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Friday, August 29, 2014

Jesus v. Me (a brief comparison)

Jesus v. Me

            I don’t know how healthy it is for my self-esteem to compare myself to others.  I can hit free throws much of the time but it would not be very smart to compare my basketball skills to LeBron James’.  I usually sing the right notes in a song, but I am not singer Josh Groban is.  I should be happy with who I am.  Everyone should have a healthy amount of self-love.  The second great commandment is ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ (Luke 10:27).  If all I have is self-loathing, my neighbor is in trouble.  I don’t need to compare myself to others.
            Still, sometimes a benchmark helps me see how I am doing (whatever it is that I may be doing).  Overall, what kind of human being am I?  As I pondered this I thought, why not aim high?  So, I am setting myself alongside Jesus as I read Ephesians 1 & 2.  Jesus need not be nervous.  I am a humble winner.  I know Moses is supposedly the most humble man ever, but that was written before I was born. 
            So, it’s Rob v. Jesus.  Good luck, son of Mary.
            Let’s see as I scan over Ephesians I come to chapter 2, verse 1.  “You were dead through trespasses and sins.”  Oh, that doesn’t sound so good.  I know this doesn’t stick to Jesus because, well, he has never sinned.  I have read enough that I can verify that.  I on the other hand have – a lot.  This is not the place for specific confessions, but anyone interested in my checkered record can interview the saint otherwise known as my wife.  The whole death through sins bit sticks to me like honey on a linoleum floor; hate stepping in that in my bare feet.  Yeah, I am dead in sin.
            What about him?  OK, Jesus hasn’t sinned.  Let’s not throw that party yet.  Maybe Ephesians can knock Mr. Sinless down a peg.  Let’s see … ah … here it is; chapter 1, verse 20.  God raised him from the dead.  I see.  Well, I can’t sugar coat it.  The check goes in Jesus’ column.  That’s one for him.  But I am still in this game. 
            Ephesian, help me out. 
            Or not.  Chapter 2, verse 2:  it says I (A) followed the course of the world, (B) follow the rule of the power of the air, and (C) it says he is the spirit that is at work among those who are disobedient.  Does it take a Bible scholar to see that Ephesians 2:2 is referring to Satan?  And I follow him?  I did not mean to.  I didn’t know.  No, that’s a load of something not fit to say or type.  When I follow the world down a path that leads away from God, I know it.  I acknowledged as much when I said I have sinned.  That’s not humility.  That is honesty.  But now here Ephesians is telling me exactly where I stand – in the footsteps of the devil.  Maybe we should just cut this whole comparison thing, just shut it down.  No?
            Ohhhkayyyy – how does Jesus fare?  Ephesians 1:22 says God has put all things under his feet and made him the head over all things.  He is not following the course of this world.  He’s determining it.  He is the head, the boss, the big fella, the top muckidy muck. 
            For those scoring at home, it is Jesus 2, Rob 0. 
            I won’t lie.  My confidence is not soaring right now.  What’s that?  You want more.  Alright, you sadist.  Let’s go to Ephesians 2:3.  It says all of us were by nature, children of wrath.  All of us follow the desires of the flesh (which we know is opposite of the fruit of the Spirit – see Galatians 5).  So, I hear you, smacking on Rob for his fleshly nature, his tumble into the fire of God’s wrath.  Go ahead, pile on me.  It doesn’t say Rob has messed this up.  Ephesians 2:3 says all of us.   That’s you too, baby.  You want to dump on me, well; you’re in the pit with me, my friend.
            Huh?  You’re saying I started all this as a comparison between me and Jesus not me and you?  Oh come on!  What fool would, for a second, try to compare himself to Jesus.  Comparisons are not really a good idea.  That’d be as daft as trying to play a game of one-on-one against LeBron James.  I … I… oh.  Oh, yeah.  I started this.  Didn’t I?
            I am, consumed by the flesh as I am, in the path of God’s wrath.  We already know Jesus is elevated as the King and Lord of all.  No comparisons remain.  Should feel like pond scum right now.  But I don’t know.  When I consider who I am – death-bound sinner that I am – why don’t I crumble in a pile of self-hate?  Why do I feel so good?

Ephesians 2:4-10
But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ[a]—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.


            You see, it is not Jesus v. me.  It is Jesus for me, creating me as His own, alive in Him, living for the purposes He sets before me.  The story is not me at all.  It is Christ.  I am grateful for all He gives. 
            What does Jesus have for you? 


Ask him.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Blessed in Christ with Every Spiritual Blessing

                Bless her heart. 
Several years ago, my wife Candy volunteered in a church ministry to high school aged girls.  The leader of that ministry was a southern woman.  She used a phrase that was unfamiliar to Candy.  In speaking about someone, she might say, bless her heart.  By this she meant, that poor, poor woman.  She’d describe someone who was going through a tough time, or she’d talk about someone who just did not understand something, and she’d sigh and say, bless her heart.  That poor, poor woman.
Is that what blessedness is?  Is it a pitiable condition?

God bless you! 
Is this something we shout when someone sneezes? 
A kid was suspended from a public school in Tennessee recently; suspended for saying “bless you” after a sneeze.  “Bless” is on a list of forbidden terms.  For her part, the teacher said the student shouted the phrase from across the room and was particularly aggressive in asserting her constitutional right to say it.
Why would “bless” be forbidden?  Is there something inherently dangerous or destructive in this word? 
Is this was “bless” is?  A word that requires censorship?  Or a vehicle for a Christian student to challenge a secular teacher?

Gathered around the coffin, family members comfort one another.  The son – now the family patriarch – gazes at the corpse that was his father.  “It is a blessing,” the son says.  Is this blessing, then?  Someone lives a good life but then in the senior years contracts a disease that leads to suffering and a painful death.  Upon reflection, do we say his death, an end to suffering, is a good thing?  Is this blessing – a good thing?
Would you describe yourself as blessed?  Do you live a blessed life?  If you say that, what, exactly, are you saying?  Do we have any idea what this really means?

Poor, poor woman.
Sneeze response!
A good thing.
A description of my life.
What does it mean – blessed, bless, blessing???

Ephesians 1:3-4 relies on this word family:  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ[b]before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.
Whatever blessing means in current vernacular, in Ephesians the one who is blessed is a child of God.  Through Jesus, we are adopted as God’s children (v. 5).  Our sins are forgiven (v. 7).  And we get to know what God knows (v.9).  Finally, we have an inheritance (v.11, 18) which involves receiving power from God (v.19-20), while living in the presence of God (v. 10).  Blessing then is being God’s child.  We are children of a father who loves us.
The best way I can think to relate is my own experience.  I am an adoptive father.  My eldest was adopted from Russia when was 3½.  The younger two were each just under two when they were adopted from Ethiopia.  We come together by marriage and adoption and the five of us make a family.
I don’t know what it is to love a child I have sired.  I do not have any biological children.  I don’t have any context so I cannot definitively say how I would feel about a child who came from my wife and me, so to speak.  What I know is I cannot imagine loving anyone more than I love my kids.
My love for my kids is fun.  We play kickball, UNO, we play on the swing set, we climb trees, swim in pools, hike trails, and play hide ‘n seek.  It is loads of fun. 
This love is also sacrificial.  When they have nightmares or cannot sleep, my wife and I are up with them.  When they are sick, we take care of them.  We have made the choice to live without things (like cable TV) for the sake of paying for other things (adoption expenses, good health insurance, family vacations).  In the moment, we don’t always like giving things up.  In the big picture, we love it because we love the kids. 
The love we have for our kids is long term.  I mentioned their ages at adoption.  From the moment they were in our custody, they were ours.  They were already walking, but just about every developmental milestone in a human’s life that comes after walking we taught them (and continue to teach them).  We want to help them know how to discover their passions, how to grow intellectually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, and how to live in the world as it is.  The way we raise the kids prepares them for life.  This is daily work and lifelong work.  And it is an expression of our love.
I don’t know exactly how fitting this is for a picture of God’s love for humans – all who come to Christ and are adopted as God’s children.  I don’t know, but I believe the metaphor serves to give an idea of God’s love and the blessing we have as God’s children.
I said our love with our kids is fun.  I think God’s love is fun, but even deeper because God’s love produces joy.  I described our parenting love as sacrificial.  The sacrifices parents make are important; the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is even more so.  I imagined our parent-love as being long-term.  God’s love for us, His adopted children, is eternal.  More than just lasting, God makes a ways for us to live eternally with Him because He wants to be with us. 

Is definition for blessing needed?  How about this?  Blessing = being adopted as child of God.  This is blessing and this is what we have and what we are when we are in Christ.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Cop talks about Abuse of Power in Law Enforcement

My friend is a veteran of the Virginia National Guard for over 20 years.  And he has been a deputy in the sheriff’s department for nearly as long.  He is a military and law enforcement veteran. 

I wrote to him to ask for his thoughts on Ferguson, MO and the Michael Brown shooting.   The pretext for my email to him was an article by Kareem Abdul Jabbar.  That can be found here - http://time.com/3132635/ferguson-coming-race-war-class-warfare/?xid=newsletter-brief.

And here are my friend’s comments.


Rob
Kareem is right insofar as:  1. This is not a "race" issue.  2. Disinformation is everywhere and the media is controlled.  3. Government is corrupt.   I also agree that people need to guard against conflating the two issues:  1. Rioting and looting by rogue thugs.  2.  Protests and marches over Police abuse.   
 
Unfortunately, he then goes on to talk a bit too much about "race".   And I can't help but fear that when he says "do nothing politicians" and "promotes economic equality and opportunity"  what he really means is that we need "better politicians" who will give more goodies and handouts.  
 
In my opinion the central issue from Ferguson are this: 
 
1.  You and I have ZERO impact on public policy.  
http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2014/08/12/Study-You-Have-Near-Zero-Impact-on-U-S-Policy .   NO ONE, regardless of class, race, creed..... has the ability to effect social change in this country.  If you are not part of the Ultra ruling class in this country you are not free to effect real change.  Peaceful protests are highly discouraged. 
 
2.  People in Power (Government) are never liable for bad decisions, Deaths, or the unforseen economic turmoil they cause.  The Police Chief for Ferguson will never go to jail or be held accountable, nor will the Mayor.  Most officers who perpetrate unlawful killings never answer for it.  The officer in Ferguson might... he'll be the exception to the rule because of gravity of media exposure of the incident.
 
3. Police forces have been militarized by design to enforce the first 2 points.   The federal government has bred a generation of Police that have too much power and abuse their authority against anyone who bucks the system.   This is why over the last decade Police depts. have militarized vehicles, SWAT teams  based on Military infantry squads, militarized weaponry, and use military tactics.
 
4.  Couple all this with a news and information system designed to entertain and tell us we are to obey those in authority no matter what.  Few will pay attention and the ones that do will be lied to by the information system and won't have the capacity or desire to investigate it any further. 
 
I agree that poorer people and racial minorities get the brunt of this policy.  But the "poor" is not simply one bloc yet he keeps referring to them that way.  
 
Unfortunately, the Ferguson incident will probably end up being diverted into a complete racial issue instead of one that galvanizes the average American against the real issue.  Which is police accountability, abuse of power, criminal justice system in general and the corruption in our Federal government in particular.   That's too bad. 
 
It is my belief that it is because of our education system that has bred generation after generation that has little to no critical thinking skills and relies on Authority figures to tell them what to think.  You can't worship authority and at the same time correct corruption of authority. I believe some think the Bible teaches this tripe as well, which is why I have some issues with my Christianity these days.    
 
Instead, we are taught to fear our neighbors instead of love them.  We highlight our differences instead of our similarities with tripe such as "diversity",  champion consequences of birth and nature over our talents and what we have in common as human beings.  We then worship our Authority to fix all that is wrong and they fail us and we wonder why?  
 
Also, on a final note:   Isn't it ironic that Kareem is making a case that our information sources are corrupt in one of the most demonstrably corrupt and biased disinformation filled magazines of all "Time".   I wonder if he recognizes that?  
 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Telling the Story in Song

          On this blog, I have been telling my story a bit, having been inspired by the book To Be Told, by Dan Allender and by my friend D.P. and his insistence that I take a deeper, longer look at my past.  It has been surprisingly rewarding.  I found myself filled with affections for my 12-year-old self.  I never really thought negatively about 12-year-old-Rob because I rarely thought about 12-year-old-Rob at all.  But, the process of remembering and trying to again re-live the experiences has filled me compassion for the younger version of me.
          Much of what I have written revolves around my relationship with my father.  This makes sense.  My self-definition is based on my identity ‘as a man,’ and the role model is my dad.  I have a great relationship with my dad.  It was what it needed to be when I was a kid and it has grown, matured, and deepened as I have become an adult and a dad myself. 
          I am influenced by my mom just as much.  She is as significant a figure in my life, but the effect is subtler.  I can look at my life and the ways Dad has shaped me leap off the page.  Dad’s fingerprint on me is obvious and, significantly, it easy to describe in writing (and more writing and more writing).  I could fill a notebook with thoughts of how Dad has made me who I am.  Thus, I am inclined to write about that relationship.
          The raw material of my life drawn from my Mom’s influence is every bit as much me; I just not have given it as much thought.  Recently that changed.  My family – wife, kids (12, 7, 5) and me – were on vacation, driving in the minivan, the movie Frozen playing.  As the driver, I could not watch, but I could listen, and Frozen is as much about the music as about the dialogue.  As those songs play and I pictured the film I felt a deep connection.
          It seemed odd.  Frozen is the story of the relationship between two sisters.  I have a sister, but I am a brother.  I have a daughter, but only one.  The others are boys.  I have no direct connection to sister-to-sister dynamics.  Why did this animated film touch the deepest part of me?  It is because of mom. 
          Of course the film has nothing to do with mother-son relationships.  However, one of the ways my relationship with my mom flourished is in our love of film and our love of musicals and especially our love of films set to music. 
About 15 years ago, when I was still single, my parents came to visit me in Arlington, VA and the three of us when to see Camelot at the Kennedy Center.  We were all excited about dressing up in fine clothes and riding the Metro from the Pentagon to downtown.  Mom was so giddy she teared up.  I did not but I recognized her emotion and shared it though I did not express it the same way.  More recently we gathered with the family at my parents’ house to watch Nanny McPhee Returns.  I was thankful for the darkened basement because this time my moist eyes betrayed my emotional nature.
Afterward, I admitted I had cried.  My stoic Father dismissively said, “Oh, I knew that was how the movie would end.”  My mother was right there crying with me.  I don’t understand about myself.  I had seen Nanny McPhee Returns about five times.  In prior viewings, I had not emoted.  Why now?  My mom had seen Camelot previously. Why was that night so special for her? 
The answer comes back to how listening to Frozen brought me awareness.  Each presentation – Frozen, Camelot, and Nanny McPhee Returns, as well as many others – is a beautiful story presented by true artists of film, stage, and music.  My mother gave me my deep appreciation for the genre of the musical.  My brother and sister share it as well.  And our dad likes musicals well enough.  But my love for the musical is a gift my mother gave.
I remember many years ago a friend of mine said, “I don’t musicals.  In real life people don’t spontaneously break into song.”  I think my mother would say, “They should.”  I agree.  And when the story of her life is written, the only genre that would fit is the musical. 


Maybe my sister can take that up as a project … Christy, what do you think?

Monday, August 18, 2014

What will We Become? (1 John 3:1-3)

What We Will Be (1 John 3:1-3, 11-24)
Rob Tennant, HillSong Church, Chapel Hill, NC
Sunday, August 17, 2014

        How great is the human need for love?  How far do we reach?

·        Holocaust survivors separated from family members search for years until the reunion happens; they won’t let go of love. 
·        Children given up for adoption seek out their birth parents.  They want to know that even though they were given up, it was done for love.
·        Online matchmaking is a multimillion dollar industry that profits from lonely folks looking for love. 


“See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are” (3:1). 


It is as if we who know Christ are in on a secret – the greatest secret!  It is so great that when we share it, some who hear simply cannot believe it.  Either they cannot believe it is true, or they cannot believe it is great.  So they reject Christ, or more likely, they reject us, the messengers.  Deep down, every person who ignores the invitation of God or turns away from Jesus is a person who needs love.  Every human needs the love only God can provide, and God does provide.
“See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are” (3:1).  God’s heart is a heart of love for us. 
Immediately after the elder, the narrator in 1st John, declares that we who are in Christ are children of God, he then says, “What we will be has not yet been revealed.”  What we will be has not yet been revealed.  He’s already said we are God’s children and throughout the essay he says we will live forever in God’s presence.  What will that be like?  It seems he is not completely clear on this nor is he all that worried about the things he does not know. 
Take that phrase, what we will be has not yet been revealed, and put it to the world today – to people specifically and humanity in general.  Now, imagine life with Christ, and imagine life apart from Christ.  What will we be?  What will “we” who are of HillSong become?  What will “we” Americans within our American society be?  What will “we” Americans be in relation to peoples and nations?  What will “we” humans become?
Remember, there is nothing we need more than love and specifically the love God gives in creating us and redeeming us through the cross of Jesus.  Apart from love the picture is dreadful.

A police officer in St. Louis shot dead unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown.  A young life with so much ahead, so much living to do, was cut tragically short.  An unarmed black teen was killed by a white police officer – AGAIN!  Now that police officer has to live with it.  Michael’s family has to live with it.  His friend, the witness, has to live with.  The continued riots suggest that America is not living with it well.  That this whole story is one we’ve seen before many times is testimony to the devastation of a world apart from God.  It keeps happening; apart from God’s love, evil reigns.
The comic genius Robin Williams took his own life and his daughter had to take down her social media accounts.  She not only grieved the loss of her dad in the most awful of deaths; she became a target of trolls whose depravity led them to try to add psychological torture to her pain. 
We read 1st John 3:11 and then 3:23 & 24 - “This is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another”.
        “And this is his commandment that we should believe in the name of God’s Son Jesus Christ and love one another just as He commanded” (1 John 3:23).”
        “By his Spirit we know he abides with us” (v.24).


        We Christ followers see the world around us.  We who are in Chapel Hill, NC hear the cries of anguish all the way from Ferguson, MO; all the way from Northern Iraq where people seem destined to suffer.  We see the world and we hold up 1st John as an alternative.  We do not have to succumb to the bad news all around.  We have another story to tell, a story of love.  At the center of the story we have been given is an invitation to the love and to the life of God. 
You and I are invited to live with God, to live in God, and to live with God in us – God as we know God in Jesus Christ.  These New Testament works, the Gospel of John and 1st John, show us what God is like.  God is associated with love of one’s brother in the church.  In the context of the entire New Testament and especially Luke’s Gospel, this love of other Christians is extended to love of neighbor. 
Jesus is asked who is my neighbor? Jesus answers with a story; the neighbor is the person who needs us.  The neighbor is in need and we stop to help and then we are neighbors.  Love from God; love of fellow Christ-follower; love of all people; it turns out that love describes God and as Heather said quite accurately two weeks ago God defines what love is.  We look to God’s story to see how to live in love.
        This is where our hearts needs to stay this morning – in that place where we know that God invites us into life and into love.  God does that, he loves us. 
        Can we?  Can we become love – conduits of God’s love as it flows into the veins of a humanity that is crying out in pain?  What will we become?

Think on what keeps you awake at night.  Your child who is now away from home?  Maybe your father had a heart attack at 55.  Now you are North of 50 and not in great shape.  What fears cause you to choose left instead of right?  Is life so harried and hurried we fear we will never be able to stop and rest?  Is life so set and stuck we fear that this is it, nothing new and exciting will ever come again?  What are your real fears?  Surely what bothers your neighbors is nothing to you and what unsettles you seems silly to them.  But fear is one way sin becomes an enemy that would rob us of the life of love God has for us.

        I am pretty sure Michael Brown and Robin Williams never met.  Both mattered equally to God.  He loved each enough that he sent his Son for them.  To each man, sinful fear gave rise to hate and hate brought a tragic ending.  In Iraq and Syria, fear and hatred conspire to create chaos, to destroy the world. 
First John 3:15 is so plain – “all who hate a brother or sister are murderers and we know that murderers do not have life abiding in them.” 
What human being or group of humans or category of humans awakens the hate in us?  Here hate is as bad murder.
Note that 1st John was written before the events of Michael’s Brown’s death and Robin William’s suicide.   First John was written before there was such a thing as Isis.  First John was written before there was such a thing as Islam.  When the elder put pen to paper under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and wrote about the life to which we are invited, life in God’s love, he touched on themes that speak today.  He appealed an ancient story that sounds eerily familiar. 
“We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother” (3:12).  One human killing another?  Where have we heard that before?
First John says Cain did this because he deeds were evil.  What does that mean?  For more detail we turn to Genesis 4 where we see that God rejected Cain’s offering and accepted Abel’s.  Genesis does not elaborate on why Abel was accepted while Cain was not.  Genesis focuses attention upon Cain’s angry response.  God warns Cain about the bursting anger inside of him.  That anger takes over, and after he kills Abel, Cain is paralyzed by fear.  What fears paralyze us?  What fears have unmade us?  What fears lead to the demolition of human community?
God said, “Well, Cain, I am sorry, but you’re on your own now, you filthy murderer.”  No, God did not say that.  Genesis tells us the Lord put a mark of protection upon Cain (4:15).  Even after we give into it and do the hideous things fear leads us to do, God still loves us, protects us, and invites us to turn away from sin and back to Him, to His love.  
Who do you hate?  I remember a week or so ago reading of the way ISIS works and feeling hatred for them.  They had the Yazidis pinned down on the mountain, starving and dehydrated.  Rescue came in the form of U.S. warplanes and Kurdish evacuation helicopters.  Isis was content to thoroughly annihilate an entire people group, the Yazidis.  Yes, I was reading from the safety of a vacation house on a secluded lake, a safe distance, but still, deep inside, hate burned in me toward ISIS. 
How does God feel about ISIS? 
I think God hates them too – a radical, violent, singularly minded group bent on killing all who oppose them.  Yes, I believe God hates ISIS.
However, God doesn’t see only ISIS.
God also sees individual Syrian and Iraqi Sunnis, men who are poor, without hope of education, and very, very young, many younger than Michael Brown.  If they grew up in Chapel Hill, they’d be in the marching band at Chapel Hill High.  They’d attend the youth group at HillSong Church.  But they didn’t grow up here.
Where they grew up, all they have heard since they started walking and talking is “America put the Shia in power and now we are dirt poor.”  The parents they love as much as we love our parents have taught them that life is cheap, that America is Satan along with the Shia who run Iraq, and their best hope is to die as martyrs in a Jihad type of war. 
I am here in church telling you our hope is that we are invited into God’s love.  In Christ, we are children of God.  This is the message we give our kids.  Those kids who become soldiers in ISIS who I want to hate have been told their hope is to kill Americans and Shia and anyone else who does not practice Islam the way they do.  Is it any wonder we go on mission trips and they have fired killing shots by the time they learned to shave?
What will we become?
This is the message we have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
        And this is his commandment that we should believe in the name of God’s Son Jesus Christ and love one another just as He commanded.
        By his Spirit we know he abides with us.

        Because of who God is we become people filled with God, that is, filled with the Holy Spirit.  This filling explodes into stories of love – us in the world, helping people, forgiving when we are hurt and wronged, and building communities in Chapel Hill, in Carrboro, in Dominican Republic and South Africa and Ethiopia.  We cannot stop ISIS or senseless shootings or suicides or other tragedies.  We don’t have the power.
        God does have the power and the intention of stopping it all in God’s timing which we have to trust is better than ours.  We don’t have in us the power to fix all the world’s problems.  But we do have the love to try as hard as we can to fix as much as we can.  We do have story – the story that says we are already children of God because of God’s love.  And we will be something more than we are now.  In resurrection live forever, celebrate unending joy, and discover the depths of love we cannot fathom until then.  What will be become?  That is to be seen.
        For now, we offer an alternate story.  We tell the world what God is like.  First John’s greatest contribution in this story is to show that God is love and everyone who will receive Jesus is invited into the love of God.  This truth is bigger than all the bad news that can be so depressing.  The bigger truth is we have lasting joy that explodes forth from God’s church and by the power of God’s Holy Spirit this joy fills the earth.

See what love the Father has given the world that we should be called children of God; and in Christ that is what we are”

AMEN

I want My Son to Go to the Library without Being Afraid

I want my son to go to the Library without being afraid.  Right now he does.  My middle child, 7-year-old Henry, loves books.  He is a great reader and the library is one of our favorite places.  We go every week.

Also, in the stories we read and see in cartoons, the police are the good guys.  They catch the bad guys and put them in jail.  For a 7-year-old, it is pretty straight forward.  There are good guys and bad guys.  In the stories, the police are the good guys.  So, in real life, the police are the good guys.  And this has held true in my own experience of ‘real life.’  In my encounters with the police, they have been good guys.

Have I mentioned that I am a white, middle class, educated, American male?

Black males in America have had considerably different experiences with police officers.  In my whiteness, I spent most of my life ignoring the truth that black males are harassed and even beaten by police without cause.  It happens all the time.  The statistics of abuse of power by white officers on black males are staggering. 

Have I mentioned that my son, adopted from Ethiopia, is black?  I have blogged previously about this.  One glaring observation that has stuck with me is white people think little black boys are cute.  However, to middle class white people, black young men are scary.  My cute little boy is going to become a black young man.  What will people – white people, my people – do when he walks through our neighborhood in a hoodie?

The Trayvon Martin story scared me.  This Michael Brown story is scaring me even more.

When my wife and I discussed all of this the other night, I wasn’t ready to face up to how insulated I have made my own life.  I wasn’t ready to own up to the protection white privilege affords me.  I don’t have to worry that what happened to Trayvon or Michael will ever happen to me or to my older boy, Igor, adopted from Russia and very white.  But, I need to wake up! 

I was irritated with Candy’s (my wife) fascination with the story.  She wanted to discuss it.  I didn’t.  It was Saturday night and I had to be ready for Sunday.  I complained that I have read all this stuff.  I didn’t to hear it or think about it anymore.  I was tired of the story.  The truth is I was hiding under the covers hoping the whole hullabaloo would go away.

I was fooling myself.

As Candy and I discussed the situation in Ferguson, MO, we recalled another story, the case of Neli Latson (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/10/AR2010071002633.html).  He is African American and has Asperger’s Syndrome.  He was guilty of being a black person at a library.  That should not be a crime, but someone reported him, a needless confrontation with the police ensued, and he has been locked up ever since (first in jail, then in a mental hospital).  His story is heartbreaking and rather than just accept responsibility for thoroughly traumatizing a young man, the Stafford police are defending their actions. 

The entire time Candy and I talked, Henry was listening.  Michael Brown (shot) … Neli Latson (outside the library); Henry was putting the words his parent said together in his 7-year-old mind.  Suddenly he blurted out in the most confused of voices, “He was shot while he waiting for the library to open?”

He was shot while he was waiting for the library to open?

I had to try to explain to my black son that what he always thought (policemen are the good guys) is not true in every case.  My explanation was lame and he was as confused as ever.    A while later, he was in another room and I over hear him.  His voice showed he was as confused as ever.  He was shot while he was waiting for the library to open?

Henry knows that he and his sister are black and that his mother and I are white.  He knows that.  We have tried to talk about race.  He played the role of Nelson Mandela in a school drama.  But, he does not understand that being black means in your life you won’t be treated the same way as white people.  He does not get that at all.  He cannot even imagine it.  From age two (when he was adopted) until now he has enjoyed all the benefits of white privilege.  The day will come when he won’t. 

It makes me heartsick to realize that my son will have to fear the police.  I will have to try to coach him on how to act around the police.  It will be the blind leading the blind.  I have to equip him with coping skills I have never needed.  How do I do that?

If this doesn’t break me for the indignities all people of color in America have suffered, what will?  If this doesn’t awaken me to how I have benefited from the unjust realities that exist in America, then what will?

The vast majority of my writing is sermon-writing.  That usually ends with a call to action or is punctuated with a profound truth.  Even when I am not writing a sermon, I end up writing as if I were. 

I have nothing here.  No brilliant insight.  I feel wasted.

I feel like Neo in The Matrix.  He was in a world of color and comfort until he took that red pill.  Then he woke up.  He realized that the world he thought he knew was simply an illusion generated by computers.  Reality was a world of threats and pain, a world in which necessities of life were scarce and powerful forces actively worked to control him and use him. 

I have anesthetized myself, content to remain in the relative ease of white privilege.  The truth is I could continue to do that the rest of my life.  I am still white.  I can continue to hide in my privilege. 

But I cannot if I want to truly follow Christ.  The Holy Spirit began tearing at my heart on Saturday night, speaking through my wife’s words.  Underneath her persistence in facing the issue and her insistence on confronting me, the Holy Spirit shook me awake.  I repeatedly shushed her because I did not want to hear it.  I knew then that more was in play than just a husband and wife discussing the news. 

This morning – a Monday morning, time when preachers like me exhale – God has gone to work on my spirit.  This time the shaking has not been as gentle as it was Saturday night.  I have wanted to be defensive.  I want to shout at everyone who quotes James Cone or Cornel West, “I am not a racist.”  But who am I kidding?  I live a life full of benefits that are the results of generations of systemic racism. 

So, what do I do?  How do I change it? 

How can my son go to the library without fear?


I don’t know. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Something is Broken in Me

This was written by my friend, an author and blogger.

I kept waiting to hear from the predominantly white evangelical church in America. I kept waiting for someone from that community to chime in and say something—anything. Even something like, “I see what’s happening in Ferguson. I don’t understand it, but I want to. Can someone help me understand it?” One person contacted me to ask a question that sounded something like that.
But, for the most, part, days passed, and I was hearing nothing (http://www.deidrariggs.com/2014/08/14/why-weve-got-to-go-there/).


I respect her so much that when I hear her put out a call for words from “white evangelical church in America,” I feel like the professor has given an assignment.  As a pastor, I consider myself “evangelical.”  Even though the word is freighted with political baggage and is often misunderstood by many who have a secular worldview, I still embrace.  To me, evangelical means one who believes Jesus is the full revelation of the triune God – Father, Son, and Spirit; and salvation is in Him; and finally, the Bible is the true revelation of who He is and is instructive for a believer’s life.  By that definition, I am an evangelical.  I am also a white, middle class, suburban American male.  I don’t think any of those terms require definition or qualification.

Michael Brown, a black teenager, unarmed, was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO.  The officer who killed him will have to live with this the rest of his life.  He shot and killed an unarmed teen.  Whatever the young man did, was it necessary to shoot him?  Every night that he goes to bed, he sleeps with the knowledge that while doing his job, trying to maintain law and order, he pulled his gun and killed a young man/big kid.  I consider 18-year-olds young men and don’t accept calling them ‘kids’ as so many sports commentators like to do, but that’s for another column.  This policeman killed someone whose whole life was ahead of him. 
Why could he not resolve the confrontation with Michael Brown in another way?  Call for back up.  Use a Taser.  Use pepper spray.  Shoot the kid in the knee.  I am not a policeman.  I do not know the techniques.  I do not know what happened that day in his confrontation with Michael.  One of the reasons I have not commented is I do not know happened in this specific instance.  Maybe this was entirely a race-related event.  Maybe race had nothing to do with it.  Maybe it did.  Did Michael Brown provoke a policeman who has been disrespected one too many times by one too many young persons?  Was this about an overaggressive cop, or was it racism through and through?  It is just as possible that what happened was an example of racism that still lurks like a demonic agent of destruction bent on bringing our society down.  I just don’t know.  

I don’t know Michael Brown.  I don’t know the officer.  I wasn't there.  And I don’t know how trustworthy the news reports are.

I do know that it is tragic when a teen dies.  Truly, someone’s baby died.  Even if he did something wrong, it should not have come to this.  It is very sad that a young man died in this way.  Our culture’s violent reaction is an extension of the tragedy as well as an expression of wounds that continue to afflict America with pain.  The death of Michael Brown is awful for his family and at another level it is awful for America.
We have to acknowledge that something is broken.  Inside all of us, sin arises because we are apart from God.  We choose our way instead of God’s way.  Given Eve’s opportunity, every one of us eats the forbidden fruit willingly.  Something inside Michael Brown was broken.  
Something broken in the police officer led him to pull that trigger.  I know the voices who defend law enforcement officials would cry out that the policeman did nothing wrong.  He was using the necessary force to do his job.  I cannot deny or affirm that.  But I know that before he shot Michael Brown, something in him was broken – and now that which was broken has shattered even more. 
Deep in me, I know there is much that is broken.  Every time I demand my wife be someone other than who she is it is an example of my brokenness spilling out.  She is remarkably strong and loving to endure my self-centered, shallow tirades.  Every time I yell at my kids when a calmer response would accomplish more and be less destructive to their psyches, I know it is my brokenness on display.  Deep in every human, something is broken.
Jesus did not come to fix what is broken in us.  Jesus came to show what was always true – that which is broken in us leads to death.  This is why in baptism we go under the water.  Every time I baptize, as I sink the believer under I say, “Dead in sin.”  As I bring her up I say, “Raised to new life in Jesus.”  Jesus did not come to mend us.  Jesus’ arrival sheds light on already true fact: we are already dead.  But in Him, we are born again. 
The wounds of Trayvon Martin have not yet healed, and Michael Brown is upon us, awakening us to what is broken in all of us.  By the way, this means we (and here I mean “we whites,”) cannot, cannot, cannot talk about Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown as “they” (as in “those blacks”).  “We” and “they” does not work in this conversation.  This conversation will never gain any traction in drawing humanity together if “we” and “they” continue to be used.  We are heartsick about Michael Brown because he is one of us.  He is a human being.  He was made in the image of God.  Jesus died on the cross to cover his sins.  I feel my brother has died. 
As we have moved from Trayvon to Michael (and all the awful news that has popped up in between), Michael will barely fade from our lips when another incident will arise.  What can we (“we humans”) do?  Maybe we start with a question. 
The next time a tragedy happens, ask what is broken in each person involved.  What is broken in the victim?  What is broken in perpetrator?  What is broken in our system that allows such rush-to-judgment news reporting?  What is broken in social media that makes it such fertile ground for creative expressions of hatred and evil?  What is broken in me that I react the way I do, feel the way I do?
If, instead of anger, we recognize brokenness, we may feel compassion before we feel rage.  The compassion in us may have greater pull on how we express ourselves.  We may be more inclined to pray than we are to vomit our rage with confrontational posts and tweets.  And maybe, if we make asking what is broken in him an everyday practice, we might be more compassionate all the time.  We (“we humans”) might be intentional about seeking ways to be compassionate with each other all the time, and not just in times of turmoil like our current crisis. 

That is my thought.  I don’t know anyone in Ferguson, MO.  Beyond praying, I cannot do much there.  But in my life, in my town, in my interactions with people, I can be guided by the question what is broken in him or her.  As I process that question, I hope, no I pray, it will lead me to be compassionate.   In compassion, maybe I can do my part to present the world with an alternative story one in which people turn to Jesus and are born again to live forever with each other in God’s love.