Saturday, July 30, 2011

a shared story?

It is amazing to me how we as people often are announcers of the clearly obvious. Just think back to the past week and recall all the times you heard someone retort to the record setting climate by saying “boy its hot!” Usually we agree with some response of our own verifying the person claim. Don’t you think it’s somewhat a peculiar habit we find ourselves in. I mean I can’t argue with the statement, it truly is hot. In fact it is so hot I saw two trees fighting over a dog (think about that one for a second). It is so hot, that the occasion hardly needs to be announced, but we do announce frequently throughout our day as if to reminder ourselves our others lest they forget the 120 heat index. We are really good at this with all sorts of weather. “Man the rain is really coming down”, “wow it sure is cold outside”, or “whew it is windy.” You have to appreciate the hilarity of deeply rational and intellectual beings become so myopic in observations when it comes to weather.

Perhaps we state the painfully obvious as an opportunity to express a shared experience (I’m hot, your hot, we have a shared experience). Maybe we need a way to express verbally our experiences of physical discomfort or annoyance. Perhaps we are just looking for some small talk and weather is always an easy changing subject. I actually believe all three of these responses are way we bother to state the obvious. However, I think these reasons need to be way we also share ourselves beyond the weather.

We are beings made to share and express our feelings. Poetry, literature, movies, and Facebook are all ways we have learned to express ourselves (for better or for worse). In fact are born able to express discomfort or unhappiness in their cries. After only a matter of months do they learn to smile, to giggle, to whine, and even communicate. God has designed us to be in community and to share our experience with each other. However, I think we are in a time when we are separating our feelings from true community. We still have poems, literature, and other ways to communicate our feelings, but we have lost the art of having a conversation with people about our feelings in an open and honest way. We are taught in a frightening world where any world can become viral in moments, and any feelings and become public domain, to protect our feelings and emotions. Christ calls us to carry each other’s burdens, but we do not know how to carry or even share the burdens we have. Even if we find ourselves in a moment of burden sharing, we take a great risk or exposing ourselves to uncompassionate community.

We as a people need to find a shared experience to build a community around. This shared experienced used to be religion. I believe that churches and Christ followers still use Christ as their shared experience. As Christians, Christ is our center and our focus to enter into a shared community where we then learn to share our burdens and selves. We share not only with God, but also with each other. But I believe we need to find a shared experience to reach out to our non-believing brothers and sisters. War, politics, and epidemics are sometimes used to accomplish this, but these moments of tragedies are insufficient. Our nation, our world needs to find a shared story and experience to learn to open up to so that community, feelings, and burdens and be shared and shouldered. I think sometimes medicine and science is used to accomplish this task, but I find it very limiting and it leaves me wanting.

I don’t know if there is a shared story or experience that can even be had. If this is the case it is a very sad and fallen world we do live in. Perhaps the only shared story, the only shared experience worth engaging in is the narrative of God and his son Jesus. Perhaps the only story that we have in common is our creator, our redeemer, and our God. It may be that it is still our calling and commission to invite people into this shared story for no other one can fulfill our satisfy us. Perhaps this is the only story and experience that truly makes us human and whole. Wondering what your thoughts are. Is there a shared story beyond Christ that we can share? Is there something out there that can bring us into true humanity outside God?

Friday, July 15, 2011

thoughts on death

Sometimes I find myself thinking about my own death, I wonder how I will die, when it will be and people’s reaction. Most people would simply call me downright morbid. I have not always been this way, but lately I have become very comfortable with the thought of death.

My wife Jen and I have been living in our new home for over a year now. Before we moved we looked at a house in the same neighborhood that was very well priced, but needed a lot of work. By the time we put in an offer the house was already pending and eventually we missed out on it. Just a few weeks ago we were talking to neighbors of the very same house. We discovered from the neighbor that someone died in the house before it was recently bought, and since it was bought someone else had died in it. My wife Jen was mortified that we almost bought a house that at one time had someone die in it. I tried to explain to her that it was no big deal, but both she and the neighbor informed me that moving into a house that once housed a non-breathing entity was certifiably creepy and unlivable. It was then that it was brought to my attention that I have an uncharacteristically level of comfort with death. I used to be terrified about the prospect of death, but two years of being a pastor and 25 funerals later I have found myself thinking about death a lot more often.

The strange thing is, the more I think about death, the more ready I seem to truly live. The more to terms I come with the reality of mortality the more I can recite the words of the psalmist:

man and woman are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow (Psalm 144:4).

We have developed this great fear of death especially in the United States. What I mean is that in our country we hide from the presence of death better than anyone else. People go to hospitals or nursing homes to die, funeral homes pick them up, they are beautified and made to look alive, presented for a few hours, than buried. We have haunted graveyards with our literature, refuse to allow children around bodies, and eliminated outright mourning in public places.

Recently I was speaking with a woman whose children were upset with her because she was mourning the loss of her husband after having lost him less than a year ago. They did not want to be reminded of the loss of their dad. We removed death from our life and put it into video games and movies to make the thing we fear the most nothing more than entertainment.

Have you ever spent time with someone who had a terminal illness and knew they were going to die soon? They usually have a very different outlook on life, and most the time a very positive one. Not that these people want to die, but they have developed a new sense of seeing that we have blinded ourselves to. Many times they develop a free way of living. They look to reconcile relationships, they see the beauty of life, and they have come to accept the inevitable. These people develop a different way to live out their life not because they know they are dying (hopefully we all know we are dying) but because they are forced to confront the very thing that most of us try to avoid.

A good author writes their book with the ending in mind. Can you imagine a book written with no thought of the end, the book just simply stops when the writer is spent? Now I know we cannot organize our life and certainly our death like that of a writer, but too many of us are not living our life fully because we have not thought about the end.

When we read about the life of Jesus in the gospels, we see a man living his life with his end in mind. Jesus not only lives his life, but lives it in a way with his death in mind. While most of us cannot live knowing how we are going to die, all of us can live knowing that we will. When the time comes for Jesus to hand over his life he does so mercifully and lovingly, not fighting, killing, or cursing the stars. Jesus’ faces his death so perfectly because he has thought about it, and knows what the outcome will be. Jesus knows he will suffer he knows he will die, but he knows that he will resurrect from the dead.

We are called to live like Jesus, to be aware of our death, to know that we will die, and to know that through his love and grace we too will be resurrected. When we keep our death in mind we become free to live our life with no fear, with no lingering regrets, and with the appreciation of everything that is given to us.

My challenge is to think of your death, to become aware fully of your mortality, to become aware of the uncertainty of life, and to the hope that lingers for us beyond the grave. If we take time to see our own death, we may find that we truly see our life, and appreciate the purpose we have been given.

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (2 Corinthians 2:40)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The art of surrender

Scripture says that money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), and one can easily see why. Money issues are the number one cause of marital arguments. The economic crisis has politicians pointing fingers. Unemployment has caused tight money situations in families, raising the consumption of alcohol and domestic abuse. Spending has decreased, giving has decreased, and the all mighty dollar has fallen greatly. Some have called the current situation we are in a recession, others have called it a full out depression, and some analyst point to a double dip market. Whatever one might say, it is clear that our nation is in a financial regression, and there have been terrible consequences as a result.

The truth is when we as a nation start losing out on our income, health care, and the lifestyle we have become accustomed to, we get angry and even violent in our protests. Many people outside the U.S. see a country of wealth, but all I see is a country that is desperately poor because we can never have enough and the problem is in our ideology and our language.

While money is certainly dangerous, I think our temptation today is much broader. I see our language and ideology of “rights” as the root of much evil (this certainly includes money).

What has made our country unique from the onset is its understanding of “rights.” Our Declaration of Independence is based on our “rights” as a people. “The Bill of Rights” speaks with language that asserts our “rights” to free speech, “right” to bear arms, “right” to religion and so on. However, I think we have taken this language of “rights” too far. Too often we have added to our language of rights by adding the right to own a home with a two car garage, with two cars, right to have a hefty retirement package to travel on, right to take two vacations a year and be paid to do so, the right to eat out, the right to own a television in each room of our four bedroom home, a computer for the home, a laptop and cell phone for each member of the house, and the right to visit a doctor without paying for it. The truth is our understanding of rights is vague and dangerous. Hauerwas in his book “The Peaceable Kingdom” dedicates many pages to the danger of the ideology and language of rights. Hauerwas believes that the idea of rights leads to the pursuit of violent means to protect them at all cost. While undoubtedly free speech, religion, and free hospital visits are all nice, for a Christian, they are not the crux of existence, and they certainly do not merit us to engage in violence.

In fact, the way of Jesus means the willingness to give up all and any such “rights.” Jesus gave up his “rights” as the Son of God and humbled himself to death on a cross as poetically outlined in Philippians 2:5-11:

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus gave up a lot. If the Son of God was worried about his rights and adamant about exercising them, than the very people who came to arrest Jesus would have been obliterated. If Jesus was worried about his rights, there would have been no incarnation, no crucifixion, no resurrection, no forgiveness of sins which is more important than any rights the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, or Constitution could ever offer. And if anyone would think that this was Jesus the Son of God and we could not possibly dream of ascertaining the same kind of willful surrender, let me draw your attention once again to the first line of this passage which says:

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

In a world of sin how could we possible entertain the idea of rights? The only rights we are given and promised is the rights of an heir of God if we believe and follow Jesus Christ. These rights, this reward, is not fully lived out here on this earth, but is promised with Christ comes to restore all things. To follow Christ means you surrender your rights of this world, to receive the rights of His Kingdom. To follow Christ means we hand over our rights to speak, our rights to bear arms, and even our rights to life itself. However, in surrendering these limited rights, we receive something so much more; we receive eternal life, joy, and unison with God the creator and his Son in his Kingdom.

Violent defense of earthly rights shows that we belong to this world. However, as Christ followers we do not belong to this world (John 15:19; Colossians 2:20) and therefore are called to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Aliens, foreigners, and the 4th of July

The 4th of July is a grand celebration of the birth of the United States of America. As Americans we certainly know how to celebrate birthdays. Every proper 4th of July celebration has good food, and there will be no short supply of barbeques and picnics with hot dogs, brats, hamburgers, potato salad, and potato chips on the menu. Red, white, and blue adorn city street light posts, and car lots buy even bigger flags to wave to advertise their latest deals. And of course there will be loud, bright, colorful “oooh” and “aaah” inspiring fireworks.

The 4th of July is a reminder of the fight for freedom and the sacrifice many paid to have a country of our own. But to Christians the celebration has mixed feelings. One cannot help but get caught up in the story of America’s birth, of the impossible revolution, of the heroics and sacrifice, and of eventual victory. Every time I watch the fireworks, I think of the story of the U.S. and I admittedly get chills. However, at the same time the celebration is a reminder that for those who follow Christ, we are not yet truly home. In fact 1 Peter 2:11 reminds us:

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.

We are not yet home, in fact we are aliens. Our home is not in this world, but in the Kingdom of Heaven with our Lord and Maker. It is important to remember that our goal is not the democracy of the U.S. but the Kingdom of God. Many laid down their life for this country, but no one beside Christ could lay down their life for our eternal citizenship in heaven. Heroic battles were fought and won for freedoms in America, but only the victory of Christ will truly set us free.

The truth is, the waving flags on the 4th of July remind me that I am not yet home, and there are still many more scarifies to be made. The fireworks remind me that I am not free by the battles of men, but only by the victory of Christ!