Category Archives: Family

Who shapes the clay?

Jeremiah 18:1-11
For Sunday, September 4, 2016
Proper 18, Year C

Am I really a boy or a girl?  Amidst the massive transformation our culture is undergoing as regards gender, Jeremiah 18 provides both insight and hope.

Else Berg, "Potter"

Else Berg, “Potter”

One of my former co-workers underwent a gender change.  I met with him over coffee to seek understanding and offer friendship.  He appreciated this.  As I reflected back on that conversation I realized that a crying need in today’s culture is to find identity.  This may help explain the current interest in tattoos and the Burning Man Festival.

So is identity something we each have to choose for ourselves?  Jeremiah 18 provides a very different answer: our identity is shaped by God.   This applies not only to individuals but also to nations.  God says, “At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it.

As clay, rather than trying to shape ourselves, the Bible invites us to pursue a relationship with our Potter.  The hard truth is that God is going to shape us whether we like it or not.  “Now, therefore,  therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.”

The good news is that God offers us the chance to turn back to him before he reshapes us.  Jesus did not come to condemn anyone.  He came “that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

What do you think about the current gender controversy swirling in our culture?  What insights would you point to from this passage or other parts of the Bible?

 

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Preview of readings for Thanksgiving, 2015

Joel 2:21-27

Thanksgiving is a great time to step back and ask ourselves from whence our blessings flow and to where our lives are going.  The answer to both questions ought to be the same source: God himself.  Joel says “Do not fear” not because all was well in his world but because of who God is.  All is not well in our world either but God is the same today as he was in Joel’s day.  God has never failed to bless his people.  Think about this.  In this is great cause for Thanksgiving even as our country is mired in debt and unsure of it’s place in an increasingly dangerous world.

Psalm 126

“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.”  God is all about great reversals.  “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.”  This is why the most important consideration for any of us is our relationship with him.  If we get this right blessings will surely flow beyond what we could ask or imagine.

Matthew 6:25-33

This passage speaks for itself.  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear … But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Heather and I tested this literally when we went to Siberia as missionaries 20 years ago.   These words of Jesus were validated in our lives over and over and over.  What’s worrying you today?  What if you simply gave that to God and moved forward into his mercy, grace and generosity?

1 Timothy 2:1-7

Prayer is the most powerful tool in the Christian’s arsenal.  If we as Christians want to have a redemptive impact on our country we need to stop complaining about the lack of Merry Christmas on our Starbucks cups and start to pray consistently for our leaders.  We need to pray for President Obama, for our Senators and Congressman, for our governors, for our local leaders.  It’s so easy to disdain them.  Mark Twain said, “Suppose I was an idiot and a Congressman, but I repeat myself.”  Yet if we don’t pray for our leaders, we are even greater idiots.  And on the flip side, if we will commit to praying, we take hold of the lever of power that can move the affairs of nations.

Your Turn

What are you most thankful for?  What is your greatest present concern for your country (whether America or another)?  How do these readings lead you to respond to this concern?

Happy Thanksgiving to my readers in the U.S. and around the world.  I am profoundly grateful for you today.

What marriage is supposed to be

Mark 10:2-16
For Sunday, October 4, 2015
Year B, Proper 22

Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (Mark 10:2).

When is divorce okay?  That was the question on everyone’s mind then as it still is today.  Jesus’ response is that it’s the wrong question.  The question we should be asking is “What is marriage supposed to be?”  In this passage Jesus gives us three answers to this question.

Jesus’ first answer is that marriage is supposed to be a reflection of the image of God (v. 6).  “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’ (v. 6)“.  God designed us so that when a man and woman come together physically, relationally, and spiritually, they reflect the image of God in a way that an individual person can’t.  Just as God manifests himself as Father, Son, and Spirit, so does the image of God manifest itself as male and female together.

Jesus’ second answer is that marriage is supposed to be an experience of profound intimacy (vv. 7-8).   “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”   My wife Heather and I have been married for 27 years now.  Our relationship is far from perfect and we work hard at it, but I truly do love her more every day.  The joy of knowing and being known is something God wants for each of us.

Jesus third answer is that marriage is supposed to be a permanent bond (v. 9). Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (vv. 7-9).  Yes, there is an exception for sexual immorality (albeit not mentioned in this passage) but this is not to be the rule.

What our culture says marriage is supposed to be is of course quite different.  From the culture’s perspective marriage is merely two (and soon maybe more?) loving people having the ability to share property and medical benefits for as long as is mutually agreeable.

As Christians our calling is to show our culture that marriage is meant to be much more than that.  The best lever we have is nothing less than our own marriages.  Let’s therefore make our own marriages a priority, so that we can enjoy the flourishing that good marriages bring while at the same time being a powerful witness to the world regarding what marriage is supposed to be.

The problem with cut and paste

Jean II Restout : Pentecôte

Jean II Restout : Pentecôte

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
For Pentecost Sunday
Sunday, May 24, 2015

I love most things about the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL).  Following the annual church calendar is a wonderful spiritual rhythm that I’ve come to appreciate through fellowship in a mainline Congregational church as well as my Siberian sojourn and exposure to Eastern Orthodoxy.  As an evangelical I wish this was something more of my fellow believers could understand and appreciate. This is particularly true on special Sundays like this Pentecost Sunday.

At the same time, I have a pet peeve with the RCL editors.  Why do you so persistently cut and paste?  This week the verse citation is the give away.  ‘Psalm 104:24-34, 35b.’  Hmmm… so we are supposed to read everything except v. 35a.  What does that say?  ‘May sinners disappear from the earth, and the wicked vanish!”  Ouch.  What’s the harm in excluding it?

The harm is that we change the message.  We allow our present worldview to hold sway over the text rather than giving the text permission to challenge our worldview.  In this case v. 35a is crucial.  Without it we’re focused on the good of the Lord.  With it the focus shifts to the good of the Lord in a world gone bad.

Sin is real.  Wickedness is real.  The world is not what it should be.  Take where I live, for example, Milwaukee.  60% black unemployment, profound segregation, and profound family dysfunction (and not just in the ‘hood).  What causes this?  God?  No!  What then?  Sinners and wickedness.

God is praying (through his Spirit) and acting for the world to conform to his intention.  He is calling us to pray and act likewise.   So two suggestions.  First, when the RCL cuts and pastes refuse to go along.  Second, with respect to this passage, pray the unredacted prayer of the Psalmist: “May my thoughts be pleasing to him.  I will rejoice in the Lord.  May sinners disappear from the earth, and the wicked vanish.  Praise the Lord, O my soul.  Praise the Lord.

a vision for redemptive family

godfrey coat of arms

What do I want to be about this coming year?  What do I want my family to be about?  What do I want my organization to be about?  These are good questions to ask on New Year’s Day.  For Christmas I made my two older boys Nate and Karch notecards with our family Coat of Arms.   My wife’s initial reaction was, “Ah… I don’t think they are going to like that.”  But to my surprise and delight my eldest son Nate really liked the cards.  This was a way for me to communicate to the family what I want to be about and what I want us to be about.

Family has always been a very difficult emotional zone for me.  It has much to do with my Mom being mentally ill through my childhood.  I was embarrassed by my family.  I didn’t like my family.  I tried working around the problem by engaging elsewhere.  I became a very good jazz drummer as a result and ended up playing in one of Indiana University’s Jazz Ensembles my freshman year of college (1982).  I still have fond memories of Dominic Spera, our Director.  One of the other drummers, Sean Pelton, is now the drummer for Saturday Night Live.

The good thing about engaging elsewhere is that I was able to find real joy in those other things.  I love jazz to this day.  But the joy I experienced there is something I want to experience more of now in my own family.  I’m a visual person, so one of the ways I’m working this out is by seeing the good, the true, and the beautiful via our family Coat of Arms.

Experts in genealogy may poo poo this idea.  They’ll say, “Coats of Arms were given to individuals not to a family name.”  Or they’ll say, “Even if there was a Godfrey family Coat of Arms you don’t know whether you are those Godfreys.”  Points taken but the larger point is that every family, or every little platoon, needs an identity.  This is why military units develop their own insignias.  I view the Godfrey Coat of Arms as an insignia for my family.  Also, in God’s economy, names have meaning.  What is the redemptive story God wants to tell through the name of my family?  There is a good one here.

Our family name, ‘Godfrey’, means “God’s peace”.  The family’s motto is ‘Deus et Libertas’, or “God and Liberty”.  During the Crusades the first Christian King to rule over liberated Jerusalem was a character named Godfrey of Jerusalem.  In the era of ISIS it seems a little easier to appreciate the positive aspects of the Crusades than it would have been previously.  One book I’ve just started reading is Rodney Stark’s God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades.

The shield features a black background on which is a gold chevron between three gold pelicans.  According to the House of Names the black (or sable) shield symbolizes deep religious commitment as well as prudence and wisdom.  The chevron symbolizes protection (as in the roof of a house or for my Russian friends, a krisha) and was given to those who had accomplished a notable enterprise such as building a church or fortress (or liberating Jerusalem from Islamic militants).  Gold symbolizes excellence and achievement and someone who has demonstrated great valor.   The pelicans are pictured vulning themselves.  For a pelican to vuln means to use it’s beak to draw blood from it’s neck in order to feed it’s young.  “Pelicans vulning” became a symbol of the piety, self-sacrifice, and virtue associated with the love Christ displayed for his disciples as illustrated in the Last Supper.

The crest features a Saracen (or in contemporary terms a Moslem) holding a cross.  The Saracen was there as a trophy representing deeds of prowess during the Crusades.  We may have Godfrey of Jerusalem to thank for this particular element of the crest.  I’ve seen other versions of the crest in which the Saracen has been replaced by Jesus.   Maybe this was to avoid the perceived indelicacy of portraying a Saracen there as a trophy.

So the story this Coat of Arms tells is one of deep religious commitment, prudence and wisdom, protection for others, excellence and achievement, valor, piety, self-sacrifice, virtue, an prowess.  Wow, that’s a legacy I’d like to be part of and cultivate.

One special blessing for me in all of this is that in our extended Godfrey family my boys are the only males who will carry the family name forward.  I am so thankful to the Lord for Nate, Karcher, and Noah Godfrey.  Just as my Dad was a knight for me may I be a knight for them.

You probably have family pain to navigate too.  Maybe it’s a suicide (like my Mom’s dad), maybe divorce, maybe mental illness (like my Mom), maybe something else.  How would you like to see God redeem that pain?  He’s very good at this.  Look for redemptive threads in your own family’s story that you can weave into a vision for a redemptive future.

Let’s continue the conversation:

  • What is your family’s Coat of Arms and what redemptive threads have you found there?
  • Who are some notable figures in your family’s history and how can you draw on their legacy?
  • What pain has your family experienced that you would like to ask God to move to redeem?

dysfunctional families in the purpose of God

"Joseph sold into slavery", Johann Friedrich Overbeck, 1816, Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany.

“Joseph sold into slavery”, Johann Friedrich Overbeck, 1816, Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany.

For Sunday, August 10, 2014
Gen. 37
Proper 14

Israel was a dysfunctional family just like many of ours.   In this case, the father Jacob has made the classic error of favoring one son over the others as symbolized in the long robe with sleeves he made for him (v. 3).  Apparently sleeves were a big deal back in those days.  This would be like me buying my youngest son Noah a Corvette after having made his two older brothers drive my car when it was available.

Jacob’s other sons had taken their family flocks from the Valley of Hebron, where they lived, north to Shechem.  This was a distance of 60 miles north and would have taken them through the disputed territory of the contemporary West Bank (see map).   Why go 60 miles?  Was the flock so big it ate that much grass?  More likely they went to where the water was.

Josephs journey into slavery

Joseph’s journey into slavery with reference to modern boundaries.

Joseph’s brothers are infuriated when they see the fancy robe that Jacob made for Joseph.  They proceed to throw Joseph in an empty well and then sell him into slavery.  So much for brotherly love.

With a family like this how could God possibly accomplish anything?  Take heart, o fellow member of the family dysfunctional.  As we know, God used this episode for great good later in the larger story.  Joseph will later say to his brothers, “What you intended for evil, God intended for good.

Referring back to one of the readings from recent weeks past, observe how the Spirit’s presence and intercession lead to God’s purpose being accomplished through the dysfunctional family which is us (Rom. 8:26-30):

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will.  And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose,  because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.

God in his sovereign grace is intent on glorifying us, and as he did not fail with Joseph or his father Jacob, nor will he fail with us.  Hallelujah.

Points to ponder:

  • What is the deepest pit you’ve been thrown into over the course of your life?
  • How might the fact that the Spirit is interceding for you encourage you in navigating the pain and discomfort of that experience?
  • How does this story move you to pray for your own family of origin?

mental illness on Mother’s Day

Janice Van Wormer Godfrey R.I.P.

Janice Van Wormer Godfrey R.I.P.

This is going to be visceral.  Normally I write in relation to one or more of the Revised Common Lectionary passages for the week, but what I’m writing about today connects to almost every passage I’ve ever read.

Realized this morning that this week’s post needs to be about my Mom.  You will be reading this just after Mother’s Day but I’m writing the day before.  My Mom died on Mother’s Day right here in my own home.  She choked on a meatball and then died in our guest bathroom as I was attempting to give her CPR.  Your immediate reaction might be to think, “Oh, that’s awful!”  Well, actually, it was traumatic, but also a great relief.  The awful part actually  had more to do with the seven years prior.  “How can you say that about your Mother?!”   If you’ll give me a moment, I’ll try to unpack it.  I’m still unpacking it for myself…  Seven years prior to Mom’s death (so 2006) was when we lost Dad and also started to lose Mom.

The story starts the very year I was born, 1964, when my Mom’s Dad committed suicide.  He was the owner of a funeral home business, built big, became overextended, and decided the best way to bridge the gap was to shoot himself in the head (in the casket room no less).  His family would then receive the death benefit on his life insurance policy (no suicide exclusion on the policy).

My Mom was in graduate school at the time at Marquette University.  She was incredibly bright and was double majoring in French and Spanish.  Yet her Dad’s suicide threw her into an emotional tailspin.  She tried to take her own life by cutting her wrists.  I still remember the little yellow paraffin bars she used to treat her scars.  She would put them on the coffee table across from the couch.  I used to have nightmares in which I was sitting on the floor between the couch and coffee table and a large snake-like monster would come and swallow me up.  Maybe that’s why to this day I don’t like snakes?

Mom was hospitalized down at the Milwaukee Mental Health Complex.  We went to see her one day.  I might have been as young as five years old.  She was so drugged up that she didn’t know who I was.  Really scary for a little guy.  It has taken a lot of counseling to work through the abandonment and trauma.  I’m still working through layers of it now at 50 years old.  It’s been a great and redemptive journey, but difficult.

It’s important though for me to tell this story for all those who have encountered mental illness in their own lives, or among their family, friends, or co-workers.  I can’t do it justice in just this one post, so I think I’ll continue with some additional posts through the week.

My Mom’s illness created some of the greatest holes in my life.  Yet as my friend Jerome Iverson says, “It’s the holes that make the music.”   The good news for all of us is that God offers to heal our wounds and use the very healing process to enable us to be a blessing to others.

He leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul” (Psalm 23).  Stay tuned…