Repeal and Replace – Words Matter

So Republicans are struggling again to repeal and replace Obamacare. They’ve been promising this for years, yet even with Republican control of the presidency, the House, and the Senate, they can’t seem to follow through. Conservative Republicans feel the new bill is too similar to Obamacare. Moderate Republicans are concerned that their constituents who rely on Obamacare’s provisions will suffer. Democrats are demanding that Obamacare be improved, rather than repealed and replaced.

Let me make a suggestion. As the first order of business, let’s just change the name. Let’s not call it Obamacare, or even by its official name, the Affordable Care Act. Then maybe conservatives can stop rejecting out of hand anything that is currently part of the law, regardless of how reasonable it might be.

As I’ve said many times on this blog, words matter. The name ‘Obamacare’ matters, because it’s far more polarizing than ‘Affordable Care Act.’ In February a research and media company called “Morning Consult” conducted a poll about the existing health care law, and the results were remarkable. 80% of Republicans polled strongly disapproved of Obamacare, but only 60% of Republicans strongly disapproved of the Affordable Care Act. 35% of all people polled didn’t know they were the same thing. 45% didn’t know if repealing Obamacare would mean the Affordable Care Act would disappear.

So let’s just change the name to something neutral, like Bob. And then ask the Republicans to identify what it is they want to do. Because ‘repeal and replace Bob’ is not a viable legislative agenda.

The word ‘repeal’ matters. Repeal means to revoke or cancel. It means to remove the legal force of any law (in which case it’s no longer a law).

The big Republican promise for the last several years has been to repeal Bob. Bob attempts to provide affordable health care to all Americans. (I said attempt; my own family is on its second stint of going without health insurance since Bob became the law of the land, so I’m certainly not going deny its flaws and failures.) Does that mean Republicans don’t want affordable health care for all Americans? I fervently hope that’s not the case. In any case, I’ll go ahead and obey the eighth commandment and interpret everything my neighbor does in the best possible light. Let’s assume that Republicans do want affordable health care for all Americans, but they disagree with how Bob approaches it. Fine. Fair argument. I’m listening to your ideas, Republicans.

But all I’m hearing is REPEAL AND REPLACE!

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) objected to the Senate’s American Health Care Act proposal by saying, “[W]e want the bill to look more like a repeal [of the Affordable Care Act AKA ‘Obamacare’]. We’re afraid that when we read the bill, it actually looks more like a reiteration or a keeping of Obamacare…To my mind, the most important thing is [Republicans] promised to repeal Obamacare. The current bill looks like we’re keeping large parts of Obamacare.”  That was his objection, that and the fact that the subsidies to help people buy the insurance were too high and the whole thing would cost more than Obamacare Bob in the first year or two. The joint statement he made with Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Mike Lee (R-UT), stated: “[I]t does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs.”

Is repealing Obamacare the most important thing the Republicans can do? Or would ensuring affordable health care for all rank slightly higher? To listen to these Republicans, the content and quality of the replacement bill are far less important than repealing the existing law, and that’s a problem. If that’s not the case, then Republicans need to do a much better job of choosing their words.

Lowering Americans’ health care costs is a fine goal–one shared by Bob, actually. But the emphasis on repeal and replace has been heavy on the repeal and short on any plan to replace it. In fact, as much as I want to obey that eighth commandment, I don’t have any real confidence that many Republicans in the House or Senate really do care about the health needs of the American people. And I base my lack of confidence not on their words, but on their actions. It’s based on the number of Republican congressional representatives who intentionally avoided facing their constituents after voting on the House bill in April. And it’s based on the fact that the Senate crafted their bill in secret and tried to put it to a vote before anyone could thoroughly read or analyze it. Are those the actions of people who are genuinely concerned about the needs and realities of the everyday people they’re supposed to represent?

Health policy is broken in the United States. It was broken before Bob, and it’s broken in a different way now. Fixing this situation is going to be difficult enough without getting caught up on what to call it. Words matter. For instance, health care and health insurance are two entirely different things, yet no one in government has acknowledged that fact. It seems to me that Democratic plans aim to provide health care to all, and Republican plans aim to control health insurance costs and premiums. Both are important, but not differentiating between the two is like rolling routine maintenance plans into insurance plans for vehicles and coming up with a single plan for everyone, regardless of whether you drive a Bentley, BMW, Honda, Dodge, or take the bus. It just doesn’t work. Until our legislators start talking about the same thing and agree on a common goal, this whole nightmare is only going to get worse for more and more people, and people are going to die.

Words matter, people. Lives matter more. Forget about repeal and replace. Forget about Obamacare and the Affordable Health Care Act. Forget about the American Health Care Act. Forget about Bob. Figure out what the people of this country need (the living, breathing people, not the corporations who have legal personhood and boatloads of money for lobbyists) and craft a plan to provide for their health and wellbeing. If you’ve been elected to office, listen to the constituents you’re supposed to represent. All of them. That means Sens. Paul and McConnell need to listen to the Democrats in Kentucky and Sen. Sanders needs to listen to the Republicans in Vermont. (Yes, there are Democrats in Kentucky and Republicans in Vermont.) Come to think of it, forget about Democrat and Republican. Forget about liberal and conservative. Let’s think as Americans.

Better yet, let’s think as humans. If we can recognize the humanity in each other, maybe we can stop all this demonizing and name-calling, and get to work at taking care of each other.

Will God ‘Fix’ Climate Change?

By now it’s old news that Donald Trump plans to pull the United States out of the Paris climate change agreement. I’m not writing another article explaining why that’s a bad idea (even though I think it is because of this, this, and this). Instead, I’m going to address the religious arguments that support climate change denial.

The week before Trump’s announcement, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich) said in a town hall meeting, “I believe there’s been climate change since the beginning of time. I think there are cycles. Do I think that man has some impact? Yeah, of course. Can man change the entire universe? No. Why do I believe that? Well, as a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us. And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.”

First I want to give credit where credit is due. Yes, there have been cycles of climate change since the beginning of time. The first link above begins with NASA stating “The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization.” So Rep. Walberg and the majority of the scientific community agree on that one. And I’m glad to see he acknowledges that humanity does have some impact on our environment. But the word “some” hides a multitude of sins. How much impact? By what means? In what ways? Rep. Walberg doesn’t address these questions because in his opinion humanity can’t “change the entire universe,” meaning we can’t be a real threat to our environment.

He’s correct that human activity can’t change the entire universe. It can’t even change the entire galaxy, or even our entire solar system. Science doesn’t disagree with that. But we don’t have to change any of those things to be a threat to our environment. We only have to change the climate of our own planet, and we are doing that.

Science doesn’t give much weight to the assertion that God is bigger than us, but I do. I’m also a Christian, and I believe in the same God that Rep. Walberg does. I believe that God is just as powerful as Rep. Walberg claims he is. But I don’t believe he’s in the business of cleaning up our messes. There’s a big difference between ‘can’ and ‘will,’ and in regards to God fixing climate change, I see nothing the biblical record to suggest that he will. Quite the contrary, the bible shows me a God who expects and commands people to act with justice, kindness, and compassion, but allows the suffering and carnage that result when people don’t.

Rep. Walberg’s appeal to Christian belief to deny or minimize humanity’s impact on the earth’s environment is neither revolutionary nor a product of Trump politics. Back in 2012 Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) gave an interview to Christian Youth America’s radio program Crosstalk with Vic Eliason, in which he cited Genesis 8:22 as the source of his belief that human influenced climate change is impossible.

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:22 (NIV)

In regards to that quote he said, “[M]y point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

What’s so outrageous about that? People have been taking what God has given them and perverting, destroying, or changing it all along. In the first chapter of Genesis God gave Adam and Eve paradise, including “every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it,” but as a result of their actions God changed what he was doing and told Adam:

“Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you will eat bread till you return to the ground.” Genesis 3:17b-19a (NIV)

If two people could change God’s plan for creation with a single act, I can’t see why several billion people can’t change that same creation by deforesting the earth, destroying the ground in the search for and extraction of fossil fuels, and burning those fuels in large quantities.

Senator Inhofe also used Genesis 8:22 to make the case that “God is still up there,” tying the endurance of the earth to God’s existence. But that’s not what the verse says at all. It ties the days, the seasons, and the agricultural rhythm of life to the endurance of the earth. What happens when the earth ceases to endure? One can only assume that days, seasons, and life will end with the earth. And God will still be up there.

It’s important to remember that Genesis 8:22 is the promise God gave to Noah after he and all the people and animals with him left the ark. A few verses later the covenant continues:

“I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Genesis 9:11 (NIV)

God doesn’t promise to keep life on earth safe from calamity for all eternity. He doesn’t even promise to never take an active hand in destroying it again. God’s promise, which is repeated again in verse 15 of that same chapter, is that God will never again destroy the earth with a flood. There are so many ways in which God can still destroy the world without breaking his promise, and there’s nothing in that covenant that prevents us from destroying ourselves.

I would also like to point out Psalm 102:25-27 to Senator Inhofe:

“Of old You founded the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.

Even they will perish, but You endure;
And all of them will wear out like a garment;
Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed.

But You are the same,
And Your years will not come to an end.” Psalm 102:25-27 (NIV)

The earth and all of creation is finite. God is not. “God is still up there” is no guarantee that life on earth will continue. It’s not arrogant to claim that human activity can negatively impact God’s creation. It’s arrogant to claim that we can do whatever we want to God’s creation and God will save us from the consequences of our actions.

Luther’s Catechism – The Sacrament of the Altar

The Worship and Music Committee at my church asked me to write five short reflections on Luther’s Small Catechism for use in our Wednesday night Lenten services. I’m republishing those reflections here. Eventually I will publish a book with slightly expanded versions of these reflections for congregational use (adult or Confirmation study) or anyone seeking to understand more about Luther’s Catechism.

Reflection 5 (read at Trinity Lutheran Church, Chelmsford, MA on Wednesday, April 5, 2017)

The Sacrament of the Altar

OK, you’ve been baptized. You’ve been dipped in water and drawn out again, dead to sin and alive in Christ. The Holy Spirit has brought you to the Church, and you’ve been received into the Christian community.

Now what?

You might be dead to sin, but sin itself is not dead. It follows you day by day. It entices you and tempts you beyond endurance to do things that are contrary to God’s will. You can remember your baptism and know that your reception into the Church is eternal and irrevocable, and you can remember that being the Church means your sins are forgiven. But the Christian Church is so vast, spanning not only the continents but the ages, and blanket statements about forgiveness can feel weak and ineffective against the knowledge of how often you yourself turn from God and embrace sin.

The Church is vast, but that vastness is comprised of individual people just like you. And while we are called into something larger than ourselves, we are not expected to stop being ourselves. God knows who you are, and God knows what you need.

“This is my body, which is given for you,” Jesus Christ said to his disciples as he gave them bread on the night in which he was betrayed. He went on to say, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood,” and he gave them wine. Then he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Jesus gave his body and blood for you. Specifically you. It’s not a blanket promise to a nebulous community; his grand act of salvation had a very specific purpose. God the Son died and rose again in order to bring you into relationship with God the Father. You are God’s child and heir. You are Christ’s sibling. You. God does this for you. And Christ commanded you to do this in remembrance of him. Eat this bread. Drink this wine. Each crumb of bread passes only one set of lips, as does each drop of wine. Yours. This bread and this wine are for you, reminding you of your relationship with God, reminding you of how precious you are in his* sight, forgiving you all the sins that you have committed.

In baptism God attaches his incomprehensible Word to ordinary water, making that common element an extraordinary conveyor of God’s promises and forgiveness. In the Sacrament of the Altar, or the Lord’s Supper as it’s commonly called, God makes ordinary bread and wine the conveyors of his promises. As in baptism, he does this by attaching his incomprehensible Word to something common and familiar, making it something we can grasp while also making it something more.

The bread and wine are just common elements, nothing special in and of themselves. But when joined with God’s Word, they become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Much ink has been expended in trying to explain exactly how this happens, but the answer is quite simple. The bread and the wine become Jesus’s body and blood because the Word of God says they do.

Baptism is the beginning of a journey, and beginnings happen only once. The Lord’s Supper is given as regular food and sustenance so that our faith may refresh and strengthen itself and not weaken in the struggle. God recognizes that human life is a constant struggle between obedience to him and obedience to our own desires, and we need constant renewal of our faith. That’s why we’re invited to partake in the Lord’s Supper over and over and over again.

The Ten Commandments tell us what God expects from us. He expects us to obey. And we can’t. We try to obey, but we always fall short of what the commandment demands. But with the Lord’s Supper we have the opportunity to obey fully. Eat this bread. Drink this wine. Do this for the remembrance of me.

We can eat bread. We can drink wine. We can do those things in remembrance of Christ. We can obey, and we can receive a tangible reminder that while our struggles may continue day after day, the outcome has already been determined. Christ has died on the cross and risen victorious for our sake, putting in place a bond that can never be broken.

We will never be worthy to approach the altar of God and expect his blessings. That’s why he instituted the Lord’s Supper. As Luther puts it, “If you are heavy-laden and feel your weakness, go joyfully to the sacrament and receive refreshment, comfort, and strength. If you wait until you are rid of your burden in order to come to the sacrament purely and worthily, you must stay away from it forever.”

You are weak and heavy-laden with sin. So is everyone else who makes up the Church, across the continents and across the ages. Your particular combination of weakness and sin is unique to you, and known to God. And it is for that reason that God was born into human history, conquered sin and death, and bridged the chasm between the holiness of the Creator and the meanness of creation. He gave his commandments, he revealed himself through his Word, he taught us to pray and reach out to him for help. He sent his Spirit to gather us into one.

And he did all this for the sake of the love he has for you.

Amen.

 

*To see my inclusive language policy, click here.

Luther’s Catechism – Baptism

The Worship and Music Committee at my church asked me to write five short reflections on Luther’s Small Catechism for use in our Wednesday night Lenten services. I’m republishing those reflections here. Eventually I will publish a book with slightly expanded versions of these reflections for congregational use (adult or Confirmation study) or anyone seeking to understand more about Luther’s Catechism.

Reflection 4 (read at Trinity Lutheran Church, Chelmsford, MA on Wednesday, March 29, 2017)

The first three parts of the catechism convey information. The Ten Commandments give us God’s intentions and expectations for how we’re to live our lives. The Creed tells us who God is and what he’s* done for us. The Lord’s Prayer instructs us on how to ask God for help living according to his will.

The last two parts of the catechism are also informative, but they do more than convey information or instruction. They describe how God continues to be active in our elemental world.

Jesus commanded his followers to make disciples of all nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Therefore baptism is the means through which we are first received into the Christian community, the church. In baptism a person is literally or symbolically dipped in water and then drawn out again. This represents death and new life, or as Luther puts it, the slaying of the old Adam and the resurrection of the new man. The apostle Paul describes how in baptism our old selves are crucified along with Christ.

“What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6:1-11 (NRSV)

We die to sin and are united with him in death, and we’re raised along with him in a new and everlasting life. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is central to the Christian faith, and participating in those events through baptism brings us into that faith.

But different churches have different baptismal practices. Some pour a small amount of water over the new disciple’s head. Others have full immersion pools built into their sanctuaries. Yet others insist that baptisms must take place in a lake or river, just as Jesus was baptized in the Jordan. Some baptize infants, others believe that a person must be old enough to be taught God’s Word and choose for themselves whether or not to enter into the Christian community. These endless variations in practice have caused many people to question whether their baptisms are valid, and more than a few have been re-baptized according to their new congregation’s standards.

Re-baptism is unnecessary. If a baptism involves water and God’s Word and is done in God’s name, then it’s valid. And the reason why any and all of those variations are valid is because baptism is not something we do. It’s not a work we accomplish or perform in order to earn redemption. Our inability to obey the Ten Commandments shows us that our works are of no use for salvation. Baptism, however, is not our work but God’s, and God’s works are absolutely necessary for salvation.

Water is water, and there’s nothing we can do to it to make it holy. Baptisms have been done with river water, lake water, rainwater, tap water, and in one rather unfortunate case, saliva. (The deacon forgot to fill the baptismal font before worship, so the pastor had to improvise.) There was absolutely nothing special about any of that water until God’s Word was added to it. Then it became a sacrament, a holy and divine sign. Yes, even the spit. Because baptism doesn’t depend on the source or amount of water used. It doesn’t depend on the worthiness of the one doing the baptism. It doesn’t even depend on the faith of the one being baptized. Faith doesn’t constitute baptism; faith receives it. And baptism doesn’t become invalid if it’s wrongly received or used, because it’s bound not to our faith but to God’s Word. And even by our grossest misuse or blasphemy, we do not have the power to invalidate God’s Word.

The full truth of God’s Word is incomprehensible to us. That’s why he was born into our history, so we could see the depths of God’s love and mercy in a familiar form we could understand. Baptism is no different. God attaches his Word to water. We understand water. We know what it looks like, how it tastes, how it smells, how it feels. So this elemental substance is something we can perceive, attach our faith to, and bring into our hearts.

Baptism is forever, but our obedience and commitment wavers. We sin daily. But we don’t need to be baptized daily. We only need to remember that we are baptized, and that remembrance allows us to die to sin and rise to new life again. And again. And again. The ubiquity of water in our lives is symbolic of the ubiquity of God in our lives, and it serves as a reminder that even when we abandon God, God never abandons us.

The Spirit calls us to become the church. Baptism is our entrance into the church. And we receive forgiveness for our sins in the church. That forgiveness remains with us day by day as long as we live, and no matter how far we’ve fallen, it’s never too late to remember our baptism, die to sin, and rise to new life again.

Amen.

 

* To see my inclusive language policy, click here.

Luther’s Catechism – The Lord’s Prayer

The Worship and Music Committee at my church asked me to write five short reflections on Luther’s Small Catechism for use in our Wednesday night Lenten services. I’m republishing those reflections here. Eventually I will publish a book with slightly expanded versions of these reflections for congregational use (adult or Confirmation study) or anyone seeking to understand more about Luther’s Catechism.

Reflection 3 (read at Trinity Lutheran Church, Chelmsford, MA on Wednesday, March 22, 2017)

The Lord’s Prayer

The Ten Commandments tell us what God expects from us. The Creed tells us who God is and what he* has done for us. But how do we bring those two things together?

The second commandment tells us, “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.” If we are not to make wrongful use of God’s name, then that means there’s a rightful use of God’s name. And prayer is that rightful use.

But sometimes people don’t pray because they don’t know how, or because they feel unworthy to call upon God Almighty. They believe he won’t listen or won’t care because of the things they’ve done. But the whole point of God the Son entering into human history was to bridge the gap between the holiness of God and the wretchedness of our reality. God wants to be in relationship with us, God chooses to communicate with us through his Word and his Spirit, and God desires us to communicate with him through prayer.

And God the Son instructed us on exactly how to pray. Martin Luther, among others, divided what we call the Lord’s Prayer into seven petitions. In the first petition we pray that God’s name might be holy. Why do we need to pray this? Isn’t his name already holy?

God’s name is indeed holy in and of itself, but our use of his name is not. Here we pray that God will help us to keep the second commandment, and that God’s name will be as holy to us and throughout the world as it is in his heavenly realm.

Next we pray that his kingdom come. When God the Son walked among us and revealed himself to us, he also revealed what his kingdom is like. In the kingdom of God all people are redeemed and delivered from the power of evil, and love shapes righteousness and justice. Jesus not only told us about this kingdom, but he showed it to us in the way he treated the poor and the outcasts of his time. Today God’s people have many opportunities to model kingdom living to those who have not yet received the Gospel by faith. The more we live it now, the more people will be drawn into it and make it a reality that spreads throughout the whole world. We pray that the kingdom of God will work and live in us, and we in it.

But the current systems governing the world are unjust, favoring the wants of some over the needs of others, and there are those who will fight anyone who challenges their comfortable status quo. In order to model kingdom living on earth we must obey God’s will, especially when doing so is unpopular. Martin Luther tells us that wherever God’s Word is preached and bears fruit, the blessed holy cross will not be far away. Jesus modeled kingdom living and the world murdered him for it. We should not expect the world to reward us for doing the same. So in the third petition we pray for patience and strength to bear whatever sufferings we may endure as we obey God’s will and live according to kingdom rules, rather than worldly rules.

The fourth petition, “Give us this day our daily bread,” is better translated “Give us today our bread for today.” There’s not a daily allotment of bread that we’re entitled to. Rather we’re asking that God meet whatever needs we have on that particular day, day after day, recognizing that not all days are the same. And bread refers to everything we need in order to live and function in the world, even beyond our physical and material needs. In addition to food, shelter, and clothing we pray that God will give us the patience, wisdom, peace, strength, etc. necessary to engage in our domestic, business, and civic affairs.

In the fifth petition we pray that God will forgive us our trespasses, or debts, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Most of us would like to cut this petition in half and leave it there, with God forgiving our trespasses. But it’s not only the powers of the world that fight against God’s kingdom; it’s our own natures as well. In order to obey God’s will we must model kingdom living, and in God’s kingdom we are called to forgive each other as many times as necessary. That’s not easy to do. But God never promised that following him would be easy. We sin against God every day, yet he forgives it all through grace, over and over again. What do we proclaim about the kingdom when we refuse to model the grace that lies at the very heart of the Son’s Lordship?

Next we pray that God lead us not into temptation. The powers on earth have endured for so long because they promise appealing benefits. We want wealth and power, or at least security and comfort. It’s easy to turn a blind eye on the suffering our systems cause, or to justify why those who suffer are only getting what they deserve. But none of that is compatible with kingdom living. And none of that is going to disappear once we decide to follow Christ. Temptation is a part of life, but in this petition we pray that God will give us the power and strength to resist. Jesus faced temptation in the desert, but he resisted. We pray for that same strength, because we too will be faced with temptation after temptation, and it will never get any easier. But God’s power will always be greater than our temptations, and God’s mercy will always be greater than our failures.

The final petition is that God will deliver us from evil. Faithfulness and obedience to God’s will may bring us poverty, shame, tragedy, misery, heartache, even death. All the things the world generates in abundance. We cannot possibly obey God’s will without God’s help, and this final petition brings us back once again to the first commandment: You shall have no other gods. We are entirely dependent on God for our lives, our sustenance, even our obedience. And we are entirely dependent on him for his grace and mercy.

The Ten Commandments tell us what God expects from us. The Creed tells us what God has done for us. And the Lord’s Prayer gives us a way to bring everything we have to God, with full confidence that he is listening, he will hear us, and he is with us.

Amen.

 

*To see my inclusive language policy, click here.

Luther’s Catechsim – The Creed

The Worship and Music Committee at my church asked me to write five short reflections on Luther’s Small Catechism for use in our Wednesday night Lenten services. I’m republishing those reflections here. Eventually I will publish a book with slightly expanded versions of these reflections to be used for congregational use (adult or Confirmation study) or anyone seeking to understand more about Luther’s Catechism.

Reflection 2 (read at Trinity Lutheran Church, Chelmsford, MA on Wednesday, March 15, 2017)

The Apostles’ Creed

The summary of God’s will found in the Ten Commandments is not the last word in the catechism—it’s the first. And the second is the Creed.

The Ten Commandments teach us what we ought to do; the Creed tells us what God does for us and gives to us.

Since the Ten Commandments have explained that we are to have no other gods, it’s natural to wonder about the God we’re supposed to have. The first article of the creed helps us to begin to know him*. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. These words give us a brief description of God the Father, his nature, his will, and his work. God is the Father—he is relational within himself and with all his creation. He is almighty—no one is greater. He created heaven and earth and everything contained within, including us.

And even before creation, God was still the Father. He was the Father in relation to the Son. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. God the Father is creator of heaven and earth, and God the Son is Lord. What does it mean that he’s our Lord? It means that he has redeemed us from sin, from the devil, from death, and from all evil. Because we are sinners. The Ten Commandments show us just how far from God we are, how unattainable it is to make ourselves pleasing in his sight, and how impossible it is to give him the obedience he expects and deserves. As a result, we deserve his wrath and punishment.

But we don’t have to suffer that fate.

God saw our wretched and desperate state, and had mercy on us. God the Son took our punishment upon himself. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. God entered human history by being born into his own creation. During his brief life on earth he revealed to us his own loving nature in ways we could understand. And just as humanity rejects God’s commandments, we also rejected his Son Jesus Christ. We condemned him, tortured him, and killed him. And the Son paid the penalty for our sins.

There’s a fragment of a sermon dating back to the end of the fourth century that imagines what happened in the time between Christ’s death and resurrection. “God has appeared in the flesh, and Hades has swallowed him…He has gone to search out Adam, our first father, as if he were a lost sheep. Earnestly longing to visit those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, he—who is both their God and the son of Eve—has gone to liberate Adam from his bonds, and Eve who is held captive along with him…‘I am your God. For your sake I have become your son…I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead! Arise my seed! Arise, my form, who has been made in my image!’”

The Son of God has snatched us from the jaws of hell, won us, made us free, and restored us to the Father’s favor and grace. He has taken us as his own, under his protection, in order that he may rule us by his righteousness, wisdom, power, life, and blessedness.

But we still break the Ten Commandments.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Martin Luther entitles this article of the Creed “Sanctification.” The Holy Spirit sanctifies us, which is a fancy way of saying that the Holy Spirit makes us holy.

Jesus Christ lived and died two thousand years ago. None of us could ever believe in him and take him as our Lord unless we first heard of him through the preaching of the Holy Spirit. Christ has accomplished our salvation by his sufferings, death, and resurrection, but if no one knew about it, it would have been for nothing. So God has given us his own Spirit to offer us this treasure of salvation. God has given us his own Spirit to create the Church.

The Church is not a building. It’s a holy communion of saints. It’s a group of people called together by the Holy Spirit to live and act under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Through the Church God’s Spirit gathers us, proclaims the Word to us, and creates and increases holiness in us.

In this Church we obtain forgiveness for our sins through hearing the Word and receiving the sacraments, which are treated later in the Catechism. Although we have sin, God forgives us through the Church called together by the Holy Spirit, and we forgive, bear with, and aid one another.

As the Holy Spirit continues to work through us, we await the time when our flesh will be put to death. It will be buried with all its uncleanness, and will come forth and arise to complete and perfect holiness in a new, eternal life. In that life we are perfectly pure and holy people, full of goodness and righteousness, completely freed from sin, death, and all evil, living in new, immortal, and glorified bodies.

Here in the Creed we have the entire essence of God, his will, and his work. God created us and bestowed upon us everything in heaven and earth. But we could never come to recognize the Father’s favor and grace were it not for the Lord Jesus Christ, who is a mirror of the Father’s heart. But neither could we know anything of Christ had it not been revealed by the Holy Spirit. Three articles of the Creed, three Persons in the Trinity, one God. Everything God does is done by the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.

Amen.

 

* To see my inclusive language policy, click here.

Luther’s Catechism – Ten Commandments

The Worship and Music Committee at my church asked me to write five short reflections on Luther’s Small Catechism for use in our Wednesday night Lenten services. I’m republishing those reflections here. Eventually I will publish a book with slightly expanded versions of these reflections to be used for congregational use (adult or Confirmation study) or anyone seeking to understand more about Luther’s Catechism.

Reflection 1 (read at Trinity Lutheran Church, Chelmsford, MA on Wednesday, March 8, 2017)

 

The Ten Commandments

  • You shall have no other gods. I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
  • You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.
  • Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.
  • Honor your father and your mother.
  • You shall not murder.
  • You shall not commit adultery.
  • You shall not steal.
  • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The Ten Commandments. It sounds so stern and implacable. It suggests a God who demands total obedience. Indeed, within the text God identifies himself* as a jealous God who punishes children for the iniquity of parents. Martin Luther said, “Anyone who knows the Ten Commandments perfectly knows the entire Scriptures. In all affairs and circumstances he can counsel, help, comfort, judge, and make decisions in both spiritual and temporal matters.” Comfort? Where’s the comfort in these Ten Commandments?

It helps to remember that the bible doesn’t call them the Ten Commandments. The Hebrew translates to “ten words” or “ten utterances.” Christians have traditionally called them the Decalogue, from the Greek deca—ten—and logoi—words. These ten words define what God intends for his chosen people.

You shall have no other gods. This prohibits idolatry. Idolatry can mean golden calves or magical objects. But Luther points out that anything to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is truly your god. And there’s only one God that is worthy of that trust. God is the one who gives us body, life, nourishment, health, peace, and all temporal and eternal blessings. Why would we need any other gods?

The second commandment prohibits wrongful use of God’s name. This goes well beyond mere cursing. It forbids appealing to God’s name to support falsehood of any kind. We see it today when people use God’s name to justify themselves or give their words more authority. God wants us to be led and sustained by his Word, because only his Word gives life and salvation.

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. The third commandment is not a prohibition of work. It’s a recognition that our human bodies need to rest and be refreshed, and it’s a reminder that our work is not our salvation. We keep the Sabbath holy by occupying ourselves with God’s Word, learning it and exercising it in our lives. This regular practice brings us closer to God, and enables us to better entrust our hearts to him.

Honor your father and your mother. Parents and others in authority are called to guide us according to God’s ways, and to honor them is to honor God.

The rest of the commandments concern how we are to treat our fellow human beings. They also tell us how we can expect to be treated by our fellow human beings.

The commandment not to murder also prohibits us from failing to do good to one’s neighbors, or willfully ignoring the opportunity to prevent or protect one’s neighbors from bodily harm or injury. Luther reminds us, “It will do you no good to plead that you did not contribute to his death by word or deed, for you have withheld your love from him and robbed him of the service by which his life might have been saved.” We are to do everything we can to ensure the wellbeing of others, and they are to do the same for us.

You shall not commit adultery. We are to be faithful in our relationships, and we can expect that same faithfulness from others.

You shall not steal. God wants his people to rest secure in the knowledge that our property will not be unjustly taken from us. More than that, we are obligated to protect our neighbors’ property and further their interests, just as they will do for us.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Our good reputations can be stolen just as easily as our worldly goods, and with less effort. All it takes is a word. But that word is not God’s Word, and it has no place among his people. We are to protect our neighbors’ reputations by not telling falsehoods or speculating aloud about one’s questionable deeds, and we can expect our neighbors to interpret everything we do in the best possible light.

The last two commandments prohibit coveting virtually everything that doesn’t already belong to us. Why? We’ve already been prohibited from stealing, so what’s wrong with a little coveting? Stealing is taking something unlawfully. Coveting leads to taking something lawfully. One could entice another person to abandon their relationships or leave their obligations unfulfilled, and would be blameless in the eyes of the law. One could easily take advantage of existing laws or systems to deprive others of their wants or needs, and be perfectly within their legal rights. But God does not want anyone to suffer loss in order to gratify someone else’s greed. God provides resources enough for everyone, and no one should be deprived.

That is the world God intends for his chosen people. Not one full of harsh and difficult directives—one full of trust and solidarity. It sounds like a nice place.

It’s not the world in which we live.

God doesn’t pay the rent, so we put our trust in money. We claim God’s approval for our actions when deep in our hearts we hope he’s not paying close attention. We choose to be entertained rather than immerse ourselves in God’s Word. We don’t always honor those in authority because sometimes they don’t deserve that honor, and when we ourselves are in authority we often fail to lead according to God’s will. We turn away from those in need and close our eyes to the resulting suffering and death. We convince ourselves that keeping quiet when the cashier makes a mistake in our favor is not really stealing. We don’t interpret others’ questionable deeds in the best possible light, and we take pleasure in sordid speculation. And the systems that benefit us to the detriment of others are so embedded in our society that it’s impossible not to take advantage of them.

The ten words tell us God’s will for our lives. And God does expect total obedience, for our own good. And we go against him and serve as our own masters. Every day.

But in Luther’s Small Catechism the Ten Commandments are the first words, not the last, and there’s a reason for that.

We’ll talk about that next week.

Amen.

 

* To see my inclusive language policy, click here.

The Last Sermons of Prophets Jesus and Muhammad

This post was written by Stephanie Siam and was originally published at islamwich.com. I am reposting it here with permission.

Before I begin the reprint, I’d like to make a few comments. First to my Christian friends, family, and followers who might be disturbed by the reference to Jesus as ‘Prophet’ in the title of this post. Islamwich.com is written by Muslim women who seek to, among other things, teach non-Muslims more about Muslims and people who choose an Islamic life. While their faith is integral to their beings and they would love to encourage anyone to explore Islam for themselves, their posts are written to inform, not convert. They are also written, obviously and appropriately, from a Muslim point of view. I retained the original title of the post, and in Islam, Jesus is understood as a Prophet.

Second. I wanted to repost this because I was struck by the question of how Jesus and Muhammad would have responded to each other. Since they were historically separated by about six hundred years, I’d never really thought about it before. So much energy is spent on disagreeing about the true identity and purpose of Jesus and Muhammad and what their respective roles in salvation history are that we (Christians and Muslims both) often lose sight of the content of their respective messages. This post focuses on that content, which is an extremely helpful and useful undertaking.

Third. Many Americans are ignorant about the basic tenants of Islam, and that ignorance feeds the fear which leads to hate and violence. Most of the contributors to islamwich.com are American-born Muslim converts who were raised as Christians. They are uniquely qualified to instruct non-Muslims on what mainstream Islamic life is like in America. I strongly encourage all my readers to educate themselves about Islam, particularly how it’s practiced here, and I recommend islamwich.com as a good starting point for that.

My thanks to islamwich.com for allowing me to repost. You can read the original post here.

 

Is Earth flat? What happens when we sail past the horizon?

Did dinosaurs really exist? How did they become extinct?

Are there intelligent forms of life on other planets? Have they ever contacted us?

What happens after we die? Has anyone come close to experiencing it for real?

A cursory glance at a general encyclopedia shows humans have never fallen short of curiosity and wonder. Never satisfied with the present and tangible, we strive to answer questions every second of every day — even those that have been answered before!

And, no matter, what the subject of interrogation is at the moment, the one topic that always finds its way back into the spotlight of our inquisitiveness is religion. Believers and non-believers, alike, insist their truth is THE truth and all others must conform to THEIR interpretation.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, I’m not trying to drag back the dead horse and beat it all over again. This post is not going to question the truths of Islam — or any other religion, for that matter.

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Photo Credit: history.com

There are a great many people who’ve made a significant impact throughout the History of Man: Socrates, Aristotle, the Virgin Mary, Amelia Earheart, Gandhi, MLK, Hitler — hey, not ALL impact is positive.

But I can almost guarantee that no matter which influential character of history you name in a mixed group of people, there are two individuals whose existence is incomparable to the rest: Essa (Jesus) and Muhammad, may God’s peace and blessings be upon both of them.

Their entrances into the History of Man marked greater change and evolution than any others, yet for difference reasons. On the one hand, we have Essa (pbuh), born to an unmarried virgin, whose actual existence is still, to this day, questioned by those determined to denounce his divinity. (Because we all know, if someone ISN’T equated to God, then he must have never existed at all . . .)

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Photo Credit: educationquizzes.com

On the other hand, we have Muhammad (pbuh), an illiterate orphan whose prophecy is questioned by those whose faith is based on Jesus being the actual son of God.

Let’s be honest, the greatest difference between Christians and Muslims is the definition of Jesus’ identity . . . the rest is sweating the small stuff . . .

To their respective followers, they are considered the greatest representatives of their times and beyond; timeless examples for all mankind.

Perhaps it is a bit ironic that I’m writing this post today, only a couple days before the annual celebration of Jesus’ birth — also known as Christmas. I assure you this was not a scheduled intention.

However, in my mind, I see it as a happy intersection. As a former Christian, and now proudly-Muslim convert, and American-born-and-bred Southerner, Christmas is not a foreign tradition to me.

While my understanding of the holiday has broadened, and my opinion of it overall changed, as I have grown as a human AND Muslim, it’s impossible to deny the positive influence it had on me for many years.

But, this post is not about whether we should or should not participate in Christmas, as former Christians. No, this post is about something that is preached about much more often during this time of year than at any other. And, it just so happens, this topic of sermons worldwide is also another similarity between two of the greatest men to walk the Earth.

Throughout their prophethoods, both Essa and Muhammad (pbuh) had a purpose. They were chosen and molded to share God’s Word and Commandments to all of the people during their respective times.

We know they did not live simultaneously. If they had, they would have no doubt been comrades, partners, associates — disciples or sahaba of each other — determined to work together to convey their most important message. They would not have been working against each other.

Unfortunately, modern day-Christians and Muslims have come to be doing just that. We’re at each others’ throats — insulting, harming, killing, hating each other because of the slightest of differences in belief.

The Qur’an tells us in Surah Yunus, Verse 99:

وَلَوْ شَاءَ رَبُّكَ لَآمَنَ مَن فِي الْأَرْضِ كُلُّهُمْ جَمِيعًا ۚ أَفَأَنتَ تُكْرِهُ النَّاسَ حَتَّىٰ يَكُونُوا مُؤْمِنِينَ

Sahih International

And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed – all of them entirely. Then, [O Muhammad], would you compel the people in order that they become believers?

Alas, we are as Allah’s made us. But this doesn’t mean we can’t coexist and work together to make this world what Allah has intended it to be.

And, how do we do this?

sermon

Photo Credit: christiancollages.com

The secret to interfaith harmony can be found in the final sermons (khutbah) of these magnanimous men. Though their teaching methods differed, their messages were undoubtedly the same.

Along with the ultimate commandment that God is One, and He alone should be worshiped, both messengers strove to reclaim the rights and value of those who’d been sidelined and dehumanized: the indigent, the women, the children, the old, the poor.

While there are various interpretations and considerations of which of his sermons is considered the actual “last” (the Sermon on the Mount, the Last Supper, his curse on Israel while hanging on the cross), there is a specific sermon — in Christian tradition — that Essa (pbuh) delivered to his disciples (sahaba). It is called the Farewell Discourse, and its components can be found expounded upon in many locations across the internet. (For brevity, I have linked the Wikipedia discussion.)

There, Essa (pbuh) breaks his message into four main parts, explaining:

  • My peace I give unto you
  • I am the vine, you the branches
  • If the world hates you
  • Farewell prayer

And, it is in this Final Prayer, recorded in John 17:26, that we find a most important reminder:

I made known unto them thy name, and will make it known; that the love with which thou loves me may be in them, and I in them.

Here Essa (pbuh) is saying he has done what Allah has asked him to do by conveying His Name, and he asks Allah to imbue his followers with love for one another equal to the love Allah has for His messenger.

The overall theme of the Farewell Discourse is the New Commandment that Essa places on the heads of his followers, which can be found in John 13:34:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

As Essa (pbuh) before him, Muhammad (pbuh) also used his final sermon to convey the importance of brotherhood (ummah, non-gender specific), equality and fulfilling responsibility to others.

Among the list of imparted wisdoms include some of the most important summaries in mankind’s history, including the following translated from Al-Jahiz in al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin:

All praise is Allah’s. We praise Him, seek His help, ask His forgiveness, and we repent unto Him. We seek refuge in Allah from the evils of our selves and our bad actions. Whomever Allah guides none can lead astray, and whomever He leads astray has no one to guide him. I testify that there is no god but Allah alone, without any partner, and I testify that Muhammad is his slave and messenger.

In addition, Muhammad (pbuh) also reminded his followers to:

  • treat each other fairly
  • take care of women
  • observe Ramadan

However, perhaps his most assuring and empowering statement is the oft-quoted:

The noblest of you in Allah’s sight is the most God fearing: Arab has no merit over non-Arab other than God fearing-ness.

Al-Jahiz in al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin

In the end, while both sermons focused on specific tenets that had been at the forefront of each messenger’s ministry, it is clear they both presented a similar message to those they were leaving behind:

God alone shall be worshiped; love each other; be kind to all; take care of those you are responsible for; promote justice.

Now it is up to us — Christians and Muslims and all — to unite and reclaim these simple guidelines to restore what has been lost in this growingly-chaotic, terror- and destruction-filled reality:

https://islamwich.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/peaceonearthprintable1.jpg?w=768Photo Credit: beboundbooks.blogspot.com

Words Matter More Than Ever

In March of this year I wrote a post called “Words Matter,” in which I recognized that ‘words matter’ has been a unifying theme on my blog for years. It’s even my tagline.

In that post I wrote, “Words matter. Words are often the bridge between our thoughts and our actions. And more often that not, words reveal that our thoughts and our actions don’t always link together the way we think they do. This is especially true in matters of religion and faith, and that’s been a common theme on this blog. It’s also true about politics and America’s national cultural identity. I tend to write more on those issues during election years, and this year’s rhetoric seems particularly needful of exploration. Sometimes our words reveal our thoughts and sometimes our words betray our thoughts, but either way, words matter.”

And then I stopped writing on politics. The change in my roster status triggered an emotionally-charged identity crisis, and I wrote a few posts on that. Then I stopped writing on this blog altogether. It hurt too much to write about ministry and religion. And politics? That was a train wreck I could barely stand to watch, and I couldn’t formulate a coherent thought about it beyond “WTF?! Just…no!

I wrote in March that words matter, and there were plenty of words this election season. Not just the usual empty promises, self-promotion, and exhaustive explanations about how the other candidate’s policies are bad for the country. We had all that, of course, but we also had direct insults, name calling, and even threats. The politicians threatened each other, and they threatened the nation with predictions of catastrophic consequences if they didn’t win. Those words mattered, and some of the rhetoric from our now-President-Elect emboldened many in this country to threaten entire segments of the population with hate, violence, and discrimination. Those words matter, too.

During the campaign there were other words, as well. Citizens expressed concerns about job insecurity and their industries disappearing. They expressed concerns about corporate money dominating politics. They expressed concerns about health care affordability. They expressed concerns about the quality and cost of education. They expressed concerns about national security. They expressed a lot of concerns about a lot of issues that impact them directly. The citizens of this country had a lot of words for the politicians who strove to represent them.

But no one listened.

Words are meant for consumption. The written word is meaningless unless it’s read. The spoken word is meaningless unless it’s heard. Neither of the major candidates listened to the people. They were both too busy trying to get their own words out there. Trump and Clinton were competing to be the candidate with the most words and the loudest words, because they both believed the winner of that contest would be the winner of the election.

They were right.

And the people lost, because our words didn’t matter to the ones who should have been listening.

Not that we’re innocent victims, either. Those on the left don’t listen to those on the right, and those on the right don’t listen to those on the left. We follow people and organizations that reinforce our own opinions on Facebook and Twitter, and we ‘like’ and ‘repost’ articles and memes that proclaim our values or protest the values we disagree with. But few of us bother to cast a vote for city, state, or federal representatives, leaving others to determine who will establish the policies that will affect us. Fewer of us communicate our beliefs and values to our elected representatives, choosing instead to vent on social media about how politicians are so out of touch with their constituents.

Words are meant for consumption, but they must be consumed by the people for whom they’re intended. The politicians on both sides have demonstrated that they would rather tell their constituents what they should value rather than represent the values their constituents actually hold. They won’t listen voluntarily. But we have the power to make them listen. Representative government only works when the citizenry holds its elected leaders accountable. If your representative isn’t listening to you, then vote them out and elect one who will. And if you can’t find someone you want to vote for, get involved in politics and encourage people you respect to run. Better yet, run yourself.

We have a participatory government, but in order for it to work, we must participate. We must educate ourselves beyond soundbites and tweets, and acquire an understanding of the issues and the candidates’ positions. We must make our words matter to those who are supposed to represent us. (If you don’t know who your representatives are or how to contact them, you can find out here.)

And we must listen. Listen to the frustration of those who feel that the country is changing beyond recognition and no longer has a place for them. Listen to those who live in genuine fear of violence because they’re part of a demographic that has been demonized or denigrated. Listen to those who believe they’re being ignored. Listen carefully, and be willing to change your opinion or approach if someone on the other side has a valid point. Not all points are valid, but you’ll never hear the ones that are unless you listen.

Your words matter, so get them out there. But take time also to consume the words of others, and consider them carefully. Listen to their arguments and concerns, and don’t dismiss someone because they’re democrat, republican, liberal, conservative, urban, rural, Christian, Muslim, atheist, educated, working class, millennial, boomer, Gen X, black, white, male, female, or any other category you dislike. We’re all people, and we all matter. If we can’t agree on that at least, then we’re beyond hope.

It’s a dangerous time in our country and our world, and we don’t have much room for ignorance or complacency. Your words matter more than ever. Get them out there.

How to Brush Your Teeth

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The most recent lessons in our writing curriculum involved having the student read a short narrative explaining how to do something, then having them summarize the steps verbally back to me. This has proven to be a challenge, because my kids don’t see why it matters if you skip a step or list something out of order. And my kids don’t like to put effort into something they don’t find important or interesting.

I know, I know. It’s a super-unique problem to have and you must be wondering how I deal.

Last week they presented me with those bored you’ve-got-to-be-kidding expressions when I tried to explain the importance of both following and giving instructions. So I gave them a new assignment. I told them they had to write down step-by-step instructions on how to brush your teeth, and I would follow them exactly. They were to use numbered instructions that didn’t have to be in complete sentences, and spelling didn’t matter. I emphasized that they had to list EVERYTHING involved; if they didn’t specifically tell me to do it, then I wouldn’t. I would also write instructions for them to follow. Whoever’s instructions resulted in the successful brushing of teeth would have a treat after supper that night. If all three of us wrote successful instructions, then all three of us would have a treat.

Minecraft Steve was finished in less than five minutes and went to have ‘recess’ in the playroom while Princess Playtime and I finished. He got nervous when he came upstairs twenty minutes later and found us both still writing. We had each used up the front and back of one piece of paper and were both on our second. He decided to take another look at his and expand it a bit. A few minutes later we were all finished. Minecraft Steve had about a page and a half of instructions. Princess Playtime had almost four, and I had six.

We all went into the bathroom where I stood in front of the sink, toothbrush and toothpaste on the counter next to the basin, and I told Minecraft Steve to read me his instructions.

We stalled when he told me to put my toothbrush under the faucet, and I held it vertically under the dry tap. He never told me to turn on the water or which part of the toothbrush to wet.

Minecraft Steve is a perfectionist who doesn’t take failure very well, and I decided to add a three-strike rule. I counted both omissions as a single strike, and was relieved that Princess Playtime, a.k.a the Queen of Fairness, didn’t notice.

He got his second strike when he failed to instruct me to remove the cap from the toothpaste.

He got his third strike when he told me to put my toothbrush in my mouth but didn’t specify where or what I was to do with it once it was there. I couldn’t give him any more passes, and I had to tell him that his instructions did not result in the successful brushing of my teeth.

I rinsed off my brush and reset so I could follow Princess Playtime’s instructions. She remembered to specify which part of the brush should go under the faucet, but she too forgot about turning on the water. Strike one. She also forgot about taking the cap off the toothpaste. Strike two. After that she gave fairly detailed instructions on which teeth to brush when, including that I should move the brush from side to side.

But she forgot to tell me to spit. Strike three.

Then it was their turn to follow my instructions. They both hoped that I would strike out as well.

I almost did.

I got through their first two strikes without a hitch, even specifying that they were to remove the toothpaste cap by twisting it. But then I noted that people don’t usually hold the toothpaste cap in their hand while brushing, so my first strike was not telling them to put the cap back down on the counter.

Several times they began to do something automatically before I instructed it, and I pointed that out whenever it happened. They had to follow my instructions exactly, and not do anything I didn’t specifically tell them to do.

When we were at the point where I instructed them to put the cap back on the toothpaste, Princess Playtime noticed that I neglected to tell them to twist it. I argued briefly that I had already told them how to operate the cap when they took it off, but she reminded me that I hadn’t specifically told them to twist it back on (using my own words against me), and I conceded. Strike two.

Fortunately I didn’t get a third strike, despite their careful observation, and they had to agree that I had written successful instructions.

Minecraft Steve grumped that it wasn’t fair because I had a big Mama-brain, and they didn’t.

We sat down to talk about the assignment. They were both pretty upset, and that’s when the teaching moment happened. Princess Playtime asked if I had expected them to write successful instructions, and I admitted that I hadn’t. Following instructions is hard, and writing them is even harder. I reminded Minecraft Steve that even with my big Mama-brain, I still got two strikes.

Then I told them they were getting treats after supper anyway. I’d made my point, and there was no reason to prolong the disappointment. I certainly wasn’t going to eat a treat in front of them, and they both would have squawked if I skipped it entirely. They’re pretty consistent with their sense of justice.

They argued with me a bit, saying they hadn’t earned the treats, but accepted my decision when I told them the treats had nothing to do with the assignment.

That day just happened to be a treat day.