.”

I share this because I need to be reminded of the work to which God has called me. And this reminder — that I’m called to be a champion — is one we all need to be reminded of. We are all called to be champions. Every one of us.

“What kind of champion?” you ask.

Each of us has to decide that, but as one who has committed to follow the teachings of Jesus, my decision is already made. It comes down to three things, three biblical mandates that I call the Great Requirement, the Great Commandment, and the Great Commission.

You can find the Great Requirement in Micah 6:6-8. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God.

God’s sense of justice is not punitive. It is restorative. It is about making things right through Jesus’ death, a death that reveals the stupidity of thinking violence is the way to peace, or that death is the ultimate power in the universe. Justice is about healing and restoration to wholeness.

Kindness is about doing no harm, acting with compassion, putting others above self interest. Walking with God, humbly, is a proper response to knowing God loves us, and we cannot earn that love, or lose that love.

The Great Commandment is in John 13:34-35. Love one another. Here’s the part some miss. As Jesus has loved us, so we, too, must love one another. As Jesus loved us.

The Great Commission is found at the end of each Gospel. Matthew 28:19-20 says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father. Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.”

Some interpret this passage as a means to denigrate other faiths. And in doing so they are violating the very command to love one another Jesus gave them. They are the hypocrites Jesus talked about in Matthew 23. If that is not convincing, try Matthew 5:44. (He says to love even our enemies there.)

A requirement. a commandment, and a commission. Not the “Great Suggestions,” or the “Great If You Have Time.” In the end, and I’ve said this on many occasions, they are easy to do. But — they are also easy not to do. That is why I know I need a reminder. That is why I have to make the choice to follow the teachings of Jesus every day. And you?

Be a champion today.

The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro.

https://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/columns/my-view-live-like-a-champion-today/article_f0daaf46-acc5-11e8-a582-7b717a72a5d0.html

IV Press Article 8-17-18 ### MY VIEW: There are rules to live by

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“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men...” — John Dalberg-Acton, in a letter dated 1887

Two recent news events have rocked Christianity. Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willowcreek Church a 25,000 member church near Chicago, was accused by several women of sexual harassment, leading to an early retirement for Pastor Hybels and the resignation of the entire Willowcreek board of elders as well as the two senior pastors.

Two days ago, a grand jury in Pennsylvania revealed that hundreds of Roman Catholic Priests had engaged in various forms of sexual assault and harassment that had been covered up for decades.

In past reflections, I have written about how non-Christians view Christians, and the views aren’t very positive. But those views are from the outside, and Christians could more easily dismiss them as unfounded.

But now it is Christians, Roman Catholics and Protestants, who are questioning their belief, and trust, in the church.

This sobering news must not be a time of denial, nor must it be a time of defensiveness. The fact is there have always been improprieties among clergy, both Catholic and Protestant.

Unfortunately, it is easy to see how all of this can happen. From my perspective as a pastor I have, no matter where I have been appointed to serve, been welcomed and trusted. From the very beginning. Without question. Without having to earn that trust. Sure, trust can be lost over time, but from the beginning there is an unquestioning trust by the church for its clergy.

That has always been a profound awareness for me, one that I challenges me every day to be worthy of such trust. I haven’t always hit the mark. I have always tried. And, for the most part, whenever I have come up short, I have asked forgiveness, acknowledging my failure.

And I am forever grateful for a merciful God who taught us that forgiveness is the ultimate act of love.

So what are we to do? How, you might ask, do we go about recovering (or maybe achieving for the first time) authentic communities of faith? Especially as we acknowledge that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely?

I was taught, and try every day to live by three rules, simple rules. They come from an Anglican priest named John Wesley who lived in the 18th century. He started a reform movement in Great Britain that led to the birth of the Methodist Church.

The first rule is, “Do no harm. That’s it. Do no harm. To anyone or anything. Imagine what it would be like if we all lived by that rule alone. How about this: We live by this rule while on Facebook or Twitter.

The second rule is, “Do good. It’s been attributed to Wesley that he said, “Do all the good you can, in all places you can, in all ways that you can, to all people you can, at all times you can, a long as ever you can.”

The third rule is, “Stay in love with God.” People in love do loving things. Jesus said to love one another. Loving God creates moral character, care and concern for our neighbor, sustains us in times of trouble, moves us from despair to hope. Studying scripture, acts of service, worship, community and fasting are all a part of loving God.

Yes, I said fasting. Prayer and fasting. Think of all the ways we can take a deep breath and disengage. There are so many ways one can fast. We can fast from TV, or all things electronic. Fast by disengaging from work and spending more time with those we love.

Three simple rules. They’re what I try to live by. How about you?

The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro.

https://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/columns/my-view-there-are-rules-to-live-by/article_df03706c-a1d7-11e8-b326-a76c943b328d.html

IV Press Article 8-3-18 ### MY VIEW: The Four Rs

Rev Ron Griffen.jpg

I wonder why we Christians can be so inflexible at times. Not that other religions don’t do the same. But for us Christians it is especially, —what’s the word — ironic, that we are so. I say ironic because we claim to believe in the ongoing redemptive work of God through Jesus, empowered by the Spirit as the Body of Christ.

I know. That is a mouthful.

Put simply, we Christians are carrying out the mission of building God’s kingdom, begun by Jesus but not completed yet. By the work of the Spirit we affirm that we are now the Body of Christ, the physical presence of Christ in the world, doing that work.

That is the core of Christian belief outlined in the New Testament.

Now it is none other than the Apostle Paul who reminded us that a body is one, but has many parts. The feet don’t tell the hands they are not necessary, or the ears tell the eyes they are not important.

So how did we get to a point where the Body of Christ is so dysfunctional that we are seen by most people as “judgmental, hypocritical, and old fashioned,” as described in David Kinnaman’s book, “unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity, and Why it Matters”?

I’m sure there are lots of reasons. I believe there is a process that leads to it, but also provides us with a way out of it. I call them the Four Rs.

Christian belief begins with the personal experience of Jesus, dead and risen from the dead. How do we know this is true? It has been revealed to us by God the Creator. All of our experience begins with God’s revelation. God is the first actor. We love because God first loved us. We act in response to God’s actions.

Revelation and Response, the first two Rs are essential to a healthy faith. The third R is that after we have responded to God’s revelation, whatever it might be, we pause at some point and reflect on it all. We reflect for two reasons. First, we have the need to unpack what took place, to make sense of it, and second, to figure out a way to explain it to someone else.

You see, our response is always spontaneous. We don’t think about it and then respond. We just respond. We respond with movements, words, songs, and actions filled with gratitude. They are often joyous, and can also bring us to our knees. They can be profound responses that bring us to tears, tears of unexplainable joy and peace.

That is why reflection is important. It helps us attain a deeper understanding, a deeper meaning that can be shared. It also helps us recognize that we are not the only ones who are having these experiences! We are not alone!

Our shared stories form us into community. Family. One Body.

But then, and history bears this out, we add the fourth R. We make rules. In church language, we call them rubrics. Rubric is a Latin word that means red which actually indicates the color of the instructions (rules) to follow in worship and, by extension, life.

I believe the problem is that, over time, the rubrics have become the most important of the four Rs. And that’s a shame.

Worse than that, our inflexibility actually leads to violence. In God’s name. Physical. Verbal. Judgmental. Violence.

Rubrics have their place, I know. We need rules. But if they supersede God’s ongoing revelation, haven’t we become the Pharisees of the 21st Century?

We can be better than that. We must be.

The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro.

https://www.ivpressonline.com/opinion/columns/my-view-the-four-rs/article_ec135bf2-96db-11e8-a8e5-bba59a9e37cf.html