31 December 2004

A recent theologian commented, "One of the great scandals of Western Christianity is that it has forgotten the implications of being blessed. To be blessed, at least in the Hebrew Story, is to bless others."

While we (all of us) thank God for our continual blessings we rarely, in turn, use the blessings in order to bring goodness to those around us. A question has been haunting me recently (in light of the events in South Asia)--"what if God blessed America according to manner in which America blessed other nations?" I realize this question assumes that all of our wealth (and other supposed blessings) comes from God, a point which can and should be debated.

When I brush my teeth this week I cannot help but think of my brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka who are going to die this week because they have no water to sustain their bodies. As Mother Teresa so aptly put it, we can do no great things, only small things, one day at a time.

My conviction for 2005 is simply to attempt to be a blessing in every relationship, situation, email, letter, conversation, and setting I find myself. I resolve to quit the politics of "getting ahead" and to embrace a life of downward mobility.
It is amazing what joy surfaces when I decide and am convicted to empty myself in order to fill others.

It is one of the great mysteries of the human experience. It is one of the great mysteries in searching for the divine among us.

30 December 2004


My reaction to the devastation in South Asia is perhaps troubling. If Christians give God credit for the good that happens in the world (humanitarian efforts in Africa, improvement in literacy rates, etc.) why do we cower away when tragedy happens? If we give God credit for the good aren't we naively selective by saying the Lord absolutely has nothing to do in the times of evil?

I am not saying that God is directly responsible for all the evil that happens in the world but I am suggesting that in the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament)the writers are perfectly comfortable with giving the Lord credit for both the success and failure. In fact, one of the great mysteries of God is that he will often fight against a people in order to fight for them (salvation). Discernment is necessary when discussing this sensitive subject, and I do not want to put God on the anvil for something he is not responsible for directly.

I am not suggesting that God caused the 80,000 deaths in South Asia, but I do think that he could have intervened just as he has intervened in the lives of so many other people (Parting of the Red Sea for instance). I am not upset with God or bitter for this--ultimately I trust that "in all things He is at work for the good of those who love him." Sometime our easy categories don't stand up in light of events in human history. People see right through the shallow claim that God caused the good, Satan caused the bad. Especially those who read their Holy Scripture.

As members of the same community (the human community) the deaths, loss, and despair of last Sunday's unfoldings should remind us that instead of looking up at the sky, we should look around and see the image of God in our fellow planet-dwellers and ask what the church is doing to serve as foreshadows to the coming day when hurricanes, hunger, and hate will bow to the Lordship of Jesus Messiah.

20 December 2004

First, go to www.freep.com to read two interesting pieces. There is a piece on the problem of infant fatality rates among whites, blacks, and other groups in the Metro Detroit Area. Second, there is a series about the cycles of violence and murder that has plagued Detroit for some fifty plus years.

The Kingdom has not fully come.


Second, I loved the film "A Series of Unfortunate Events"--I had never read the books but am hoping to now that I've been introduced to the world of Lemony Snickett (sp?).

I think "A Series of Unfortunate Events" is a welcomed antithesis to the sometimes shallow and short-sighted sermons of Disney. Misforutne, despair, and disaster are staples of the human experience. In each other, we can find meaning and hope in life beyond. There is a reason hundreds of thousands of young people are flocking to these novels. There are traces of the divine laced into the daunting journey of being human in a world full of monsters.

17 December 2004

I'm paraphrasing Kathleen Norris: "A writer whose name I have since forgotten once said that the two true religions of America are optimism and denial," (The Cloister Walk).

As one who has staked his life in the carpenter from Nazareth, I am humbled by these words during this Holiday/Christmas/Advent season.

Optimism. The belief that things are better than they really are or will turn out better than they really will. Denial. The refusal to see or admit reality/truth. Denying the larger evidence in motivation to preserve self.

The gospel has a word for these two great American religions: confession and repentance. Christians proclaims that to be in Christ is to participate in him with the shame and suffering of the cross. Christians repent (daily)for the ways in which the church has aided optimism and denial in ruling the day.

Instead of exchanging our native language for more contemporary lingo, may we honor the language of our Holy story. Sin (confession and repentance) just might be "the last best hope of the church," (B.B. Taylor).

14 December 2004

Loud Clapp

Here is an excerpt from Rodney Clapp's challenging book A Peculiar People

"Church is a way of life lived not with the expectations that Christians can, through the managerial arts of sudden heroism, make the world right. It is instead a way of life lived in the confidence that God has, in the kingdom of Christ, begun to set the world right-and that someday Christ will bring his kingdom to its fulfillment. Only then will wars cease, will the lion lie down with the lamb, will death itself die, will children frolic at the mouth of the viper's den...what we are about then might be called sanctified subversion," (Clapp, 200).


I worked with more "unique" children today (see recent post "Tucked Away Jesus") and enjoyed a little more inbreaking of divine love. My friend Karen (Asian 12 year old with Downs) constantly hugged my saying, "I love you big boy...I love you big boy." Sometimes, big boys are the ones who need to be hugged the most...even if they're 25, 55, 75 years old.

10 December 2004

Words from Fred Craddock ("Why the Cross?")

"I do not know for sure, but I think Paul had to preach the cross to say that this is not only the way the world is, this is also the way the Christian life is. The Christian life says you get involved in other people's lives, sometimes at the risk to name, reputation, fortune, money, and job. You get involved because it is your business to do so. They do you wrong on radio, on television, or any other pulpit when they say, 'If you just believe in God, everything is peaceful, serene, and beautiful, and the dying winds move your ship sailing toward the sunset in beatitude.'"

(From The Cherry Log Sermons, pg. 82)

A Prayer for The Moment

Father, in the midst of this moment, bring me near the cross. Help me to be fully aware of the many ways your grace pentrates this complacent heart. Father, as your heart breaks, help mine to also break. As your eyes tear, help my eyes to be filled with holy vision. As you long to return to Shalom, help my words and my steps be soaked with the message of your cross; that to truly live I must be willing to exist no more. For it is not I that live, but Christ alive speaking a fresh word to my weary soul.

06 December 2004

Tucked Away Jesus

Tucked away in a tiny classroom at Apollo Middle School in forgotten Antioch, TN is Mrs. Bennett's middle school special education classroom. Inside the room you will find Robert, Karen, Tierra, Andres, and Paolo. A few of them have Downs, one is paralyzed from the waist down with little motor skills remaining after a series of strokes at the tender age of five. One is deathly afraid of human contact, and yet another spends her day tearing anything in sight; she cannot talk but only tear.

We look at people who are born with a physical disease or handicap and, in an attempt to psychologize ourselves, we feel sorry for them. That's what people do when they do not intend to do anything, they feel bad about a given situation. This is the emotion we cling to when we seek to rationalize our own existence instead investing outside of oursevles.

If anything, us normal, healthy, consumer-driven, individualistic people are the ones who should be pitied. We've forgotten what it means to depend on others for life, community, and joy. We've forgotten what it is to serve without expecting something in return. We've forgotten what it means to simply be in the presence of another person, uttering no words, yet having the deepest of conversation. Is Christ among us? Yes, but in the places we only talk about going.

Jesus challenged his disciples in the strongest of fashions when he told them that they were now required to love their fellow humans as he loved them, laying down blood, sweat, tears, dreams, and hopes for the purposes of the Kingdom. It was no longer good enough to love as they loved themselves--now the stakes are raised, and the riskiest proposition is laid before us.

01 December 2004

If you've not seen the move "Ray" (a film that depicts the life of Ray Charles Robinson--one of the great musicians of the 20th Century) you need to pay the $7.50, and take a friend with you.

Ray Charles is depicted as a musical genuis (which he was) as well as a womanizer, drug addict (until the late 70's)...but more than the music success or the personal failure, "Ray" is about the life of an African-American man seeking to find redemption in whatever manner life offers.

As a young boy he witnessed the tragic accidental death of his younger brother who drowned. The loss of that pure relationship as well as the dynamic between Ray and his mother sends him on a life long journey to find meaning, worth, and transcendence.

He also battles the inherent but prevailing deuhumanizing attitudes of racism in conjuction with the death of his brother, and ensuing blindness. Still, nothing can quench the life the stirs within this young boy.

Creating music, not a church or community of faith per se, becomes salvation. With the help of his inner circle (mother, and devoted wife) he overcomes the social stigma attached to blindness and drug addiction becoming one of the true great artists in modern America.

One biblical scholar, whose name I've forgotten, suggests that biography is the "purest of all theological reflection". Ray Charles' life is one of struggle, fame, deceit, forgiveness and redemtpion. If we will simply listen long enough to the cadence of culture we might hear the desperate cry for belonging, relationship, and transformation.

And we might recognize our own peculiar journey's in light of those around us.