Monthly Archives: January 2013

“A Tangled Web we Weave…”

O Lord, who may abide in your tent?

Who may dwell on your holy hill?

2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,

and speak the truth from their heart;

3 who do not slander with their tongue,

and do no evil to their friends,

nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;

4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised,

but who honor those who fear the Lord;

who stand by their oath even to their hurt;

5 who do not lend money at interest,

and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

Those who do these things shall never be moved. (Psalm 15, NRSV)

In the last few weeks we have been riveted by the scandals of public and private lies. Former cyclist super star Lance Armstrong admitted that after nearly a decade of perpetual truth bending, bullying and manipulation he did all the things that his detractors accused him of. He spent millions of dollars, armies of lawyers and a whole host public relations specialists to keep the lie going for years. In spite of all of his efforts, the lies eventually caught up with him.

In another stunning case, the hallowed triumph-over-tragedy story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s deceased girlfriend also turned out to be false. Manti reportedly was the victim of what is called ‘catfishing’- being involved in a virtual relationship with someone posing as an alternate identity on social networking site. (In other words a BIG FAT LIE). Manti reportedly was led to believe that his (now fictional) girlfriend was in a car accident and died of either the car accident or of Leukemia (or both). He never met this girl in person, never saw her live directly face to face (each time they tried to FaceTime, she could see him, but he could not see her), never went on a date, no gifts exchanged and not even a shared experience together in the real world. She didn’t exist……at all….a complicated and devious deceit only meant to entertain her creators at the expense of Te’o (who may know more than he has led the public to believe).

Both of these very tragic and public incidents have exposed the near constant truth of the nature of lies. Lying is an art designed only to confound and undermine the truth. It is a universal experience that lying destroys relationships and is the easiest way to build distrust and erode credibility. While the above examples of lying are really complex schemes that require a great deal of time and investment, the reality is that a lie takes time and energy to promote and maintain.

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Our text for today comes from the corpus of Psalms. In the 15th Psalm the writer highlights the virtues of living an upright life by posing the question, “Who shall abide in God’s Sanctuary?”. Ultimately, the characteristics of one who is invited into God’s presence is holiness and purity. The Psalmist here is promoting the ideal and not necessarily a pragmatic vision of our discipleship. However, the significant revelation from the text is found in the delineation of the effects of unrighteous behavior on our relationships. Specifically, the writer connects righteous behavior with what pleases God with communally acceptable behavior. Doing good to each other in human relationships pleases God as well as one another.

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The disease of lying and the complicated systems we create to lie are part of our inhumanity to one another. Lying displeases God and violates our relationships with one another. Armstrong’s behavior and the acts of catfishers highlight the level of selfish dysfunction that is maintained through our lying to one another. For the sake of wholeness in community and a positive relationship with God, truth-telling has to be promoted in our lives together.

A vision of truth has to include better ways to communicate the truth to each other……together.

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Filed under Christian Church, Community, Discipleship, Hope, Interpersonal Relationships, Old Testament, Social Justice, Uncategorized

Lessons in the ‘tween time…

But Joseph said to them, Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. 21 So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones. In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them. (Genesis 50:19-21, NRSV)

The above passage comes from the saga of Joseph. Joseph’s tale encompasses the later half of the book of Genesis and is deeply disturbing for its fratricide, conspiracy and injustice. Joseph’s life is shaped by all of these horrible acts in his life. He is left for dead (by his own brothers), sold into slavery (by his brothers), taken into Egypt, accused of rape by his Master’s wife, locked in a prison and forgotten. The writers of Genesis overwhelmingly show the heartache and pain that occurs in the life of Joseph.

The truth of the matter is that Joseph’s story (although heightened and intense for all of the above factors), is not that far removed from the tumult of our own lives. There are times in our life that we feel assaulted by the circumstances and situations that bombard us. Sometimes they are family related and other times they are financial. Sometimes they are psychological and other times our health is under attack. However the trials of our life unfold, we like Joseph, feel totally beaten down and wounded as a result of the vicissitudes of life.

During the moments of trial and challenge, we as Christians do what I believe Joseph did…pray for meaning and purpose. The struggle for meaning is an existential truth, it is ever-present. It’s just most strongly felt during times of trial and great pain. We seek to know why we are facing these challenges, and what we can learn from these trial moments. That struggle often times leads us to peculiar places: “God is punishing us”, “the devil is busy,” or “God is enacting” become our mantras to find meaning.

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Despite the nature of these struggles, the above text gives us insight as to how we wrestle with meaning. For if it is true that God is in charge and has control of all aspects of life and the universe itself, then what happens in our life is not devoid of meaning. Nor are the trials we experience merely reflections of God’s wrath or the devil’s ingenuity. Those answers are ‘one dimensional’ and don’t convey a real struggle in faith to find God’s wisdom. (It isn’t that these explanations are ‘true’ or somehow ‘lack faith’. These explanations are just insufficient.)

Instead, struggling in faith seeks God in the midst of the struggles of life. Joseph states a most profound truism in the faith: “even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.” At the end of the day, our faith believes in the goodness of God and God’s plans for our life. Life itself is messy, confusing and complicated, but that doesn’t mean that God plans those evil acts and destructive machinations for your demise. Faith screams that “in the messiness of life, God is up to something!” It is through the messiness that goodness is still felt and sought by the faithful. Life’s circumstances can muddy the waters and complicate the issues, but God’s good plans are enacted in that messiness.

Praise God that the messiness is not eternal (no matter how continual the assaults of life occur)! In the moments of life’s interlude between the storms is the space we find for reflection and examination. Brief and fleeting though they may be, these ‘tween’ times are spaces and places for faith seeking understanding. When the storm calms down, the ‘tween time is the ‘midnight hour’ or the prayer closet moments that serve to promote clarity in the midst of storms or just before the challenge. It is in the ‘tween’ time after being elevated in Egypt, that Joseph arrives at some meaning for his struggles. Through reflecting on all of the experiences of Joseph’s life that he finally arrives at the true purpose of the trials and tribulations of life. All of it was designed for him to live into the purpose of his life. (in Joseph’s case, it was to be in the position of power to enact mercy to the nations during times of drought and famine.)

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I submit that only through the careful reflection, in ‘tween times, on the trials and circumstances of life can we arrive at the meaning (not the reason) for our difficulties. The reasons for our difficulties are never as clear to understand and filled with infinite possibilities of choice and change. However, the meaning for our pain is only understood in retrospect and often is singular in understanding. Through struggle, you recognize that the struggle of faith is not in vain and full of meaning. That meaning almost always serves to lead us toward our purposes.

God is busy enacting his good plans in our life. God’s busy shepherding us through the messiness of life to arrive at our destiny. Simply to begin the work we are charged with performing, we may have to rely on the vision of truth in God’s word and the prayers of the righteous just to make it through those trials. But when we do, we find purpose meets opportunity yielding the power of our destiny.

SELAH

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Filed under Christianity, Community, Discipleship, Grief, Hope, Old Testament, Political Theology, Redemption, Sacred Memory

What ‘s Worth Learning…

When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 He said to them, Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, 19 since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. (Mark 7:17-23, NRSV)

I sat and watched horrified last week when a new show debuted on TLC cable channel. The show was entitled ‘Sisterhood’ and supposedly chronicles the wives of American pastors in Atlanta. While advertised as an informative show that seeks to “capture a candid look into the lives of devout yet fierce preachers’ wives.” In reality, it was a much more embarrassing image of Christianity in general and Christian marriage in particular.

My problem with the show is indicative of all shows of the ‘reality’ genre. Shows like ‘Real Housewives’, ‘Basketball Wives’, “Honey BooBoo’, ‘Love and Hip-Hop’, and all like them perpetuate false narratives about what we really are in our lives together. These shows find the most extreme of our behavior and turn it into a ‘sideshow’ (pun intended) for profit. These shows essentially degrade our lives to the most sensational, most entertaining, most retrograde behaviors in pop culture fads that undermine family, faith and friendship.

I have always said that a show like Real Housewives was neither real nor starred housewives. But this new show called ‘Sisterhood’ seems a bit beyond the border. It features a group of ‘Christian’ women that apparently have come together for the sake of the show. They share the experiences of hurt and pain, joys and concerns about being “Christian married women” facing the challenges of life and ministry in the way they know how.

The premier episode featured argument, theological bickering, and hypocrisy that counters everything Christian, marriage and relationships and the role of women in ministry. The show hopes to “follow them as they navigate through marital troubles, financial issues, parenting challenges, personality conflicts and even demons from the past.” Instead, this show and most shows like it serve nothing more than to feed our need for elitism and the desire to “at least not be that person”. It’s disgusting and beneath us a people living in relationship with each other.

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My view point may be naive and I will take that criticism, but selling your life and your lifestyle for the sake of television fame is not the will of God for any of our lives. Celebrity, fame, fortune as motivators for your life is quite simply, insufficient. Our text for today highlights the problems of piety and religious traditionalism built on performance. More specifically, Jesus states the obvious: behavior does not defile and make unclean. Defiling behavior has its source in the human heart. Jesus has to chastise the Pharisees, educate the people, and warn the disciples that simple pious behavior is insufficient to show faithfulness. God is ONLY pleased with a human heart oriented toward God and a behavior that is in sync with such a heart.

For Jesus, it is not that behavior and actions don’t matter; they do! Jesus wants us to place behavior in its proper place. It isn’t doing the right thing that makes you righteous, it’s the belief in the right thing that motivates the behavior. Doing what we as a society believe is correct is not always the right thing in God’s economy. Taking care of self, cleanliness and obedience to family are all socially constructed norms; but Jesus overturns every single one of these teachings at one point or another in his ministry.

As a society, we often spend so much time being concerned with the way people behave and act and if that behavior conforms to the prescribed norms of our lives. We then use our behaviors to define a mainstream and then use any and everything outside that norm as entertainment, exploitation and for profit. It is truly a sad state of affairs when a channel that markets itself as “The Learning Channel” has devolved into little more than a carnival show for every aspect of life.

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We deserve better and should require more of ourselves than mere voyeurism. Seeing marriages fall apart, drama and fighting between women, promoting backbiting and lying all in front of television cameras for the sake of fortune and fame is defiling. No matter the stated intentions of education, or promoting or insight or even “FYI”, we are essentially defiling notions of family, friendship and faith.

My grandmother had a simple saying that “just because you can do a thing, doesn’t mean you should do a thing.” I modify this homespun wisdom to say that just because it’s there doesn’t mean it needs to be seen. Broadcasting hurts, pains, curiosities and the frivolity of all that there is in the world is irresponsible. The need to know is not so great that it warrants the selling of one’s lifestyle nor the exploitation of individuals for mere entertainment.

In this new year, let’s avoid the voyeurism and seek a vision of truth instead.

 

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