Wednesday, November 12, 2008
But I did want to chime in here about my thoughts on this past election cycle, and the current economic situation. And I know with that phrase I have an immediate rapt audience, because no one has tired of seeing campaign ads, getting campaign mailings, watching pre- and post-election coverage, etc. Right? No one's sick of that. Everybody is dying to get as much as they can, because we get fed so much pertinent, honest info that every piece makes us hungry for more!
Can I make a confession? I am hoping things get worse in this country. I look at the stock market reports daily, praying that they keep dropping. I hear about jobs being lost, and know many friends whose jobs may be in jeopardy or have already been eliminated, and I feel joy and anticipation.
Let me be clear. I empathize with those who worry about stability and loss of income and how to pay bills. God knows I've been there, and it's a horrible feeling. I get that financial difficulties are not fun for anyone, and that they can be a terrific strain on families and marriages. But while I understand the stress and desperation that financial hard times can bring, I still can't help my heart leaping when I see another corporation crash. I can't help but hope just a little that another Great Depression could come upon us.
Why, you ask? Because I love the church. And when I see this crisis, I see nothing but a situation that God may use to remind the church of what's truly important.
In the opulence and overabundance of stuff in the consumer culture of America, the church has by and large lost its way, throwing in its lot solidly with the American Dream. She has not needed God, has forgotten God, and has replaced His Gospel with a business model of church growth, emphasizing marketing strategies over loving truth and people. She fills out huge, well-decorated facilities and immense campuses with parking garages and coffee stands. She buys corporate jets and sets its ministers up in huge mansions. She talks about how to "increase attendance" and be "seeker-sensitive" in contexts where the words "increase sales" and "expand market share" could easily replace the monikers. The church has become a brand. She has forgotten why she was redeemed: to love God, and to love people, things which business models and marketing schemes are powerless to do. She is His bride, and has taken on wealth and popular appeal for lovers rather than her Husband.
Here, in the current climate, is a prime opportunity to see the collapse of this system. We, the church, will be forced again to cling to God and trust in His provision in this great time of need. Not only that, but we have the opportunity to show God's care and provision to those around us through sacrificial love and giving. This economic crisis could make us like the churches in Macedonia that Paul talks about in Second Corinthians, who "in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part" (2 Cor. 8:2, ESV). We could, as the Macedonians did, give according to and beyond our means to meet the needs of those suffering around us.
I would like for it not to take something as drastic as an economic collapse. I would like for the church to remember again what its purpose is, and to divorce itself from materialism and nationalism without the horrible suffering. But I think it's clear that's not how God works. It's through sufferings and hardships that He refines us, and He commands us to rejoice when we suffer, because we know that He is working to shape us more into the people - the church, His body - that we are supposed to be.
So I rejoice, and encourage you to do the same - not just because I say so, but also because we're commanded to delight and rejoice in suffering. I encourage you take delight in the situation we are in, to welcome it with open arms, to revel in it - not because we ought to be callous to the sufferings of those around us, but because we know that God will use it to His glory, and that through this time He will shape His church.
So I pray that the suffering does not stop until His work is complete. I do not fear any party's control of the government; I do not tremble or worry that our way of life or policies and laws we hold dear may change. This is God's work. He brings it; He guides; He will complete it. And may we rejoice in the work He will do.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
He opens doors, he clears the plates
He tips the waitress extra when
She forgot him when her mom dropped in.
He helps his neighbor fix his car
And taught his boy to play guitar
And stayed up all night praying for
The homeless guy outside the bar.
Meekness forfeits all his dues,
For Jesus did so first.
Meekness walks in Jesus' shoes,
Inheriting the earth.
Blows that don't ever come.
But Mournings come, and guilt transforms;
Weeping, I am newly born -
Born again in righteousness,
yet still I sin, and still transgress
by leaps and bounds the holy law.
I hate my sin: the fatal flaw
I share with all humanity.
My weeping swells - why can't I flee
When given opportunity?
So here I weep, my Jesus comes
And wipes my tears, and takes me home.
Anyway, without further ado,
How am I poor?
Do not make me count the ways
Mercy, at your door
This beggar pleads his helpless case.
Choked on my sin,
From trying hard to gorge myself with its
And greed, and lust, and lies, and laziness.
I spew it up
And ask for sweet exchange
A holy cup
Of Jesus' blood arranged.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Before I get into the bulk of my argument I want to make sure I do justice to the opposite side. I think that this is one of the foremost issues the American church faces today. I think the choice between allegiance to earthly systems and allegiance to Christ is a choice that more often than not has been one on which we've been wrong time and again.
But I return to my representation of those who believe a Christian can rightly, and has a responsibility to, participate in civil government. These would say that it is the duty
of every Christian to see to it that right is done in ever aspect of society, including government, that we must protect the innocent and punish the guilty and see to it that society remains a place where the gospel can be freely spread. They wish to preserve the rights of the defenseless, the unborn, children, the poor, etc. They wish to make our country a place that reflects the things important to God.
Let me begin by saying I admire their goals. I want our country to be a place that looks out for the defenseless and the disadvantaged, that celebrates freedom and reflects things that are important to God, too. I don't disagree at all with their aims. What I disagree with is the idea that these things can be achieved at a civil level with any sort of success, and that they ought to be pursued at that level.
I give you the civil rights movement. We have laws in place now which have in many ways created opportunities for black Americans that did not exist before, and on many levels we see success stories that before would not have been possible. And yet, by and large, what are the issues within the black culture? Gang violence, poverty, and fatherlessness. While the civil rights movement led to great opportunities for success legislatively, culturally it did very little.
I give you the death penalty. This seems more about retribution than about reducing crime. The death penalty is not a deterrent for one who makes a decision to take another human life. If one is at the point where they would consider that an option, chances are that they've already counted the cost and determined that it's worth the risk, or they think they'll get away with it, or they're just so furious they don't care. Killing them does nothing but feed our lust for revenge, although we tout it as justice and as a warning for others who might be considering murder.
These are only two examples of the shortcomings of legislation. Let me emulate the apostle Paul in Romans and answer my detractors now. Some will say to me, What? Should we just stop trying and let the world deteriorate around us? By no means! I do not ask for a separation of spheres, an us-versus-them, a Christian bubble that doesn't venture out into the world. I ask for a union of spheres, and a consistency in how we approach life as a believer. Let me give some examples of what I mean.
We say, "Jesus is the only one who offers hope." Then we ought to stop hoping in anything else to give any hope to the world, not presidents, governors, mayors, senators, or city council. They may have good ideas, maybe good legislation, and they may change a few things for the better, but they won't give hope.
We say, "In Christ, we are free." Then we ought to stop being afraid of repercussions for living in freedom and believing that a government can give us more freedoms. When Christ frees us, that freedom isn't just freedom from something, namely sin, but it's freedom to something, namely, obedience. We ought to live in complete obedience to the way He called us without fear of losing jobs, house, livelihood, family, security, or life! "If God is for us, who can be against us?...Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, sword?...No, in all things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us." (Rom. 8) We can obey Christ completely to the point of risking utter loss of everything on earth and still have more than any other person. Whether the government gives us this freedom is irrelevant. We have it from a higher power.
We say, "We're called to be in the world but not of it." Yet we involve ourselves so fully in the world's systems, buying health insurance that supports abortions, buying clothing that supports slavery, buying cars and fuel and food that supports starvation, excusing it because the alternatives are just too difficult, or would slow down our pace of life, or would create more uncertainty than we're comfortable with. We are called to be salt and light to our world, but when we're so tied up in the world's systems, how can they listen to us when we tell them what's wrong?
It comes down to this: We have indeed created a separation of spheres. We separate our belief in the all-sufficiency of Christ from our practice in the world. We create a sphere of spiritual belief and of material practice. We say one thing and do another.
We need to join our spheres under the leadership of the Lord Jesus. If we believe that He is the one hope, then why do we look to the world to give people hope? If we believe He is the one source of freedom, then why do we look to political and military systems to "promote freedom"? If we believe ourselves called to be salt and light, then why do we allow our light to be doused and our salt to lose flavor by allying ourselves with the world? We need to unite faith and practice, and allow our belief in the promises of God and the example of Jesus to permeate our actions. It makes no sense for one who claims to know the Almighty God to worry that if he stands up for what is right, he'll lose something. It makes no sense for someone who believes in a Christ who gives hope to offer hope through legislation or a government program. It makes no sense for one who follows a man, who though He had all authority, sought to separate Himself from the world's systems of authority, to involve ourselves in the systems our Lord avoided and condemned.
I recently watched a documentary on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the depiction of the German church's reaction towards the Nazis and Hitler reminded me greatly of the American church's approach to patriotism/nationalism. Their utter devotion to the cause of the German nation caused many to turn a blind eye to the horrible wrongs Hitler committed. They thought he would restore their nation. They neglected to examine that the nation has no bearing on the kingdom.
I think we made the wrong choice by throwing our hope on George W. Bush, believing he would be the one to usher in a society more friendly to evangelical Christian goals. If anything the opposite has occurred, and we seem to be learning nothing from it. While I'm not trying to develop a comparison between Bush and Hitler by any stretch of the imagination, the correlations between the American church's blind acceptance of Bush and the German church's blind acceptance of Hitler raise some startling concerns about how far we let our loyalty to earthly kingdoms infect our devotion to the kingdom of heaven, our one and only allegiance.
"And now I show you a more excellent way." The alternative is this: we think critically about the calling we receive, and think critically about the systems in which we involve ourselves. There are ways out, if we're willing to pay the price. I truly say this as much to myself as to anyone else, since I also look for ways out of the systems in which I involve myself. We ought to strive to live like Jesus: attached to no earthly thing, in constant communion with God, and our whole lives devoted to loving those around us.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Monday, July 21, 2008
Of course, I must review this movie. I am morally obligated.
Ever since I knew who Batman was, I was enamored. The idea of a man, haunted by misguided guilt over his parents' deaths, donning the guise of the thing he feared most in order to strike fear in the hearts of his enemies, a fragile hero armed only with martial arts and an inventive mind, captivated my imagination like no other comic book hero has ever done. It's the psyche of Bruce Wayne that attracts me. He's a man obsessed; he's tortured, tormented by his own weaknesses, his inabilities. But in spite of that he presses on in his cause: relentless in his struggle against the madness of the criminals who assault him and his city.
This Batman has until 2005 not been the one portrayed in the movies. Tim Burton's movie gave a small taste of that man, but they paid more homage to the villains than to the man behind the mask, and they made his world into a clownish, cartooney, sort of Willie Wonka-esque fairyland rather than a gritty noire setting. Then with Forever and & Robin, both fell short of giving the Caped Crusader his due, and made his villains into fun-loving jokesters rather than demented amoral madmen.
And let it be known that I have never - never - been a fan of Jack Nicholson as the Joker. The only thing I saw when I watched him in that role was Jack Nicholson with make-up on. I didn't see him as the utterly anarchic madman portrayed in the comics, the brutal, ruthless killer who operates without rules or motivation, who acts on whim without rhyme or reason. Nicholson was too polished, too svelt for the role, and far, far too calm.
That being said, I loved Batman Begins. I felt that at last, here was a movie that did justice to the Batman I had come to love. Here was a movie that delved into his psyche, that established what it was that would make a man take up a cape and fight crime in a lost, corrupt city. And when it was revealed at the end that the next installment would deal with the Joker, I was ecstatic. I knew that Nolan and co. would treat the character with the seriousness he deserved.
The Dark Knight is everything that Batman Begins promised it would be. It treats the characters with the same gravity as any serious crime drama does, delving into their motivations and relationships and beliefs, dealing with the problem of chaos and order and the fragility of the systems we all buy into.
I don't want to say too much about the storyline of the movie, since there are hundreds of reviews out there you could go to and find out the main points. But I do think it is a fabulous commentary on heroics and heroism, human nature, and sacrifice. The ending is powerful, and as achingly bittersweet as any I have seen in cinema. Christian Bale only gets better as we see Batman/Bruce Wayne's character deepen, and Heath Ledger - well, it would be hard to be better in the role. And Maggie Gyllenhaal is far better than Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes. I've also been a fan of Aaron Eckhart for some time, and he does a smashing job as the tragic character of Harvey Dent.
There's a discussion I'd love to have here about some of the implications of the themese of the movie, but at the risk of giving anything away for those who haven't seen it, I'll wait a few weeks. I'll simply end by saying that it made me think quite a bit about what we put faith in, and the responsibility of those in leadership to protect those in their care from certain kinds of knowledge. More on that later.
Monday, June 30, 2008
whose harness only exists when
we dream it, otherwise it
runs uncontrollable, pulling us along
as we grip its cords
I can no more tame it
than I can tame myself
it drags me into obscurity
perhaps infamy, who knows -
Perhaps taming's never the thing
to do with it; maybe it's not
meant to be a struggle
and maybe you were never meant
to steer it
Maybe you never looked to see
there's someone at the reins already
and He seems to know what he's doing,
and the thing is like a colt
turning at His touch
And maybe you're just supposed to hold on
let the fellow with the reins steer
and quit trying to take them
out of His hands
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
I have a mental shortlist of those who might be interested, most of whom I am related to. I'd love to hear from those of you out there who might wish to join this sort of community where we could share work, get feedback, let each other know about potential venues for our work, and encourage each other in our efforts. Would anyone be interested in such an effort?
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Saturday, May 3, 2008
For some reason, today, as I listen to this CD that I already know by heart, every word pierces me deeply, and I weep for how far the church in America has sold its soul to American ideals and principles at the cost of the principles of the gospel.
Don’t teach me about moderation and liberty
I prefer a shot of grape juice
Don’t teach me about loving my enemies
Don’t teach me how to listen to the Spirit
Just give me a new law
"How can I kill the ones i’m supposed to love/ My enemies are men like me..."
"My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man/ My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood/ It's to a king & a kingdom"
I have never experienced something this overwhelming before. I have never grieved like this before: for a church which has forgotten how to love its enemies, which has sought earthly power rather building a heavenly kingdom, which has little regard for the poor.
We have swallowed, hook, line and sinker, the myth of the Christian nation. We believe that wars can be just, and that American ideals are Christian ideals, and that our lives are worth giving to protect this earthly empire. We "support the troops," but not the ones the troops fight against. We place American flags in our churches, include patriotic songs in our hymnals, equating them with songs of worship to our Creator. And we think there's nothing wrong with this.
We have idolized our nation. We have made it as important as our God. And we demonize those who cry out against this.
We are called to be separate, to live by different ideals and different standards. We have allegiance to one only: our Lord Jesus Christ, and none comes second to Him. We cannot believe in the government's legitimacy or ability to legislate morality. We cannot waste our precious breath trying to change earthly power structures. We cannot believe that it is possible for Christians to serve as presidents or soldiers without betraying their allegiance to the gospel.
We must remember the early church, who firmly believed in the necessity for Christians to divorce themselves from the earthly powers, who called into question the ability for a person to be both soldier and Christian, who believed it impossible for an emperor to serve Christ and execute his job, who did not resist when their enemies threatened them. We must remember men like Tertullian and Origen, who made statements like these:
Now inquiry is made about the point whether a believer may enter into military service. The question is also asked whether those in the military may be admitted into the faith - even the rank and file (or any inferior grade), who are not required to take part in sacrifices or capital punishments…A man cannot give his allegiance to two masters - God and Caesar…How will a Christian man participate in war? In fact, how will he serve even in peace without a sword? For the Lord has taken the sword away. It is also true that soldiers came to John [the Baptist] and received the instructions for their conduct. It is also true that a centurion believed. Nevertheless, the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.
I think we must first inquire whether warfare is proper at all for Christians ... Do we believe it is lawful for a human oath to be added to one that is divine? Is it lawful for a man to come to be pledged to another master after Christ has become his Master? Is it lawful to renounce father, mother, and all nearest kinsfolk, whom even the Law has commanded us to honor and love next to God himself?…Is it lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword will perish by the sword? Will the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? Will he who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs, apply the chain, the prison, the torture, and the punishment?
Christians were taught not to avenge themselves upon their enemies…They would not have made war (although capable) even if they had received authority to do so. For they have obtained this reward from God: that he has always warred on their behalf. On certain occasions, he has restrained those who rose up against them and desired to destroy them…On special occasions, some have endured death for the sake of Christianity, and those individuals can be easily numbered. However, God has not permitted the whole nation [of Christians] to be exterminated.
How is it that we have forgotten these early Christians, these ones responsible for the rapid expansion of Christianity through their example of peace and non-violence and radical generosity? How can we now think that the gospel will be served by electing "Christian" leaders and "defending American ideals" in the world? The gospel, as history has witnessed time and again, spreads the farthest when it is the most different from the world. That's why it is exploding in China and Sudan and other places where it is persecuted: because the radical difference between the world and the church can be clearly seen.
We as a church have legitimized ourselves in America. In order to see revival and renewal, we must de-legitimize ourselves, divorce ourselves from our marriage to the United States and marry once again our Bridegroom. We must come out of the military and the government, those earthly powers, and establish ourselves once more as those who love: both each other and their neighbors. We must cease to pledge allegiance to a flag and pledge allegiance to our Savior alone. If we're married to an earthly power, we cannot freely serve God.
Why did the Puritan movement that began the United States die out? For all its focus on the Scriptures and its understanding of what the Word taught, they tried to create an earthly power structure to enforce its practice. It created, as Constantine did when he made Christianity the official religion of Rome, a group of those who claimed faith as a way of gaining power and control. But it was the Puritans who, with their "Christian" government, began the genocide against their neighbors the Indians, (Only Roger Williams, the man who purchased Rhode Island from the Indians and made it a place of religious freedom and community, got it right.) And it was the popes - pseudo-religious emperors - who began the Crusades against their Muslim neighbors. And now, it is a "Christian" president who has begun a war on terror (as if killing those willing to give their lives for their cause will somehow deter them from contuing to kill). Since Constantine, the seduction of seeking influence through worldly means has strangled the church's power in the world. This is not the way of Jesus. This is not how He meant to have us live. By buying into the world's system, we have compromised ourselves mightily.
Christianity is the way of upside-down thinking: to gain our lives, we must lose them. To become the greatest, we must become the least. And in order to gain influence in the world, we must give it up. Our duty is to love God and our neighbors. Our duty is to sell all our possessions, give to the poor, and follow Jesus. If we do these things, we will see an unprecedented revival.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Sunday, March 16, 2008
I do, however, have no small amount of trepidation. Last season I had very high hopes for this year's outfield. With Ichiro in center, Jose Guillen in right and maybe Adam Jones in left, (with Raul Ibanez DH'ing) it would have been a fantastic trifecta of blazingly powerful arms in the outfield. Now with the departure of both Adam and Jose, our outfield looks rather bleak. I am not at all impressed with the addition of Brad Wilkerson, and would far rather see Mike Morse (who's having a very hot spring, for whatever that's worth) playing right than Wilkerson. Morse has paid his dues, I think, and am sure he's every bit as good, if not far better, than Mr. Wilkerson.
That being said, I'm very excited about their starting lineup. Last year it was dismal; this year it looks to be amazing. And, thanks to my loving wife who got me the best birthday present ever, I'll have a chance to see the two A-listers pitching back-to-back on March 31st and April 1st - the two first games of the season. Erik Bedard and Felix Hernandez. The ol' one-two combo. Lights out. Shut 'er down. Etc. I'm pumped.
And you heard it here first (or maybe not, who knows): Richie Sexson - .265, 45, 130. That's right.
And Beltre (who, by the way, has quickly become my favorite player who currently wears the blue-and-teal) will get the Gold Glove again this year.
And we'll win the West, and get to the AL Championship Series.
(And I'm more than willing to eat my words. I do every year, and I'm starting to enjoy the taste. Eternal optimism tastes a lot like chicken, actually.)
Friday, March 14, 2008
pressure that wears,
corrodes your surfaces, scrapes away
skin, tissue with little discretion
through nothing more than
My skin cracks, chafed by
the shaving , screeding - am I
honed, or hewed? There's
differences, and I have
A right to know. Don't I?
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
To serve in the armed forces, you must sign away rights and swear to follow orders. You must agree to do whatever you are told whenever you are told to do it. This seems a direct contradiction to what we as Christians are called to be and do. We are called to be in submission to the will of God, not man, and to sign away conscience and offer blind submission to the will of a man-made authority is utterly opposed to this. What does a Christian do if faced with the very possible scenario of being ordered to do something that would violate conscience, yet if not done, would cost lives of comrades? It's an impossible situation, one which could and probably has been faced before. What would a Christian do at Abu Ghraib, or Guantanamo, if asked to torture a detainee? What if they are ordered to target civilians? The list of possible situations in which a Christian would be asked to violate conscience could continue endlessly.
It's true that we live in a country that, by the grace of God, follows military procedures that are far more humane and decent than many of the enemies they face, but that doesn't mean it's perfect, or even close to flawless, as this current war has exemplified. The examples of torture and other human rights violations that have been committed by U.S. troops serve as a warning to any Christian who would consider giving over their lives to this organization.
I don't want to dishonor the very godly men who have in the past served in the military, my grandfather included, and I certainly don't want to imply that they sinned in volunteering their lives in such a way. But part of me wonders why a person would feel more deeply called to serve their country in that way rather than to commit their lives with the same kind of dedication to the furthering of the gospel.
And I don't say that to imply that a person commited to service in the military has no thought to the gospel, and I am sure there are many stories of men and women who have served in the armed forces and gone on to commit their lives to missions. But it seems to me a tragic mistake to feel so called to defend man-made geographical boundaries and laws when one has been called to something far greater, when one is a citizen of a far better, eternal kingdom that we should be devoted to building. Why would you then submit your life and conscience to the violent defense of these borders and laws, when the gospel - of love, of peace, of justice - calls us to defend the poor and the widows among us? If only those Christians who feel so convicted of the need for their service in the military felt the same kind of conviction to devoting their lives to furthering the gospel.
Although I hate to call myself a pacifist, I'd have to say it's true - I think it's wrong to take lives. Any lives. I think it's not our place. And I can't pretend to have the application of that conviction figured out, because I don't know how a government would work out the principle of turning the other cheek, nor am I entirely sure it should. But I do have to wonder what would happen if it did - if a government were to stop trying to repay evil for evil, and instead turn to doing good. What would happen if instead of invading Iraq and Afghanistan, we tried building schools and hospitals and sending missionaries instead? There would have been a very different response to us, I guarantee. The problem would be to get people to see the sense in such a non-violent approach. But have we learned nothing from Gandhi, King, the early church? Non-violence and turning the other cheek works. Peace won't be spread through military might.