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Not Your Ordinary Joe
16 minutes | a month ago
Buried treasure: The parable of the talents
NYOJoe 010: Far too often we bury the treasure we are given so we’ll have it to purchase our ticket to heaven. A story Jesus tells, encourages us to live into God’s kingdom today. Show notes Cartoonification by Kristi Iovino The parable of the talents: Matthew 25:14-30Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du MezMy review of Jesus and John Wayne (coming soon)Email me your thoughts. Credits Music by Joseph Iovino (son)Art by Kristi Iovino (daughter) Script This is Not Your Ordinary Joe, a podcast about living as a faithful follower of Jesus in the real world. Here. Now. With no easy answers allowed. Those of you who know me are probably aware that I have little time for theologies that are all about the world to come. Seems to me that the gospel of Jesus Christ is at least as much about life before death as it is about life after death. Let’s take a look at one of the the stories Jesus tells, considering what it might be saying about how to live life in the here and now. My name is Joe Iovino, and I am NOT your ordinary Joe. A Bible story Some of the Bible stories just seem to filter into the culture. Sometimes we don’t even recognize that they’re Bible stories to begin with. One of the parables of Jesus came into the culture in a very powerful way somewhere around the 1200s, and is still widely known in our culture today. Here is the Common English Bible’s translation of Matthew 25:14-30: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who was leaving on a trip. He called his servants and handed his possessions over to them. To one he gave five valuable coins, and to another he gave two, and to another he gave one. He gave to each servant according to that servant’s ability. Then he left on his journey.“After the man left, the servant who had five valuable coins took them and went to work doing business with them. He gained five more. In the same way, the one who had two valuable coins gained two more. But the servant who had received the one valuable coin dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.“Now after a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five valuable coins came forward with five additional coins. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five valuable coins. Look, I’ve gained five more.’“His master replied, ‘Excellent! You are a good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’“The second servant also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two valuable coins. Look, I’ve gained two more.’“His master replied, ‘Well done! You are a good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’“Now the one who had received one valuable coin came and said, ‘Master, I knew that you are a hard man. You harvest grain where you haven’t sown. You gather crops where you haven’t spread seed. So I was afraid. And I hid my valuable coin in the ground. Here, you have what’s yours.’“His master replied, ‘You evil and lazy servant! You knew that I harvest grain where I haven’t sown and that I gather crops where I haven’t spread seed? In that case, you should have turned my money over to the bankers so that when I returned, you could give me what belonged to me with interest. Therefore, take from him the valuable coin and give it to the one who has ten coins. Those who have much will receive more, and they will have more than they need. But as for those who don’t have much, even the little bit they have will be taken away from them. Now take the worthless servant and throw him out into the farthest darkness.’“People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.” Before we go too far into this parable, let’s just start with a little nerding out. The Greek word translated but the CEB as “valuable coin” is talentas—often transliterated in other English Bibles as talent, and this little story is sometimes called the parable of the talents. A talent was a coin denomination of the Roman world in Jesus’ day. We can fairly conservatively estimate the value of each coin in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in today’s US money. For years preachers gave sermons on this story about how those valuable coins represented the gifts and abilities God has given to each one of us, and pretty soon—probably sometime in the 1200s—biblically literate societies started using the word for an ancient Roman denomination of money, to talk about their God-given abilities. The poor third servant The gist of the story is that the master gives one servant 5 of these coins, another 2, and a third just one. Then he goes away. At some point, the master returns, calls the servant in and asks them what they’ve done with her money. The one that was given five, shows up with ten. The one given two shows up with four. Both have doubled the money given them. The third however, returns with just the one he was given. He kept it in a safe place—he’d buried it in his yard. The master says to the first two, “Well done.” But when he comes to the third, rather than offering a mild correction, “You know you could have done more with what I gave you,” he drops the hammer. He calls him evil and lazy. Strips him of the coin he was given, and throws him out of his sight, out into the farthest darkness where there is weeping and the grinding of teeth. Brutal. Whenever I read this story, I kinda feel bad for servant number 3. I’m not typically one to quibble with God, but it seems to me that this guy gets a raw deal from the master. Probably because I can relate to him. I understand what he was thinking. You’re given something valuable, hold onto it. Do whatever it takes to protect from losing it. Can you imagine if he would have invested it and the market were to have crashed? What then. It’s not like he has the money to replace it. So he plays it safe, and he’s honest. He tells the master that he was afraid of the consequences of not having it when the master returned. And he did everything to protect it. I get that. So what gets the master so worked up? Like nothing changed Lately, I have approached this story different—trying to see it from the perspective of the master rather than the servant. He had equipped these servants with everything they needed. He had set them up for success, and rather than using what he had been given, this one just goes about his everyday living as if nothing has changed. He takes this valuable thing he has been given, buries it and gets on with his life as if nothing had happened. I’m sure you’ve heard a sermon or two about the talents being our talents. Don’t hide your light. Use the abilities you have been given for the glory of God, and all of that. That’s a valid point. I’m working on what I hope will someday be a book, about this very thought. We should be using and developing our talents—putting in our 10-thousand hours, as Malcolm Gladwell tells us—so that they can be everything they can be and put into use for the glory of God. But there’s something else going on in this story. Jesus opens this by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who was leaving on a trip.” The kingdom of heaven… that’s Matthew’s version of the kingdom of God—as a Jewish person forbidden from taking the Lord’s name in vain, he uses heaven as a euphemism for God, just in case. I think in order to recover another level to this story, we need to remember that a talent was originally and literally to Jesus’ first hearers of this story, an extremely valuable coin, comparable to hundreds of thousands of dollars in today’s money. This is life altering stuff. And yet, the third servant does everything he can to bury it, to hide it, to not allow it to affect his day-to-day living. Passive-aggressive blame Servant three also plays this weird game with the master is his confession. He passive-aggressively blames the master for his lack of effort. “I knew that you are a hard man,” he says. “You harvest grain where you haven’t sown. You gather crops where you haven’t spread seed.” There are very few I statements there, and a bunch of you statements. The whole thing kind of reminds me of Adam in the garden when he refers to Eve as, “the woman you gave me.” Not my fault. Ultimately, God, you may have to look in the mirror. I didn’t want to do the wrong thing, he seems to say. So I buried it. Waiting for the day I see a parallel here in the way so many of us think about our faith. We keep it like an investment, buried in the ground, not wanting it to change anything about us, about our lives. We want everything to remain the same and then when we die, cash it in for our heavenly reward. And the master says, “No. That’s not what I gave this to you for. The treasure of the kingdom of God is not supposed to be buried waiting for your death or my return. Instead, you are supposed to change the way you live, right here, right now.” As I have said elsewhere, that’s a big deal for me and it’s becoming a bigger and bigger deal in the world today. There is a cultural Christianity in the United States that runs counter to what many of us understand as Christianity. It’s a religion that preaches exceptionalism, exclusion, political power, physical and military might, and a purity that keeps the impure at arms’ length. All things many of us see Jesus working against in the gospels. By the way, if you want to read an amazing book on how we got to this place, I recommend Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez. I’ll put a link to it on the notes page of this episode and will post my review of it at joeiovino.com soon, if it is not there already. Like that third servant, we have this treasure buried in the backyard. We talk about our faith that we believe will one day “save us,” by which we mean “get into heaven,” yet continue to live resistant to the change that is possible if we would allow ourselves to let this valuable gift enter our hearts and change our lives. We’ve buried God’s investment in us, and the world around us is paying a price. What if we were to trust Jesus, to live the kingdom, to let the talents work in us and through us? Maybe instead of exceptionalism, we would approach the world with humility. Rather than working to exclude, we would reach out to the least and the lost to lift them up. Rather than manipulating things around us for power in our church, our workplace, our local and national politics, we would instead lead with love by walking alongside those who disagree with us. Rather than keeping the impure at arms’ length, we would welcome others with open arms. I want to do more of this. I want to go dig up the treasure I have buried and let it change my today, and not just my tomorrow. May we be people of life before death, as much as we are people of life after death. As Jesus shares in John 10:10, “I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest” (CEB). Outro To learn more about me and Not Your Ordinary Joe, go to joeiovino.com/nyojoe. I’ve put some links on the notes page for this episode to help you find this Bible story, to help you get Jesus and John Wayne and one to my email address so you can respond to these thoughts. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you soon. Peace. The post Buried treasure: The parable of the talents appeared first on Joe Iovino.
23 minutes | 4 months ago
Betrayed by a god that doesn’t exist
NYOJoe 009: Jesus’s parable of the workers in the vineyard teaches that we often mistake God’s generosity as being unfair. Show notes Parable of the workers in the vineyard: Matthew 20:1-16Parables of celebration because the lost are found: Luke 15Ned Flanders post-hurricane, “why me?” prayerDefinition of prodigalEmail me your thoughts. Script This is Not Your Ordinary Joe, a podcast about living as a faithful follower of Jesus in the real world. Here. Now. With no easy answers allowed. Depending upon how you look at things, you can feel resentful of the blessings some people receive. Or, you can instead choose to see God as generous to everyone. Let’s look at one or two of Jesus’s parables that bump up against our ideas of fairness. My name is Joe Iovino, and I am NOT your ordinary Joe. A parable When I was heading to seminary, my grandmother told me that she wanted me to learn about the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). You may know it. It’s this strange little story Jesus tells about a landowner who goes out several times in the day to hire day-laborers to work his land. In Jesus’s story, the owner goes out ‘early in the morning’ and hires some people. They agreed on a price: one denarion, which the footnote in the Common English Bible says was a common day’s wage. Around 9:00 a.m. he goes out and sees some other people “standing around the marketplace doing nothing,” and offers them some work. “You also go into the vineyard, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.” Again at noon, 3:00 p.m., and 5:00 p.m. he finds people standing around and gives them some work. Cool right? He’s employing whoever he comes across in need of a job. “When evening came,” Jesus continues—the story seems to hint that we’re talking 6:00 p.m.—“the owner of the vineyard said to his manger, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’” So the workers line up to receive their pay. The 5 p.m. crew is first in line, followed by the 3 p.m. crew, then noon, 9:00 a.m., and all the way down the group that stared ‘early in the morning,’ around 6 probably, to receive their pay. The first ones, who had worked only one hour, each get one denarion, which apparently they make known to the people at the back of the line—the ones who’ve been in the field for somewhere around 12 hours. According to Jesus, that makes the early morning crew start to expect more. Surely, if the people who only worked 1 hour get a denarion, we who’ve worked 12 hours should get somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 denarion or denarii (I don’t know what the plural is). The math checks out. But when they reach the front of the line, the manager hands each of them a denarion. “When they received it,” Jesus says, “they grumbled against the landowner.” I’m guessing grumbled is putting it nicely. The landowner addresses one of the grumbling workers, Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ Grandmom thought this parable was confusing. Maybe there must be some grand explanation of first century economics that they teach in seminary that would help this crazy story Jesus tells make sense. I’m guessing you know exactly what she meant. We read this parable and most of us agree with the grumbling workers. We’re ready to come to their defense. What the landowner—the God-figure—does to these workers in this story isn’t right. It’s unfair. And my grandmother wanted an explanation that would make this strange labor practice seem more equitable. But there was no better explanation to come. She wanted to learn what this parable means, but she already knew. The point of Jesus’s story, is that no matter how much time we put into the vineyard, we all get more than we deserve. Yes! The whole system God has set up is inherently, gloriously and beautifully unfair. The church word for this is grace. An unfair kingdom Just to be clear, this is not a story about how Jesus thinks anyone should run their business. Nor is it a story about negotiating your salary or the minimum wage. Jesus tells us what this story is about when he begins with these words, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner…” Jesus is clearly telling his followers that God is not fair, in the way we think of fairness. Rather, the word Jesus puts in the mouth of the landowner is that God is generous. Another parable Jesus tells comes to a similar conclusion. Remember the story about the kid who asks for his father’s inheritance and squanders it doing everything he should never have done before the asking his father’s forgiveness? His elder brother in the story has the same problem. When he comes out of the fields and near the house, he hears the ruckus coming from a party his dad is throwing for his crazy, screwup of a brother, that includes the fattened calf. He comes to his dad and cries, “Unfair!” Here’s what Jesus tells us the elders son says: Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.Luke 15:29 Grumbling. Similar to the vineyard owner, the father talks about generosity. “Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of your was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found” (32). This idea of things being unfair is a pretty common theme in the gospels. Religious leaders become angry with Jesus when he pronounces people sins forgiven. At least one of the reasons they react this way is that the people don’t deserve it. They haven’t gone through the process to earn their forgiveness. There are others who are perceived as undeserving of being healed, who shouldn’t be allowed to eat with Jesus because of their previous behavior or profession… There always seems to be someone ready to grumble, “It’s not fair!” Or maybe what they are really thinking is, “What about me?” Storming the Capitol On January 6, 2021, a group of people disgruntled with our government stormed the Capitol in Washington, D.C. If the image of that wasn’t disturbing enough to us as Americans, there were some in the crowd carrying “Jesus Saves” signs, flags and other religious symbols. There were prayer vigils supporting the rally, and members of the mob claiming what they were doing was in the name of God. As a person of faith, it was disturbing to see a group of people lashing out and others later defending their actions as somehow an expression of faith. As I reflect on these actions by these people of faith, I am more and more concerned how some in the name of Jesus claim victimhood rather than coming alongside those who are victims as Jesus taught us to do. The primary presenting grievance of the armed mostly white insurrectionists on January 6 was that the election was unfair. It was somehow stolen because voting was made easier for so many and people who had previously been ignored made their voices heard. Through the years many of these same people have claimed their rights are being violated because others are given the right to marry and have legal standing as a couple. They have countered cries of Black lives matter when a Black man is suffocated by a police officer, by chanting all lives matter. As talk of a minimum wage increase gains traction and suggestions of eliminating student debt are taken seriously, there are those who say, What about my wage? What about my debt? The cry of this group is the cry of the 5:00 p.m. crowd and the elder brother, “What about us?!?” The god of fairness So why do they drag the religious symbolism and chants into this fight? My guess is it’s because all of this is tied to a faith that is misguided. In fact, I believe they are angry with God, because this god is not keeping up his end of the bargain, the deal, the way things are “supposed” to work. They are the early morning workers in the vineyard, grumbling that they deserve better, more, because they’ve put in their time. Even sometimes chanting that they are taking back “our” country that they seem to believe was granted them by God. I also believe they are angry at their church for lying to them. They were taught that God works a certain way, and they are finding out that in the real world, that’s not how things work at all. The church people don’t always win. They have bought—hook, line, and sinker—a transactional, consumeristic faith that is simply a lie. And like the eldest brother who thought he would get a bigger inheritance for sticking it out with this dad, they’re angry about feeling duped. Because they are angry at God and the Church—two entities their ill-advised faith will not allow them to be angry with—they find surrogates to be angry with instead. Scapegoats (to borrow a biblical image).If group X wasn’t here screwing things up—poor people, immigrants, non-Christians, non-Europeans, liberals, conservatives, whoever doesn’t agree with us—then God would do what we’ve been taught God wants to do. Surely, God wants to bless us, the people on God’s side (does anyone think they are not on God’s side, by the way?). It’s all very Pharisaic–or maybe it’s Saddusaic. All of Jesus’s rubs with the religious leaders about the Law were along these lines. There was a faction of Judaism of the first century that believed when people obeyed God enough, God would return to the Temple and set things right. Why hadn’t God done that yet? Because too many people were misbehaving. They weren’t doing things the right way, God’s way. Sound familiar? And so Jesus ends up in these odd conversations about healing people on a Saturday, the Sabbath, because “work” is forbidden on that day of the week. There’s an accusation about Jesus’s disciples not washing their hands properly, and time and time again Jesus is accused over overstepping his bounds, in essence, working outside of the system. Sound familiar? If we would follow the rules, God would bless us and our nation. Many Christians don’t want to talk about the people who are being hurt, don’t want to do the difficult work Jesus called us to in feeding, housing, clothing and visiting our neighbors. Caring for those who are lost and forgotten—again, those without a voice. Instead, they want to claim victimhood, to complain that they aren’t getting their fair share. That’s what whataboutism is all about. What about me? Jesus’s message is different. He isn’t concerned with the people who started work in the wee hours of the morning. He isn’t worried about the elder brother who has done the right things. He’s concerned with those who always seem to be getting the short end of the stick. With those who feel like they don’t have a place in the family. With those who run away, who are sent away, who find barriers between them and full inclusion in the nation, and more importantly in the Kingdom of God, the body of Jesus, the church. The 5 p.m. crowd My grandmother, like most of us, assumed she was one of the 5 a.m. crowd, the people who worked all day and deserved something for the effort. The people who feel ripped off. But what if we were to put ourselves instead in the shoes of the 5 p.m. crowd? Now how do you feel about the landowner? The landowner in the workers in the vineyard story isn’t about God being unfair, but about God being generous—the word Jesus puts in the character’s mouth. The same is true in the parable some have come to call “The parable of the prodigal father,” because the word prodigal means “characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure” (Merriam-Webster) and the dad in the story is the one who spends recklessly, generously out of love for his ‘found son.’ Remember that none of us deserves God’s favor. “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). None of us has earned a spot in the kingdom, the church, the family of God. Not for our extended labor in the vineyard, nor our continued presence with the family after our younger brothers have taken off to run their lives into the ground. Not for being clergy or an every Sunday church attendee or for reading the Bible and praying more than others. That improves your relationship with God, but it doesn’t gain you some privileged access or inside, extra blessings. All of us, all of us, all of us, get we don’t deserve! A relationship with the divine, our creator, with Jesus. All of us get paid. All of us get a party. All of us are part of God’s inherently, gloriously and beautifully unfair Kingdom. Been there Lest anyone think I am preaching at someone, let me explain. This is not a message only about the events of January 6, 2021 at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. and the people who perpetrated the riots. This is a message for all of us. And like most of my best writing, sermons, podcasts, this is a message I need to hear. Because if you have been part of the church long enough, you have heard or absorbed by osmosis hints of a prosperity gospel or the protestant work ethic (as we used to call it back in the day). You may have been told that God helps those who helps themselves and by extension leaves sinners out in the cold. Or you may have confused God with Santa Claus, who knows if you’ve been bad or good—and gives you gifts or coal according to some standard know one actually knows. How good is good enough? My guess is that you, like me, have prayed, “This isn’t fair.” Or “What about me?” Or the prayer that Ned Flanders prays when his house is destroyed by a hurricane on an episode of The Simpsons: Why me, Lord? Where have I gone wrong? I’ve always been nice to people. I don’t drink or dance or swear. I’ve even kept Kosher just to be on the safe side. I’ve done everything the Bible says, even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff. What more could I do? I feel like I’m coming apart here. I want to yell out, but I just can’t dang-diddily-do-dang, do-dang-diddily-darn do it.The Simpsons, “Hurricane Neddy,” season 8, episode 8 If Ned Flanders, one of the most recognizable Christians in the United States, has prayed that prayer, certainly you and I can fall prey to it as well. Maybe it isn’t a hurricane, but a shortage of money when an unexpected bill comes in. Or maybe it’s an illness (Christians get cancer and coronavirus at remarkably the same rate as non-Christians). Or maybe it’s divorce, a parent’s deterioration, or the downsizing of your job. It seems that whenever something like this happens, there is always some helpful person of faith to tell you to “have faith, or pray or study Scripture. Which—although it is not intended this way—is sometimes heard as “the reason this happened to you in the first place is because you don’t have enough faith, don’t pray enough, don’t read your Bible enough.” The irony to all of this is, of course, that the author of the Hebrew Scripture book of Job tried to put this question to rest some 3-5000 years ago. Job, we are told, does not deserve any of the stuff that happens to him. We’re told right from the start of the story that Job “was honest, a person of absolute integrity; he feared God and avoided evil” (Job 1:1 CEB). Yet, all of those horrible things happen to him anyway. Jesus himself told us that the sun and the rain fall on all people—the good and the evil; the righteous and the unjust—but apparently we weren’t listening. Let me say it again, the Kingdom of God is not a merit based country club you gain entry to and rank in based of what you believe, who you support, how long you’ve gone to church, what church you belong to, what political party you most identify with, or any of that stuff. Jesus clearly states in this parable that God is generous, and God’s kingdom is inherently, gloriously, and beautifully unfair. People who expect special treatment because they’ve been “in” longer, are often disappointed. Older brothers who expect a special place of honor because they’ve stuck around in spite of how much they might resent it, miss parties out of frustration. Choosing generosity And you and I can choose either to live our lives frustrated with God because others get what we don’t think they deserve. Or we can choose to live grateful because we are receiving that which we don’t deserve. No matter where you think you fall in comparison to the others whom you don’t believe deserve God’s favor, there is probably someone ahead of you that could think the same thing about the blessings you have received. Our role is not to complain about what others are receiving, but to help them celebrate when they do. I recently read the gospel of Luke in N.T. Wright’s The Kingdom New Testament translation, in which he does a very interesting thing with Luke 15. Rather than dividing the chapter into three stories, which most of us are used to—the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost (prodigal) son, Wright breaks it into four stories. He separates the the prodigal father/lost son story into two stories. One about the younger son, and one about the elder. When he does this something very interesting happens. Three of the four stories end with a celebration, a party, a gathering. The fourth story, the elder son story, instead ends with a refusal to attend the party. It’s pretty stunning. Like the grumbling servants who think they deserve more, like the elder son who also believes he has earned something that is owed him, they miss out on the generosity of the God-figure. So the short answer is simply this, if you feel betrayed by God, if you feel like God isn’t holding up God’s end of the bargain, if you feel that you are being shortchanged by God, or find yourself sulking because your younger brother is getting the party you never had… May I suggest that you are feeling betrayed by a god who simply doesn’t exist. Outro To learn more about me and Not Your Ordinary Joe, go to joeiovino.com/nyojoe. I’ve put some links on the notes page for this episode—number 9, titled ‘Betrayed by a god that doesn’t exist’—to help you find these Bible stories, and my email address so you can respond to these thoughts. I’m sure this isn’t going to sit well with everyone. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you soon. Peace. Credits Music by Joseph Iovino (son)Podcast art by Kristi Iovino (daughter) The post Betrayed by a god that doesn’t exist appeared first on Joe Iovino.
18 minutes | 5 months ago
Transitions, roles, and identity
NYOJoe 008: Rob Bell’s latest book reminded me of how transitions sometimes create identity crises. I knew who I was in that role, but now I’m not so sure. In this episode, I’m talking about change, our titles, and knowing who we are. Show notes Rob Bell’s new book Everything Is Spiritual inspired this episode.I got a nickname inspired by One on One, a movie from 1977.Email me your thoughts. Script This is Not Your Ordinary Joe, a podcast about living as a faithful follower of Jesus in the real world. Here. Now. With no easy answers allowed. On rare occasions, a book is more than a book. The thoughts of the author are not simply communicated to you the reader, as much as they open something inside of you. You find yourself digging out your journal and ruminating on your own story more than the one that is being told. Rob Bell’s latest, Everything Is Spiritual, had me reflecting on my journey from where I’ve been to where I am, as I read about his. So today I’m talking about the roles we play, the difficulty of transitions and our struggles in knowing who we are. My name is Joe Iovino, and I am NOT your ordinary Joe. Rob Bell Rob Bell broke me. In the best way possible. Everything Is Spiritual, his latest book, started me down a path I’m not ready to depart from just yet. So just nine days after finishing it, I started rereading it. Thank you, Goodreads. Slower this time. More notes and journaling along the way. One of the highlights for me, is the section that deals with his transition from pastor to not-a-pastor, a journey I have also traveled. I remember the day I heard he was leaving Mars Hill. I was working out in the Mount Juliet, Colorado YMCA early one morning listening to his sermon—I’m not sure how many of you will be able to relate to listening to sermons while working out, but that’s what I did. At the end of the service, a leader at Mars Hill took the stage to announce that Rob Bell was leaving. Moving to California to find out what was next for him and Kristen. It was surprisingly saddening for me. I had been an every-week, virtual attendee of his worship services for years by then and I’d learned so much about how to put together a message for a seeker audience — tools I still use — and loved exploring some of these ideas about the Bible with him. I even borrowed from him from time to time. “So this is what it feels like when the District Superintendent announces that the pastor is leaving,” I remember thinking as I was dealing with my grief. Little did I know I would be going through a similar journey five years later. Done It’s hard to describe when you know you’re done. For me, it is just this intangible sense that I’ve completed everything I can in this place. There’s even been a sense that somebody else is needed to move the work forward. I want to be clear that it has nothing to do with people. I’ve never felt that I no longer like what I’d been doing or the people I was sharing my life with. To the contrary. That part, the leaving part is so difficult that sometimes I wonder if I stayed too long to avoid that part of it. During every transition I’ve experienced, I have seriously second-guessed myself. What about that kid in the youth group with whom you have a special connection? What will happen to the band I started and love leading? I was just getting good at writing the daily devotions. What if where I’m going doesn’t work out? What if I’m wrong? What if I’m not done here? In spite of all of that, even a risk-averse personality like mine, knows somewhere deep inside that it’s time. Transitions The last time that happened for me, the transition was bigger than I anticipated. I was fulfilling a dream—becoming a full-time writer. Exciting! This also meant, however, that I was moving from local church ministry to a desk job. I went from pastor to not-a-pastor. It’s a weird feeling to love what you’re doing, living into a role that fits me like so well, and sense an unease with something. For the past six years—hard to believe it’s been six years already!—I’ve been a pastor without a church. Or simply not-a-pastor. For more than 25 years, I had been living into my identity as Pastor Joe. Then, one day, that just wasn’t there anymore. In some ways, I’m more than okay with that. I don’t do that anymore. Instead, I’m a writer. In fact, when I moved into the not-a-pastor role, I chose not to use any clergy titles in my work. I don’t want to be a pastor who writes. I did that for a bit as a freelancer. Now, I’m a writer who was also a pastor. Semantics, I know, but it matters to me. It felt good to put a ribbon on that part of my life, but it opened up a new set of questions. You’ve been here So far this sounds very clergy-specific, but it’s not. My guess is that you’ve been here too at some point in your life. For 20-plus years you were a parent to children living in your home. Now, the youngest is leaving for college or getting married. How wonderful to see them grow. You’ve been working toward this day for so long. You know you’re still a parent, but something is changing. You’re not going to attend PTA events or soccer games anymore as Jack & Diane’s mom. So, who are you? Or you leave a job or get a promotion. Exciting! But you sense difference. You knew how to relate to your coworkers in that old role. Now you’re a supervisor. Or you’re in a new office, a new building, and you wonder, “How do I enter this space? How do these people see me? How does this change things?” You graduate. Awesome! Time to enter a new phase of life! But this is a huge transition. You’ve been a student since you were five. You’re not anymore. “Who am I now?” you ask yourself. Retirement is like a graduation. You’re done with that part of your life, and you’ve earned your reward. But I understand that first day you wake up without the alarm can be disorienting. What do I do? How long do you continue to introduce yourself as a former executive at the company from which you retired? You’ve been there. Right? Roles Back in my old pastor role, I used to do a youth group lesson where I joked about how I could tell from what period in my life I knew someone based on what they called me. When I was very young, my dad’s family—the Italian heritage side—had a name for me. See, I’m I’m technically Joe Iovino Jr., named after my dad. I’ve always taken great pride in that and never felt it necessary to distinguish myself by using the ‘junior.’ My dad’s family, however, were apparently none too fond of having so many Joes around. So I was dubbed Baby Joe, a moniker I eventually hated, and had to ask for it to stop. If anyone calls me Joey, it’s my dad. He’s the only one with permission to do that and he takes full advantage. In high school, I was given the elaborate nickname of Jomo Ray. The Jomo part is a reference to a movie where a rotund person was better at basketball than anyone expected. It was a compliment… I think… that stuck with me throughout high school. On top of that, some of my closest friends from during those days, simply called me Moe—a nickname from a nickname. In college, I went back to Joe. For a summer in seminary, I was Chaplain Joe, serving Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center as part of my education. That fall, I became Pastor Joe. A few years later, I became a husband and answered to Hun. In my wife’s family there were nieces and nephews who called me Uncle Joe. Five years after that, we became parents, and two people call me Dad. Who I was is who I am Each name represents a role, an identity, a marker of who I was at that time with those people. You’ve been through this journey too, right? You’ve been mom, uncle, boss, doctor, the dude. Some of them we are very proud of. Others, maybe, not so much. There’s this sense that while some of those yous continue—you’ll always be a parent, for example—other we leave behind. Some intentionally. From student to coworker. From significant other to spouse. From supervisor to manager. Good stuff. Others might feel as though they were ripped from you due to death, divorce, downsizing, or the deterioration of a relationship with a friend. Like an archaeologist can date a fossil based on what strata of earth it is buried in and infer something about it, we can sometimes fill in the gaps of the person we were based on the name we are called, the old business card we find in storage, the label we put in that journal so people would know it was ours. Like that fossil it’s fun to gaze upon it, examine it, marvel at it. I recently rediscovered a business card I made myself more than 20 years ago, and it brought a smile to my face. It’s something for the keepsake box. But unlike the fossil or that old business card I no longer carry, those old roles are with me all the time. All of them. Consciouly, subconsciously, or unconsciously, they are part of who I am. Then don’t just tell us who we were back then, they are part of who we are today. You would not be the you you are, if it weren’t for all of those previous roles you had. Pastor Joe Bell writes in Everything Is Spiritual about a jarring moment that occurred some five years after his transition from pastor to not-a-pastor. He and Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, were answering questions outside a tour event they were participating in when someone in the crowd asked what he calls “a particularly heavy, personal question.” Gilbert, acknowledging the importance of the question, turned to Bell and asked through laughter, “Well, Pastor Rob, what do you have to say to that?” (Kindle location 2332). “Did she just call me Pastor Rob?” Bell writes. “I haven’t been called that in years. I left all that behind, in my previous life.” I’ve been there. Have you? You’ve done all the work of the transition, felt like you’ve moved on, and then… Someone calls you Pastor Rob. They use that old title. They make assumptions about what you do. They think they know who you are, but they really only know who you were. You get that message from the old college buddy on Facebook, and your first gut reaction is feeling as though they are trying to drag you back to that place you worked so hard to move on from. It’s pretty frustrating. And pretty normal. We move, change, grow, transition. And people from the past have us frozen in time. And sometimes, that’s a place we don’t want to return to. Maybe we’re are very disappointed at who we were back then. How could I have believed that? Said that? Thought that? Or maybe, there’s a lot of hurt there we’ve been trying to heal from. Sure, they don’t know that when they knew us back then, we were going through a difficult time, but when they try to bring us back to be that person or even to reminisce, we bristle. Dig in our heels. I’m not going back there. Bell could have done that. There is a lot of hurt back in those pastor days. He chooses instead to do something else. “You see me like that? Fine,” he writes. “You’re going to put that on me? Okay. Me being that helps? Great… I’m all of it. What I was, What I am. All of it” (location 2372). I love that response. He’s not allowing that title to be an identity. And he allows the other to identify him in the way they are most comfortable doing so. To put a finer point on it, this exchange is not about who he is—he’s not internalizing it that way. All the questions he asks and answers in the moment, are about the other person. That’s how you see me? That helps? That’s what you want to put on me? Often, who we are is dependent on how we are seen. I’m parent to my kids and no one else—and child only to my parents. Husband to my wife and no one else. Coworker to many—but even that’s nuanced. I’m supervisor to some, colleague to others, and direct report to my supervisor. All slightly different roles within a role. Am I those things? Yes but I don’t have to own all of them as ‘identity.’ For example, I wouldn’t introduce myself as Sally’s coworker (unless Sally is the one introducing me to this person). That’d be crazy right, especially if the new person has no idea who Sally is. That would be ridiculous, and a little bit fun. But when I think about the roles I have had over the years, while all of them have shaped me in some way and colored the ways people see me, I don’t have to internalize all of them. This is an imperfect analogy, but I think of some of these roles as a rental tuxedo. They fit when we need them to, but none of them full represents who I am. None represents the skin I live in. There are others, however, I want to own. Dad. Husband. And professionally, writer. I wanted that role for a long, long time before I felt I could own it. I was a podcaster for two or three years before I put that title in my signature line on my emails. I own those. At least for now. Who knows what’s next? As for Pastor Joe, I thought I had left that behind. A remnant of my past. But there are people who still call me Pastor Joe and that’s awesome. I like it. I don’t really do that anymore, but it’s part of who I have been and who I have been as shaped who I am. I am Pastor Joe, even though I don’t use that title anymore. I am who I am because of who I’ve been. The success and failures. The celebrations and the scars. The events that fill me with pride and those that embarrass me to even think about. All of it, ALL of it, is what makes me, me. Outro To learn more about me and Not Your Ordinary Joe, go to joeiovino.com/nyojoe. I’ve put some links on the notes page for this episode—number 8, titled ‘Transitions, roles, and identity’—to help you find Bell’s book, to the movie with a character named Jomo, and my email address if you want to let me know what you’re thinking of these episodes. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you soon. Peace. The post Transitions, roles, and identity appeared first on Joe Iovino.
18 minutes | 5 months ago
Taking Thanksgiving with us
NYOJoe 007: Sometimes we move on from Thanksgiving far too quickly. This year, when we may be more excited than ever for what’s next, let’s remember to take thanksgiving with us. Show notes Inspired by a sermon I wrote in 2013.The Ten Lepers: Luke 17:11-18Malala Yousafzai on The Daily Show.The quote I use begins 1 minute in.Read Malala’s book.Email me with your thoughts. Script This is Not Your Ordinary Joe, a podcast about living as a faithful follower of Jesus in the real world. Here. Now. With no easy answers allowed. One Black Friday, many years ago, I was reminded that sometimes we move on from Thanksgiving far too quickly. So on Black Friday 2020 when most of us are not battling crowds for the latest and greatest deals, I’m remembering to give thanks in everything. My name is Joe Iovino, and I am NOT your ordinary Joe. Black Friday Many years ago, when my children were… well, children, I crawled out of bed the day after Thanksgiving to be at the local Kmart when the doors opened. The Black Friday sales circular we’d received with the newspaper, back in the days when we received newspapers, advertised a couple of items on my kids’ wish lists, at crazy-low prices. I’m an early riser anyway, so it certainly seemed worth missing a couple of hours of sleep to get a deal. So, somewhere around 5am, I got into a very cold car with a list. An hour or so later, I returned home… empty-handed. None of the advertised items were in stock at my local store, and they were not providing rain checks to get those prices later. Clearly, I should have stayed in bed. One of the things that day emphasized for me was just how quick I am—how quick we are—to move on from Thanksgiving. I didn’t even wait until after my first coffee on the day after Thanksgiving to shift my focus from gratitude to wish lists, wants, what we didn’t have. While I think we need to temper the seasonal craziness in our lives, this year, I’m going to miss the shopping, the decorations and music in the stores, seeing Santa at the mall, and all the other trappings. Not everything is out-of-bounds. I had a Peppermint Mocha at Starbucks the other day. But I think we miss out on something vital when we brush by the spiritual discipline of giving thanks and rush off to the next thing. I have always enjoyed how the season works—we have a day to give thanks for all we have, before we put together our wish lists for all the cool, new stuff we don’t yet have. Thanksgiving is gloriously present-free. Our focus, for the most part, is on intangibles—relationships, health, the ties that bind, family, friends (and food and football). And this year, all of that has a bit more meaning. We are reminded of how good it is to be together when we can’t be together. Jesus and Lepers There’s this story in the Bible that always gets me (Luke 17:11-18). Ten lepers, people with skin diseases, come before Jesus asking to be healed. He says, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” Which they run off to do. Along the way, healing occurs! One of them, when he notices the disease has left his skin, turns around and heads back toward Jesus. Luke reports that he, “praised God with a loud voice,” fell at Jesus’ feet, and thanked him. Seems the least he could do, right? But he’s the only one who does. Jesus asks, “Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” (Luke 17:17). The question is rhetorical, but we know the answer. They are off to celebrate. Like a Dad getting in the car at 5 am on a cold, November morning in New Jersey, in a hurry to run off and start celebrating Christmas. Nine out of 10 just keep running. They do not take the time to say thank you. I want to be in the 10% that does. So, my question is about that one. What made him turn around? Why did he, and he alone, turn back to praise God and say thank you to Jesus for his healing? Malala According to the old sermon I’m using for the outline of this episode, I read the Malala, the autobiography of then 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai in 2013 after seeing a clip of her appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Malala is a native of the Swat Valley in Pakistan who tells the story of how everything changed when the Taliban began to exert control. She is a brilliant young woman, as evidenced by these two sentences written about a difficult time: I tried to distract myself by reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, which answered big questions such as how the universe began and whether time could run backward. I was only eleven years old and already I wished it could. (Yousafzai, end of chapter 12) Yes, didn’t we all read Stephen Hawking to relax in 6th grade?!! I remember reading Horatio Hornblower novels for my 6th grade book reports. Malala describes her hometown as a little slice of heaven, with lush hillsides and peaceful small towns. It sounds like it was a wonderful place to grow up. But when the Taliban came to Swat and imposed sharia law—which Yousafzai describes as a distortion of Islam and the Quran—schools were no longer opened to girls. To a girl reading Stephen Hawking at 11, this was devastating. She and her family who owned the school which she attended, and her friends were thrown into disarray. Malala soon became an outspoken advocate for girls’ education, writing a diary that was published in an English newspaper, and speaking wherever and whenever she could. Eventually, the Taliban targeted this then 14-year-old girl for assassination. She was shot in the face coming home from school, on the equivalent of a school bus, and miraculously survived. You probably know that Malala Yousafzai continues to speak out for education, especially for girls, believing education is the true avenue to peace. This remarkable young woman became the youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, at the age of 17. Snatched from our hands In an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show—it was that long ago—Steward asked her where her love of education comes from. She begins her answer with these words, It is part of our human nature that we don’t learn the importance of anything until it’s snatched from our hands. In Pakistan, when we were stopped from going to school, at that time I realized that education is very important, and education is power for women. You really should watch it. It’s the very beginning of the video. I’ll put a link in the show notes at joeiovino.com. It is true isn’t it? We don’t learn the importance of anything until it’s snatched from our hands. That clip is from October 2013, but in some ways, it feels so 2020! Doesn’t it? So much has been ‘snatched from our hands’ in the past 8 months. And well, it sucks! And if our hearts our open to it, we just might be learning the importance of family, holidays, school, work, and recreation time. Healthcare workers, scientists who figure our vaccines, and so much more. Maybe that’s why so many of us are feeling so thankful this year. We’ve learned just how many things we have taken for granted for so long. Things we never expected to lose—like a simple trip to the store, a classroom, or a holiday trip to see family. Which brings me back to that one leper. He reacted differently than the others. Why did he turn around? What made him grateful? There are a couple of subtle details in Luke’s telling of the story which may point to the source of his gratitude. Time for a little nerding out, Bible style. “On the way…” The first comes right at the opening of the story. Luke writes, “On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee” (Luke 17:11). Whenever you come across a seemingly extraneous detail like this in the Bible, it’s a good practice to ask why. Why would Luke choose to include the geographic location of this healing when he doesn’t always do that? To explore this we need a little background. Luke, like all the gospel writers, is a gifted storyteller who is structuring his writing in ways that help us, his readers, understand who Jesus is and what he is doing. One of the ways Luke does that is by sharing the story in three phases. Chapters 1 through 9 are phase 1: Jesus’ early ministry—we read about his birth, growing up, calling of his disciples, and his preaching, teaching, and healing that occurred in Galilee. Then at the end of chapter 9, Luke transitions from “the early years” to a new section with these words, “As the time approached when Jesus was to be taken up into heaven, he determined to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). With those words, the narrative shifts, and for chapters 9 to 19 we read of Jesus’ “Journey to Jerusalem,” which culminates with him entering the city riding on a colt on what we call Palm Sunday. The final section of Luke’s gospel—chapters 19-24—then tells of Jesus’ time in Jerusalem, including his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. This story about the lepers is from Luke 17, part of the “Journey to Jerusalem” section, which Luke is careful to remind us as he begins this story. “On the way to Jerusalem,” he begins. (hmm…). Then comes that interesting detail about location. “On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.” On one hand this makes geographic sense when you look at their journey on a map. Jesus and his disciples are traveling from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem in the south and the border runs from northeast to the southwest, so they are traveling in the general direction one would expect. But also, as you may remember, Jewish people were so adamant about avoiding Samaria that they would go more than a day’s journey out of their way to travel around the Samaritan region. So traveling the border might make sense in that way too. But why would Luke include this detail unless something else is going on? And as you might imagine, I think there is. When we go back to chapter 9 and look closely at the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, we read these words, “Along the way, they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival, 53 but the Samaritan villagers refused to welcome him because he was determined to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:52b-53). Jesus in a bit of a metaphorical no-man’s land—rejected by the Jewish authorities because he isn’t playing by their rules and rejected by the Samaritans because he is mistrusted as a Jewish man heading to Jerusalem. Literally and symbolically, Jesus is traveling in the margins, on the edges, on the border between two people who reject him. It’s there where Jesus encounters ten lepers. We’re back! In those days, lepers were forced to live on the edges of society. In addition to having a debilitating disease, lepers were routinely rejected by society, forced to live in colonies, literally out on the edges of town and the margins of life. Separated from family and friends, they were also told they were separated from God and not allowed to participate in the Temple practices because they were unclean, unholy. Can you imagine what it must have been like for them to be healed? In a very small sense, you and I may know what that feels like a little better than we ever have before. We just came through Thanksgiving 2020, a day when we normally travel to be with family and friends to enjoy a meal together and catch up after months apart. But this year we were separate. My family ended up having a Zoom call with three generations in three time zones spending about an hour together. In recent weeks, we’ve been hearing about the coming vaccines, the first doses are scheduled to be given in a matter of days. It might be months before it is available to all of us, but there’s hope. We’re seeing a time on the horizon when this separation will be over. Surely Thanksgiving 2021 we not be like Thanksgiving 2020. We’ll be able to travel to spend time in the same room again. Again, in some small part, that’s what’s going on with these lepers. One of the reasons Jesus sends them to the priests is so they can be declared clean and welcomed back into the Temple and allowed to re-enter society. They will soon be able once again to fall into the arms of their families and friends. Nine take off running in their excitement to get the party started. One turns around praising God in a loud voice and falling at Jesus’ feet to thank him. What makes him different? One gives thanks Luke give us subtle detail number two: “He was a Samaritan” (17:16), a fact emphasized in our reading when Jesus says, “No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” Interesting. The one who turns around is not just another one of the ten, he is different. He is not Jewish; he is a foreigner, a Samaritan. Simply by virtue of his birth and no fault of his own, this man would have been considered unclean with or without his leprosy. As a Samaritan, he is deemed an ‘outsider’ by those who understand themselves to be ‘insiders.’ He is believed to have a lesser relationship with God because of his family tree. I wonder if this outsider status, is what makes him grateful. He’s unable to take his healing for granted. The nine healed lepers seem to see it differently. When they are healed, they may be thinking God is just doing what God ought to do with people as deserving as they. They are so absorbed by what this means for them, by what they are gaining that they had lost, that they forget to notice what a gift they’d just received. One man, the outsider, is humble enough to know how undeserving he is. He is the only one who turns around and gives thanks. Being the one Malala talked about that. When taking her education for granted, as something she deserved, she didn’t pause to give thanks. But when the Taliban took it away, she realized what a gift education is, and began to give thanks and share it with others. When I ran out on that Black Friday so long ago, hoping to provide a magical Christmas for my loved ones, I was so angry at Kmart for not having what I was looking for, what I deserved for my efforts of crawling out of bed at 5 am. Because of Thanksgiving 2020, I have a new appreciation for Thanksgivings in the past and the ones yet to come. For opportunities to gather around a table and be with those you love and who love you. I guess it is just human nature. When we lose something, we realize how grateful we are for it. But we can also do that before it’s gone. Scripture reminds us that everything we have is ultimately a gift from God, and we are humbled and give thanks. May we not be so prideful that we miss seeing all the gifts with which God has so richly blessed us. So, as they say at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as Santa appears to close the festivities, on with the beginning of the Christmas celebration season. But let’s not run off quite so fast that we leave thanksgiving (with a lower-case t) behind. Let’s not forget to turn around from time to time and offer a word of Thanks. Outro To learn more about me and Not Your Ordinary Joe, visit joeiovino.com/nyojoe. I’ve got some links on the notes page of this episode to that Daily Show clip with Malala, the 7-year-old sermon I used as an outline, and a link where you can read the Bible story about the ten lepers for yourself. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you soon. Peace. The post Taking Thanksgiving with us appeared first on Joe Iovino.
16 minutes | 6 months ago
Gravitas and joy
NYOJoe 006: Serious issues in the world can steal our joy. Let’s explore how we can acknowledge the seriousness of what’s going on in the world and maintain our joy at the same time. Show notes Read Mark Feldmeir’s 2020 Post-Election Survival Guide. It’s really good!Listen to Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You. Read Michelle Obama’s Becoming. Transcript Welcome to Not Your Ordinary Joe, a podcast about living as a follower of Jesus in the real world… here… now… wth no easy answers allowed. I’ve been troubled by a lack of joy — on my social media timelines, out in the world, and at times in my own life. This deeply divisive time in which we live — of which this disturbing election season is a product — and being home all the time due to the coronavirus (which we’ve also made a divisive political issue) has stolen much of our fun. But at the same time, this is serious stuff we’re dealing with. So how can you remain vigilant about the things in life that matter, and not lose your joy? I have some thoughts. My name is Joe Iovino, and I am NOT your ordinary Joe. Post-election advice I read a story this week by the Rev. Mark Feldmeir, a colleague in Colorado who is trying to help us move on after the election. He offers some advice about how to restore our relationships that may have been damaged during this seemingly never-ending season of campaigning. We want to be able to visit one another for the holidays and be comfortable. Right? His first piece of advice is, and I quote, “Resist turning penultimate matters into ultimate concerns” (I’ve put a link to the article on the notes page at joeiovino.com). What I hear him saying is that we may need to take a step back and regain a better perspective. To remind ourselves about that which is most important and to keep other items, even that which is almost as important, in a lesser status in our minds. As for advice following election day and heading into the holidays with family and friends, Feldmeir encourages us to remember how precious our relationships are, and not to sacrifice them at the altar of national politics. Some things, like family members and friends with whom we share our lives, are a gift, and we should recognize them as such. Sure, we may disagree about very, very important things, but people are more than who they voted for. Again, it’s not that the politics are unimportant, they are extremely important. They are just of lesser importance than the people in our lives whom we love and who love us. We should be able to disagree deeply, and remain in relationship. The Boss Doing that, however, takes a level of maturity. Take it from the Boss. As many of you probably know, Bruce Springsteen has a new album and companion movie out called Letter to You. Both are amazing by the way—which is the opinion you would expect from one who once preached a sermon called “My Hometown” as part of a sermon series called, “Growin’ Up.” In support of the album and Apple TV+ movie, the Boss has been making the rounds. What’s clear in these interviews is that Bruce enjoys his role as an elder statesman of rock & roll. His music fandom is on display in the song, “The Power of Prayer,” and in interviews like the one he did on Conan OBrien Needs a Friend where he waxed nostalgic about his first band The Castilles and talked about how he once bought a Cadillac and had it custom painted because of a lyric in a Chuck Berry song. In “Nadine” Berry sings about “walkin’ toward a coffee-colored Cadillac.” So Bruce painted his Caddy brown. Early in the movie that accompanies Letter to You, the Boss says, “The E Street Band is not a job. It is a vocation, a calling. It is both one of the most important things in your life and, of course, it’s only rock and roll.” Conan asked Bruce about these seemingly contradictory thoughts, and I love his answer. “What is essential as you become an adult, is you have to refine the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in your mind at the same time without it driving you crazy. That is the mark of adulthood.” Let’s pause and take a look at that for a second. Somehow Bruce holds this craft he loves and works so hard to be great at — he’s dedicated his life to it for decades, and yet he holds onto with with a lightness, joy, and even humor. That is simply remarkable. He can pour his life out on stage for nearly 4 hours, holding what he calls this “conversation” with his audience, and understand that on some level it’s just entertainment. Later in the movie, as he’s introducing a song called “The Power of Prayer,” Springsteen expresses the implicit value he feels in a song. He says, “We all have our own ways of praying. I restricted my prayers to 3 minutes and a 45 rpm record. The power of pure pop, the beautiful simplicity of melody, a complete character study in a matter of minutes. Life in 180 seconds or less. If you get it right it has the power of prayer.” Life in 180 seconds or less, with the weight and power of prayer. And yet, as the Rolling Stones taught us, “It’s only rock and roll.” I want that. I want to take life, my role, my calling with absolute seriousness, yet move through the world with lightness. I want to reserve my best efforts, my hardest work for that which is of ultimate importance, and yet have a balance in my life that will not allow the seriousness to drag myself and everyone around me down. Dalai Lama and Bishop Tutu Rob Bell tells this amazing story of the time he met the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu for the first time. He’d been invited to participate in a panel with these two — would you say ‘heroes’ — two men whose spirituality he admired. They think about the deepest parts of our lives and have faced enormous difficulties — the Dalai Lama living in exile and Bishop Tutu through apartheid and has been a leader in the healing of South Africa. These two men have a gravitas, a weight of seriousness, a depth of spirituality in their lives. Off to the side stood Rob Bell, simply observing as the two men greeted one another. It was no surprise when they embraced, but what happened next was unexpected. They began tickling one another. The Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu engaged in a brief tickle fight. There was a playfulness between them, a lightness with which they lived their lives. My guess is that in the midst of all of the seriousness in their lives, in the midst of the gravity of the conference they were preparing for, in the midst of all of the issues in the world that they could treat with ultimate importance, they instead chose to focus in that moment on the gift they were to one another, the gift of being in the same room, the gift of the present moment… and they each chose to be fully present for that. That. I want that. Michelle Obama One more story. Toward the end of the election season, I was slowly reading Michelle Obama’s Becoming — a wonderful book I enjoyed from cover to cover. It was a wonderful escape when it all seemed too much. A respite, a counter-narrative to what I was seeing on the news each day. Remember the first debate — the one with all the yelling and interruptions? I missed most of it because I decided to spend that 90 minutes reading Becoming, and I continue to stand by that decision. Anyway, in the book, she tells of the early days of her dating relationship with Barack Obama. There were on one of those dates that I remember early on when my wife and I were dating, where you spend most of the day together. On that day, Barack had agreed to lead a training as a favor of an old community organizer colleague. In the basement of a church, as Barack Obama was trying to help a group of people in the neighborhood advocate for themselves, Michelle Robinson caught her future husband and our future president’s vision for the world. She says she was beginning to understand what drove and motivated him (114-118). Much later in the book — nearly 300 pages later — she returns to that story as the moment things began to change for her. This young detail-oriented woman who had a plan for her life that included a stable, good-paying job as a lawyer, a nice car, and a warm, welcoming comfortable home, caught a glimpse of something else she might be able to with her life. She points back to that moment as the beginning of seeing what it might mean to dedicate her life to making the world a better place, to participate in the building of a better reality. “Or as Barack had put it that night,” she writes, “you may live in the world as it is, but you can still work to create the world as it should be” (395). You may live in the world as it is, but you can still work to create the world as it should be. Bible I read those words and because of the lenses through which I view the world, I heard echoes of all kinds of biblical imagery. Jesus prayed, in the King James words with which we are most familiar, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We cal that the Lord’s prayer. When the religious leaders asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come, he replied, “God’s kingdom isn’t coming with signs that are easily noticed. Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ Don’t you see? God’s kingdom is already among you” — Luke 17:20b-21. It’s here and it’s coming? It made me think of all the stories in the gospels where Jesus is at a table, attending a celebration, telling stories about banquets. Jesus carried this lightness with him. I know you might not see that. We often see and portray Jesus as this always serious character who sort of floated just a bit off the ground through the streets of Galilee, but he also told a story about having a plank in your eye, drew in the dirt when asked whether a woman “caught in adultery” should be stoned, and was accused of not being “serious” enough by the serious, religious people. Apparently, his demeanor was such an issue that he has to respond to accusations of eating with sinners and being a glutton and one of my favorite King James Bible words, a winebibber — a heavy drinker. I don’t think there are many of us listening to this who would argue with the fact that what Jesus was doing with his life was of the utmost importance. And yet, he told stories about wedding banquets and throwing a party after finding a lost coin. He taught crowds and took the time to touch a leper who asked for his help. He publicly argued with the religious leaders and sat at tables with them for a meal. There is a gravitas to what he’s doing, and yet he holds it with a lightness, a joy, a peace. I want that. The challenge So here’s the challenge I’m taking up, and I invite you to join me. Let’s work to find that balance. To not allow penultimate concerns to replace ultimate concerns in our lives. To work our butts off to our work, our calling with all the seriousness it deserves, yet remember, as the Boss tells us, “It’s only rock & roll.” To be fully present with others — maybe you don’t have to break into a tickle fight — but can you look at that person in your life as a great gift that you choose to be fully present to in that moment. To live in the world as it is — with all of its messiness, wrongheadedness, and evil — and choose to partner with God in Jesus Christ to participate in creating, transforming the world into what it should be. May we know that what we are doing matters, and yet be able to go to dinner with the one with whom we disagree. That. That’s what I want. And I believe it’s what Jesus wants for me, and for you. In John 15, Jesus says, “I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete.” That is the mark of spiritual adulthood. Outro To learn more about me and Not Your Ordinary Joe, visit joeiovino.com. I’ve got some links on the notes page of this episode to read that post-election survival guide, to listen to Bruce’s new album, and to find Michelle Obama’s book. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you soon. Peace. The post Gravitas and joy appeared first on Joe Iovino.
19 minutes | 6 months ago
Descartes, Alzheimer’s and the soul
NYOJoe 005: What makes you, you? For a long time, I assumed it was the way we think, our personalities. But loving someone with Alzheimer’s has me reconsidering that. So let’s think about Descartes, Alzheimer’s, and what we mean when we use the word ‘soul.’ Show notes Watch the Bart Simpson soul scene.Learn more about the theory of forms.“I think therefore I am.” Script This is Not Your Ordinary Joe: a podcast about living as a faithful follower of Jesus in the real world. Here. Now. No easy answers allowed. What makes you you? Or me me? I used to be convinced it was some function of my brain activity — the ways we think, our personalities. But loving someone with Alzheimer’s has me reconsidering that. So today I’m talking about Descartes, Alzheimer’s and what we mean when we use the word ‘soul.’ My name is Joe Iovino, and I am not your ordinary Joe. Descartes was wrong Descartes was wrong. He has to have been. “I think, therefore I am,” just doesn’t hold up when someone you love has Alzheimer’s. Over the past several years, my dad’s brain function has fundamentally changed. Yet he still is, just as much as he was before. And not only does he continue to be, but he continues to be him. We are, even when our thinking is diminished. And we continue to be ourselves even when we can no longer think in the ways or capacities we did previously. We do not exist because we think. Our identity — my meness and your youness — comes from someplace else. Look, I understand that Descartes was not really saying that — but it sure was fun to simply assert that a seventeenth-century French philosopher was wrong. But we do tend to connect our thinking with our being. Think about how we refer to one another. We often connect personhood to brain activity, the functionality of our minds. She’s funny, smart, artistic, athletic — I would argue that athleticism is a brain/body connection. He’s good at math, doesn’t know how to cook, and likes to read. Even when we point to cultural distinctions and other factors — I’m a college-educated, eldest child, an Enneagram 9, from a blue collar family in New Jersey. All of that gives you insight into how I may think, what you can expect from me. When we describe another we’re often trying to get a handle on their brain activity. Sure, there are those who may identify more closely with their physicality. Reflecting on their existence they may point to their strength, flexibility, speed, attractiveness, or some other physical characteristic. But, I would argue most of us see those as factors that influence our thinking as well — she thinks the way she does because she’s attractive, or he’s introverted because he’s never been comfortable in his own skin. But even if that’s not the case, our bodies, like our minds, are unreliable. They’re frail and subject to decay through age, injury, illness, environment and so many other factors both within and outside of our control. Alzheimer’s You see, for the most part, these acts of equating our being with our thinking worked for me until recently. Several years ago, my dad’s brain began to betray him. So here’s the disconnect I’ve been wrestling with. My dad doesn’t think the way he used to — his brain is working differently than it ever has before. But he still is. And he continues to be the unique person I call my dad. How can this be? Soul redefined Christians believe we are created in the image of God, which means there is something about us, within us, some part of who we are that is a reflection of the Creator. Something about us is eternal, not subject to the decay of our minds and bodies. Some part of who we are is beyond our physical and cognitive abilities. If you’re a church person, you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, Joe. You’re talking about the soul.” But what are we talking about when we talk about the soul? We throw that word around, but what do we mean? A cultural example One way we understand the soul is wonderfully illustrated in an episode of The Simpsons. Bart and Milhouse are cleaning the organ’s pipes as a punishment for something they did in Sunday school when they get into a theological discussion about the soul. Bart declares, “Soul? Come on, Milhouse. There’s no such thing as a soul. It’s just something they made up to scare kids.” Milhouse ends up challenging him saying, “If you’re so sure about that, why don’t you sell your soul to me?” So Bart sells his soul to Milhouse for all the money Milhouse has on him, five bucks. Bart, thinking he’s made some easy money, then begins to experience some weird things. An automatic door won’t open for him. His faithful dog doesn’t recognize him. And when his mom hugs him while tucking him in, she notices that something’s off — “It almost feels like you’re missing something,” she says, “something important.” That night, Bart has a dream where all of his friends are rowing across a body of water, to what must be paradise on the other side. Each kid grabs one oar of their rowboat, and their soul grabs the other allowing them to row straight across. But Bart is alone without his soul, and with only one row, can only go in circles. It’s actually a pretty cool image you might not expect from a cartoon. And in some ways, it’s a decent representation of how many Christians view their soul. We talk about the soul as our ‘spiritual essence’ — some part of ourselves that is ‘other,’ non-physical, beyond our cognitive capabilities. A personal example Here’s another, more personal, example. When I was in high school, our youth group did one of those comparative religion series of lessons — I’m not really a fan of those lessons. It always seems more than a bit disingenuous for a Christian to characterize — and often mischaracterize — the faith of others, which really has nothing to do with my point, but I couldn’t just let that go by without saying something. Anyway, one of the things I most remember from those lessons was that one of the perceived distinctions between Christianity and other religions, is that we believe that we maintain our individualness into eternity. I remember it being explained that we’ll be “recognizable” to one another in heaven. I cannot tell you how attractive that was to me at the time. As an awkward teenager who never quite felt comfortable in his own skin, the idea of not having my earthly body but still being recognizable to others was a revelation. How amazing I thought it would be for people to see me for who I am, beyond my physicality. At the time, I just thought that meant my mind/personality would be injected into a new resurrection body, whatever that meant. It was really something to look forward to. But the part I definitely thought would survive, my soul, was the thinking part of me. Descartes had influenced me and I didn’t even know it. But is that the ‘soul’? It is my other half that will help me row across the Jordan to the Promised Land of heaven? Is it my brain or my personality that makes me who I am? That will survive after death? I don’t think so anymore for a several reasons. These don’t work First, let’s talk about The Simpsons version of the soul — that other part of our ourselves understanding. That grows out of a Platonist worldview — this understanding behind our understanding, which we inherited from the ancient Greeks and still influences how we understand and interact with the world today. The theory of forms, attributed to Plato, teaches that the physical world is a representation of an idealized world. I remember being taught that the chairs we sit in are a physical version of the idea, form, or essence of a thing called a chair. Some then attributed that to individuals as well. There is in the universe an idea, form or essence of Joe. And what I am right now is a physical, earthly version of that ideal form or essence or soul. That form of Joe is separate from they current physical me, and my goal in life is to live into my Joe-ness — to grow closer and closer to this idealized form of me that is the perfect Joe, what is understood as the true, real Joe. Do you hear the overlap between that and our common understanding of the soul? The one who upon death will grab the other oar and guide us to heaven. This whole understanding for me is problematic. For one, it can create a great deal of anxiety about living up to an idealized version of ourselves. Man, can that can be unhealthy — anyone who has wrestled with expectations of parents, spouse, or self can attest to that, I’m sure. Also, I find this understanding troubling because it makes our soul separate from ourselves and relatively unknown even to us. If we’re fortunate, we get glimpses of it, and some feel more connected to it than others — but it is separate from us, a strange outside influence we need to learn about and try to live into and up to. This Platonism influenced version of our soul, is trapped inside of our bodies wanting to be discovered, that then escapes our bodies upon our death and gets to live on, into eternity in its fullness. I may be overstating it here, but I want to call attention to this dualism that leads us to an identity crisis of sorts. In the Platonist Theory of Forms the form of the chair is more real than the one that is keeping my torso off of the floor as I record this. Then by extension, the real me is my soul — this separate part of me that is relatively unknown to me. So I can spend my life trying to be the “real” me. It can hinder me from ever getting to fully know the me that is walking around right now, flaws and all. It can keep me always reaching, striving, yearning for something else and never really being present in the here and now. And one more troublesome result from this type of thinking is what I consider very dangerous statements like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Man, I am really just going after the French philosopher’s today aren’t I? With apologies to the people I know who love that quote, I find it problematic (sorry!). This… discounting of our human experience is why, I think, James wrote, “Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, ‘Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!’? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity” (James 2:15-17). If we’re spiritual beings having a human experience — if our form, our soul is our truest self — then it begins to make sense for us to care more for the soul than the body. You may think I’m really reaching here, but it appears to me that some of us who are followers of Jesus operate in this way. We have these conversations about whether we need to do evangelism or mission — as if one without the other is an option. Or we play a bait-and-switch sales game on people. We strategize on how we can meet what we in the church once called “perceived” needs — it nearly disgusts me to know that I used that term — so that we can meet what we saw as their “real” need, the saving of the soul — the truer self. But the truth is, we all have needs — real needs — and when the church follows Jesus in meeting people’s needs — feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, caring for the sick and imprisoned — when we care for others in Jesus’ name, we need to care for them physically, emotionally and spiritually. Because those parts are not separate, not disconnected from one another. We are human beings — created body, mind and spirit in the image of God. We should not discount that — or any part of our humanity. Not working All of that is to say, that thinking about the soul as either in the Platonist worldview as some mysterious part of me that is separate from the physical me, no longer works. Neither does this idea that my soul is some disembodied me who will be recognizable through how I think, or speak, or some personality trait. Instead, I need some other way of understanding the soul — our essence, our core, the intangible thing that makes you, you and me, me. It’s expressed in our bodies, but not dependent upon them. We most often see it revealed in the workings of our brains — from our thought patterns to our senses of humor, but it is not contained, confined or reliant upon its proper functioning. I think it’s something greater. So let’s go back to that comparative religions lesson of my high school youth group. Into eternity, I survive. I will be recognizable to others — my wife, my children, my parents — on the other side. My body won’t survive. Neither will my thinking (sorry Descartes). My memories and mind cannot be relied upon. Neither can my personality. So what is it that will go on? I’m concluding that the part of ourselves that exists beyond our existence — that eternal, divine spark we get glimpses of from time to time, is our love. Those who love me, know my essence, my core, the deepest part of me, and can spot it anywhere. I think that’s the whole thing — love. Our truest self, is the love we give and the love we receive. That, just may be our soul. Which means, in some sense, that we are caretakers or stewards of one another’s souls. There’s a portion of my dad’s essence that I carry within me, even when (or maybe because) he can’t hold it for himself right now. And in what I think is a really lovely way, my dad holds part of my essence with him — his love for me is part of who I am. In other words, maybe the part of my dad that exists beyond the functioning of his mind and personality is my love for him. Maybe that’s what makes him still him — or at least part of it. Think of those closest to you. Who is holding a portion of the deepest parts of you, and who through your love are you entrusted with. As I’ve been reflecting on this odd little thought over the past year and a half or so, it has been revealing itself as more and more helpful in my grief over my dad’s condition and my understanding of our connection to each other. A quick example: Sometimes, when someone dies, we say we’ve lost a part of ourselves. As I’ve been around grief over the years, I think in some sense that’s true. Grief changes us. Our ‘soul’ is somehow altered with the loss of a loved one. Their love for us, our love for them, that part of our essence is no longer with us in the same way. And that is a fundamental shift in our being. And it has given me a new understanding of my personhood not being dependent on outside factors like my body or mind. And I’m trying to learn that I’m not supposed to live up to some idealized and yet to be discovered form of me. And it helps me to see that who I am is a function of community. There are others who are holding on to me, who I am at my very essence. I am who I am because of the love of others, both that which I receive and that which I give. I like this idea of being the caretaker of the soul/essence of another. I know I would recognize that soul — and hope that others would recognize mine. If I may be brazen enough to correct a 17th century French philosopher, I think I would ask him to reconsider his line. Not “I think, therefore I am.” But “I love and am loved, therefore I am.” Outro To learn more about me and Not Your Ordinary Joe, or to leave a thought or comment, go to joeiovino.com (spell it). I would love to hear from you. There are also links there to make it easy for you to subscribe to and follow Not Your Ordinary Joe. Where else are you going to get a single episode that quotes Descart, deChardin, Plato and Bart Simpson? Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you soon. Peace. The post Descartes, Alzheimer’s and the soul appeared first on Joe Iovino.
16 minutes | 7 months ago
Backroads, monuments and the witness of Scripture
NYOJoe 004: Many years ago, I regularly traveled past a church with a large monument of the Bible on their front lawn often causing me to reflect on our relationship to the Bible. So let’s talk about backroads, monuments, and the witness of Scripture. Show notes I started this conversation in episode 002: Silence, complicity and LGBTQIA inclusionWhat’s a Benny?Here’s an online version of Bible Baseball – for curiosity, not an endorsement.Listen to ‘Backstreets‘ by Bruce Springsteen, just because we’re talking about New Jersey and backroads. Script Welcome to Not Your Ordinary Joe, a podcast about living as a follower of Jesus in the real world… here… now. No easy answers allowed. Many years ago, I regularly traveled past a church with a large monument of the Bible on their front lawn, that often caused me to reflect on our relationship to the Bible. So let’s talk about backroads, monuments and the witness of Scripture. My name is Joe Iovino, and I am not your ordinary Joe. A monument When you live near or around the Jersey Shore, you learn multiple routes everywhere — to work, the grocery story, church, everywhere. Because in the summer, you can expect the major roadways — the Parkway, 195, 34, 35, 37, 70, 72 and just about every other road that will take people from NY or Philadelphia to the beach — to be jam-packed, making your commute unbearable. So you learn to travel the backroads — local streets, county roads and any other way around the traffic, crossing those backed up roads rather than trying to travel on them. When I lived there, one of my routes to work took me way off the beaten path. I passed a literal “Easy Street,” and enjoyed views of farms and woods. While others were pounding their steering wheels at a near standstill on the parkway, I was slowly moving along a serene pastoral landscape. It felt good to be able to snake my way around, always moving ahead of those who didn’t know the area as well — the tourists, or Bennys as we called them in New Jersey never really knowing what that meant. Along that route, a small non-denominational church was set back among the trees on one of those smaller roads. I don’t remember the congregation’s name, just that it had a giant hand-made lawn decoration — a statue of sorts — of a Bible that had to be about eight feet tall. It was a striking site — and, well, more than a little odd. I often wondered what it said about that church. I’m sure they meant it as a sign of their perceived fidelity to the Scripture, but to me, it always looked a bit like an idol — the golden calf the Israelites crafted at the foot of Mount Sinai when they thought Moses’ trip up the mountain to meet with God and receive the Ten Commandments was taking too long. Many summer commutes, I passed that giant Bible and pondered the role of Scripture in our faith journeys. Worshipping the Bible to the point of building a large representation of it, certainly didn’t seem right. But what is the proper place of Scripture? How should we think about it? Approach it? Read it? My history Before we go any farther, I want to say that I’m a big fan of the Bible (ok that’s a weird way to say that). I’m a student of the Bible. In my church growing up, I was the Babe Ruth of Bible Baseball. I could answer the most difficult questions. In college, I was once told at a Bible study that I was thinking too hard about the Bible, and in seminary I took just about every Bible class I could find. In college and seminary I was on the tail end of the Jesus Seminar — the “search for the historical Jesus” movement. And though I no longer spend much time reading Scripture in that way, I loved it. I wanted to know everything there was to know. I wanted to be an expert on Scripture, but I soon learned that there are two kinds of knowing. There is knowing about a subject and knowing a person — being in a relationship with someone. Those two ways of knowing are related, but not the same thing. And, quite frankly, you can have all the ‘knowing about’ knowledge possible, be a trivia expert even, and never really know a person the way you know a spouse, a child, a close friend. It’s interesting, and honestly a little frustrating, was that like most subjects worth studying, the more I learned and studied, the less I was certain about. So what kind of knowing should we have for the Bible? The witness of Scripture In an earlier episode (episode 2 – ‘Silence, complicity and LGBTQIA inclusion’) I introduced a concept I called ‘the witness of Scripture.’ The best way I can think of describing this is seeing the forest and not just the individual trees — to recoup my image of driving the backroads. It’s the ability to hear major themes in Scripture, themes that resonate throughout, the bass notes as Rob Bell likes to say — on which Scripture is built. For example, again from ‘Silence, complicity and LGBTQIA inclusion,’ there is the theme of the image of God present in every human being, and how all of creation is a reflection of the creator. That’s one. There are also themes of the journey of life and the guidance of God, freedom from slavery, wandering in the wildreness and finding our way home — to the land God as promised us. All led by God. There are themes of wandering away from God, following others, and heroes’ journeys of faith out into the unknown. Stories of obedience even when it’s unpopular. Stories of brokenness and healing, summer and winter, death and resurrection, separation and renewal — that’s a major one. There are themes throughout, of caring for the those who are often overlooked and under-provided for, loving the outsider and welcoming the stranger — Who knows? You might be entertaining angels without knowing it. As I write about these themes, stories come to mind — from Genesis and Exodus, from the prophets and psalms, from the evangelists, apostles, and gospels. They aren’t just one-offs, random verses selected to make a point. They are themes that each tell us something about God, about Jesus and the leading of the Spirit. They inform us about our faith journeys and our place within the history of humanity — from Creation to today. And when you approach the Bible in this way, you probably won’t build a giant lawn decoration to it, but other beautiful things begin to happen. Scripture comes alive in us and we enter into a conversation in the present, not just about the past. We begin to see God at work in the ordinary moments of our lives — not just in the things we consider sacred, but in the mundane as well. For example, if God was present in the dreams of the Josephs — both the coat of many colors one from Genesis and Mary’s husband from the New Testament — then God may also be present in my dreams. If Jacob can sense God’s presence in the wilderness saying, “Surely God was in this place and I did not know it” — can you and I begin to sense God in the places we would least expect? If Abraham and Sarah entertained angels without knowing it, could we be meeting angels when we meet a stranger in need? And if a bush could talk to Moses and donkey to Balaam — what might God be trying to use to talk to me? How should I be listening for God? We could go on and on… Again, there is an amazing conversation that begins to take place between me and the holy, this world and God’s world begin to overlap and blend and the distinctions become a bit more blurred. But when we idolize the Scripture — when we build monuments to the Bible and ascribe it to a place nearly equal to God — something else happens. We tend to get focused on the trees rather than the forest. We tend to get caught up in the minutia and miss what God is really trying to say to us. Here’s what I mean. There’s this troubling verse in 1 Samuel 15 where God commands the people of Israel to attack the Amalekites, and God through Samuel says, “Spare no one. Kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.” When I encounter that verse, it’s pretty easy for me to say, ‘You know, maybe Samuel misheard God,’ or ‘Maybe this is hyperbole to make a point.’ Maybe the person who wrote this down later, blamed the Amalekites for all of Israel’s problems and was interpreting the story through that sinful lens. But if you’ve turned the Bible into an idol, you can’t do that. You begin to see all the parts as equal rather than evaluating this tree in light of the forest. And so you begin to understand things about God that actually run counter to the rest of the witness of Scripture. And that’s how you get these ideas that the Bible contradicts itself. Reading this verse alone, you might extrapolate: Is God really OK with killing those whom he has created? Maybe God likes some people better than others. Maybe racism is OK, even sanctioned by God. None of that works within the forest, but if you elevate this tree, you have to make room for that kind of understanding for who God might be. And that’s happened to us throughout history. For a couple of hundred years Christians in the US found evidence for slavery in the Bible — even seeing it as God sanctioned, even though one of the major stories of the Old Testament is the Israelite’s Exodus from slavery and the repeated refrain to remember that you were once slaves. We did it with women clergy because there is a verse that says women are to be silent in the gathering. So we made a rule that ignored all of the evidence throughout Scripture of women in leadership throughout the Hebrew Bible and all the women who traveled with Jesus and are mentioned by Paul as leaders of the early church. See how we can lose site of the forest for the trees? Lose the witness of Scripture through the viewing of individual verses? We know of God’s love for all of creation — for the outcast, outsider, the one who doesn’t seem to belong, the ‘least of these’ as Jesus says in Matthew 25. So when we read a verse about God saying, “Kill everyone, “ we think, “Hold on! That doesn’t fit.” And we explore that verse. We approach it differently. Oftentimes, people like me get accused of making the Bible fit our views. As if we got off the Parkway, the easy way, and got lost on the backroads, ending up in the wrong place. But what that statement fails to recognize is that those views that I’m supposedly trying to make the Bible fit — the stuff I would stake my life on — were formed by the Bible. It is a reading of Scripture informed by Scripture — not some outside influence. It is a means of allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to me through the text, leading me to God and God’s love and grace. It is an understanding that the Bible is a means to the end of a relationship with the Divine and not an end in itself. That’s what I was doing all those years ago. I wanted to know the Bible, but the Bible doesn’t want to be known. It wants instead to facilitate us coming into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Are you with me? Defensive? If you are sensing in me a bit of bias or defensiveness, I have to own that. But please hear this in the manner in which it is intended… I don’t believe that a surface, literal, “plain reading of Scripture,” is taking the Bible as seriously as we do when we think deeply about what we’re reading, times when we have to wrestle with it because something doesn’t fit. There’s that whole meaning of the word Israel as ‘one who wrestles with God’ thing again. I think it is far more faithful, is taking the text far more seriously, when we are careful with it. For example, as a preacher I always tried very hard to understand what the text in front of me was trying to say before I preached it. I wanted to know what the author had in mind for the original audience. What the original point of the story or parable was, and is. Why did the author choose to tell us this story and not something else. And if we are going to look for clues, let’s stick with this author and not jump around the Scripture as if it has a single author. So, for example, I always tried to avoid informing a story from one gospel by quoting from a different one. If we’re looking at a passage from Luke, let’s stick with Luke and not jump to Matthew’s telling of the same or similar story. Yes, both gospels might include it, but due to placement and purpose, they might be trying to tell us slightly different things. Sorry if this comes across as defensive. Over the years I’ve been accused of playing fast and loose with the Bible, of hermeneutical gymnastics as some are fond of saying, to get the Bible to say what I want it to say, but that’s never been my intent. Instead, I try to use the Bible to hear what the Bible is actually trying to say, and not just look at a random quote and extrapolate a bunch of things that simply are not part of the witness of Scripture. No, I want to hear what the text has to say at a deeper level. I want to hear how it is drawing me nearer to the God it tells me about who is in constant conversation with us, forever inviting me to follow Jesus, and not just demanding obedience to a book, a verse, a random thought someone has decided has weight. If we weigh it all the same, are we to hammer our weapons into farming tools (Isaiah 2:4) or our farming tools into weapons (Joel 3:10) — because both of those images are in there! This is why I talk about the witness of Scripture, about taking the time to study and listen to God through the Scripture. To get a sense of the forest without worshipping the individual trees. I don’t want to stop at knowing of the Bible, building a monument to it. I want to lead me to a deeper understanding of God, a growing relationship with Jesus. Backroads I guess, to push the imagery a little, it takes getting off the highway, slowing down and getting to know the area by traveling the backroads. Taking our time to notice the scenery, getting a sense of what this place is really like — and not thinking we really know it because we hit the highlights, the tourist traps, the beaches the Bennies are rushing toward. And when we’re talking about the Bible, that means not just knowing the Bible for the Bible’s sake, but getting to know the one about whom the Bible is written. To get a sense of God’s story and to find my place in it. While the many in the faith may be stuck on the Parkway, stagnant, looking like they may even be going backwards. I hope I’m still going, still growing on the backroads. Still learning about the one who makes the journey worthwhile. Deepening my relationship with the one who gives all of this starting and stopping, joy and frustration, meaning. Outro To learn more about me and Not Your Ordinary Joe, go to joeiovino.com/nyojoe. There are links there where you can subscribe on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening. Talk to you soon. Peace. The post Backroads, monuments and the witness of Scripture appeared first on Joe Iovino.
16 minutes | 7 months ago
NYOJoe 003: The sound of my grandmother’s coffee percolator is singed into my memory. It reminds me of my place at her table. So I’m talking about a time machine, a percolator and a spot at the table. Show notes & links In the intro, you may hear an errant squeak. My dog found her toy at the most inopportune time. Read the ‘Party Parables’ in Luke 15.Read what I said about my grandmother at her memorial. Script Intro Welcome to Not Your Ordinary Joe, a podcast about living as a faithful follower of Jesus in the real world… here… now. No easy answers allowed. One of the sounds of my childhood is my grandmother’s coffee percolator, which may explain my addiction to coffee and has influenced my understanding of what it means to know you belong. So today, I’m talking about a time machine, a percolator and a spot at the table. My name is Joe Iovino, and I am NOT your ordinary Joe. If you had a time machine and could go back to any time or place from your childhood, where would you go? Time machine to childhoood I’ve actually thought about this a lot, and I have a short list of times and places I’d like to revisit, but way toward the top of my list would be a chance to revisit just about any Friday night in the mid-1970s at my grandmother’s house — a home that always smelled and often sounded like coffee. I say “sounded like coffee,” because my grandmother made coffee in a large electric percolator. For those too young to remember… In the time before Keurig coffee pods and drip coffee makers, coffee was often brewed in an appliance called a percolator. My grandmother’s was an urn, that in my memory was very large. I liked watching her make coffee. She’d fill the urn with water and insert a hollow metal tube into the machine into its spot in the center. Next came the basket that rested on the hollow tube toward the top of the earn where she added the ground coffee. Finally, she closed the lid, turned it on, and stood back. Making coffee in a percolator is a somewhat violent process. As the water heats, it is forced up the hollow tube and shoots in spurts against the lid, and sprays down over the grounds. The force of the water hitting the lid was great enough to unseat the lid — just for a fraction of a second — and then it would return to its place with a satisfying kalunk. That, to me, is the sound of coffee: kalunk, kalunk, kalunk. As a kid, I remember watching the coffee percolate. The knob on the lid on my grandmom’s coffee maker was clear, and I would watch the water splash against it. Slowly turning darker and darker as the coffee got stronger and stronger — or as my grandfather said, “better and better.” Plus, I was convinced that one day the lid was going to blow right off that thing, and I didn’t want to miss it. That never happened, of course, but the repeating kalunk of the percolator still has a sweet spot in my memory today. Coffee lovers Coffee was important to my maternal grandparents. They were coffee lovers long before being a coffee lover was cool. They sometimes went to the local McDonald’s and ordered two of what they said was the best coffee in town. Then, they would sit at a booth and just drink coffee. We thought that was so weird. Who would go someplace to just get coffee?? Turns out, the answer is me… years later… at Starbucks or Dunkin’ or just about any local coffeehouse—even McDonald’s from time to time. But for my grandparents, going out for coffee was rare and unnecessary because there was always coffee at grandmom’s house. And I don’t mean in the can ready to be brewed. I mean in the pot ready to drink—morning, noon, and night. Even as a kid, it always seemed to me that the coffee was prepared for others. Her percolator filled with ready to drink coffee was a sign of the welcome—the hospitality to be found in her house. My grandmother was almost always home. She never got a driver’s license and there wasn’t much within walking distance of her house back then. So, people came to her. Her sisters would stop by and gossip over coffee. Neighbors would sometimes come over for a cup. My mom — the rebellious tea drinker — didn’t stop grandmom from having a cup of coffee herself when we visited. And most importantly for my time machine fantasy, coffee was the center of our Friday night family gatherings at Grandmom’s house. We lived near a bakery, so we would often bring dessert—always something that went with coffee—and the family would squeeze around grandmom’s dining room table to reconnect after a week apart. Some of my favorite childhood memories are hanging around aunts, uncles, and cousins on Friday nights at grandmom’s house. A place at the table When I think back, it’s kinda funny how much I liked going to my grandparents’ house as a child. I mean, there really wasn’t anything specific for the kids to do. No toys. No playground in the backyard except horseshoes. My other set of grandparents, who also lived in town, had an in-ground pool where I learned to swim and dive. But somehow, that was never as good. An aunt and uncle nearby had a rec room with a large screen TV and an Atari gaming system that included Pong and Tank Battle—but even that didn’t have the same draw. I guess I always knew my grandparents didn’t have a lot, and that things were sometimes really hard for them. My mom, who is not particularly known as a joke teller, once offered one of the greatest one-liners I’ve ever heard… “Growing up,” she said, “We were so poor that we didn’t even get junk mail.” Brilliant. But somehow that didn’t matter. I liked being in the house with the noisy coffee maker. In fact, if I had a time machine, that’s where I would go back to. And the reason is simple. I had a spot at my grandmother’s table. I can still picture it—the far left corner as you entered her dining room. A seat between my dad and grandpop, who always had my rapt attention whenever they talked about cars (my grandfather was the mechanic at the Texaco station on Main Street). When the adults played Pinochle, we watched and “helped.” When they talked about family, we heard stories about relatives we’d never met. And no matter how many people were there, no matter how tightly we had to squeeze around the table, my brother and I and the rest of our cousins, always had a place. Even when I had to give up my chair to an adult, I didn’t have to give up my spot. I could stand nearby, or sit in mom or dad’s lap. I was welcome at the table and I loved it there. The ‘Party Parables’ of Luke 15 It’s interesting to note that when Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God in the Bible, he often used the image of a table. He told stories about banquets, parties and other celebrations. The Kingdom of God is like a wedding banquet, he said. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who threw a party, he says in another place. There’s wine and fattened calves in his stories. It all sounds exciting. And frankly expensive. Those images are kind of an odd choice for a bunch of people who were so poor that… in the words of my mom… they probably didn’t even receive junk mail. The first followers of Jesus were struggling to get by. Parties and banquets were a luxury they could scarce afford. If you are of a certain age, I’m guessing when I said fattened calf earlier you thought of either Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” — “we’ll kill the fatted calf tonight so stick around.” — or if you grew up in church you may have thought of the end of the story we call the parable of the prodigal son. It’s the story of a younger son who asks for his inheritance, spends some time on his own — lost to his father — then goes back to his dad when things get bad. When he arrives home, the dad asks his servants to bring the best robe to put on him, rings for his fingers and sandals for his feet. Then he orders them to kill the fattened calf and throw a party. That story is actually the third in a series of stories Jesus tells in Luke 15. We preachers like this one best, because it is a complete story with elements of a hero’s journey, family conflict, and character development — a whole host of sermon topics. The other two are more like extended similes. The first one begins, “Suppose someone among you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them.” Jesus points out that the sheepherder would leave the 99 to find the one. When the shepherd returns to the flock carrying the lost sheep, Jesus says, “he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.’” The second is about … well let’s just read the whole thing: “Or what woman, if she owns ten silver coins and loses one of them, won’t light a lamp and sweep the house, searching her home carefully until she finds it? When she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost coin.’” Only after those two stories do we get the story that involves a lost person — a son — and when he is found, the dad throws an extravagant party with robes, rings, sandals, and a fattened calf. Lots of people talk about how these parables all talk about lostness — a lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost son. But I like to think of these stories in Luke 15 as the party parables, because each one of them ends with a celebration of a reunion. “Come, celebrate. My lost sheep/coin/child has been found.” When you look only at the third story, it seems strange for Jesus to talk about a party his first listeners could not have thrown. There’s no way they could throw an extravagant party anywhere near the one the dad throws at the end of the lost son story. And may have assumed that’s not a party they would have even been invited too. But I don’t think that’s their story. They aren’t the party-throwers in that one. The first two stories show what human beings would do. There are a couple of clues in the text that help us understand what’s going on here. Look how Jesus starts each of the stories. The lost sheep story starts this way, “Suppose someone among you had 100 sheep.” He’s talking to religious leaders here, and some have speculated that there is a subtle dig in Jesus’s phrasing because none of them would have been tending sheep — that was a job for the “unclean,” the unreligious for lack of a better word. But certainly they would celebrate with the flock was back together again. And when Jesus gets to story 3, he is very specific. He begins, “A certain man…” Something else is going on here. This is a story about a father, the father, and the extravagance of God. It’s story two, the story of the lost coin, that is their story, our story. The heroine is an every woman. Jesus introduces here saying, “what woman if she owns 10 coins…” She could be anyone in any time. She’s you and me. And her celebration isn’t extravagant. Some might even argue it isn’t worth celebrating. I mean, who calls their friends together because they found their keys in the bottom of their purse or some change between the couch cushions? Yet Jesus tells us this is cause for celebration. Why? Because something is back where it belongs. When lost ones find their place, there is cause for celebration. Who’s at the table is what counts Which brings me back to my grandmother’s percolator — I bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you? The Kingdom of God isn’t always an extravagant banquet, with fine china, crystal glasses and real silverware. It isn’t only about robes, rings, sandals and fattened calves. I learned from my grandmom that hospitality isn’t so much about the extravagance of the party, but about who has a seat at the table. Dessert at my grandparent’s might have been something fresh from the bakery or an Entenman’s cake from the grocery store. We sat in dining room chairs, folding chairs, or simply stood nearby. It didn’t matter. What mattered was being at the table. And when we are all in our spots, there was cause for celebration. When the time came for Jesus to leave the disciples something to remember him by, Jesus took ordinary bread and ordinary wine and said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” And we still do whenever we receive the sacrament of Holy Communion today. We are welcome at that table. And Jesus told the disciples and us, that one day we will gather again with him around his table. Even for Jesus it wasn’t about the extravagance of what was on the table, but of who was around the table. That’s how we point to the Kingdom of God in the world today—by throwing little celebrations. Whenever we call our friends together to celebrate our victories — finding what was once lost — we are doing what God has called us to do. Sitting at Starbuck’s — or McDonald’s — and having a conversation with someone we love, is cause for celebration. When we show love and acceptance to someone we don’t know, yet somehow recognize as part of the family; When we show patience, offer a listening ear, or an understanding nod — even when we’re not sure we understand; When we take time to allow another to share their story, their life with us. When relationships are reconciled. When the lost are brought back to the many. Any time we make someone feel welcome “just as they are.” When everyone is in their place, the party can start because we are right where we belong. That’s why if I were given a time machine, I would return to my grandmother’s table on a Friday night. It’s a sign of the kingdom of God (of heaven) for me, because I have a spot in the far left corner between my dad and grandpop. That’s the place that I hope Jesus has gone to prepare for me one day. A place that sounds and smells like coffee. A place where our family will be reunited, where we’ll all find our place, and we’ll get to catch up, share our stories and celebrate over a mediocre cup of coffee! Outro Thank you so much for listening. You can learn more about me and ‘Not Your Ordinary Joe,’ but visiting joeiovino.com/NYOJoe. The post Percolator hospitality appeared first on Joe Iovino.
23 minutes | 7 months ago
Silence, complicity and LGBTQIA inclusion
NYOJoe 002: A book on the church’s silence about and complicity with racism, challenged me to no longer remain quiet about LGBTQIA inclusion in the church. Show notes & links Cartoonification by Kristi Iovino “Did you say ‘social fedia meeds’?” Yes. Apparently I did. Blog post: Racism is not ‘someone else’s’ problemThe Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ by MLKHow to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. KendiRace Matters by Cornel West1 Corinthians 12Ephesians 6 Transcript Welcome to Not Your Ordinary Joe, a podcast about living a faithful, Christian life in the real world… here… now. No easy answers allowed. Reflecting on a book I recently finished, echo chambers and a memory from my seminary days, has me thinking about speaking up, especially about LGBTQIA inclusion in the church. My name is Joe Iovino, and I am NOT your ordinary Joe. If you have read any of the descriptions of Not Your Ordinary Joe, you’ve learned that my primary goal is to wrestle honestly with difficult questions and topics—things I’m thinking about, learning about, struggling with. Sometimes it may be something I’ve always been taught or thought must be understood or believed in a certain way—but I’m having a hard time with it. So while I have several easier topics ready to record, I thought I should dive in here in episode 2 and give you a sense of what I want to do. Please know that not every episode is going to be as intense, but let’s get it started. In recent days, I have been struggling with the idea of complicity—the complicity of the church and frankly my own—by not having the courage to stand up and be counted. In my recent readings of Ibram X. Kendi, Cornel West, and a rereading of Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail,’ I’ve been reminded how the silence of the church—our unwillingness to say what might be unpopular with some of our members, friends, colleagues—has allowed evils of oppression, like slavery, racism and sexism to continue. In his book The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity with Racism, Jemar Tisby puts it succinctly, “Being complicit,” he writes, “only requires a muted response in the face of injustice or uncritical support of the status quo.” Then in the last few pages of that book, he continues, “Too many Christian leaders refuse to use their platforms to publicly speak against racism. Those who do tend to speak in generalities… More Christians, particularly people with large platforms, must be willing to take the criticism that comes with taking a prominent stance against bigotry.” As a Christian with a platform, I was challenged when I read those lines. And in many ways, that section of Tisby’s book is the spark that moved this podcast from something I had been talking about for months, to becoming the reality you are listening to now. I want to use my small platform to come out from the silence. To speak to what I believe God has placed on my heart. To share what I have been thinking about for days, weeks, months and often years regarding LGBTQIA inclusion. So, since silence is complicity, I need to speak out. To clearly say that I am for LGBTQIA inclusion in the church. We should drop any objections that bar people from membership, leadership, marriage or in any other way limit the participation of anyone due to their sexuality. How did I get to this place? Let me begin with a confession. Fear For a long time, I have been silent on this issue. I hinted, but never spoke out about where I stand. When asked about it, my default was that if an alumnus of one of my youth groups asked me to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony, I would make the decision at that time. Secretly, however, I always hoped it would never come to that, and that’s embarrassing to admit. Standing up to the church, putting my clergy credentials—my livelihood—on the line, seemed foolhardy at best. But I also knew there were ‘kids’ I wouldn’t be able to say no to. So I hedged. I stalled. I tried to be the welcoming pastor to the LGBTQIA people I knew, but I’m guessing they saw right through it to my fear. That’s not to say I have always been in this place. Over the years, my thinking has changed. I’ve grown. Inclusion It started for me in seminary, from a place that might sound a bit strange, but hang with me. As a student in the late 1980s, I was still questioning the validity of female clergy—I told you, strange place. It’s so embarrassing to admit that at 23 years old, I wasn’t sure about whether it was OK for women to be pastors. I was raised in what I have come to learn was a fairly conservative United Methodist church, or at least the youth group was. Then, sitting in a seminary preaching class, I had a lightning bolt moment. A young woman was sharing a sermon that moved me. Her primary illustration was the day her husband proposed to her. I don’t remember all of the details, but the sermon had to do with election—I went to a Presbyterian seminary—and I remember it being beautiful, one of those moments when you get chills because you sense something divine taking place in your presence. She talked about what it felt like to have someone say they wanted to commit themselves to her, and to ask if she would commit to him also. What an amazing way to think about Jesus’ invitation to follow him. It’s been more than 30 years, and I still think about that from time to time. As a man, a single man at the time, I immediately recognized that this was an experience I was never going to have. This was a sermon I would never be able to preach. What a gift to hear and be challenged to think anew about God’s love for me and commitment to me. Within a moment or two, I wondered what the church would be missing out on if this woman was not permitted to pursue her call to ministry. That thought challenged what I had heard (overtly or just absorbed) as an objection to female clergy. What is it about my Y chromosome that makes me inherently more fit for clergy status than someone without it? Why wouldn’t I want to hear more from the perspective of this thoughtful, gifted preacher? And others like her? Before long, the whole debate over female clergy was over for me. I knew that any rules prohibiting women from being ordained were not only foolish, but actually harmful to my—and many others—spiritual growth. What would the church be missing out on? What were we missing? Today I wonder, What are we missing when we refuse to listen to those who are different from us? The echo chamber In the 60s, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr identified 11 o’clock on Sunday morning as one of the most segregated hours in America. Little has changed in the more than 50 years since. When we go to church, not only are we racially segregated, but we are also often economically, politically, and theologically segregated as well. That should not be. We know, and readily admit, that many in our society live in echo chambers. We tend to fill our social media feeds—and even our selection of news and commentary sources—with people who espouse what we already believe. We friend and follow people that agree with us, and likewise unfriend and unfollow those whose opinions differ from our own. It’s a problem. For example, I’m guessing there are those who turned off this podcast as soon as I stated my stance on LGBTQIA inclusion. If you disagree with me and are still listening, thank you. While we readily recognize it in our podcast and social media feeds—or at least the social media feeds of others—we don’t typically talk about our churches as theological echo chambers. But for many of us, they are. We attend churches pastored by those with whom we already agree. And when they step out of line with our thinking, there is always another church down the street or one whose worship service we can watch online in our pajamas, that will tell us we’re already correct in our thinking, reinforce our current beliefs and never really challenge us. When I was preaching on Sunday mornings as an associate pastor, that could not have been more obvious. Whenever a controversial subject was mentioned from the pulpit—regardless of what was said about it—we were certain to receive pushback, and often threats of people leaving the church. It was so much easier to preach about things no one could possibly object to. Though I’m guessing today there are fewer and fewer of those topics. Two quick examples: The lead pastor in a church I was serving, once mentioned the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in a sermon. He talked about his experience of meeting Palestinians in Israel who still had the keys to the house they had been removed from years before. I know we lost one family in leadership over just mentioning that, and I’m pretty sure there were others as well. Another time, I was assigned a sermon on sexuality (seemed like I was always assigned those sermons) and I mentioned homosexuality—I just mentioned it was a discussion in the church. After the service, a mom complained to the lead pastor that her middle school son had never heard about homosexuality before and she had to explain it to him. I still have trouble believing that a middle school student didn’t know what homosexuality was, but to their credit, the family didn’t leave the church over it. People are typically more forgiving of the associate Additionally, I was criticized for taking our youth group to <quote> too many Native American reservations on mission trips, for talking about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa during a sermon, and for suggesting during a Bible study that Jesus might have been a pacifist and didn’t expect the Kingdom of God to come to earth by force. While it’s never fun to receive negative feedback, I recognized that disagreements are healthy. That’s what fosters conversation and growth. Far too often, however, when people disagree they leave. But they don’t have to. When the echo chamber stops echoing and we are being challenged to rethink something—even something we think is fundamental or core—we don’t have to leave. We can choose instead to listen and struggle with a new idea. That new idea might just contain some insight that helps to strengthen our faith, that makes us a better of disciple of Jesus Christ. When I get to this place, I like to remember that the name Israel, Jacob is told, means ‘one who wrestles with God.’ Hmm… maybe that’s what we’re called to do. Getting out of the echo chamber Maybe our churches aren’t supposed to be echo chambers? What would it be like to hear about your faith from someone whose life experience is different from your own. Maybe it’s a person from another culture or a different experience in the faith. One of my favorites—which I don’t do near enough of—is reading Old Testament commentaries by Jewish scholars. But it could be as simple as a sermon about Jesus’ invitation to commit to him, from a pastor who compared it to being asked to enter into a lifelong, committed relationship with her husband. A thought, a sermon, an understanding that would have never occurred to me because of my lack of that experience. Had she not pointed that out to me, I would have missed it completely. The same can be applied to our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters. Some of the people I know who have the deepest faith, who are most committed to the church at a time when they have every reason not to be, are LGBTQIA brothers and sisters. So why does the church bar them from leadership? Why do they consistently hear from the church that they don’t belong? Why do we in the church think we have nothing to learn from all of our brothers and sisters? Why can’t we recognize that we’re missing out? To put it as simply as possible, why is this a division we think we need? The Bible says so… Of course, I know the answer to that questions. Most who disagree will say, “The Bible says so.” If they’ve done a bit of homework, they may be able to quote Leviticus, Mark or Romans or another verse whose reference fits neatly within the 280 characters of a Tweet. Case closed, right? Well… no. We need to look much more deeply at the Bible than that. We need to allow Spirit to speak to us through the Bible and not simply quote it and walk away—especially with no context. I’m working on an episode on the witness of Scripture to share in the coming weeks. That’s a separate, complicated conversation, but here’s a bit of a preview. There are times when an apparent “clear reading of Scripture” doesn’t match up with my experience of the world. What do you do when that happens? Most people see two simple choices—deny scripture or deny their experience—and people make one of those choices every day. Some do what seems crazy to me, and deny their reality. Their child comes out to them and they deny that reality. They choose instead, to ignore or abandon their child. My Bible says homosexuality is an abomination, so my child is an abomination. It’s ugly and extremely hurtful. Families are fractured over this. Others choose instead to walk away from their faith, assuming the Bible isn’t relevant for the 21st century. Someone recently said to me, “I’ve never read the Bible” and then a few seconds later, “I don’t believe in the Bible.” Yeah, that’s the problem that comes from hearing how other people have read the scriptures. Witness of Scripture But there is a third choice. When my experience with LGBTQIA friends doesn’t match with Leviticus calling homosexuality “an abomination,” I need to take another look at the scripture, to go a little deeper, to see if there might be something there. Because I believe the Bible is relevant for our time and our experience—as well as for the times and places in which these things were written—I want to take the time to understand ‘the witness of Scripture’—the whole of Scripture—rather than simply quoting it and walking away. This mode of thinking automatically puts me at a disadvantage in a conversation—especially one on social media—because it doesn’t fit in a Tweet. At best I need a Twitter thread to make the point, and who has time to read all of that that But those are the kinds of things we do, right? There was a time when people quoted 1 Corinthians 14:34, “the women should be quiet during the meeting. They are not allowed to talk,” to say that women were not permitted to be pastors an preachers—in some circles that time continues into today (Beth Moore just experienced it recently). Again, we can’t just quote it and walk away—God said it. I believe. That settles it. Instead, we have to do a little more work. We have to dig a little deeper. Again, I’ll work through this more in a future episode, but for now, let me just say that I understand the tension. It feels like we’re picking and choosing what scripture passagess to listen to and which to ignore. Instead, it’s about listening to the whole of the Bible and not just parts of it. I believe the “witness of scripture” calls me to recognize and honor the imago dei—the image of God—in everyone. That’s a biblical understanding from Genesis 1, when God says, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us.” All people regardless of gender, skin tone, sexuality, nation of origin, or any other false division we might want to construct are created in the image of God. We are all one people, one family, each bearing the image of our Creator. Who are we to separate that? To say that others in the human family somehow do not belong because of some disqualifying trait? Maybe you’ve seen the meme that says, “I’d rather be excluded for who I include, than included for who I exclude.” I used to put it this way: I can’t imagine standing before the pearly gates / judgment seat / choose your image, and being told that I’m not going to be admitted to paradise because I loved people too much, showed people too much grace, accepted people too easily. Witness of the elders One more quick thing that I hope is not an aside. I have had the privilege of meeting and speaking with several people who were civil rights leaders in the 60s and every single one I’ve spoken with, has talked about LGBTQIA inclusion. It appears that many of our elders who have thought deeply about racial justice—who have been discriminated against because of the color of their skin—are on the side of full inclusion. My reading about antiracism from the likes of Ibram X. Kendi, Cornell West (I recently reread Race Matters), Jemar Tisby and others, has me understanding that any exclusion of anyone does harm to the human family. And as the church, to the body of Christ. I am finding it increasingly difficult to talk about dismantling racism without also talking about LGBTQIA inclusion. We have to stop dividing the human family. Stop talking about who belongs and who doesn’t, about insiders and outsiders. I am convinced that as Christians, there should never be a ‘them.’ We’re all ‘us.’ We’re all one, deeply-connected family that needs each other. And that is by the design of our creator. A couple of quick Bible images: In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul writes about us fitting together like a body, the body of Christ. In that description, he writes, “the eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you,’ or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.’” But isn’t that exactly what we do when we choose to exclude? Or let’s look at Ephesians 6—those verses about “principalities and powers”—another passage I have wrestled with over the years. I recently heard a great sermon that reframed the verse by looking at what comes before and after it—Yes, I’m a big fan of context. And you don’t have to go far for this one. That verse begins with these words, “We aren’t fighting against human enemies,” before it gets to the spiritualizing part, saying “but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.” I’ve heard so many people quote the 2nd part while ignoring the first. Even while saying we need to remove some “enemy” from our midst. Look, I get that it’s a lot easier to get elected when you convince people that the “other side” is the enemy. It may even be simpler to convert people to your faith when you convince them that the other churches, denominations, worship styles, theologies, religions, expressions of faith and the people that adhere to them, are the real problem. It seems to me, however, that whenever we say, “If only we could get rid of them—whoever your them is (the conservatives, the liberals, whoever)—then everything would be perfect,” you are thinking in a way that is harmful and contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ephesians 6 is warning us against that very thing. We cannot split humanity up into us and them. We aren’t fighting against human enemies—at least we shouldn’t be. And in the midst of an election season, that’s what we’re hearing over and over again. If you are on one side, you’re hearing Biden is the enemy. If you’re on the other, you’re being told Trump is the enemy. The same is true in the church. Those people who believe that, are the enemy. I’m not listening to them anymore. I wish we could focus less on the second part of that verse and more on the first, “We aren’t fighting against human enemies.” Conclusion So, this is my confession. This is me coming clean. This is me finally saying what I’ve wanted to say for some time but was too afraid of what the repercussions might be. LGBQTIA inclusion is long, long overdue. Thank you for listening. Not Your Ordinary Joe is now available on your favorite podcasting site, including Spotify and Stitcher. Subscribe or follow so you don’t miss an episode. And to learn more about me and Not Your Ordinary Joe, go to joeiovino.com/NYOJoe The post Silence, complicity and LGBTQIA inclusion appeared first on Joe Iovino.
19 minutes | 8 months ago
Humility, Striving and Satisfaction
NYOJoe Episode 001: A little Hamilton, a bit of a book, a podcast and a Bible story have me thinking about humility, striving and satisfaction. Show notes & links Cartoonification by Kristi Iovino This episode is a podcast version of this post: Satisfied: A sermon‘Satisfied’ from Hamilton on SpotifyThe Way Up is Down by Marlena Graves on AmazonMy interview with the author (Spotify | web)Eric Soard on Get Your Spirit in Shape (Spotify | web)Bible Reference: Luke 18:9-14 Common English BibleSuspice, the Radical Prayer on IgnatianSpirituality.com Not Your Ordinary Joe theme music by Joseph Iovino, artwork by Kristi Iovino. Transcript A little Hamilton, a bit of a book, and a Bible story have me thinking about humility, striving and satisfaction. My name is Joe Iovino and I am NOT your ordinary Joe. Like probably many of you, I saw Hamilton on its debut weekend on Disney+. I had been listening to the music off-and-on for several years and was anxious to finally get to SEE it! It didn’t disappoint. I was in awe for the entire 2 ½ hours. But one of the highlights for me, the song I keep going back to time and again, is Renee Elise Goldsberry’s stunning performance of “Satisfied.” If you haven’t yet seen Hamilton, the song is part of Alexander & Eliza Hamilton’s wedding reception. In one of the many blends of contemporary and historic, Eliza’s sister, Angelica offers a toast to the bride and groom as the maid of honor. All is going well. She toasts to her sister, the bride. She toasts the groom. And then she sings, “May you always be satisfied.” And on that word satisfied, she flashes back to the night she and her sisters first met Alexander Hamilton. Eliza was shy, so it was her sister Angelica who first spoke with Hamilton, and when they met, Hamilton gave her what sounds like a pretty bad pickup line: “You strike me as a woman who has never been satisfied.” A few moments later, in a moment of honesty, he confesses to her, “I have never been satisfied.” Never satisfied This theme in Hamilton of never being satisfied, seems nearly universal. Many of us find ourselves in a similar place at times in our lives—striving for the job, the raise, the promotion; the relationship, the spouse, the children; the car, the house, the office—that milestone, that symbol, in life we know will change things for us, that will finally get us the respect and recognition we deserve. That will change the way we think about ourselves. Then we get there, and… well… we hardly notice. Instead, we’re soon looking forward to the next job, next raise, next promotion, next milestone. Like Hamilton, we are never satisfied. Soon after watching Hamilton, I read The Way Up is Down: Becoming yourself by forgetting yourself by Marlena Graves. The book is primarily about how God calls us to follow the example of Jesus, who as we read in Philippians 2, “Though he was in the form of God… emptied himself.” Graves reminds us that the Bible shares this as an example, a mindset all of us should have—to empty ourselves. But all too often, we do the opposite. Like Hamilton, we try to fill ourselves with power, money, comfort, whatever it is for you, and find ourselves dissatisfied. In the book, Graves offers a prescription of sorts, to keeping our longings in their proper place… Our best stuff “What if we had an AA confession in our churches?” she writes. “‘Hi, I’m _____ and I love money.’ Then we could follow up with, ‘This is how it led to all sorts of evil.’” I think she is onto something. As a seminary student, I clearly remember Dr. Bryant Kirkland, one of my preaching professors, making an off-hand remark while commenting on another student’s sermon. “When the church wasn’t looking,” he said, “AA took our best stuff.” I’m not sure I fully grasped what he was talking about at the time, but then I served a congregation in small-town New Jersey that was known in the neighborhood more for hosting the local AA meetings than any other ministry of the church. The AA Halloween party consistently had higher attendance than our Christmas Eve and Easter worship services, and their weekly attendance probably doubled our worship attendance. As the pastor, I made myself available by finding excuses to be in the hallways of the church before and after AA meetings, and I started to see what Dr. Kirkland meant. There is something about confessing our brokenness, and meeting together with other people doing the same that has the power to heal us. A little Methodism Of course, John Wesley—the Anglican priest who started the Methodist movement—stumbled onto this nearly 300 years ago. Wesley gathered people into “classes,” what we would call small groups today. His original intent was to help the Methodists pay off a mortgage with a “penny offering,” but he soon discovered that having a place for people to meet in their brokenness, to confess their sin and “watch over one another in love” was key to their spiritual growth. Eventually, Methodists were required to be part of a class meeting group, where they worked together on their discipleship, in order to get to attend the larger society meetings. But somewhere along the way, we Methodists lost that. Maybe because the idea of standing before my church and saying, “Hi, I’m Joe and I love money,” is an anxiety-inducing notion. In our world of social media trolling and anonymous commenting, I’m actually kind of nervous about the kind of the pushback I might receive from this podcast as I share my doubts, fears, anxieties, unpopular opinions and minor struggles I plan to talk about in future episodes. So every Sunday morning, back when we could actually go to church, I would put on my Sunday best and head out the door. Now, for me, ‘Sunday best’ was rarely about my wardrobe. Unlike my dad, the head usher at our church who had a closet full of Sunday suits. No, I have gotten used to putting on something else. A uniform of sorts, that hides the ugly parts of my life. The struggles I’m having with my kids. The spat with my spouse last night. My fears about the health of my parents. Worries about job security, the economy, coronavirus and racial injustice. Put aside the nasty way I talked to or about my coworker to get ahead. The unraveling of the things I used to be most sure about. Hide my doubts, my struggles, my insecurities, my fears. What was the old Secret deodorant commercial, “Never let ‘em see you sweat.” With that uniform on, I could then stand before the congregation and with all the false sincerity I can muster, say or at least project, “Hi, I’m Joe, and I’m a good Christian.” Even at times when I feel anything but. I think about how many of us during the ‘joys and concerns’ part of our worship services are quick to ask for prayers for someone else, and rarely say, “Can you guys just pray for me? I’m really struggling.” How many of us in Sunday School want to give the ‘right’ answer, rather than ask the question that we’re really thinking about. Or maybe… it’s just me who feels this. Too close? As some of you know, in my day job I host another podcast where I get to interview lots of amazing people. It’s one of the real pleasures and surprises of my work. Not too long ago, I got to talk to a United Methodist missionary named Eric Soard whose original plan was to go to Tanzania for four months. He stayed for 10 years, and founded a school there. When I asked him about the remarkable things he’d accomplished, he said he just followed God to the next small right step. (I’ll include a link to that episode of Get Your Spirit in Shape in the show notes for this episode at joeiovino.com). In the midst of our conversation, I asked him to share something he learned in Tanzania that Americans should know. He said this: I feel like one of the things we struggle with in major ways here in the US is isolation, loneliness, lack of genuine, accountable relationships. We struggle here with letting people get too close, and yet we also struggle with not having people close enough… Pause there for a second: We struggle with letting people get too close… that’s uncomfortable.And we struggle with not having people close enough… generating loneliness. That’s profound. A few minutes later, he followed up with a reason why we choose loneliness over closeness: We want to make sure we have everything figured out—with our kids, or anything going on in our lives—so that we don’t have to rely on other people. Because that brings us too close to them, and we don’t know what they’re going to do and how that’s going to affect us. That’s not community… (he continued) To have community you have to have trust. I think he’s right. It’s WAY more comfortable to keep people at arm’s length—to only let them see what we want them to see, and from the right angle, looking up I understand, to make your face look best in a selfie. We want to pretend we don’t love money, rather than confess we do, as Marlena Graves reminds her readers. We want to pretend we have it all figured out—even when we don’t—as Eric Soard told me. So we say crazy stuff like, “I don’t see color”—to prove we’re not racist. We tell others how much fun we’re having baking bread and tending our gardens, instead of confessing our daily struggle with sadness while we’re stuck at home during a global pandemic. We do not dare to share our fears, doubts and struggles about sending our kids back to school. Or our decision not to send them back to in-person learning and wonder what that will do to their socialization. And the problem isn’t just that this is what we project these things about ourselves. It’s that it can become how we believe we’re supposed to think, feel, behave. Two prayers Now for the Bible story… In Luke 18, Jesus tells a short parable about two people who go to the Temple to pray. Here’s what it says: 9 Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust: 10 “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ 13 But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”Luke 18:9-14 CEB I love how the Common English Bible translates Luke’s description of the audience Jesus was talking to, “certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust.” Good thing there isn’t anyone around like that around anymore. Right? Not about prayer So Jesus tells this religiously smug folks a parable that for years, I thought was about the prayers. That the Pharisee is somehow praying incorrectly. That God is offended by his prayer. But in his book Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, author and scholar Kline Snodgrass points out that the Pharisee’s prayer parallels the prayer of sacrifice prescribed in Deuteronomy 26. In other words, the prayer isn’t that far from what Jesus’ first listeners would have expected to hear from a Pharisee in the Temple. The difference isn’t the prayers so much as it is the way the pray-ers see themselves. The Pharisee’s self-identity is seen in the way Jesus describes his prayer, “The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else” (Luke 18:11 bold added). Then he goes on to list all of his accomplishments that he believes elevate him in the eyes of God. There’s this self-dependence in it. He’s the one who is actually responsible for his standing in the eyes of God. The tax collector’s prayer, on the other hand, contains an AA-like confession, “God, show mercy to me, a sinner.” He might as well have said, “Hi, I’m Steve, and I’m a sinner.” That’s a different kind of self-identity. He is recognizing not his deserved-ness, but his brokenness. He knows that healing and spiritual growth will only come through confession of where he has fallen short. Jesus says the tax collector—the sinner—is the one who goes home justified. A conclusion the people gathered around Jesus would have found unbelievably shocking. And I’m guessing lots of our contemporaries would find shocking today. When I reflect on this, I think how exhausting it must have been to be the Pharisee—to do all of that work to feel like you are earning a place with God, to keep up the facade of holiness to impress others, to impress yourself. And somehow, when you live in that place, it’s never enough. In the words of Hamilton, you will never be satisfied. Look around How exhausting it must have been to be Hamilton. As Aaron Burr sings at one point, “The man is non-stop.” Hamilton was always trying to shake that image of himself as the poor, immigrant orphan—no matter how much success and money he might have had. So he kept striving and striving—never satisfied—which led him to all sorts of trouble. He was dismissed by George Washington for defending his honor. Jealousy consumed him with every officer assigned to command troops, and in his eyes surpassing him. He chose work over family, which eventually led to adultery. His need to prove himself right, worthy and respectable, led to a bizarre confession of the affair. Then his need to be a “man of honor,” was the cause of his infamous duel with Aaron Burr and—spoiler alert—his death. In the musical, it’s his wife Eliza who tries desperately to get Alexander to find satisfaction. Time and again, she urges him, “Look around. Look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” She sings to him, “We don’t need a legacy. We don’t need money. If I could grant you peace of mind… Where you decide to stay, and I could be enough. And we could be enough. That would be enough.” Enough. When is it enough? Maybe when we are able to stand before God and confess our brokenness and find healing. Like the tax collector in Jesus’ parable, may you and I find satisfaction in God—that we no longer need to strive, no longer need to work so hard to keep up appearances, to prove to someone else and ourselves that we are worthy of the love we have already received. May we instead, learn to face our brokenness, confess our worries, our fears, our sins to others, to ourselves and to God. And in it all, may we be reminded that we are in the presence of God who loves us, who longs to grant us peace of mind, when we stop relying on ourselves to earn what we already have when we dwell in the presence of the Almighty. And may we come to recognize that that’s enough—more than enough—to be satisfied. Thank you so much for listening. You can learn more about me and ‘Not Your Ordinary Joe,’ but visiting joeiovino.com. The post Humility, Striving and Satisfaction appeared first on Joe Iovino.
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