Posts Tagged ‘justice

29
Nov
17

What kind of hope?

Hope imageSince the calendar tells me we are creeping right up on it, my thoughts this morning turn to Advent… also known to Christians throughout the world as the season of hope.

It is the time when we try to do the spiritual gymnastics of placing ourselves in the sandals of the pre-Jesus world of the ancient Near East, imagining the depth of their yearning for the arrival of God’s promised Messiah.

During this liturgical season, pastors everywhere attempt to re-create the sense of eager anticipation of “the people who walked in great darkness,” (Matthew 4:16) as they asked, “Is this the one? Is it finally happening?”

During this season we often talk about hope in broad universal terms… the hope of humanity for the ultimate triumph of good over evil… hope for the salvation of the soul of the world.

Good, solid hopes, to be sure.

But today I also find my thoughts turning to Scott.

Scott is a guy who lives somewhere in the middle of Missouri. For at least the last two years, Scott has been sending emails to a group of pastors from across the U.S. The emails are about the frustrations Scott is facing in his search for a better job… better than the current, very low-paying one he has now.

Scott is also frustrated about the health (or lack thereof) of his relationship with his wife.

Several times after first receiving his initial emails, I responded and offered suggestions and prayers. Alas, nothing seemed to work out and here Scott is, two years later with no prospects in sight and a very deflated spirit.

Scott’s email messages today have taken a very critical tone… expressing annoyance with the pastors on his list – including yours truly – that have not done enough to help him.

And so I can’t help but wonder: what does hope look like for Scott? Is it the same hope we talk about during the season of Advent? Or is it somehow a different kind of hope?

Jesus came into the world as God’s Messiah… the deliverer promised to the children of Israel during their days of futility and exile. He came to bring freedom and liberation to people long oppressed. He came to announce the beginning of the reign of God… right here, right now.

He came, quoting the prophet Isaiah, to… “bring good news to the poor…” and to, “… proclaim release to the captives.” (Luke 4:18).

But did he also come to bring Scott a better job? And if so, how?

As we enter this holy season, I would invite us to keep those two realms of hope in close dialogue with one another… the realm of eternal hope and the realm of hope in the here-and-now. I can’t tell you how at the moment, but something tells me these realms are very intimately related to each other.

Let us enter the season of Advent striving to be the people who confidently announce the Good News of God’s hope for the world… and for our very real neighbors struggling to make ends meet.

Abundant Advent blessings;

25
Sep
17

Help Me See

Anthem protest photoI need help.

I need help with a lot of things, actually.

I need help with exercise. Left to my own devices I probably wouldn’t do it with much regularity. So I exercise in a class with a group of other guys.

I need help with eating. No, not the “lifting the fork and spoon to my mouth part” of eating. More like the “eating stuff that is good for me and avoiding stuff that is bad” part.

I need help packing for trips. Or at least my wife seems to think I do. (Shhhh… I’m going to let her keep thinking that, too.)

I need help dressing. Seriously. I mean, who knew a red polo shirt doesn’t go with brown plaid cargo shorts?

Apparently everyone.

But with all those areas of life where I struggle and need “a little help from my friends,” there is one thing I definitely do not need help with; and that is my ability to live in denial of life’s difficult realities.

Throughout my life, I have had a LOT of practice with this denial skill and – as many who know me will attest. As a result, I believe I have achieved a dubious degree of mastery.

Here are just a few examples of some of life’s hard realities I have been able to deny:

  • Because of my education, I have been able to live in denial of the reality of illiteracy.
  • Because of my income and net worth, I have been able to live in denial of the reality of poverty.
  • Because of my healthy, loving family of origin, I have been able to live in denial of the reality of family dysfunction.
  • Because of my gender (male), I have been able to live in denial of the reality of sexism.
  • Because of my race (white), I have been able to live in denial of the reality of racism.

Mind you; as much as is humanly possible, I try NOT to live in denial of any of these realities of life. They exist. They put a stain on the lives of millions of our brothers and sisters. They systematically undermine the values on which our country was founded.

But then I tune into the debate around national anthem protests… and I notice that some of the voices in that debate seem to be intent on helping me continue to live in a state of denial.

  • Those voices equate taking a knee during the anthem with anti-Americanism and disloyalty to our country.
  • They suggest that professional athletes have no right to express opinions on matters outside the realm of their employment.
  • They further suggest that all of us – including members of the marginalized classes – should place loyalty to country over everything else… including our sense of justice.
  • But mostly those voices seem to be saying that we should all continue to live in denial of some fundamental inequalities in our system of legal justice, particularly as it is applied to African Americans.

Thanks, but no thanks guys. I already have too much denial in my life to atone for. I don’t need help adding more.

The help I really need now is help to open my eyes to life’s hard truths… and keeping them open; even if it stings a little.

01
Aug
17

Judgment Day

Judgment“You’re too…”

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a sentence that began this way?

If so, you know that there are an unlimited number of adjectives that can follow. Almost all of them involve some central element of your identity, measuring it against an understood standard of acceptability.

You might have heard, for example:

“You’re too short.”

“You’re too tall.”

“You’re too fat.”

“You’re too skinny.”

“You’re too weak.”

“You’re too liberal.”

“You’re too conservative.”

“You’re too country.”

“You’re too city,” or many, many other versions of the same idea.

Unfortunately, I doubt there is a single person alive who has not heard at least one “You’re too…” in their lives. The world seems to be well stocked with folks who are willing to judge and assess others.

And even though these one-liners usually maim and wound, I have received a few that I have considered helpful. In a quiet restaurant for dinner, hearing my wife say, “Honey, you’re too loud,” is of benefit to me and the other diners. “You’re too hard on him,” is useful feedback when I am being overly critical of one of my children.

But helpfulness is not usually the outcome. Most of the time, “You’re too…” comes off as an attack on a fundamental component of the divine wiring of one of God’s beloved creatures.

When you hand out one of these “scorecards” to someone, you might think you’re being helpful – like that time you told the girl she was too short to be a dancer or told me I am too goofy and irreverent to be a pastor – but it is more likely the case that your “open, honest” assessment serves only to bolster your own (perhaps) sagging ego while tearing others’ down.

But here is the question I really want to ask on this whole topic: given the fact that each of us has been stung by one of these “You’re too…”s at some point in our lives, how do we deal with them?

My personal tendency is to give them too much credence. My Myers-Briggs ENFJ personality type (Extroverted-INtuiting-Feeling-Judging) leads me to place a HIGH value on the opinions of others. I know I have blind spots concerning my own behavior and feel like I want to stay open to points of view that might be more objective than mine.

In practice, I have a really hard time hearing a “You’re too…” and blowing it off.

You might be like that, too. Or you might be exactly the opposite. You might be like our current president, for example. You might treat every word of criticism as “fake news”… not worth the air it takes to speak it.

Somewhere between those two extremes – I believe – lives a healthy “middle place.” It is a place that doesn’t brush off every critical comment as useless and irrelevant, but at the same time, is not crushed by them.

I believe there is such a place. And I further believe we arrive at that healthier place when we realize the true source of our worth. You see, when we lean toward believing that our worth comes from living up to the expectations of other people, we tend to give those opinions too much weight. We empower THEM to define US.

Conversely, when we see our intrinsic worth as completely self-generated, we seek no higher authority than that one that stares back at us from the mirror. We’re like, “Hey… whatever he says, goes.”

Grasping our worth as something bestowed upon us by a wise and loving Creator helps us keep the slings and arrows of criticism in their proper place. It helps us consider the value of each criticism… helps us graciously receive the stuff that applies, dismiss the stuff that doesn’t, and altogether avoid the temptation to “kill the messenger.”

The psalmist reminds us of the enormity of the miracle of human existence when he says this about people:

“Yet you have made them a little lower than God,

    and crowned them with glory and honor.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;

    you have put all things under their feet,

all sheep and oxen,

    and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,

    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.                        Psalm 8:5-8, NRSV

Wow! Really? Can that be ME he is talking about?

Yes… yes, it is. And you know what else is cool? He is also talking about YOU!

 

Abundant blessings;

11
Apr
17

It’s Not Fair!

Screaming child“IT’S NOT FAIR!”

If you are a parent and have NOT heard this phrase at least 65,000 times from your kids, you’re not doing it right.

In my experience, no one has a keener sense of fairness than those miniature people we call children.

They instinctively know when they have gotten the short end of the deal.

Whether the topic is serving sizes, bedtimes, Christmas presents, privileges, allowances, parental attention, or… I don’t know… exposure to sunlight; kids know what kind of distribution plan is fair and what kind is not.

And they will not hesitate to tell you when you have violated their finely honed sense of justice.

This whole subject of fairness crossed my mind the other day while watching a movie. This movie was set in Elizabethan era England. In one scene, a woman was in bed, dying of an ailment that had badly compromised her ability to breathe. The doctors gathered around sadly shaking their heads. It was clear that they were out of ideas and treatments and would soon be telling the woman’s husband about her tragic and premature death.

As it turned out, the woman was dying of influenza.

The flu.

The same flu that I drive down to my neighborhood CVS Pharmacy and get vaccinated against every October. The same flu that might – if I were to contract it somehow – put me down for three or four days.

And so I wondered: how is that fair? Just because this woman – and thousands like her – happened to be born 400 years before me, why did her life have to be cut short by something I treat with a simple shot in the arm today?

Or how is it fair, for example, that children of the early 1800s were forced to work in factories and mines and sweat shops, subjected to all kinds of horrible working conditions before we figured out it was wrong and made those practices illegal?

My own mother died in 1970 of a type of lymphoma that is readily treatable today with aggressive chemotherapy. So how is that fair?

And while it may stretch the boundaries of your imagination when I say this, it is also true that there were millions of people on this planet who lived entire lifetimes without once experiencing the miracle of the Internet.

Talk about UNFAIR!

So why all this injustice in the world?

The only answer I can come up with is the answer I used to give my own kids when they would hit me with the “It’s not fair!” complaint: “Sorry, kid… life’s just not fair.”

And it’s true. Life is not fair. In any sense of the word.

All of which brings me around to the focus of this week: the holiest week of the Christian calendar. This is the week in which Christ-followers around the world will remember and even re-create many of the events of the last week of the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth… the one we call CHRIST or Anointed.

My faith confession is that Jesus is Lord of my life… meaning he is IT. It all starts and ends with him. There is no higher authority than Jesus for my life.

I further confess faith in his life, his death, and his bodily resurrection from the grave… even though that last bit defies rational, scientific understandings of the way things work. Because faith means being OK with the idea that some things can be true even if they don’t add up scientifically.

Finally, I confess to you here today that the truth of the resurrection of Jesus totally TRANSFORMS the lives of those who “buy it” – that is, who believe in his resurrection and have faith in God’s ability to overcome all obstacles… even an obstacle as formidable as death.

The reason I believe in the transforming power of the resurrection so strongly is because I have SEEN it… with my own eyes! I have seen it in my own life! I have seen it in the lives of friends… family members… total strangers.

This all started as faith, but then became SIGHT.

Which causes me to circle back to the question of fairness. And so I ask: if the life, death, message, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has this kind of healing and transforming power (and it does!), what about the folks who never had a chance to hear it and say “YES” to it?

What about the people who lived and died before the time of Jesus? Faithful people like Moses and Abraham and Isaiah and David and Isaac and Daniel? Or even just random farmers and shopkeepers named Fred, Tom, Elizabeth, and Stuart?

What happened to them? Are their souls lost forever? And if so, how is that fair?

Or what about people living today who – for whatever reason – have never had the opportunity to hear the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Are they eternally condemned? Where is the fairness in that?

Somehow I cannot accept that the God depicted in the pages of the Bible would look at each of these folks, shrug his divine shoulders, and say, “Sorry, kid. Life’s just not fair.”

It cannot be that the God described as “… merciful and gracious,” in various places, and who, we hear, “… forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit,” and “… crowns you with steadfast love and mercy” could be satisfied to just write off countless generations because they were born at the wrong time or place.

I am sure he isn’t. And I’ll be darned if I know how it would work that THEY would get to connect with Jesus, too.

That whole topic is WAAAAYYY above my pay grade.

All I know for sure is this: Jesus Christ is alive. Forevermore. And the reality of his life holds the promise of eternal and abundant life for every single one of us.

Hallelujah!

And Happy Easter.

11
Jul
16

A Rude Awakening

clock radio

I’ll go ahead and admit it: most of the time, I really don’t like waking up.

When my alarm clock rings, it almost always intrudes on a nice, restful sleep. Sometimes its obnoxious sound comes crashing in to the middle of a wonderful, warm, fuzzy dream… leaving me to wonder if I ever did find that buried treasure, or fly to South America (under the power of my own arms, of course), or receive that Nobel Prize.

And if you have ever tried to do this, of course, you know that you can’t ever flip over, hit the “Snooze” or “Off” button on the alarm and keep on dreaming the same dream.

It is gone… like a puff of smoke.

I have also discovered that here lately there are a whole series of creaks and pops and sharp pains that arrive shortly after I begin stirring from my slumber.

And I wonder, “What that is all about? It certainly wasn’t always like that…”

In fact, you could say that waking up is just one gigantic – yet necessary – pain. It is with good reason it is sometimes referred to as “… a rude awakening.”

It is also what I sincerely hope is beginning to happen in this country right now.

In the light of the kind of week we have just endured… where we have seen new examples of over-reaction by police officers that have left black men dead and then the horrific slaughter of police officers by an angry, deranged vigilante… we can do little more than cry out in pain, anger, and confusion.

But do you think it is possible that these pains could also be the pains of a moment of long overdue awakening?

I want to be careful not to seem to be rushing to paint a smiley face onto a set of truly heartrending events. But I do want to ask whether we believe this tragic and unique moment could well have given us a rare opportunity.

Is it possible that this moment has given us an opportunity to REALLY listen… to REALLY take stock… to REALLY face up to and repent of the darkness that resides in each one of our hearts?

Is it possible that this moment in our country is similar to that moment when – after years and years of listening to your doctor blather on about how you need to exercise more, drink less, cut down on your red meat consumption, and all the other blah, blah, blah nonsense he talks about – the heart attack finally hits and you say, “OH! So THAT’S what she was talking about!”

Yes, I believe it is possible that this is indeed just such an awakening moment. But it can only actually BECOME that moment if we act on it… if we take actual steps in the direction of dropping assumptions based on ignorance and/or privilege… if we engage in conversations that seek to understand vs. conversations that seek to prove our point… if we reach out to hold the hand of a brother or sister we have previously shunned.

Some of us, I know, would really prefer to go back to sleep and pretend that alarm clock never rang. Some would love to retreat back into the comfortable recesses of the familiar and fuzzy world our exhausted brains have created for us.

But Slumberland is not where the work gets done. It is the place that lets us go on approximating reality without actually engaging it.

And so, even though it could be painful, sudden, and not exactly what we had in mind, the time is now to wake up, get busy, and do the hard work we were created to do.




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