Salt

Peace, Sermon

Luke 12:49-53

This generation is noted as being the “most tribal” of many generations before it.

The Mindset List for the Class of 2016 – Beloit College

For this generation of entering college students, born in 1994, Kurt Cobain, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Richard Nixon and John Wayne Gacy have always been dead.

They have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of “electronic narcotics.”

The Biblical sources of terms such as “Forbidden Fruit,” “The writing on the wall,” “Good Samaritan,” and “The Promised Land” are unknown to most of them.

Robert De Niro is thought of as Greg Focker’s long-suffering father-in-law, not as Vito Corleone or Jimmy Conway.

Bill Clinton is a senior statesman of whose presidency they have little knowledge.

They have never seen an airplane “ticket.”

On TV and in films, the ditzy dumb blonde female generally has been replaced by a couple of Dumb and Dumber males.

The paradox “too big to fail” has been, for their generation, what “we had to destroy the village in order to save it” was for their grandparents’.

For most of their lives, maintaining relations between the U.S. and the rest of the world has been a woman’s job in the State Department.

They can’t picture people actually carrying luggage through airports rather than rolling it.

There has always been football in Jacksonville but never in Los Angeles.

Since they’ve been born, the United States has measured progress by a 2 percent jump in unemployment and a 16 cent rise in the price of a first class postage stamp.

Benjamin Braddock, having given up both a career in plastics and a relationship with Mrs. Robinson, could be their grandfather.

Exposed bra straps have always been a fashion statement, not a wardrobe malfunction to be corrected quietly by well-meaning friends.

A significant percentage of them will enter college already displaying some hearing loss.

Women have always piloted war planes and space shuttles.

White House security has never felt it necessary to wear rubber gloves when gay groups have visited.

Having made the acquaintance of Furby at an early age, they have expected their toy friends to do ever more unpredictable things.

Outdated icons with images of floppy discs for “save,” a telephone for “phone,” and a snail mail envelope for “mail” have oddly decorated their tablets and smart phone screens.

Star Wars has always been just a film, not a defense strategy.

They have had to incessantly remind their parents not to refer to their CDs and DVDs as “tapes.”

Probably the most tribal generation in history, they despise being separated from contact with their similar-aged friends.

They were too young to enjoy the 1994 World Series, but then no one else got to enjoy it either.

While the iconic TV series for their older siblings was the sci-fi show Lost, for them it’s Breaking Bad, a gritty crime story motivated by desperate economic circumstances.

Simba has always had trouble waiting to be King.

Before they purchase an assigned textbook, they will investigate whether it is available for rent or purchase as an e-book.

History has always had its own channel.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has always been officially recognized with clinical guidelines.

They watch television everywhere but on a television.

Point-and-shoot cameras are soooooo last millennium.

Despite being preferred urban gathering places, two-thirds of the independent bookstores in the United States have closed for good during their lifetimes.

Genomes of living things have always been sequenced.

Why are they so tribal? I suspect that it has something to do with the hyper-differentiated reality that can exist online. There, on your personal screen shared with no one, you only see what you want to see. Advertisements themselves are tailored to your personal habits and desires. More and more children in this generation are being home schooled or in private.

As our world gets more and more global, so our lives get more and more tribal.

The ancient Mediterranean world of Jesus was tribal. The average person Jesus preached to in the countryside didn’t often see others outside of their tribe. It was a homogeneous group. The family system was everything. Your place in the family system determined everything about your life. Who you married, what you did for a living, where you lived, whom you reported to. It was bigger than just some kind of cultural phenomenon, it was how the economy was set up. To retain ties to your family was as important to that world as attending the right college and securing a degree that is marketable is in ours. Maintaining the role in the family system kept the world turning as it needed to. Security. Safety. Tranquility. That’s what was needed at home.

But Jesus comes and says he’s going to turn it upside down.

Our passage opens with the image of the “earth-oven.” It is plausible that this ancient oven is what Jesus is referring to. It is something that everyone in his audience would be aware of. The “earth-oven” was a common stove in Jesus’ day. It was made of mud or brick. The fuel was often camel dung that was dried and salted so that it would burn faster. Salt had this mysterious power. It could heal. It could transform food. It could preserve food and it could be used as a catalyst for fire. Often a block of salt would be kept on the floor of the oven to keep the fire going just as the salt crystals did in the camel dung. Eventually, the salt in the oven would lose it’s catalyst properties and need to be thrown out – reminds me of a passage about salt losing it’s savor and needing to be trampled under the foot of men…

Jesus is not just going to be somewhat divisive. He’s not going to just have these ideas that people will debate about and discuss around the dinner table – his gospel is transformative. His gospel is a catalyst for change. The world will never be the same after Jesus comes through.

Specifically, following Jesus’ word’s will turn the status quo upside down. Following Jesus will drive a wedge between a parent and their children, brothers and sisters will no longer talk, those who depended on one another will no longer be together.

Jesus came to throw some salt on the fire.

How does this interact with the message of Jesus being a person of peace? One has to understand shalom. It is not a world where everyone just agrees. The Mediterranean world was loud and argumentative. In fact, challenging one another’s assumptions is a vital part of the Jewish faith. Questions, arguments, discourse – this is the stuff of shalom. I do not think that Jesus ever meant that a peaceful life would be one without questions, challenges, doubt and even argument – those will always exist in even a healthy family – shalom is where love is.

I read this passage as Jesus recognizing the reality that his disciples have been living in. They have experienced the pain of separating from their families as the cost of following Jesus has set in. Many of them have been on the journey now for many months, some for years and it has cost them dearly. The coming pain (Jesus is now dead set on the Cross) will cost even more.

One needs to read this passage in light of the rest of the chapter. Jesus opens the chapter by explaining that the traditional fears of those who could kill the body (sickness, Romans, civil leadership, bandits etc), the regular fears associated with life are not at all what is real. What is real is to fear the One who can kill both body and soul. He explains that the disciples are living in two planes of existence – the physical and spiritual – they need to remember which is more important. Jesus follows this with the parable of the rich man who thought he had it all. He counted his riches by the size of his 401k and the toys lined up in the garage. He was a fool.

Then Jesus tells them not to worry. They have committed to following God, God will take care of their needs. This must have been some wonderful assurance to those who had followed Jesus to the expense of their future.

I have done several conscientious objector interviews. I have counseled many more who have considered taking that route. Often, they are genuinely troubled at doing something that was just an idea before they joined but now, facing the reality that the Army exists to “close with and destroy the enemy” have trouble integrating that with how they view God and themselves. If someone brings it up to me, I lay out what it might cost them. The Army might just let them go. The safety and security they have come to appreciate might, in fact, go away. For a select few, it is a small price to pay for peaceful conscience. I tell them that if God is indeed calling them to the life of a pacifist, God is responsible to care for them. Are they ready for that kind of faith?

The disciples obviously were. I imagine Jesus identifying that God would care for them through each other – their new family system – was like water to the thirsty soul.

Then Christ gets real with them – get ready, be prepared, be watchful, pay attention – it’s time to get serious about this new thing that is coming. It has cost you, it will cost you – are you ready?

Jesus is a catalyst for change. We are called to be salt of the earth. We are to be catalysts for change. Being a Christ-follower is more than just the stuff of Sunday donuts ritual – it is the stuff of transforming lives. And yes, that is going to cause some division. There will be some separation. It’s ok, the God who called you is faithful and will care for your needs, but it is going to cost you something.

Holiness always costs something.

Forgiveness always costs something.

Humility always costs something.

Righteousness always costs something.

Community always costs something.

Are you ready to be salt?

Failing to thrive. In prison and everywhere else.

Chaplaincy, Sermon

“Blessed is he who considers the poor.” This might also be said, “blessed is the one who cares for the weak.” Being poor is a bad thing in our paradigm. It’s a sign of failure, a sign that somehow, whether through some calamity not of their making, some character flaw that causes them to not seek to better themselves (though just what “bettering one’s self might look like is up for considerable debate), or just weak – being poor and needing help is a sign that one is failing to thrive.

When I worked on the mother/baby ward during my year of CPE, there were babies whose diagnosis was “failure to thrive.” It seemed to me to be something of a catch all for babies that just struggled to make it, struggled to gain weight, struggled for life. In any other world, they would have just died but through the amazing advances in medical technology, nutrition, and medicine, they are able sometimes to recover and thrive.

I wonder what “failure to thrive” might look like in prison?

I wonder what “failure to thrive” might look like in a marriage?

In a professional career?

In a one’s personal life etc.?

The psalmist in Ps. 41 declares that the one who considers that one who is “failing to thrive” is blessed! The one writing the psalm is so sick, so in need that they seem despairing of their life. This psalm is often identified as a prayer of individual thanksgiving but it reads more as a plea for help. The prayer comes from one so sick that his continued survival is in jeopardy.  Reading the Psalm makes me wonder if the writer is so sick they are getting a little paranoid?

If the writer is David, it would have been written during a time in his life that he was running. Running from Saul, running from his past, running from death which is always nipping at his heals. David, in the story of his running, takes huge risks. He takes on huge responsibilities, does things that one the one hand are courageous and on the other, frankly stupid. He struggles as I have experienced America’s warrior struggling, with life.

Listen to what his enemies say:

I said, “Have mercy on me, Lord;
heal me, for I have sinned against you.”
My enemies say of me in malice,
“When will he die and his name perish?”
When one of them comes to see me,
he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander;
then he goes out and spreads it around.

All my enemies whisper together against me;
they imagine the worst for me, saying,
“A vile disease has afflicted him;
he will never get up from the place where he lies.”
Even my close friend,
someone I trusted,
one who shared my bread,
has turned[b] against me.

Ever feels like someone is just waiting for you to die? Waiting for you to fail? Waiting for you to struggle, fall, give up? Ever feel like there are those around you whispering about you? Imagining the worst for you? A close friend, someone you trusted, your spouse, your loved one, your confidant – turned against you? Just when you needed them the most, just when it would have been so important for them to stand by you – they walk away, leave you in your failure to thrive?

Ever feel like this might be God?

Have you ever felt like the old Yiddish proverb, “Thou hast chosen us from among the nations – what , O Lord, did you have against us?”

I believe that it is reasonable to feel this way in chaos. If you experienced this, are experiencing this, or are wondering if your feelings about this in the time of your struggle are valid, I can say emphatically that I’ve been down that road myself and they are valid.

Saints, what holds the Psalmist together here is the confidence that they are acting in integrity. They are doing what is right. Though around them is scandal and pain – they are confident that this too shall pass and moving to a place of integrity will carry them through.

“You shall know the truth,

And the truth will set you free.” – Jesus

I read this as a promise that when we get honest with ourselves and move to a place of integrity, we will experience true freedom. It will hurt, it will be painful, it might even give those who have spoken against you cause to triumph but know that in the long run you are better, you are healthier, you are stronger because you no longer care what they say about you! You are no longer dependant on “them” for affirmation and strength. Your day is your responsibility! Your health is your responsibility! YOU are your responsibility!

How freeing would it be for verses 5-9 to not even matter?

Blessed is he who takes care of the weak.”  Once we have cared for ourselves, we can care for others. It is given to us to be authentic, be real, get to the truth and acting with integrity  – then, when we care for others, we do so from a place of love.

I wonder what world’s view of the church would be if, instead of lashing out against perceived ills and confessing grandly the sins of others, we got real with ourselves and spent our energy on what we could control , namely “considering the weak?”

Luke 10:Jesus stood in a field. Around him were his disciples and among them were the “72.” These were disciples that had gone out to spread the news of the coming kingdom. They had returned and were ecstatic! They were bubbling with news of what they had seen and experienced. With joy they relayed what they had seen. A crowd gathered.

Lord! Even the demons are subject to us in your name!” Jesus smiled and replied that he had seen Satan fall from heaven and that he had given them power to tread on serpents and scorpions – over all the power of the enemy. The crowd around Jesus were in awe of the stories they heard.

Of course, not everyone was all that impressed. Some were quite cynical. Cynicism always follows the miraculous. As is should with reasonable people. Doubt can be a good thing.

Jesus praises God –  “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

He then says to his disciples quietly (but remember, people are quite close so they can hear), “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!  For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” Jesus says to his uneducated, unlearned, unread, unstudied grubby, blue-collar, emotions-bleed-all-over-the-place disciples that they are seeing things that many prophets begged God to see and did not. Things that kings, in all their power and wealth could not see – something that might be just a little annoying to someone standing close by, a lawyer, a theologian, a learned and holy man.

He jumps to his feet and challenges Jesus. “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Immediately, all the air is sucked out of the space. It gets silent. People look to see how Jesus is going to respond to this challenge.

In the ancient Mediterranean world, questions are rarely perceived as requests for information. They are almost always viewed with suspicion as a challenge to personal honor. The hope is that the person who is asking the question will not know the answer and be shamed by ignorance. This is absolutely the case since Luke points out that the intent of the questions is to “test” Jesus.

Here, Jesus responds (as he does in other passages) by insulting the questioner back. Jesus asks the lawyer – a man who has spent his entire life becoming an expert in the law, a specialist in the Torah ,the written Word of God – “well, how do you read?”

What we have here is what is affectionately referred to in my military career as a “sharpshooter.” It’s that Soldier who knows Army Regulations and Field Manuals from back to front. They can quote paragraph and line number to contradict whatever point you are making and they do it in such a way as to make a fool out of you and make themselves look good. If they outrank me, I ignore them or say something like, “thanks for your input Sir. That is a good point.” Or if it’s not going to be disrespectful, I just call it out. “Help me understand why you needed to make that point???” Awkward silence ensues.

Jesus calls him out. “Ok smarty pants, how do you read it?”

The Lawyer, now on the spot, regurgitates the catechism answer. He quotes Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18 thereby revealing that he knew the answer all along. He question wasn’t just a test of Jesus, it was a lie. He pretended to be ignorant though he wasn’t. Instead of shaming Jesus, the lawyer shames himself and Jesus emerges – once again – as the honorable victor in the contest. I can see the gentle (and maybe a just a little condescending, trying not to laugh because the disciples are chortling off to the side) smile as Jesus answers, “You have answered correctly, do this and live.” By now, people are laughing out loud. The lawyer needs to save face. He retorts, “Ok, then, who is my neighbor?”

Now that is a good question. Its really the question. No one argues the point that God requires us to help the “other” what we argue about is just who the “other” is and how much help we have to give them. We don’t argue about the need to holiness, but oh the legalese that comes out when we get into just what that look like and who gets to say what holiness is. Soooo, yeeahhh…

Jesus tells a story.

“There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

 “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

It’s a parable in 7 scenes.

Scene 1 – Robbers strip their victim and leave him for dead. Now, no one can identify his ethnicity. This is important. Remember, this is a small place. Everyone looks the same. You distinguish your tribe, money, status by your clothing but now, that’s all gone. Helping this guy carries a risk. No one knows anything about him. If I help him, what does that say about me? What might others say about me, what might I be risking, I don’t know his charges, I don’t know his preferences, I don’t know if he’s weird or not, I don’t know if he can help me back – I just don’t know!!

Scene 2 – The priest comes, riding his donkey which highlights his own status as an elite. He sees the victim and ponders helping him. If the victim is dead or is a non-Judean, he runs the risk of defiling himself by helping him. Then, he would have to return to Jerusalem in shame in front of those for whom he had just performed, gloriously, his priestly duties! His shame stemming from the reality that now, he would have to seek purification rites. The risk is too great and who has the time for all that. No one will even know he didn’t help the “other.” Note: Sirach 12:1-7

Scene 3 – The Levite comes. He might have come a little closer to examine the victim since the road was not straight and it’s possible he even saw the priest pass by before. If the priest did not give first aid, why should the Levite? I mean, if someone else ignores the plight of the weak, should I put myself out there? This would be a challenge to the priest, an insult, and God forbid I insult a preacher! Moreover, if the victim lived in Shechem, that would make him a Samaritan and we all know what that would do to my rep! The Levite passes on.

Scene 4 – The Samaritan shows up. We talked last week all about how Samaritans (Northern Jews) were viewed by Southern Judeans. The fact that Jesus highlights this is shocking and controversial in this tale. Allow me to demonstrate. What if we read the story as this, “the Preacher passed by, not wanting to get his suite dirty – what if the man was a criminal or an addict?? He clearly has nothing for me. The deacon passed by, the director of the men’s ministry who has been a Christian all his life and always is there first thing on Sunday morning in his best three-piece praising God with practiced hand motions. Can speak tongues on command. This guy saw the preacher pass by and thought better of putting that guy into his car. After all, he had another marriage retreat to plan for. Then, an atheist comes. A person unwelcome in their church comes upon the man in the street. He is filled with compassion and reaches out to help.

Scandal.

Scene 5 – The Samaritan offers first aid (wine, oil and bandages), which the Levite could have done but neglected to do. This is risky. The victim could hate him once he regained consciousness since, after all, he was being treated with Samarian wine and oil – impurity. In this story, the Samaritan is “damned if he does and damned if his doesn’t.”

Scene 6 – The Samaritan does what the priest could have done but didn’t: he places the victim on his own animal (by the way, very, very risky – who knows if the robbers are not close by) and takes him to an inn and continues to care for him.

Scene 7 – Finally, the Samaritan, in contrast to the Robbers leaves money and promises to pay what else would be needed in the care of the victim. This is perhaps the most risky part of the story – if the robbers find out that this guy has a soft heart and helped a witness who was supposed to die (tying up loose ends right?) they might come for the Samaritan and his family. Or, if the victim survives, he might rage at the Samaritan for helping him. I cannot express effectively how much these two groups hated one another. Purity matters. Read Leviticus.

The story is not lost on the lawyer. Red with shame and anger, he cannot even bring himself to utter the word, “Samaritan”  when Jesus asks, “Which of the three became a neighbor to the victim?” The lawyer’s question was, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus question was, “To whom must you become a neighbor.” The obvious answer is anyone and everyone in need.

The victim is laying on the ground like the psalmist, failing to thrive, his life passing before him. Naked, his exposed skin (his shame) feels every pain and agony on that ground. He sees his commander, his NCO come near him. At last!! They will help me!! Then they pass by. He sees his Chaplain come near. “He’ll help me. He has to. He’s the chaplain!” The chaplain follows the commander’s lead and passes by on the other side. Then, in shame, he goes to prison. He deepest, darkest secrets known to the world. His career gone. His family gone. His success gone. He is failing to thrive when an inmate, a sex offender, reaches out to him and says, “come, be healed.”

Oh saints!! What stops up from helping? What stops us from healing? What stops us from receiving the blessing of God for “considering the weak?” What keeps up from becoming the neighbor of those who need us? Is it pride? Anger? Is it others? Men of God, this will never go away. You will not get some special dispensation from God once you leave here to help others. There will ALWAYS be a good reason to not help. There will always be a good reason, a solid justification why you can’t “get your hands dirty” if you will not help now, if you will not be a part of God’s healing in someone’s life here, when will you?

When will you?

 

Overcoming

thought of the day

The Apostle Paul says in Romans, “Do not be overcome by evil, overcome evil with good.” When he writes this, he is experiencing the worst of humanity and yet his faith drives him to believe that it will get better. Sometimes it seems like it just won’t get better or that the world around us is so bad that it will inevitably overcome us. It will not. Think of your own life, for all the pain, there has been also a great deal of good.

Helen Keller said, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it.” She ought to know…

Why are we giving? Why do we argue about giving?

thought of the day

A thought on giving. In America, we are a very giving people when there is a natural disaster etc. I sometimes wonder why we seem to have an issue giving to systemic or ongoing problems. Sometimes, I experience people fighting about the cost of the gift, whether or not they should give, or if there is a better way to give. Perhaps these are good questions but then, at the end of the day, we need to give.

The question is, why do we give? In Buddhism, there is the idea that giving does us no good when we do so for the wrong reasons – being shamed or intimidated into giving; giving to receive a favor; giving to feel good about yourself – these are impure motives. The gift helps the other but does nothing for us. The purest motivation is that of giving with no thought of return. Giving just to help.

Giving is essential to Buddhism. Giving includes charity, or giving material help to people in want. It also includes giving spiritual guidance to those who seek it and loving kindness to all who need it. However, one’s motivation for giving to others is at least as important as what is given.

What is right or wrong motivation? The Anguttara Nikaya, a collection of texts in the Vinaya-pitaka section of the Pali Canon, lists a number of motivations for practicing charity. These include being shamed or intimidated into giving; giving to receive a favor; giving to feel good about yourself. These are impure motivations.

The Buddha taught that when we give to others, we give without expectation of reward. We give without attaching to either the gift or the recipient. We practice giving to release greed and self-clinging.

Some teachers propose that giving is good because it accrues merit and creates karma that will bring future happiness. Others say that even this is self-clinging and an expectation of reward. In Mahayana Buddhism in particular, any merit that might come with giving is to be dedicated to the liberation of others.

Paramitas

Giving with pure motivation is called dana paramita, or “perfection of giving.” It is first in a list of paramitas, or perfections, that are to be cultivated in Buddhist practice.

So, here is your thought for today, “A pessimist, they say, sees a glass half empty. An optimist, sees the glass half full. But a giver sees the glass of water and starts looking for a thirsty person to give them a drink.” Give just to give. Don’t argue or fret about it, just find a need and fill it.

My Country. A romantic and cynical meditation.

Army, Chaplaincy
I SUPPOSE that very few casual readers of the “New York Herald” of August 13, 1863, observed, in an obscure corner, among the “Deaths,” the announcement,—

         “NOLAN. Died, on board U. S. Corvette ‘Levant,’ Lat. 2°
  11′ S., Long. 131° W., on the 11th of May, PHILIP NOLAN.”

 

I had not read those words since high school. I did a monologue for state dramatic competition that year based on “The Man Without a Country” by Edward Evert Hale. It opens with those lines. I bought a book today of Classic American Short Stories not knowing this was part of the collection. It’s been over 15 years.

My dad wrote it. I remember listening to a reading of it by someone who would have been very comfortable reading the news on NPR. I wanted to perform it with more passion. I yelled alot. That’s how I tended to communicate passion, I talked faster and got louder.

In retrospect, it’s a wonder no one ever walked out laughing hysterically or trying to clear their heads of the headache inducing noise. Instead, they listened, politely. Some even confessed to being “moved.”

The story is of an American Officer who gets involved with Aaron Burr’s attempted overthrow of the US Government. Young Philip Nolan is enamored with Burr and bored by garrison life (much like many young officers I meet). He gets involved with the scheme and is caught. At the Court Martial, he curses the United States.

The courts dragged on. The big flies escaped,—rightly for all I know. Nolan was proved guilty enough, as I say; yet you and I would never have heard of him, reader, but that, when the president of the court asked him at the close whether he wished to say anything to show that he had always been faithful to the United States, he cried out, in a fit of frenzy,—    6
  “Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!”    7
  I suppose he did not know how the words shocked old Colonel Morgan, who was holding the court. Half the officers who sat in it had served through the Revolution, and their lives, not to say their necks, had been risked for the very idea which he so cavalierly cursed in his madness.

I love that passage. Must be because I now have sat in those proceedings. I’ve watched group think happen. I’ve watched old men bemused by young impulsivity. I’m even becoming a bit curmudgeonly judgmental myself.

A life at sea. Without news of home. Without even a word of home. Without identity. Without belonging. A man without a country.

As a teenager the story was moving if not understood. How could I? I was a teenager. I hadn’t really been out of the state of Michigan. How could I understand the gravity?

Nolan goes to sea. He’s haughty. Arrogant. Full of himself. Wrongly imprisoned by a government he refuses to recognize, he takes his punishment in stride. He moves from ship to ship, never going in sight of land, ever the guest of the Captain, never hearing of the United States, never reading of it in censored papers. It begins to wear at him. Then this happens:

So Nolan was permitted to join the circle one afternoon when a lot of them sat on deck smoking and reading aloud. People do not do such things so often now; but when I was young we got rid of a great deal of time so. Well, so it happened that in his turn Nolan took the book and read to the others; and he read very well, as I know. Nobody in the circle knew a line of the poem, only it was all magic and Border chivalry, and was ten thousand years ago. Poor Nolan read steadily through the fifth canto, stopped a minute and drank something, and then began, without a thought of what was coming,—

         “Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
  Who never to himself hath said,”—
  23
  It seems impossible to us that anybody ever heard this for the first time; but all these fellows did then, and poor Nolan himself went on, still unconsciously or mechanically,—

         “This is my own, my native land!”
  24
  Then they all saw something was to pay; but he expected to get through, I suppose, turned a little pale, but plunged on,—

         “Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
  As home his footsteps he hath turned
    From wandering on a foreign strand?—
  If such there breathe, go, mark him well,”—
  25
  By this time the men were all beside themselves, wishing there was any way to make him turn over two pages; but he had not quite presence of mind for that; he gagged a little, colored crimson, and staggered on,—

         “For him no minstrel raptures swell;
  High though his titles, proud his name,
  Boundless his wealth as wish can claim,
  Despite these titles, power, and pelf,
  The wretch, concentred all in self,”—

and here the poor fellow choked, could not go on, but started up, swung the book into the sea, vanished into his state-room, “And by Jove,” said Phillips, “we did not see him for two months again. And I had to make up some beggarly story to that English surgeon why I did not return his Walter Scott to him.”

 

A man with soul so dead… mark him well…

Maybe its because I’ve been an Army Officer for 8 years now. Maybe its the fact that I am pastor to hundreds of men who themselves have been imprisoned by their government for their actions, maybe its that I’m a father. I was reading it tonight at the “soft play” area at the mall. Kids are tearing around each other running up and down the plastic frogs and leaves. I am choking up. I look up at the children and swallow some tears. What kind of torture would it be to never hear of home? To never know the love of family? To lose the absurd and glorious identity in one’s tribe? My country?

Nolan gives a speech after the ship he is on rescues some slaves. He is speaking to a midshipman.

  But he could not stand it long; and getting Vaughan to say he might go back, he beckoned me down into our boat. As we lay back in the stern-sheets and the men gave way, he said to me: “Youngster, let that show you what it is to be without a family, without a home, and without a country. And if you are ever tempted to say a word or to do a thing that shall put a bar between you and your family, your home, and your country, pray God in his mercy to take you that instant home to his own heaven. Stick by your family, boy; forget you have a self, while you do everything for them. Think of your home, boy; write and send, and talk about it. Let it be nearer and nearer to your thought, the farther you have to travel from it; and rush back to it when you are free, as that poor black slave is doing now. And for your country, boy,” and the words rattled in his throat, “and for that flag,” and he pointed to the ship, “never dream a dream but of serving her as she bids you, though the service carry you through a thousand hells. No matter what happens to you, no more matter who flatters you or who abuses you, never look at another flag, never let a night pass but you pray God to bless that flag. Remember, boy, that behind all these men you have to do with, behind officers, and government, and people even, there is the Country Herself, your Country, and that you belong to Her as you belong to your own mother. Stand by Her, boy, as you would stand by your mother, if those devils there had got hold of her to-day!”

 

The Country Herself. Your Country.

Perhaps it is because I wear the flag on my shoulder every day. Perhaps it is because I am so familiar with war and the Army. Perhaps it is because I grew up as the son of a preacher and thus have a precondition towards a bit of cynicism.

I’ve always felt a little ambivalent towards patriotism. I avoid overly romantic ideas of country, home, and hearth. If I have to listen to “American Soldier” one more time… It’s just that I’ve heard it SO MANY TIMES already!!! I see the holes in the arguments. I know too well my own flaws and the flaws of those I serve with. I know intimately the darkest side of those casually and without nuance are oft called heroes. It is difficult to not grow cynical.

But then there is this – beyond DC, beyond generals, beyond policy, memorandums, Operations Orders, rank structures, toxic leaders and egos – there is the Country Herself, my Country and I belong to her as I belong to my own mother. It’s true. I will not deny it.

Why do I serve?

Is it for the pension? Tricare? Ego trip? Maybe. Those are certainly part of it. But that’s not why I stay long hours in the prison. It’s not why I give up my weekends and evenings to provide programs and counseling. It’s not what keeps me working with Soldiers who want to give up on life. It’s not what drives me to organize yet another relationship building event. It’s not what gets me up in the morning for another pavement pounding 4 mile run. (Ok, maybe that). It certainly does not give me comfort when my kids miss me and I need to go into work to take care of a former Soldier, now prisoner or another Joe.

No. That does not cut it.

It is the joy of duty. The joy of belonging. It is the call of my Country.

I belong to her.
Epilogue:
Read the whole story. Read how he dies. Read about what Nolan wants on his deathbed. See if it does not move you. The last line of the story is what Nolan wanted on his tombstone:

“On this slip of paper he had written:
    “‘Bury me in the sea; it has been my home, and I love it. But will not some one set up a stone for my memory at Fort Adams or at Orleans, that my disgrace may not be more than I ought to bear? Say on it:—
 
‘In Memory of
 
PHILIP NOLAN,
 
Lieutenant in the Army of the United States.
 
  • HE LOVED HIS COUNTRY AS NO OTHER MAN HAS LOVED HER; BUT NO MAN DESERVED LESS AT HER HANDS.’”

Mothers and Goats.

Sermon, Theology

Mother’s Day is complicated.

For some, it’s this wonderful day filled with joy and excitement, love and comfort, poorly made breakfasts and eating out. For others, it’s a reminder of death. It’s a reminder of failure. A reminder that all the struggles to have children didn’t work out and judgments passed on those who choose for perfectly fine reasons not to have children.

Sometimes, Mother’s Days feels a little like “celebrating the fertility gods…”

During the Civil War and long after, Ann Jarvis had founded Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in Grafton, WV and five other cities to improve sanitary and health conditions. The Mothers’ Day Work Clubs also treated wounds, fed, and clothed both Union and Confederate soldiers with neutrality. A great legacy to mothers and their labors to better the world we live in. On May 12, 1907, two years after her mother’s death, Anna held a memorial to her mother and thereafter embarked upon a campaign to make “Mother’s Day” a recognized holiday. It was an opportunity to recognize what mothers go through and sacrifice to raise children. It was, and is, an opportunity to highlight that poverty and struggle exists for some mothers. She succeeded in making this nationally recognized in 1914. The International Mother’s Day Shrine was established in Grafton to commemorate her accomplishment.

By the 1920s, Anna Jarvis had become soured by the commercialization of the holiday. She incorporated herself as the Mother’s Day International Association, trademarked the phrases “second Sunday in May” and “Mother’s Day”, and was once arrested for disturbing the peace. She and her sister Ellsinore spent their family inheritance campaigning against what the holiday had become. Both died in poverty. According to her New York Times obituary, Jarvis became embittered because too many people sent their mothers a printed greeting card. As she said,

A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.

—Anna Jarvis.

Mother’s Day is complicated.

It’s complicated because we are complicated. We humans relate to one another in complicated ways. We have these great intentions but somehow, like Mother’s Day, it does not translate into the legacy we’re wanting to leave. Anna Jarvis had a vision of celebrating her mother, she had a vision of celebrating mothers everywhere but somehow that vision became blurred. When other’s started to carry the torch and started to make the day their own, it became something that Anna looked at with distain – “it’s not me!!”

…Cause parenting is never like that!!…

My own mother died 13 years ago this June. Mother’s day is complicated. I have three children who have an amazing mother and I celebrate her today. I also miss my mother. My mother’s mother died recently. They had a complicated relationship. It wasn’t always good. It wasn’t always pretty. It wasn’t always breakfast in bed, soft hair brushing sessions, saintly talks and iconic paintings. It was sometimes dark and moody. Stormy and frightening. Kind of like the relationship I had with my mom.

One of my fondest memories of my mother was out on the “farm” in Michigan. My mother was idealistic. She had these great dreams of simple living and independent subsistence – living off the land. We kids lived out that dream for better and for worse!

One year, we got goats. Little, jet black African Pygmy goats with white stripes down their throats – I hated them. I mean, they were cute until I had to care for them. Let me take that back, they were cute for about a day. Then the stinkin’ male, “Buck” put his little horns on me and we had a “hate/hate” relationship from that day on. We would milk them… have you ever tried to milk a pygmy goat? It is everything you could imagine. A bit like milking pencils. That bite. And kick. And crap all over you. Seriously cramped my style.

One year, my parents went to Pensacola for school leaving me and my sister home to hold down the fort. Buck gets into 50 pounds of corn feed. 50 pounds of corn feed. Do you know what that does to a goat? 50 pounds of corn feed? Bloat. Gas. Impeding death.

I walked in on a bloated goat staring up at me and immediately my life passed before my eyes. This was bad. There was no way I could tell my mother that I let the goat eat itself to death. I called my grandma Dee. She raised goats, she would know what to do. She laughed. Literally laughed out loud when I explained my plight. When she stopped laughing she helped me understand the proper way to help a goat pass gas.

I hated those goats.

We had the goats a couple years. The second winter, Buck got sick. Started acting funny and within a day went from ok to expired. I watched his little life spiral away. I was not sad. I mean, I didn’t do a little happy dance or anything, but I didn’t really grieve either.

Mom said to bury it out in the field.

January. Michigan. There was no burying of the goat that was going to happen that day!

But then, I was not about to tell my mother that. You didn’t really contradict my mom. You nodded and said, “yes ma’am.”

So what was a 16 year old boy to do with a goat that he hated?

Rigor mortis was setting in by the time I got around to taking care of the goat. The day was just starting to end, sun going down and it was cold. I stood in the darkening barn and stared at that goat. What to do? I saw a trash barrel and being the “inventive” young man who effectively sought for the “low hanging fruit” (some people call this lazy but they just don’t get me) I put the goat in the barrel. I mean, it was as good as place as any until I could figure out how to bury it in the frozen ground.

When I put the goat in the barrel, his hooves stuck out and it struck me as kind of funny since… oh stop! Don’t judge me. I was 16. I was burying a goat. On a farm. If you grew up like that, you would have a macabre sense of humor too…

So there the goat was, half in a barrel frozen in death looking like it was just about to jump out. I arranged it just so… looked taxidermied. By then, it was dark and I needed to do homework. I went back into the house knowing that I’d take care of it tomorrow some time. For the record, my sister thought it was funny too.

Later that night, I was reading in my room when my sister Emily pounds on the door. POUNDS!!

“Jon, mom went to get wood!”

“What? Ok. Why would I care?”

“Jon! Mom. Went. Out. To. Get. Wood…. IN THE BARN!!!”

My heart dropped to my feet.  I could see my burgeoning basketball career ending in years worth of grounding. I ran down the stairs as fast as I could go. I tore through the dining room and out the kitchen door…

…just in time to hear a blood curdling scream come echoing from the barn across the snowy lawn. I watched frozen in terror as the beam of my mother’s flashlight shot up and down reflecting her arm movements as she strode back through the deep snow towards the house.

There was nothing to say. There was no excuse. There was no escape.

“JONATHAN RANSOM FISHER! YOU DID NOT BURY THAT GOAT!!!”

I haven’t thought of that story in years but this mother’s day, it came to my mind. My mom died of brain cancer in June 2000. I was miles away in Idaho. I got the call on in the morning. I arranged a flight home that afternoon. The traveling singing group I was singing tenor for said goodbye with reassuring hugs as I was driven to the airport by a church deacon I can’t even remember in a beat up old red S10. My life had changed that day and I could not even know how. I could not even imagine what the future would hold.

I missed mother’s day that year. I had been home but Mom wanted me to keep my word to the ensemble group and the college. I was in Idaho. I don’t have any memories of that time except that my group was awesome. They were so kind. The chaos of my life reflected in their eyes.

Mother’s day is complicated.

Legacy is complicated. We hope that people will carry on what we have given them. I hope my children will carry the torch I bore from my mother/father, her’s from her’s and on it goes.

Jesus, in John 17, is praying for us. That we would carry the Legacy.

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Its part of a greater prayer in this chapter and ends with our role in the coming Kingdom of God. The coming Kingdom of justice and mercy. The coming Kingdom of love and compassion.

The prayer has a present and future reference. It is a prayer, first, that disciples to whom God gave to Jesus may be one and, second, that those who “will believe” may be one and those present and future disciples may become “one.” Did we do it? I’m not sure sometimes… ok, most times…

Unity is never a fixed reality to be taken for granted as accomplished. Rather, it is an ongoing gift from God, who makes it possible to us, and an ongoing demand if we are, indeed to carry out our mission of bringing “the world” to the knowledge that “you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (v.23) Saints, our unity is the testimony that the “lost” need to experience. It is the testimony that Jesus was and is real.

Our unity.

God sends Jesus as the “Word” – logos – the very expression of God. We know God through the testimony of the Word. We know God through the incarnation of Christ. Jesus notes in this prayer that others know Christ by us. By our unity. By our love. They know Christ through us and God through Christ. That’s the mission. Unity. Love.

What about doctrine? What about dogma? What about worship? What about…

Unity. Love.

Saints, we are the second body of Christ. We are a revelation of Jesus. When we do right, Jesus does right. When we are hateful and bigoted, Jesus is hateful and bigoted. When we justify evil speech and call it Scripture, it become’s Jesus word. When we beat each other up over silliness and trite ideas, it is Jesus. That becomes the legacy. That becomes the testimony. That becomes the Word.

Hands. Feet.

These are not metaphorical, esoteric ideas in a dusty book of theological reflection – it is real! Literal! When I stand at an inmate’s door in solitary confinement, it is as a representation of the body of Christ. When I crawl next to a Soldier huddled behind the safety of a humvee wheel in Iraq, it is Christ huddling next to him. When I curse in anger and frustration, it is the voice of Christ. Christ represents God. I represent Christ.

Sara and were talking about this. She noted: As the Body of Christ, we rejoice with those who rejoice and we suffer with those who suffer. We show the love of God when we grieve with those who grieve. We show the love of God to our kids as model love to them. We show the love of God when we stand together as a body and don’t focus on our division. We show the WORLD the love of God by loving each other within the Body. The Body is ONE, it says. If we cut our arm, we bandage it. We care for it.

We in the Army realize this a little more than others I think. It is drilled into us that we represent the Army wherever we go. Whenever I put on a uniform, I am the Army to whomever I meet.

We are a family. We care for one another. Life is stressful enough without us beating each other up! We have surrogate grandparents, surrogate dads for kids whose dads are gone, surrogate moms for those who have gone to serve. We share the common suffering and the common pain.

We do this as an Army family and as a church family. We care for one another and so fulfill the law of Christ. Let us continue. Let us lay aside those things that come between us and live out the Gospel, the answer to Christ’s prayer. The testimony that He is risen! He is risen indeed!

13-19 Now I’m returning to you.
I’m saying these things in the world’s hearing
So my people can experience
My joy completed in them.
I gave them your word;
The godless world hated them because of it,
Because they didn’t join the world’s ways,
Just as I didn’t join the world’s ways.
I’m not asking that you take them out of the world
But that you guard them from the Evil One.
They are no more defined by the world
Than I am defined by the world.
Make them holy—consecrated—with the truth;
Your word is consecrating truth.
In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world,
I give them a mission in the world.
I’m consecrating myself for their sakes
So they’ll be truth-consecrated in their mission.

20-23 I’m praying not only for them
But also for those who will believe in me
Because of them and their witness about me.
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me. (The Message)

 

Justice. Retribution. Legal status of the “Boston bomber.”

Peace

As a Christian, I speak. As a pastor, I speak. As a chaplain, I speak. As a father, I speak.

Retribution is not justice.

This morning on NPR I heard the story that the legal status of the young man allegedly involved with the Boston Marathon Bombings is in question.

Really?

There were soundbites of elected officials calling for this young man to be labeled an “Enemy Combatant.” There was no talk of justice. Only fear. Anger. Apparently, to these men, we need to label this man an “enemy combatant” so that we can do what we need to do in order to get the information we need.

Really?

Let me translate that as I heard it: We need to put this man outside of the lauded American Legal System and it’s constitutional rights so that we can torture this young man (a man by no means proven that he planted anything). For what? Retribution? Punishment? Justice?

How does this make us safer?

How does this reflect the “American Values” we love to talk about?

How would torturing this young man demonstrate that we, as a people, are anything other than the hateful people we worry about?

If this young man is a part of a greater terrorist plot, making him scream in pain and anguish gets us no closer to bringing anyone else to justice and the price we pay is losing part of our collective Soul.

Patience. Justice.

Let us be known as a people who seek for understanding, truth, justice, and righteousness rather than angry, willfully ignorant, and myopically focused on “making someone pay” as if that will somehow lessen the pain.

Truth, Justice, and the American Way of Life.

Is this it?

A Prayer for Boston… and us.

Peace

God of grace and God of glory. We are in the need of comfort. We live in a world with evil and evil makes us afraid. Angry. Vengeful. We want justice. On days when an 8-year-old is killed to make a point, we want justice. Give us patience. Grant us peace to wait in our judgement to ensure that the right person or persons are brought to justice rather than the wrong. Grant our leaders supernatural wisdom in dealing with this situation that they might make the best decisions. Discernment to see through the passion and anger to the truth.

Be with the helpers this morning. The doctors, nurses, and EMTs who have spent the night working on survivors – give them peace and rest. The police, fire fighters, Soldiers who have responded and secured the area, grant them rest. I pray for the mental health workers, pastors, and chaplains who will spend the next weeks helping others work through this tragedy. All of those that helped – the professional and the volunteer.

Give us grace as we remember the dead, the dying, the living and recovering. Be with us and grant us peace. Amen.

Meditation on “Suffering Well”

Sermon, Theology

Text: Acts 9:1-20

I’ve been into a song recently: “I Vow to Thee my Country,”  a British patriotic song, created in 1921, when a poem by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice was set to music by Gustav Holst. I’ve loved the tune long before I ever knew it is also a song because the music of Holst has so long entranced me.  The words are very obviously an English patriotic song:

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,

Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;

The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,

That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;

The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,

The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

 

I heard my country calling, away across the sea,

Across the waste of waters she calls and calls to me.

Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,

And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.

I hear the noise of battle, the thunder of her guns,

I haste to thee my mother, a son among thy sons.

 

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,

Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;

We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;

Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;

And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,

And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

“Her pride is suffering.” This line jumps out at me. Just like this phrase jumped out at me in our Text, “I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 1:16) God will show Saul how much he will need to suffer after taking the name “Paul.” In other words, “don’t worry about making Saul suffer Ananias, I’ve got that well in hand.” God, in order to accomplish God’s work on Earth through this newly minted Apostle – will show Saul suffering.

Is God’s pride suffering?

Suffering does in fact become a point of pride for us. Why do we do that? We even give it badges and tabs – airborne badges are not significant because someone jumps out of a plane (anyone who goes to a vacation spot can skydive with minimal instruction) it becomes something because of the school that goes with it. The suffering.

This is true across cultures. Suffering is worn as a badge of pride. If, somehow, a group can attach some kind of ribbon, award, t-shirt etc to suffering – hey, if we take your picture and put it on the wall, would you eat some kind of “ghost-pepper-habanera laced-pure gasoline-donut?” We do this because there is a measure of pride in our suffering. It’s that pride one gets when they are like, “I had all my children in a barn on top of hay with no anesthesia.” Look at me – I suffered through. See the badges on my arm? See the ribbons on my chest? I was there!

Suffering is a way to distinguish the truly motivated from the “posers.”

Suffering has been, for ages, a way to prove your worth. Show you are serious. Demonstrate that you are for real. Something to aspire to. Something to revel in.

Those who have “been there” often minimize the sufferings of others since they “weren’t there.” Sometimes suffering becomes politicized and abused – images of suffering become the stuff of commercials.

Suffering is cheapened. The video of the Soldier coming home to see their loved ones becomes something used to sell cars and insurance. A cheap shot – appealing to the emotions.

There is physical suffering. Mental Suffering. Spiritual suffering.

But the best suffering, the suffering deified in books, plays, and movies is that which suffers for another. We tend to see suffering as a way to get past politics and religion. Suffering somehow validates the message and the messenger.

It was suffering that brought down the british empire in India. Suffering that ended eras of discrimination in this country. Collective suffering has ended bitter wars. Of course, it is also suffering that extends them when people talk about the idea of “we can’t end it – think of the blood and treasure already spent…”

There are really only two kinds of suffering:

1. The Suffering that is a part of the human condition – the suffering that we all have because it’s just a part of life. The suffering that is necessary because to have happiness, you must have sadness. To have pleasure, you must have pain. To have the beautiful flowers of spring, we must have clouds and rain. One does not exist without the other.

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism recognizes the reality of human suffering. The first truth is that there IS suffering, the second is the origin of suffering, the third is the cessation of suffering and finally the path to cessation of suffering.

Life is full of suffering. To suffer is to live. We can fight it, we can avoid it, we can shape our lives so as to discourage it as much as possible, we can muddle through it but in the end, everyone will suffer.

I spent Friday at Kansas University listening to a professor talk about depression – how it is actually, like obesity, a disease of civilization. It is a disease of affluence and abundance. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors (we know this by studying those who still live in those types of societies) knew nothing of depression. Depression comes because of our comfort. Even when we shape our lives to absolute comfort, that pursuit alone can be suffering.

2. The second type of suffering we experience is the suffering that comes as a natural consequence to the choices we make. Those choices can be good and we can suffer as a result or bad and suffering can still be there.

All this is in anticipation of a phrase from our Text this morning that jumped out at me. In Acts chapter 9, Luke recounts the salvation of Saul on the road to Damascus. Saul has been about the business of persecuting those Jews who are challenging the established norms of power. Those people who are challenging the powers that control Jewish life through religion. Their leader was dead, they have been driven out of Jerusalem and now, Saul gets permission to pursue holy war against them in Damascus.

Of course, the more power is applied to the problem, the greater the problem becomes. Saul, on the road to Damascus has a classic trance experience. He sees a bright light, hears a message from God that changes his entire paradigm about the world around him, and finally interprets the experience as a calling to do something about it.

Of course, no one would believe him, why should they? He went all Gestapo on them! He CAUSED great suffering.

Ananias is afraid and should be. There is nothing about this situation that is a good thing. The man God is telling him to visit has been killing his people. Killing. In that situation maybe I would be tempted to rebuke this evil spirit that is calling me to interact with evil. Clearly can’t be a message from God!

Ananias goes. He accepts the calling by faith. In so doing, he plays a pivotal role in the Christian story. With Paul, the whole thing changes. With Paul, the whole thing shifts. What if Ananias had said, “no?”

Here’s the phrase, “I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” God will show Paul that suffering is a part of this calling. The Message puts it this way, “And now, I’m about to show him what he’s in for – the hard suffering that goes with this job.”

The suffering that goes with this job.

Why does Luke want us to see this? To know this? Because so much suffering has already happened. Think about it, there is really only one way for Paul to show that he’s not up to evil purposes and the testimony of Ananias is only going to go so far! All this hearing messages from God isn’t going to convince people who are full of fear! Paul will suffer as a natural consequence of his choices and that suffering will validate that his has truly been called of God.

You see, over the centuries, one of the things that has consistently validated the testimony of Christ-followers has not been dogma – it has been “suffering well.”

It is a hard saying no doubt but that does not make it any less true – when we suffer and maintain our testimony, our beliefs are validated.

Suffering is talked about, recorded, and struggled to be interpreted throughout the Scripture and it is beyond the scope of this morning to address it fully but we will look at one passage – I Peter 3. In this text, Peter writes to a church that is starting to experience what suffering really is all about. He assures this new Church that when they suffer for God, it is good. It is right. It is a blessing – so long as it is done with a clear conscience. So long as they are in the right and suffering it is a privilege.

Maybe you could even say, “Her pride is suffering.”

Of course, if you are suffering, as Paul notes, because of murdering, theft, or “meddling in others business” then you’re on your own! Good luck with that because there isn’t much to be gained there!

Here’s the thing: We love to claim that our suffering is of Christ, for Christ when sometimes we’re just suffering the natural consequences of our poor choices or the ramifications of our actions. If we are jerks and people don’t like us, it doesn’t validate the message of Christ, it just makes us look like jerks. When the Body of Christ acts like little children and throws a temper tantrum every time we don’t get our way and people start treating us accordingly, it does not have much to do with bearing the Cross.

Cancer is not a test from God. Diabetes is not a test from God. Failing one’s APFT is not a test from God. It is suffering, but not from God. How you respond to these types of suffering is, however, a profound testimony of faith.

Saints, suffer well. Know that Christ has suffered from you and before you. Many have walked the paths you now tread. Some have walked them and validated the message of their faith, others (like me) have walked those paths and come up a bit short. That’s ok. Everyday is a new opportunity to be the Body. To demonstrate the Love. To enjoy the blessing of walking through this life with Christ.

We all suffer. Anyone looking at these words are either recovering from, about to start, or are deep in the throes of suffering. Part of being in the Body is that we do not have to suffer alone. We are in Christ and with each other. Let us support one another and encourage each other as we muddle through this life, suffering well.

Why I’m not against “Gay Marriage”

Chaplaincy, Theology

The Supreme Court is looking at the validity of gay marriage. Huh. A friend of mine asked on Facebook what the theological arguments for gay marriage would be. I’m actually not going to give those here, I think one could google it and get a solid overview fairly quickly.

I will, however, tell whoever wants to read this, why – as a Christian and a pastor – I’m not against it.

When I first became a chaplain, the first marriage I was asked to do was between to Christians who had both been divorced previously. Having had a very conservative ministry training experience, my instinct was to refuse. However, since I had not really been presented with this situation in actuality before, I studied it. I read authors from both sides of the argument and reflected on what various thoughtful, godly, reasoned people believed about the issue.

I came away with the conclusion that it was an issue of theological interpretation and like all theological interpretation issues, I needed to “work out my own salvation” and act accordingly. Good people, who love God, Jesus, and the Bible are on both sides of that issue.

I certainly didn’t join some fight to get the Congress of the Land to ban marriage between divorced people since its a theological understanding of the Bible that even Christians disagree on. What the Bible says or does not say about divorced people has little to do with whether or not the state recognizes the contract between them called “marriage.”

To this day, a rule that I hold dear in marrying people is this: as an ordained minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I only marry those who BOTH declare Christ. I am helpful to those who are not Christians (or one is and the other isn’t) – I’ll help them find the courthouse or even recommend another minister who might be ok with that. However, I won’t do it. Both individuals need to be Christian for me to perform a Christian ceremony for them.

Again, not a rule I think that the Supreme Court of the United States should uphold for the entire nation.

So, am I for or against “gay marriage?” Doesn’t matter.

Not in the case of the supreme court. It’s a non issue. Whether the state should honor a contractual relationship between two people and call it marriage is not particularly important to me. In fact, I think that a couple that wants to marry should be able to. How I personally interpret the Bible and what federal, civil law –  that applies to every person that lives within our borders – says has little to do with each other.

I’ve read authors on both sides of this debate. In particular, the books “Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals” as well as “Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality” both convinced me that there are valid theological arguments (which are beyond the scope of this post to articulate) for the idea that homosexuality isn’t the “great evil” that it is often portrayed as.

Whether homosexuality is a sin or not is a theological issue that needs to be worked out in each Christians and churches worldview.

Like anything else.

Can we still be friends?

 

 

Postscript: Actually, if you were asking, I’m a fan of the model in which a couple that wants to contractually bind themselves to one another and receive the benefits the State doles out to that kind of stability can. They can go to the courthouse and sign a document that binds themselves to one another – gay, straight – it’s the same for everyone. If they want a Christian ceremony wherein they are married in the eyes of God, let them find a body of believers that has no issue with whatever baggage they bring to the alter. Lord knows – we all have baggage.