Archive for October, 2018

You Don’t Say?

October 21, 2018

I opined earlier this week about various potential catastrophic events that could prove to be the undoing of the world or large portions of it, whether by a lack of bugs or education-related financial collapse.   Neither of which was on the horizon as I was growing up under the shadow of imminent nuclear annihilation.  The Doomsday Clock is a visual reminder of the potential horror we still live with, but which time and the passage of landmark arms limitation treaties and reductions in nuclear arsenals slightly quelled.  Those achievements actually moved the clock back significantly, both from where it started in 1947 and where it nearly struck midnight in the 1980’s.

Incidentally, we’re back to two minutes before midnight on the clock, just like we were in 1953.

So withdrawing from a decades-old agreement signed by President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 just sounds foolish, doesn’t it?  Surely our President has, once again, gone mad!  Or remained mad.

Maybe not.

It’s fairly common knowledge that the Soviets and the Russians have failed to keep the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.  The main effect of this seems to be that the Russians have felt free to work on new weaponry while the US – in honoring the treaty – has not.  Pulling out of the treaty with international understanding that it is Russia who has not honored it and therefore rendered it moot might be a good reminder to folks that the Cold War isn’t necessarily over, and nuclear weapons are still here and likely to stick around long past our lifetimes.

Unless someone presses some  buttons and accelerates the end of our lifetimes considerably.

Nothing much changes, folks.  While it’s comforting to think that we’ve progressed past barbarity and distrust and dishonesty and spies and assassinations and all the other hallmarks of a long and difficult history as a species, we haven’t.  This requires wisdom to navigate the safest course we can through our sinful condition, and we need to recognize that not everyone honors the principles and ideals that we find so soothing and wise.

While it’s sad to see something that was a big deal at the time discarded, it’s sadder to know that it was never really the big deal we all hoped it would be.  Back to the drawing board, and prayers that maybe next time it will work a little better.

Reading Ramblings – October 28, 2018

October 21, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Reformation Sunday, October 31, 2018

Texts: Revelation 14:6-7; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; Matthew 11:12-19

Context: Reformation Sunday commemorates the anniversary of Augustinian monk Martin Luther posting a series statements for debate and discussion, now known as the 95 Theses. This act – not particularly subversive in and of itself, would lead to arguably the single greatest change in the Christian Church since the split of the Eastern and Western churches hundreds of years earlier, or perhaps even Pentecost itself – the Protestant Reformation. Many of my brethren prefer to call this Sunday a celebration, but I can’t. It isn’t that Luther’s insights weren’t necessary to restoring the Gospel to Christianity (a process that is always ongoing and in need of reasserting every week!), but rather it is unfortunate that what began as a hope for reformation within the Church led to schism, and to literally centuries of various wars and conflicts afterwards about religion. Although division is sometimes necessary, it is never desirable. This Sunday should emphasize the radical nature of the Good News that the Son of God died for you. Not because you’re good enough or try hard enough, but purely out of divine love and mercy. This is the real and true and ultimately only Good News, capable of changing your life not merely for the span of a few years, but for all eternity.

Revelation 14:6-7 – In Lutheran circles this is a traditional text for Reformation Sunday, in part because there are some who see these verses as descriptive of Martin Luther and his role in restoring the centrality of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected to the Church. While I don’t think that interpretation of these verses is necessary, it is a possibility that God the Holy Spirit used Luther towards this end. Contextually in Revelation, this angel is the first of three that bear warnings and messages to creation in the last days. This angel bears an exhortation to worship God based in good news (gospel). The good news is of Jesus, who is not named here but no other source of good news could easily be invented or surmised here instead. Because of the victory of the Son of God, his sinless life, sacrificial death, vindicating resurrection, glorious ascension, and promised return, Creation can respond in praise of God the Father who has worked all of these things to his glory and our blessing.

Psalm 46 – You can hear Luther drawing inspiration for his famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress, from this psalm. The psalm does not promise exclusion from fearful and devastating events, but rather assures us that God remains the source of our hope and strength in such times (vs.1-3). Verses 4-7 are very reminiscent of Revelation 22, which describes the glorious eternal city, complete with a river that flows from the presence of God. Verses 8-11 again call us to faith and confidence in God, who will bring all evils to an end. Verse 11 is a repetition, a refrain with verse 7. God will continue to act in his creation and bring all things to their proper ending, to his glory and our blessing. This is where we set our confidence and hope, rather than in the transient affairs of our day.

Romans 3:19-28 – Perhaps we feel we have heard this a million times, and yet it bears repeating another million times because of our easily confused and swayed hearts. In all aspects of our lives we are prone to the idea that we reap what we sow, we get what we deserve. These are pleasant indulgences if we happen to be blessed with health and wealth. I suspect, however, that those who suffer from pervasive poverty, hunger, and oppression of all sorts would be hesitant to say that they themselves are the cause of their own suffering. Likewise, we are prone to thinking that, while of course we’re not perfect, we’re a fair sight better than many other people, and God must appreciate that and take that into consideration as He blesses us. But this is not true. If we want to stand before God the Father next to the Law in order to point out how we’re better than Hitler, the Law will still silence us, because the Law demands perfect obedience. It does not grade us on a curve. And even if it did, we would still fall short because Jesus fulfilled and obeyed the Law perfectly – He ruined the grading curve for us! No, if we want to feel good about ourselves based on the Law, the Law will only and always shut us up and deny us the comfort and boasting we are prone to wanting. Rather, God has determined to save us apart from the Law, by his own plan, his own Son. It is only and completely here that we can find comfort and peace. It is only and completely in the perfect life, death, resurrection, ascension and promised return of the Son of God that we can take heart and hope whether we live our lives in relative comfort or in the grip of terror or sickness. We have no room to boast, and no room to rest on our laurels, as we have no laurels. Rather, we appropriately boast only in Christ, and give him the praise and honor.

Matthew 11:12-19 – Who is going to heaven and who isn’t? Who is worthy and on what basis? What does the kingdom of heaven consist of? Has there been any shortage of assertions and ideas? Why does heaven always tend to look the way the person describing it wants it to? We have our ideas, but our ideas fall short of the glory of God the Father’s perfect plan, and the very perfect reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. Try as we might to claim it for ourselves, deny it to others, define it the way we like, it remains out of our hands, and all our efforts come to nothing. We can only receive what God brings or reject it. Either we allow ourselves to be brought into the kingdom on God the Father’s terms, through God the Son, by the power of God the Holy Spirit, or we don’t enter at all. We have no leverage, no way of bending God to our will, coercing, convincing, or forcing him to do things the way we like or the way we expect.

What beautiful news this is! If it is all really in God’s very capable hands, then we can’t screw it up! If it is all in God’s hands, all his plan and all his doing and all his glory, then we can’t be locked out based on the sinfulness of others or even the sinfulness within ourselves. God will remain God. The Son of God will remain the Son of God, despite two thousand years of reinterpretation and reapplication, each seeking to claim and co-opt the God-man for our purposes whether beautiful or banal.

It is all God’s plan. It is all God’s work. It is all God’s glory. And by his grace, you and I find ourselves there, unexpectedly and surprised no doubt by both the beauty and magnitude of his plan, and the graciousness and persistence of his love.

Your Money at Work

October 19, 2018

How do you help cope  with the devastation of Hurricane Michael in the Southeastern United States?  Lots of ways come to mind.  You could volunteer your time.  You could send money.  You could rally others to do these things as a group.

Or you could fly 15 dogs to Santa Barbara from Florida.

Something you might want to consider the next time you’re hit up to donate to the Humane Society.

I can’t honestly believe that this was the most cost effective solution to the situation.  Surely there were shelters closer that could have accommodated these animals at a fraction of the cost?  But to fly them across the country?!  Are they going to be flown back at some point once the influx of storm-related loose animals abates?

I speak as a dog owner and dog lover.  This just sounds like a ridiculous waste of money, and yet is being promoted as somehow wonderful.  I’m glad these dogs are safe and that other animals can be safe because of relocating existing shelter animals.  It’s one of those logistics that I wouldn’t naturally think of.  But I also wouldn’t naturally think of relocating them to the entire other side of the continent.

More Doomsday

October 17, 2018

If death from nuclear war or a massive decline in bug population wasn’t enough to make you jittery, perhaps this little article will.  One in ten people is more than 90 days in default on their student loans.  Student loan debt has grown by 157% in just over a decade.   What does that mean?  Over $1.5 trillion dollars in existing student loan debt.  Interest rates on student loans have topped 5% for undergraduate loans and are nearly 7% for advanced degrees.

Yet one cited expert in the article posits the student loan debt rise isn’t nearly a crisis on the scale of the housing collapse a decade ago.  He claims the difference is that student loan debt isn’t systemic.  I’m not sure what he means by that, considering earlier in the article another expert described the situation as systemic.  Elsewhere the article reported a further increase in the number of people living at home with their parents still by age 35.  Generations of people are unable to do the things their parents did by their late 20’s and 30’s because they’re saddled with massive student loan debt and, surprise surprise, aren’t able to find jobs that enable them to continue paying it off.

Meanwhile, tuition rates are basically at all-time highs and continue  to climb.  Why not?  If people are being groomed to see college education as an absolute necessity for future financial security, of course people are going to keep taking out loans to pursue that education.

Those most likely to default on their loans?  People who attended for-profit schools, minorities, and those who started on their education but didn’t finish.  Also, as a whole it’s the smaller loans that are defaulted on, rather than the big, six-figure loans.  Those who spend a lot of money to get advanced schooling for careers in law and medicine tend to be better able to repay their loans.

Meanwhile, the government just keeps handing out loans.  After all, it’s not  the government’s money.  It’s yours.  And mine.

I don’t know how any financially sensible person could see this situation as anything but a massive bubble waiting to burst, and burst it eventually will.  At which point I’m sure the effects will be very systemic.  And pervasive.  Destruction by nukes, bugs, or financial meltdown.  At least we have options to place our bets on.


More Than One Way to Go

October 16, 2018

As a kid we worried about nuclear holocaust.  I can vividly remember some of the emotions that would strike from time to time as I pondered a cruel reality of a nuclear arms race I was powerless to affect.

Turns out there might be other things that take us out before nukes do.  Like the disappearance or decline of massive quantities of bugs.  And while this is a comforting thing in the confines of my house, on a global scale it sounds very much like the recipe for a global natural disaster of epic proportions.

Just one more thing to ponder before you fall asleep tonight!

Heir of the Dog

October 15, 2018

Here’s a good essay by well-respected author and academic Gene Veith.  He asks the question whether adults should still be held culpable – even prosecutable – for crimes they committed as minors.

His basic point, one that is reflected in many of our legal forms and procedures (such as – in general – treating minors accused or convicted of offenses differently than adults, including lighter punishments and the possibility of having their criminal records as minors expunged or sealed permanently), is that we generally understand that children are children and held to different standards of accountability.  We all did things as  children that, having attained some level of maturity or at least age, we wouldn’t repeat.  The why we wouldn’t repeat might be sketchier – is it just a better understanding of legal ramifications or actual recognition that words or actions once somehow judged appropriate never really are?  But barring some extreme situations, I don’t presume to judge the character of an adult based on some random fact about their childhood, especially if what I know of them as an adult outweighs that random incident.  Such as, say, eating glue in third grade.

There are also times when a minor commits one or more crimes so heinous that they are no longer treated as children but as adults, because the fundamentals at play ought to be understandable even by someone under the age of 18.  There’s a line between adulthood and being a minor, but it can be a permeable one, as well as an inconsistent or inaccurate one.

What interests me, tangentially to this conversation, is our obsession as a culture with beginning to rescind honors and accomplishments by individuals based on a later-discovered moral failing or flaw, perhaps an isolated incident but more typically of an ongoing nature.  I first wondered about this with Bill Cosby.

For example, his honorary degree from Penn University was revoked in February 2018 as the nagging rumors of sexual foul play finally materialized and were acted upon, leading to his conviction and a 3-10 year prison sentence.  Wikipedia claims Cosby has over 70 honorary degrees from various institutions.  Many rescinded those degrees once his misdoings were verified.  Other institutions did not revoke their degrees, such as Virginia Commonwealth University.  Other schools removed the names of prominent honorees from buildings because of either real or perceived transgressions.

Obviously Cosby’s sexual behavior is deplorable and deserves punishment.  However on the flip side, does  such behavior counteract or overwrite a person’s other achievements?  Is this a binary thing – where you are either an accomplished professional or a disgusting criminal?  Can you only be one or the other?

That is problematic to me, as I don’t know many binary people.  I know many people who have wonderful characteristics but also who have some characteristics I don’t like so much.  And of course in my vocation as pastor, I am called upon to hear confession from time to time.  Very personal and specific confessions of actual bad or even illegal things people have done in their past.  And I am then charged and privileged to declare the forgiveness of Jesus Christ to that person, and to mean it.  I’m not allowed to distance myself from that person afterwards because what they confessed was too heinous.

Yes, there is a difference between the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and potential  legal liability for one’s actions.  But again, this isn’t a  binary thing.  We’re all guilty of some infractions real or imagined, large or small.  Did we make a full stop at that stop sign?  How often are we going over the speed limit?  Yet we generally say that such things don’t negate the good things a person has done or accomplished in their life. Sure, you ran that stop sign, but we’re not going to take away your Nobel Peace Prize because of it. 

As a Biblical Christian, I hold the tension that says that each of us is capable of amazing acts of love and grace, and at the same time capable of amazingly hurtful, cruel, even criminal behaviors.  The person is the same, capable of both sides of the coin, and therefore not binary.  Perhaps for short periods of time, but when considering the work and span of a person’s life, only in rare cases (Hitler, duh?) can we say that a particular person was practically universally bad.  Or good.

St. Paul fleshes this out in his amazing words in Romans 7.  This reality that we all live with – that there is a continual battle within us between the sinful and evil me, and the holy and righteous me.  I’m not binary.  By putting my faith in Jesus Christ, both mes exist within me – for the moment.  Only one is going to last, however.  Eventually I will be binary – I will be completely and only perfect.  But until that day, when Jesus returns and ushers in a new creation, I remain both saint and sinner.  The traditional theological phrase is simul iustice et peccatorAt the same time righteous/just and a sinner.

What this should lead to is not a glossing over or ignoring of sin, but the recognition that someone might be capable of a great sin, and yet still capable of accomplishing something great and praiseworthy, either before or after the period of time when they perpetrated the great sin.  It allows me to condemn Mr. Cosby for his sexual violence against women while recognizing that he is a legitimately gifted comedian, actor, and even thinker.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  And just as the sin needs to be punished, the gift remains worthy of praise.

And such praise is necessary, every bit as necessary as the punishment of sin or illegality is.

If  we’re only going to acclaim the admirable works of perfect people, we have nothing left to praise.  Nothing at all.  Which means what remains would be to determine which sins or illegal actions would be severe enough to counteract not only whatever good someone may have done in the past, but any good they might achieve in the future.  (And, for the Lutherans reading, I’m using generic terms and not dealing with a theological argument about whether we on our own are capable of any good works!)

And who will determine what sins or illegal actions those are?  And on what basis?  And what happens when a sin that is at one point considered heinous is eventually not viewed as a sin at all?  Can we counteract not the punishment that was due, but also the praise that was scrubbed out?  I don’t think so.

Hopefully Mr. Cosby learns from his sins and their consequences.  Not only that, I hope that others in positions of power or influence or wealth learn that such behavior is wrong.  Always.  But his accolades and accomplishments need to remain in the public eye as well, as reminders of what is possible despite our shortcomings, our failures, our sins, and as encouragement to others that good can be accomplished even if they get off to the wrong start.

Reading Ramblings – October 21, 2018

October 14, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost – October 21, 2018

Texts: Ecclesiastes 5:10-20; Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 4:1-16; Mark 10:23-31

Context: As a father I think a lot about what I want my children to do and be. Not that I have preconceived notions, necessarily, but I think about how we as parents should be preparing them for life and the world. What should we emphasize and what should we not emphasize? Culturally, the emphasis by many parents we know – both Christian and non-Christian – is that the most important thing to do is prepare their kids to enter university and complete a college education. They go to great lengths to accomplish this, whether it’s private tutoring, working with their kids after school, home-schooling, pushing them to do volunteer work, etc. But as Christians the most important thing we can do is to convey the faith to our children, and I wonder how things might be different if parents were as fixated on this as they are on educational and vocational preparations. What if parents and grandparents valued and modeled a value on spiritual growth and maturity rather than standardized test scores? I think the texts for this week contribute towards this discussion.

Ecclesiastes 5:10-20 – Traditionally ascribed to Solomon late in his life, this book has long challenged and confused theologians uncomfortable with philosophical musings and what seems a very secondary focus on God. Yet the verses quickly sum up the reality of our lives – we spend so much effort on what we have and how to have more and better of it, yet these things actually mean very little and don’t last. Certainly it’s nicer to have more than less, but if this becomes the center of our lives we are destined for disappointment. Then more is never enough. More brings more worries and concerns about how to maintain it or use it. Our goods can be lost in an instant, whether through natural disaster or economic crisis or bad management or fraud and theft. And for the person who once had much and now has little? How bitter and angry that person might well be. Yet God created us for work, and to take joy and pleasure in our work for the sake of working. Luther would point out that our work is intended to be for the benefit of our neighbor, and this sort of work is a fulfillment of the summary command to love our neighbor. If this can be our focus – doing what God has gifted us to do so that not just us but those around us are blessed – we have a simple joy that is not easily rattled or stolen.

Psalm 119:9-16 – What should we train our children to be most concerned about? In our culture it seems that acquiring a certain kind of education and therefore a certain kind of job is most important, and families sacrifice nearly everything in order to assure this happens. The sort of enthusiasm and deliberateness these verses convey are hardly ever spoken of regarding our children’s (or our own!) spiritual formation and maturation, but are reserved almost exclusively for education and work and advancement. What dedication and focus (v.10)! What eagerness and enthusiasm (vs.11-12)! What a willingness to not alone learn but to apply and emphasize (vs.13-16)! How can we teach our children and neighbors and ourselves that this sort of effort is more valuable and beautiful than a Harvard degree or a six-figure income?

Hebrews 4:1-16 – We follow the lectio continua with Hebrews, just as we did with James, Ephesians, and 2 Corinthians earlier in this season of Pentecost or Ordinary Time. The theme continues from the latter part of Chapter 3, emphasizing the importance of not allowing ourselves – or those around us – to slowly lose faith and hope and trust in God and in the source of our salvation, Jesus the Son of God. Scholars debate whether these sections should be read as primarily applying to ministers and other workers in the Church, or more broadly to the priesthood of all believers. The point is important either way. Faith is something that can be lost, and the repercussions of doing so are brutal, both individually and – in the case of leaders in the Church – for those they lead. It’s easy to assume that once someone has accepted Jesus as their Savior, they could never lose this beautiful reality. But the more accurate reality is that we can – not necessarily through some violent rejection, but simply as something that fades away through neglect until one day it just isn’t there any more. So we must continually nurture our faith, growing in not simply understanding but appreciation of what we have received, and learning each day to see and experience life through faith and the God who created, redeemed, and sanctifies us. This is again a communal process, not an individual one, yet we as individuals must be intentional towards this end.

Mark 10:23-31 – I can’t believe that the lectionary creators split up 17-33 into two separate readings over two weeks! It makes absolutely no sense as the two sections go together, the latter interpreting and helping us to make sense of the former. Split up, it’s easy to read the first part as moralistic teaching, with the idea that we should not be like the rich young man, but rather be willing to sacrifice anything and everything for Jesus. Yet each one of us likely has something that we would be unwilling to offer or give up in order to follow Jesus! This is the point of Jesus’ explanation to his disciples in vs. 23-27. While many have tried to re-interpret the camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle statement, making it very difficult but attainable, it’s clear that Jesus’ disciples recognize the point Jesus is trying to make. It isn’t just difficult for us to enter the kingdom of heaven based on what we do – it’s impossible! Jesus affirms that this is true, and offers the alternative – that we enter heaven not based on what we do but what God does. We can’t do it. The rich young man – who appears to have been very earnest and devout, whom we are told Jesus loves – couldn’t do it. How much less can we? Jesus says it is impossible. The moral is not to not be like the rich young man, but rather to cling tightly to the faith God the Holy Spirit brings to us, allowing us to see Jesus as the Son of God sent specifically so that we might enter the kingdom of heaven, who is willing to extend us his righteousness in place of our sin, his death in place of our own so that, like He, we might be raised to new life.

And the irony in all of this is that Jesus’ disciples don’t get this point. Rather, Peter does what you and I are tempted to do. He tries to show how his faith is better than the rich young man’s. Peter – and all the disciples – have left behind their means of making a living and whatever lot they had in the family business to follow Jesus. Isn’t that impressive? Isn’t that laudable? If Jesus is demanding poverty, surely the disciples have won the contest and done what the young man could not? Doesn’t that mean that they have done what they need to in order to receive eternal life? Jesus doesn’t directly respond to this insinuation. Rather, He assures them that if they are feeling bad for all they have left behind, they should recognize all they have and will receive. The call to follow Jesus may involve a call to poverty by this world’s standards, but never by God’s standards. Not everyone will receive a calling to poverty, but we shouldn’t fear it as the worst possible thing, either. The riches we earn and enjoy in this world don’t last, but what we are offered in right relationship with our Creator can’t ever be taken away.


October 12, 2018

That’s how this post will make me sound, I’m sure.  Though if you’re a regular reader you probably drew that conclusion a long time ago.

But particularly, my grumpiness has to do with the efforts of congregations these days desperate to try and improve their image in their community.  Often times this is tied to declining membership and a desire to appear welcoming to the community.  Task forces and committees get together to come up with ways and means for engaging  with the community.

This is one of those vague, nebulous phrases that takes on a life of its own and won’t seem to go away.  I think it assumes that the reason Christian congregations are – overall – shrinking in size and growing older demographically as fewer young people bother to attend is that the community doesn’t know they’re there or views them as disconnected.  To disprove this, congregations seek to show up in their community as involved entities, demonstrating love and care for the community.  Oftentimes this comes in the form of providing services the community might want or view favorably.  It could mean providing help to the less fortunate.  It could mean supporting and promoting local artisans and small businesses.  It might even extend into the political arena  to some degree.

Through community engagement, a congregation will benefit from greater exposure and an improved public opinion about them.  I suspect that’s the basic goal.  The further, often unstated goal is that there will be people in the community impressed enough with the congregation’s engagement to begin attending.

It sounds nice  and good.  I can’t completely fault it, as much as I’d like to.  I guess I don’t fault the idea of being part of a community, but I question whether a congregation is able to do so as opposed to individual members doing so.  And I definitely question whether community engagement accomplishes the goals it sets out to achieve.

I  don’t think there are a lot of people in our communities who aren’t already active members of a church (or mosque, or synagogue) who sit around each week  lamenting that they have no idea where to find other like-minded believers to gather with.  Before the Internet we had phone books where you could easily look up pretty much every major church (or mosque, or synagogue) in your community.  It might have just been a single line or a full-page ad, but you could find them.  It’s even easier now with the Internet and Google.  If people want to know you’re here, they will figure it out.  I don’t think that publicity or exposure is a major challenge Christian congregations face and that accounts for falling attendance.

Similarly, I don’t think the community will have a much changed opinion about a congregation that engages in the community.  It seems like every cause or event now has sponsorship placards and signs all over it.  It’s easy to shell out a few hundred dollars and have your name slapped on a flyer listing supporters.  So easy, in fact, that I never pay any attention to it.  The only reason I might pay attention is if it’s something that I disagree with or find objectionable and I want to know who’s supporting it so that I don’t support them in some way.  But if it’s a good thing?  Hey, everyone should be supporting this, so it’s no big deal if one particular church is supporting it.  If I’m going to church already I’m not going to change churches just because I see a church supporting something I like (at least that shouldn’t be the reason I change churches!).  If I’m not attending church already, I’m probably not going to just show up randomly at a church I see on a flyer or a sign for an event.  I’m far more likely (statistically) to go to a church where I know someone and where someone has actually extended an invitation for me to attend.

So while the community might be happy to have support for a particular cause or event, I don’t think that support is going to result in new people showing up for worship.

Particularly if you’re a conservative, traditional sort of congregation that doesn’t support abortion, euthanasia or same-sex marriage.  More and more these churches are going to be seen as anathema.  Not simply out of touch with the times but actually evil and wrong.  More and more, younger generations wouldn’t be caught dead in a place like that.  What if their friends saw them?  What if their employer knew they went to a church that didn’t support abortion?  More and more faith is going to become a cultural and therefore professional liability.  People will choose churches – if they go at all – that won’t cause them difficulties in seeking that big promotion at work, or cost them the chance at public office.  Even President Obama learned that lesson once he was more permanently fixed in the public eye.

Communities will be happy to receive whatever congregations are willing to give them.  Well, that’s not actually true.  Communities are going to be less and less interested in receiving the one thing those congregations should give them – the Gospel.  The truth that there is real and true and objective good and evil, and that there are eternal ramifications to these things.  That by default we’re in the camp of evil rather than good, and that we can’t extricate ourselves by any words or actions or feelings or thoughts.  Our only hope lies in the Son of God who suffered and died for our sins, received the punishment we deserve for our sinfulness, and offers resurrection hope and life in his own empty tomb.

That’s the unique gift a Christian church can offer the community.  The one thing the community can’t get anywhere else.  The only things that really truly matter.  Truth.  Hope.  Forgiveness.  Grace.  Life.

I wish I heard more congregations and Christians talking about how to get those things, that message out into the  community instead of how to get the community to like us more for doing things that anybody or any organization could do by writing a check or fielding a few volunteers to wear t-shirts.  The Church’s job is not to get our community to like us.  The Church’s job is to witness to Christ crucified and resurrected.  More and more, that message is going to be offensive and will engender hatred rather than social  media likes.  It’s going to prompt vandalism and protests and angry letters to the editor.  Not because we want it to, but because we have an enemy at work stirring up hearts and minds and confusion in opposition.  That’s real community engagement, loving your community so much that you’re willing to tell them the things they don’t want to hear.  Offering the real assurance of forgiveness and grace if and when they come to repentance.  Feeding them with the Word of God that conveys eternal life and sustaining and nourishing them with the sacramental gifts of God.

Why can’t we create some great t-shirts for that?



What You Do Matters

October 11, 2018

In our Internet-connected age and world, more and more of our lives are open to public scrutiny.  Part of this is based on what we ourselves actively share through various social media platforms, but also what others – whether private individuals or organizations – share about us through their accounts.  People my age and older often joke about how relieved we are that we didn’t grow up in this sort of technological era, as our stupidity and poor choices could follow us the rest of our lives.

But sometimes even our considered choices and decisions have long-lasting repercussions that could affect us in ways we don’t anticipate.  Take, for instance, the situation of Lara Alqasem.  Lara is a US citizen of Palestinian heritage.  During her university studies at the University of Florida, she rose to the position of president of a student organization called Students for Justice in Palestine.  SJP’s web page indicates that while it rejects anti-Semitism, it views the situation of Palestinians as living without basic rights under Israeli military occupation and colonialism since 1948.

Lara applied and was accepted to Hebrew University in Jerusalem to study human rights.  She obtained a legal student visa, but then was detained by Israeli authorities when she arrived in Israel, under suspicion that she might be a sympathizer with a movement referred to as BDS, which stands for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against Israel.  As per a 2017 Israeli law, foreigners seeking entrance to Israel who espouse anti-Israel stances (such as supporting boycotts, divestments, or sanctions against Israel) may not be admitted to the country.

Predictably, this has outraged some, including, presumably, Lara.  Her appointed Israeli lawyer (I presume) claims she isn’t part of the organization any longer.  I assume this could be attributed to her graduating, as opposed to her renouncing her involvement in the organization.  Her mother insists that while Lara may object to certain Israeli policies, she respects the nation and culture and sees no contradiction in her views and actions.  Her Hebrew professor insisted that she has a positive view towards Judaism and Jews and the state of Israel.

All of which may be true, but then still leaves the question of not only why she would choose to participate in, but actively lead an organization that most people would say is anti-Israel not in terms of select policies but in terms of the country’s existence.  Certainly some people join clubs and organizations to fill out their resumes without ever really participating in the groups.  But to actually lead the organization paints a different picture.

I’m all for free speech.  Go ahead and formulate your ideas and opinions and articulate them intelligently.  But recognize that there may be ramifications for your statements and your involvement.  If your lifelong dream is to study the culture of Israel, then heading up an anti-Israeli student organization in college may not be a good idea.  Some countries retain the idea that while their citizens may have rights of self-expression to varying degrees, they are under no obligation to knowingly let outsiders in who are critical and may seek to work against the interests of the State.  Lara is one of 15 people who have been blocked.

The Israelis indicated they would admit Lara to the country if she willingly and directly (as opposed to her lawyer releasing a statement on her behalf) renounce her former involvement with SJP and the principles it espouses.  The article doesn’t provide any indication that she is willing to do this.  Her case remains at a standstill after an Israeli appeals court decided not to intervene.  Lara is apparently considering an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court.  But it seems to  me that if she really doesn’t believe in the principles of SJP, it would be a much simpler matter to say so herself, rather than have others insinuate that she might not have believed them or may not believe them now.  It may not solve her current situation, but it would be a good-faith move towards clarifying her own intentions.

I’m not sympathetic to this young woman who complains about the bedbugs in her Israeli jail cell and the fact that she’s not permitted much contact via her phone or the Internet.  Unfortunately, it might be that living in the US these days Lara was under the impression that laws in other countries would not be enforced like some of the laws in our own country are not enforced.  She took a great risk in seeking admittance to Israel, even if she was accepted by a school  there.  Jail  is not supposed to be pleasant or conducive to free communication – these are incentives to avoid jail.  Her case sounds to me like another petulant person  demanding that the law not apply to them, while remaining steadfast (at  least thus far) that their past words and actions should not be held against them even if the law says that they can and should.  Hopefully she and others will continue to learn that there are sometimes consequences for what you say and do, and so you need to consider your words and actions carefully.  It doesn’t mean that laws are always right, but they are dangerous things to trifle with.





Wet Bar Wednesday – The Gremlin

October 10, 2018

I think I’ve mentioned before that I don’t consider myself to be wildly creative and innovative when it comes to mixing drinks.  I prefer to follow well-worn and appreciated paths, favoring classic cocktails that have withstood the test of time rather than opting for the latest flavored gimmick.  But inevitably, as you develop a sense of what sorts of flavors go well together, you’re going to do a little innovating just to utilize what you have on hand.

My sister-in-law is in town this week and she prefers the sort of sweet & fruity drinks as opposed to cocktails where the flavor of the alcohol is most pronounced.  Somebody has probably already combined these ingredients before, but I don’t know about it and therefore I’m christening it the Gremlin.

  • 2 parts pineapple juice
  • 3 parts orange juice
  • 1 part Malibu rum
  • .5 parts Amaretto
  • .5 parts blue curacao

Shake ingredients together well and pour over ice.  Pineapple and orange flavors go well together.  Opt for the real  deals rather than artificial flavors whenever possible.  Amaretto pairs really well with orange juice and mellows out the acidic taste of the citrus.  The blue curacao is pretty much just for the look – giving the drink a vibrant green hue.  You can substitute spiced or dark rum for the Malibu if you prefer, but the coconut flavor of Malibu plays well with all these other flavors.  Enjoy!