And to think it all began with The Church Without Pants

Thursday, July 21, 2016

That Phrase, "Law and Order"

So, as the 2016 RNC began, I was thinking to myself, There's that 'law and order' phrase again. I wonder what that means this time? I think I have a clearer understanding of that now after the indictments are in and the convention has held court, tried the perp, arrived at a verdict, and passed sentence.

Hearing the chants and the call and response sessions with thousands of self-described law abiding citizens shouting "guilty," and "lock her up," with some even sentencing her to be shot or hung is just plain frightening.

RNC, I can only imagine what might have happened if at just that moment your enemy were delivered in to your hands. The rabid cheering, screaming, foot stomping, and chair pounding would be deafening. With indictments entered and the trial already over, the calls for imposing sentence would be accompanied by fireworks. And to your delight, after the smoke cleared you would discover that this wasn't a dream and that your emeny was still there, on stage, bound and securely surrounded by your party leaders and dignitaries. 

There she is, standing silent and blindfolded before you. And now your party leaders, honorable men (and women) of their word and who must now demonstrate the conviction behind their bluster, begin to deliver the justice they have promised you. The convicted is subjected to an extended interrogation, but after learning nothing more than her previous accusers, the party leaders forego the civility of further cross-examination and treat her as the traitorous murderer and terrorist you know her to be. They strip her bare and tie her down with her head tilted slightly towards the floor. Videographers capture every angle and every nuance of the event and you, yourselves, would be standing on your chairs straining to catch a glimpse of every facial twinge and bodily twitch of your mortal enemy on the giant video monitors. Your party leaders would take the lead in the torture, but they would open up the buffet, inviting some special delegates and respected citizens from the floor to have their turns with her. One would urinate on her. Others would shout their venomous pain at her, their spittle collecting on her face and only to slapped off by the next delegate. 

Then would come the climax of the evening: the blindfold is pulled down over her mouth and your nominee will perform the waterboarding himself, seeking to extract any last words or even a possible confession from the enemy of the people. And after satifisying himself with her and adjusting his tuxedo, he leads you through the chants one last time:
 "What is your verdict? Is she guilty?"

 "Guilty," would be your response, louder and louder, over and over again. 

 "And what is your sentence?

Only now, with your thirst for violence just primed and your arch villain naked and  defenseless before you, those few who earlier were brave enough to call for her death march on the stage to lead the chant...

One of them leans in towards the microphone and addresses the nominee saying, "Mr. Future President and Leader of the Free World, for crimes against humanity, she deserves to die. Our sentence is Death!"

Most of you, in spite of the heightened tensions on the moment, are stunned into silence. There are few whispers of "Death?" echoing in the grand hall. But one delegate has the courage to stand up on a chair and speak.

"Death!" shouts the lone voice, with a fist raised high in the lingering smoke.

"Death!" comes the call from the stage.

"Death!" cry a few more in response.

"DEATH!" they shout from the stage.

And from the floor, more and more delegates join the chorus, "Death! Death! DEATH!"

DEATH!

"Death!"

"DEATH?"

"DEATH!"

 "DEATH?"

"Death!"

"DEATH?"

"DEATH! DEATH! DEATH!"  

And with Law and Order having prevailed, the enemy of the people would be summarily executed before the triumphant party convention and a prime time audience. 

Justice would be served.

And you are safe.

That is one mob-mentality scenario I can imagine.

Another scenario is that, once you were face to face with your enemy and the reality of what you came so close to doing, you would be gripped by a moment of sanity and be so embarrassed by your behavior that you would beg her for forgiveness and denounce your party leaders as frauds and hypocrites.

I know, the convention brought a handful of people up on stage who are desperate for justice. You feel like The System (Government? Elected officials? Political appointees?) has let you down. At best, you feel you have been ignored or your grievances have been glossed over. At worst, you suspect The System is complicit in perpetrating and then covering up your case. No one else can feel your pain as you do or understand the depth of your loss or your sorrow. But please know this: your tears are just as important and just as valuable as the tears of anyone who has ever grieved the premature loss of a life that mattered. 

And to the thousands of others there, who, like lobsters that have been in the pot too long to realize what's happened to them, you "law and order" advocates who are my neighbors and probably attend the church around the corner, you scare me more than any other potential threat. This is nothing more than an un-holy alliance of nationalism and fear disguised as patriotism and religious piety. Reminds me of the "Islamic Extremist" you fear so much.

No Law (but your own).

No Order (but your own).

Just misguided anger and misdirected fear.

Patriotism is usually the refuge of the scoundrel. He is the man who talks the loudest. Mark Twain

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Other Side of Denial


Some of us find friends in the gospels - people we can relate to. Their 100% humanity calls out to us in all their glorious successes and screw-ups. We want to be like them. But not too much like them. We will probably never soar as high, nor can we fail as miserably.  We insist that we can learn from their mistakes and we vow that we would never fall as low as they had. To play the role of Judas would be unthinkable. Who among the faithful today would knowingly deny or betray God? Like Simon Peter we would boast that we would never betray Jesus. Simon, the one who speaks before thinking and leaps without looking. So totally human.

Simon Peter, next to Judas, may be the biggest screw-up in the gospels. Not because of one incident, either.  He screwed-up over and over and over again.  Jesus even called him "Satan." After that, on the night Jesus was arrested, Peter denied even knowing Jesus.

Of course, we need these role-model screw-up types to encourage and inspire us, but lately I've begun wondering if Peter has been judged unfairly. I've wondered how a man, after living with Jesus for three years, could deny even knowing him. (We may be challenged to ask the question regarding Judas, and perhaps we should ...).  I wonder about the reasons and motivations. I wonder what we learn about following Jesus and living in the kingdom of God from such an act.

I also wonder what we might be missing if the story has been misunderstood. 

Luke tells us the story of Peter's denial that last night Jesus spent with his followers. You can read the entire story right here:  Luke 22:7-65

And that's just as you remembered it, isn't it?  We cheer for Peter every time we read it, don't we? We root for him to not fail this time.  "Peter," we shout, "Don't do it!  Be brave!  Stand up for Jesus and admit that you love and adore this man and everything he stands for. Show us that you learned something after being with Jesus every day for all those years.  Show us that there's some hope for us humans, so prone to failure."

But for that very same reason we also need him to fail again.  We need him to deny Jesus because we need to know that God can love someone who would betray Jesus - even when after being warned about it. Or maybe we need it this way simply because that's the way we've always read it.

But what if there's another story there?  What if Peter, for all his faults, wasn't the kind of screw-up we've always thought him to be?  What if we've been vilifying (and relating to) Peter for all the wrong reasons?  What if his screw-ups don't really make him so lovable because they are far more troubling and ambiguous than we ever imagined? What if his impetuous nature really would get him killed before his time?  Is this Peter, the first one to publicly identify Jesus, the one who promised to get in the way of any who would harm him, the one who shouts before he thinks ... is he really the type to deny Jesus?  Or do his flaws lie elsewhere?  

Now, put yourself in the story.  Hear it again, but remember to start from a place of powerlessness, hopelessness and desperation that comes from generations of oppression and exploitation. Add in a touch of brash impulsiveness along with a heavy dose of deadly adversary.  Then mix them all together with a stern warning, a prayer and a promise, and a glimpse at the other side of denial.

"Now the Festival of the Unleavened Bread arrived, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed ... " Jesus described it as his time of trial.  His followers were gathered for what would be their last meal together.  After the wine, there was talk of betrayal and conspiracy, and the denials escalated into claims of superiority, greatness, self-righteousness and one-upmanship. To some, it might have looked like a child’s game of King of the Hill. It might also have looked like the kind of pissing match you hear about when the wine has been spiked with a testosterone-adrenaline cocktail.  

As the reality of the situation was caving in around them, Jesus tried to settle them down with some reassuring words.  But he had seen what this crew was capable of.  A couple of them even brought their swords. Were they foolhardy enough to think they were ready for this enemy?  Peter might think so ...

He had to sober them up, and quickly.  He pulled Simon Peter close to him and said, very slowly, “Simon. Satan is craving you and will sift you. Like wheat." Jesus clenched his fist and the dust from a dirt clod spayed out from between his curled fingers. "But I have prayed for you. I've prayed that not only will you pass this test, but that you will come out of this a changed person, ready to strengthen all who remain.”

“Lord, I am ready.  I will do whatever is necessary.”

“And so I tell you, you will deny me.”

“No! I won’t.” 

“Of course you won’t. But you must. You will say that you never even heard of me.”

“How can you ask me to say such a thing? You know I can’t do that.  I would follow you anywhere. I love you...”

“Don’t you think I know that? But you cannot go where I am going. Not yet. You will be tempted, but you must not give in.  And so I pray this of you … This is the only way.  Before this night ends, you will need to deny me.”

And Simon protested, “But … but we have swords …”

Jesus grabbed his shoulders and brought his mouth to Simon's ear.  His breath was hot and his whisper was loud and hoarse, “Stay alert! Pray that you pass this test.”  And those were the last words Jesus spoke to him about this.

And Simon, knowing now that he must not deny Jesus, wept bitterly, still protesting as he cried himself to sleep.

I realize that rather than achieving anything helpful, this post may simply open a can of worms that could even include, "Would Jesus ever ask us to lie?" Whether you see something helpful, or not, please feel free explore and comment on the contents of this can.


 






Thursday, December 27, 2012

And so this is Christmas ...



Christmas Eve is supposed to be that wondrous time when the hope and anticipation of Advent collide with the very real and living presence of God.  It's where the "Now and Not Yet" of Advent begins to coalesce into the "Now and Yet Again" of God's kingdom come on earth. 

We gathered on Christmas Eve for our traditional Tortilla Soup with Tamale Feast.  I'd add, "as we always do" but that would be redundant since this is our tradition.  It is also tradition that we open up our meal and our home to guests who are far from home and exchange some simple gifts.  We invite them to worship with us and then share in a late supper. We do it so some people don't have to be alone on Christmas Eve.

Now before you start feeling guilty about how you spend Christmas Eve, it's not like we invite the homeless shelter to bring all their overnight guests to the house.  Usually it's just students who come over and that's simply a function of who we hang with. And students, whether they're International or just can't get home for the holidays, are like most of us.  They don't like to be alone either.

But this year was different. All of our students either made it home, had better offers, or they heard we were serving Tortilla Soup and Tamales, again. So, having plenty of tamales and no students to munch them down, we tried something else. Joining me, my wife and our son at the table were three friends: Queen Anne*, Sarah*, and Job* who, even though they live nearby, thought that the offer of Tortilla Soup and Mama Inez's tamales was better than a Home Alone Christmas Eve. 

Sarah arrived first (Anne had joined us for her very first Christmas Eve worship ever) and there was a moment of recognition between them as Sarah put down her purse. Introductions seemed unnecessary but we held our breath as they began to place how and from where they knew each other. Turns out that Anne and Sarah were distantly related by marriage through their respective "exes" and hadn't seen each other in over 20 years. Cousins-in-law twice removed, or something.  This had all the ingredients

What are the chances?

Breath holding escalated into intentionally trying to deprive ourselves of oxygen in the hopes that we'd faint. I considered doing the legendary "stand up" routine so I could just hyperventilate and get it over with... Anything would be better than resuming an ancient family feud that would ruin my tamale dinner.  We felt like we were on that icy road heading toward the ditch. The buzzing/ringing in my ears was saying, "No soup for you!"

My vision was beginning to fail, meaning I was about to go down, when I saw them embracing.  So, there was no feud ... I took a shallow breath ...

They were smiling and they weren't blaming us for resurrecting memories of ex-husbands and long parted families.  I took a second, deeper breath ... My vision was returning.

We let them catch up, but only until I could see again and not so much that the tamales got cold.

Anne is a single parent now estranged from her only child. When she finds work, it usually involves intense physical labor.  She is easy to find at the local farmers market where she is often helping out different farmers setting up and taking down their stalls.  Anne heats her home with, and cooks on, a wood-burning stove. She chops her own wood - not only because she can, but because she must. To say she doesn't have a lot of money would be an exaggeration. 

Sarah, Anne's distant relation through long sundered marriages, is also a single parent with a grown daughter and now finds herself in the enviable position of getting that "second chance" with a child that so many of us wish for. Only Sarah's second chance involves raising both daughter and grandchild while working full time.  And she is at the age where trips to the doctor are less and less about routine check ups and more and more about diagnostic lab work, exploratory surgery and potentially serious diagnoses.

And then there's Job.  A retired pastor, he's spending his first Christmas alone after putting his wife of more than 50 years in a full-time care facility - living with a spouse with Alzheimer's had finally become more than he could handle.  His son-in-law, his daughter's husband and also his good friend, was recently diagnosed with an aggressive and incurable cancer. Oh, and Job's sister died on Sunday.  He'll bury her on Thursday.

And it wasn't just Job, Sarah and the Queen who brought their broken-ness to the table.  To say that my life is all in order or that we host these dinners so people can lay their burdens at our feet or across our broad shoulders is beyond laughable.  Between us all, this had the potential of being a real downer of a Christmas.  I even picked out the perfect carol** for us to sing:

Merry Christmas! (Ungh)
Merry Christmas! (Ungh)
Sickness, Sorrow and Despair
People dying everywhere
Merry Christmas! (Ungh)
Merry Christmas! (Ungh)

So our gift exchange began with an appetizer of unexpected family reunion and continued with soup.  It's a tasty but spicy broth, muy caliente, according to some and it went well as our gathering of the wounded shared stories of recent hurts, old scars, and present dangers.  As we moved to the tamales (also on the caliente side) we began to speak to one another about some of our very real doubts and fears. 

But moving on to dessert the Spirit of God, perhaps recognizing an appropriate moment, reminded us that not all of life is too hot to handle.

Our dessert came from Queen Anne's kitchen and she truly shared of her wealth and from the abundance given her. She chopped wood (the weather was mild that day) and fired up the oven.  Then she baked not one, but three of the most beautiful and amazing pies we've ever had. I'd like to think that her generosity comes from God (because, where else can it come from?) and that deep down she knows that she can share this because in the Kingdom of Now and Yet Again there is enough for everyone.  I also hope that somewhere, deep down, she also knows that she (along with anyone else who seeks God) is considered royalty in God's realm.

And part way through dinner, Sarah laughed.  Why, at an age when we wonder what the doctor's next bit of bad news will be, are we not only raising our children but our children's children as well? And Sarah laughed?  There are many reasons to laugh:  One might say laughing is better than crying.  Someone else might admit that there will always be those times when we have to laugh at ourselves and our helplessness.  I think another reason Sarah laughed is because she loves her daughter more than anything and her granddaughter is the joy of her life. And maybe our Sarah also laughed because in God's Now and Yet Again Kingdom she knows that she won't be alone.  Besides, laughing makes it easier to smile when help comes from expected places.  

Then there's our old friend Job. How often do we find ourselves alone and unable to find comfort, or wind up in that foreign place of being unable to offer comfort because our own grief threatens to swallow us? Our Job asked some really hard questions on Christmas Eve.  None of us had answers but we were able to offer our hands, shoulders and hearts to him. And our Job decided, for that night and the next day anyway, to remain faithful and to trust in the God of "Now and Yet Again," the God who restores all things and makes all things new.

And so the gift exchange continued through dessert.  Prompted by Anne's generosity we forgot about singing "Ungh" as we each took turns listening, offering both ears and tears.  We offered each other our shoulders and hands and responded with hugs and silent prayers. We held each other up that night and I'd like to think that during this dysfunctional family gathering God, even though there were no happy Hallmark endings, was in our midst.

The griefs and the comforts we shared reminded me of words from Jesus, the Grown-Up Christmas Child, in Matthew 5:

 “Blessed are the poor ..."
 “Blessed are those who mourn ..."
 “Blessed are those who are humble ... "


*Not their real names
** Sung to the tune of "Happy Birthday! (Ungh)"

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Uniform Resource Locator - Part 1


Saruman and Eddie Munster shown recently debating the existence of Sauron while accusing each other of being evil Sith Lords
We Are Not Alone

I remember a day when URL stood for University Religious Leader.  Outside of that small group who were actually campus ministers, chaplains or other types of religious leaders serving within the university community no one would have any idea what that acronym referred to.

In my later years I actually became a university religious leader and I’ve been an active member of the University Religious Leaders group for several years now.  I pay a yearly fee for that privilege and in exchange I get a name tag, free bus rides, and I have to attend at least four URL meetings a year.

Our URL isn't the most diverse group.  There are about 40 "Christian" groups represented and only a few attend from other faiths and religious traditions.  The speakers present topics and issues that, even if they not particularly interesting, are usually pertinent to anyone who works with college students.  And there are always announcements or bulletins that we all need to hear. 

Like the rest of our meetings, the announcements are supposed to be pertinent to anyone in the room, even the lone Jew or solitary Wiccan, and we're not supposed to announce or promote activities or events that are specific to our ministry. However, we can (and should) invite the URL to participate in events that are broader than the scope of any one particular group.  Every once in a while as one of these “broader” events shows up on the calendar there is a well-intentioned and passionate plea to further broaden that event by appealing to anyone in the room.

One such event is a seasonal clean-up activity that involves going to the homes of elderly and not-so-abled people in our community to help prepare their houses for the change in seasons.  The students do things like rake leaves, clean gutters, and wash windows and cars.  There is a winter version of this event and a spring version.  The winter version happened just last month and over 900 students from nearly every religious and irreligious tradition on campus were involved.  Considering that the two campus ministries who sponsor and take on the leadership roles in this project have maybe 60 people between them, this event seemed to be a pretty good demonstration of how serving others can be unifying.

But every once in a while we forget the rules and we forget who else might be in the room and the announcements sound something like this ...
“Hey, I’m Gunner and I'm part of the Doctrinally Insightful Christian Know-it-all group here on campus, and us DICKs, together with the girls of the Submissive Handmaids Awaiting Grooms cooperative house are sponsoring what we hope will be the most ultimately evangelistic evangelizing outreach this campus has ever experienced and we want to invite everyone here to bring their groups to this awesomely awesome show. It will be a three-day, three-way debate between internationally renowned scientifically atheistic atheists, our own national DICK leaders, and I think … ya, it’s the Methodists this year.  The SHAGers will be baking cookies and brownies and serving coffee and other yummy edifying snacks and drinks.  On behalf of Jesus, we always win this debate in a convincing and convicting style so bring all your unsaved prospects, er, friends.  Last time we did this the atheists and the American Baptist debaters converted before the end of the meeting.  They were in tears.  God is so awesome … So start praying that all those students you and your group have been targeting as friends can come to this.  All of us DICKs will be there for advice and  counseling and defend the faith because we’ve got all the correct answers to those hard-to-answer questions that might come up during the sessions. There's nothing like proving someone wrong to help prove you're right, plus, it builds up our own faith.  And it's a total headrush.

“So, yeah, the DICKs and the SHAGers are really excited about this and it would be great if for once everyone in this room could get together on something.  I know we pretty much ignore you non-hipsters, mainlines and “progressives” (Gunner does the “quote” sign with his fingers) but you should really bring your students to this.  They’ll learn so much and will grow a lot in their faith and there are always people who are converting or rededicating their lives to Jesus during these events, so your students won't feel all alone. The information at these debates is incredible and our leaders are really good at dominating the debate.  The other guys just end up looking dumb when one of our guys brings up something no one's ever heard of.  They're just sitting there looking dumb and our guy just keeps talking. Those big DICK guys from National will even blast how they dress. Most of them are so last century.  Remember the idiot with the Hawaiian shirt a couple of years ago? We call it “Crazy Radically Aggressive Proselytizing”  (and Gunner does the “quote” thing again). It’s revolutionary Jesus stuff and you won’t want to miss the CRAP at this big DICK event.

“So, uhh, anyway, all of us at DICK are really psyched about this and we’re doing this for everyone in the name of the Kingdom of God and Christian unity.  We don't want any of the credit because this is all for Jesus. So, here’s my contact info and here’s some flyers that talk about the stuff DICKs do and some brochures about the girls over at the SHAG house.  The DICKs just want us all of us to be able to be united in something and we meet every day over at The Union for prayer and Bible study and we've got meetings in every building on campus every night of the week - so just lettin' you know that if you’re new to our group or haven’t become a DICK yet there's nowhere you can go on campus without running into a DICK. We’re the ones who wear the neon “I’m a DICK and I Love Jesus” shirts (Gunner does the “quote” signs once again)  and walk to class in groups and always sit together. Oh, and you can get a DICK shirt from me anytime.  They’re only $12 but that's a real small price to pay for not hiding your faith.  Just wearing the shirt attracts attention and then you can share the gospel. And it works even better when the girls wear their "SHAGers for Jesus" shirts.  They’re so cool that even “cool” (and there it is … Gunner’s “quote” sign one last time) doesn’t describe how cool they are.

“So … yeah … 12 bucks. And again, even though this isn't about being a DICK and I know a lot of you believe that size doesn't matter, but DICK is the biggest group on campus and that does matter.  Any student who really wants to know Jesus should be at this DICK event and then join our post debate Bible study, debriefing, decontamination and re-purposing series. It's like taking off the blinders and putting on a microscope.  It's just amazing how many of the little things we miss.  And speaking of the little things, I just want to say again that we just really want to see the groups finally united about something and I hope you'll pray for the DICKs and support the big debate.

"And that’s all I’ve got.  God bless you in your ministry, Praise Jesus, and we’ll see you at the debate.”

Uh … thanks, Gunner,    

for   

that?

I was sitting with the Jew that day.  

He looked like he was blessed.

And I'm sure he noticed that Gunner did this immediately following the "thank you" offered by the winter clean-up leadership team for everyone's support and participation in this year's event.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Advent in a Box Redux: Hope


My friend, the Blind Irish Pirate, led some of us in assembling what she called “Advent in a Box” last year.  Our “Not Quite Church church” doesn’t meet every week and so we did Advent all in one night – hence the compact title.  Focusing on the elements of Advent (Hope, Peace, Joy and Love) we read Scripture, sang, shared life stories, and even made a short video that, taken all together, conveyed the sense of anticipation and celebration that goes along with the recognition that all is not right but that God has made some promises to our troubled world.

We opened a flap of that box last night when we gathered for worship at another friend’s home. We shared a meal, I read my story about Packing Jesus, Hap told some tear jerking tales from his childhood about life lessons learned from three Jewish kids during their school’s Christmas program and some “crippled” bullies (children with polio) who finally found someone that they could pick on, one of our hosts shared about Angels and admitted that she’s a bit skeptical about them, and the Pirate shared about Advent and the God of Second Chances.

The first Advent candle is most often associated with Hope. In the Christian world Jesus is the promised messiah who repairs our broken lives and our broken world.  Some doubt that this is true. I can’t blame them. If the messiah really fixed things, why do we still hope?  I wonder what I would hope for if everything were fine.

But maybe I’ve got this Advent thing turned backward.  Maybe it’s not all about me and my hopes, or even all of us and our hopes.  Maybe Advent is more about God and God's hopes for the world.  Maybe Advent is about God's Hope, God’s Peace, God’s Joy and God’s Love.

Thinking of it this way I am reminded of that very first season of Advent.  It lasted a few centuries and the final days of Advent actually stretched themselves out for about 30 years - from the days of Zechariah, Simeon, & Anna and the silent Baby Jesus - to the days approaching the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy just prior to the emergence of the indomitable Grown-Up Jesus.  Here Luke announces that it is John, son of Zechariah and known as "The Baptist," who will make the path straight and level the roads, allowing all to see God’s salvation. 

And what is the first thing John does to level things out?  He shouts at those coming to be baptized and calls them a “brood of vipers.”

A brood of vipers?  I’m pretty sure a viper is venomous snake, but I wanted to make sure I understood what a "brood" is. So I looked it up. According to Dictionary.com a “brood” is the “offspring” of a certain animal, or those “hatched.” It can also refer to a breed, species, or kind of animal. So John is talking about the offspring of, or creatures of the same kind as, a poisonous snake.  Probably not a compliment and most likely akin to today’s bottom dwellers so often referred to as, “sons of bitches.”

Meanwhile, back at the river we have a hoard of these, now irritated, sons of bitches waiting for John to baptize them. But instead of offering an olive branch, or a "JK, we're all cool here," and proceeding with the cleansing ritual that allows sinners and impure people to re-enter in to fellowship with their people, John rails at them further for being a bunch of hypocrites and challenges them to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” 

So repentance from living as a brood of vipers is the very first helpful thing that John talks about in that very first Advent season.  Repent from being of the same ilk as a poisonous snake. Repent from following the crooked path. Turn from the world from which you’ve been hatched and look at another one that works completely opposite to the one you know...


“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. 

John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” 

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” 

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. 

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

Note that the ethics and the economics of the kingdom John is talking about are completely at odds with those of the kingdom from which the crowds were hatched.  And this was supposed to be good news.

Luke implies that John did finally get around to baptizing them, but perhaps just as importantly, various translations convey that John appealed to them, exhorting them with challenging and encouraging words, words that gave them strength.  This is how he told them the good news about how God’s kingdom would be different.

Maybe John is right and Jesus really is the messiah, the one who saves the world and turns it all around by offering us an alternative.  If so, I think God’s Hope is that the world would repent and turn from the kingdoms we’ve created. This turning is a total about-face, a complete 180, which means that God’s realm would in many ways run counter to those kingdoms from which we are hatched.  Everything would change – all the way from who’s in charge down to the nitty-gritty of the how the ethics and the economy are manifested in the new realm.

It’s hard to repent from the life and culture that we’ve been immersed in (baptized in) our entire lives.  Maybe that’s why it’s so important, as our friendly Pirate reminded us last night, that God is a God of second chances.  In that, we can Hope. 

It begins with repentance and that, I think, is God's Hope for us and for the world.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Packing Jesus

Maybe it’s because I grew up celebrating Chanukah - rooted in miracles and steeped in tradition, it's an eight day festival, a pure and unabashed holy-day party complete with candles, decorations, food, eight nights of gifts, sacks of gelt (cash money), and gambling – that I still don’t totally get Christmas. 

Contrasted to the unambiguity of Chanukah, Christmas is kind of a schizophrenic holiday.  Some of our best minds have tried to figure it out: Irving Berlin, Charles Schultz, and Dr. Seuss, to name a few.  But even with their collected wisdom plus that of the experts who write letters to the editor of our local  newspaper and the professionals at Hallmark I am only left with more questions:  Is Christmas about “home” and “family” and predictable happy endings? Or is it all about displaying nativities in public venues? Is Christmas every day?  (Or because Christmas begins in August do we just feel like it’s every day…)  Do we just need more snow?  Is it the gifts or the thoughts that count?  Santa, Frosty, help me!

So, I am on this journey (and maybe some of you are, too) to figure out Christmas.  And I don’t even want to pretend that I have the answer.  But I think I know where to look.

First, I’m going to try and let Jesus grow up this year.  It seems that even when we try to strip away Macy’s and Walmart and focus on the Nativity, we fall into a tradition of honoring the Baby Jesus just long enough to pack him up again in protective bubble wrap and newspapers where he’ll be safe until next Christmas.  Nicodemus, the Pharisee Jesus speaks with in John’s gospel asks, “How can anyone be born who has already been born and grown up? Surely they don’t go back into their mother’s womb a second time.”  It seems like an intentionally ridiculous question, but we’ve discovered the answer, haven’t we?   

Don’t let him grow up.   

We don’t want Jesus to say anything to us.  Maybe because we know, deep down, that Grown-Up Jesus is challenging and even dangerous and that if we let him grow up he will be impossible to ignore. 

In John 17 Jesus prays for his followers, “I want these people you gave me to be as I am …” Maybe that's what Jesus wants.  But we might not really want this because who Jesus was, was what got him killed.  Maybe this makes us just a little afraid and so we put Jesus back in the womb while he’s still a helpless infant who doesn’t even cry. 

Jesus is more than a silent and well-behaved testimony to a holiday with a befuddling identity.

Second, I'm going to try and listen to what Grown-Up Jesus has to say. I might start at the end of his life by looking at that prayer in John 17. It is a prayer about his dreams for the world, his followers and those who come after them. 

His last will and testament. 

The prayer of a dying man. 

The prayer of a grown man.

In this prayer Jesus speaks about a togetherness, a unity and a oneness.  He prays for his followers:
that they can be one …”

Make them ready for your service …”

I want these people You gave me to be as I am …”

Because they have seen me they can know what You are like

And the prayer concludes, “As You [God] are in me and I am in You, I pray that they can also be one with us.  I will be in them and You will be in me so that they will be completely one…

According to Jesus then, the reason he came (was born) is so that we could be part of something bigger, better and grander than ourselves. And we means it’s something must do together; in community where we celebrate, learn, grow, live and serve together.

Third, I will light the candles of the Chanukah menorah.  Underneath, and perhaps even serving as the foundation of the party atmosphere of Chanukah is a celebration of remembrance and anticipation.  We remember God's unexpected presence and we anticipate a future where God's "shalom" is ever-present.  I think that, perhaps, another symbolism hidden in the menorah is that we don’t need to be afraid. 

The lights didn’t go out. 

So, on this first night of The Festival of Lights, I will start with The Shammes. It’s the candle that stands a little taller than the others and is used to light the other candles.  When I was a child I thought the The Shammes was the "Boss" candle, the one that was in charge of all the others.  After all, without it the other candles are useless decorations.  I have since learned that The Shammes is really the “Servant” candle. It lights the others by giving of itself.  It empowers them and beckons them to shine. And each night the menorah gets brighter and brighter as The Shammes ignites more flames. That's the way things happen in God's realm.

The Shammes, in the tradition of Chanukah, is a reminder and a demonstration that, as Jesus also showed us, one can give (and let others can shine) without losing any of one’s own radiance.

And finally, I will continue to look to the church, that sloppy community of Jesus followers, because we are meant to be together when we celebrate. Also, I don’t think we are meant to figure these things out all on our own.