Monday, June 25, 2012
I got some perspective on life this morning from this super video narrated by Francis Chan, who always gets me motivated and riled up for God. It goes through photos taken from distances from the earth using exponential powers of ten kilometers (10 km). How majestic and powerful is my Creator! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbaGg5xNjT8
Sunday, June 24, 2012
I am not going to say this the most eloquently, and it's not even a new idea. But I think it should be repeated and passed along like a story; in reality, the Bible is full of stories full of life. I was led recently to 2nd Samuel 16:5-14 to read "Shimei Curses David," this little story about King David being cursed and yelled at by a relative of Saul. This seemed on some small level to parallel a conflict I was having with a neighbor over parking in my complex. In the story, Shimei is a relative of Saul, the first king of Israel. He actually screams at David that he is a murderer and an evil man, then he throws stones at David. David could easily have responded by, well, *murdering* his opponent. How easily he could have said, "Murderer?! You want to see a murderer? Well I'll show you one..!" But he doesn't. In my "Shimei" story, I, like David, felt a check on my response. It is still unfolding and not a totally resolved situation, but as it moves towards resolution I see there is more at stake than anger, or even parking rights. The point is, I needed to be in the place of David, to show the power of the One I love by NOT throwing stones back. It's *hard*, but this is the direction I know it needs to go. There are some folks praying for me and I know I can do it. At the end of the passage it says "they arrived exhausted" and I see that. It occurs to me David is a "type of Christ" in theology language. David says "What are the sons of Zeruiah to me?" He refuses to let his companions judge this man. It's so strange in a way. The Son of David will later say "Let the man who is without sin cast the first stone" in response to people who want him to agree that a woman who has sinned needs to be stoned to death. There is some kind of parallel. Shimei was sent from the Lord. So are troubles sometimes.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
I have been thinking about this kind of thing for a while. Keller says it really well. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmTAotnklKI&feature=endscreen&NR=1 There's some deep insight here. Kierkegaard said some truths that addicts and those who have been wounded can understand. At root -- "Who do you belong to?" is the question. Grace is needed to get and keep the "approval" we want and actually seek from actions and achievement.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Some ramblings about an anti-war video by MLK that I watched yesterday a little bit prayerfully. I think about him (as I do every year at this time), his mission and role, and then I stroll through the antechambers of Christian thoughts about war for a moment. I will boast in my weakness and journal of searchings...
A friend of mine recently shared the link to a 1967 speech by Dr. King entitled, "Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam," which King gave at the Baptist church of which he was the preaching pastor. Would you take about 15 minutes and listen to the video now? If not now, perhaps you can return to it later... I really believe it is worth hearing.
Quite moving to you, perhaps... or repugnant to your beliefs... or perhaps surprising? I was a bit surprised, although I think someone told me this once. Dr. King was against the war in Vietnam? Really? Ahem [clearing throat before making an embarrassing confession-] I thought all patriotic, blue-blooded (or is it red-blooded; what does that even mean?), Pro-Democracy Christian Americans supported that righteous cause... well except the Quakers, conscientious objectors, etc. ; ), you know, the "typical" exceptions I tend to not think about because somewhere in my subconscious I believe they live irrelevantly on pre-electricity farms in Pennsylvania making butter...? (nothing wrong with any of that per se)...
To take it even further, I thought Presidents Kennedy and Johnson (the Presidents at the time of the Vietnam War, which was America's big military engagement during the early days of the Cold War) were fairly strong supporters of King and his movement, because they were liberal Democrats, right?, and didn't they kind of commit us to Vietnam as well, so don't those things kind of go together?
Let me back up: Why do I care about this? I care because it is about how we (citizens) and Christians in particular interpret our place in the social world. Jesus says Christians are "in the world, but not of the world." I have been thinking about that one for a while... I know I am supposed to *love* people immediately around me. But is there any guidance for what I am supposed to *believe* about the crucial movements of my time and the larger world *in* which I find myself...?
Oh, and to make it more personal, my father whom I love served in the Army and in the Vietnam War, and, being of a different time and place, is convinced of, if not the "righteousness" of that mission, at least its "effectiveness" or "necessity" or something like that [liberally putting words in his mouth, sorry Dad]...
Maybe that's why this speech is much more interesting to me than "I Have a Dream." I can hear that one with great joy and sense of achievement. If I was fully sane or easily satisfied, maybe I would just stay and rest there...
But I confess - if I think about it long enough, I feel uncomfortably somewhere on the outskirts of the Mordor of pride with that speech. Knowing myself long enough to know I have never had to seriously wrestle with the sin of Racism (or so I have convinced myself) -- just as C.S. Lewis says he never struggled with Gambling and therefore risked the worse sin of Pride in thinking how righteous a non-gambler he was -- so equally I feel it is kind of hard for me to think humbly about the topic of Racism. Seriously -- I have always had black friends, a Latino friend here and there, Asian friends...
So I am thinking about War instead. Because, to be honest, I have at times been angry! So I have thought about fighting other people, to protect someone's rights when they were getting hurt. And less nobly (this is serious confession time) I have even thought at one point in time or another about hurting other people somehow who did not harm someone else's rights, but just my own; maybe I wanted to use my tongue or my fists, or passive aggression; hm, or some combination of those... Let's be honest, haven't we all?
These urges, if you take them at some kind of national, corporate level, become I think what we call War and read about in the newspaper (I mean online). It's an easier, but at the same time infinitely harder, definition than I thought it would be; when you trace big, complex things like War to their origin in a quite less discussed kingdom place called the Heart.
And I think this is exactly what the Rev. King was trying to get us to do with these speeches. Whether he was talking about the killing of soldiers and civilians for a political cause, or racism, or poverty, or other social problems... To be clear, Scripture does not, to my reading, say poverty is ever to be cured, or wars ended, until the Millenium and reign of Jesus Christ; but I think Dr. King saw something out of balance nonetheless, and felt - yes, knew - that something a lot better than what he was seeing might be possible in a fallen world, if the Church in particular could be convinced that Jesus cares about human suffering and not just the salvation of souls or the maintenance of law and order.
I think if only for 30 minutes a Sunday, Dr. King, with his towering, larger-than-life voice, wanted to speak in such a way as to let no one off the hook -- none who gave safe harbor to complacency, none who thought oppression, unnecessary suffering (What is that by the way?), or a sort of punishment- rather than mercy-based social interpretation of the Gospel was the way to go.
Even in all of their difficulty, King's words still retain the power to inspire, uplift, and transform.
I can't help tearing up a little every time he talks about "seeing the mountaintop," letting freedom ring from the top of Stone Mountain, Georgia, where black people were not free to vote, as much as from the Alleghenies in New York, where "they feel they have nothing to vote for."
I am not a theologian, but I believe Christians' stances on war as an act of government can actually take a handful of Biblical forms, in basic outlines a kind of trinity:
Pacifism is against all war, even if someone else attacks your country without provocation. Pacifism stands with Jesus' words in Matthew 5:29 -- But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
Just war theory argues that there must be some conditions met in order for a war to be morally acceptable by some a timeless principles. One such principle is: "The conditions of the societies involved in the war will be better at the end than they were at the outset." (Dowley, 1990)
Last, the Crusades view is the one I at least hear all the time, not just about war or aggression, but about politics and religion pretty much in 98% of discussions -- "I'm right, he's wrong/you're wrong. I should push him/you out of the way." I'm so glad Jesus didn't treat people like that.
I am so glad there have been and continue to be great voices like King's who wanted to take on large social challenges. Is this not relevant today?
Have we made headway on alleviating racial imbalances? Why are African-Americans, the mentally ill, and the mentally disabled still chronically overrepresented in prison populations, criminal arrests, and criminal convictions? Check the stats; it's real. Something like 12% of the U.S. population are diagnosed with a mental illness; something like 70% of the prison population have a diagnosis of mental illness. That is what statisticians call a "disproportion."
"More of them are there because more of them commit crimes," you say with a wink, my smug, white, privileged brother.
Really? So does that mean the people in these populations are inherently more immoral and depraved than, say, you and your friends? If I got inside your head, I would never find lawlessness? No, that's not it. There is something systemic. I guess the question then is, how did it get there, and what can be done to address it?
Am I willing to live in a high-crime, high-poverty neighborhood (again)? Put up with a mentally ill or disabled guy who puts a real burden on me when there are competing demands on my resources? What kind of sacrifice am I willing to make? What about you?
From the large evangelical centers of teaching, church-goers hear a lot of helpful teaching about how to save our own souls. We experience breakthroughs on sin struggles; we are inundated with some of the largest amounts of worship music, Bible translations, spiritual and other books, CDs, and resources that Christians have probably ever had in history. We are even seeing a real honesty in counseling within the Church about issues of pornography, broken finances, homosexuality, and so on down our laundry list of quite real, quite biblical concerns. We are making great strides towards getting a lot of our own real needs met.
Yet I still see professing christians walk past homeless people without even saying a word; I see racially homogeneous churches where minorities and the mentally or emotionally ill do not feel at home. I was attending a conference at my own church a while back, with a speaker talking about child-raising. The cost was $15, and I got a book for coming. There came a certain diatribe during which I had to excuse myself from the building. This was when he began deriding and degrading psychology; he was insinuating, in an unprofessional, non-evidence-based way, that a handful of mental health conditions are somehow not real because psychologists are all God-hating atheists.
Walking outside to take a breather from this unprofessional, hurtful diatribe, I met a sister in Christ who was watering the flowers. She "no longer attends this church," she told me, because of events like the one going on inside right now, which cause her, in her lifelong struggle with mental illness, to feel marginalized. However, she does come to water the flowers. I talked with that dear lady for over an hour, and connected in many ways, hearing her story of Christian conversion, hearing of some of her experiences within the Church, a few of which had led to her leaving that particular church, and of her gardening ministry. I forgot all about what was going on inside and felt God had led me to something real, right there, in the front lawn of the church. I spoke with this precious sister a few more times before God took her home last year, which I was surprised to hear. It turns out she had been living with a fatal cancer all the while...
Somehow she had her priorities straight. She wasn't stressing out about saying all the right words to make the congregation happy about psychology or something. She was worshipping the Lord by caring for the garden, and frankly for refreshing me in a time of bitter resentment of the Church.
How ironic, that a church "malcontent" shared freely with me the peace that she had been given after I had spent $15 to receive doubt and consternation at a "teaching event." The Spirit sometimes has a way of turning things on their head. I wonder if some of these things -- economic inequalities, imbalances, homelessness -- might not also refresh us, if we are willing to allow ourselves to be touched by them.
Apparently, in my illustration, it begins with a discontentment with something that is being taught, which, in Church circles, is the very thing we are *not* supposed to feel - the embarrassing weakness of doubt -- wondering if some people might be left out of God's plan, wondering "If He loves so much, then why this or that..." Jesus was unabashed about dropping hard sayings on the disciples, and then giving them the life experiences they needed to understand them. He didn't tell them to crush their doubts, or pretend to understand things. Paul put it well about "boasting in weakness." I for one would like to boast in my weakness a little more this year and feel like I, and even the Church does not have all the answers, and somehow knowing that is Okay, because it will bring us closer to Jesus if we keep wanting more of the real thing.
Bible Gateway. http://www.biblegateway.com
Dowley, T. (1990). A lion handbook: The history of christianity. (pp. 51-54). Oxford, England: Lion Publishing.
Image retrieved from http://www.newclearvision.com/2011/03/03/the-unconquerable-authority/