Posts Tagged ‘culture

14
Feb
20

Visions of Love

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” 

John 15:13, NRSV

Valentines DayHAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

Welcome to the day set aside on the calendar to celebrate one of history’s epic distortions of reality.

I give you Exhibit A:
SAINT VALENTINE, THE CULTURALLY SANITIZED DISTORTION: He is the pudgy, chocolate-smeared baby flying all over the world shooting arrows of irresistible infatuation into the hearts of men and women. He works a side hustle as a writer for Hallmark Cards where he spends his days penning sappy odes to eros.

And now may I present, Exhibit B:
SAINT VALENTINE, THE REALITY: He was a Roman Catholic priest who was arrested in the year 270 A.D. by Emperor Claudius II Gothicus. He was tortured, drawn, and quartered, and ultimately beheaded for his opposition to the rule of Rome. Today Valentine is known as the patron saint of lovers, epileptics, and beekeepers.

Like a lot of us today, I vote for Version #1… the distortion. If I had my ‘druthers, I’druther equate LOVE with heart-shaped Russell Stover boxes and red roses than with prison and torture.

I mean, who wouldn’t? Warm and fuzzy feels a lot better than cold and painful.

But maybe today could be a time to stop and ask ourselves – just how accurate is that vision of love – over the long haul?

People – people like the lovely Joan and I, for example – are first drawn into relationships by the quickened pulses, the fevered brows, the momentary psychosis, and the euphoric giddiness inflicted by Cupid’s first arrow.

We accept the invitation and dive more deeply into one another’s lives and hearts.

We are fascinated with what we discover about the depth, the humor, the pathos, and the texture of that other person… a person about whom we knew NOTHING until a few days ago. With each new discovery, we continue deeper and deeper on our journey into the deep recesses of The Other.

Then, at some point along the way… maybe days later, maybe years… we find ourselves at a critical cross-road. There is less novelty and more routine. A comfortable familiarity has drifted in. Quirky, adorable character traits begin to grate a little. Moon-eyes give way to morning breath.

And then suddenly, without warning, we meet the moment of sacrifice… a time to give away an item of sacred meaning so that someone else might thrive… a time to willingly embrace loss so that another might gain… a time when the scales of justice tilt wildly away from you and toward the other person.

As we stand at that critical cross-road, we are again offered the vision of the two St. Valentines.

Will it be pudgy Hallmark boy? Or the battered, beheaded priest?

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY.

(I love you, dearest Joanie. Now and forever).

19
Feb
19

Old eyes, new eyes/Brown eyes, blue eyes

Cute little girlFor at least the first week and a half afterward, it is like I had an eye transplant. Old eyes gone… a new set dropped into their place.

And then, inevitably, I realize that the old eyes have returned… slowly resuming their assigned duty. And then I stop and wonder: which one of these is real?

That is one way I would describe the experience of participating in a short-term mission trip to the developing world.

Going in, you expect unique, eye-opening, out-of-the-ordinary scenes. You are not overly shocked when you drive for miles and miles and miles and see endless vistas of poverty set among lush, tropical greenery along choppy, pitted asphalt roads.

When you walk among people who stand an average of ¾ your height because of a lifetime of chronic malnutrition, you rarely jump back in horror. This is what they told you it would be like.

Slowly, gradually, it starts to work on you. Awareness begins to dawn that THIS is the reality of life for the vast majority of your fellow earthlings. You start to grasp that the life of shopping malls, six-lane superhighways, Starbucks drive-throughs, daily mail delivery, four bedroom Dutch colonials, and Netflix is the exception, not the rule in the world.

It doesn’t come as headline breaking news when you walk the dirty, noisy, chaotic streets of the Third World and see your paradigm morphing right before your eyes.

Penney and fan clubNevertheless, I still find myself surprised when I return from Guatemala (or Haiti, or Mexico, or the Australian outback) and discover how different everything looks back home here.

I mean, it is exactly the same familiar setting I left behind last week. At yet, it is somehow surprisingly foreign.

And much to my surprise, I also realize there is something inside me that wants it to remain foreign. Justice seems to demand that I remain alert to the scandalous level of resource consumption involved in my suburban, North American lifestyle.

I really should retain the ability to be appalled at the ease with which I turn the lights on and off, the thermostat up or down, flush the toilet, turn on the tap, reach into the refrigerator (or pantry) for a bite of something, don’t fret a bit about my physical security, or the effortlessness with which I travel from place to place.

And – like I said – for about a week and a half I do.

But then I don’t. The new eyes fade and the old eyes pop right back into my head.

So what am I saying? I’m not really suggesting that we First Worlders need to walk around in a continuous cloud of guilt-ridden angst all day, bemoaning our affluent fate.

But maybe it would be a good thing for each of us to find ways to regularly come nose-to-nose with the huge economic imbalances in our world. And then maybe it would ALSO be good for us to realize that our place on the advantaged side of the ledger mostly has nothing to do with pluck, work ethic, ingenuity, or any other virtue we ascribe to ourselves.

Part of our task – I believe – is to try and avoid opening our eyes here on third base and telling ourselves the story that we hit a triple.

I think Jesus also provides us with a pretty clear set of marching orders when we do eventually wake up to our positions of advantage in the world. In the New Revised Standard translation of Luke 12:48 he says, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more, will be demanded.”

Much has been entrusted to me. Much has also been entrusted to you.

 

The key questions are: what is now demanded? And how will we (I) choose to respond?

Abundant blessings;

18
Dec
17

War? Seriously?

You have to admit, without hearing daily casualty counts it is hard to tell how the war is going.

No… I’m not talking about the war on terror, or the Afghan war, or the perpetual state of war and unrest in the Middle East.

I’m talking, of course, about the “war on Christmas” being waged throughout our fair land.

No doubt you have heard about some of the tragic losses that have been incurred by faithful, practicing Christians since the war began several years ago.war-on-christmas-decaf

WARNING: Read no further unless you have a high tolerance for graphic language and vivid descriptions of heartless, heinous acts. But here at the Bureau of Relentless Enquiry (or B.O.R.E. for short), we have it on very good authority that:

  • Elementary schools no longer stage “Christmas plays” featuring Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men and first graders dressed as sheep. Horrors!
  • Retail salespeople actually use the phrase, “Happy holidays!” when serving Christian customers in their stores. Yes! It’s true!
  • Starbucks has FREQUENTLY employed seasonal cup designs that have blatantly suggested that the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is NOT THE ONLY THING to celebrate at this time of year.
  • And…
  • Well, OK. That’s pretty much all I’ve got.

If it sounds like I am making light of this subject, you’re right.

I am.

Primarily because some of the reading I did years ago that taught me about times long ago when people who professed the Christian faith did so at their very real and unambiguous personal peril.

We are talking beatings, imprisonings, property seizings, and even killings. Not imagined personal slights and rebuffs.

No, I view the entire “war on Christmas” narrative as essentially a seasonally-adjusted expression of angst triggered by the fact that we live today in a world that is less white, less America-dominated, less Judeo-Christian, and less beholden to cherished tradition than it was 50 years ago.

I am suggesting here that you should translate the cry, “Help! They’re attacking Christmas!!” as really saying, “Help! Please make the world stop changing so fast!!”

It FEELS like an attack on Christmas because it just so happens that the changing shape and complexion of the world occurs at the exact moment that Christianity – and institutional religions of ALL stripes – are experiencing times of historic decline.

I frankly suspect there are Hindu households in the world where matriarchs and patriarchs gather and wring their hands about the “War on Gangaur”. *

Honestly though: the barista who chirps, “Happy holidays!” as he hands you your half-caf, skinny vanilla mocha frappuccino is NOT actually saying, “Fie on Christmas!” in some secret, satanic barista code.

He is, rather, saying, “Hey, I know this is a special time of year for lots of people. But I am not going to blurt out something that makes an assumption about what makes it special for YOU. I am going to offer you a warm greeting that you are free to interpret as you see fit.”

He also says it because the suits at corporate TOLD him to.

The Christian, theological point of Christmas is LOVE INCARNATE. In other words, “love in the flesh”… Love with skin on… Love that ACTS. It is summed up right there at the beginning of John’s gospel where it says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among them.” (John 1:14, NRSV).

And call me a naïve, one-worlder tree-hugger if you want to, but somehow I can’t connect a manufactured kind of religious prickliness with “love in the flesh.”

Remember the stuff I said at the beginning of this piece… where I pooh-poohed the idea of a “war on Christmas”?

I take it back. There IS a war on Christmas.

It is being waged by those who work to suck the love out of the season with protests that are actually “much ado about nothing.”

Happy holidays! Merry Christmas!

JOY to all.

*Gangaur” is the colorful and one of the most important festivals of people of Rajasthan and is observed throughout the state with great fervor and devotion by women who worship Gauri, the consort of Lord Shiva during March–April. Source: Wikipedia.




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