Friday, July 18, 2014

Reared in Safety and Security - Why Now So Fearful?

A good many Americans have been reared in safety and security.

But for reasons beyond my grasp, a huge industry has grown up in the land promoting fear - everything from the "fear of the stranger" to "home-invasions," the fear of which far exceeds what the stats might support.

From the constant parade of murder and mayhem on the local news to politicians who can see a terrorist under every bed, we're inundated with the words of fear.

It's making a lot of us desperate, and angry ... because fear, if sustained, becomes anger.

Fearful of so many things: terrorism, criminals, Muslims, "illegal" immigrants, anger is growing among certain segments of the population, and that's the stuff of fascism. Sustained fear and then anger weakens moral and spiritual sensibilities, reduces our capacity for compassion and kindness and stilts our vision of the world. Sooner or later, most everyone and everything becomes a threat. The ability to distinguish between reality and imagination is lost. And, makes one a consumer of "safety-devices" - everything from home security systems to white-supremacy movements.

In such a state of mind, we either move toward a highly defensive posture, a state of high-alert that saps our energy and deranges us ... or we grow up, shall I say, and take an honest assessment of our situation and ask the question: Just how safe, or not, am I?

And for those who Christians, it might well be helpful to remember what the angels frequently say: "Fear not!"

Fear, in and of itself, has some helpful dimensions - like, fight or flight, but there are other options, too.

Like the firefighters who are really afraid, but neither fight nor flee ... but run toward the conflagration in order to help others.

Jesus faced down his fears and eschewed anger, and went to Jerusalem in spite of Peter's advice to stay away from this hotbed of intrigue and danger.

Fight is certainly what many of us are choosing, turning mind and home into an "armed fortress."

Flight is a huge spiritual option for many - sort of like Medieval theologians debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin while ignoring the hell in which most of the serfs lived.

But the third option: running toward the conflagration, and doing so with a certain amount of trust in the love of God and a sense of reality - that it may end badly if I go there, but I'll not run away, nor will I engage in needless conflict with adversaries.

Because a frightened, angry, person, is not likely to be of much help or hope to anyone.

Indeed, Jesus heals the blind and and comforts the afflicted. Here's where he's needed - people desperate for help and hope. And when challenged by his enemies, chooses non-engagement.

Those who follow Jesus (unlike Peter who didn't want to face the possibility of his own death when Jesus proclaims his own death) will move toward the conflagration with caution, of course, but with a determination to pay whatever the price might be for love, which, after all, casts out all forms of fear (1 John 4.18).

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Matthew 7: My Translation! ... of Sorts.

Jesus said,"You shall know them by their fruits."

Jesus didn't specify, right then and there, in detail what those fruits might be ... but his comment is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, in a section that deals with basic descriptors:

Matthew 7.1-6: Don't judge others too harshly; deal with your own junk first of all. And don't waste a great deal of time on those who simply can't receive what you might have to offer. After all, you don't like it when someone lays a bunch of stuff on you, so don't lay your stuff on others. They won't treat it very well anyway. Laying your stuff on others, even if you think it's great, never works out very well.

Matthew 7.7-12: Be curious, do a lot of asking, seeking and knocking - you'll be surprised how much you can learn, because people respond to curiosity, and they'll give you good things. After all, you know how to give good things to those you care about, even if you're a jerk some of the time. Think of your heavenly Father, then, who's really good - God is ready to give you good things. But remember, treat others as you'd like them to treat you. There's more to this life than God; there's also the folks next to you. Keep that in mind, and you'll be okay.

Matthew 7.13-14: Good things aren't cheap, and life doesn't come easily. Beware of shortcuts and cheap shots; don't be afraid of hard work and long days. You'll get there if you're willing to work at it; if not, you'll not get anywhere at all. Too many people want the easy way out - but don't be foolish on this one. Only a lot of hard work, sweat, blood and tears - that's what life requires of us.

Matthew 7.15-20: Speaking of the easy way out, there's a lot of false preachers out there who'll be more than happy to tickle your ears. But don't go for it; it'll not work out. Their promises are too easy; their word, too self-enhancing. Things like this end badly, for them, and for you, if you believe them. Look carefully and do some thinking. Trust your instincts - if it's good, in the deeps of the thing, and the person strikes you as good, take a good look and see what you find. If you have your suspicions, if it kind of leaves you dissatisfied, don't waste any more time. Get out of there and keep on looking. And look carefully - you'll always know the good and the bad by the results. If it works, I mean, if it works in the long run, the long haul, for the narrow road, and it's sweet tasting and inspires your curiosity and won't let you get away with judging others, but keeps you focused on working your stuff out, then you're on to something good.

Matthew 7.21-23: Talk is cheap ... and everyone can do a few tricks-of-the-trade, so to speak. But I'm telling you this for your own good. You can preach with fire, you can cast out demons and do some miracles ... but I'll have to say, "I don't know you - never did, and, frankly, you weren't too interested in knowing me, either. You were very interested in feathering your own nest and building your reputation. So, take a hike."

Matthew 7.24-27: Foundation, foundation, foundation ... it's not the house we build, but the foundation on which we build it, because life can get pretty stormy, things can go wrong, hardships hit fast and violent. A good foundation lasts, endures, no matter what, and the house will stand - battered and bruised, but it'll stand. No so for the sandy foundation - everything gets washed away in the storm, including the house. And what's a good foundation? A good foundation is paying attention to what I'm saying, and then putting it into action. Just listening won't do you a bit of good. But it's life and love, and if you forget what life and love look like, just dig into your memory and remember the beatitudes. That's what my words look like when put into action, and that'll be a firm foundation for you, throughout all of your life. Storms come, and storms go, but a foundation of godly love and the life that flows from such love will endure. Period. So, get busy building - you've already got your foundation. Now build away! And it'll be good.

Matthew 7.28-29: the crowds were amazed at what he said; it had the ring of truth to it. He wasn't just repeating the same old stuff, but offering new and old alike with a fresh twist that was honest and convincing. It was no religious show he put on, but with the integrity of his life, he spoke godly words.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Freedom and Abortion

I share this here because of what it means for me - that it's easy to question and judge people whose lives we can see only at a distance, and from that safe distance, render decisions and observations that satisfy our own need for holiness by diminishing that of the judged. 

So many of our painful discussions here are about the "sins" of others ... and how to stop them ... in this regard, I'm a Calvinist - sin is part of the human reality, and there's no sense in getting all hot and bothered about it, especially the sins of the other ... I've got more than enough in my own closet to keep me busy for the next thousand years.

As I see it, there has always been abortion, and there will always be abortion ... to even suggest that we put a stop to it is unreasonable and full of self-holiness. What we can do is lessen the circumstances that prompt it. And, please, let's stop jumping on poor women - the wealthy get abortions, too ... fact is, they have always gotten abortions - if not available locally, they fly elsewhere ... or can always buy a doctor to perform the procedure.

What's needed is mercy ... not judgment ... 

I believe in a woman's right to choose ... that's so fundamental to me, so basic, so essential to our freedom in Christ ... a freedom that welcomes us, and allows us, to be as we are, so that in time we will become a little bit more of what it means to be a human being created in the image of God.

God, too, had to make plenty of painful decisions that were costly, both to God and to humanity - life isn't easy, even for God. 

And for millions of people, life isn't easy, either, and the last thing they need are some self-holiness seeking folks jumping all over them for their lapse. What they need, first of all, is kindness and welcome, and the support of a society that decides to stop the killing of the poor by withholding social services, the killing of Iraqis and Afghanis by ceaseless warfare, the killing of women by ignoring the violence of men, the killing of children because we're drowning in guns.

The larger social issues need our attention first of all ... to focus on secondary and tertiary matters only assists us in our quest for self-holiness and will never ever come close to offering solutions.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Lessons from Leaders

I read a lot of biography.

As of late:

FDR ... Eisenhower ... Lucius Clay ... and now the diaries of Drew Pearson.

They were called by their history - the accidents of life: birth, parents, education and times. They were committed, sometimes beyond their own understanding of how they got there. But the Fates, God, History, "the flying fickle finger of fate," took them along for the ride of their life.

Juggling convictions and passion with the need to compromise - the fine art of politics.

They compromised where needed, for the larger good, as best they understood it, and stood firm when compromise would have seriously undermined the common good they sought - whether it be winning a war against Fascism or digging into the schemes and double-dealings of the powerful.

Sometimes, the compromise proved good ... and sometimes they regretted the allurement of compromise, knowing that they surrendered something of themselves in order to have a little peace and get out of the noise of controversy.

In all things, a price ...

In all things, no rules ...

But to search the heart and mind and see where we land, and if we're in a place to make a difference, do it, and if there's a price to be paid, pay it.

And so it goes ... in this world of cabbages and kings.