Monthly Archives: July 2012

For the Union…

No! We did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, What have you to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? 25 For the LORD has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you Reubenites and Gadites; you have no portion in the LORD. So your children might make our children cease to worship the LORD. 26 Therefore we said, Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, 27 but to be a witness between us and you, and between the generations after us, that we do perform the service of the LORD in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and offerings of well-being; so that your children may never say to our children in time to come, You have no portion in the LORD. 28 And we thought, If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we could say, Look at this copy of the altar of the LORD, which our ancestors made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you. (Joshua 22:24-28, NRSV)

All of us are horrified at events of this past week that took place in Aurora, Colorado. The violence that was perpetrated in a crowded movie theatre on the occasion of the premiere summer blockbuster movie. Allegedly James Holmes, a graduate student and possibly mentally disturbed gunman burst into the crowded theatre opened fire killing many and wounded many more. His actions have fractured a community and upended the sense of normalcy that should be indicative of a movie showing in a theatre in any American town.

Sadly, we in America are not foreign to mass shootings and public violence. The typical statistics of gun violence in the US orders somewhere around 10,000+ murders and/or injuries. Killing sprees and mass shooting though are always subject to media sensationalism and political navel gazing because it exposes the obvious conundrum of American social life. At our core, this nation holds to poles in tension: the importance and value of individual freedom and rights; and the basic protections and cohesion that is the hallmark of a nation-state. In other words, we as Americans elevate an individual’s freedom to chose a life of their own and posses what they wish and do what they desire. However, that freedom has to be balanced with the basic function of a government and society to hold a nation-state together as unified or even United.

These poles pull and tug at our fabric as a nation come to fine points of clarity in moments such as abortion, civil rights, religious freedom and peculiar enough, the Aurora shooting. Mental disturbance or not, Mr. Holmes’s act was perpetrated through his readily accessible access to weaponry and ammunition. According to reports, he purchased all of his weapons legally and arouse little or no suspicion with his actions. The fact is that guns are too easy to obtain (either legally or illegally), and gun violence is a problem of epic proportions in the United States. Gun violence is not unique to the US relative to other nations, but it is endemic to being in the US.

I could cite all the statistics and other data that confirms this truth, but why? The real issue has to do with what I said earlier; the values of individual choice over/and against our collective life together. The above passage from Joshua highlights the concern of some of the lesser tribes of Israel about their future in the life of unified nation. These tribes were cut off from the others by the river Jordan and while all who were living at that time understood their connection to the nation, these three tribes were concerned about future generations. What would happen to their small collective in years to come when their people on the other side of the river had forgotten about Rebuen, Gad and Manessah?

Their solution was to build an altar of remembrance to show their allegiance to the same God of Israel as their kinsmen. They could have simply expanded their territory east of the Jordan and united together as a new nation apart from Israel. They could have each explored their own ways of allegiance to God and not concerned themselves with unity. What they decide is to risk war over a misunderstanding about motives, just to build an altar to the God of Israel. It would stand as a reminder to all Israelites about the importance and significance of the unity of the nation regardless of the boundaries of geography (or later ideology).

We have an individual right to carry guns, and that is undisputed. That individual right does not mean we have to carry a gun. Further, in light of the scripture, it means that we have to be willing to occasionally revisit the importance of our individual right to carry over and against our willingness to be a unified nation. If the result of that right means we are divided by ideology, victimization and death through gun violence, then we should be willing as a nation to frankly talk about guns and so-called gun’s rights on the same constitutional plane as victim’s rights. Not calling for a repeal of the second amendment, just an uninfluenced and frank conversation about guns in the country.

The most bogus saying in American politics to day is “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” The point of the saying is to highlight the role the individual plays in making a decision to kill. Anyone who wants to kill someone will do so whether they have a gun or baseball bat; so then why restrict gun access, it is not the gun’s fault? This statement is bogus because guns have always killed people. Guns make it easy to kill people. Guns make it easy for people to kill themselves accidentally or otherwise. Guns contribute to a devaluing of life because people get a immediate result to the anger they carry. A gun in someone’s hand guarantees a death or serious injury. A baseball bat guarantees a fight. Arming people insures that people will kill people…

At this moment, more than anything else, we should be focused on a unity of spirit and solidarity with the victims of this heinous act (and all acts of gun violence). The unity of spirit involves a real and frank conversation about the role of guns in our life together. The vision of truth this week is that we finally learn from Mr. Holmes and the Aurora victims the lesson of living together in a violent nation.

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Filed under Christian Church, Christianity, Civil Religion, Discipleship, Hope, Interpersonal Relationships, Old Testament, Political Theology, Prophetic Accountability, Social Justice

Expect More of the Mediocre

12So although I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong, nor on account of the one who was wronged, but in order that your zeal for us might be made known to you before God. 13In this we find comfort. In addition to our own consolation, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his mind has been set at rest by all of you. 14For if I have been somewhat boastful about you to him, I was not disgraced; but just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting to Titus has proved true as well. 15And his heart goes out all the more to you, as he remembers the obedience of all of you, and how you welcomed him with fear and trembling. 16I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you. (2 Cor. 7:9-16, NRSV)

I am a relatively young man but in my time on this earth, I have been able to witness many changes in the way in which we interact and live in this world. I am not talking about the changes of the seasons or the changes that occur from one generation to the next, (like music preferences or television shows) but rather the kinds of changes that can reorder and re-structure a society. They can alter world-views and redefine morals and can lead to positive developments in society. They can foster environments in which self esteem and courage can be embraced for people who once were enslaved and encourage equality in employment practices for women. They can be positive forces of moving toward hope and love.

But these changes can also lead to negative forces that alter the society so that in fosters hate for an unknown and unexplored religion or foster fear of people who come to this country merely to seek a better life whether they get here legally or not. These types of changes help to redefine many generations and can either develop relationships or destroy relationships; they can create love or cement loathing; they can foster hope or foment hate.

Before our very eyes, it has taken root in our society and even in our own lives and it has altered our sense of purpose and being. This type of change has created a new norm in our collective psyche and has infiltrated every aspect of our being, changing us literally from the inside out. It is more insidious than AIDS, more tenacious than Cancer, more oppressive than poverty and more appealing than money. This change has taken root in our morals and found growth in our minds to cause us to change how we behave. I am talking about an acceptance of the mediocre.

 

The mediocre is that thing that is characterless, common, commonplace, conventional, humdrum, indifferent, inferior, insignificant, mainstream, moderate, ordinary, possible, run-of-the-mill, second-rate, so-so, standard, starch, tolerable, undistinguished, unexceptional, uninspired, average. We as a society have shifted from being a nation, culture and people embracing purpose, excellence and hope, to a people that have settled for…..average. We have given up on the lofty goals of egalitarian democracy and instead have embraced factionalism and partisan politics because…that is the conventional wisdom of the day. We don’t challenge our leadership and our neighborhoods because of violence, drug abuse and poverty instead the ordinary thing to do is just move and never bother to help those who live there. Our children look to pass their classes and not to ‘Ace’ their classes and so they get excited over a ‘C’ because it means you’re just average. We maintain relationships of convenience, comfort and commonality because we want to be affirmed where we are and not be challenged into who we ought to be. We are a mediocre people with few extraordinary attributes.

Christ’s church has always been a place of affirmation, healing and hope for the oppressed of the world. No matter where you are and what you were going through, the church was a place where you could find love and assurance despite the world telling me you that you are less than ordinary. But in our present day society, the church has become insecure in preaching a message of hope. It has become cowardice in proclaiming a message of healing, and it has become divided in fostering affirmation for the poor and the oppressed. The church has instead added politics, censorship and a ‘Jesus-less’ message for the sake of survival and conformity in a world of mediocrity. And worst of all, it has remained silent and indifferent on the issues that Christ calls us to speak on. And so, in the 21st the church, is mediocre.

In the second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul is writing to convey his excitement and joy at the hearing of the effective ministry of the church. Paul is the founding pastor of this church and is seeking to give guidance through his letters, occasional visits and his “co-Pastor” Titus. The church at Corinth is a difficult pastorate, (as preachers say). The people have come to the faith very naively and have no real conception of what it means to live for Christ. The old practices of their lives take up new residence in the church and force them to deviate from the purpose of God as communicated through their pastor… Paul. The church at Corinth becomes a hotbed of all sorts of callous, misguided and misdirected activity that mirrors the pagan rites and rituals of the common society. The church is in chaos and worse yet, when Paul attempts to assert his pastoral authority, the church denies him his rightful role as leader.  Paul writes a letter of rebuke to the church chastising them for their immaturity and disrespect.

In this 7th Chapter of the text, Paul is celebrating the church’s repentant nature after they received the letter of rebuke. He congratulates them for hearing him and correcting the errors of their ways and helps them to know that he still loves them and still cares for them. Interestingly, in this text we see the Corinthian church as they have been wrestling with becoming mature in Christ. They have struggled with their identity and purpose as Paul has laid it out and up until now, have been nothing more than an average group of common Corinthians. Their ministry is mediocre at best and their fellowship is something a little less than that.

Despite these shortcomings, Paul says just before this particular passage in verse 4, I often boast about you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with consolation; I am overjoyed in all our affliction. There is something about this church that encourages Paul and gives him a reason to hope and to boast.  He writes with excitement and joy to a church that is still coming out of its own immaturity. The Corinthian church has given Paul nothing but problems and heartache and yet he can still say that he has pride and confidence in them. This church that has displayed nothing more than mediocre behavior and, at best, commonplace practices, gives their pastor a reason to boast and source of pride.

 

I say Paul can boast and be prideful because he expected more from the mediocre. Paul from the beginning had a vision for what the Corinthians would be and could be and despite their desire to be average and adequate, Paul expected something more out of them. He says in the text that he is not sorry for the letter of rebuke (v. 8) because it conveyed a different type of grief and pain; the kind of pain that motivates you to change your behaviors and your practices. It is this type of motivation that gives confidence and makes the mediocre rise to the potentiality of excellence.

 Whenever we live mediocre, average and commonplace lives our purpose becomes blurred. In fact, the very danger of living a life that is commonplace and average is that it conforms to the status quo. Getting average grades means that you are just like everybody else. Following the trends of convention and popularity means that your purpose is defined by them and not by God. You look for certain jobs, focus in certain career fields, get a specific type of education because the masses, your friends and even your family have told you to do it and not because God has revealed it to you-this is the real danger of mediocrity. We buy clothes, go to work, walk, talk, eat and even vote in ways that keep us from being extraordinary. Human beings as social creatures tend to hide in the masses and move with the masses and anything that competes with that is not acceptable for human fellowship. You may even argue that all we are doing is simply being human.

Whenever you say to the commonplace that I expect more from you, you are looking to be in an extraordinary place. When you begin to live with a higher expectation of the average, your average begins to go up. Now this doesn’t mean that you can make people or things change in your life. That ain’t the meaning of Paul’s expectation. He says that it is God who consoles and comforts and it is God who brings those to repentance. And so it is with God that the changes will take place. The vision of truth here is found in the power of God to bring about change; and our power to expect more of the life in which we live.

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Y’all Got Power…

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:11-14, NRSV)

“You Got Power!!”, a member of my congregation exclaimed.

My family and I were among the nearly 4 million Americans that were affected by the summer storms (called a derecho) that swept across the midwest and eastern seaboard. the storms were fast and intense. Literally, thirty minutes of wind, rain and lightning resulted in 1.5 million electrical outages in the DC Metropolitan Area. Many persons are expected to be without power for days in sweltering 100 degree heat and humidity.

We lost our electricity a little after 11pm on Friday, at the height of the storm. Temperatures spiked around 101 degrees on Saturday and the home in which we live, the internal temperature spiked at 84 degree. (The lower parts of the house were bearable at around 74 degrees.) Many of my neighbors and friends vacated their homes to attend movies, malls and museums in order to escape the heat and lack of rest. We stayed in our home and made the best of our time and energy.

 

 

At a church function the next day, many of my fellow congregants discussed our challenges surviving the storm. All of the people began conversations that day with, “Do y’all have power?”. The answer usually followed with either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’, according to the circumstances in which we found ourselves. It continued in this way until one member finally rebutted all of us when she blurted out, “Y’all GOT POWER!!! WHAT YOU NEED IS ELECTRICITY!”

Her statement pointed out a wonderfully refreshing theology. There is a power at work in each of us that never goes out! We just lost electrical connectivity due to the storm. Now sure, that is what we all meant, but none of us said it. We semantically equated electricity and ‘power’. No harm, no foul!! Not so much…

 The question of power seemed appropriate to the discussion, but her comment exposed a real theological distinction of our life in God. You see, what we call a thing is often what we believe about a thing. When we name a thing, we in many respects, define what it means to us. When we call a thing “black” we at have some level identified it as negative. This has been ingrained in our culture over many centuries and therefore become a part of our lexicon.  Black sheep, Blacklisted etc…

The behavior we exhibited after the blackout, gave real insight to our true definition of power in our lives. Many people were helpless without an ability to charge batteries, surf the internet, or even to simply watch television. In spite of the oppressive heat, many persons felt it absolutely essential (and necessary) to their survival to get to air conditioning and safe environments. Others, however, found it necessary to connect to ‘power’ in order to get their centers of identity powered up in order to function in a lack of electrical power.

What my parishioner’s comment reminded me of is the importance of remaining grounded in times of challenge and crisis. Paul reminds us in the above passage, that we all have access to a power that keeps us in the midst of our circumstances. Despite the challenges of our life, Paul says that we really do have power to live in and through those challenges.  The power to be patient in circumstances that challenge our patience. The power to be joy-filled in trying and sad times. We have power that keeps us ‘grounded’ when we very easily have a tendency to be ‘short-circuited’.

This power is outside the purview of our ability to mediate it and understand it. It is available to all of us! Praise the Lord!! The shorthand of power can be, for some, a literal understanding of enabling us to be more than what we are. It is a sense of identity for some. The storm, my parishioner, and this passage all remind us of the importance of remembering who has the power and tapping into the power that heals, restores, invigorates and affirms in the midst life’s difficulties and trials.

Keeping a constant tap to the power source of the universe helps us all gain a vision of truth in each of our lives. 

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