Posts Tagged ‘calm

02
Sep
20

Time for a jolt?

As a child of the 60s, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about protests. 

Granted, most of my participation in the anti-war or civil rights protests of that era consisted of watching them on TV from the safety of my parent’s living room. 

Then again, there was that one time when five or six of my friends and I “took over” the roof of the administration building on our college campus for a few hours in order to protest the Vietnam War. 

The quotation marks around the words “took over” in that last sentence stem from the fact that no one really seemed to much mind us being up on the roof of the admin building. They studiously ignored our chanting and passionate singing of “We Shall Overcome.” We maintained that righteous rooftop vigil right up until it was time to head home and finish the term papers that were due the next day. 

While it is true that I was personally a bit of a protest weenie, I see real value in taking a grievance to the streets. I believe that the Vietnam War might have dragged on for years longer had it not been for those anti-war peaceniks. The struggle for civil rights – though far from resolved even today – might not have gained even token footholds without the people who were willing to gather publicly and express their collective outrage at America’s Jim Crow status quo.

As I think about protestors, I also think about the Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire… the young man in Beijing (and his friends) who faced down tanks in Tiananmen Square… and of Nelson Mandela sitting alone in a South African jail cell for 27 years.

At the time most of these people were labeled extremists… kooks… dangerous radicals. So-called reasonable people denounced their tactics as wholly unnecessary. They urged calm, cogent conversation as the preferred way to solve society’s problems. 

But as history has demonstrated again and again, calm, cogent conversation doesn’t always move the needle. Sometimes, it takes an abrupt JOLT!

As it turns out, no one understood the strategic use of the abrupt JOLT quite as well as Jesus of Nazareth. He employed it regularly in the rhetorical technique known as “prophetic hyperbole.” A great example shows up in Mark’s gospel where we read these jolting words: “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.” (Mark 9:43-45, NRSV). 

Does he really mean people should cut off their own hands or feet? 

Or when he told the rich young man that salvation meant selling everything he owned, giving the money to the poor and following him, did he mean that literally?

My guess would be that Jesus didn’t really intend for his words in Mark to be taken as a literal command. In the other one, maybe he did. But maybe not. 

You see, Jesus was a revolutionary. He came to turn the status quo of the world upside down. He did not come for calm, reasoned discussions. He came to instigate radical, top-to-bottom life change. 

In fact, when this man – sometimes called the Prince of Peace – talked about his earthly mission in Luke’s gospel he said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:51, NRSV). 

Jesus sought to WAKE PEOPLE UP! To shake them from their complacency! To stress the urgency of the moment. 

Please understand… I am not saying that the people taking violently to the streets today are shining examples of Christ-like behavior. I have no insight into their hearts or minds. Many, I feel certain, are interested only in mayhem and destruction. 

What I AM saying is that sometimes the world finds itself in a place where a good, old-fashioned JOLT of prophetic hyperbole is exactly what the doctor ordered. 

What do you think… is this that kind of time? 

06
Jun
20

Agents of Change

Fists upIt is no startling revelation to say that we are in a time my friend Max would have referred to as, “… a yeasty moment.”

Something is bubbling. Strong, unseen forces are at work, above and below the surface. Change is afoot everywhere you look. I walk apprehensively as the ground seems to buckle and surge with every step I take.

THE GIVEN: Life on this planet will not be the same on the other side of whatever-this-is as it was before. Hard truths are being voiced. Ancient wounds are being uncovered. Old, solid, accepted solutions are being exposed for what they really are: defense mechanisms for an oppressive status quo.

There will be no “the way it used to be” to go back to. It was lost in the fire.

All of which makes me ask: how does authentic change happen in the world? And when I say CHANGE, I mean lasting, elemental, paradigm-shifting change. BC/AD-level stuff.

Sometimes change is violent… sudden and unavoidable. Mount St. Helens blows up and redefines an entire part of the map.

Other change – changes in the way we treat deadly diseases, for example –happens only through a creeping, glacially slow evolutionary process.

Changes in social structures and the laws that support them seem to fall somewhere between those two extremes.

Describing the process of change is easy: first comes the recognition of the need for change. That recognition grows and spreads until some empowered person (or group of people) takes the necessary and effective steps and institutes the change.

Lastly, the change leaders dig in and prepare to defend that change against the inevitable assaults from those who oppose it.

As I said, describing the process of change is easy. Carrying it out is anything but.

Thinking back, I can recall one change in my own life I made with relative speed and ease. After watching this video of a TED Talk, (Click here), I immediately decided to change the way I tied my shoes.

Just about every other change in my life has been preceded by much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth… even when I agreed the change was needed.

Right now, we are at the “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth” phase of the change in our way of being a nation. The killing of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers last week has ignited a tinderbox of rage, sweeping up even those most committed to staying on the sidelines. The brazen injustice of that act combined with the frustration of the coronavirus lockdown, the rampant loss of economic security, and an already bitterly divided electorate are all helping feed the flames engulfing our cities today.

Some of us want immediate, wholesale, revolutionary change. We spray-paint obscenities on public buildings, set dumpsters ablaze, lock arms and chant in the streets. We ignore curfew orders, police loudspeakers, and clouds of teargas, daring authorities to arrest us.

Some of us want to sit calmly at a bargaining table and rationally work out the size and shape of the change. We want to be social engineers, carefully drawing our blueprints. We disapprove of the tactics used by our boisterous sisters and brothers and wish they would stop breaking things and alienating people.

What neither of us quite seems to realize is that BOTH of these voices are needed to affect change. I have no doubt that were it not for the loud, obnoxious voices of the sit-ins, peace marches, and draft card burnings, this country might still be mired in the swamps of Viet Nam. Without the rude PETA people throwing buckets of red paint at people wearing fur coats, there might never have been any meaningful animal-welfare laws passed.

The loud voices call the moderates “sellouts.” The calmer voices call the loud ones, “radicals” and “anarchists.”

I pray that each extreme in this debate might see the vital role played by the other and that real, lasting, just change will arise from this troubling moment of national anguish.

Of course, the only real, lasting, soul-deep change in the world AND its people is the change of comes from faith in Christ. As Paul reminds us, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation…” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18, NRSV)

Praise God for change. Praise God for justice. Praise God for reconciliation.

Abundant blessings;




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