Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Problems with Going Back Home…

54 He came to his home town and began to teach the people* in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? 55Is not this the carpenters son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this? 57And they took offence at him. But Jesus said to them, Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house. 58And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief (Matt 13:54-58)

The concept of home in this day and age is one of the few lasting ideals still left untouched. The ideal Home is that place where are feelings and emotions are at ease, and comfort is truly available when it is needed. For good, or for bad, home is the place where our identity and character are first shaped and is usually the one place where we can find ourselves when we have been tossed about by life’s whims and fancies. When all else is in doubt, I have an assurance that home awaits and there a peace and assurance that can restore even the most weary traveler back to themselves.

Home is that place which we have given our hearts and minds over to, for protection and care and when I can’t find a friend or “family” in the midst of my travels, I can come back home, and find my heart and sense of mind so I can continue my journey. And thus, the adage first coined centuries ago by the Roman playwright Pliny still holds true, “home IS where the heart is”.

So strong is this ideal, that even those areas to which we were not raised and have no familial ties to, yet still find as a source of shaping and connection, we still call….home. If our primary home is not available, then we can always come to this place and it will serve as a ….second home…..providing those same functions and same support mechanisms that we could find AT HOME.

As I stand here today, however, I have come to the realization that the key reason why we can call a place or house a home (as ‘Big Luther’ would say), is that comfort-ability. The homes in our lives are tagged as such because we find peace and stability there. They are homes because safety and protection and affirmation can all be found there, and there are assurances that they will always be places of refuge for us. For, who would call a place a home, that does not afford these mental and emotional safe places? If I can’t find rest, or my heart, or my mind or even get back to who I think I am, than it is not a place worthy of the title home……..

If all those things be true- If home is all these things of comfort and stability, of peace and assurance, of affirmation and celebration- then our text for today should be truly disturbing. If home is the comfort zone and the sure fire place of recognition and stability that we say it is, then our text forces us to come with a tragically different reality about home and the pitfalls of returning there. This text highlights for us that while home and the places and people that remind us of it, are central to our being…..they also pose problems if you are not careful. Home can be all those things we want it to be, but if we examine our text closely, there are some inherent problems that come with going back home.

For Jesus, who has spent days and nights teaching and healing the many crowds that have come to see him, has finally come back home. He has returned to the place of his rearing and of his shaping, the place where everyone has known him and his family. And when he gets to the town, the bible says he begins to teach in the synagogue. It is not recorded exactly what he taught, but whatever it was, it ‘sho nuff‘ amazed and astounded the people. For they recognized this Jesus; but they didn’t know that he had such wisdom or such power. He was still Mary and Joseph’s son, and his brothers were still James and Simon and Joseph and Judas, but who knew that Jesus or the family of meager means and little influence had a son with such gifts and abilities. Where had he been that he got all this power and education? How could he teach like that? They got so confused, that they even asked, “Where did this man get all this from?”

As Jesus continues to teach in the midst of these questions, verse 57 reports that the people “took offense”. Jesus, undeterred by their desires to question his credentials, continues to teach and in doing so, offends the people in his hometown. The second problem that you will have is that people in you comfortable places will “TAKE OFFENSE”.

Now, what you need to realize is that this phase “take offense” is a matter of choice. There is a difference between taking offense and being offended. When you are offended, that means an act of aggression or assault is taken against you, but when you take offense……YOU choose to believe that an action is designed to harm you in some sort of way. The people in Jesus’ hometown, the Bible reports, “take offense”. They choose to believe, that his teaching, his wisdom and his power are all designed for some deception…..and truth be told, you may go back to those places and spaces that you have since left and try to do good and better your home and all you find is that folk get upset when try to help them. They get frustrated and believe that you are trying to mess them up….. they take offense with your actions and your attempts at change.

They take offense at your education and your speech. They take offense at your character and your boldness. They take offense at your tenacity and confidence. They take offense because it is easier to choose this, than to listen to what is being done (or to participate in it). Jesus, who is the master of the winds and waves. Jesus, who heals the sick and raises the dead. Jesus, who feeds the hungry and finds the lost is teaching in front of them and rather than listen…..they question and “take offense”. These are problems you yourself may find if you go back home but there is a solution to your problems.

This solution is found in the midst of the problems at home. For you see, you can’t face your problems at home until you go there. The only way to know that there are problems is to show up. Fear is what often keeps us from challenging the comforts and peace of our safety nets. So instead of facing the issues there, we simply avoid them. It is not that you give up on ever going back home, and like some in the world, decide to reject their past and build a new future. But instead, look to our text and see that even Jesus, faces the problems in his home and addresses their questions, their offense and their blindness with a simple statement:

Prophets are not without honor.except in their own country and in their own house

 

Jesus first remains who he always has been. He was a prophet before he stepped foot in Capernaum, and he still declares himself to be one….in the face of this questioning and offense. And just like Jesus, you must learn to know who you are in the face of the questions and the darts and the arrows….even when they come from your homeboys. Like Jesus, you may have to teach in the places where everybody thought they knew you and you may have to let them know. In so doing, you bring a vision of truth back to the people who remain…..at home.

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A New Vow for Parenting…

Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.” (Judges 11:34-35, NRSV)

My daughter has a book entitled, “Naughty Parents”, it is a wonderful children’s book that flips the roles of children and parents. So in the book, parents are running and chasing after everything and dirtying their clothes. It is the parents who are eating ice cream and whining for more, more, MORE! The children are the responsible and respectable ones who are cleaning up the mischievous behavior of their parents. It is cute in that the text plays with our roles and behavior as parents and children. In reflecting on a deeper meaning (you know me the consummate thinker), I think about how we parent and how are children actually receive what we provide for them as parents. Said in another way, our children become, as adults, the products of our handiwork as parents. Obvious on the surface, but still very scary when you really meditate on it

 

 The work of parenting is one of the few things in life that training should be absolutely mandatory! Unfortunately it is not necessary. Learning the ways of parenting, all of its responsibilities, and its challenges and pitfalls would make for great reading and for a great resource text. In fact, many authors have tried to write texts that provide that very kind of instruction. Whether they are medical doctors, psychologists or just ordinary parents with unique experiences, these authors attempt to convey expertise about a subject in which the diversity of style, nature of children and experience of life play such a pivotal role. However, this is not as easy as it sounds.

Writing a manual on parenting is like writing a guide to eating food. You can do it, but depending on my tastes, likes, experiences and values, I may agree or disagree with your conclusions. The fundamental truth about parenting is that we all parent from the place of our childhood experience. Whether good or bad, our skills are learned and shaped as parents in reaction to what we lived through (and with) as children. Experiencing violence as children may mean inflicting violence as parents. It could also lead to vows of non-violence when parenting because of a disturbing childhood. Children that have no boundaries may continue in a likewise fashion when they are adults, or they could choose to enforce greater structure because of what they think they lacked as children.

In many respects, our individualized parenting manual is written for each of us through the experiences of being a child in our parent’s household. How we were raised contributes to and builds modes for parenting that we rely on when we have children of our own. So then, to stop the abdication of parental responsibility; or the  malicious behavior of aggressive beating of children; or brining children to tanning salons; or raising children in our own image, we must begin in the present.

We must begin with the present generation of children and parents and seek to provide new experiences in their parenting manual. Children are not our extensions of ourselves; they are not ours, to do with as we please. Educator/philosopher/poet Kahlil Gibran once said that “our children come through us and not to us”, and he is correct. Our responsibility is to Who sent them through us and to the gifts they will be in life. Parenting from this perspective makes for good stewards in the present and for stewards for the future.

The text above from the corpus of work from Judges stands as a permanent signpost to all parents; specifically the pitfalls of parenting from experience. The story of Jephthah’s daughter is more a story about Jephthah’s failing as a father. To get the whole picture I encourage you to read all chapter 11, but essentially, Jephthah was an illegitimate child of a prominent tribal patriarch and a prostitute. His father denies him the access to the ‘legitimate’ role of a child in a father’s home and essentially Jephthah is raised by the streets. The text reports that “Outlaws collected around Jephthah and went raiding with him”, to show his rough and trouble childhood created an adult who was the envy of any mercenary. Jephthah is an aggressive and forthright man whose mal-experience of love and family has created a person who knows commitment through the lens of violence and the ethic of the street. Many of us know people like this, and recognize the importance of their experience in shaping their life.

 

 The text reports that Jephthah is approached by the elders of the community to fight against the oppressive Ammonites and lead an army against them. Jephthah is already indifferent to plights of the system that condemned him so long ago, but he fights anyway. The peculiar thing is that in his prayer to God for victory, he makes an interesting (if not ridiculous) vow of sacrifice: to sacrifice the first thing that comes out greet him at home at the end of the battle. This is when we learn that Jephthah has one child: a daughter.

 

His rash promise means that in a cruel twist of irony, it is his daughter that comes out to greet him, when the battle is won. He must sacrifice his daughter….

 

His experience as a isolated and undisciplined child evolved into a aggressive-living, no-holds-barred adult. That freewheeling and open adult used his experiences to parent. His experiences of bravado and the ‘man-of-his-word’ ideology ended up sending his daughter to a sacrificial altar.

In recent weeks, parenting of all sorts has been on display. In one instance it was the parent who takes her child in the tanning bed with her.  In many examples, it was the parent that so often ignores their child’s destructive behavior to the detriment of society that has to apologize for the destruction they have caused. Even the pastor’s got in the act, with a prominent pastor of a mega church allegedly assaulting his daughter. Many of us didn’t grow up with experiences like Jephthah or the effects of harsh living as Jephthah had. And sure, many of us as parents don’t see that we would ever vow to burn our children alive for the sake of God as in the realm of possibility. However, many of us make plans about our children, their futures and their experiences that mean they are sacrificed on the altars of our dreams. Our children struggle to be all we as parents put on them to be in life. Instead, maybe we should struggle as parents to be all that they need us to be in order to be parents we want them to be in the future.

Let’s all take Jephthah’s warning as the impetus to be better as parents and guardians for our children. Mindful of our experiences as children and adults, we can do our best to parent to the uniqueness of our child and steer them into God’s future for their lives. Parents that authentically parent with the future in mind are parents with a vision for the future……and a vision of truth.

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The Failure to Look Up…

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, Woman, you are set free from your ailment. When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath,… (Luke 13:10-14a, NRSV)

A few weeks ago, I had the most peculiar of experiences. I needed to go to a local credit union to cash a check. It was near closing time and the location I ended up having to get to was a new branch. Upon pulling up and rushing in, I expected long lines and the loud hustle and bustle of tellers and customers at the end of the day. Instead, I got eerie silence and quiet whispers. Surrounding the lobby were the normal offices and the people in them were busy carrying out their work. There was the usual kiosk for information, deposit slips and other relevant banking materials. The most peculiar thing was that I could not find the tellers. There was a peculiar looking wall at one end of the lobby. Where the tellers should have been these telephone-booth like devices were mounted in their place. Seeing no other place to go, I walked to the telephone.

It was at the telephone that a screen popped on and the teller greeted me. I conducted my transaction through a telephone, television screen and tubular air capsule without ever touching the person or even being in the same personal space as the teller. It was really eerie and smacked of a warped futuristic sci-fi film. I understand all of the reasons why technology is employed in this way, but it doesn’t change the unnerving quality of this social experience.

Continuing in this vein, I am reminded of a recent trip onboard a plane. In preparation for takeoff, we were asked to turn off ALL electronic devices. (You know the drill and routine and all the trouble Alec Baldwin got into last year!) The amount of people who waited until the second or third time that the cabin stewards came and asked them personally was astonishing. It was as if they physically could not part with their devices for the 5-10 minutes that is requested according to FAA regulations. They could not stand to speak to the person next to them or engage them in any dialogue. Are we that dependent on technology to insulate us from having to speak to one another?

I look at these two events (and a myriad of others that define our life together), and I see a larger theme of dependence over technological convenience. There is a genuine sense of escapism in our interactions with one another. We don’t want to talk with each other. There is an attempt to intentionally avoid contact with one another. Our technological devices and mechanism gives us ‘permission’ to opt out of tactile social engagement. Social media, online resourcing of goods and services, and the readily accessible use of mobile devices all contribute to a narrowing of our tangible social engagement with the others in our physical surroundings. In other words, we take opportunities to be closer to the people who are often physically distant from us, while at the same time not knowing the people who we live with, in our own homes.

Families so often eat dinner with phones at the ready, texting, emailing, Tweeting, Instagramming, or “checking in”, with the entire world about that they are doing while not engaging the physicality of the room in which they presently occupy! On the surface it is so absurd that it is laughable to see in restaurants. My family and I are guilty of it as well. My wife and I can be in the same room at the same time (a commodity that is precious given both of our hectic schedules) and not have a conversation. Despite the preciousness of the moment, we will both surf the internet, Facebook (its verbal expression), or simply looking at pictures on some mobile device while not speaking to the other about the basics of life together. I am not shunning or condemning the use of technology, I am challenging how it is changing our social interactions with one another. I do not think we have fully explored the ramifications of what it means to sacrifice tactile communication with JUST technology.

 From the sacred writ, the story of this healing in a synagogue takes place with a woman who is crippled with an ailment for eighteen years. The text says she appears in the crowd when Jesus begins to teach. However, the cultural context of the day would mean that this most likely would not have been her first appearance. The theology of the New Testament includes this idea that ailments, maladies and disabilities all come from God. They serve as punishments and/or curses against the person for some sin to which many times the person was not even aware. (Thus you get the question later in the text about a crippled man, which one sinned, he or his father). Since the cultural context would have dictated to this woman her value and self-worth in God, she would have understood her ailment to be a punishment. Her only remedy then would have been to visit the place of God continually until she received favor from God to be released from this ‘curse’. While this theology is troubling for us in today’s culture, it does still exist. But that’s not the point here.

 Given what I have just said, the amazing part in the text is that no one seems to take care or notice that this woman is in the ‘house of God’. She is part of the landscape and is essentially ignored in God’s house. The people of religious ilk have no desire to see her in her condition and simply go about their daily schedules and functions. They stare at the devices of their own making and the busyness of their own lives. They take no part in the shared experience of living with and next to this woman’s suffering. Until Jesus comes to the synagogue (insert church here)…

 Jesus stops his busy schedule of teaching long enough to SEE the woman in her condition. In fact, isn’t that the hallmark of Jesus’ ministry: to see those in their life condition and experience and speak to them where they are? No need for the telephone, television hookup or the sit-in-a-room-texting syndrome. Face-to-face and eyeball-to-eyeball, he speaks to a woman who probably hasn’t been spoken to in 18 years. He sees her and heals her. For her, the attention of the Lord is more than enough to take away the years absence and neglect from her fellow congregants.

I hope that we take heed from the very simple lesson in the pericope (story) in the text. Keep your head up, your eyes open and mind sharp. The value in technology is its ability to aid our lives and not supplant our living. We still need and must have face-to-face dialogue and interaction. There is value in human touch and intimate knowledge and sharing. If that weren’t the case, then we wouldn’t be obliged to hold and kiss and love on babies like we do. Instead, something as simple as going to the bank is now devoid of any tactile human interaction. The ability to choose our information at the tips of our figures has already done enough to undermine social cohesion and the basic ability to disagree with our neighbor.  More relevantly, the text tells us that God has something or someone who needs you to notice them, for you might provide the healing they have longed to receive.

Technology should not be an excuse to escape basic social interaction all the time. LOOK UP! There is a vision of truth in store for you…

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