Tag Archives: tension

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

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Ministry by Inches

Years ago, a teacher joined the Army chaplaincy. He was idealistic, hungry, and ambitious. He dreamed of adventure and glory. He had visions of going to war, preaching – Billy Graham style – and flocks of war-torn Soldiers would come to Jesus. If he was really honest, he kinda hoped he’d get a chance to shoot a terrorist or two too. He was a wandering fundamentalist. He had been through 9/11 and had grieved those days. He had been denied entry to combat troops but waited his turn, bided his time, went into seminary and found a place in the front lines as a Chaplain.

He believed the rhetoric that Iraq was a just war. A war to defend the homeland.

So he went. And he learned. And he fought. And he returned a different man. He was changed. He saw the world differently. He came away disenfranchised and disillusioned, haunted by the thought that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t as he had been told. Maybe, just maybe, this was a hollow sacrifice.

He had seen so much death. So much destruction. So much sacrifice and so much heroism. Men who laid it all on the line for the men under him. Women, leaving traditional gender roles and heroically owning their space on the battlefield. He saw an America he didn’t think existed. One funded by massive amounts of cash. An America that seemed happy to contract out essential services and creating a proxy second class. A class that bowed their heads  and got off the sidewalk when Americans walked by. A real, no-kidding two class system with haves and have nots. It shocked him. He didn’t know what to do with that. He experienced the American Soldier, at once a hero, the best of their country, and also terrible, awful people capable of all manner of evil. Over the years, nose to the grindstone, he witnessed a country unsure of what to do with their sons and daughters who became warriors. They seemed to care but abdicated their role in holding civilian leadership accountable for sending them to war. It seemed all to easy to focus on killing the marginalized in some other place and thus ignore the chaos brewing at home.

The tension exploded in him. The fundamentals of his youth did not answer the questions swirling in his head. His journey brought him to this conclusion – violence only begets more violence.

He toyed with pacifism. But it wasn’t for him.

However, he saw truth in the ancient Zoroastrian thought, “Violence can beget fear, stalemate, annihilation, dominance, or more violence, but it cannot beget love, justice, abundant life, community or peace.” (From Saving Paradise by Brock and Parker)

But his life was at the margin of violence. Sometimes, he was in the middle of it but mostly, he operated on the margin. Men and women for all sorts of reasons (few having to actually do with defending America) had volunteered to do violence and his role was to ensure they had the free exercise of religion while they did it. He was also expected to advise commanders of the morale and morals of their Soldiers while being the voice for ethical prosecution of said violence.

It tore at his soul.

Who am I kidding? It tears at my soul. It is at once terrifying and exhilarating to know the power at the disposal of the US Army. It is empowering to know what kind of violent force can be brought to the table by a battalion of Soldiers. But, oh the tension. The pain in my heart when I take seriously the teachings of Jesus and the reality of my work.

How does serving as a Chaplain in the most effective expeditionary land Army the world has ever seen mesh with “bringing Soldiers to God and God to Soldiers?”

For me, its only possible in the inches. When I step back and look at the meta, the over all strategy, it is overwhelming and sometimes depressing. When I focus on the steps in front of me, the inches and the margins, I see great ministry. I see God walking with Soldiers as they muddle through. Sometimes, its me doing the muddling and my Soldiers revealing God to me.

guitar on the roadThe crowds never happened for me. Most services I do are very small. Today I did four. At two of them, it was me and one other person. That is the nature of this work. Its one at a time. Person to person. It’s me walking from gun crew to gun crew, a troubled marriage here, a struggling spirit there. This one wonders if the God of his youth is still worth believing in. This one has the heartbreak of a poor choices impacting her life. This one wonders if they were just crazy joining the Army and are, frankly, frightened of what comes next.

They speak to me in the darkness, in smoke breaks, and walking along the trail. Drinking a hot cup of coffee, they sigh deeply and wonder aloud if any of their sacrifice and effort are worth it.

Its a question I ask.

I’m not sure I know the answer but I know the path to find it. I know grief and I know sorrow. I know the inches and the margins.

And I’ll walk with them. Every step of the way.

Perhaps that is the ministry I seek from the Holy Spirit. To walk with me in the inches and margins.

Every step of the way.

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Christmas Sorrow

Christmas Tension – how do we celebrate joy in the midst of such pain? 

(This year, Christmas 2012, was the year that a gunman killed 27 people in an elementary school, 20 of them children, because he was mad at his mother. What follows is the Communion meditation I wrote for service that Sunday, 16 December 2012. Memorial Chapel, Ft. Leavenworth, KS )

As we approach the Lord’s Table this morning, we do so struggling with the tension of celebrating the Christmas season with all the bells and lights and food while there are dozens of parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, friends and relatives mourning the tragic killing of their loved ones. Children have died and children are not supposed to die.

There is raging on the internet. Sorrow in the streets. Fear in the hearts of mother’s and father’s who are wondering if they should even send their children to school. I know this fear for I have this fear. There is no small amount of hopelessness and helplessness that there is no way to even end this problem. I read just this morning that two more shootings have happened in this country. People are wounded and dying. Is this how we solve problems in this country, at the point of a gun? It is senseless, it is tragic, it is frightening.

Has God left us?
Has God hidden his face from us?
Has God any power whatsoever?

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wondered this as he watched his nation descend into madness. The North and the South were not agreeing. Politicians who should have been solving problems were digging in, bulwarking their beliefs behind cannon and musket. His son went to war and was wounded in battle, returning home to never walk again.

“For what?” Longfellow wondered. “Where is the peace?”

Every year during the war, on Christmas, the bells of churches would ring calling for a ceasefire, for peace. At night, after the holiday had passed, the guns would start anew and more would die. On Christmas Day in 1863, Longfellow wrote the familiar lines in response to the horror of the bloody fratricidal conflict in general and to the personal tragedy of his son, Lieutenant Charles Appleton Longfellow, who was severely wounded in November 1862. Has God heard? Has he forgotten? Does God care?

Yes.

God knows sorrow. Knows senseless death. Has a broken heart for us and for our children.

CHRISTMAS BELLS

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said,
‘For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.’

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.’

There is hope in Longfellow’s words. Therein is strength.

As we approach this Lord’s Table this morning, we remember that Christmas is not really about the bells, lights, food, and four-day weekends. It’s about a child that was born with a mission, a child born who would sacrificially die to cleanse sin from the world, giving us an example of true peace. When Mary sees old Simeon in the temple, he tells her prophetically that “a sword would pierce her heart…” in relationship to her son. In that moment, Mary sees that there is more to the story than just a baby. In the midst of joy there is often pain. As there is here, at the Table.

All are invited to claim Christ. Let us come to the Table this morning, remembering Jesus’ sacrifice as we remember his birth.

Now, I will tell you the story as it was told unto me, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed took bread…

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