Category Archives: Social Justice

Will the Witness Please Stand Up…

“Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble” (Psalm 107:2, NRSV)

I am a fan of murder mysteries and court room dramas. Two genres of television reigned in my home growing up- westerns and  detective shows. Folks like Perry Mason, Matlock, and of course Law & Order, were staples in my house. My grandmother watched mostly, and I would sit with her and watch just because.

One of the tried and true scenes in a courtroom drama was the moment when the trial turned to the testimony of the witness. Often, the case would hinge on what one witness had to say in the courtroom. In shows like Matlock and Perry Mason, the witness testimony was the show down, the high stakes drama filled with life or death consequences. Even the mundane moment of swearing-in the witness was infused with tension. The moment that always stood out in my mind was when the judge in some courtroom drama would call out “will the witness please rise?”. Since we the audience already knew the stakes at play in the drama, we knew that the last five, ten or fifteen minutes of the show would be defined by this “testimony”.

Well, despite the fact that these were just dramas, the role of a good witness in any trial cannot be understated. Granted,  witness testimony in court cases is often unreliable and needs corroborating evidence, the importance of having someone to verify what happened is always good in relaying the story. And it is to witness verification that our text points.

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This 107 Psalm attributed to David is one that is seeking a witness. It is a call to worship and to praise God for God’s goodness and “steadfast love” toward Israel. David calls the people to worship but tells them to show themselves as redeemed by saying something- “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!”.

Not unlike the bailiff in those courtroom dramas, David is looking for witnesses. Folks to whom God has saved, redeemed and can stand for God’s name in world.

We have, in the Christian church, taken this call for witnesses to be a call of attendance and not clarion call of presence and being. We expect the preacher to read this Psalm and folks to show up/ out in worship for all of the things that God has redeemed them from. Yet, I believe that David is calling on us to witness as redeemed people in a world that is too divided for its own good.

For too long, the “redeemed of the Lord” have been associated with certain political ideologies and a hypersensitive morality. We have been associated with judgmental values and a holiness that was subject to the whims of politics and power. However, the psalmist tells us to speak up! If we are redeemed, then there is a greater standard for us to speak up for; a greater calling to identify with. David is calling us to stand up for inconvenient truths and complicated realities. Being a witness requires us to risk it all when we identify who is really the Sovereign in this world of pretenders to power.

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There is a prophetic responsibility in “saying so”. We cannot just say so when it is easy. “Saying so” means speaking to power and principalities and saying that you are more than just a vote or a constituent. “Saying so” means witnessing to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in body, mind and mouth. “Saying so” means rejecting hypocritical positions and standing up for truth in the face of coercion.   My vision of truth comes when the witnesses of the Lord stand up and testify!

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Filed under Christian Church, Christianity, Community, Discipleship, Justice, Old Testament, Political Theology, Prophetic Accountability, Redemption, Social Justice

Following a Different Policy

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel? He said, “I do not know; am I my brothers keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brothers blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:8-10, NRSV)

This past week a stunning thing took place at a assisted Living facility in Bakersfield, California. A woman had gone into cardiac arrest and had stopped breathing. A nurse (remember that) on staff called 911 and was waiting for instructions. The operator on the line stated quite clearly that CPR was needed and that it needed to be performed immediately. The nurse’s response is bone chillingly inhumane and robotic. The exchange went as follows:

911 dispatcher: Are we just going to wait and let this lady die?

Nurse: Well, that’s why we’re calling 911.

911:  We need to get CPR started

Nurse: They’re refusing CPR. They’re going to let her just die.

911: I understand your boss is telling you you can’t do it but if there’s anybody, a      human being, I don’t…. is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?

Nurse: Um, not at this time.

I must admit that when I first heard this I was struck by the irony of it all. A woman who is a nurse, and is trained to help people, quotes company protocol and policy when someone has a heart attack. In a “Assisted Living” facility no less!!(Worse yet, it has been reported that the deceased daughter is “satisfied with the treatment” her mother received.)

Apparently, the company that owns the “assisted living” facility has a policy that does not assist people in active medical distress other than calling 911. This company has effectively enshrined into company policy the phenomenon that we occasionally see from people in the streets. You see it through the hidden camera footage when people see someone on the streets in distress and then do little to nothing to aid that person. Sometimes they don’t even call 911 or reach out for anyone.

Cain and Abel

This behavior is not new. If we trust the witness of the scriptures, we find the first such incident in our above text. Often called the first incident of murder in creation, the above passage seems bigger than just sibling rivalry gone awry. Likewise, this tale is not merely about what happens when we are not forthright in our feelings. All of those explanations can be found in the text but Cain’s response to God’s prompt seems to be particularly telling.

When God “stumbles” upon the scene of fratricide, God asks,Where is your brother Abel?”, to which Cain offers a stunningly blunt and sarcastic retort, ““I do not know; am I my brothers keeper?” The response seems on the surface to be both disingenuous and pompous. At a deeper level, the writers of the passage are placing a double entendre into Cain’s mouth. The retort is both a denial of Cain’s familial responsibility for his brother and is a passive slap in the proverbial face of God. In other words, when God poses the question of Abel’s whereabouts, Cain’s response in our vernacular is, Don’t know what you are talking about. Keeping people isn’t my job, it’s yours!!

More importantly in the passage, Cain’s response reveals a truth of our own human shortcomings. When we fall short of expected behavior and fail to be human in our behaviors to our fellow sojourner, we resort to hiding behind the ‘policies’ we craft for ourselves. Whether it’s Cain hiding behind the witness of God’s character as humanity’s caretaker; the Pharisees being scolded by the Jesus for hiding behind the sabbath; or a nurse in Bakersfield, we use the convenience of policy to cover our ineptitude or inhumane practices to one another.

Beloved, we are made to be connected to one another. We cannot live a part from each other and thrive. We are meant to live in community and even though communities don’t always get along we are called to do it together. Resorting to legalistic interpretations of ‘policy’ stifles what has always been intended for each one of us. ‘Policy’ has a place in so far as it helps us to understand our relationship with one another and the ways we relate to God. However, our heavenly mandate is always answer yes when the question is asked, “Am I my brother’s/sister’s keeper?”. The 911 operator almost seems to be asking that very prophetic question of the nurse when she simply asks, “is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?” In the same way that Cain killed his brother Abel, this nurse willful inaction stole the chance for life for that woman. The nurse’s response to the operator says it all: “Um, not at this time.”

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We are better than what this nurse and this company offered this dying woman. It is insufficient for the company to say that they let all of their residents know of the CPR policy in advance. There is still a human standard, a basic standard or life. This standard applies to all areas of our life together. We can do better in our conversations about guns and violence and not hide behind a policy that “guns don’t kill people”. We can do better in our policies toward war, healthcare, poverty and all the ways that we should be “keeping” our brothers and sisters. God requires more and Abel’s blood cries out for me. We should demand better from each other and from those who lead us.

Getting the lesson from the Cain and Abel narrative without the death of another one of our brother’s and sister is a vision of truth…

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“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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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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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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The Symptoms of a Familiar Disease

When Samuel came to Saul, Saul said to him, “May you be blessed by the Lord; I have carried out the command of the Lord.” 14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears, and the lowing of cattle that I hear?” 15 Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the cattle, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.” 16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” He replied, “Speak.”

17 Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18 And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed. ’ 19 Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?” (1 Samuel 15:13-19, NRSV)

The last two weeks have been filled with riveting excitement, stunning defeats, shocking betrayal, hidden infidelity and public scandal.  We took a break last week from posting in reflection and honor of the veterans who served our country. In spite of that noble cause, we have been witness to the most peculiar set of events in modern times. All of which bear an interesting symptomatic footprint familiar to many of our lives. I want us to first look at our symptoms:

Election 2012. The results of the election on November 6th were shocking to many in this country. The fact that the Republican Party lost the White House by wide margins and all of its Senate prospects, so shocked aspects of the electorate that some officials declared a state of mourning for the Party. The core issue that lead to this shock (and the loss) that has been posited by some centers on the changing reality of the American electorate. Never before in American politics has a President been elected with less than 40% of the White electorate. Some commentators (and even the some elected officials) suggested the loss of “traditional America” and that we have lost something that never can be regained.

The disease manifests itself in a retelling of a myth for victory and success in American politics and the rejection of critical engagement of the reality in the world. Specifically, the belief in the supremacy of campaigning on a racialized electorate and the manipulation of partisan ethnic agendas could triumph over ideas. The construction of this reality devoid of facts and constructive narratives makes a false worldview that got shattered on November 6th.

Superstorm Sandy. The week prior to the election, the east coast of the US was pummeled by an unprecedented storm that reminded all of us of our fragility before nature. The illusion of humanity’s control of seashores, waterfronts and subterranean transit systems was shattered when Gotham itself was under 14 feet of water. THe stunning images and the challenges that have been experienced by citizens of New York and New Jersey (not to mention the 3 feet of snow that fell in West Virginia) reminded all of us that building communities on flood plains and sea islands is never smart.

Our dysfunction about creation and our unmitigated manipulation of its resources continues to undermine our relationship with our planet. We do REAL harm when we disregard our use of natural resources, pollute the environment and destroy ecosystems. We are irresponsible and negligent when we seek to bend the reality of our behaviors around prisms of politics and selfish economic systems.

Petraeus Scandal. We once and again find ourselves with the same ol’ story line. A powerful man with a prominent public image conducts secret life that undermines everything he supposedly stands for. Change the characters, the context and the story seems to never go away. CIA Director General David Petraeus and his months long affair with his biographer rocked the nation on the heals of the reelection of the President. Allegations of cover ups, leaks and manipulation all followed after he resigned for “failure to live up to the standards of the office.” Likewise, the exposure of several prominent military officials to the scandalous trysts and email communiques convey a general culture of elitism and laissez-faire among some of the most powerful people in the world.

The disease manifests in individuals who have no sense of their frailty around unethical behavior and unfaithful conduct. Regardless of the circumstances, conducting a secret affair and a secret life is too much for anyone to handle. Yet, people who go about participating that behavior are the same persons who see themselves as untouchable and incapable of fault.

Taken individually, each of one of these incidents seem to be failures of their own design. Whether political, relational and/or a fault of character, these moments can be seen as simple miscalculations, mere arrogance or just hubris. However, when we approach these incidents through the lens of our text, we can posit a deeper meaning to the disease at work.

 

The above passage comes the Saul narrative of 1 Samuel. In those narratives, Saul was chosen by God to serve as King over Israel, in spite of God’s provision and Samuel the prophet’s warning to Israel. Saul’s story as king is not a good one, and we find here the culmination of God’s rejection of Saul’s leadership. As king, Saul failed to carry out the divine directive of ‘ethnic cleansing’ toward the Amalekites. Saul instead leaves the best animals for himself and his men. The encounter between Saul and Samuel comes to a head in the above exchange.

This exchange is really about the two version of reality that Saul and God/Samuel are wrestling over. In the exchange, Saul own words give rise to the fact that he is a liar and out to serve a different focus and objective than what God intended for the king. The central diagnosis of Saul’s condition is found in Samuel’s statement in verse 17, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.” Saul’s failure as a leader stems from his myopia toward his role and responsibility in Israel. Saul, a towering specimen of Israelite masculinity, acts as a small and insignificant man doing things in his own universes as if they have no consequences.

Like us, Saul has a myopic view and is only willing to see that which is amenable to his worldview. In an age when propaganda passes for journalism through the mouths of MSNBC and FOX News, we can choose the voice that best constructs the world we want to live in. Our given selection of propaganda means we no longer have to listen to dissenting opinion or the hard truth of a situation. Instead, we can use the selected reading or version of the facts to arrive at the predetermined destination with confidence and assurety of our rightness (and righteousness).

When science is more about political expediency and economics, and not about the facts proven through testing, it’s no wonder we think we can live anywhere and are shocked at the devastation when nature reclaims her territory. There are nearly 7 billion people living at the same time in the world today. To argue that our presence on the planet has little or no affect is worse than myopia, its BLINDNESS!! Our quest for new homes has not affected forests? Our burning of fossil fuels has not affected our breathing? Our fishing of the seas has not affected the population of sea creatures and their migration patterns? (How many sushi places our in your neighborhood?)

When we decide that our lifestyle and personal behavior doesn’t need to be regulated simply because of our position in life requires little ethical policing, our hubris will be our demise. It isn’t that David Petreaus or Paula Broadwell is any better or worse than we are. In fact, we are like them more than we care to admit. We believe that our public selves can behave in a disconnected way from our private selves and therefore the ethics of each can be regulated however we see fit. (“If Samuel didn’t see me carry out the mission God gave, then what he doesn’t know won’t get back to God!”, Saul seems to think.)

The disease is tunnel vision- the loss of peripheral vision resulting in a singular line of sight to which one cannot take in external sources of vision and light apart from a direct focus. We see what we want to see and ignore all other sources of information and thought. Total loss of sight is immanent unless medical treatment or an intervention is possible on behalf of the patient. In our case, we are the patient and we must to see the truth that is constantly all around. Stare the facts in the face and come to a collective agreement about what we see in order to take action for our future.

I once heard one of my relatives say, “Opened eyes make for a willing vessel”. I like to say, “sighted eyes see the visions of truth”…

 

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Filed under 2012 Election, Christianity, Community, Discipleship, Interpersonal Relationships, Old Testament, Prophetic Accountability, Sacred Memory, Social Justice

Hope Yet Unborn…

7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. 8 Elkanah her husband would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”  9 Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the LORD’s temple. [b]10 In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” 

19 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the LORD and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, [b] saying, “Because I asked the LORD for him.”21 When the man Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vow, 22 Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always.”  23 “Do what seems best to you,” Elkanah her husband told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the LORD make good his word.” So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him.  24 After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah [3/5’s of a bushel] of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. 25 When they had slaughtered the bull, they brought the boy to Eli, 26 and she said to him, “As surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. 27 I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.” And he worshiped the LORD there.

As an educator in public and private schools I developed a keen sense of what it means to be a part of the nurturing and growth of children. First as an elementary school teacher and later as a middle school teacher, I witnessed firsthand the importance of parental involvement in a child’s life. Even now as a college educator, I have seen adults who have either remained bitter for the lack of their parent’s involvement in their life, or deeply appreciative for their parent’s continual support in their lives. In either case, the actions parents weigh critically on the lives of the children they raise. My experience allowed me to gain a key appreciation for the life of the elders in the life of the children.

Many of us are familiar with the sacrifices that parents make for their children. Some leave their careers and jobs behind to relocate for better schools, others sacrifice time and money and other energy to pay for camps, piano lessons, sports activities or any of a host of activities for their children. But in every one of those situations, the child is already with them (that is to say the child has been born and is already present). The parent sacrifices for the child because the child is present asking for (or needs) the sacrifice to make a better way in the society; at least that is what we tell ourselves.

Along these same lines, we live in a time and place where a great deal of our life has been made easier. Computers, iPods, iPads, cell phones, social media and technology as a whole has made the world manageable and we can get ‘da bighead’ sometimes as my grandmother use to say. We (and many of our younger counterparts) often carry a sense of entitlement and ownership even though we have done nothing to deserve the trappings that we possess. Our self righteousness can get us in trouble in a lot of ways. I have seen young people cross the street as if cars aren’t going to them. Some treat food and shelter as just standards for life and there are even times when we actually think that we are too young to die. Youth left unchecked can be a dangerous thing and the irony is that it takes age to realize it.

More than anything else, I came to learn that the life of any community is its children and it is the responsibility of the elders- parents and non-parents alike to invest in the life of the community. The nature of that investment is the future of the community and that future along with the destiny of the community, lies in the yet unborn. And it is the unborn that our text speaks of today.

 

The story of Samuel is one that is framed in the context of the larger community; namely that of the story of Israel. Hannah is a wife without an identity.  Yes, in the ancient near east (as in many places) the purpose and function of the wife is to produce a child for the husband. To be more specific, in this time period, the identity of any female is a function of how many male children she has produced. The more boys she has, the more status she attains in the society and our Hannah, has none and thus no status.

Now this notion of identity is important for two reasons. One, Hannah’s desperate yearning for children leads her to the temple of the Lord at Shiloh. She comes year after year putting her hopes and prayers on the offering that her husband Elkanah offers to God.  She knows and believes God for her identity. Secondly, when we find her in the text she has decided to plead with God as her ultimate help and hope. It is the cry of a desperate woman, a woman without focus or direction or… identity. She feels this pain so much that she makes an offer unto God. Given that she has no status because she has no child, she is willing to forsake that status for the blessing of a male child. So great is her desire and her faithfulness in God that she gives not only, the child she desperately wants, but also, she puts her life’s purpose, her identity, into God’s hands.

When her child is finally born she calls him Samuel because “she asked the Lord for him”. Samuel’s name is from the verb to ask and refers to God hearing her cry and answering with this son this same verb also means to lend. Samuel is the answer to many prayers, hopes and dreams and indeed his mother’s future rests on him. Being true to her promise though, she returns him back to God for God’s purposes and the Bible says that he was God’s “helper” in the temple.

Hannah shows us that her faithfulness to God is so strong that she is willing to invest everything that she is into bearing a child. She puts all of her being into the fulfillment of that purpose. So much so that her child will be God’s child- living for God’s purposes. Parents and community elders, are you willing to invest all that we are into a prayed for future? I am talking about the one thing that all of us hold most dear: OUR CHILDREN AND OUR YOUTH.

If that is the case, then the only hope for any lasting legacy, any future, any hope for the continuation of our lineage and community is with our children. Yes, these young people who we sometimes find confusing, disoriented, clumsy and down-right lazy are the promise of our tomorrow. Truth-be-told all of us at one time or another were seen as confusing, disoriented, clumsy and always lazy! But even then, someone was laying their hopes on us. Believing that God would straighten us out and put us on a path toward God’s self and so here we are.

We are all elders in our communities. We protect, lead and guide our future through our present actions, behaviors and cares with our children. There is a verse from James Weldon Johnson’s Lift every Voice and Sing that provides us a true vision of truth on this day:

 

Stony the road we trod,

bitter the chastening rod,

felt in the days when hope unborn had died;

Yet with a steady beat,

have not our weary feet

come to the place

for which our fathers died?

 

We have come over a way that with tears have been watered,we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.

Out from the gloomy past,

till now we stand at last

where the white gleam

of our bright star is cast.

 

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