CRACKS IN THE WALL

Well, NFL play is upon us. I am not a fan of football and in fact am reading a Christian doctor’s opinion that children should never play football again. But that’s for another time.

There is uproar coming in the days ahead, I suppose, over the ‘kneeling’ issue as pertains to players making their protest about injustice towards African-Americans

I have heard from many how this is most disrespectful to the country, the flag and our military. In light of the death of a great servant of our country, John McCain, I share his thoughts on the subject, “’That’s their right to do what they want as citizens,’ McCain told TMZ Sports when asked about the Dallas Cowboy players who took a knee then locked arms in solidarity before playing the Arizona Cardinals ..” Perhaps I digress. Probably it would be most respectful for people to shut off their cellphones, stop talking, eating and drinking and give their full attention to the honor of our nation.

This all begs the question. Is there, in any way, a problem in our nation with criminal justice bias towards African-American people?

I am writing as a white pastor who wants to address the cries of those in our community who feel that Jim Crow is still alive. The below reference is from Wikipedia:

In the early 1830s, the white actor Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice was propelled to stardom for performing minstrel routines as the fictional “Jim Crow,” a caricature of a clumsy, dimwitted black slave.

Now I want to share an illustration. That’s what pastors do.

A man hires a worker to repair some cracks in the wall of his home. Later he hires the same worker to come and repair more cracks that have appeared. Finally, and I am making this short, the worker says, ‘Sir, I can keep coming back and taking your money but the real problem here is your FOUNDATION. It needs repair. The cracks in your walls are due to ‘structural’ damage.’ (The end)

Some folks say there is no more racial oppression in our country. OK- let’s assume that in the worst sense that might be true. However let’s go back in time even as recently as 1981. The KKK lynched a black man. And most people are aware of times before that with issues of slavery, Jim Crow, civil rights, Martin Luther King Jr., etc.

Our current walls that appear to some to have cracks are built upon a damaged foundation. Trust me. It’s all recorded in history. And while the cracks may have been patched here and there they are still going to appear because the foundation, which is many hundreds of years old, is damaged. That may not be the fault of the current homeowner but it is nevertheless true.

We current owners of this home, and now stay with me, this household of faith, to which we all belong, need to walk around the foundation and check this out for ourselves. We need to admit there are problems that go deep.

Yes, in 2008 there was a congressional apology for the 246 years of slavery and subsequent Jim Crow era but with repentance there is always action to be taken; changing how to live now. We are still working on that by the grace of God. God’s forgiveness always leads to better lives.

I have been attentive to the words of the Pope recently who is receiving much negative sentiment because the church is not suggesting ways to stop the evil of child abuse. Now there is a foundation that needs to be repaired.

But back to my reason for writing this. Better lives, more loving lives, neighbor loving neighbor in tangible ways. Jesus told us many times that the strongest foundation for a good life was to listen to him and then PUT HIS WORDS INTO PRACTICE. You can find this in the Sermon on the Mount.

And please know that my writing and intention is all about JESUS, how to respect and honor him in all I do. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, not judge another person, and to look deeply into our human heart. There’s that foundation again. According to Jesus we are to address the disparities in life and make sure that those who know and feel themselves to be marginalized are brought back into the household. (Ok…I admit that there is a sermon in here somewhere).

If Americans, especially us Christians, are going to build a better foundation we need to address what is termed ‘racial bias’ which simply and profoundly means attitudes within us that perhaps are reactions or beliefs we grew up with, about African-American intelligence, ambition, honesty, violence, aggression, etc.

I think that’s what the protests are about and folks are asking how we are going to address that. In the town I grew up in there was an ‘anti-bias task force’ and I am sure we weren’t the only town to realize that bias exists. Perhaps there are injustices that need to be attended to. (And yes, you can end a sentence with a preposition.) I am not an expert in these areas but I am alive and well aware that this goes on in our society. In fact my own foundation could use some repair. I can be faulted for my own silence in addressing the foundation and the cracks.

So I am hopeful that the Evangelical community of Christians as well as our government can hear from the Black community and implement changes whether it be in our criminal justice system, our educational system or generally how we relate to our brothers and sisters of another color within our community.

I heard the President say that he would meet with leaders to consider pardons from prison. But I have not heard anything since that statement. I am sure there will be more ‘kneeling’. I don’t have a personal opinion about the ‘disrespect’ part but I know about protest. I protested the Vietnam War back in the day.

Anyway, the white folks need to invite the black folks to walk together through the house and see how best to repair the foundation. This is a wonderful country and part of what makes it so is that we can listen to and love one another and work together and live together. So in that spirit while conversations are going and injustices are corrected we can ask for a ‘moratorium’ on ‘kneeling’. Except in cases of prayer.

BUT WHAT ABOUT REPENTANCE AND FAITH?

So a good friend remarked to me some time ago, ‘If Christian Universalism is TRUE then what about repentance and faith?’ At first it sounded to me like, ‘doesn’t something have to be required to get in on this good deal of salvation?’ But it was a good question and one that is often asked of Christ centered Universalists.

But here’s the thing. Christ came to invade this earth and bring God’s Kingdom. Christ in his covert manner of incarnation came to take over what had become enemy territory. (I think C.S. Lewis uses that analogy.) And Christ’s presence, his teachings, life, death and resurrection were to reconcile creation to God by taking away the sins of the world. In 1John 2:2 we read that Christ is the atoning sacrifice for not only the believers’ sins but for the sins of the whole world. But that sounds too easy to think that the whole world is forgiven. Well, that’s what it sounds like in that passage above. But again, ‘what about the bad dudes who keep on doing bad and don’t ask for forgiveness or the people who worship other gods?’

Christ inaugurated a Kingdom. And Paul infers in Acts 17 that all are, in a fashion, ‘children’ in this Kingdom. The thing is that some people know it and others don’t or won’t. But God’s Kingdom affects everyone. God’s grace impacts the whole creation. God is involved in the lives of everyone in some way, some good way. But some folks don’t see it or won’t see it.

I love the meeting in Athens, Greece recorded in Acts 17 where Paul talks with non-believing (in the Judeo- Christian God) philosophers who have questioned his ‘new’ thinking. And he says at one point, “In God we (meaning all people) live and move and have our being” (vs. 28).

The MSG version has ‘we can’t get away from God.’ I like that. God is involved in every life since no life, none whatsoever, has come upon this earth except through Christ.

Now take for example when Paul writes in Romans 8, ‘we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…’ vs. 28. If you are a believer and know God’s love then you KNOW this truth and you find comfort and hope in this world that is foreign to other people. But if you are not a believer then what? God is working bad things into your life? Do you say to someone when bad stuff happens, ‘that’s the way it goes for unbelievers?’ Of course not. If we trust Christ we get to SEE what others don’t see. But it’s the same God who is working in God’s creation to bring everything and ultimately everyone to a place of a new heaven and new earth. And just as God has changed your heart (if you are a believer reading this) God is going to change all hearts in some way. We trust God to grace all lives either now or even post-mortem.

 

I had this thought this morning. It’s not new but worth repeating or re-emphasizing. Would the God who tells us to love OUR enemies -And here we need to read those verses from Jesus in Matthew 5:43-45a. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

-would our God then go on to eternally torment HIS own enemies? I don’t think so. I am not positive but the big picture of God’s loving-kindness displayed through the cross of Christ causes me to consider that God loves His enemies too. And God’s love will conquer all evil.

So to get back to the unrepentant, unbelieving and even ‘bad’ ‘wicked’ people. Unfortunately they have not experienced the grace that others have. And the task of the believer in Christ is to share that good news to let others know they are included. They belong. They are loved. They are going to be with God. They are with God. That’s the good news. The word ‘Euangelion’ means good news and was used when a runner would come back to Rome to announce that an enemy had been defeated. Whether someone believed it or not, his or her life was impacted by this victory.

Blessed are the eyes that see all that now. I hope and pray that if you are reading this and have never trusted Christ for making this life so real and eternal, that you would say ‘yes’ to him even at this moment. Then you can know for sure what this good news is about.

Back to Acts 17 for a moment. Paul went on to say that God is commanding people everywhere to repent, meaning that God wants everyone to think differently about this earthly life. It’s not meaningless. It is full of the presence of God. God is everywhere at every moment gracing our lives, and moving this world closer and closer to God’s self. (Even if it doesn’t always look like it.)

God bless you and yours. That blessing is real.

george

 

 

 

INSPIRED BY OUR YOUNG PEOPLE AND THEIR DESIRE FOR A SAFER WORLD

I know that many people say that they don’t have the maturity to speak to political issues. Well, many have had the bad fortune of being killed within the system that has its flaws, many of those flaws aided by the lack of vision on the part of the political parties and leadership.

Young people are in many ways idealists believing they can make a difference and these tragic killings are driving them to desire and demand change. And I for one say that change is good. (I think our government Leader says that). I say that it’s good for our youth to find some purpose in life other than mere academics or what might be some other trivial pursuits.

Back in the days of Vietnam protests many of us were actually too immature to understand fully the dynamics of war and our country’s involvement. And to this day books are coming out trying to fathom just went wrong. To wait for all the answers is to be indecisive. I say ‘go with the impulse’.

All I remember as a young Christian in college was that I wanted to join a movement that cried out ‘no more deaths’.

We adults are so uptight about making money, surviving day-to-day, getting ahead and the like that we forget there are greater goals in life. When I see our young people and our communities coming together against some very large forces in this country I say ‘bravo’. I hope they keep going and keep leading us to find greater causes for our lives and the life of this nation. They are shaking up our existential crises. And that’s a good thing.

Some say they don’t have the ‘right’ to tell the adults how this country should be governed. I say, ‘they are the ones dying and have unfortunately earned the right that the adults have abrogated’.

I am not sure how many of these young people are believers but frankly I don’t care because as they put themselves out there for this nation and they are living in the way Jesus taught. NOT JUST TALKING or BELIEVING but DOING.

I grew as a Christian during Vietnam. I grew because I learned to step out of my and my country’s comfort zone. I learned to live more faithfully, if not idealistically, to my Lord who calls me to stand with the prophets and with Jesus. Jesus was scorned for his identification with those on the left (there’s a word to make some of you nervous). Jesus shook up the status quo and parted ways with the religious RIGHT because they were WRONG.

I am not sure what will come from all the outcries and marches of our young people but it seems that a whole lot of adult people are getting on that train. It’s the train of glory and it goes against the grain of the big money and power. I like that (even though I mixed a couple of metaphors).

By the way, I served in the military for one year (67-68) before being medically discharged. (It was a small thing but not as small as a bone spur).

 

WHEN LIES ARE NECESSARY

 

“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” Winston Churchill

There are times when a lie protects the greater truth because truth is a greater reality than any one statement.

A small example: If your wife (in this case) puts on a new outfit that doesn’t quite seem to fit her and she asks you, “Does this make me look fat?” – Your true statement might be, “Why yes, dear, it does.” But your marriage, your love for her and the evening that you will spend together is a greater truth reality than your simple true (but stupid) answer.

Telling the truth seems to be a Christian ethic (way of doing the right thing) but a Christian ethic is not the only thing to be considered. There is a greater reality at work here.

There are ways to tell the truth that are unloving, rude, sarcastic and judgmental just to name a few. And some are just plain, as in the aforementioned example, senseless.

So ‘truth’ itself is not adequate. Truth must be centered in Jesus Christ who IS the truth.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives the example of a teacher asking a child in front of the class whether it’s truth that the child’s father often comes home drunk. (p. 753 The Bonhoeffer Reader.) The reality of this personal family’s life is being invaded by the pretense of seeking the ‘truth’. When the child says NO he or she is expressing a greater truth- the love, the privacy and even secrecy of a personal family against this unjustified intrusion.

In another example Bonhoeffer gives, there is a criminal who is looking to harm your friend whom you are hiding. The lawbreaker asks you if you are hiding your friend and you respond, ‘no’. And when the Nazis sought out the Jews being hidden by Christians, the homeowners lied to protect the innocent.

See truth is not just about facts but involves a greater reality centered in the person of Jesus Christ.

And, this is not about choosing the lesser of two evils. No, not at all. It’s about choosing the best reality, the greater truth identifying with Christ. If everything about Christ provides the context for our living then lying (in the sense of using certain words equated with a certain reality) is fully acceptable for the sake of Christ.

Truth telling comes from inward communion with God through God’s Spirit. Before the incident of the TREE in the Garden of Eden there was only truth, the will of God. And now, when faced with an ethical decision we go inside to ask, ‘Father, what is your will in this matter?’ We look at Christ on the cross asking why and for whom he died and then make our decision in light of that cross of love. And if we are wrong, well, God will cause all things to work for good for those who live within his love.

I really like the scripture where it is said, THE LAW CAME THROUGH MOSES (good and righteous as it was) BUT GRACE AND TRUTH CAME THROUGH JESUS CHRIST. (John 1:17) There is a distinction. Note it.

Sometimes truth requires a good lie.

Disclaimer: None of the above is an excuse for licentiousness. That, in the phrase of Bonhoeffer, would be CHEAP GRACE.

SEE NO EVIL??

After the events of the past few days I feel the need to speak out, not as one associated with any political party, but as a Christian.

I am convinced that the President has given tacit approval to hate groups within our country. Groups like the KKK, the neo-Nazis, White supremacists and others sense the Presidents’ sanction for their behavior. I believe this behavior stems from ‘EVIL’, pure and simple. They wish to take back their country. From whom? We have already taken this country, by extermination, from Native Americans and America has built this country through enslavement of African Americans. And now under the guise of ‘freedom of speech’ these white nationalists are threatening Jews and other minorities against whom they will fight with force if necessary.

We do not have a moral leader at the helm of our nation. We have a power hungry egotist. He is doing virtually nothing to protect the rights of those who have been so downtrodden in our history. And now he is equating the protests of ‘the left’ with the EVIL of the neo-Nazis and others like them.

I cannot speak to the heart of the President but a tree is known by its fruit. Jesus said that. I know for myself that my own words and actions speak at times of a heart and will that needs transformation. I believe that for all Christians and if a leader calls him or herself by the name of a follower of Jesus then let the words hold true for them as well. Words that are spoken reflect a certain character no matter how well those words are then reinterpreted by the speaker or spokespersons.

Christians, I believe, must stand, in the strongest way, against any Nazi expression. While it may be ‘free speech’ it is EVIL and what happened at that Rally and especially to the young woman who was murdered was EVIL. The people ‘on the left’ may have their ‘issues’ but the EVIL perpetrated by hate speech must be fought by the expression and prayers of Christian believers, among others. Behind the EVIL of the neo-Nazis is the Satan who desires to defeat faith and the faithful.

The Christians of today who are as complacent as the Christians were in Nazi Germany are guilty for non-action (myself included) against the EVIL we witnessed. Consider the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who spoke out against the Nazis in Germany. These words in his radio address were censored.

“If the leader tries to become the idol the led are looking for–something the led always hope from their leader–then the image of the leader shifts to one of a mis-leader, then the leader is acting improperly toward the led as well as toward himself. The true leader must always be able to disappoint. This, especially, is part of the leader’s responsibility and objectivity. “ (The day after Hitler came to power.)

 If anything needs to be taken back in America it is the courage of the conviction of Christians to follow God and not Caesar.

Read these words from a French sociologist and political theorist:

“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”
― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835)

 

 

 

POOP ON MY SIDEWALK

So here’s a little parable of what it’s like to be a Christian in the world with hopefully a good witness so that others are drawn into the faith.

My neighbors’ dog likes to poop on my sidewalk. It’s a little dog and (oh, there are two little dogs) and they don’t like trudging into the snow.

Well, one day I mentioned it somewhat humorously to my neighbor who was then cleaning up the sidewalk. The next time it happened I shoveled it on to the neighbor’s lawn. Now the poop is back. They are sweet people. They are busy with a little child. But it’s a small thing to pick up the poop. Everybody should. It’s sort of the rule of the community.

So what to do? I could photograph the poop and take it to the HOA committee. I could have another talk with the neighbor. I could pick it up myself. My son tells me not to reward laziness. And then again I want to be the kind of Christian neighbor who is liked and thereby gains entrance for a conversation about faith. (My neighbors are agnostics).

It’s not only about the poop. It’s about a lot of things in life. There are times to be kind even to those who are not kind to you. There are times to be firm about issues of justice. I am not saying that poop on my sidewalk is all that much about justice. A little fairness perhaps.

How to make the best Christian witness, letting our light shine in order that others see our good works and glorify God. That really is the question in so many cases within our home and out there in the world.

If a person’s dog poops on your sidewalk let the dog poop on your lawn. If your neighbor won’t carry the poor 10 feet then you carry it 20 feet.

I suppose I could pray that the dog be constipated but that doesn’t seem very Christian or that the neighbor gets some common sense. Or that the dogs grow longer legs to poop in the higher snow.

Think for a moment about the little situations in life and how to react. I can’t do much about North Korea at the moment. And I don’t wish to get involved in the Middle East. Does the way I vote affect my testimony? Do my tattoos detract from my witness for Christ?

But then again who is anyone to judge me and make me so self-conscious about such little things in life? I am even thinking these days to vote for Bernie Sanders.

By the way. I am going to pick up the dog poop, put it in a little plastic bag and set it on the lawn, as a favor and suggestion. And then I will tell them God loves them.

FED UP

Ok, so I have reached my limit of endurance listening to Mr. Trump and to others who agree with him about immigration and about Muslims. I need to say it loud:

MR. TRUMP DOESN’T SPEAK TO ME OR FOR ME OR, I BELIEVE, FOR ANY RIGHTEOUS MINDED CHURCH.

Let’s remember back to 1933 when another demagogue rose to the position of leadership in another part of the world. We called that evil.

We have only one Lord and he is not a politician. And I think Jesus would say to Donald Trump what he said to his disciple Peter when Peter wanted to stop Jesus from doing the hard thing of love and risk laying down his life for another.

Jesus bids us to carry a cross, and with such a call it is clear why he wasn’t popular among the power structures.

We must regard our neighbors with love and acceptance. Certainly we use common sense to let the state manage the sword. But bigotry, hatred, exclusion have no place in our world of Christian values.

Perhaps there are lots of nominal Christians as there were in 1933 that can gravitate to Mr. Trump’s evil ideals. I for one am not one of them. I am going to pray seriously that this is the end for Mr. Trump’s candidacy run. May God bless him in other endeavors.