Keeping It Real by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

Have you ever seen one of those ads, usually from some massive brand name or another, that runs something like, “be yourself… by wearing our shoes! As many of you as possible, be uniquely yourself by displaying our corporate logo!

I’m not the first person to notice how goofy it is to use “be yourself” to sell the same stuff to millions of people, but I’ve been seeing these ads my entire life so it must keep working. I guess it shows just how attracted we Americans are to the idea of uniqueness and authenticity, to being “real” no matter who you’re with or where you are. We even like our politicians to at least make an effort to appear genuine, even if we all realize that it’s usually a front.

I actually really like that part of our culture, even though advertisers try to use it to sell us stuff. I think authenticity is important, not being totally wishy-washy or becoming a completely different person when you’re around a different crowd.

But then what do I do with this week’s passage from 1 Corinthians? (“To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews… to the weak I became weak so that I might win the weak.”) Paul practically boasts about being a social chameleon, mimicking the various groups he encounters, emphasizing one aspect or another of his life so as to better connect with people and preach the Good News to them. Paul seems to be about as “real” and “authentic” as your average politician!

It’s a reminder that my American taste for a certain flavor of authenticity might not actually be the most honest thing in the world. Fact is, when we are with old friends we do act differently and talk differently than when we’re with, say, our boss. And it’s natural to try to point out things you have in common with people, it’s natural to bring up your obsession with Bollywood when talking with an Indian or (in Paul’s case) your extensive Jewish education when talking with Jewish people.

Yes, if you take it too far it looks pretty stupid… and can definitely lead to deception and hypocrisy. But it’s good to know that God doesn’t expect us to be exactly the same person all the time; I don’t think I could manage it. God understands that real authenticity isn’t about talking the same, acting the same, and wearing the same clothes all the time; it’s about a deeper consistency, the Good News that we bring into all our circumstances through the love that dwells in our hearts.

May we find a way to be true to ourselves that is not rigid but allows us to genuinely connect with the people in our lives, to the glory of God who loves us all,

Andrew

Laser Focus by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

It feels like the new year has barely gotten started and already Christmas seems a century ago. The golden glow of December has decidedly given way to the harsh light of January, and I’m finding it easy to get focused on work, to fall into a rhythm.

Which is no small blessing! Productivity is great in itself… but that kind of rhythm also carries some real potential for spiritual harm. Whether you work in the house or outside of it, as a laborer, volunteer, or student, in an effort to do our best at what we do we shrink our perspective, narrowing our focus. We lose our attentiveness to the small things, the interactions with strangers, the unpredictable movement of God’s Spirit in our lives.

We can even lose touch with ourselves, preferring to gloss over our emotions and desires rather than taking the time and effort to deal with them honestly. We get so caught up in our plans that we lose sight of the mystery, the beauty, (and the fragility!) of life. James 4:13-15 reminds us to hold our plans a little more lightly, remembering that what may come to pass isn’t always in our hands. Living with an awareness of God’s love, we don’t need to cling to a false sense of certainty about the future, but can face each day bravely, doing the next right thing.

May the end of January bring us focus tempered by perspective and productivity freed from stress.

God’s love shine on you all,
Andrew

Living in a Temple by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

This week has been a whirlwind of meetings; I’ve been fortunate to have several conversations with local pastors now the holidays have passed. I was hoping to sit down with them to talk about what they see as needs and priorities in this area and to see if there weren’t opportunities for collaboration, and indeed the conversations were very fruitful.

I couldn’t help but be struck once again by the crazy diversity of beliefs that are all put under the “Christian” umbrella right here within a mile of where we meet to worship. There’s not necessarily a whole lot that Pentecostals and Quakers have in common -- until you start to look at lifestyle, that is.

Not that there isn’t still a fair bit of diversity of lifestyle within and between all the Christian churches, but I think broadly speaking there’s a lot more common ground and consensus there than there is in matters of belief. In particular, you’d be hard pressed to find a group of faithful people that doesn’t echo Paul’s words this week from 1 Corinthians: "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything.”

There’s this sense that the things in our lives that cause harm and addiction are to be carefully moderated or even outright rejected. We may disagree on where exactly the line of harm and addiction lies: some churches totally reject alcohol, others discourage TV ownership, others leave it up to the individual but all of these groups echo Paul’s fundamental perspective. Not just our minds but our bodies are holy and valuable, we are not just sponges to be wrung out for every ounce of pleasure but temples to be respected and maintained.

As many of us try to cultivate good habits (and maybe weed out a few bad ones) I hope the broad consensus among people who can hardly agree on anything gives us reason to stick with it.

May an awareness of God’s value for your person suffuse your day,
Andrew

Shining by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

Welcome to 2018! I don’t know how 2017 was for you, but I think it’s safe to assume that the coming year will bring even more social change and political madness -- so let’s take a moment to pause and brace ourselves in anticipation of the coming mess.

But for all that we must remember that the future belongs to Christ, and as much as we are in Christ the future belongs to us, too. All these seismic shakeups in the foundations of how the world works are opening cracks, little opportunities for God’s light to shine in. Even apparently negative changes can bring positive backlash, as we have seen!

In Ephesians, Paul reminds us that as carriers of God’s light our example can shape how even the most aloof and powerful people behave. He talks about how the church, by uniting Jew and Greek, (people that hated, misunderstood, and even killed one another) makes known “the wisdom of God in its rich variety” to “the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

Our job is to make peace with our personal, tribal, and national enemies. God will make sure that our example gets noticed by those in power. So as we consider 2018 and all that may happen in the next twelve months, let’s not forget the part we have to play; to find someone we fear or disagree with, and turn them into a friend, calling them to be fellow heirs of the Kingdom through Christ’s love.

My heartfelt blessings go out to you all, that this year be easy and inspiring,
Andrew

Praise Gives Perspective by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

Well, the cold has finally come in earnest. On days like these my heart goes out to those who don’t have a warm place to sleep. It seems incredible that anyone or anything could survive when the temperature remains below freezing for days, even weeks, on end.

But as harsh and inhuman as the cold may be, Psalm 148 reminds us that, along with all the other seemingly chaotic and destructive forces in creation, it exists to praise God. “Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!”

What does it mean for the Psalm to call all things, even deadly and dangerous things, things indifferent or frankly hostile to humanity, to praise God? Do we imagine that stormy winds and the vacuum of space have choice or intelligence in the human sense of those words? I don’t think that’s the point the psalm is making; instead, I think it teaches us something about what “praise” means.

Yes, praise is something we humans choose to do, an act of will and voice and body. But in Psalm 148 praise is also something much broader and more profound -- it is the glory that is given to God whenever anything, human or nonhuman alike, acts in accordance with God’s word. On a clear, cold night when we look up and it seems that the stars are singing, we are to join with them; doing the dance, living out the dynamics of a beautifully ordered creation, appreciating the life spun for us on the Master’s loom.

This kind of praise gives us perspective, reminds us that God’s will goes beyond peace and goodwill among people. It re-centers us on the Creator and gives us a sense of camaraderie with the moon and sun, the waves and mountains. Even the cutting cold is able, in its proper time and proper way, to be part of giving praise to God, whose glory is above earth and heaven.

May all our lives reflect that praise.

Blessings of broad perspective be with you all as we survey the past year and look to the next,
Andrew