Category Archives: responsibilities

On Earth as it is in Heaven

My favorite line in the Lord’s Prayer is “on earth as it is in heaven.” The idea that Jesus wanted this life on planet earth to be a reflection of heaven has been a source of hope for me. I might go so far as to say it is the basis of my conviction that humanity is moving towards an ethic of kindness, inclusion, and generosity.

Then November 8, 2016 happened. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, this past election cycle uncovered and exposed some of the darker sides of humanity. I have friends and co-workers who are legitimately afraid of what might happen to them. Over the period of a few hours on that Tuesday judgment, hate, and fear was normalized. In my city of Denver a swastika was recently spray painted on the door of a local elementary school. The news regularly reports about re-empowered hate groups.

Have we taken a giant step backwards? My initial reaction was a resounding yes. I am beginning to wonder if that is really the case. Is it possible that the only thing that changed on November 8 was the shattering of my insulated world?

Hate, misogyny, judgment, and distrust didn’t just suddenly emerge on November 8. On that night my privileged political perspective was given a reality check. In a sense I had a 2 Kings 6:17 moment, where Elisha prays that the eyes of his servant would be opened. In that particular case the servant saw the armies of God. In my case I have been reminded that the world is larger than my particular echo chamber.

Can I, can we, still take seriously Jesus’ words – on earth as it is in heaven? Yes, now more than ever. It is time for people of all faiths to demonstrate to the world that we can respect each other, that we can live together without resorting to violence. It time for the church to be about inclusion, not just the politically correct type of inclusion but a radical inclusion that takes seriously the humanity of everyone.

My youngest son is in Bible College. I have enjoyed reading his papers and watching him struggle with his own faith. Recently he was asked to write a reflection on a passage in Galatians. He chose Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer salve or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” In his reflections he wondered what Paul might have written if he were around in 2016. My son thought it would go something like this:

There is no longer Christian, Jew or Muslim,

There is no longer straight, gay, queer or transgender,

There is no longer liberal or conservative; Republican or Democrat; American or foreigner,

For we are all humans created in the very image and likeness of God.

This election exposed some scary things. It is now time for people of faith to start being the hands and feet of Jesus. Just maybe we will all be around to witness heaven right here on earth!

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Filed under Beloved Community, Christian, diversity, image of God, Lord's Prayer, politics, racial equality, racism, racist, responsibilities, Uncategorized

Mother’s Day

While most of the people I know celebrated Mother’s Day on May 11, I waited a week. It was 11 years ago on May 18 that my mother passed away. To be honest May Mom18 has never gotten any easier for me. Time does not seem to heal all wounds. I miss my mom a whole lot. For years people have told me that she is in a better place. On one level I can accept that sentiment, but there is a whole other side of me that completely rejects the idea.

It was almost 20 years ago at the Christmas dinner table that my Mom wondered aloud if she would ever become a grandmother. At that point Rita and I had been married for eight years; apparently we needed to produce a grandchild. Without going in to all the details, Christmas dinner the following year included a grandchild and the following year we added a second grandbaby.

My mother loved her grandchildren and my boys adored their grandmother. There are memories I have of my mother and boys that are as strong today as the moment they happened. I can still see the four of them (grandpa included) playing Chutes and Ladders for hours on end in a cabin on Prince Edward Island. There were the summers my parents came to Denver in their motor home and every morning I would watch the boys sneak out the house and into the motorhome for breakfast with grandma and grandpa.

When grandma died, my boys cried a whole lot. Then 11 years went by. The other day I asked one of my boys what he remembered about grandma. He was quiet for a while and then said not much. It almost broke my heart.

Is grandma in a better place? The answer is complicated. I am glad her suffering is over. My mother was never a healthy person and towards the end of her life things became increasingly unbearable. I remember the day when my prayers switched from “God please heal her” to “please take her home to be with you.”

Why is it that God didn’t answer the first prayer but did answer the second? My youngest graduate’s high school this month. For the most part he grew up without grandma Balzer. On this particular week I am not happy with God. My boys are better people for having had my mother in their lives, for that I am thankful. But her time with them was far too short and memories have faded, and that makes me sad and even a little upset with God. Is heaven really a better place for her? She still had work to do here, especially with her grandchildren.

A little over 11 years ago I wrote this as a tribute to my mother:

Today is a day about remembering, with honor and love, the life of my mother, Bertha Balzer. And if I am going to be honest – I have to tell you that this is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do.

How does a son memorialize his mother? What do I say that will be of encouragement to you – family and friends?

Earlier this month my sister Sharon and I were able to visit with mom about this service and she had her own ideas about how this memorial should be conducted. She did not want this to be an unhappy occasion, but rather a celebration – a celebration of a life well lived.

When I asked mom how she wanted to be remembered without hesitation she said, “As a person who loved people.” For the past three weeks, I have had the opportunity to reflect on this and I would have to agree – my mother was a person who knew how to love.

Just ask my father – for 40 years their love for each other blossomed – in spite of mom’s health. It almost seemed that as mom’s health declined their love for each other grew. As I have struggled with this meditation, I wish I could give some clear-cut reason why my mother had to suffer so, but I cannot. I cannot explain why suffering exists in a universe created by a loving God. But the same God who loved the world enough to give us Jesus also knew my mother’s pains and sorrows.

This sanctuary is full of people who have been touched by my mother’s love.

As a sister, she always spoke well of her siblings and she adored her nieces and nephews. Visiting relatives was always a priority. 

She became a nurse because she wanted to care for people, not just their bodies – but their souls as well.

As a mother, Bertha knew what it was to love so deeply that tears would often well up as she spoke about and prayed for her children. The house was never as important as the people who occupied it. And work never took precedence over family. For Mom family was much more than blood – once you were in there was no way out. 

As a friend Mom knew how to find the best in people. I cannot recall my mother ever saying an unkind word about anybody.

In her role as a “pastor’s wife” Mom knew how to support her husband – not as a tag along, but as an equal partner. For Mom the calling was not just Dad’s, but theirs. She knew the key to ministry, you could see it in her face, feel it in her touch, and experience it in her presence – she loved people – unconditionally. She knew how to put people at ease. When someone needed to talk Mom knew how to listen. When compassion was required Mom knew how to weep. She knew that being a help-mate meant helping others find and experience a loving, caring and compassionate God. It meant helping her husband, children, and grandchildren in the battle for their faith. It meant being a rock to cling to in troubled times. My mother knew that strength was more than muscles – it was an inner spiritual fortitude – nurtured through a life of prayer. Her love was something that strengthened everyone who came in touch with her. 

Her desire to have grandchildren was made crystal clear to Rita and me 10 Christmas’s ago when around the dinner table my mother, my timid mother, lamented that she would die before she became a Gramma – talk about “loving” pressure. In her role as Gramma my mother demonstrated new depths in her ability to love. Kyle, Quinten and Lillie will forever be shaped by Gramma Balzer’s love for them. 

The words of the country music song say, “I guess it’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you, it’s what you leave behind you when you go.” My mother, Bertha Balzer, chose well. She chose people over programs, family over work, prayer over business, and love over things. As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest is love.” 

This morning through tears we have gathered to say good-bye. It is hard to do this. I don’t know what Christmas without mom is going to be like. But we must say good-bye. And we must keep hold of the many wonderful memories we have of her. We can celebrate the fact that she lived her life well. That she touched so many – so deeply.  

Bertha, a mother, a wife, a sister, an aunt, and a friend is now at peace. She has fought the good fight and has run the race to the finish line. God has now welcomed Bertha into a new heavenly home – a place where pain and poor health are no more. 

Today I am reminded of the biblical story of Enoch a man who was known for two things – he walked with God and never died. Scripture says that God translated him directly from life on earth to being in the presence of God in heaven. 

A young girl was once asked by her Sunday school teacher to tell the story of Enoch in her own words. She said, “Well, Enoch and God were good friends. And they used to take long walks in Enoch’s Garden. One day God said, ‘Enoch, you look tired. Why don’t you come to my place and rest a while?’ And so he did.” In a sense God has said the same thing to my mother: “Bertha you look tired, you have run a good race, you have been faithful to your calling – why don’t you come to my place and stay and rest?” 

So let us rejoice in the life of Bertha Balzer and know that she is at peace! Amen.

 

 

 

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Filed under aging, canada, Christian, death, doubt, faith, God questions, grandpa, heavenly citizenship, kingdom of heaven, listening, losing faith, love, mad at god, maturity, mennonite, mourning, questions of church, relationship, religion, respect, responsibilities, rest, retired

Entitlement and the young adult

I have been working with youth and young adults for well over two decades now.  During this time I have also become a parent of two young adult boys (men).  I say this because I am not innocent of the issues I want to raise.

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We live in an era when parents are more involved in the lives of their emerging adult children than ever.  This didn’t just happen. Concerned parents have been there at every step, from planned play dates and selecting the right pre-school to hiring tutors and college prep coaches; we have wanted nothing but the best for our children.  Smart phones and social media have allowed instant and continuous access to literally everything our children do and are engaged in.  It might even be an understatement to say that parents have embraced these tools fully.  The jury is still out as to the benefits and costs of this level of social media.  It is not a stretch to suggest that these instantaneous connections slow down the “letting go” process.

It makes sense that letting go is not easy for either the parents or the young adult children.  What we sometimes fail to recognize is the cost to this extended and intense connection.  A grown child’s dependence on the parent to always be present, always come through, and always be available delays adulthood and creates a level of personal entitlement that stunts social development.

In the last few years I have seen this play out in all kinds of unhealthy ways.  Parents have inserted themselves into the crises and stresses of their young adult’s experiences in our Dwell program.  At DOOR, Dwell is a program that invites young adults to spend a year living in intentional community exploring the call of God on their lives.  During their year all kinds of issues and stresses arise from the mundane, like deciding who will cook dinner and how to keep the house clean, to the serious, like how to deal with health concerns or a co-worker who is acting inappropriate.

In the last few years it has become increasingly common for parents to insert themselves into the “crisis.”  Their reasoning is always good, “I am just looking out for the well-being of my child.”  As a parent I understand these fears and concerns all too well, so I am also speaking to myself. Our young adult children will never become mature functioning adults if we, the parents, keep inserting ourselves in their crises, attempting to be the hero and fix everything.

Deep down all of us know that failure and stress are the things that develop character.  Rescuing only creates dependence and immaturity.  It is a natural impulse for parents to protect their children, but there also comes a time when we need to let our children fight their own battles, even when they beg us to fight on their behalf.

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Filed under accomplish, aging, control, doubt, Family, Fear, respect, responsibilities

Manny’s Story

There are very few things more powerful than someone’s testimony.  This week I want to share with you an article that was written by one of our Discerner’s.  His name is Manny Alvarez and he just completed his third summer with DOOR.

There is something about living in an intentional community in an urban setting that changes the way you look at a city. At times people tend to fear the city and be intimidated by its fast pace. Those that are local have the city in their back yard yet know nothing about the needs of the place they call home. DOOR has changed a lot of my philosophy of how I’ve viewed the city, my city.

Before DOOR I was clueless about the issues affecting the city and when I realized this, I felt embarrassed. I’ve worked at DOOR Denver for the last three summers as a Discern staff leading the Discover groups that came for an urban service experience. The Discern summer staff program has built me up as leader, taught me how to live in a community with others, encouraged me to live in solidarity with others, and helped me get closer to my calling and purpose through discernment.

I’ve learned that someone with everything can have nothing to offer a dying city yet someone with nothing has so much to offer. This summer I worked with people that live homelessly and I did not know I could see a mentor in one of them. Five years ago I was scared of people living homelessly because they were always drunk, at least that was my stereotype. This year I saw something different. I saw the face of God in them. Being a Discerner takes a lot out of you because you are always giving your time and energy to the groups and it can cause you to burn out. It’s the same routine every week and it can get a bit repetitive but every week that I went back to visit my friends from the streets, I was filled up again. My sponge never ran dry and I owe it to the men and women that unfortunately are homeless. They are a part of the city, that city I was so clueless about.

DOOR also helped me learn about gentrification and a single story. Gentra what? Single Story? I could not believe I did not know about these issues before. Neighborhoods are being gentrified and low class families are being driven further away from the city. A lot of it happens to clean up the neighborhoods and to make it less violent but that only moves the problem to another neighborhood and it does not fix it. The single story concept deals with stereotypes and labeling someone as one thing only. For example, all illegal immigrants are Mexicans, which is not always true. I had a lot of single stories about other issues but DOOR has taught me to find two or more stories for every issue or person I come across.

DOOR not only creates leaders but it enhances them. It challenges us to face those issues that we don’t really want to talk about. It gets us out of our comfort zone and allows us to see the face of God in the city. DOOR has helped build my faith to what it is now and has changed my philosophy about the city for the better. It provides a great opportunity for discernment and vocational search to those that are still struggling to find their purpose. It provides an urban experience so those like me can see the other side of the city and the other side of those people who are marginalized, poor, oppressed, and homeless. It is the first step to a solution and if we all took the time to see and hear the misery and cries, the cities around our nation will begin to change. Together we can do anything through Christ. We are all a part of the body of Christ and all serve a purpose. DOOR is the eyes of God who sees humanity has one tribe.

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Filed under Bearing Witness, Beloved Community, Christian, church, church camp, confessions of faith, cultural insensitivity, culture, distinctives, diversity, experiencing god, faith, questions of church, religion, responsibilities

Political or Partisan?

Many of us grew up with the notion that religion and politics are dinner conversations to avoid.  I think I understand why.  Both are deeply personal.  And we want to believe that how we believe is the morally right way to believe.  All of this leaves very little room for discussion and lots of possibility for hurt.  For many the only solution is to remain silent, especially around the dinner table.

We need to find ways to be a people of faith without becoming partisan.  Moreover we must own that faith is always political.  These are inescapable realities.  Too many church leaders have been seduced by partisan politics.  If I were allowed to rewrite Barack Obama’s keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in 2008 for the church, it would go like this (the irony of using a political speech has not been lost on me):

“There are those who are preparing to divide us the church of Jesus Christ.  Well, I say to them, there is not a liberal church and a conservative church; there is only one church, one body.  There’s not the black church and the white church and the Latino church and the Asian church; there is only one church.  Yes we argue, we don’t always agree, but when push comes to shove our unity always trumps our divisions.”

In the parable of the Good Samaritan a lawyer asks Jesus how to inherit eternal life.  An exchange about the law happens and in the end Jesus tells a story.  It is a story about religious people making bad decisions and one really bad person, the Samaritan, making a good decision.  The Samaritan chose compassion over any possible difference – political, social, religious or economic.  This act was political and even a bit subversive.

When people of faith do justice and demand justice partisan politics become irrelevant and kingdom politics become everything.

When we start with the radical political assumption that all people are created in the image of God everything changes.  People dying in the dessert, the health of your neighbor, education for all, racial profiling, and gun violence are all issues that people of faith should speak to with one voice because our oneness in Jesus trumps all the other possible divisions.

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Filed under A New Kind of Christian, Christian, culture, distinctives, diversity, faith, movement, political, political debate, politics, respect, responsibilities, speech

Next week

I did it again.  I have agreed to lead a seminar about privilege.  Two years ago at the Mennonite Church USA Convention in Pittsburg I led this same seminar – “Crossing the Bridge of Culture and Race.”  Once again I have been tasked, this time in Phoenix, with leading a discussion on White Privilege, the ultimate “elephant in the room” topic.

Talking about white privilege means owning the fact that King’s world, one in which people are judged only by the content of their character has not yet arrived.  I have the privilege of leading a ministry that is diverse in almost every way diversity can be used.  We are young and old –actually I prefer people with life experience and those without; men and women; American and Immigrant; conservative and liberal; married and single; white and colorful; athletic and couch potatoey; high church and earthy church; straight and gay.

Quite honestly I find this this level of diversity to be prophetic, chaotic, affirming and draining all at the same time.  As the person charged with giving leadership to this organization, I am oddly qualified to talk about privilege, especially at it pertains to being male, white and tall.

Admitting that I am afforded privileges simply because of my skin color is uncomfortable.  The level of discomfort increases when I think about the people I work with.  I want us to be equal co-laborers in the kingdom of God.  In this context privilege is not easy to talk about. On one hand I enjoy the privileges of being a white male.  I have never been stopped by the police because of my race.  I can travel to Arizona, where I will be presenting this seminar, without worrying about having to produce documents proving my legal status and I am not even an American citizen.  On the other hand it is embarrassing to just have this privilege.  I did not do anything to earn it.  I was born white and will die white, this privilege just is – a type of unearned power.

How do I talk about something I didn’t ask for, but certainly benefit from?

Maybe the first step is to own the privilege.

And the second step is to create sacred spaces – to talk about the issue and hear the stories of people who have been negatively impacted by white privilege.  These spaces are rarely comfortable places for white people to be.  But occupying the space, hearing the stories and owning the privilege creates a possibility for a new world – a world where people are judged by the content of their character.

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Filed under Beloved Community, God questions, immigration, meetings, mennonite, Mennonite Church USA, ministry, multicultural, questions of church, racism, racist, religion, responsibilities, speech, theology, transforming

Words of Comfort

I remember the first funeral I officiated at like it was yesterday.  She had passed away quietly of old age.  In an effort figure out what to say at the service I arranged to meet with the family a couple of days before the service, my goal was to get to “know” this lady.  I would weave what I learned into the meditation.  Imagine my surprise when the entire family agreed that they were glad that she had finally died.  Apparently she was mean, angry and insufferable for as far back as anyone could remember.  It was not an easy first funeral, but I must have done OK because afterwards a deacon came and thanked me for “finding just the right words” for such a difficult situation.

That was over 20 years ago.  I have officiated at many funerals since and figuring out what to say has not gotten any easier.

What do you say to the grieving parents who have just suffered to loss of a newborn baby?

How do you comfort a grieving newlywed whose husband has just died of leukemia?

Where do you find words of comfort for others who are mourning the death of your mother?

What do you say when a loving husband of 50+ years finally slips into eternity?

How do you tell your children that grandpa isn’t coming back?

Finding words of comfort is never easy.  Death is scary.  Sometimes in the rush to be pastoral and comforting it is easy to say all the wrong things for all the right reasons.  The twelve words at the top of this list are: “If given the opportunity to come back, they would choose to stay.”

Really, is this the kind of God we serve?  A God who intentionally keeps loved ones apart from each other?

My mother died 8 years ago.  I cannot imagine a scenario where my boys are better off because she has gone to a “better place.”  If I tell my boys that grandma doesn’t want to come back, how are they supposed to understand that?  That grandma doesn’t love them anymore?  Telling grieving families that loved ones would choose not to come back makes God seem mean, self-centered and small.

As Christians our faith does talk about the hope of life beyond death, this hope should be talked about at funerals.  Turning the hope of heaven and reunion into “I don’t love you anymore” is wrong.

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Why?

I am writing this entry from my front porch.  Across the street a family is gathering,  mostly to support each other.  Earlier this week Hector (not his real name) was rushed to Denver Health Medical Center.  He had slipped into unconsciousness. His liver is failing and unless he gets a new one he is going to die.  Hector is a father of four; the youngest just started kindergarten at the school down the street.

I met him the day I moved into this neighborhood, 14 years ago.  He likes to talk – a lot!  He is a good neighbor, father, worker and husband.  It is obvious that he adores his family.

On its own this is one of those situations that raise all kinds of “God” questions – Why would you allow this to happen?  Is this really just?

But there are other complicating factors as well.  You see Hector does not have “documentation” that allows him to “legally” live in this country.  The direct implication is that he is not “qualified” to be on a transplant list.  I realize that immigration is an extremely contentious political issue.  But watching this scene play out across the street and in front of my eyes moves the discussion from a disconnected political debate to a deeply personal reality.

Hector is going to die and leave behind a family that needs him, simply because of where he was born.  Somehow this makes him less worthy – less human.  Can this be moral, right or just?  Especially in a country that regularly claims to own the moral high ground.

The more I study Scripture the more the theme of “inclusion” emerges.  How we treat the stranger and alien says something about the quality of our faith.

I am not a politician.  I still believe that this is one of the most amazing places to live.  But we can be better and we can do better.  One of the first steps is choosing to welcome, include and allow access to all levels of services to the strangers and aliens among us.

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Filed under Bearing Witness, community, culture, Denver Health Medical Center, Family, God questions, immigration, just, liver, local communities, moral, political debate, religion, respect, responsibilities, right, rights, transplant list, urban ministry, White Privilege

Finding Nemo – A story about White Privilege

One of my favorite movies is Finding Nemo.  It tells the story of a father’s love for his ever maturing and adventurous child.  One day in a fit of frustration with his father’s overprotective nature, Nemo ventures away from the reef to touch the bottom of a fishing boat.  He is captured by a scuba diver and taken away.  The rest of the movie tells the story of Marlin, Nemo’s father and Dory, an unexpected friend, as they search for Nemo.

One of the first “characters” they meet is Bruce the shark.  Marlin and Dory are immediately brought to an “AA-type” meeting for sharks.  The gathering begins with a pledge “fish are friends not food.”

As I have been replaying this scene in my mind, one question keeps surfacing.  When a Great White shark tells a small fish that he has become a vegetarian, who has to have the faith that the relationship will work out?  Bruce can change his convictions at any time and without any warning.  What assurances do Marlin and Dory have that Bruce will stick to his new diet?

Some of the biggest challenges facing folks who want to move beyond the evils of White Privilege have to to with relationship and reconciliation.  How do Anglos get to a place of honest peer-to-peer relationships with persons of color?

Many who are White have owned and are owning the privilege(s) which have come simply because of skin color.  We have also recognized that privilege can be costly, especially for persons of color.  We have received preferential treatment when looking for work.  We are much less likely to be stopped for routine traffic violations.  The War on Drugs has been waged primarily in communities of color.  Life has not always been easy for White folks, but our privilege has secured as world that is clearly tilted in our favor.

In many ways to be White is much like being a Great White Shark.  When we reach out to others asking for forgiveness, seeking reconciliation and honesty desiring relationship, it is critical to never forget who we are – sharks, people with access to power and privilege.  I for one never asked to be born with the power and privilege that comes to me simply because of the color of my skin.

Just because I reach out to a person of color with an honest desire to be friends does immediately imply that I have quit being scary.  It is important to never forget that it takes a tremendous amount of faith to look past the teeth of a Great White Shark and see a potential friend.

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Filed under Finding Nemo, respect, responsibilities, unifying, unity, War on Drugs, White Privilege

Leadership

For much of my life I have dreamt about being a leader.  In my mind leadership always had something to do with “showing the way.”  Martin Luther King Jr. did this when he talked about his dream.   President Regan did the same when he asked Mr. Gorbachev to tear down this wall!  Barack Obama motivated a nation with three simple words, “yes we can!”  Jesus did when he preached a sermon on the mount (see Matthew 5-7)

Being the kind of leader who can see past the storms of life to what is possible is intoxicating.

Leadership is more than a great speech.

It is true that King gave a great speech that motivated a nation to dream, but before he could stand at the Lincoln Memorial he had to sit in a prison in Birmingham.  Jesus knew how to captivate a crowd, but he also knew how to wash his disciples’ feet.

I am about to complete 17 years as the “top dog” at DOOR.  I have had a few inspirational moments.  The most significant lessons I learned about being a leader have very little to do with “showing the way.”  Sometimes being a leader has meant that I got to clean the bathrooms.  Other times it has required me to step out of the lime light and let others lead.  More often then I care to admit it has required me to apologize and ask for forgiveness.  One of the biggest temptations leaders face is arrogance and arrogance has a way of causing all kinds of hurt and pain.

I am not of the school of thought that says everyone is a leader.  Leadership is a role that should be taken on with plenty of caution, trepidation and prayer.  And know this; a real leader knows that leadership is mostly about being led.

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