The Power of Love

It’s Valentine’s Day, which originally began in the church, of all places, as a feast for the huey-lewissaint Valentinus. The story goes that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for those who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to followers of Christ who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. As the story goes, he was put to death around February 14.

We mostly celebrate today with flowers
chocolates, and cards. It’s become a big day for the Hallmark company. We would be remiss not to remember what we celebrate on this day and the responsibility given to us.

Valentinus had the courage to defy orders from the Roman Emperor in the name of love. Anyone who has known love knows that there is risk involved. We become vulnerable when we love another and when we allow another to love us.

The Apostle Paul tried to capture love’s essence is his letter to the church at Corinth when he wrote that love  bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. This is a real, flesh and bone kind of love that cannot be captured by a Hallmark card or experienced during a Lifetime movie. This is the kind of love that originates from the way God first loved us. Jesus understood this as agape love. Agape love is the universal, unconditional love that God has for all of creation. As a child of God, we are called to embody this unconditional love towards others. This is a love that can take all that is broken in this world and make it into something that is whole and good. That is the power of love.

What is the best way to celebrate one who so boldly risked and eventually gave up his life for the power of love?  Perhaps it is to live each day empowered to love boldly and fearlessly.

Grace and peace,

Danny

Build Lives, Not Walls

It is early in the morning, the sun rising over the neighborhoods of Tecate, Mexico. mex-for-blogTecate sits about 25 miles due east of Tijuana, and straddles the border between Mexico and the United States.From certain places in town you can see both sides of the border. I’m s driving a van full of kids, eager and nervous for their first day of building a home for a family. As we pulled into the dirt street, a man in silk pajamas suddenly appeared in front of the van. This is unusual to say the least. He is waving his arms, motioning us forward. What is he doing? Then it dawned on me. He is showing us where to park. He is offering a gracious gift of hospitality. For the next three days he did the same thing. A parking attendant in silk pajamas.

Build Lives, Not Walls

We arrived at the site where we would be building a home and begin looking for the tools. AMOR Ministries provides certain tools that are delivered to the work site ahead of time. We couldn’t find them anywhere. Someone suggested that perhaps they were at another house in the neighborhood. A few of us begin walking down the street yelling “martillos.” We thought this was the Spanish word for tools, but it turns out it means hammers. This begins to become apparent when people emerged from their homes holding hammers, offering them to us for our use. The use of hammers for a group and a neighbor in need. They are offering a gracious gift of hospitality. I think about how many of my neighbors in my neighborhood would be so willing to offer such a gift to me if I walked up and down my street yelling “hammers.”

Build Lives, Not Walls

It is the end of the day and the sun is beginning to go down. It gets cold in the desert climate of Tecate, Mexico around sunset in the spring. A man is sitting outside his clapboard home around a fire. The fire is his kitchen for the evening. His makeshift refrigerator is a bucket filled with ice. On the menu for the evening is fish, fish moving from the bucket to the old grill over the fire. I’m fascinated by his resourcefulness. He waves me over and I draw nearer to take a closer look. We exchange a glance and with a quick wave, he invites me for dinner. I’m a complete stranger to him and he is a complete stranger to me. Except that we aren’t really strangers.We are neighbors.A human made border doesn’t change that fact.  We are  children of God who have been given the gift to break bread together. My neighbor offering a gracious gift of hospitality. 

Build Lives, Not Walls

I’m grateful these new friends took an interest in building my life. I’m thankful that building walls was not on their agenda.Grace abounds.

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.–Exodus 22:21

He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. Deuteronomy 10:18

” and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

 

Where Do You Draw the Line?

I’ve been thinking about a couple of things todayline-in-the-sane-620x400

  • Jesus- I’m getting ready to start a new series on the life of Jesus as told in the early chapters of the Gospel of Luke
  • New Year’s Resolutions- There is reason devotional sales are high in January. Everyone wants to be a better, more devout, go to religious services type of person in (insert year here)
  • Where people see themselves along the spectrum of Christianity.

 

I had coffee this morning with my buddy Michael McCluskey and we talked about some of these things. I have a gift for having coffee with others. It’s easily some of my best work. I shared that I really believe that the labels we as Christians have given ourselves are changing (Mainline, Evangelical, Conservative, Liberal, etc.) Among the issues are the baggage these labels carry, the way they shortchange the breadth and depth of faith, and the confusion and division they perpetuate.

We use these because we need to use them in order to fit in somewhere. We need to describe our communities and our faith to others. We need to tell our story (God knows we need to do this) so we fall back on old descriptions. How do you describe something that is in many ways indescribable?

I can’t remember which of us said it, but we began to talk about the idea of a line in the sand. The phrase is a metaphor that generally means a point beyond which one will proceed no further and a point in a decision from which one cannot return.

Who do you believe God loves? Who do you believe Jesus loves? Where would you draw the proverbial “line in the sand?” Who’s in and who’s out? That’s some real practical theology there isn’t it? If Jesus is our model for living, a quick read of the Gospels would suggest that Jesus draws his line pretty far out. It made folks uncomfortable then and it makes folks uncomfortable today.

Where would you draw your line in the sand? Could it be that our best resolution for 2017 is to draw that line as far out as God does. I believe being more faithful means paying better attention to who God loves. We should be in communities of faith who love others as Jesus loved others. As leaders, we should call our communities of faith to love others as Jesus loved others. That’s perhaps more critical now than it ever has been.

Where does God draw that line? Farther out than you can begin to imagine.

Who does God love? All of us, even you and me.

My Top 5 List(s) for 2016

It’s been a difficult year for many with such a divisive election, a spirit of fear hanging in top-5the air, and the loss of so many cherished people that made a mark on culture and society. Perhaps the end of year lists that get published this time of year will bring us some collective joy. Here are a few of my top 5s. For something to be considered I had to read it, hear it, watch it, or see it myself. I’ve got two kids under the age of eight, so that limits some things (you’ll notice that when we get to the movies.) Each list is in no particular order, just Top 5. Here we go

Top 5 Television Shows I Watched

This is Us- the power of hope amidst the complexity of our relationships. I’m not afraid to admit I’ve shed a tear at almost every episode

Stranger Things-What’s not to love? 80s nostalgia, Winnona Ryder, and a mystery that keeps you on the edge of your seat

Blindspot- This replaced The Blacklist as our guilty pleasure weekly thriller show

Gilmore Girls Revival- It was great to be transported back to Stars Hollow once again. I only wish that I could have banter as witty as Lorelai and Rory

Black-ish- Continues to feature some of the best social commentary that makes you think and laugh at the same time. Props to Anthony Anderson, who has come a long way from his days on Hang Time

 

Top 5 Albums I Heard

Chris Stapleton, Traveller– The man who made us remember what actual country music sounds like

Margo Price, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter- See above, except exchange man for woman

Drive By Truckers, American Band- Not afraid to take on the tough social issues of the day against a backdrop of powerful southern rock. Somehow made their best album minus Jason Isbell

Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to the Earth- The awe and wonder of someone witnessing their first child’s birth is captured perfectly in this record. Don’t miss his version of Nirvana’ In Bloom

Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book- A record built around the artist’s faith, gospel harmonies mixed with powerful instrumentation

 

Top 5 Movies I Watched (realizing I need to see more movies)

Hell or High Water- I’m not a big fan of Westerns, but this was one solid film. The story of two brothers who will do whatever it takes to save the family farm

The Man Who Knew Infinity– A movie about math, that’s really about more than math. Our friend Ken Ono worked on this fantastic story about the power of possibility. Jeremy Irons gives a performance that is pretty close to perfect.

Zootopia- Remember that I have an 8 year old and a 5 year old. This animated feature is for all ages, teaching us that we are not divided into predator and prey, but we are one.

Spotlight- Yes, I realize it came out last year, but I just saw it a few weeks ago. Wow, a sobering, powerful film.

Captain America: Civil War- Everyone loves a good superhero movie and to me, this was one of the best

 

Top 5 Books I Read

The Great Spiritual Migration, Brian McLaren If you want to know how Christianity will be practiced (and in many ways is now), this is an excellent and challenging read.

Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson- A look at our justice system and how unjust it is towards many. A clear call to fix our broken (in many ways) justice system

The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni- I will utilize the learnings from this book for many years. Why do some organizations succeed while others fail? The key is culture and organizational health.

The Road to Character, David Brooks- There are deeper values that shape all of our lives. This books challenges us to rebalance the scales between our “resume virtues” and our “eulogy virtues”, using the stories of well-known and not so well known people.

Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance- A look at the lives of those who come from rural Appalachia, the challenges they face, and the perspective they have.

I’d love to know what you think of my list of hear what you would put on your Top 5.

All the best to you and yours in 2017

The Work of Christmas

This appeared today as the Christmas Day devotion for my congregation. Sandy Springs Christian Church.

 The child is here, and through him the whole world rejoices. I think we love Christmas Day so much because the world stops. We have some time to simply be. What a wonderful gift! Tomorrow, life will begin again, in more than one way. For you, what will be different now that the messiah is here? Will we rejoice at the new possibilities that are born through this child? Will we celebrate the new life offered through the messiah? The angels sing, the thrill of hope is real, a weary world rejoices– now what are we going to do?

The gift of Christmas calls us to be different. All of our expectation and preparation will be nullified if nothing in our lives and the world changes. Our reality is not unchangeable and the birth of a messiah is all the proof that we need.

Something I read every Christmas Day is Howard Thurman’s poem The Work of Christmas Begins. I share it with you now as it perfectly lays out our work following the gift of a messiah:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

Merry Christmas!

3 Ways to Have Better Table Talk this Thanksgiving

An extended family meal. We are sitting there, eating our turkey (we have multiple Thanksgivings
to get in, so had to do one early). Suddenly, someone brings up the election. I know they voted differently than me. Everyone stops eating. Polite chatter ceases. An awkward silence ensues. It continues  until someone makes a random comment about something else. The sigh of relief you hear is the collective exhale around the table that we are moving on to something else.

This scene will unfold around many tables this Thanksgiving. This election has stirred an unrest and a division in us that we have not experienced in some time. All of us are convinced we are right. In past elections, we were passionate about our candidates, but weren’t convinced the other one(s) were so awful. Not this time. We didn’t think the folks who supported the other candidate(s) were so awful. In many cases, not this time.

Now, we sit down to eat and to give thanks together.  Your uncle who is passing the green beans; thrilled that Obamacare will be gutted. Couldn’t happen soon enough. Your aunt passing the cranberry sauce; worried that her dear friends may have their marriage nullified if same-sex marriage is reversed. The pain and concern folks have is real. What is one to do? You know when folks rather talk about religion, something must be up. 

Here are three ways to have better table talk this Thanksgiving.

Don’t pontificate around the dinner table News flash: No one is really that interested in the article you read on the internet that you keep wanting to talk about.  Those gathered around the table love you for who you are, not because you think you are the smartest person in the room. There is a time and place for healthy, informed debate, but the Thanksgiving table is not the place. No one wants a slice of your opinions with their turkey.

Listen more than you talk Jesus shared many meals with folks whom no one else would eat. Tax collectors, sinners, you know the drill. I wonder if he did more talking or more listening? I would guess more listening. He understood that personal and social transformation begins where we are. We don’t know where people are at unless we listen. Listen to what is going on in others’ lives. Their challenges, their joys. Even close family members don’t overtly share everything with one another. Take a listen and you might be surprised by what you hear.

Find common ground Find something, whether silly or serious, that you can talk about. Maybe everyone agrees that your sister-in-law makes terrible mashed potatoes and everyone knows it but her. Hey, it’s a start. God has created life in a way that we have a shared dependence on one another. Whether we recognize it or not, we need one another. This is a gift, not a curse. Find something to discuss that is life-giving and a shared interest. Even if its a mutal dislike of the Dallas Cowboys.

Perhaps our dinner tables can be a source of healing this year. I mean, stranger things have happened. Save the neck for me Clark! Happy Thanksgiving.

Election Thoughts for Sandy Springs Christian Church

I typically use this medium to write to an auidience wider than the congregation that I serve. Today I wanted to share my pastoral thoughts that I shared with my congregation in this space
Dear Church,
One of the great acts of our democracy is electing the President of the United States. In a divisive election season, the thrill of victory is heightened and the sting of defeat is magnified. Some desired this outcome, while others did not. That’s the problem with elections, they create winners and losers. Now, we move forward. In the church, we speak often of the Body of Christ. In a day and age where unity seems nearly impossible, we recall Jesus’ prayer that all of his followers might be one. To be one is not to convert others to our way of thinking; rather it is to acknowledge our shared humanity and shared dependence upon God. This prayer calls on followers of Christ and the church to protect those who are marginalized and those without privilege.   I believe that Jesus offers God’s redeeming grace and love to all and I believe in the Good News of God’s reign and realm.
One of the things this election cycle has shown us is that we need new models of community. We need a new way of being together. Instead of seeking to listen and hearing all voices, we have only been shouting louder. There are people on all places in the political spectrum who feel as though their voice has not been heard. True unity and true community seeks to find the fullness of life for all.
 One of the things I cherish about SSCC and about the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is that we are people of the table. We hold firm that there is room for all. No matter who received your vote on Tuesday, a place is set for you on Sunday. In a day and age of deep division rooted in fear, what a life-giving belief.
My hope and prayer is that the church models a new, better way of being in community with one another. What if we led the way in how to be in relationship with one another, especially among those who have different points of view? For too long, we have modeled our life together after other institutions and communities. It’s time we look to the life and ministry of Jesus for a new model…. After all, it’s not a President in whom we claim our faith, rather it is in the God of love in which “we move, live and have our being.” I look forward to gathering around God’s great table with you this Sunday.
Grace and peace to you,
Rev. Danny Gulden
Senior Minister

Dear Future President: A Letter

Dear Future President,

The big day is almost here. You will be elected to the highest office in the land by the American people. Regardless of what people might say, you will be elected to serve all the American people. That’s a tough job because we can be pretty difficult. Are you sure you are ready for this?

There are several things that I hope will happen over the course of the next four years as your policies and actions shape our shared future.

I hope people will pray for you. Whether they voted for you or not, I hope people will pray for you. Imagine the power of people from many faiths praying for you and your work. Know that there are people across the nation praying for you. May you feel these prayers.

I hope you will be welcoming. Our nation continues to grow more diverse. This is a good thing as a rich tapestry of cultures and traditions comes together as one. You should see this as a strength, not a weakness. This is something for which we should be proud, not ashamed. Continue to welcome those in our land who are seeking our cherished freedoms.

I hope you will embrace all people. Too much of the language of this campaign season has been divisive and “othering.” When considering policies, take into account the effect they will have on everyone. Don’t be afraid to take on the systemic issues that we need to face.   May you foster an environment in our nation where all people are celebrated. Not tolerated. Celebrated.

I hope you will promote peace. I get it, foreign policy is difficult and we are threatened on several fronts. You receive information daily that most Americans could never fathom receiving. Very few of us would want to be in your shoes. However, as you are able, help us lead the way in promoting peace in the world. I believe we can support those serving our country  while working together for peace.

I hope you will work for the economic good of all. In a nation with our resources, we should not have the poverty levels that we do. I realize the government is not the only institution that bears the responsibility for caring for our people, but please advocate for policies that lift people and benefit the widest range of people possible.

I hope you will be a responsible steward of the earth. We can do better when it comes to addressing climate change. Let’s talk about climate change while looking at our own lives to see where we can be better stewards of the earth, so that we may leave a better future for our children and grandchildren, etc.

I hope you will respect those who disagree with you. I know this is a tough one. It’s hard to, especially when you are the one who has to “turn the other cheek.” One of the ways in which we can turn around the way we talk to one another is if you set a good example.

So there you go. Just a few hopes that I have for your time in office. May Gods grace and peace be with you as you begin this journey.

 

3 Reasons the Cubs World Series Win is Good for the Church

Cubs Win! Cubs Win! Cubs Win!cubs

The curse is over!  The Cubs are World Series champions. The Cubs win is good for generations of Cubs fans, good for the game of baseball, and good for the city of Chicago. It’s also good for the church. How is that?

Reason #1

In the midst of a divisive and never-ending election season, the World Series has provided a nice  distraction for the country. People watched baseball in numbers not seen in forever  so they may be a part of the water cooler discussion at the office. At church this past Sunday, I walked by several groups of people talking about the World Series. I had assumed most of these folks didn’t even know what a baseball looked like. Once again, we have found common ground in America’s pastime. Too bad it wasn’t an 11 game series that would have carried us through next Tuesday.

Reason #2

It has given us pause to remember the saints who have gone before. Cubs lore is filled with heroes such as Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and of course Harry Carey. There is the story of the North Caroline man who listened to Game 7 on the radio while at his father’s gravesite. This win bonds generations of fans both seen and unseen. It is celebrated in the “great cloud of witnesses” and gives us the chance to remember those who have shaped us and passed down their passions to us.

Reason #3

All things are possible. We hear of the church’s declining numbers and influence. We experience frustration in our lack of effecting meaningful change in ushering in God’s vision for the world. A World Series win after 108 years of frustration gives the church hope. it brings alive Paul’s words to the church at Rome, We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise. Hope, even when it seems like eternal hope, does not disappoint. The church can go ahead and dream big dreams and its people can answer bold calls. All things are possible.

Cubs Win! Cubs Win! Cubs Win!

 

 

Grace at the Polling Place

She was heading up the steps slowly but surely. Although we were going to the same place,voter we came from different places. I suspect that she had been voting before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 assured that she could vote and that her vote would count. I’ve never had to worry about that. I rushed to get the door for her so she wouldn’t have to worry about holding a heavy door open. As I was holding the door, a young adult came bounding up the steps. I kept the door open for him and as he passed he smiled and said, “It’s my first time.”

We were early voting. By many accounts more and more people are taking advantage of early voting. Perhaps we don’t want to wait in long lines on Election Day. I suspect many just want to get it over with. Cast our vote and then wash the dirt and grime of this campaign season off of our collective selves.

As we lined up, they handed us the early voting form to fill out. My friend who had come in with me was looking over her form with a confused look on her face. The gentleman in front of her turned and offered to help. I overheard him talking with her about his path to vote, sharing that this was his second presidential election since becoming a citizen in 2010. A police officer who was watching over the proceedings (no Russians or alt-right poll watchers thank God) helped another man towards the back of the line with his form; apparently he had forgotten his glasses.

As we all made our way into the large gym with the voting booths and registration records, the poll workers could not have been friendlier. They checked people in with ease and a respect not often seen during this campaign season. Two shouts of “we have a first time voter” rang out. Everyone stopped what they were doing and cheered.  I headed to my voting booth while absorbing the scene around me. There were probably fifteen folks in the booths. Different in age, gender, ethnicity, and likely in a thousand other ways that one can’t tell on the surface. Each of us probably had experienced life in American in a different way. I am certain there were different choices for President, although I am certain everyone voted no on Amendment 1.

In the midst of such an ugly and disheartening election season, the act of voting was anything but ugly and disheartening.  It was a holy moment, a glimpse of grace. It was a reminder not only of what makes this country great now, but a glimpse of how we can become even greater for all people. Who would have thought that grace would show up at the polling place?

As I walked out, proudly wearing my “I’m a Georgia voter” sticker, my first time voter friend held the door open for me. People were getting back in their cars while others were just getting out. I thought to myself, ‘America, we might just make it yet. It’s going to be all good.”