Posts Tagged ‘liberation

19
Aug
20

Lockdown Freedom

Covid in jailYesterday kind of sucked.

It was day 4,845,154 of the Great Lockdown of 2020 (not that anyone is counting, of course).

It was another day of wearing our masks in public, another day of super-fastidious hand washing, another day of not traveling anywhere, another day of no concerts or in-person sporting events, and another day of watching our nation’s infection numbers continue to rise because this highly contagious virus has somehow become a political debate rather than a matter of scientifically-considered public health.

What made yesterday different from the other 4,845,153 days before it was smoke, haze, and 96-degree weather. The smoke and haze come from a 12,000-acre forest fire burning some 20 miles to the west of our house. The 96-degree weather comes, of course, from the calendar.

On most days, Joan and I can break up the monotony of retirement quarantine life by getting out and walking the dogs, working on projects in the yard, reading our novels, and doing some laundry. Occasionally I amuse myself by reading and/or writing a blog post or two.

But then, when the Great Outdoors decides to conspire against your skin and bronchial passages all at once, the world suddenly closes in on you. You’re trapped inside! And worse yet… you are trapped inside with all of your inside chores done!

There is suddenly nothing to do, but read, nap, chit-chat, snack and repeat.

Endlessly.

All I can say is, thank God Joan was there for the “chit-chat” part of the equation, or I’m not sure what I would have done!

For those of you who don’t know me, I happen to be a guy with a lot of excess energy zipping around through my cells. Consequently, the skills of sitting quietly and meditating are not skills that come readily to hand. I am not saying that I suddenly knew how prisoners must feel, but I kind of felt like I knew how prisoners must feel.

It was then, in the middle of my anxious thumb-twiddling, that I suddenly remembered the devotion I’d read only hours before. It was a devotion focused on the Apostle Paul’s letter to the folks who comprised the church he had started earlier in the region of Galatia.

The thematic thread that runs throughout the entire six chapters of the book of Galatians is FREEDOM. As Paul says in the first verse of the fifth chapter, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, NRSV).

The more I thought about those words, the more convinced I became that Paul was probably not talking about the freedom to go outside and walk your dogs. Or the freedom to go to a movie theater or baseball game. Or even – strange as it may seem – the freedom to go grocery shopping without a facemask.

No. He is more likely talking about an entirely different kind of freedom… something rooted much more deeply inside each one of us. Something not dependent on the circumstances we find ourselves in.

It sounds to me as if Jesus’ kind of freedom is the radical kind of freedom. It is probably more like freedom from our pasts. Freedom from our fears. Freedom from anxiety. Freedom from worry about what other people think about us. Freedom from our insecurities. Freedom from our self-doubts.

A kind of freedom – in other words – that nothing and no one can take away from us.

Not a pandemic.

Not air pollution.

Not 96-degree weather.

Not even a completed “TO DO” list.

 

Abundant blessings;

22
Apr
20

An Innocent Man

Darryl Burton photoIn 1984, a drug dealer was shot to death at a gas station in St. Louis, Missouri. The shooter was identified as a light-skinned African American male, 5’5” in height. Police immediately began looking for suspects.

Even though Darryl Burton was dark skinned and 5’10” in height, he was summoned to a police lineup. Two men came forward identifying Darryl as the murderer. Both men were awaiting trial on other charges at the time but were offered a lighter sentence if they testified that Burton was guilty.

Darryl was assigned a public defender who spent one hour with him before his trial. A jury convicted him in less than an hour. Darryl was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He was sent to the Missouri State Penitentiary, one of the most violent prisons in the U.S.

As the sentence was being pronounced in the courtroom that day, Darryl remembers thinking, “When I heard the jurors say ‘Guilty,’ I felt shock and disbelief. I just didn’t think that, in America, an innocent man could be sent to prison, especially for capital murder.”

He also clearly remembers a huge banner that hung at the entrance of the penitentiary bearing this ominous advice: “Welcome to the Missouri State Pen. Leave all your hopes, family, and dreams behind.” When I saw that banner, it deeply affected me, and I lost all hope. I hated the place, the system, and anyone that had anything to do with it. It was hell on earth – filled with violence, evil, and hate.”

Darryl spent 24 years in the Missouri State Penitentiary as an innocent man. During that time, he wrote over 600 letters protesting his innocence, all to no avail. Darryl was finally freed in 2008 when an eyewitness declared under oath, “You have the wrong man. He’s too dark.” Darryl’s entire story – and information about his ongoing work on behalf of the wrongly convicted – can be found at: https://www.darrylburton.org.

After his release from prison, Darryl enrolled in seminary, and trained to become a pastor. He now serves as an associate pastor at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas (https://www.cor.org). Church of the Resurrection the largest United Methodist Church in the U.S.

Personally, I have a hard time imagining a situation less conducive to hope than Darryl’s. Prisons – by their very design – drain the vitality from their inhabitants. Their purpose is to continually remind prisoners of the mistakes of their past and to suffocate any hopes for the future they might entertain.

I am not sure I would last 30 days in such a place, let alone 24 years.

And yet… in the midst of that literal hell on earth, Darryl somehow found hope. Besides poring over volumes in the prison law library, Darryl began reading the Bible. In its pages he discovered that, in his words, “… anger and hate can be another kind of prison.” The story of Jesus, as he hung on the cross, forgiving the people who tortured and executed him (Luke 23:34) changed his life. At that point, Darryl wrote one more letter; a letter to Jesus. In it he said, “Jesus, if you’re real and you help me get out of this place, not only will I serve you, but I’ll tell the world about you.”

Ten years before he was exonerated and physically set free, Darryl says that he was set free emotionally and spiritually.

Darryl’s story proves to me that hope can thrive in even the harshest environment. Hope is always there, like a seed lying dormant in our souls. All it takes is a little water and sunlight from God’s eternal Spirit to cause it to sprout and grow.

It is in the tough times – not the easy, breezy ones – when we discover that the breaking open of our hearts is the thing that allows that water and sunlight to come in.

Abundant blessings;

20
Dec
19

freedom-meme-2

I’m not sure Jesus could have hit the nail any more squarely on the head than when he said this.

But here is the question that keeps me awake at night:

Do you and I really want to be set free?

Or are we instead content to stay nestled in the security of a world view that comforts us, that doesn’t challenge or push us, that reinforces our stereotypes, and always puts us on the right side of every question?

11
Nov
19

No magic wand

The-Roman-Destruction-and-Rebuilding-of-Jerusalem-A14Have you ever played the “magic wand” game?

That’s the game where someone says to you, “If you could wave a magic wand and change ONE THING about your life, what would it be?”

If you are anything like me, you have a really tough time answering that question.

The list of things I would like to change about myself is at least as long as my arm. Would it be the bags under my eyes? Or my gimpy left knee? Maybe I should go with my dismal level of self-discipline at the dinner table, or the erratic nature of my prayer life.

I find the idea of choosing just one thing to be an exercise in utter futility.

If I were a citizen of Israel in the time of Jesus, my answer to the magic wand question would have sprung from my lips even before the person finished asking the question. I would probably have said something like, “I would wave that magic wand and ask that the Messiah would arrive and liberate us from these loathsome Roman oppressors.”

In just a few short weeks, the Christian part of the world will formally (and in some places EXTRAVAGANTLY) celebrate the granting of the first part of that magic wand wish. God’s Anointed Messiah did indeed arrive in Bethlehem of Judea. He came disguised as a tiny, helpless baby born in a barn to a frightened teenage mother and an older, forgiving, earthly father.

Poor people (in the guise of shepherds), rich people (in the guise of Magi from the East), and heavenly hosts stopped everything and celebrated this breaking news, headline event.

The problem was, Jesus’ birth did not accomplish the SECOND part of the magic wand wish. Meaning this Messiah’s arrival did NOT succeed in liberating Israel from Rome’s harsh political yoke.

Quite the contrary, in fact.

The historical record shows us that things actually got much worse for Israel in the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection. The ultimate defeat for Israel came in Rome’s annihilation of hundreds of Jews and the total destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in the year 70 AD, as depicted above.

For Israel – and for the world – the birth of the Messiah was indeed Good News. But it was certainly no magic wand. Jesus’ birth and ministry did absolutely nothing to change the circumstances of his world. What it DID do, however, was to absolutely transform the way his followers were able to relate to those circumstances.

I know, I know… this is really an inappropriately early time to start thinking Christmas and Advent thoughts, and so I will beg your forgiveness on that score. I suppose I have been prompted in this direction by looking around and observing a world that seems to be increasingly enamored of “magic wand solutions.” We buy fistfuls of lottery tickets, hoping that the magic wand of MONEY will help… we change jobs, spouses, hairstyles, homes, and sometimes even bodies hoping one of these magic wands will save us.

I think the Christmas story is meant to be a reminder that the “glad tidings of great joy” was not a magic wand when it first arrived on the scene.

Maybe a better idea for all of us this season would be to quiet ourselves at the side of the manger and remember that the real work of salvation was always intended to work from the inside out instead of the other way around.

Abundant blessings;

“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”(Matthew 1:21, NRSV)

09
Jan
18

Necktie Truth

Burning bushQ: When is a burning bush NOT a burning bush?

A: When it is a collapsing tie rack.

Ba-dump-bump!

Let me explain: Sunday night when I came home I was tired.

Earlier in the day, I woke up at 5:00 a.m., preached sermons at two different churches, driven an hour back to the city, and then went immediately to speak at my friend’s pre-funeral funeral event. (Which, when you think about it, is a really good idea. I would love the chance to be there in the flesh to listen to all the lovely eulogies and memories people normally don’t speak about you until your actual funeral.)

When I got home I went through the bedroom and into my closet. I was eagerly looking forward to taking off my suit and tie, slipping into a baggy sweatshirt and slippers, putting my feet up and just RELAXING.

And then suddenly – unprovoked by anything but the winds of cosmic mischief – my battery-powered, revolving tie rack crashed to the closet floor… spilling ties EVERYWHERE.

Granted, I’ve had that rack for a long time… probably long enough to explain why two of the five little plastic hooks holding it up were broken off.

But still…

For the next 30 minutes there I was – halfway undressed, trying to put the accursed device back together while digging myself out from under the tie avalanche in the middle of the closet floor.

Somewhere there in the middle of my cursing and scooping and flailing attempts to fix what was broken, a thought entered my mind. And that thought went something like this; “Well, looks like it is time to get a new tie rack. And maybe – JUST MAYBE – it doesn’t need to be a rotating tie rack capable of holding 64 different ties. MAYBE it is time to come to grips with the fact that you are in a different phase of your life where you don’t actually NEED 60-70 different ties to choose from. MAYBE you could take at least half of those and give them away!”

Yes, I had to face a hard truth: I had been hoarding neckties.

Which is a weird thing, actually, since I am not really a big fan of ties in the first place.

I finally realized that right there, in my tired, half-dressed, frustrated state of mind standing there in the closet; I had received an invitation.

I was being invited to face the music.

I was being invited to embrace the reality of the new phase my life had entered… I am not sure exactly what to call this phase, but it is definitely a phase that does not require 64 different tie choices.

Who knows, it might be time to just be totally wild, throw caution to the wind, and face the world with just 30 ties!

In all seriousness, I found that the act of sitting in the middle of that pile of ties, sorting through them and putting some in a “toss or donate” bag was an exercise that was at once sobering and liberating.

Those ties – along with many other material artifacts that populate my home I’m sure – represented a bridge to the past. They helped me say, “See… nothing has changed. I am still the same guy I was 25 years ago when I started buying those ties. I can postpone any effort to recalculate my bearings in life FOREVER! I really don’t have to face the honest-to-gosh facts of who I am and where I am.”

The best burning bushes in our lives are the ones that bring us face to face with the truth. The truth God revealed to Moses in the burning bush there on Mt. Sinai was the truth of his unique call to liberate his people (Exodus 3:7-10).

The truth Jesus revealed to the apostle Simon when he changed his name to Peter (Luke 6:14) was the truth of his rock-solid character… albeit a character buried deeply under some really shaky stuff on the surface.

Jesus hit the nail on the head when he said, “… and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32, NRSV). What he omitted from his statement was that after coming to KNOW the truth, we have to LIVE that truth.

Because sometimes truths are hard to come to grips with… just like my truth about neckties.

And so we avoid them.

Right now we are living in a time when the world is being presented with a whole bunch of truth… truth about the prevalence of sexual violence in the workplace… truth about the epidemic levels of chemical addiction… truth about the importance of character in our political leaders… truth about the alteration of the planet’s climate patterns caused by man-made pollution… and so on and so on.

These truths WILL, in fact, set us free.

But only if we embrace these truths and live them out.

Will you help me?




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