Category Archives: Peace

Mercy Vs Truth

Mercy and truth have met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Psalm 85:10

Why would mercy not be with truth? Why don’t they just hang out?

Why would it be notable that righteousness and peace kiss? Shouldn’t they just be a thing?

Perhaps mercy and truth don’t always need to be around each other.12238505_10153725943941303_3888460118035802897_o

I’m thinking about my years in ministry. When first started teaching, the 6th grade teacher made a big deal about sitting down with me to explain the roster. He pointed out all the problems I’d be having with this student and how that student would be great. He
went on for some time. Then my classes started. As I quickly learned, the truth changed. The students who struggled with him blossomed under me and some that resonated with him struggled with me.

Mercy and truth didn’t see eye to eye.

I’m thinking about my years in the prison. A chaplain who preceded me made a big deal of reading and storing all the files on each inmate. He remembered each charge and saw each inmate through the lens of their crimes. I had a hard time doing that. I stopped paying attention. I learned that all of us are capable of horrendous things and wondrous things. Good and bad are in each of us. I found that if I saw the inmate through their crimes, I was less able to extend grace to them. It was not my job to be judge and jury, that work was done. It was my role to be merciful and full of grace.

Mercy and truth didn’t see eye to eye.

Perhaps this is a mark of sin. It’s so very hard to live in the tension of mercy and truth. I want to be merciful to someone who is destitute but I also see their choices, decisions, and behaviors that precipitate their demise. I want to be compassionate towards the struggling couple but it’s difficult to see past their infantile behavior towards each other. For me, mercy and truth really fight against each other.

I want to bring righteous justice to the world but sometimes it seems like it’s not possible without the force of arms. Which, of course, means death. I want ISIL to be purged from the earth, to be punished for the evil they do, but that means war. And war means death. And death means suffering for so many.

So much tension.

Perhaps, when the world is redeemed, when we are all at our best, living out the best of the Way, this verse will be true. And so we keep on keeping on…

Mercy and truth have met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Psalm 85:10

Leave a comment

Filed under Peace, Theology

When “they fight for each other” just isn’t good enough

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. 2 Samuel 11:1

In 2009, I left the “Marne Express” (so called because the 3rd Infantry Division was one of the most deployed divisions in the Army back then and to be stuck there was to be on the “Marne Express” going back and forth to Iraq) and “took a knee” as an Advanced Individual Training (AIT) chaplain at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, AL.

It was the first time I came face to face with the “military industrial complex” outside of a combat zone.

In Iraq, the contractor support was everywhere but seemed necessary – in Huntsville, it is the economic reality of that city. Driving into the city, one passes large building after large building all dedicated to researching war and producing the material for more of it.

Benjamin, my brother, once came to visit while I was station there. He remarked on a sign he had seen and the memory is still with me. The sign was some large contractor praising the American “Warfighter.”

“Warfighter. As though it’s a career path. As though war never ends.”

Growing up, I idolized “warfighters.” These myths and legends of the books and movies I consumed were brave, always right, always in charge, and never quailed in the face of the enemy. I relentlessly imagined myself in their shoes; the enemy out front, the brave few holding the line, and with all the righteous indignation born of absolute truth, we would defeat all comers.

Of course, in my 11th year of Army service, I know the fallacy of youthful idealism. History has a way of bursting bubbles, facts have that unfortunate effect of bringing shades of gray to an otherwise easy, black/white perceived reality and my idealism was traded for the hard, nuanced truths of life.

Only empires have “warfighters.”

One of my favorite characters in fiction is Cornewell’s Richard Sharpe. Here’s a warfighter if ever there was one. He spends his life pursuing the goals of the British Empire. He is at once a very fallible man but also brave and kind in his own way. He is what I what I experienced in my Army. Brave, kind, generous, mean, cruel, and vindictive. We all carry the ability to be at our best and at our worst. Sharpe was a warfighter. A man talented at really one thing, winning battles.

In American history, there was a deep and established caution regarding standing Armies and professional Soldiers. After every war, the Armies were disbanded and those who fought them left to find their way in the Republic. But somewhere along the line, we became a nation that expects war. Expects that every day, someone, somewhere, is going to have to do combat with an enemy for “defense.” Who does that? Only people with enemies. And empires have enemies.

So we have warfighters.

Why does this matter to me? After all, I am a professional Soldier, a chaplain providing religious support to our Soldiers and family members around the world. I’ve had two combat deployments and am about to go on a third. It matters to me because of the narrative, because of our willingness to be honest about who we are as a people and nation.

Warfighter chaplainSo, the traditional narrative, the one I grew up with, cast America as the “land of the free and home of the brave.” It casts all military actions as the last possible measure. “We didn’t want war, but by God, if you bring it to us…” sort of thing. Our military industrial complex is labeled “the defense industry.” The capitalist corporations whose only existence is to develop and produce the weapons of war are labeled “defense contractors.” Incidentally, as I write this, I just finished my favorite MRE (meals ready to eat): chili mac, crackers and cheese, with a dessert of lemon poppyseed pound cake. So good. Thank you defense contractor in Evansville, Indiana for my wonderful, shelf stable meal!

Do we want peace? Of course. Do we want justice? Yes. Do we want our GDP to continually grow necessitating open markets around the world and why communism (and the closed markets it creates) is a threat to us? Also, yes. Do economics drive our warfare? Of course. Does idealism impact our willingness to fight? Yes. Do we go to war for political reasons? Really, do you even need to ask?

Turns out, our wars are just convoluted at the British Empire’s. Especially the recent ones.

So, now, here we are going back to Iraq. Soldiers, once again, moving to contact in that place. It makes sense. At least in this case, we can say that we made the problem and thus we’re the ones that need to fix it. We, the United States, broke that place and now it’s a hell-hole. So many have died. Tens of thousands have died on that altar of our fear and what do we have to show for it?

Debt. Death. Destruction. Division.

War.

There is a time when nothing will fix the problem except war. Nothing will get through but violence. But it is always bad. There is no good war. There is only death. Even in 2 Samuel, there was a time when kings went out to war.

Regardless of what we see in movies and TV, violence only begets more violence. It does not bring peace, it just shoves the problem deeper. So we try to fight small wars, limited conflicts, air campaigns (which is a nice way of saying killing thousands to people, innocent and guilty, from the air, far away from our sensibilities), and strategic initiatives. Violence might bring temporary peace but desperate people will fight back. Eventually, all the chickens come home to roost and the problem is worse.

War is the great human tragedy. It is the failure of humans to be human. It is absolute failure of the human race to be civilized and talk through their problems. It is sin. It is the brokenness of our people. War is terrible.

But we love it so much. We love the parades, the strength, the honor, the bravery.

We love the violence.

We fight because we want to. We fight because it makes us feel good. We create narratives and call them the “great cause” to justify it. We paste ethical names to it. We create offenses, straw men, faceless enemies, and throw all our blood and treasure at it. We call it beautiful, artistic but its just a fancy way of killing. We would rather our our people go hungry and live without than defund our beautiful, artistic, and brutal engines of death.

We call it just.

We claim that God is on our side, right is on our side, justice is on our side. And maybe it is. Or maybe it’s not. Either way, we could at least be honest about it and own that war is death. It is nothing else. If we’re going to do it, then own the animal nature of it and get it over with. Maybe that’s the narrative I want, honesty about the violence we pay for. Call it what it is. Own your stuff.

In the years before I commissioned, two movies came out that profoundly impacted me. They told stories that cemented in me the need to join up and be a part of the grand tradition of the Army. Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers told, in all it’s gritty detail, the stories of bravery, sacrifice, and honor that accompany war. They both had this theme, a theme that has become more and more popular as the “Cause” gets more and more convoluted and opaque:

“Soldiers don’t fight for the cause; they fight for each other.”

11 years in, I attest to the truth of that statement.

However, when that is the narrative, it releases those who run this great institution (i.e. – all of you who vote and influence elected leaders) from the duty of asking the question, why are we sending our Soldiers out to fight?

It is the duty of Soldiers to “fight and win America’s wars.”

It is the duty of the citizen to decide what wars are worth fighting.

I have stood by the greatest people I will ever know in battle. I have eulogized heros who gave everything for what they believed in and the person next to them. I have worked countless hours and ingested more caffeine than I thought humanly possible to effectively conduct warfare on behalf of the people of the United States.

I wonder how much thought they have given to their duty to hold their elected leaders accountable for how they expend American lives. I wonder how much thought you have given to it.

I’m not a pacifist. I toyed with the idea for a bit but I have guns and would use them to deadly intent on anyone who threatened the life of my family. I wear my uniform with great pride. I have, through blood, sweat and tears, earned every shiny thing on it. I am grateful to be a part of a great and honorable institution that has done so much good in the world. Though I sometimes question the cause, I always saddle up, grab my chaplain kit, and move to contact when called upon to do so. I have been a volunteer far past my initial swearing it. I will continue to stand by the greatest generation of millennials on the planet as they sacrifice over and over again for you, the American people.

Here’s the thing, “fighting for each other” just doesn’t cut it any more. There has to be a better reason. Causes matter. As a Soldier speaking for himself, I don’t need anyone’s thanks or for you to pay for my meal – I need you to take seriously the duty of deciding when and where you want to spill American blood.

I need you to ask the question – is this war worth the life of my child?

Because, if I’m going to stand on the doorstep of more mothers and fathers to tell them that their sons and daughters were killed in lands far away, I need to know that it’s going to be worth it. I need to know that it matters. I need to be able to say, the world is a better place because they died.

You need to as well. For their blood is on your hands. Their blood is in your hands.

I will own my place on the battlefield to nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the dead. I need you to own your place on the battlefield to ensure that when we send American boys and girls out to fight, its because there is no other way.

If “warfighter” is going to be a career path in the United States, then let’s ensure that every war is worth fighting and maybe someday, we’ll live in a world where “peacemaker” is just as viable a career field.

*Given the nature of this post, please hear again that this is MY opinion. I do not represent the Army, the Chaplain Corps or the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I represent me. 

3 Comments

Filed under Army, Chaplaincy, Peace

A Prayer for Veteran’s Day 2014

This morning, I will be at First Christian, Columbia, SC. They have asked me to pray for veterans and their families.

Veteran’s day is a bit of a struggle for me. I want to acknowledge that not evey veteran is proud of their service, that often, families bear the brunt of the after effects of war, that suicide, homelessness, and joblessness are a reality of the veteran community.

I also want to acknowledge that many veterans struggle and many are doing fine, that the stereotype of the “crazy-eyed veteran” is exactly that.

Oh, and also the reality that the Kingdom of God has no borders. That service to Jesus Christ transcends all ideas of nationalistic sentiment.

And then there is the reality that war is the ultimate human tragedy, the failure of humans to work out their issues without killing one another.

Here is that humble attempt with thanks to Peter Marshall:

Prayer for Veteran’s Day 2014

First Christian Church, Columbia SC

Good morning. As an Active duty service member, I am honored to pray this morning for veterans and their families. Serving one’s country in the Armed Services is a challenge to anyone who also serves Jesus Christ. There is an inherent tension between Christ’s call to peace and the country’s call to arms. Those who have lived and served in that tension have done so at their own peril. They have offered their very lives to the service of others. They have done so not always agreeing with the action they were ordered to do, they have done so even when the result is death or serious harm, they have done so  even when they were not appreciated for that service, they have done so even when promises are not kept.

Some of our nation’s veterans this morning have served and have gone on to other work in the country having been able to work through the lasting vestiges of war in their lives. Other’s struggle with the memory of war and traumatic stress it brings. Veterans are turning to suicide as an answer to their pain. Some veterans this morning are feeling the benefit of living in this country, others are homeless, jobless, and wondering where to get care. This morning, I remember all veterans and their families. Those doing well and those doing poorly. Those who have been able to integrate their pain and those who struggle with their memories. Those enjoying the freedom of this land and those who are now behind bars. Those with homes and those homeless. Those who are still with the family of their youth and those who are now divorced and separated from those families because of the effects of war. Those who remember their service with fondness and those who daily grieve the pain of it. We remember them all and pray for them.

Oliver Wendell Homes, himself a veteran of the American Civil War once said, “We have shared the incommunicable experience of war, we have felt, we still feel, the passion of life to its top. In our youths, our hearts were touched with fire.” I know that fire. I know that it still burns.

From one veteran to another and their families – thank you for your service.

We approach the Throne of Grace:

Lord Jesus Christ, we are the children of God. Yet we would not be human if we were not sometimes fearful, if our hearts did not ache and harbor anxiety for those we love who wear and have worn our country’s uniform – here and in the far corners of the earth.

Yet, we also know that the Everlasting Arms reach out across the world. We know the shadow of your wing covers all your children.

We know that in this world there are troubles. Whether diseases in Africa, extremists in Iraq and other places, homelessness and poverty here in America, and a host of other ills, that nothing can separate us nor those we love from your love and watch care.

We know that the bonds of the fellowship of prayer are real. We know that at the throne of grace we are all united, that our souls can mingle with those we love on earth even though separated by tumbling sea and dreary miles. In that spirit we ask for our nation’s veterans that you:

              Support them in time of need,

              Give them strength beyond their own,

              Confidence that you are their shepherd and will never leave them nor forsake them,

              Strength in temptation that they may be kept clean,

              Give them the gift of inner peace, a serenity that no tragedy can destroy,

              Give peace to spouses wondering how much longer they can hang on to their marriage,

              Keep those veterans preparing for another winter without a home or job safe,

              Calm the dreams of those who struggle with sleeping at night,

              Encouragement to those who are thinking of suicide as a way out to know that they are loved, have value and are important,

              Give us the peace that passes all understanding that keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. May Peace come to the world so that War can be no more. We look to the day when Soldiers are no longer needed with great anticipation. Until then, we serve.

May we feel your presence and see by faith that day when the love of Christ shall live in the hearts of all people everywhere. Amen.

Iraq Band of Brothers

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Army, Chaplaincy, Citizen, Peace

It’s been a tough week…

Ok. Take a deep breath.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Think about good things.

Really, I meant it, breathe out. Let it go…

Some really bad things happened this week. Really bad.

A general was laid to rest after giving his life in service to his country.

A Missouri town is in terrible upheaval.

A family is without their son.

Robin Williams. THE Robin Williams. The “Carpe Diem” said in a horse whisper, is dead.

And, of course, SFC Hairston died in Afghanistan this week. As have thousands.

And we should not forget those suffering in the hands of ISIS extremists.

And there is always Gaza.

It’s been a tough week.

Maybe, this night, as we prepare for tomorrow’s worship, we could all just remember that everyone is suffering their own hurt. That each person’s tragedy is their own, their pain is their own, and our pain is not their pain.

This is important. Grief is important.

This week, I’ve seen some “tragedy shaming” making its inevitable rounds. The memes showing images of graphic suffering with a “my tragedy is worse than your tragedy” theme. Hey everyone – its tough out there, people are hurting, you are hurting, I am hurting – shaming each other for not making your tragedy as important as their tragedy isn’t terribly helpful.

I’m sorry you are hurting. I am too. Each of the above events impact us in different ways. I’m not going to lie, there was a moment when I was about done hearing about the General, as great as I’m sure he is, thousands have died in the last decade – THOUSANDS. What makes his different? Rank?

But you see, that is exactly it – I am, in that moment, comparing my suffering and other’s suffering. A pointless and hurtful enterprise. Unhelpful at best. Painfully shaming at worst.

As we prepare our hearts for entering the Sacred Space tomorrow, may we focus on where we are grieving and think about how our fellow saints are grieving so that we might minister to them the healing Gospel.

Life is hard. We, as Christians, at our best, can make life easier by hearing the pain and offering the Grace needed for healing to begin.

“Bear you one another’s burdens and so fulfill the Law of Christ.” 

Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Peace, Sermon

O Church, how limited you can be sometimes…

The Church is in constant need of reform. Recently, a fascinating conversation took place on my facebook page about the Independent Baptist Church movement. I am a product of that movement. I went to those schools, I was trained in that hermeneutic and learned my homiletics there as well. Like most who leave an all-encompassing movement like that, I did so because of intense personal hurt. When I needed grace, I got law. When I needed love and acceptance, I got rejection and judgement.

As a chaplain and pastor now for well over a decade, I have come to realize that this phenomenon is common to all institutions in the Kingdom of God. Heck, it’s not even unique to the Kingdom! Its an institutional thing. I’ve watched it happen in the Army and in other types of organizations.

Just as predictable as the cycle is, so to is the reality that reformation will come along as those involved follow Christ. At it’s best, the Church is a community that provides encouragement and support for everyone. It’s the whole, “no difference between the Jew/Greek/Male/Female/slave/free idea. I was so angry for so long at fundamentalism. Now, I accept them for who they are. I hope they grow. I hope they experience grace. I am sad often when I experience them bound by their rigidity. It is no more fair for me to judge them for their paradigm (limited though it be) then it is for them to judge me for mine.

I’m a believer that there is room for ALL of us in the Kingdom.

That said, I do not have time or space in my life for mean people. And I’ve experienced mean people everywhere.

Christianity, at it’s best, will be about love and authenticity.

During my CPE residency, I was given this illustration. It was very helpful to me.

Imagine you needed 75 cents for a coke and you went to your dad for that 75 cents. He reaches into his pocket and produces 50 cents. He offers it to you. You get angry, 50 cents is not enough! You need 75. Your father gets angry and says, “but this is all I have, I don’t have any more!” Hurt and pain ensues. You keep demanding 75 and your father only has 50 cents. It’s all he can give. You storm off determined to find it elsewhere. Your father sighs and collapses into his chair, broken that he did not have what you needed.

Later, you realize this reality and give grace to your father. He gave you what he had.

It’s how I now feel about fundamentalism. It gave me what it had. Admittedly, it was not enough and I was so hurt in the process and I’ve seen others very hurt. I’ve also seen great good in people. They try hard. Perhaps they could do  more. But then, who am i to judge. People would not be fundamentalists if it did not fill a need (or assuage a fear) in their lives. I hope they experience some grace. At least, they will get it from me.

In the prison context that I currently minister in, I minister to unchurched and barely churched most of the time. I often get the question, “why are there so many denominations?” There are many answers to that question but last night I drew this on the board to illustrate how movements become institutions in need of reform become movements that become institutions in need of reform, become movements….

Cycle of the Church

I hope my children extend the grace I need someday when they are experiencing the limitation of my theology…

Leave a comment

Filed under Peace, Theology

Getting sucked into the Duck Disaster…

It wasn’t the interview. (I didn’t even know it was a thing until the memes started on my facebook feed. I don’t watch much tv and certainly not a show about rich people acting ignorant and poor when they are neither.)

It wasn’t what he said. (the man is entitled to an opinion and certainly free to share it)

It wasn’t him getting dismissed from the tv show. (the cable channel certainly have the right to retain those who represent their brand. Also, I don’t watch the show and have no attachment to it. If it was “Almost Human” on the other hand…)

It was the all the hullabaloo that started after. It was the perceived connection to religious freedom and the 1st Amendment right to free speech that got to me. It was the implication that somehow these statements about others (specifically African Americans and Homosexuals) represented Christ, Christianity and the Church.

They might represent Phil Robertson or maybe even his local church but they certainly do not represent me, my church, or my understanding of Christ.

Phil Robertson is my brother in Christ. We serve the same Lord. However, we might disagree on what exactly that looks like. And that’s ok. Frankly, the whole thing gave me opportunity to reflect on some things that are important to me. I like that about the internet and even Facebook. I did have a couple thoughts that I posted:

So… Here’s the thing. Freedom of speech is emphatically not the same thing as freedom from responsibility. The rich white guy certainly has the right to say what he wants and the rich entertainment company certainly has the right to fire him for it.
No one is losing their rights!!! They are just being held accountable.
Imagine that.

Followed by:

Also, before the band wagon really gets going, perhaps this could be considered,

– should a private company be forced to re-hire (or unfire) a person who publically disagrees with their principles and values and no longer represents what they are about?

Should churches be able to fire pastors who no longer agree with and represent their theology/principles/values???

Still a free speech issue?

Both interesting thoughts I probably would not have had apart from this silliness.

A kerfuffle like this tends to highlight just how differently Christians tend to experience and interpret their faith. Whenever this happens, we start to separate into groups, building walls, lobbing mortars at a perceived enemy.

Here’s the truth, we’re all still family. There is room in my family for Phil Robertson and Ray Boltz. Al Mohler and Gene Robinson. Mark Driscoll and Frank Schaefer.  Carlton Pearson and Ben Carson.

Our faith is big enough for all the family…. even the arguing cousins.

So, thanks GQ. Thanks Phil Robertson. May our Family be big enough for love…. and arguments…

2 Comments

Filed under Peace, Theology

Despair, thankfulness, and paradigm shift

Robinson Crusoe has been on the island for some time. He, clearly, has been able to meet his “hierarchy of needs” – air, water, food shelter. At least enough so that by chapter 5, he is able to start thing theologically about the mess he’s in.

As I sat here some such thoughts as these occurred to me: What is this earth and sea, of which I have seen so much? Whence is it produced? And what am I, and all the other creatures wild and tame, human and brutal? Whence are we? Sure we are all made by some secret Power, who formed the earth and sea, the air and sky. And who is that? Then it followed most naturally, it is God that has made all. Well, but then it came on strangely, if God has made all these things, He guides and governs them all, and all things that concern them; for the Power that could make all things must certainly have power to guide and direct them. If so, nothing can happen in the great circuit of His works, either without His knowledge or appointment.

And if nothing happens without His knowledge, He knows that I am here, and am in this dreadful condition; and if nothing happens without His appointment, He has appointed all this to befall me. Nothing occurred to my thought to contradict any of these conclusions, and therefore it rested upon me with the greater force, that it must needs be that God had appointed all this to befall me; that I was brought into this miserable circumstance by His direction, He having the sole power, not of me only, but of everything that happened in the world. Immediately it followed: Why has God done this to me? What have I done to be thus used?

Rob is struggling with a little theodicy. Dwelling on these thoughts drive him to despair. His despair results in a dreadful physical malady. He searches for relief. He comes upon a plan to mix fresh tobacco and rum. (Frankly, I like where he’s going with that but the execution leave much to be desired.) This, of course, leaves him worse off. He becomes violently ill.

Sick and tired, he takes something else from a chest he brought from the ship and begins to read. The Bible he has falls open to Psalm 50 and he reads this:

“I took up the Bible and began to read; but my head was too much disturbed with the tobacco to bear reading, at least at that time; only, having opened the book casually, the first words that occurred to me were these, “Call on Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.” These words were very apt to my case, and made some impression upon my thoughts at the time of reading them, though not so much as they did afterwards; for, as for being delivered, the word had no sound, as I may say, to me; the thing was so remote, so impossible in my apprehension of things, that I began to say, as the children of Israel did when they were promised flesh to eat, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” so I began to say, “Can God Himself deliver me from this place?” And as it was not for many years that any hopes appeared, this prevailed very often upon my thoughts; but, however, the words made a great impression upon me, and I mused upon them very often. It grew now late, and the tobacco had, as I said, dozed my head so much that I inclined to sleep; so I left my lamp burning in the cave, lest I should want anything in the night, and went to bed. But before I lay down, I did what I never had done in all my life – I kneeled down, and prayed to God to fulfil the promise to me, that if I called upon Him in the day of trouble, He would deliver me. After my broken and imperfect prayer was over, I drank the rum…”

I love this passage. Might be partiality because he ends his prayer with rum. What happens next is worth the book.

July 3. – I missed the fit for good and all, though I did not recover my full strength for some weeks after. While I was thus gathering strength, my thoughts ran exceedingly upon this Scripture, “I will deliver thee”; and the impossibility of my deliverance lay much upon my mind, in bar of my ever expecting it; but as I was discouraging myself with such thoughts, it occurred to my mind that I pored so much upon my deliverance from the main affliction, that I disregarded the deliverance I had received, and I was as it were made to ask myself such questions as these – viz. Have I not been delivered, and wonderfully too, from sickness – from the most distressed condition that could be, and that was so frightful to me? and what notice had I taken of it? Had I done my part? God had delivered me, but I had not glorified Him – that is to say, I had not owned and been thankful for that as a deliverance; and how could I expect greater deliverance? This touched my heart very much; and immediately I knelt down and gave God thanks aloud for my recovery from my sickness.

And this:

“Now I began to construe the words mentioned above, “Call on Me, and I will deliver thee,” in a different sense from what I had ever done before; for then I had no notion of anything being called deliverance, but my being delivered from the captivity I was in; for though I was indeed at large in the place, yet the island was certainly a prison to me, and that in the worse sense in the world. But now I learned to take it in another sense: now I looked back upon my past life with such horror, and my sins appeared so dreadful, that my soul sought nothing of God but deliverance from the load of guilt that bore down all my comfort. As for my solitary life, it was nothing. I did not so much as pray to be delivered from it or think of it; it was all of no consideration in comparison to this. And I add this part here, to hint to whoever shall read it, that whenever they come to a true sense of things, they will find deliverance from sin a much greater blessing than deliverance from affliction.”

His condition never changes. He was no more rescued physically that morning than any other morning since he got on the island. It was his paradigm that had changed. He went from seeing himself as a victim of God to being a child of God who had experienced deliverance. The prayer did not change his dreadful plight but simply showed him the “other side” of his misery. His “blessing.”

The verse quoted is from Psalm 50. This week. This will be my sermon – asking “where is God” is the wrong question. The better questions might be – “where am I and where has God been all along?” And then find the answers.

My condition began now to be, though not less miserable as to my way of living, yet much easier to my mind: and my thoughts being directed, by a constant reading the Scripture and praying to God, to things of a higher nature, I had a great deal of comfort within, which till now I knew nothing of; also, my health and strength returned, I bestirred myself to furnish myself with everything that I wanted, and make my way of living as regular as I could.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Peace, Sermon

Salt

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?

Leave a comment

Filed under Peace, Sermon

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

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?

Leave a comment

Filed under Peace

A Prayer for Boston… and us.

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Peace