Archive for May, 2014

Tragic Guilt

May 31, 2014

It’s been a week since seven people died in a terrible shooting spree a few miles down the road from where I sit.  Friends around the country have been sending notes on Facebook and calling up to see how we’re holding up here.  It’s been encouraging, but I feel guilty.

I read about similar episodes elsewhere, the high drama of it all.  The emotional impact.  The political fallout.  The theological opportunities.  Now that it has happened close to us, perhaps the biggest sensation for me is one of guilt.  
Our community, our town, our metropolitan area is fairly small.  Geographically the shootings took place less than 15 miles away.  But culturally, they happened a long ways a way.  They happened in an area of town that is somewhat isolated from the rest of the city and certainly isolated from my weekly comings and goings.  I know that area of town less than any other area of the county, probably.  Our congregation has no students there.  No families with students there.  No families with relatives there.  We have one woman in our congregation who lives in the area – and talking with her about all of this has been important and helpful.  And while interviewing people this week for a position one of the girls turned out to be a sorority sister of two of the people who were killed.  But other connections are hard to find. 
Even trying to place myself into the midst of it, attending a student vigil a week ago, there was no real connection.  Everyone was enclosed in their private grief.  There was no talking, no conversation, no opportunities to really make connections with people.  The post-traumatic stuff was too strong.  I gave the girl I met this week a handful of my cards and told her that if she or her sisters or friends needed anything to let me know.  But I doubt I’ll hear from her again.  Our trajectories are just too divergent.
So being a good Lutheran I revert to what I know best – guilt.  I feel bad that I don’t feel as bad as some others do.  I feel bad that I’m not impacted the way others are.  I can acknowledge that part of this is due to how I’m wired, and part of it is due to circumstances.  But I still feel bad.  
Just not bad enough, apparently.

I Would Vote For This Candidate

May 30, 2014

I would elect them to two terms.  Frankly, if he (or she) could pull this off, I would continue to elect them president until I’m dead.  

Because the alternative is this idiocy.  Which of course, is actually real.  Why does the government need to maintain all of this private data?  Why does a government that demonstrated a fundamental inability to build a web site that worked think that it will keep all of my personal financial data free from hackers? 


May 29, 2014

Facebook has spawned an interesting phenomenon called “Throwback Thursday”, where users upload old photos to their accounts.  My oh-so-subtle twist on this is now called Throwup Thursday, wherein we discuss current events that make me want to hurl.

My TBT began with this little gem of a story, detailing how a small group of largely unmonitored (or erroneously monitored) individuals and groups hold unrestricted water rights in California.  They aren’t subject to the water conservation demands the rest of the state is, and they are in fact allowed unrestricted access to water.  What reporting has recently been required is either not being done, or is being goofed up by the State itself in terms of properly logging data.  I don’t have a problem with water rights, but I have a problem when the State doesn’t even know how much water is being pulled through these rights.  Not very smart!
Next was this article about how tolerant Islam is.  Or more accurately, an article that never once mentions Islam or the religion of the family involved.  While it is true that honor killings or practices like it are not exclusively limited to Islam (and I’m not aware of a Q’uran passage that explicitly promotes this practice), the fact remains that an awful lot of these honor killings take place in Muslim-dominated societies, and prosecution is often lax at best.  Whether Islam formally condones the practice or not, many Muslims believe the practice to be acceptable in certain situations.  
In GOOD NEWS, however, my beloved Sriracha sauce will continue to be available.  This was cast into doubt by neighbors of the plant in a Los Angeles suburb who complained about irritation caused by the processing of chilis to make the sauce.  The company voluntarily improved their filtration systems to try and address this issue, and the city threw out a bid to shut down the plant.  I may now be able to safely return to having only one bottle of the sauce on hand at all times, rather than two.  

Ascension Day Thoughts

May 29, 2014

Some very well-stated thoughts on the importance of Ascension Day.  Turns out the Church actually has some reasons for making big deals out of certain events in the life of Christ, and those reasons actually still make a difference to Christians today (even if much of American Christianity is too hip to acknowledge historical practices).

Where Is Your God Now?

May 28, 2014

Roughly six hours after a young man killed six people, injured over a dozen others, and ended his own life either by his own gun or from the gunfire of police, she was awakened.

There was banging close by.  Pounding, like someone striking the pavement in front of her house with something over and over again.  And there was the yelling.  Gutteral.  Primal.  Almost inhuman.  A conflagration of agony and rage and despair.  
Wake up!  Wake up!  Wake up!  Where is your God now?!
She attends our congregation and Bible studies frequently.  She has lived in the community of Isla Vista for years, on a street that fronts access to the beach and is often at the heart of large-scale events in the area, whether parties or riots or shootings.  She has a large banner hanging on the front of her house proclaiming to the neighborhood the Easter good news that Christ is Risen!

It is likely this banner that caught the man’s attention at 3:30 am.  Or had caught his attention at some time in the past, and was brought to mind in the midst of his anguish over atrocity so vivid in the community’s collective consciousness.  
She was awake now, debating whether to go outside to talk to the man.  She’s a remarkable woman, and engages the surfers and other passers-by as opportunities present themselves.  She isn’t afraid to talk about her faith.  But at a traumatic 3:30am, I think she made the right choice to stay in bed and wait until the person went away.  It wasn’t that she didn’t have an answer for him.  But could he hear the answer at that moment?  And if he heard it, how might he react?
The question is a common one thrown at Christians (and presumably other theists of one stripe or another) in the wake of disaster or atrocity.  How could God allow this?  Why didn’t God stop this?
There are a lot of ways to approach this.  The best answer requires an engagement with the Bible and what God has revealed to us about himself and our relationship to him and to one another.  The best answer is one that many Christians may not have even heard articulated in one setting.  But it takes time to go through, and most people who want to lob theological or philosophical hand grenades – particularly at 3:30am – aren’t interested in actually hearing a lengthy response.
So this shorter response has been bouncing around my brain as I contemplate her visitor’s anguished demand.  
The short answer is that I can tell you where my God is in all of this.  But that more importantly, I can tell you that I have a God, not a jinii/djinii/genie.  
I have a God.  A Lord.  A Creator of the Universe, not an Instant Wish Granter, or in the case of the shooter, some sort of Instant Gratification Organism.  I have a God and therefore that God’s reasons and means of doing things is what matters, not what I personally would prefer to have happen in my life.  The shooter at UCSB felt entitled to the adoration and sexual indulgence of beautiful women.  It was his right, and if he had some notion of a God, I’m sure the shooter was convinced that God was not doing his job very well.  
The man banging in the street at 3:30am had some conception of God, and it must have at least consisted of the expectation that God would prevent narcissistic human beings from killing one another.  Or that He would ensure that such killings didn’t happen in the banging man’s neighborhood.  
What else does this man expect from God?  What does this man know of God?  I don’t intend that in a demeaning or self-righteous way.  The man deserves an answer, and there is an answer, if he will receive it.  That answer is short-handed in the banner hanging from her house – Christ is Risen!  If the banging man is honestly seeking an answer it is hanging in plain view, though of course it needs considerable explanation and application.  
God is here.  God has already answered the shooting in Isla Vista.  And the shooting at Sandyhook.  And the shooting at Columbine.  And the Holocaust.  And every other atrocity we have known or could care to invent.  The answer has already been given in the empty tomb of a man who claimed to be the Son of God and claimed that proof of this would be his resurrection from the dead.  
It is not the answer the banging man likely wants.  Hopefully it is an answer that invites banging man to learn more, though, because it is a far more thorough and complete answer.  But we are a species that likes our demands serviced immediately.  We prefer djinnis/jinnis/genies to gods.  We prefer to be the ones dictating the terms and pulling the strings.  We prefer our otherworldly powers to be bottled up safely until we decide we want to hear from them.  This holds true whether you’re the self-centered young man who destroys what he can’t have but feels entitled to, or whether you’re broken by pain in the middle of the night.
At the end of all things, banging man and you and I and the shooter will discover that we have a God, not a djinni/jinni/genie.  A Lord.  A Creator.   Sin and evil will be dealt with once and for all.  Justice and more importantly mercy will have it’s day.  But it won’t start at 3:30 am, in the dark of night.  
It will come at Sonrise.  

Wet Bar Wednesday – Fireman’s Sour

May 28, 2014

I have no idea how the name for this came about.  If you search a bartending web site for drinks, you’ll be amazed/horrified at the variety of names.  Be aware, this is a dangerous sort of search to do – I’m not kidding.  There are some seriously messed up people out there, and they invent and name drinks.

We tried this one Sunday.  It was a bit too sour for my taste, but you can remedy that through additional grenadine (or maraschino cherry juice, or a bit of sugar or agave, or less lime juice).  My wife liked it, so there you have it.
Fireman’s Sour
  • 1 part white rum
  • 1 part lime juice (as always, fresh squeezed if you can!)
  • 1/3 part grenadine
  • 1 part club soda (to top off the drink)
  • orange slice & cherry for garnish
Mix the first three ingredients together & pour over a tall glass with ice.  Top the drink with the club soda.  Garnish with an orange slice and cherry.  The grenadine will make the drink a very pretty pink, so take that into consideration if pink drinks cause you angst.  Enjoy!


May 27, 2014

The blaming has already begun.  

If only we had stricter gun laws, this would never have happened.  Michael Moore and others including parents of the victims have already begun blaming guns.  
Nobody seems to mention that three of the first victims were stabbed to death.  Perhaps we should outlaw knives as well.  Nobody mentions that one man has two broken legs because the killer gunned his car into a group of people.  Perhaps we should outlaw cars as well.
The refrain sounds louder every time something like this happens.  If only we didn’t have access to guns we couldn’t kill one another with guns.  In which case we’d kill each other with something else.  Like knives or cars or sticks.  With poison or rocks or any number of other items that can be equally deadly.
We don’t talk about underlying causes.  We blame mental illness, but this in the end can be a cop out as well.  How many mental illnesses do we create and codify each year?  How many new ways to describe faulty ways of thinking?  Who gets to decide what is faulty?  How much money will be spent on pills to try and modify the neural pathways and processes to mask this faulty thinking?
We are adrift as a society.  We insist on the sovereignty of the individual will and then are horrified when we see what the individual will is capable of.  We are bludgeoned and bullied towards giving up our rights as a people because of the atrocities committed by the few.  As though the atrocities will somehow end, or somehow be less atrocious if the number of lives lost is fewer by a handful.  
There are people who should not have guns, but this is never the focus of such bullying.  Nobody should have them.  Not anybody.  Only the police.  Only the government.  Only the ones who promise us that they can stop these things from happening if we only give up a little more of our freedoms and rights.  Despite the fact that for the vast majority of our nation’s history we have had guns.  Individuals have had guns.  It’s only in recent decades that such atrocities have become commonplace.  Instead of looking at the myriad other changes in the past few decades, some people simply want to blame guns.
I ache for the parents and friends and families of the victims and the perpetrator.  But outlawing guns will not alleviate their pain.  It won’t restore their loved ones.  Only one person can do that, and that person, the incarnate Son of God, has been banished from the public square, from classrooms and psychiatric offices and government.  The only one who can heal and restore is the only one we refuse to acknowledge.  Refuse to invite into the conversation.  Refuse to listen to.  
I don’t doubt guns will be outlawed.  Perhaps in less than ten years.  But I predict one thing here and now: atrocities will not be averted or prevented.  And far greater atrocities will likely be perpetrated in the name of safety and protection of the population.  
Not that anybody will be able to read this blog by then if that’s the case.  

Leaning In

May 26, 2014

The student vigil at UCSB was beautiful Saturday night.  

It was a hurriedly organized, somewhat spontaneous even, event.  I would never have known about it if I hadn’t gotten a call at church, asking if we would donate candles for the event.  The caller gave his name and claimed to be with UCSB, but wouldn’t indicate in what capacity.  I was given another name and phone number of someone who would come and collect the candles.
It was before I hung up that I knew I would be taking the candles out myself.  I don’t process in groups.  I’m apparently not wired for that sort of experience at an emotional level.  But I wanted to be there for the community.  Because even if I don’t live there or go to school there it’s still part of my community.  
I grabbed a bag full of candles, threw my clerical on with my jeans and much-loved sandles and headed to Isla Vista.  It wasn’t hard to figure out where it was starting.  People were streaming onto the campus.  
Thousands of people – students, staff & administration members of the Isla Vista community – all gathered together in a large square at the center of campus underneath the imposing tower that flies high above the other campus buildings.  Candles were handed out.  Student leaders welcomed everyone, thanking us for gathering together to show support.  The candles were lit.  An acapella group sang Amazing Grace, and we marched in silence into Isla Vista where the massacre took place Friday night.  

We eventually filled a small park and natural amphitheater.  People were crammed together on the grass and standing along the borders.  I was pressed up against the outer fence, where I had a perfect view of the assembly thanks to the trash can in front of me that prevented others from standing there.  At the opposite end of the park was the stage.  It was brightly lit with just a single microphone on a stand.  The student leaders again welcomed us and thanked us for being there and then left the mic open for whoever wanted to talk.  No agenda.  No message.  
Perhaps 5000 people most of them college age, sat on the grass with their candles, staring at that stage.  The UCSB Chancellor spoke, and then a random assortment of people.  They shared poems, anecdotes about some of the deceased.  There were encouragements to the assembled people, efforts to help them process and cope and move on.  We aren’t like him.  The good people outnumber the bad people of this world.  Lean on one another.  Our community saves us.
I wished I wasn’t hemmed in by people on the opposite side of the park and stage.  I had been waiting for an hour now for someone to step forward to speak.  To speak with authority.  To offer some sort of real hope.  
Ahhh, but this is the twenty first century.  We’re postmoderns now.  We don’t believe in authority.  We don’t trust it.  We don’t believe in truth.  Truth is in ourselves.  Truth is what we claim it to be.  Experience is everything.  
But I believe that for the span of a few hours Saturday night, people might have listened.  Might have considered.  Might have gone away with something real to ponder and chew on.  
We are like him.  Every one of us.  Every one of us has contemplated at least briefly revenge.  Every one of us knows the pangs of loneliness, knows the ragged edges of desperation in one way or another.  We know heartache and disillusion, and we are no stranger to the voices that whisper from those cliffs, encouraging, soothing us with illusions of solutions that multiply misery.  Every one of us has the anger and outrage that fueled that young man.  We are like him.  We are not better.
And as such we’re in real trouble because the bad people outnumber the good people in this world by 99.9999999999999999999999999999999999999999999%.  Only be narrowly defining good to be what we do, and excluding our emotions and thoughts and temptations can we even begin to believe that we might sometimes be good.  It’s a shallow goodness though, more dependent on our mood and whether we just had a good meal or not.  It’s a transitory good, a good of convenience most often, a thin veneer over raging selfishness.
We may not act on our impulses, and that is a limited sort of good.  The limited sort of good that society depends on to survive.  We differ from the shooter in that for whatever reasons we turn away from those whispers at the cliff edge.  Again, most likely out of selfishness.  Out of a persistent hope that things will get better, however bleak they may be right now.  
We can lean on one another but we will fail one another.  There were plenty of affirmations of what a loving and open and helpful and kind community surrounds and encompasses the university.  I hope that it’s true at one level or another.  But it obviously isn’t perfectly true.  This one person felt excluded.  Unwelcomed.  Misunderstood.  Community can’t save us.  Regulations can’t save us.  Authority can’t save us.
We have to be transformed, and no matter how good the intentions of academics and policy makers, they can’t transform.  No pill or therapy can transform. We can only medicate, only treat symptoms, only dull the edges of pain and desperation.  Only God can transform.  Only God can give real hope that lies beyond the all-too-immediate limitations of our selfish natures.
I wish I had been closer to the podium.  I wish I had been braver and stronger.  To speak a word of Truth, not just an opinion or an idle wish.  To speak the Word of hope because those thousands of people desperately needed hope.  And very quickly, as the speakers came and went, those thousands of people (myself included) started filtering away into the night.  Candles exhausted.  Fingers numb from melted wax.  With no fewer questions than when we arrived, no more answers.  Just the reminder that our culture no longer has anything to offer in these moments other than to lean on one another for support.
Until the next time.  

Reading Ramblings – June 1, 2014

May 25, 2014

Date:  Seventh Sunday of Easter, June 1, 2014

Texts: Acts 1:12-26; Psalm 68:1-10; 1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

Context: This is the final Sunday of Easter, but also comes after the Ascension, observed the previous Thursday.  As such, the first reading picks up immediately following Jesus’ ascension, describing how the Church continued (began) to function as they awaited the Lord’s return.  The psalm continues in a past tense praise of God’s works.  The readings from 1 Peter continue to emphasize patience and endurance and the Christian life lived out in waiting for the Lord’s return.  Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17 is very appropriate for the Church who awaits his return. 

Acts 1:12-26— Christ has appeared to his followers over a period of weeks, but now He has left them with explicit instructions to await the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Whatever they thought this would mean, it was clear that He expected them to function, indeed to leave Jerusalem to bring the good news throughout the world.  Immediately we see a shift from simply existing in fear and isolation, to making plans and arrangements.  They have been twelve disciples, they will be twelve again.  They leave room for God’s input by casting lots rather than just arbitrarily appointing someone. In doing so, they now wait expectantly on the Lord’s timing to send the Holy Spirit to lead and guide them to their next duties.

Psalm 68:1-10— The first three verses of this Psalm are expectant, reflecting a waiting upon the Lord.  In the Lord’s time his enemies will be dispersed and the wicked will perish, resulting in faithful followers of God offering praise in thanksgiving for their deliverance from these troublesome elements.  The next three verses exhort us to praise God for his protection, the way He cares for his people even as their enemies, the wicked, remain present.  The final four verses of the selected reading emphasize the Lord’s power.  He can indeed look after his people and protect them.  We are indeed wise to trust in his provision and ultimate deliverance!

1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11 — Peter has been exhorting his hearers to endurance and trust in God, to doing the right thing even when it brings them condemnation and suffering, and this continues in today’s reading.  Moreover, suffering is not to be equated with guilt, as though God’s people somehow deserve what they might have to endure.  They suffer secure in the knowledge that they will be vindicated by their Lord, just as Jesus was vindicated in his resurrection.  As such, God’s people should turn their minds to ensuring they are living out their faith.  Our focus is not on suffering, but on what we are called to do in any given moment or circumstance.  We remain humble, we do not worry, we resist temptation, and we keep our eyes on the vindication that will be ours one day as well!

John 17:1-11— Jesus begins his final prayer by asking for God the Father to bestow on him the glory that his obedience conveyed to the Father.  His duty was to grant eternal life by revealing the Father in his obedience, and those who acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah (Christ) and the Father who sent him to indeed receive eternal life. 

Jesus has revealed the Father to the inner circle of followers, the Twelve Apostles.  They in turn have learned obedience from watching and listening to Jesus, witnessing his own obedience.  Their obedience is obviously imperfect, and will continue to be shown as such in the coming hours.  But they have been taught, and have begun to follow.  Not only have they followed and learned obedience, they have received Jesus’ words, words which He in turn received from the Father.   The Word of God has God the Father as the source—He does not speak separately from God the Father, but is the very voice of God the Father made flesh. 

It is these that Jesus is praying for.  His disciples.  His inner circle.  His friends.  The ones He has called to follow him, knowing full well it will cost them everything, including their lives.  While Jesus has come so that all might be saved, He prays specifically here for his friends and followers, through whom that message of salvation will come.  He prays for their protection, as well as for their unity.  In the hours of horror that will follow, though they will be physically scattered, He prays for their unity of faith and trust.  In the months and years that will follow his resurrection and ascension, He prays for their unity of obedience and purpose. 

This prayer is still vital today.  Scholars may debate if we can reasonably extend Jesus’ words in this specific moment to apply to his believers everywhere still today, but the spirit of those words certainly does.  We are called to unity in him.  And while Christians may disagree doctrinally, it is important for us to confess and affirm wherever possible that the core details we are united in, and these core details are enumerated historically in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. 

We are divided doctrinally in how we make sense of certain aspects of Scripture, but we are united in many others.  While we should not pretend that differences don’t exist, we should find ways to affirm our unity in the faith, even if our practice is driven by different interpretations and understandings.  We may not be able to worship together in good faith, but we should stand by one another outside of worship, affirming that the body of Christ is still united, is still protected, and will stand together—even in the midst of our differences. 

We are certainly still in need of our Lord’s protection and prayer, and we are assured that we have it, even in the midst of suffering or persecution.  We have it because of our Lord’s love for us, every bit as much love as His love for his disciples.  This should embolden us to do good as Peter exhorts us to, knowing that it would be insane to be persecuted for doing good, but that even if we were to be so persecuted, our vindication will ultimately come from our Lord.  The world may laugh at us know for our efforts at obedience, at not only hearing but living out the Word of God.  But one day the Truth will be known.  Until that time, we pray that as many as possible—even those who laugh or mock or persecute—will receive that same Truth, and that in that Truth they will have life along with us!


The Kids Are Not All Right

May 25, 2014

Last night a young man killed seven people in the area of our town associated with the university.  The young man is suspected of posting an online video complaining of his loneliness and how women ignore or reject him.  For the second time in less than two months this community is rocked with what appears to be pointless violence.  This time not the work of drunken debauchery, but an equal disconnect with reality, an equal inability to think out the repercussions of one’s actions.  An equal willingness to destroy, to lash out. 

There will be plenty  of voices weighing in on this tragedy.  I’m sure that in short order it will be confirmed to be the work of a terribly unhappy young man.  It will be determined that there was nothing that could be done to prevent this.  Blame will be dissipated.  Just another act of random, regrettable violence.  Nothing to be learned here.  
Nothing except that once again, someone who should have much to look forward to decides they have nothing to look forward to, and would rather spend their last moments of vision watching destruction and death before ending their own life.  Another person without any recourse to suffering, no way to contextualize it, no way to see beyond it, no way to bear up under it.  
Our young people are in need.  Need of good news.  Need of hope.  Need of love and friendship.  Need of support.  There is so much to be learned here.  So much reminder of what our communities of faith have to offer, and why we can’t simply give up because people don’t respond the way they used to.  We have good news.  We have got to figure out a better way of sharing it.