Thursday, July 21, 2016

the dog, the lion and the falcon



The Dog, The Lion and the Falcon
by Troy Cady

Turning and turning in the widening gyre  
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere  
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst  
Are full of passionate intensity.

-excerpt from The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

Yesterday, a man who holds a PhD in theological studies and is a distinguished professor at a Christian college, put forth a view as to why Christians should vote for Donald Trump in the upcoming election.

He likened Ronald Reagan to a lion and Donald Trump to a dog. He said that, as Christians, we should vote for Trump while praying the dog becomes a lion. Here is what he wrote:

“…I am a Christian, a man who believes that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ pleads with us to petition him to bring about change, transformation of our leaders. As I have done so more than once in this thread, I cite the apostle Paul who writes to us, Christ's body, ‘I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

“I also believe that Ecclesiastes 9:2 speaks truth: ‘Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!’ Ronald Reagan, our Republican Lion, is dead and gone, sad as it is. Right now, we have a Republican Dog, Donald Trump. Is there hope for such a Republican Dog? Yes, but the hope does not reside in the Dog; our hope resides in God, who can transform the Dog into a Lion.

“I am not a fatalist. Hence, I refuse to expend my energies in pointing out all the flaws and foibles and foolishness and foundering of the Republican Dog, Donald Trump. I refuse to participate in contributing to Democrat Jezebel's victory. Instead, I am calling upon fellow Christians to join with me in praying that our God will convert our Republican Dog into an authentic Christian Man, that he might also become a Republican Lion.

“Donald Trump's character flaws and faults have been on full display for a year. What's the point of my continuing to point them out by trashing the man? Do I believe in the power of the gospel? Do I believe that God is our redeemer? Do I believe that God is delighted by my trashing the man or by my praying for the man? I choose to pray for him rather than trash him; he's done enough trashing of himself. In God's providence Donald Trump is the candidate of the party that advances those ideals and principles most in common with all things Christian. Therefore, I will expend my energies in praying earnestly that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ will move mightily with regard to the Man and the Party that ‘we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.’"

I will just say it: I am deeply troubled by this rhetoric.

First, “Donald Trump is the candidate of the party that advances those ideals and principles most in common with all things Christian.” This is a flawed view of Christ’s relationship to culture. The Jesus of the Gospels would have a thing or two to say about either political platform, Republican or Democrat. If Jesus were on the speaking schedule, his words to the Republican National Convention would not be: “You’re the party most in common with all things Christian. Way to go! I’m proud of you!”

This is a call for us to do some serious soul-searching. It is not a time for political posturing in defense of a way of life we’ve always idealized. It is time for us to admit we don’t have all the answers, to humble ourselves and pray, to ask God’s forgiveness for the ways we (yes, as Christians) have exacerbated the mess. It is time to humble ourselves.

Christ cannot be co-opted, held captive to any political philosophy. This cuts both ways, right or left. The way of Jesus is, in fact, counter-cultural. The first Christians did not spend their time debating political philosophy. They dedicated their time, their energy, their physical resources and, in many instances, their very lives to healing the infirm, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and proclaiming that there is only one way to be saved, by faith in Jesus whom they proclaimed as the Christ.

That word Christ carries a world of meaning; he is the Anointed One, the true King. Christians have no other King. Ronald Reagan is not our Lion. Only Jesus can be our Lion. Besides, Jesus is both Lion and Lamb—that’s what makes him such a wonderful Lion. In my mind, Trump needs much more lamb and a lot less lion in him. That is why the professor is right; Trump is a mere dog, rabid and dangerous. This is important to keep in mind because Christians today come dangerously close to enthroning persons who are not the King, who do not embody what the King teaches.

True, no one who is elected will be perfect. And, true, we need to pray for our leaders. This means we need to pray and believe equally as much for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as we do for our Republican Ideal darlings. Do we do that? If Trump is a dog and we pray for him, maybe he will become someone worthy of leadership. But, isn’t the same true of Ms. Clinton? Is she beyond redemption? Can’t God transform “Jezebel” and make her a “Mary”? Yes. Yes, he can.

Well, maybe it is wise to vote for neither of the two candidates, and many Christians will choose a “third way.” Other Christians feel this is foolish: “Anyone but Hillary,” they say—even if he is a dog.

Yes, it may be true that voting for a third option strengthens the case of your opponent. But consider: the character flaws we see in Donald Trump prior to taking office will only undergo increased pressure once he is in office. Have we not learned? Even evangelicalism’s own Billy Graham writes how shocked he was when he found out what Richard Nixon and his administration had done.

And that was just the beginning. I think of the scandal that has eaten away at the Oval Office, steadily eroding our confidence, betraying the trust of the People. Even Ronald Reagan, the Lion, did things in office that cannot be called “Christian” with a clean conscience. It is noteworthy that America’s politicians use phrases that lure evangelical voters to bite their line but that doesn’t change the fact that their mastery of political verbiage is nothing more than a worm on a hook.

We are all culpable. All of us are responsible for the violence. All of us are responsible for the racism. All of us are responsible for the greed, the consumerism, the individualism. Yes, our political leaders, all of them (left or right) are responsible. And, yes, our business leaders (including Donald Trump) are responsible. We have made the world what it is. We are responsible for the world’s wars. We are guilty of the hatred and vitriol.

 Because of that, now is not a time to lead merely “quiet lives.” As a start, we should be weeping loudly.  We should be anything but “quiet.” Now is a time to cry out from the depths of our souls.

We should cry out because…in this country’s history the subjugation of our black brothers and sisters was allowed to continue because of those very “Christians” who led “quiet lives”. “Quiet Christians” perpetuated slavery in the abolitionist era and “quiet Christians” turned a blind eye to systemic discrimination in the Civil Rights era.  Such “quiet life Christians” stood by and watched as Native Americans were robbed of their land. Such “quiet life Christians” stand up for one set of issues but do not stand up for another.

The fact is, both the political right and left fail to nurture God’s whole sense of justice and peace in the world. If we think that is not true, we are deluded. If that were the case, changing the world would be as simple as convincing everyone to side with your political persuasion. But, even if everyone became a Republican or Democrat, we have to face a sobering truth: the world would still be a big, hot mess. We would trade one set of imperfections for another set, and neither set would be any better or worse than the other, qualitatively speaking. They would both fall short of God’s whole sense of justice and peace. We need to admit that.

Besides, we follow in the footsteps of the first Christians—and the early Christians were anything but “quiet.” That is why they were martyred. They spoke up. They troubled the waters. Their message, their way of life was subversive to the power structures, whether political or religious. Peter was not imprisoned for being “quiet.”  James was not killed by king Herod because he was “quiet.”

That is why it is important for us to keep in mind that we are to lead peaceful lives, just as much as we are to lead “quiet” lives. Christians are to work to make the world a better place, to embody the peace of Christ that puts an end to war, violence, and discrimination. There is no lust or greed in a peaceful world. Life, all life, is revered in a peaceful world.  A peaceful world is a world that enjoys all the colors God made. A peaceful world is a place where those who are naturally quiet can be quiet but those who are naturally vocal can speak up. Everyone does not have to be the same in a peaceful world. The biblical idea of peace is a sense of holistic well-being; “all is right with the world.” It is a place where justice is done. It is a place of honesty and generosity. It is a place of mercy, concern for the down-and-out. A peaceful world is gentle and humble.

And a peaceful world is led by peaceful people.

I am not saying, “Vote for so-and-so” or “don’t vote for so-and-so.” Vote your conscience and do not insist every person needs to vote your conscience. Let them vote theirs, judgement aside.

In either case, I can’t help but feel these words by William Butler Yeats describe well what we see today. In quoting these words I do not mean to paint a “doom and gloom” picture, but I do hope these words can remind us of our need for something true, good and innocent:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre  
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere  
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst  
Are full of passionate intensity.

Right or left, we very well may end up with neither a Lion nor a Dog, but a Falcon who has soared high beyond earshot of the Center. If that is the case, let us lead lives of courage and hope, even as we work towards peace and quiet.



Saturday, July 16, 2016

i am among you as one who serves

Listen. Here is a mystery.

When the time drew near for violence to be done on the innocent, he knew the violence was coming. He knew he would suffer and die at the hands of those with power.

But their power was false power. Yes, they killed him, but the power to kill is not very powerful. It is the weak who kill, not the strong. The strong serve. The innocent one said so himself.

Here is the mystery. When the time drew near for violence to be done on the innocent, the innocent said, “I am among you as one who serves.”

That is power.

This is a mystery to remember before and after the violence, in the midst of violence. The innocent one is alive and he is still among us as one who serves. That has not changed, nor will it ever change. He is a king who serves. His servanthood is the very thing that made and makes him king.

To follow the servant king is to serve. Nothing more. The power of the king is no-power. I said it was a mystery, didn’t I? It truly is. Pray to be a child and embrace the mystery.

This is a truth to practice when violence is done. He is among us as one who serves.

Just serve.




Thursday, July 14, 2016

the kingdom of God is in your midst

Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come,
Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed,
nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
-Luke 17:20-21

I want to keep up on what is happening in the world, so the home page of my web browser is set to a news source. I can always see three or four articles instantly without having to scroll down the page and they almost always feature troublesome content.

Every day we are tempted to despair. So, why do we hope?

The words of Jesus in Luke 17 give me cause for hope: “…the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

Every weekday I say a prayer with my wife that is adapted from Saint Patrick. A portion of the prayer asks Christ to “be in the heart of each to whom I speak and be in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.”

I like this prayer because it is a prayer of childlike faith--but when I first began praying it, that portion in particular grated on me. It raised my awareness that Christ is not always on my lips and, sometimes, I did not encounter Christ in others. I went through a season that, when I prayed that particular portion, I felt a sense of dismay and hopelessness. I wondered, “Why keep praying it when it doesn’t happen?”

That is when I realized: the prayer is not about what I or others do; it is about what God does. Specifically, the prayer is a way of remembering that God is with us, whether we realize it or not. He makes himself known to me in the words of another, through the presence of others—I just don’t always know how to listen.

That’s what Jesus said: “The kingdom of God is in your midst.” We can’t say “Here it is” or “There it is” because it is all around us, everywhere. We just need to look for it, raise our awareness of it.

That is why that portion of the prayer (that I struggled with for so long) began to be my favorite part.  It is a prayer asking God to help me be aware of how he speaks to me through others. It is a “looking” and “listening” prayer, reminding me to look and listen for the presence and voice of God in others. And it is a prayer that asks God to use my words, my presence in the same way. That part reminds me to practice inner silence so I can hear what God wants to say to me and through me.  When that kind of silence is practiced, I find that our words spring from a silence that is full, not empty—and then return to silence that is the silence of full, loving, joyful presence. We need more of that, I’m convinced. I need more of that.

So, my prayer today for our world is that more and more people would see with increasing clarity: the kingdom of God is in your midst. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Sterling Landphil

Sterling Landphil
by troy cady

Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes,
I keep him in my line of sight.
It’s easy to spot him because
he has nowhere to hide
and he looks unusual,
like an eclipse,
a shadow in the light,
the darkness of night.

Now that I have a bead on him
I keep him in my files
which contains a detailed record of gritty suspicions.

With my files in hand
I gave him a home.
It’s easier to keep an eye on him that way.
It’s not as nice as my place
but for him it’s fine.
He has nothing to complain about.

Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes,
I keep him behind bars.
It’s for his own good;
this way I can give him his proper rations,
structure his time, and impart to him
valuable skills for living,
like training a chimp.
Who knows? I might even
Christianize his soul,
teach him to be more
like me.

Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes,
I am Cain and he is Abel.
I was brought here first
and he came second—
of course I’m his keeper!
His name means worthless,
vapor, nothing.
Naturally, I have more to offer;
I am bigger so it is easy to keep him

DOWN!
ON THE GROUND!

Good.
Don’t worry.
This won’t hurt a bit.
Just hold still, brother.
Shhh—
JUST HOLD STILL FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!

Selah

I am my brother’s keeper.
I keep his life in my hands.
I keep his cries buried here underground.
At least I try.
But he won’t shut up.
Ain’t I my brother’s keeper?
So why is the earth weeping?






Monday, July 4, 2016

in the fourth watch of the night



“For me, hope without memory is like memory without hope.” -Elie Wiesel
“…and in the fourth watch of the night…” -Matthew 14:25

It is 3 a.m. on July 3 and I am sleepless. Yesterday I read two more distressing reports of violence.

And, coincidentally, Elie Wiesel has died. He was a man of peace who was all too familiar with the violence of Auschwitz—violence gone mad.

The world seems to have had its fill of violence. When is enough enough? When will it be over?

It is 3 a.m. and I am watching, waiting, hoping, praying.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
How long, O Lord, how long?


“…and in the fourth watch of the night…”

The Romans marked time in three-hour increments as did the Jews of the first century CE.

Each three-hour increment was called a watch. The first watch began at sunset. It stretched from 6 pm to 9 pm. The second watch went up to midnight, the third watch till 3 a.m. and the fourth watch till 6 a.m.—when the morning began.

In the account of creation found in Genesis, we read that when the world was made—when everything good and bright and beautiful appeared—it emerged in a surprising rhythm. “And there was evening and there was morning…” the text reads.

Evening came first; then morning.  

The two form a rhythm, not unlike the contractions of childbirth, pain followed by release. “History is cosmic pregnancy,” writes the philosopher Peter Kreeft. The new birth will come, but the real labor of life occurs at night.

Never forget: important things happen in darkness.  


“…and in the fourth watch of the night…”

It is still dark outside. I can hear a cardinal—yes, I can tell the sound of his call—anticipating the dawn with his clear, strong voice. It is as if he is saying, “Listen! There is life. Listen, just listen!”

Let’s listen. A moment of silence, please, for victims of violence.

(Pause)

The list takes its toll. It is 3 a.m. and I am sleepless. Awakened by tragedy. So much tragedy in less than one month.

I am burdened by the nightclub in Orlando.

(Pause)

The airport in Turkey.

(Pause)

The restaurant in Bangladesh.

(Pause)

Four days ago, John Njaramba Kiruga, a Christian leader in Kenya wrote this brief email to a friend: "Am at Garrisa we had a very good peace seminar since yesterday. Heading to Mandera tomorrow. Pray for us pray for Kenya....More details next week. Again pray for us Mandera is not that safe for now, but we must preach peace at all cost. John."

Pastor John, as he is known, was dedicated to peacemaking between Muslims and Christians.

His friend, grieving, wrote these words on Saturday. “He had finished the peacemaking programs and was just one hour outside of Mandera when the bus he was riding in was attacked by gunman. Five others were also killed.”

A colleague of Pastor John’s wrote: “Pastor John was a faithful servant who loved God and desired for others to experience that love…I hope his life of faith inspires a new generation of Kenyans to live into the calling God has for them.”

A moment of silence for lives taken in Kenya.


“For me, hope without memory is like memory without hope.”

Is there hope? We remember, but memory is not enough. We need hope.

Is there hope? Will the night end?

In the classic book Night, Wiesel writes of the night he arrived at the concentration camp: “Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night…Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”

His was a life dedicated to the practice of remembrance. Never forget. Never.

In his lecture upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, Wiesel tells this wonderful story about the power of memory.

A Hasidic legend tells us that the great Rabbi Baal-Shem-Tov, Master of the Good Name, also known as the Besht, undertook an urgent and perilous mission: to hasten the coming of the Messiah. The Jewish people, all humanity were suffering too much, beset by too many evils. They had to be saved, and swiftly. For having tried to meddle with history, the Besht was punished; banished along with his faithful servant to a distant island. In despair, the servant implored his master to exercise his mysterious powers in order to bring them both home. "Impossible", the Besht replied. "My powers have been taken from me". "Then, please, say a prayer, recite a litany, work a miracle". "Impossible", the Master replied, "I have forgotten everything". They both fell to weeping.

Suddenly the Master turned to his servant and asked: "Remind me of a prayer - any prayer." "If only I could", said the servant. "I too have forgotten everything". "Everything - absolutely everything?" "Yes, except - "Except what?" "Except the alphabet". At that the Besht cried out joyfully: "Then what are you waiting for? Begin reciting the alphabet and I shall repeat after you...". And together the two exiled men began to recite, at first in whispers, then more loudly: "Aleph, beth, gimel, daleth...". And over again, each time more vigorously, more fervently; until, ultimately, the Besht regained his powers, having regained his memory.

When a loved one dies we desire to “honor their memory.” We observe moments of silence to show our honor. Is there more? How does one best honor the memory of victims of violence?

Pastor John and Elie Wiesel have something in common. They honor the memory of victims by the practice of peace.


“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying,
‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’” -Luke 22:19

It is now 4:45 a.m. as I write this. The call of the cardinal has not diminished.

It is the first Sunday of the month and our church has a custom of taking communion on the first Sunday. It just so happens that this week the children at our church will lead the service. Since I have the privilege of working with the children, I will help them.

It is my first time leading communion at our church and I wanted the church to hear a story we use to help children reflect on the meaning of the Eucharist.

The story as I will tell it is adapted from two authors (Sonja Stewart and Jerome Berryman). As I take my place behind the altar table on which is placed the bread and the wine, I will say:

This table is set in the midst of violence. This table is a place of crucifixion and resurrection. Because of that it is, ultimately, God’s answer to a world of violence.

Here is how we talk about this table when we wonder about its meaning with the children at Grace. The story goes this way:

I am the Good Shepherd.  I know each one of my sheep by name. They know the sound of my voice.



When I call, they follow.



I lead them to good, green places. Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, my sheep have nothing to fear. I am with them.



I prepare a table for them in the midst of enemies. I prepare a table in the darkness.



I am here in the bread and wine. I am here in the feast.



Anyone who follows me comes to this table. All are welcome at this table. Young and old. Rich and poor. People of all colors come to this table.



This table is a place of peace. This table is my answer to the world’s violence.

It’s a mystery how something so small can be so important. It’s a mystery how something so simple and gentle can be so powerful. This table is my answer to the world’s violence.  

At this table there is remembrance in its fullest form. Full remembrance summons the past to provide hope for the future. In full remembrance, the past is alive today. The Table is a place of full remembrance. Something happened and still happens today. That something is forgiveness, reconciliation, peace. Christ, who could have called ten thousand angels to liberate him from injustice, laid down his rights instead and suffered the punishment we deserved. Paraphrasing Peter: “He who had no sin was made sin for us.”

He did this to conquer enmity, to lay to rest the source of the endless cycle of violence and counter-violence—the hatred within.

That is why I love the Table of Jesus. It helps us remember atonement, even as we remember injustice. Because there is redemption at the Table, our remembrance of injustice cannot paralyze us. Rather, redemption frees us to act boldly in mercy and love.


“As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.” -John 13:30

Important things happen at night.

When the friends of Jesus were stuck in the middle of the lake in the middle of a storm that threatened to take their lives, Jesus showed up “in the fourth watch of the night”—sometime between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.

You may not believe Jesus actually walked on water but even taken as a mythic story, there is significance in the detail of timing. The fourth watch is that time when it still feels like the thick of the night, but if you just hold on a little longer, the night will be over and the sun will rise. The fourth watch may begin with nightmares but it ends with awakening. It is in the fourth watch that Jesus comes to the rescue and calms the storm.

In Luke 20:9-15 Jesus tells a story about an owner of a vineyard. The owner rented his property to some farmers and then went on a long journey. When the owner sent a servant to collect his due, the renters beat him and sent him away. When the owner sent a second servant, the renters treated him the same way. The owner then sent a third servant and this one they wounded. Finally, the owner sent a fourth person, his own son—and the renters killed him.

The repetition is reminiscent of the watches of the night. The parallel is apparent. It is now the fourth watch and the Son of Man has arrived. The time is pregnant. The dawn of a new day is upon us.

In Mark 13:34-37 the remarks of Jesus remind us of the parable of the tenants. He says, “It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore, keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

Note the time sequencing embedded in Jesus’ words: In the evening (9 p.m.), at midnight (12 a.m.), when the rooster crows (3 a.m.) and at dawn (6 a.m.). 

This same three-four pattern is reflected repeatedly in connection with Jesus’ passion. Notice that the Passover supper is observed at sunset, in the early evening. When the meal is finished, Jesus goes with the eleven disciples (Judas had left already) to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.

He asks Peter, James and John to pray with him but they fall asleep.  He asks them again, but they fall asleep. Finally, he asks them a third time and when he returns, the “fourth watch” is nigh.

Mark 14:41 says: “Returning the third time, he said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come.” (emphasis added)

Later, Peter is questioned by those who would see Jesus killed. He denies it…three times…and then the rooster crows. Note the parallel with the text in Mark when Jesus says we will know the “end” is near when the rooster crows.

What is surprising about the narrative from a literary standpoint is this: if this were “just a story” the author would tend to craft it to “resolve” at daybreak. But with the story of Jesus we pass through the third and fourth watch of the night and when the dawn comes the worst is yet to be. He is nailed to the cross at 9 a.m. (at the close of the “first watch of the day”) and he dies around 3 p.m., when the “fourth watch of the day” is just beginning. His body is taken down from the cross and buried before 6 p.m. Friday which is when the Sabbath began.

Then, there is Sabbath. That in itself is interesting to ponder. But note: Jesus is in the grave for two nights and then...prior to the end of the fourth watch of the night, he is raised from the dead.

Like the rescue of his friends in the midst of the storm, Jesus comes “just in time” when the darkness seems to be most dense.

Important things happen at night. The question is: what should we do when the darkness thickens as it has this past month? What should we do when terror and fear seem to grow stronger and stronger?

Don’t take this question as if I am an end-times nut, but I wonder…what should we do in this “fourth watch of the night”?

Elie Wiesel reminds us never to forget the atrocities of the night. That is a good start and it may be a good ending, too—especially if the remembrance is a “full remembrance” where the past speaks to a future hope.

But, I still wonder…what else is important to remember and practice in these dark days? And I am especially thinking of those who say they follow Jesus when I ask this.  

……………………………………..

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight…But now my kingdom is from another place.” -John 18:36


As I finish these reflections it is now 12:15 a.m. on July 4. July 4…an important day in the collective consciousness of the United States. It is no coincidence this sense of “darkness” feels overwhelming to many, many people.

It is an election year. Already the campaign has been ugly. There is a sense of hopelessness as voters begin to weigh their options. Should one vote for the “bad” candidate or the “less bad” candidate?

Many Christians wonder: “What is happening to us?” By “us” is meant…America—and Christians.

The darkness seems dense. What is one to do? I offer some thoughts.

I find Jesus’ words to Pilate instructive: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight…But now my kingdom is from another place.” -John 18:36

The context here is that Pilate “threatened” Jesus with his power. Christ’s response is telling: his power cannot be taken away by any government, whether political or religious.

I will not mince words here. Christian: the practice of your faith does not depend on governmental backing or any kind of Constitution, no matter how “perfect” we think that Constitution may be.

What’s more, if Jesus’ words are true (and I think they are) you should remember that no one can “take away” your “rights” because in this world you have no rights. You belong to Christ’s kingdom and that kingdom is not of this world.

These days I hear lots of talk about how Christian “religious liberty” is being threatened. But how can that be? Christian liberty is not something that can be granted by political process. Religious liberty is something you have or don’t have. It is intrinsic to your being and no one can take that from you, no matter how difficult they may make life for you.

Because “religious liberty” is an intrinsic quality, we need not feel threatened by the ebb and flow of external favor…by the populace, the media, the government or the strength of those who practice a faith different than yours.

Remember: there is no such thing as compelled liberty. A liberty that requires legislation is not true liberty. Laws may attempt to protect liberty but the deepest forms of liberty do not need laws. That is Christian liberty.

Speaking of protection, the Christian does not need the protection of guns to practice the faith. To follow Jesus one does not need a firearm. The Christian answer to violence is the Table not the pistol.

This does not mean it is wrong to own a gun. It simply means: you do not need a gun or even an amendment guaranteeing the “right to bear arms” to follow Jesus. Gun or no gun, you can follow Jesus.

The greatest “weapon” in the Christian’s arsenal during dark times is simply this: light. I know that sounds naïve, but it is really true. Our greatest defense against the dark is light.

That light is love, sacrificial love. That light is inviting. That light invites. There is no coercion with light. There is no strong-armed politics with light. Light needs no spin. It is simple and pure. It is warm, bright and cheerful. It is hospitable, even to strangers. Light is friendly. Warm lights make good neighbors. The light of Christ is not diminished when we share it freely. On the contrary, all new light taken from the original light leaves the original light intact and only adds to the light. Light shared freely multiplies.

In the fourth watch of the night reach for the light.

In the fourth watch do not reach for your Constitution. The Constitution is not the light. The Constitution may fail one day, but the light of Jesus never will.

In the fourth watch do not lose sleep about your candidate and their platform. In the fourth watch look for Jesus. He will come to you walking on the water if he has to, in the midst of the storm. He will go to hell and back for you. He will fight without a sword. He will tear down the walls, not build them. In the fourth watch, he opens his arms to all. In the fourth watch, we can open our arms, too—because we are safe in him.

“During these many tedious and distressing hours of storm and tempest, of darkness and danger, Jesus saw his disciples, though they saw not him: he beheld their perplexity and fear, while they were conflicting with the winds and waves, and observed how they toiled in rowing: yet he delayed all this time to go to their relief; seeing it proper so long to try their faith and patience. But in the fourth watch — When, it is probable, as the storm was not at all abated, they had begun to despair of deliverance; Jesus went unto them, walking on the water — agitated, stormy, and tumultuous as its billows were. Thus God often lengthens out the troubles of his people, and defers the time of their deliverance. But when things are come to an extremity, and they are ready to think he hath forgotten them, he unexpectedly appears for their relief and rescue; of a sudden the storm becomes a calm, and they are happily brought into a safe port. Thus, in the morning watch he appeared for Israel in the Red sea, troubled and dismayed their pursuing enemies, and delivered his people: and in all ages the extremity of his church has been his opportunity to visit and appear for her. He that keepeth Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps, but has constantly his eye upon them, and, when there is need, walks in darkness for their succour, support, and comfort.” (Benson Commentary; Matthew 14:25)


Sunday, June 19, 2016

gardening with my father

Dad and Mary Jane in front of their home, late May 2016.

Here is my dad and my stepmother, Mary Jane.

When my dad had open heart surgery in February I went to see him and spent five nights with him. In late May I was able to visit again for two nights, this time with Heather and the kids, too.

Because of his surgery, he has not been able to do all the things he usually does. He loves caring for the yard and it is hard on him that he is not able to do it as much as he would like these days. You can see just one shot of the lovely flowers and plants they enjoy.

On the Sunday of our most recent visit, I had the privilege of taking care of some yard work he’d been wanting to do. I put away the snow blower for the season, something he hadn’t been able to do yet. I put out a table and chairs on the front porch and brought out another chair for the back porch.  He and Mary enjoy sitting outside when the weather is agreeable.

I pruned a large flowering bush on the side of his house and fixed some edging around two of the trees in the parkway. I topped off the soil around the trees and edging, and spread some new mulch throughout the garden.

I also helped him fill up the water softener with more salt pellets and installed a new smoke alarm he purchased. He loves caring for his home and I loved caring for it with him.

It was a good day’s work that felt like play because we did it together. There are few times in my life that I have felt closer to my dad than that day just under a month ago. I loved working alongside him, sharing life together that way.

The morning after our workday, he brought out his high school yearbooks. I could gather from all the notes his friends wrote him that he was quite a jokester. His friends commented on his singing voice and I enjoyed hearing him reminisce about those younger years.

He showed me his class ring…a classic design. He graduated in 1955.

He gave it to me as a gift and I will cherish it always.

I love my Dad and did not want to leave that Monday morning. So, this is my prayer today: Father God, thank you for the blessing of being his son.   

Sunday, June 5, 2016

a prayer to be filled with the Spirit of God



A prayer. It is nothing fancy but I happen to believe God loves to answer prayer. It is a simple prayer; maybe it is your prayer, too.

………………………………………

Knowing you are with us by your Spirit,
may we shout and be glad.
Enliven us where we are dead.
Assure us of your presence
when we would go it alone.
Still us when all we want to do is
do, do and do without resting in you.

Impart to us the mind of the Spirit
when we become preoccupied
with human strategy
and our own limited logic.
Help us to desire
what the Spirit desires.

Spirit of the living Christ,
grant us life and peace,
the peace that passes all understanding. 
May our lives be a testament
of the life of the Spirit,
the same Spirit
who raised Christ from the dead.

In Jesus’ Name,
Amen.