Monday, March 23, 2015

journey to hope: our relationship with our stuff

"lent 5, 2015: money"
mixed media collage (tissue paper, found money, found game piece, wall paper glue, acrylic paint, gel medium on stretched canvas)
march 2015
gregory a. milinovich

i’m a chronic over-packer. if i’m going to be gone for 3 days, i usually feel compelled to bring enough clothes for about a week, just in case. what if i decide to go for a run? Better bring my exercise clothes. and what if we go somewhere nice to eat? i’d better bring something a little nicer to wear. and i just can’t decide if i like this shirt or that shirt better with those pants, so i’ll just bring them both and decide when i get there. can you identify with this? and i haven’t even gotten to the shoes yet. i just pack way too much. i don’t care if i am going for an overnight stay, in my mind i always think that i’m going to have all these choices and all this free time, so i will bring some big book to read, and maybe even a second one just in case i finish the first one. almost always i return home with the bookmark in the same spot as when i left.

i overpack. but don’t most of us do this in life? don’t we accumulate and acquire and hoard things? don’t we buy a new pair, when we already have 10 at home? don’t we start looking at a new car when we aren’t even done paying for the last one? don’t we “need” that new toy? maybe for you it is electronics or clothes or music or games or books or collectibles or vacations or jewelry or cars, but it is something, and we need to ask ourselves this question: do we own our stuff, or does our stuff own us? are we trying to lug it all with us, carrying a mountain of our stuff, loaded down with junk, while pulling a wagon overflowing with more? is that you?

it reminds me of the israelites in the wilderness, after the exodus from egypt and slavery. they had just experienced this incredible deliverance from a life of turmoil and degradation. they escaped by way of a miracle. and now they had freedom, a new start, a brand new beginning, but they had very little with them. and they weren’t even sure where the journey was taking them. and so God assured them that they would be provided for. God would provide manna each morning; a mysterious substance which they called “what is it?” would appear on the ground, and they were only to gather enough for each day. if they tried to gather extra to store it up – just in case – then it would get full of worms and start to stink. so it was an exercise in trusting in God’s provision. the israelites needed to learn that success wasn’t going to be measured by gaining the most grain, or having the fullest belly. it was going to be found in trusting God to provide just what was needed for that day. it is the same thing Jesus was trying to get us to realize when he taught us to pray “give us this day our daily bread.” we really only need what we need, right? we only need what God provides, and the rest is just baggage. that is a terribly hard lesson for us to learn, especially in our culture in our time. we have just been brainwashed from the earliest possible age to view things very differently than that. we are manna collectors. we gather and hoard and store it. then, when we run out of storage, we pay a monthly fee for more storage so we can store even more manna. and all of this is like more and more backpacks and bags and wagons that we are trying to drag along on our journey.

              do you know who understood this?  the woman in mark 12.  she is such an amazing woman, and while we don’t know her name, we know that she “got it” when it came to our relationship with our stuff.   according to verses 41-44, Jesus was watching “how” people gave, not necessarily what they gave.  however, in those days, when a gift was given to one of the temple treasuries, the amount was immediately called out, broadcast to the whole temple, as a way to acknowledge those big gifts.  we still do this kind of thing when we honor bigger givers, or publish their names and call them the platinum circle of givers, or whatever.  so there were many who were making some sizable donations, and this woman must have felt ridiculous with her measly mites - two small coins, like a couple of cents.  it must have felt absolutely meaningless, but for her, it wasn’t meaningless.  she could have used those two cents.  but she gave anyway.  even though her gift was laughable to others.  she gave it away. she let it go, and that’s remarkable.  when human nature would tell us to reach out and grasp and hold onto, and put away, and deposit and save and build interest and acquire and accumulate and hoard and store, this woman realized that all she really needed to do was trust God to provide what is really necessary for each new day.  so she threw her mites into the treasury, and the tiny clink of those coins can still be heard echoing across the centuries.  and I don’t know about you, but the sound of them challenges me.  because i have far more than a couple mites.  i have far more than I need.  and yet i can convince myself that i need far more.  the question is, do i own my things, or do they own me?  am i reaching out and grasping and clinging and hoarding, or am i reaching out to surrender, to let it go, to trust in the One who gives us just what we need – not the bare minimum – but the perfect amount.  

as we continue to journey towards hope, we need to challenge ourselves about our relationship with our possessions.  are they dragging us down?  are we hauling a host of rotting manna, trying to save it in case we need it, or to satisfy some hunger in our soul?  friends, it will never satisfy us.  instead, let us surrender our mites, like the woman at the temple, and let go of what is holding us back, so that we might be open enough to discover the gifts God wants to give us each new day.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

happy st. patrick's day

top of the mornin' to ya'! happy st. patrick's day!  from us leprechauns here in sunbury, we hope you have a great day!

Monday, March 16, 2015

lent 4, 2015: temptation

"lent 4, 2015: temptation"
mixed media collage (tissue paper, acrylic paint, wallpaper glue, gel medium, plastic snake) on stretched canvas
march 2015
gregory a. milinovich

as our lenten series at church continues - we are taking a "journey to hope" - we stopped yesterday to consider the temptations which assail us on our journey.  if we are truly aiming to walk with God, to move further up and deeper into God's incredible love, then temptations are like detours which derail and deter us from the path.  and sometimes, when we get going down the wrong path, we think we can handle it ourselves.  we think we can fix it, or get back on track by our own strength or will power.  but we can't.  God is not some last resort for us to call on when every other option has been exhausted.

so the question for us this week is this: what temptations are luring us from the path we really want to be on?  and can we follow Jesus' example from Gethsemane, turning to God in honest and courageous prayer, admitting what we really want, but ultimately trusting in our Papa to know what is best for us?

Monday, March 09, 2015

lent 3 2015: work (and vocation)

"lent 3, 2015: work"
mixed media collage (tissue paper, acrylic paint, wallpaper glue, gel medium, found nail on stretched canvas)
march, 2015
gregory a. milinovich

this week in church we talked about work.  well, actually, we talked about how work is a poor substitute for vocation.  i can barely use the word without thinking of frederick buechner, whose ideas on the subject have always spoken right to the very center of my being.  buechner says that vocation is that place where your unique gifts and passions intersect with the world's greatest needs.  where those things overlap, that's your vocation; that's the place where God is calling you to give freely of your giftedness.  to serve.  to offer.  to bless.

james and john wanted some payback for their work.  they had given up everything to follow Jesus, including their comforts and their pension.  they really just wanted some return on their investment.  and so they talked to Jesus about it.  about honor.  about what retirement might look like.  about greatness.  and Jesus famously responded to them that if they really wanted to be great they would become a servant to everybody.  he's not talking about being miserable.

he's talking about being yourself . he's talking about truly offering the gifts and talents and passions and dreams and hopes that are latent and growing and dying-to-get-out in you, and sharing them with people who need them.  it doesn't have to be preaching and teaching, although it could be.  it could also be plumbing.  baking.  driving.  writing.  visiting.  building.  listening.  it could be a million different things.  but it only leads to real, abundant, overflowing life when we give it away to those who need it.

learning to live like this - like ones who are willing to give ourselves to others in service - is a huge step on the journey to hope.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

let it go (and leave it at the cross)

on sunday in worship we talked about some of those negative perceptions of ourselves which we have come to own because we have listened too long and too well to the impostor (see yesterday's post).  and we remembered together what God has to say on the subject, that we are loved and chosen and worth every ounce of sweat and blood that God could shed.  it's a beautiful love - more beautiful than we can possibly behold or comprehend.  and so, rather than trust in it and live into it, we so often opt for denying it all together, or buying into a lie instead, a lie which has been slithering it's way into our ears since life first sprung from the garden.  "don't trust God," the lie says.  "trust yourself.  you know better than God."

and so we trust ourselves.  and ourselves come to believe that we are unlovable and fat and worthless and unforgivable.

so at church on sunday, we wrote some of those lies down, some of those old and well-worn perceptions of ourselves which only serve as heavy and unnecessary baggage on the journey.  we wrote then down, owned them, and then took them to the cross in our sanctuary and put them on the cross, as a reminder that Jesus put to death all that stuff.  his love gives victory.  it gives hope.  it gives life.  it causes life to burst forth from all the cracks.  so we need to surrender our death-clamp on the lies that keep us from believing and embracing and experiencing all that color-bursting, hope-filled, heart-thumping life.

what about you?  are you feeling a bit aimless this lent?  there's still time.  why don't you begin by spending some time in prayer and meditation, reflecting on what false images of yourself you are carrying around, holding you down and holding you back and keeping you from really resting in the loving embrace of God?  start there.  leave the garbage at the cross.  and see where this journey of lent will lead you....

Monday, March 02, 2015

my internal conversation, and maybe yours too

"lent 2015 (2): self"
mixed media collage (tissue paper, wallpaper glue, acrylic paint, found letters, gel medium on stretched canvas)
february, 2015
gregory a. milinovich

"i am a wreck," says the impostor, the voice inside who sometimes whispers, but more often shouts his hateful half-truths through the hallways of my psyche and my soul.  "i am a disaster.  i'm a terrible father, a fraud of a pastor, and an overall failure as a human being."

"you are made in my image," replies the God of the Universe, the Creator of everything, and the Author of life.  "i made you, and i call you good.  No, scratch that: i call you very good."

"that sounds so nice," replies the impostor, with a profound cynicism disguised as intellectualism and maturity.  "those ancient words would be so comforting if you could believe such nonsense, but the empirical proof is in the pathetic pudding.  i mean, look at me.  my head is tiny.  and nearly rectangular.  like the whole back of it has been lopped off.  and don't even get me started of my hairline, and my cowlick.  or what about my webbed toes?  and if all of those are anomalies, then let's end the whole argument with the giant fleshy barrel around my torso.  back fat.  front fat.  just fat.  i'm a fat person who has never really been attractive.  truth is, i'm ugly."

undaunted, God offers reassurance, "i knit you together in your mother's womb.  you are fearfully and wonderfully made."

"really?  you made this?  what about my personality?  i'm bossy and opinionated and self-absorbed and needy and painfully independent.  surely you don't want to take credit for that."

"my child, you are my masterpiece.  why can't you see that?"

"whatever.  even if that was true, you can't believe what i've done with it.  i mean, i guess you can, because nothing in the dark is really hidden from you, but no one else would believe it.  if i was a masterpiece at one time, i have done a masterful job of destroying it from one end to the other.  i have destroyed it beyond recognition, and it is unforgivable."

"and that's where you dead wrong," God says with a twinkle in those artist's eyes.  "you see, i have seen your messes and mistakes, and i have judged that my love for you far outweighs all that pain and brokenness.  there is no length that my love will not take me for you.  none.  not even death itself can keep you from my love.  i love you with a reckless fury that you can't even imagine; with a relentless love which will never be quenched.  you are mine.  you are worth saving (i already did it), and you are beautiful.  now get over yourself and get busy trying to share this good news with everyone you meet."


then, with the impostor finally quiet enough for me to know, even if just for the briefest instant, that i am God's beloved, i rejoice, like a puppy, like a prodigal son.  i dance.  i sing.  i look in the mirror and know that the one i see there is worth saving, worth forgiving, worth loving.  and so is each beautiful and unique and wonderful child of this Divine Love.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

why i love (and will miss) parks and recreation

One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD.  And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
                                                                                                   -mark 12:28-31
Jesus was pretty clear about it.  when you boil it all down to its rawest, most basic form, the rules for good living are pretty plain: love God, and love your neighbor.  these ideas are pretty counter-cultural.  i mean, you don't find these "laws" written into the fabric of the way we do politics or business, do you?  in those, and most other, arenas, the primary law seems to be "love yourself and those whom you choose to love."  and this "platinum rule" seems to be reinforced everywhere you look, from wall street to pennsylvania avenue, from the silver screen to the golden globes.  
and that's why i love parks and recreation.  
after all, how many 30-minute sitcoms do you know that celebrate the possibilities for living life differently that we are offered when we love our neighbor?  
in case you are one of the (apparently) many who never watched this show, or who did and just chose to reject its hopeful worldview, here's the deal:  the show is centered on leslie knope, director of the city of Pawnee, Indiana's parks and recreation department.  the cast is mostly made up of her staff, which is a ragtag group of employees who mostly want nothing to do with city government, but who find themselves inexplicably drawn in by Leslie's passionate, if also slightly insane, leadership.  Leslie is driven and goal-oriented and focused, but never to the end of self-gain, but rather for the good of her friends, her neighbors, and the city of pawnee.  she serves them relentlessly.  no matter how many town meetings she holds in which the citizens parade every sort of inane complaining, disappointing selfishness and political ugliness, leslie never gives up trying to serve these people, continuing to believe that she can do something good in pawnee.  no matter how much april rolls her eyes or ron disdains the nature of her work, she loves them.  she makes them homemade gifts and remembers their birthdays and turns pits into parks and lovable losers into hopeful heroes.  
tonight, the series comes to an end.  when it began, i thought it was derivative.  after all, it followed "the office" and seemed to be riding its coattails, with its "mockumentary" format and cinematography style.  but somehow, when the office crashed and burned with michael scott's departure, parks and recreation showed that it had something very valuable to offer, and not just laughter.  but hope.  and thirty minutes of your day that didn't make fun of a lead character who believes she can be successful by loving and serving her neighbors, but celebrated her.  i will miss ron and andy and tom and gerry and chris and april and all of them, but especially leslie.  i will miss her wild hope and her dogged determination to love others.  
we would all do well to love better at our workplace.  to serve our neighbors, even when they annoy us.  to put personal gain at the end of the priority list, because, as Leslie herself said, "your priorities ought to be friends, waffles, and work; or waffles, friends, and work; either way, but work should be third."  we might have a slightly different list, but we would do well to remember that our neighbors come before ourselves.  like Leslie Knope has done on national television for the last 7 years.  
and that's why i will be sobbing on my couch tonight.