Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Newtownian Understanding (part 2)

Do not remember the former things,

or consider the things of old.

I am about to do a new thing;

now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness

and rivers in the desert (Isaiah 43:18-19, NRSV)

Do you still remember? Are you still outraged? Does it even matter anymore? In this age of rapid tweets, social media and waning attention spans, we are so quick to forget our hurts and pains. Our grief and moments of change last temporarily since our lives our fleeting and we so rapidly move from one state of angst to another.

Yet, we said that the tragedy in Newtown meant something different. We said that this tragedy should never happen again. We claimed a new orientation to the mental illness and our obsession with guns. Despite all of our proclamations and aspirations, the talk about gun control and mental illness has evaporated into the partisanship of old, and the gridlock that has marked our politics in the 21st century.

We have heard every manner of proposal  from the liberal Left to the conservative Right. The National Rifle Association proposed arming trained volunteers to be placed in public schools, while others have suggesting keeping a national database of the mentally ill. All of which seeks to do new things in and have a new mindset without changing our traditional systems of thinking and politics as usual.

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This text form the prophet Isaiah should give us some grounding as to what our course is moving forward. The prophet conveys God’s promise that God is prepared to do a new thing in the midst of our very being. In the face of depressing circumstances in exile and the loss of all that was normative, God questions the people of Israel, that he is “doing a new thing” and “can we perceive it?” In the very midst of their despair and concern, God points them to the opportunity in their midst. The interesting point to the passage is that those opportunities God is revealing our not simply moments of change…..but they are moments for God to show God’s self strong. God presents the opportunity and we are called to see and act with the assurance of God’s promise that something new can happen and is happening in our very midst.

In spite of the things we said after Newtown, we have not thought any differently about our violence, our treatment of the ill, or our children. We find reasons to hold two contradictory premises: maintain the safety and security an open society, and yet affirm the right to carry weapons by all individuals. If we say that God is speaking to use through these challenging moments, we must be prepared to entertain the notion that some tensions are too difficult to hold. Being a free society means that we have certain rights that guarantee life and liberty. But being a civilized society means that we are prepared ‘certain’ rights for the sake of the good of the society…….right?

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In any event, our national discourse is being conducted in such a way as to negate whatever learning opportunities we could have. Our work is yet to be completed, but it begins with us having street-corner conversations about everything from gun control to the treatment of our mentally ill. The stigmas of gun ownership need to be challenged just as much as the ostracizing of people who seek mental health advice. True, the average gun owner does not seek to harm any person, but may hunt or use it for the comfort gun ownership may bring. Yet, the prophet’s words of examination and insight ring true, “do you see what I am doing in your very midst?”

If we think that Newtown is a ‘game-changer’ in the life of this nation, then it ultimately means opening our eyes to the ways we need to change for the betterment of our nation. I affirm that God IS  up to something. Hopefully, if we CAN perceive it and glimpse it as a vision of truth for the upcoming year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours…..

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Newtownian Understanding (Part 1)

Jesus wept. (John 11:35, KJV)

The simplest verse in all scripture, (and the one that is easily remembered during games of scriptural recall), is the above passage. In all of the Biblical witness, the profundity of scripture is so often found within its deep phrases and careful construction of the narrative. Understanding the nuances of the story and all of the subtleties of a passage of text, so often exposes the deepest meaning and truth for application. John 11 verse 35 captures all of that in two simple words……..Jesus……wept. It is the most provocative and deeply profound statement in the Bible.

John’s understanding of Jesus as the “Word made flesh” means that this Jesus is God realized and revealed in humanity. John’s Jesus is independent of the disciples and ready to engage all of the tasks of human existence because of the confidence of the relationship he has with “his Father.” The relationship is so connected and so intertwined that we understand John’s Jesus as fully God in the moment. So what Jesus does, so God does as well. When Jesus acts, God is at work. Jesus speaks, God is speaking. They are “one.”

So then, the moment when Jesus comes to the tomb of his deceased friend Lazarus, is an eye-opening moment in the life of Jesus and all of us. For in this moment, despite all of the power Jesus possesses to rectify the situation……..Jesus cries. God cries. Its earth shattering and provocative. It challenges all notions of divinity but yet it is witnessed to right there in the text. The fullness of divinity expressed the deepest and fullest moment of humanity…….grief.

Weeping

The events of this past Friday are so disturbing and numbing that it really defies words to attempt to explain. I, like many others around the world, was shell-shocked and stricken by the horror and evil visited on elementary school teachers and students. Much of my crying came from watching my own children play, oblivious to what was taken place in the world and how the parents of those twenty children could no longer do so. It hurt to see the pain in Connecticut while seeing the joy and innocence in the eyes of my children, knowing that the world we live in will one day jade those eyes and cause them to produce many tears.

These situations have become all too common in our country and frankly, a form of this type of violence occurs in neighborhoods and cities across this country everyday. Mothers and fathers are nearly constantly weeping because of the loss of a child to gun violence and assault. News images and reporters cover a fraction of the violence that visits many neighborhoods and communities. In America, we have sadly learned to cope with mental illness, gun violence and the tragedies of mass public killings. By the way, if we have found a way to cope with the killing of our children at the mall, in movie theaters and at schools, we have developed our own level of mental illness in society.

Each time this horror visits us (be it in Tuscon, Aurora, or Newtown), we as a nation quickly move from sadness to debate about fault, illness, or theological/philosophical distraction to satiate our desire to understand or make sense of these situations. People say things like “God needed another flower” or “its all part of God’s plan”. (In fact, if you read the John passage closely, you will discover that Jesus makes his own theological assertion about the death of his friend). In my experience, these assertions and claims, do little to provide the ‘help’ and understanding that people think they do. In some cases, it causes harm and pain. It is not constructive to try and comfort without first wrestling with your disturbance. That means taking time for self-reflection and processing. Some might argue that theological assertions and policy debates are ways to grieve and process our emotions in periods like this. This might be true, however, while there is no ‘right’ way to grieve, there are constructive ways to grieve. Constructive grief means dealing with the hurt your have experienced in ways that continually allow you explore meaning and feeling about a situation. This is very difficult and shouldn’t be done alone. Sadly, many do not know or are unwilling to go through the hurt to Process their emotional health. Rarely do we take the time to process our own emotions in light of these situations. As a result, we learn little from these horrific moments and become broken people ignoring the cracks and fissures of our neighbors and friends, because we don’t want to expose our own brokenness.

Memorial Newtown

In the days and weeks ahead, my vision of truth is that we take time to grieve constructively, together. We seek to understand ourselves in the light of this confusion. We weep. We write. We pray. We do the things as families, communities, neighborhoods that restore wholeness in our lives together. Constructive grieving is done privately and publicly and experienced individually and collectively, so that no one is simply alone and no one is delusional about their hurts and pains. We live together and grow whole……..together.

There is an interesting conclusion to the pericope of Jesus weeping. Jesus weeps and then orders the stone be removed and does something. After he weeps, he takes action. After crying, he addresses the situation. Quite simply, there is a time to cry and then there is a time for action……. (Part II will turn out attention to that action)

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Vain Worship…

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die. ’ 5 But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. 6 So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: 8 ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines. ’” (Matthew 15:1-9,NRSV)

The last two weeks for the nation’s new pastime have been the most horrific and tragic in quite a long time. The National Football League has suffered the violent loss of two of its players, the possible criminal indictment of a third and the tragic death of a girlfriend and mother of three. By now, sports enthusiasts and cultural watchers alike have been made aware of the case of Javon Belcher and his wife Kassandra Perkins. (Click here for more information on the case.) 

The Murder-Suicide at the Kansas City Chief’s practice facility rocked the world with the violence and senselessness of the acts. There have been many op-eds and pundits examining the angles of this tragedy. Two of the more controversial perspectives came from NBC News Sportscaster Bob Costas and centered on the role of guns in the tragedy. Costas borrowed from a column of Fox News Journalists Jason Whitlock and centered on the US culture of big business sports, the role of guns and domestic violence in the tragedy. 

Unfortunately, while we were still grappling with the horror of the events of December 1st, Dallas Cowboys Defensive Tackle Josh Brent and practice squad player Jerry Brown got into a car in which an intoxicated Brent decided to drive on December 7th. Brown was killed in the car accident and Josh Brent has been charged with a form of intoxicated manslaughter. In the wake of these tragedies, pundits have been quietly reflective on and muted in their responses out of respect for the evolving criminal nature of this tragedy.

In both of these horrific events, no one seems to be asking a more poignant question. While pundits and columnists have spent a great deal of time analyzing the players, our culture, and the proliferation of guns, it seems to me that now would be a good time to look in the mirror and examine what these tragedies and our responses to them say about our society.

Jovan Belcher

Our text grapples with an interesting redefining of communal accountability. In this confrontation with the Pharisees in Matthew, Jesus and his disciples are caught violating rules of religious purity. In a swift retort, Jesus challenges their definitions of righteousness and piety. In the face of strict ritualistic obedience and adherence to tradition, Jesus confronts false piety and warped superstitions to free those who might be bound by these systems.

Adherence to the status quo for the sake of tradition and making up the rules as you go along are designed to keep people captive. Trapped and hopefully compliant, the Pharisees represent all that is wrong with many of our religious and institutional structures. They can be so dependent on people remaining in the system without hope of escape. Conformity, non thinking and non questioning participants keep the system going while at the same time remaining deeply entrenched in warped thinking.

Much of our allegiance to the gridiron sport of Sundays in the Fall and Winter is rooted now in deeply held traditions and beliefs about our teams, our athletes, and our culture of competition. Last year’s NFL labor dispute centered on the distribution of nearly 9 billion dollars in revenue between 33 teams. The Sports Entertainment Complex is an institution of our culture and like the religious institutions of Jesus’ day, self righteousness, adherence to honor and tradition, and false piety are all used to protect its interests.

Hurt RG3

 

Instead of focusing on the loss of two innocents, Kassandra Perkins and her three month old daughter, the Chiefs opt to compete a day after this awful tragedy. The Dallas Cowboys take to the field in competition while one of their own sits in a jail cell (he was released on bail Sunday night); many of their own players took the field with tears in their eyes. Instead of pausing and calling for moments of reflection and focus, NFL carries on under the banner of “getting back to a sense of normalcy.”

Our ‘get-over-it’, ‘suck-it-up’ culture is rooted in part in the way we play our sports. Players getting concussions week upon week and still going to play. Families and teams being torn asunder by pain and violence and the League moves on without disturbance or disruption. AND EACH WEEK WE TUNE IN TO KEEP THE INSTITUTION ALIVE…..

The Jesus of Matthew 15 is the Jesus that calls us to be liberated from blind obedience to our traditions. It isn’t our guns or our gladiator obsessed spectating that is causing this callous nature. Its simply us. More than anything, lets pause long enough to see the vision of truth that liberates the chains of spectating and blind allegiance to the field. I pray that we may be different so that Kassandra Perkins will not have died in vain….

Selah……….

 

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Kingdom Living

THIS IS A RESEND FROM LAST WEEK!

Now after John was delivered up, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:14-15, ASV)

The last month of public discourse has been interesting. As it relates to the election and the future of global affairs, there has been much speculation and forecasting in regards to the way current events have unfolded. Amongst the chatter are reactions to the Petraeus scandal, fiscal cliff negotiations, election recap, GOP talk, economic rebounding, Middle East Peace and all manner of other prognostications. While most of the discussion is rooted in an attempt at analyzing the facts, there has been some prognostication by certain Christians that infuriates me.

This group typically reacts to the overanalysis and intense scrutiny of real world facts by appealing to an otherworldly escapism.  I have heard, on more than one occasion, these Christians excuse their lack of needed participation in controversial and relevant actions by claiming their citizenship to “another kingdom.” Specifically, this statement, (as they use it) is implied to mean that they don’t have to engage in the realities of this present life (realities like the election, ending poverty, seeking human rights, eliminating economic disparity, etc.). There should be no engagement in those activities because “when Jesus comes, all of this stuff will be made right by him”, I was told by one person. Another person justified their failure to vote in the election as “not participating in a world that is going to be condemned by the coming kingdom of Jesus.”

This worldview is not new, nor is it only present in times of intense crisis. This worldview forms the foundation of many movements, the most prominent of which shapes the theology of Jehovah Witnesses. At its core, this approach to life carries a sense of anticipation and expectation at the coming reign of Jesus Christ. While that anticipation is shared by all Christians, this view defines one’s social engagement through the lens of Christ’s coming reign. Known academically as Millennialism and Dispensationalism, practitioners believe in the reign of Christ as future event distinct from this present time. Developed in the 19th century reading of the Biblical text, Millennial and Dispensational theology hinges on the destruction of all present systems of the world so that Christ’s reign can be truly “new.” In many cases, the hermeneutic (lens for interpretation) includes Christian Zionism, the Rapture and a literal (or even Fundamentalist) interpretation of the text. (The Rapture is not even mentioned or outlines in the Bible.)

What these ideas (and their adherents) fail to engage is the critical analysis of the teachings of Bible, the Christian ideas of the end of time, and (above all) the work of the historical Jesus. The above passage taken from the opening of Mark’s Gospel offers a different view from some of my Christian friends. This passage occurs at the conclusion of Jesus’ baptism and wilderness experience. Jesus steps onto the scene in Galilee and begins his formal ministry with a simple, yet earth shattering pronouncement, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe in the gospel.” 

The kingdom of God is at hand? You mean the very first thing Jesus does is make a pronouncement of what is taking place and not what is going to come? Every act, every sign, every moment of betrayal and trust, joy and pain, miracle and madness, are all part of the kingdom? Yes! According to Mark’s understanding, Jesus’ presence and mission ushers into the world the very kingdom which we now speak of in escapists terms. For Mark’s Jesus, the role of the Christ births the new kingdom and gives humanity entrée into the love, hope, trust and peace that this kingdom creates.

Most interestingly, for my millennial Christian compatriots, the work of Christ, follows his pronouncement of the kingdom. He makes the pronouncement and then he proceeds to perform the work for which the kingdom is to be known. In other words, the Jesus that pronounces the kingdom, then demonstrates the kingdom by caring for the needs of the blind, the sick, the bound and even the dead. Jesus does not merely talk about the kingdom of God as a futuristic reality, but makes it real in the lives of the people that are present.The idea that we take no action because of what Jesus will do is simply a form of lazy escapism. This view makes a mockery of what Christ has done! The active work of the church and her disciples is to “go and make new disciples” or at the very least set the standard for what God’s continual kingdom of love, hope, trust and peace looks like in the 21st century.

The kingdom of God hasn’t gone anywhere, its subjects just stopped believing in the power of that kingdom to make the crooked nations straight, heal the sick of the world, open the blinded eyes that further oppression, and liberate the captives of our economics and social policies. Instead of engaging the ‘principalities’ of systemic oppression and subjugation that plague this world, some of us use our energy to escape to a place and a day that may be long in the coming (or may be tomorrow).

The Christ gave us one more command while we anticipate his return and we no longer have a vision of the truth, we will know it then. He said “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” Beloved, it’s still day, and there is still work to do….

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