Time is... Caesar's? by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

“Time is money” they say, and the fact is we spend a lot of our time earning money (or saving it by doing work we would otherwise have to pay for.) Even those of us who are retired or in school are still in money’s orbit, either preparing for a career or managing our assets and relationships after our career. We try not to let ourselves obsess over it, but we can’t deny that money still matters a lot.

But if money is what we receive in exchange for our God-given days and hours on this earth, it seems we should give those gifts back to God first and foremost. That being the case, why does Jesus tell us to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” in this week’s gospel passage? Is he really saying all our money belongs to the government first and foremost because it has pictures of presidents on it?

Many of Jesus’ friends and neighbors were deeply opposed to paying Roman taxes, since they saw the horrible things the Roman armies did with that money. Today, some of us intentionally resist paying war taxes but the majority of us are (more or less) content to pay our part; we see the money doing a lot of good! We need infrastructure and the rule of law. Beyond that, many of the practices and priorities of the Christian church have turned out to be such good ideas that over the centuries the government has decided to get involved-- literacy, care for the sick, care for the poor. These are valuable things, and the government has proven a reliable, if flawed, provider.

I think Jesus was advocating for a middle ground; neither total rebellion against government taxes, but also not a total acceptance of the way things are. He’s telling us to play along with the system, but to always keep in mind God’s broader perspective. We should still feel ambiguous about paying our taxes even as we do pay them, aware that our ultimate allegiance calls us to look for ways to reform or even abolish the system we support.

May we all experience some freedom in that ambiguity, freedom based on an understanding that God’s Image is infinitely more valuable than Benjamin Franklin’s.

Grace and peace be with you all,

Your Divine Worth by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

How often do we hear words of comfort in our lives? Hopefully they form part of our daily diet, regularly spoken as part of our interactions with family, friends, and coworkers. But the sad truth is that too many people in the world go too long without having someone reach out in a way that both recognizes their troubles and affirms their worth. And oftentimes when such words do come they can’t be heard, they can’t sink into a heart hardened by a lifelong lack of encouragement.

Last night a friend recommended to me a speaker and author, Brené Brown, whose TED talk on human connection I found to be profound and life-giving. I highly recommend you click the link and listen to what she has to say about human connection and the crucial importance of a sense of self-worth.

Many of us may struggle with that numbness which both the Bible and Brené describe. For me the words of this week’s psalm, Psalm 23, are medicine. The green pastures and still waters described there become in my heart a place of safe retreat where I can gather the strength required to be vulnerable, to let myself feel. These words are immensely popular for a reason; they accomplish the very thing they speak of, that is they bring us an awareness of God’s presence and abiding love.

Read them and remember that you are loved, first by God but also by those of us who have had the privilege to be with you. As Jesus loved us so we love one another, and with Christ we are able, at times, to even love people we have never met, people we may never meet, people who might count themselves our enemies. All are worthy; and if they can just hear and understand this, I think it will bring much healing.

God’s love be with you all,

God on the Radio by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

I find listening to the radio in the car to be pretty much endlessly amusing, no matter how awful the music or talk show may be. I like getting exposed to so many subcultures and genres, taking the pulse of how people talk and think in half a dozen different groups within a few minutes. Of course, once you’ve listened to your millionth self-righteous breakup song or sappy love song, you start to feel like you know where they’re going with it.

Imagine with me that you’re listening to one of those love songs, a woman singing about her lover and how he cares for her. Maybe it’s a country song all about jeans and saddles, maybe a pop/hiphop song all about champagne and dance moves, or maybe a folk song all about fields and flowers. Whatever the imagery, just as the singer really gets going about how awesome her guy is and how he showers affection on his beloved, we find out it’s all for nothing; she’s just using him.

Suddenly the song swaps perspective: The betrayed lover starts singing, whose gifts and affection have been taken advantage of. What should he do? It isn’t a clichéd love song anymore, but a clichéd breakup song about dumping a cheating, lying, cruel and ungrateful partner, a song of bitter triumph, where he takes back everything he gave-- no more fancy cars, no more nights on the beach.

And then comes the final twist… this has been a political song the whole time! It’s been about America who has turned away from her principles despite being showered with all the best jeans, champagne, and flowers. Instead she has chosen a path of bloodshed and misery; an economy, foreign policy, and culture based on violence, and the God that gave so abundantly will now take everything away.

That’s what it felt like for the people of Jerusalem when they first heard the lyrics written down in Isaiah 5:1-7 (click here). It was a sophisticated use of the “ploughing in the vineyard” imagery out of popular love songs to offer a cutting critique of the social and political choices of the nation.

So the next time you hear a sappy love song on the radio, think of God’s love for the children of Israel, for the people of America, for all nations. And the next time you hear an angry breakup song, think of God’s bitter disappointment at the suffering and death we cause because of our fears and power struggles.

Told you the radio was endlessly amusing.

Grace and peace be with you all this week,

Supreme Confidence by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

I hope this message finds each of you in good health and good spirits. Maintaining our physical and spiritual well-being can be such a challenge, even though we live in such a beautiful and peaceful part of the world. Whether we get locked into arguments with the people immediately around us or we get caught up in all the terrible things happening all over the globe, it can be very easy to give up on even attempting to be joyful.

In Philippians 2:1-13 we catch a glimpse, through the early Christian hymn recorded there, of a way out of the traps we build for ourselves. Joy and consolation come, argues Paul, not from looking out for Number 1 but just the opposite; by looking to the interests of others, by taking on a default stance of humility.

Humility is not the same as depriving or hating ourselves, but rather comes from a place of confidence and self-respect. When we feel loved and love others, that feeling of security allows us to give up the fanatical need to control those around us. Jesus took equality with God not as an excuse to force everyone to do his bidding, but rather as a sign of supreme confidence that though his enemies could destroy his body they couldn’t destroy his spirit.

Let us, as we accept our roles as children of God, also be filled with that confidence. The Way of Christ walks in us, and no matter what difficulties and miseries we may encounter we, too, are part of the undefeatable power of truth and love.

Peace and joy be with you all,

Abundance! by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

First of all, three cheers for Jess and Cody for immediately jumping on the cookie outreach opportunity, for Mac and Charlie for their ongoing ministry of giving bread, and for Janie and Conrad for their willingness to participate as well! And I know there are many others who regularly work small miracles in other ways and at other times. What a community! I'm humbled and honored to serve alongside you all.

Such abundant generosity of spirit and of material resources reflects the true nature of our Creator. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I think God smiles when we imitate such goodness. This week's psalm, the 145th, is an expression of pure devotion to God's abundant nature. The whole song is a promise, that God's incredible strength and generosity will not be taken for granted but will be praised and pointed out, from one generation to the next.

Your good-natured acts and attitude are a part of God's good nature; they should never be taken for granted, but be praised and pointed out, from one generation to the next. Cookies and bread may seem like a small thing, but they are the building blocks of the new covenant in Christ. Food and friendship, laughter and conversation, these can be easy to overlook but they are the most fundamental ways in which we imitate God's goodness to friends and strangers alike. Don't let these things pass you by unremarked; notice them, and rejoice!

May your lives overflow with simple pleasures all this week.

Grace and peace,