Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Change the World

About 2 years ago, the History channel released a 10 part mini-series that covered the Bible, cover to cover.  So we have this book that covers the creation of the world…so 4.54 billion years ago…  the birth of Jesus…which takes place roughly 400 years after the Old Testament ends…  and the History channel was able to cover ALL of that in about 10 hours.

Ok, to be honest, they kind of left some stuff out and used their creative licenses to make it ready for TV…for some reason I have a hard time believing that the angels who lead Lot out of Sodom were actually armor wearing, sword wielding, ninja angels that fought their way out of the city in what looked like a Tarantino directed battle royal…but I was not there, so I could be wrong.

While much of the story has been altered and changed, there is one part of the series that stuck out to me when I watched it for the first time 2 years ago and is something I pops into my head every now and the…today was one of those days.

As I read the news reports and watched videos of the riots in Baltimore, I can’t help but think about how terribly sad it that there is so much violence in the world.  What can we do?  What should we do?  As a Christian, how should we respond to these situations?  What is the proper course of action when everything is against you and the world is not fair?

What should we do?

My answer…I honestly don’t know.  But it is times like this that I think back to this one line from the History Channel’s take on the Bible.

In episode 5, Jesus is beginning his ministry and calls Peter to give up his job as a fisherman and become a fisher of men… When you are asked to do something, we typically have the same question, it is probably the same question that Peter asks Jesus…”What are we going to do?”

How does Jesus respond?

“We are going to change the world.”

In a time where his people are opposed and poor, and enslaved… in a time that he is surrounded by violence…Jesus begins his ministry with the goal of changing the world.
Is that what we are stilled called to do today as a follower of Christ?  Change the world?  But how do we go about doing that?

Over the past few weeks I have been a part of many conversations regarding violence and fighting verse the concept of doing the right thing.

So one of the conversations I had dealt with violence in movies and how can we find God in film.  One movie that was really focused on was the new Batman series.  Was Batman a good person?

I think at first thought, we would all agree that is good.  A person who is doing whatever they can for the betterment of those around him.  But, I don’t recall anywhere in the Bible that it says, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone…unless you are super rich and are doing stuff that you think is best for the city, then beat up anyone who gets in your way.”

So what is worse…doing bad for the greater good…or standing idly by while bad things happen?

This made me think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his works on Romans 13.  Through his works, you can see a transformation in Bonhoeffer.  In one work early on in his ministry, he wrote in full support of Romans 13, saying that people should follow the law and authority because it is all of God and it is what the Bible tells us.  However, growing up in Germany during the 1930’s, he began to question this view.  He published another paper on Romans 13.  He still supported his previous argument but it had some stipulations and was not as confident as his first writing.  There was questions about what laws should you follow.  Finally, Bonhoeffer wrote a third paper on Romans 13.  This time he claimed that you should only follow the law if it is in accordance with God and if your authority is not bringing about the kingdom of God then you should do anything within your power to stop it.  Not only did Bonhoeffer just write these papers, he lived out his beliefs.  You can see a transformation as he witnessed the terrors and horrors of Holocaust and what the Nazi party was doing to his home country.  Ultimately, Bonhoeffer was martyred after plotting and attempting to assassinate Hitler.  We celebrate Bonhoeffer as a brilliant scholar, a great person, and someone that just about every single person in the church references at one point or another.

But, if we take a look at this…we remember him not only for his works…but for attempted murder…

This was brought up during our conversation on this subject…when is it ok to respond in violence, if ever?

Is that a fair time?  Would killing a person, even if it is Hitler, help grow the kingdom of God?

But then I can’t help but think that the 6th commandment says to not murder…not do not murder, unless it is a really bad person.

I really struggle with wrapping my head around these concepts and wish I had an answer…I don’t.

While reflecting on this topic, I thought back to a sermon by Marcus Borg.  I wrote in this sermon before and have linked it below.  I recommend reading that post before continuing.    

So after thinking through all of this…I am still lost and confused…

As these conversations continued and got deeper, the clergy in the room was talking about responding in violence…they said they do not think murder is right or is ever yet and we should try to respond not in violence but in love…but if someone was harming their child they would not hesitate to shoot them if it meant saving their child.  I think that is something most people would agree with.

While trying to make sense of this all, I tried to relate it all to scripture.

The one story I thought of was when David became king and established the monarchy for the Israelites. 

The people build David, their new king, a huge house in honor of him.  His response was to offer to build a temple to God.  This man who God had told you can do ANYTHING!  Was tasked with establishing the kingdom on earth…this great warrior for God…but when he tries to build a temple to God…God says no…

God tells David….you cannot do that…


What was God’s reasoning?  David was a warrior king…God did not want his temple built under the terms of war and violence…
God waited until a time of peace and had his temple built by David’s son, Solomon.

So my question that followed this was…is violence sometimes necessary?

In thinking about Bonhoeffer, I don’t think he was wrong for attempting to assassinate Hitler…
Without the battles fought and won by David, would the Israelites have been able to establish their kingdom?
If Batman did not stand up and fight, then would the Joker and Bane or whoever wanted to do evil just have free reign over the city?

Is violence needed to help establish the kingdom of God?  Does violence help clear the way for the foundation of the kingdom?  Like David cleared the way for the temple to be built by Solomon?

I think if we go back and really look at the examples Borg brings up in my other post…we come to the answer of no…

Resist violence…resist evil….do what is right, but you can go about it without violence.  That was the message we receive from Jesus.

I leave you with a story I recently heard about responding to violence…

It was a Sunday morning at a church in downtown Memphis…as everyone was gathering and entering the church…a fight breaks out on the sidewalk just a little ways down the street.
How would you respond as a priest?  You are about to enter the church and lead your congregation in worship?  Yet, just outside your doors two people are in the middle of a violent fight that was beginning to attract a lot of attention…
What would you do?
Stop the fight?  Jump in and break it up?

Well, in this case, they chose to sing a hymn…
Just very loudly began singing a hymn just next to everyone who was at the fight…

You can imagine the response… lots of strange looks from people who are thinking “What is wrong with this person?”

Some people recognized the tune and actually began singing as well.  The other people simply walked away…

What if instead of responding to violence with violence…by physically trying to stop the bad things from happening…

We sing a hymn.  We literally praise God in the face of violence.

Respond to hate with love…
How different would the world be if we did that?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Optimism...Good for your Soul

As I sit here and reflect back n the events of this week, I am absolutely overwhelmed by the incredible ways that God has been present in just about everything that has happened.  From Youth Sunday to the Easter Vigil and everything in between…God presence was truly felt.

But if I had to say this at this same time exactly one week ago…It might have been a different story.

This past Sunday, one of our own youth, Baty, gave the sermon during Youth Sunday.  The second Sunday in Easter, the Gospel reading is usually the story of Doubting Thomas.  “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe…” exclaims Thomas in the Gospel of John.

“Blessed are those that have not seen yet still have believed…” was how Baty began his sermon, which really made me think.

He continued on reflecting on the common everyday saying of, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  But to him, that is a very pessimistic outlook. 

He used this cliché saying to faith.  Faith does not provide the luxury of certainty.  There is no proof…there are no nail holes.

Faith requires us to be optimistic.  We have look past the bad and the doubt and find belief within the uncertainty.

But sometimes, the bad can sometimes start to weigh on us… I experienced this just a week ago.

On Tuesday morning, I woke up and got ready for week just like any other day.  Took care of my dog, grabbed my stuff, and walked down the driveway to Fred (Fred is my car…yes I named my car). 

As I got closer to Fred, I noticed that there seemed to more a lot of stuff just thrown all over the seats.  At first I thought, “Wow, I really need to clean out my car!  It is even messier than I though.”

Which is generally true…my car is a mess most of the time.  However as I opened the door, I noticed that it was more than the usual mess…my glove box was hanging open, the center console was emptied, and everything that was once inside of them was strewn about the inside of my car.

It is not the first time I have had a car broken into, but that still doesn’t lessen that initial feeling you have when you realize that someone has invaded your property and gone through your belongings without regard for anything.   Luckily nothing major was missing, my cd’s, a bowling ball, all the change in the car…but still not the way I wanted to start my day.

I tried not to think about it during the day and go about my normal work.  I wanted to clear my head, so I went home about 30 minutes early and went for a bike ride.  Getting outside on a day when the weather is great always cheers me up.  Exercise helps relax me and clears my head.  It was turning out to be a pretty good day…until….

I took a trial I was unfamiliar with and thought connected to the road but instead dumped me out in the middle of a field….about a half mile from the road I needed to be on…

There was a muddy dirt trail I could take, but road bikes don’t handle muddy trials very well.  So I decided to walk it.

If you ever walked around wearing clipless bike shoes, then you know what I am talking about.  If you haven’t…imagine that bottom of your shoe is just a solid piece of wood…and right near the middle of your foot is a 1/2 inch chunk of metal that sticks straight down.

So there I am, trudging across this muddy field, carrying my bike, and I have time to think and reflect on the day…

I woke up and started my day with my car being broken into…bummer

And now I am walking uncomfortable through a corn field carrying a bike…bummer

What else could go wrong?

Right as I think this…POP!

The strap on my right shoe just snaps….the only thing that was holding the top part of the shoe down and keeping my foot in the shoe was no flapping in the air as I tried to take one more step…but failing…

I then stood there wearing one shoe, carrying my bike…with my broken shoe behind me in the mud, one sock slowly absorbing the moisture out of the mud that I was standing in, still a ways away from the road I needed to be on, thinking back to the events of that morning…

There was only one thing left to do…

I laughed.

This wasn’t a laugh to keep from crying kind of moment; I truly thought this moment was hilarious.

Even with all of that happening that day, looking back, I would still say I had a good day.

The more I thought about how and why I felt this way, I came back to a lesson I learned a long time ago.

There is always one thing you control in every situation…and that is how you respond to that situation. 

Things are going to happen…

Bad things, good things… you will fail a test one day, you won’t get that job you really wanted, the really cute guy will like someone else…

Everything will not always go your way… and you know what…that is ok.

If there is one thing you can learn from Thomas here it is that we ALL doubt!  We all have questions…we all want proof…we want to see the nail holes!

We think that is what it takes to keep our faith strong!  To see proof!

What if I argued the opposite…it is the doubt, the fear, the struggle that helps keep our faith strongest…

That those who never question their faith do not appreciate it as much as the one fights and struggles and works at it…

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar.
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of victory

As he defeated – dying –
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!
-Emily Dickinson

So what do we do during these times of doubt, loss, failure, questioning, confusion…

That is when we have to exactly what Baty said…be an optimist.  Find the good and respond positively even when doubt and darkness try to shut out the light.

Only thing you can always control is how you respond.