Monday, December 19, 2011

Divine Memories

It had taken longer to get there than we had imagined since the first military checkpoint had denied our entry. The bus driver said that he believed a more obscure checkpoint a few miles to the south would be more likely to let us through. As we lumbered along a deteriorated road I can remember imagining the many travelers who ventured to this region in the Judean hills so many years ago. Thankfully, the bus driver was right. We got our clearance, but not without a moment of angst as the soldier boarded the bus, his automatic weapon at the ready, and looked us over before granting passage. Our tour guide, however, was cautioned to remain with the soldiers so we continued into town without her.

The image was nothing new. Since arriving in the Holy Land, the presence of heavily armed security forces had become commonplace. The bus driver told me that since our tour guide was Israeli; the soldiers thought it was best she stayed out but that he thought the whole thing was basically stupid. “She’s perfectly safe,” he said while subtly laughing and disgustingly shaking his head. “It’s all political! A question of who’s going to be in control and they want us to know it. That’s all.”

As we pulled up in front of the ancient church, a young priest came out to meet us. His welcoming smile was a comforting blessing amid the tensions of arriving to this beleaguered city.

Entering the church was an odd experience. The small door, known as “The Door of Humility” is so small that everyone has to bow in order to enter this church. Yet even its presence is a reminder of the violent history of the region for one can see the outline of the original entrance in the wall around the door. Hundreds of years ago, the magnificent entry way was reduced to a small door to prevent looters from stealing the sacred objects from the church.

As we walked through the vast expanse of the sanctuary the light from high windows cast beams of colored light across the dusty space, giving it a strangely angelic look and the marble stone walls of this ancient hall echoed with the sounds of our footsteps. I remember a sense of awe in recognizing that this ancient church has stood for 1,480 years!

Our guide led us up to the side of the altar at the front of the church and through a door that led down a stone staircase into the sacred cave that lies below the ancient floor of this magnificent building.

The damp, musky feel of a cave permeated the atmosphere, but it was clear we were in no ordinary cave. The walls were adorned with magnificent Persian rugs and the whole place was trimmed with beautiful hanging lamps, ornate religious icons, and rich tapestries.

To the right, as we entered the sacred underground chamber, was a small alcove, only a few feet high, it looked somewhat like a fireplace except for the brilliant 14-pointed silver star inlaid in marble on the floor. I had seen the image before and was amazed that I was now gazing upon it with my own eyes.

In this small, secluded alcove in a natural cave that ancient residents used to house their animals, the star marked the spot where Christianity believes Jesus Christ was born.

We stood in silence until someone in our group started singing. “O Little Town of Bethlehem …”

In the peace of that underground chamber, suddenly it all made sense. God enters into the most contentious and stressful places of our lives to meet us as Jesus Christ.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September 11 .... Ten Years After

            The phone rang, jostling me out of bed on a morning when I was already oversleeping. My Mother’s panicked voice on the other end was my first awareness that something horrible was happening. “An airplane has hit the World Trade Center,” she said. At first, I assumed it was a minor freak accident. As we now know, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
            Minutes later, I had the TV on and watched in horror as the second plane smashed into the WTC tower and I knew the world changed forever.
            The rest of that morning was a frenzy of activity as I rushed to get to start my day while listening to NPR for the continued information of the deadly attack.  I was hanging on every word and praying for some degree of meaning, purpose, and understanding amid the chaos and confusion permeating lower Manhattan. Soon, however, my attention was pulled in different directions
            As I was leaving the house, local talk radio station called me into the stuido for a live interview about the unfolding scene in New York. Now, news reports were also coming in that the Penteagon was also a target and speculations the White House would be next were already circulating. Clearly, the whole nation was in shock and disbelief and the initial speculation was clear that Muslim terrorists may be the blame. Since I had done extensive study on Middle Eastern affairs and had personal relationships with Middle Eastern Arabs, the radio host wanted my professional commentary on the unfolding events.
            As I was concluding my radio remarks, the hospital called and requested my services to attend the tragic death of a child in the emergency room and comfort the grieving family. As I was arriving at the hospital parking lot, I listened horrifically to the live reports of the first tower collapsing. While I was praying with the grieving mother in the emergency room, an Emergency Room staff shouted out, “The second tower collapsed.” The world was truly changed. 
            It would be days before my beleaguered spirit came to terms with the catastrophe of that day. Without exception, it was a morning that has altered history forever.
            Yet, the way we choose to remember that tragic day will also impact history—for the positive or negative—depending on how we choose to remember.
            Amid the catastrophic human casualties that September morning ten years ago were peace, love, and authentic religious faith.
            As fear, hatred, and anger took over in the wake of the horrific 9-11 attacks, the terrorists won new victories. Likewise, as these destructive and dehumanizing emotions fueled the post 9-11 rage, both Christianity and Islam—religions that in their authenticity stand for peace—were largely usurped with by a religiosity of retaliation, intolerance, violence and fear.
            Now, nearly ten years later, not much has changed. Muslims continue to suffer unjust and inappropriate discrimination at the hands of professed Christians. Hatred and mistrust continue to prevent faithful dialogue, and efforts to seek peace, healing, and restoration. War rages on in Iraq and Afghanistan and innocent lives perish daily amid the violence and veracious human indignity of incivility and hate.
            Perhaps the most Christian way to remember the 10 year anniversary of September 11 is to commit ourselves to prayer, peace, understanding, and overcoming the evil of this world with the love God has for all, including those who we do not like or clearly understand— and yes, even those who truly hate us!
            These are challenging words that are frequently challenged under the self-protectionist guise of practicality and rationalizations of justified hatred. Yet, in ten years, what has such hatred gained us? A costly decade of warfare that significantly contributed to the collapse of the global economy? The untimely deaths of thousands of American soldiers?  A political system bitterly divided—dare I say hopelessly crippled in partisan rancor? Unrelenting hostility between Muslims and Christians?
            Honestly, I fear that the ongoing hatred, hostility, warfare, violence, and bitter distrust that has permeated our post 9-11 world has done more to fester the bitter wounds of that September morning and have prevented genuine, Godly healing! Perhaps our anniversary remembrances this year can change that.
            9-11 changed the world, but it need not change how the Gospel calls us to respond to the world. Perhaps, as we remember in the days to come, we can make it our focus to remember God’s priority for peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness. Then, on the 20th anniversary of this tragic moment in human history, we will have proven that peace and love truly are the means to healing.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Silent Tears

            She cried in secret. Her tears were known only to her, as were the bruises and deep emotional scars. In her pain she felt that even God had abandoned her. After all, from all that she had been told, her failures as a woman were as much a disappointment to God as they were to the man who had to beat her into submission.
            Many would wonder why any woman would stay in such a situation. In fact, part of the shame built into her through years of cruel words and distorted interpretations of the Bible leave her in such fear of judgment on the outside that it acts like a prison wall keeping her inside.
            There are those at her church who would help, but over the years, he’s taught her they can’t be trusted and are all really evil. When her friends begin to question or become aware of her pain, his demanding and punitive voice arises in her mind reminding her how dangerous and selfish those women are. Knowing the wrath she must face if they get involved, she has distanced herself from them as well.
            She has left three times before. In every case, the strong emotional manipulation was so strong, she felt safer in the torture chamber of her abusive marriage than living in the fear he had instilled in her. So, in every case she went back. Statistically, she’ll probably leave four more times before she finds the strength to do it for good or is killed in her own home.
            As tragic as her story is, it pales in comparison to the tragic reality that she is only one of countless women who struggle with the harsh reality of abusive relationships. And, not only is she desperately caught up in this deadly cycle of violence, her children are being raised in a this toxic environment. If statistical patterns play out into a new generation, her children will grow up to be abusers or victims in their own adult households and cement the poison into another generation.
            This is not God’s will! In Carlsbad there are countless silent victims of domestic violence every day! Some break free. A few stay with friends or other safe houses. Many seek safe shelter at the Carlsbad Battered Family Shelter. For most, their story is too painful to tell here, yet is also frighteningly real.
            The Carlsbad Battered Family Shelter is one organization that is making a positive difference in the lives of these women. For the staff who works there, it is never just a job, but rather a calling to ministry to the ones most in need of God’s tender, loving touch. Hundreds of women, children, and even a few victimized men have found safety, hope, and grace within the walls of the shelter.
            This story, fortunately, has a happy ending. It took her two more tries, but on the final time she left him, she was able to seek shelter. The loving compassion of the staff and educational supports offered through the shelter gave her the strength and confidence she needed to move on. Today she is on her own and raising her children in the safety and security of her own home. Her abuser is receiving classes designed to break his cycle of violence. It is a happy ending because you supported the Carlsbad Battered Family Shelter. 
              Only when we all stand up in opposition to this horrible sin of Domestic Violence will there be an end to the scourge of silent tears that stream down the faces of too many of our neighbors. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Let's Make it a Beautiful day in the Neighborhood

            Most adults today have some memory of the gentle neighborhood friend of everyone, Mr. Rogers “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” officially premiered to a national audience in 1967 left a lasting mark on children’s television and millions of people—including myself—who grew up with his timeless simplicity and Godly grace.
            Fred Rogers’ quiet demeanor and gentle presence became a incredible manifestation of God’s quiet and unpretentious grace remains a lasting legacy of the TV show.
            Part of the genuine quality of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was the incredible sense of God’s grace embodied by Fred Rogers himself. He was an ordained Presbyterian minister and deeply devoted man of quiet, simple, Christian faith. Although he never preached religion on his television show, it radiated Christian principles of love, care, respect, honesty, sincerity, and authenticity in ways that were far greater than many ministers can ever hope to achieve.
            In his own words, Fred Rogers choose to use the incredible medium of television for “the broadcasting of grace throughout the land.” When awarded the Lifetime Achievement Emmy award in 1998, the ever-humble Mr. Rogers simply invited the teary-eyed audience to think of the special ones who “have loved us into being,” and dedicated silence during his acceptance speech to honor those people. It was simply another vivid example of God’s grace.  
            Mr. Rogers once said, “We’ve all been on a journey, each one of us, and if we can be sensitive to the person who happens to be our neighbor that to me the greatest challenge, as well as the greatest pleasure. Because if you are trusted and people will allow you to share their inner garden with them, what greater gift.”  
            He saw his role as a man of faith who had access to the power of the Television medium as a tremendous responsibility to embody grace, respect, and love. Likewise, he was very intentional about communicating God’s unquenchable love for everyone in genuine and loving terms that were not laden with religious language or ritual.
            As Christians, there is a lot we can learn from this simple man of profound and powerful faith who saw God’s grace as something to be freely and lovingly offered rather than dogmatically preached or exclusively withheld from people not like us!
            One particular lesson I learned from growing up with Mr. Rogers on my television every day was that every person is valuable, unique, special, and deserving of love! I think of the horrific ways in which many people are excluded by the church because of who they are, what they believe, how they look, how they live life, or with whom they choose to share life. 
              How many people see the cross, not as an instrument of grace, but as a symbol of exclusion or oppression because of how Christians have used it as a weapon of intolerance and hatred? Gay or straight, black or white, tall or short, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, doesn't matter to God! What matters is love and it is precicely that love that was embodied in Mr. Rogers' message of grace. 
            Another lesson is in the genuine and unpretentious way Mr. Rogers truly communicated God’s incredible love and grace without ever preaching or reveling in religious language, ritual, or theology. He just related in ways that communicated simple and honest compassion for all of God’s children.
    There is a time to stand up and preach a strong message. I'm not advocating that all us preachers take off our shoes, zip up a sweater, and talk real slow. But when the message we proclaim spends more time condeming than it does building up, where is the Christianity in that? When we spend more time shaming people out of God's grace than loving people into God's grace, the One True God is lost in our own presumptive arrogance. Thankfully, Mr. Rogers consistently represented a better way! 
            Perhaps we all could take a page from the life and legacy of the late Fred Rogers. What if we took a step back from our doctrines, dogmatic sermons, and firmly held reasons why we believe some people are just not welcome in God’s love, and embraced them with the simple grace exemplified in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood?
            It seems to me that that approach may be a lot more like Jesus than many may be willing to admit! Yet, if we embraced the ministry of Jesus Christ as Fred Rogers did for his entire adult life, wouldn’t it be a much more beautiful day in the neighborhood? 

Oh ... and for the record, I grew up with Mr. Rogers on my television every day but I have never had the honor of meeting the Late Fred Rogers, nor is there any family tie of which I am aware. Same name, but not the same clan. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blessing Israel?

            President Barak Obama has launched the State of Israel into a very bright media and political spotlight. Clearly there will be a vast number of political implications stemming from the President’s speech a week ago and the news media has wasted no time in analyzing these.

            The President’s remarks also bring theological and religious questions to the surface. The Holy Land carries with it very profound religious concerns. They are very real and very controversial—even among devoted and faithful Christians!

            The Bible explicitly states that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed (Genesis 12:3). Beginning some 130 years ago, a few Christians interpreted blessing to mean faithful followers of Christ must ensure the sovereignty and exclusivity of the Jewish State. Following the horrific evil of the Holocaust in WWII, this Christian belief became increasingly popular and was galvanized in the historic establishment of Israel in 1948.

            The military and political history of Israel in the past 63 years demonstrates tremendous economic and industrial progress along with horrific violence, controversial military domination, open aggression, and hideous discrimination against some of the Arab residents of the region.

            Supporters of Israel are quick to point out that the nation’s strong military and defensive tactics are necessary to defend her citizenry against a largely hostile Muslim dominance in the Middle East—and with good reason. Much of the violence that has permeated the Holy Land is perpetuated against Israel by strong religiously and politically motivated factions that despise Israel’s very existence.

            Many Christians see the blessing of Israel in a context of upholding and affirming Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation, but cannot extend that blessing to a national policy that continually violates international laws by deliberately occupying the Palestinian territories and perpetually forces whole communities into the sort of desperate situation that actually fuels violent extremism in the form of outraged retaliation.

            This perspective understands our role as Christians as one of peacemakers and advocates for the grace, peace, and love embodied in Jesus Christ. Therefore, blessing Israel does not come in the form of turning a blind eye to the nation’s acts of aggression and actions that only fuel international tensions and help enflame religious passions throughout the Middle East. Rather, blessing Israel calls on the followers of Jesus Christ to work collectively with all residents of the Holy Land—Israeli Jews, Arab Muslims, and Arab Christians—to broker a meaningful and lasting peace that honors all three monotheistic faiths and their right to exist.

            Beyond the questions of blessing or cursing the State of Israel, there are perhaps far more significant questions raised by the continuing tension in the Holy Land—Questions for which there are no easy answers! Unfortunately, the simplistic and unilateral responses seem only to fuel more violence. As Christians, we clearly will not agree with each other on what blessing Israel means or what God requires of us in regards to the Holy Land. (Adding to the fury is the tragic reality that there are Christians on both sides of the debate who absolutely believe that all Christians must adhere to a specific theology regarding Israel thus making faithful dialogue among believers almost impossible.)

           While politicians debate the future of the Holy Land, perhaps we Christians would do well to come together, learn the broad history—taking into consideration Muslim, Jewish, and Christian interpretations of that history—and prayerfully work for a genuine peace that truly honors God and the children of God who call the Holy Land home! 

           Perhaps the first big challenge is separating ourselves from the knee-jerk, visceral, and emotional reactions that so frequently arise any time the subject of our national policy regarding Israel is mentioned. Let's be honest--Israel (and the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict) is a volatile issue for many. It is way too easy to hide behind our preconceived assumptions of what we know we already believe about the Holy Land and the inhabitants wrangling over the small piece of real estate. 


Monday, May 2, 2011

Celebrating the Death of Bin Laden

Osama Bin Laden is dead. As Commander in Chief, the President and Special Forces under his command are to be commended for eliminating this man’s ability to deal in death and destruction. What happens to Bin Laden now is in God’s hands and I am content to keep it that way. What is in question now is how we, as a Nation, respond to this news.

             It is one thing to breathe a sigh of relief that one of the most dangerous men in modern history is dead and can no longer unleash his terroristic evil on the world. It is another thing to turn death into a celebration. Understandably pleased at the news of Bin Laden’s demise, revelers have gathered across the country and most notably in front of the White House and at Ground Zero.

            Rejoicing in spilled blood and celebrating the finality of death was fuel behind much of what drove Bin Laden and his terrorist organization. Images of revelers dancing in the street rejoicing in the senseless slaughter of thousands on 9-11 were horrible to watch. Yet, I also recall that such media images served to galvanize American resolve for justice and retribution.

            The retribution began nearly a month later when, on October 7, 2001, US forces launched Operation Enduring Freedom. It continued this weekend when the elusive Bin Laden was finally killed. It will likely continue for some time as the beleaguered Al Qaida regime struggles to regain its legitimacy without its spiritual leader.

            From a political perspective, massive celebrations and mindless dancing in the streets reveling at the death of a spiritual leader—albeit one deemed by most Muslims and Christians and evil spiritual leader—will do nothing but embolden his followers.

            From a spiritual perspective, the reality may be even more serious. As a Christian, my mind turns to King David of the Bible. When faced with the death of his arch enemy, the psychotic and destructive King Saul, David did not rejoice or revel in his death. Rather he mourned the fact that conflict had risen to the level where death was the only solution. Rather than see political killing as a point of celebration, David recognized it for what it truly was—a stain on the integrity of the human spirit and affront to that which was created in God’s image.

            As a nation, the most dignified and faithful response we can have to the reality of Bin Laden’s death is somber appreciation for what has happened. Celebratory antics may feel good in the moment but they run the danger of making us no better than the man whose life was dedicated to reveling in the deaths of others.

            Bin Laden is dead. Rather than celebrating his demise with an arrogant presumptive nature that we are lords over death, it is now time to come to prayer as a Nation and collectively seek God’s guidance to work for a world where death is no longer necessary to bring peace. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter's over ... now what?

            So, the tomb is empty and Jesus rose from the dead. Now what?

            I’ll tell you what. It is Tuesday morning and the four day weekend holiday for the schools is over. Most businesses were open yesterday and by today the old routine is back in full swing. But, considering the Easter Weekend past, is anything different?

            One of the dangers of being nearly 2,000 years removed from the pivotal miracle of Christianity is that it can be really easy to take it for granted. The Easter pageantry broke forth Easter morning in full splendor. Church attendance had its usual Easter increase. The triumphant story of the Empty Tomb was told. Joyously triumphant proclamations of “He is Risen” filled church worship liturgies. Truly, it was a wonderful Easter Sunday!

            Was anything different on Monday morning? Is today just like any other Tuesday? Will the remainder of the week be just like any other week?
            How many Christians will see the world through transformed and renewed eyes after Easter? How many Christians rise from the penitent customs of Lent to live a transformed life in the Resurrected Christ? How many Christians walk away from the deadly and life-destroying behaviors just as Christ walked away from the empty tomb never to return again?

            Is it harsh to suggest that if Easter is merely a pageant of celebration that does not change lives we have missed the whole point of Christ’s resurrection? 

            Although the four Gospel accounts of Christ’s resurrection share uniquely different details about that miraculous morning so many years ago, they all contain a message of profound action. Witnesses of this incredible miracle are expected to alert a world that has been radically and permanently changed.

            In many ways the worship and pageantry of Easter Sunday in the various traditions and customs of our churches are means by which we too can share in the wonder, surprise, and awe of that first Easter morning. Yet, in so doing, the same expectation placed before those who were the first to know of God’s most incredible miracle extends to all of us who experience the miracle anew in worship tomorrow morning!

            Romans 6:2 further illustrates this profound truth. Essentially, Paul challenges us with the idea that if, in Christ and through the annual remembrance of his triumphant resurrection, we proclaim to be dead to sin, why then would we choose to continue living in sin?

            So the challenge lies before all of us! As this week progresses will the only legacy of Easter be an unusual quantity of hard boiled eggs and baskets filled with candy? Or, will the legacy of Easter’s celebration be lives so radically transformed that the whole world is a new and better place to live?

            Christ has made the potential for transformation a reality. Yet the choice is ours alone. Just as God choose to give life to Jesus, let us also choose that life and all the transformation that comes with it! 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Fukushima and the Future of Nuclear Energy

My Grandfather, the late R.C. Rogers was a very wise and intuitive man. An electrician by trade, he was stationed with the Navy in the South Pacific in August of 1945 when atomic weaponry brought about the end to World War II. For the remainder of his life, Granddad credited the Bomb with saving his life. Yet he also regretted it.

My father recalls that a few years after Granddad retuned from the war, he would say that he regretted the Atomic Bomb because he believed the incredible power and potential of nuclear energy would forever be tainted because it was introduced to the world through the destructive power of atomic weaponry.

Now, some 66 years after Japan bore the destructive power of the atom in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the island nation has new challenges brought on by the catastrophe at Fukushima. Combine the ghastly images of atomic destruction from World War II with the vivid memories of 1979’s Three Mile Island accident and the 1986 Chernobyl Disaster; there is good reason why the world is taking a critical look at the nuclear industry.

It is still too soon to evaluate the long-term effect of the Fukushima crisis but the historical evidence of the past can really help us in the debate.

In 2000 the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) released the comprehensive results of a long-term study following Chernobyl. The only fatalities directly attributed to radiation exposure were limited to employees and first responders who came in nearly direct contact with the burning nuclear reactor during the emergency or participated in immediate cleanup efforts.

As of 2005, only 50 total deaths were directly attributed to these exposures. This exceptionally low death rate stood in stark contrast to estimates of hundreds of thousands of presumed deaths or acute illnesses believed to be brought on by the disaster. The lead researcher, Dr. Fred A. Mettler Jr. determined that the greatest danger resulting from the accident was fear and politically motivated propaganda; not radiation.

Nuclear power plants do possess a significant danger. Yet science and medical research indicate that danger may not be as great as politics and fear may dictate they should be.

A second point to consider in the debate surrounding the safety of nuclear energy is the role modern technology and research play in the industry. The earliest safety feature in nuclear history was nothing more than a rope and an axe. In 1942 Nuclear pioneer Enrico Fermi initiated the world’s first controlled nuclear reaction—the birth of the nuclear power industry. In the event they lost control of the reactor, he had a man stationed with an axe ready to cut the rope that would lower cadmium rods into the reactor to stop the reaction.

Today, with 65 years of incredible research and development behind us, nuclear safety is greater than it has ever been. The Fukushima plant was actually designed with incredible safety features. The fact that it was subjected to one of the worst earthquakes and tsunamis on record is significant. For all the problems it has today, we must remember what it had to endure! We also need to consider that it was originally designed with technology that is now 40 years old. Any plant designed and built today would have significantly advanced safety designs and would have likely survived even the March 11 disaster.

The truth is that Nuclear Energy will always contain danger and the potential of a nuclear accident is a reality that regulators and engineers will always need to consider. Fear, irrational politics, and distorted propaganda are perhaps the greatest dangers when it comes to nuclear. The industry remains virtually untouchable as the best source for clean, efficient, environmentally friendly, and inexpensive power to serve a world thirsting for more and more energy.

Grandfather was wise beyond his years. That electrician rightly predicted that fear would inhibit the reasonable development of a much-needed industry. Three Mile Island proved his fears true as our nation foolishly put a halt to nuclear development—a mistake we are just now on the verge of correcting! As the world debates Fukushima and the future of the nuclear industry in light of this latest disaster, let us all hope that reason, science, and objectivity will prevail where once fear, propaganda, and irrational politics once dominated. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Worship-full Work

            In my lifetime I have had a number of different jobs. In High School I bagged groceries for Furr’s Supermarket. I made hamburgers and breakfast biscuits for McDonald’s. I helped take care of children at the YMCA’s summer day camp program. I also sold flavored popcorn and had a few gigs as a professional clown.
            In college I operated remote cameras for distance learning through KENW-TV. As an intern at KOB-TV I co-produced television morning news. I also worked as a janitor for the Wesley Foundation.
Since my college days I have sold cars for two different dealerships and radio advertising for KSEL. Later I became a disk jockey for the station (back in the days when local radio station still played vinyl records and had real DJ’s on site).
             I enlisted in the US Coast Guard and spent quite a bit of time as a boat crewman, groundskeeper and janitor, and eventually trained as a cook and finished my military career on board the USCGC Midgett.
            All of that was before I entered seminary and started working in Christian ministry. Aside from my pastoral job, I also raise money for CARC and have worked in hospice chaplaincy and taught college classes. And those are just the jobs that I have been paid to do.
            In my life I have volunteered to serve on boards, cook food, care for the elderly, provide law enforcement and hospital chaplaincy services, and worked with several different clubs, civic organizations, and charitable causes.
            As with any job—volunteer or paid—there are times that I really enjoy the work I am tasked to do. Likewise, there are times when I really do not like it much at all. Yet, regardless of how much I may or may not like a particular task at hand, there is one thought that stays in my mind.
      Colossians 3:17 reads, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” This simple command from the apostle Paul comes at the end of a larger section of the letter that speaks to the way we conduct ourselves while living the Christian life.
      I raise the raise the issue of my diverse work history in the context of Colossians for one particularly important point. I have never had a bad job! Don’t get me wrong, I have had to do work that I don’t particularly enjoy at times. There have been times when I have not been happy with my job. But on the whole, I have never had a bad job.
      The key factor is one of attitude. I find that attitude through my Christian faith. Yet the attitude determines the outcome!
      Perhaps the most important factor, for me, is the realization that if I am doing something “in the name of the Lord Jesus,” it is a sacred act! I don’t care if I am preparing to preach a sermon or scrubbing greasy gunk out of a galley pan on the ship. It is sacred work if it is being done in God’s name. Then, suddenly, the value, purpose, direction, and meaning of the labor changes for the better!
      Truthfully, God needs all of the labors that make up our world. There is no job too mundane to be done in God’s name because the one performing the task is created in God’s image, called very good, and called to be a beacon of God’s light in the workplace.
      Think, for a moment, about how this makes profound differences in the workplace. The list is much longer than what I have here, but these are the top 10 reasons why working in God’s name makes a profound, positive, and meaningful difference in the workplace.

1.      God’s priority for equality, justice, fairness, and affirmation becomes a guiding principle of the workplace
2.      God is a part of what we are doing so we have access to God’s wisdom in the process.
3.      Since God truly deserves our very best, it is easier to give our best at all times.
4.      When the stupid stuff starts to get us down, we are less likely to lose sight of the higher purpose
5.      Our work is no longer a separate and secular endeavor that cuts us off from worshipping God. Rather, our work becomes yet another means to worship and glorify God.

So, today as we engage the daily chores of our life’s work—paid or unpaid—let us all honor God in the labors of our lives!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Who are We and What are we Supposed to do?

        Christians today need to be challenged with two questions.

1. Who are we?

2. What is God calling—or expecting—us to do?

They are not easy questions to ask or answer, but they are vital questions to consider.
        In writing about the ludicrous nature of some organizational statements of purpose, the late Peter Drucker said of hospitals that the very worst thing they could do is say that they are in the business of providing health care. The problem is, in Drucker’s analysis that hospitals should not be trying to take care of health. Instead, hospitals need to see themselves in the business of caring for people who are experiencing a crisis in health. It is people in crisis, not health care, that matters!
        When Jesus was challenged by those in authority that his disciples were not playing by the established rules and not doing things that were religiously appropriate, he countered their challenge by calling into question their assumptions of who they were and what their priorities truly were. The people had the outward appearance of dedicated religious individuals, but the thin façade of religiosity was inadequate to meet the challenges that come with living faithfully in the world.
        Drucker’s business analysis also looked at one of the most monumental failures in modern industrial and commercial history—the Ford Edsel. It was, perhaps the most thoroughly researched, engineered, and designed automobile of its day. On paper, it should have been the most successful product to ever roll off of a Ford assembly line. It’s failure, according to Drucker, centered in the fact that Edsel’s quality and cutting-edge technology existed only in the product, but not in the hearts and passions of Ford. A doom’s day mentality settled in at Ford and the greatest automobile ever designed, failed for lack of passion and devotion.
        So, as a person dedicated to the Christian faith, I must ask the questions: Who are we and what are we called to do?
        Who are we? First and foremost, we are children of our loving and living God as revealed in Jesus Christ. While that answer may seem trite to some and an oversimplification to others, it is perhaps the most profound statement we can make. We are part of God’s family. All we are and all we do reflects our understanding of what it means to be part of that family.
What are we called and empowered to do? We are a worshipping community of faith where all people grow in God’s grace, find acceptance and forgiveness in God’s love, are formed through Biblical witness, and are equipped for ministry in Jesus Christ.
It is important that we keep these points in the forefront of our actions for ministry. Rules, traditions, and customs have their place, but they are not the reason we exist as a congregation in Jesus Christ. Like the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus’ day, the danger we face is that of worshipping the tradition and upholding the letter of the law without regard to the ministry the tradition and law were developed to support. Together, let us be about the ministry of Jesus Christ that has been laid out for the family of God! 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

After Tuscon ... Now What?

As with most of the nation, I am both outraged and dismayed over the violence in Arizona. Beautiful lives have been needlessly cut short, the future of a dynamic leader in Congress is in question. There’s plenty of blame being shouted for inciting this evil unleashed in a supermarket parking lot. The President has called for this nation to rise above the tragedy and various individuals or groups have used the catastrophic event to make particular points. So … now what?

Perhaps a little perspective is in order.

In the 36 years between 1865 and 1901, three presidents (Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, and William McKinley) were all assassinated while in office. It has been nearly a half century since this nation’s last presidential assassination, that of John F. Kennedy 1963. There have been many other credible attempts on Presidents in these last 50 years, most notably the shooting of Ronald Reagan in 1981. Successful attempts on the life of the President are, thankfully, very rare.

Congressional members facing deadly violence are also strikingly rare. Democrat Leo Ryan of San Francisco was leading an investigation of the American Religious Cult led by Jim Jones in Guyana when his delegation was ambushed. The Congressman and four others were killed in the attack. Democratic Congressman and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968 and Louisiana Senator Huey Long was assassinated in 1935.

According to the Congressional Archives, in the entire history of the United States, 60 members of Congress have died for reasons other than natural causes, but this includes suicides, automobile and airplane accidents, and duels as well as assassinations.

Deadly violence directed at the Nation’s elected leaders is nothing new to our history. Yet, thankfully, it remains relatively rare.

Yet, I can’t get past Sarah Palin and her now infamous “Crosshairs” map (which, let us not forget, explicitly named Gabrielle Giffords) and her violence-laden rhetoric to behavior such as calling to reload rather than retreat. Likewise, I remember with great disgust when so-called “Joe the Plumber” came to Carlsbad last spring and suggested the best solution to the immigration problem was to start shooting. In both cases, audience reaction to these politically charged expressions of deadly violence were met with thunderous applause, cheers, and shouts of presumptive victory.

I am also struck—although not surprised—by published intentions by Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church to picket the funerals of 9-year-old Christina Green and Judge John Roll. According to their website, the shooter was sent to carry out God’s will and impose divine judgment on America for her sins and they, as a congregation, are thankful to God for the violence and bloodshed. I think, quite seriously, if Sarah Palin’s remarks are not enough to provoke potentially violent outrage, certainly the actions and rhetoric of these people are!

So …. Now what?

As a Christian, my first recourse is Scripture. I am reminded that Jesus Christ says in a beautiful parable that before we try to remove the speck from another’s eye, we must first remove the log from our own (Matthew 7:1-5).

I do not like the violence. I personally abhor rhetoric that uses images of crosshairs, invokes the language of warfare, or champion’s the Name of God in ways that provoke angry, retaliatory, and emotionally charged (let alone violent) responses. Yet, as I name that which I do not like, I am reminded that it is also a challenge in my own spirit to not be lowered to the point of vehement anger in my own spirit. To put it bluntly, it is pretty hard for me to not feel unrelenting feelings of outright hate toward Sarah Palin or Fred Phelps. (You could add Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and even institutions like Fox News to that list … but out of concern for my blood pressure I’ll stop there.)

Ephesians 4:25-29 reads: “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

Ouch! Do I detect a log in my own eye?

In the coming days and weeks, there will be a lot of ink spilled, blogs published, sermons preached, and sound bites broadcast on what we are supposed to do now that this tragic moment in our history has reared its ugly head. There will be lots of finger-pointing and angry response. There will be calls for peace and calls for retribution … and everything in between.

The times call, more than anything else, for prayerful, careful, and faithful discernment. Not only do I believe in the power of prayer and the fact that God honors and answers prayer, but I believe in times like this, prayer is the only means we have to navigate the treacherous waters, contend with the logs in our own eyes, and then see clearly to seek “only what is useful for building up.”

Let this tragic event and all the emotionally-charged, politically-motivated, and media-driven chaos dominating the days, drive us all into heart-felt, and faithful prayer. I am inspired by the call of my Disciples of Christ General Minister and President, the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins who calls herself and all of us to pray:

  • Prayers of praise to God who intends that life would be good and who walks closely with us when it is not;
  • Prayers of confession of our own tendency to vilify our enemies and to fear those we do not understand;
  • Prayers of petition for healing for those wounded in the attack, for the families and friends of those who have died, for the family of the man who shot them – and for him;
  • Prayers for our leaders – spiritual and political – that they will have clear minds and pure hearts, leading the way in cleansing our national political dialogue of hatred, disrespect, and personal attack.

So ... now what? 

It is time to pray!