Monday, August 10, 2020

At Risk

A friend recently reminded me of an old joke about a man hiking in the dessert and he gets bitten on the butt by a rattlesnake. His hiking partner makes a phone call for emergency help and get the advice, "make an incision between the fang marks and suck the poison out."

"What did they say!?" the man asks anxiously as his condition worsens.

The partner lowers his head solemnly and replies, "They said you're gonna die."

These days it's easy to see that our value for our fellow man's life is often shallower than we would like to think. Based on our disapproval of someone's response to the latest crisis management protocol, we're quick to blast each other as having no concern for our fellow humans. There's something innate that says that argument should have some leverage. I would argue that we've overestimated ourselves in that regard since Adam.

This is no political statement about our current situation. It's an appeal to all of us to probe that daunting intersection of practicality and compassion and be honest about what we find in ourselves. Straw men burn easy. Nobody cared about those "at risk" until they believed it was a threat to themselves. Before then we just stuffed them in nursing homes and waited for our inheritance. Clearly I'm overstating the case but I'm sure you get the point. Do you really care? It takes more than a mask to prove it and the opportunity won't disappear when our current crisis ends.

Roll over, buddy. We're making an incision.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Every Day New

Let every day be new

Though every day alike

WIll test if faith is true.

That’s part of the design.

Let every day be new

Though old is there again,

The force we tire against

That forges greater strength

Let every day be new.

Bring only what is good

From one day to the next.

Let old die as it should.

Let every day be new.

Let Mercy meet you there.

Let Grace forget your flaws,

No guilt remains to snare.

Let every day be new.

Now give what you’ve received.

Enrich another life

With mercy, grace and peace.

Let every day be new.

Remember just one thing,

That over every day

The Son is still the King.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

You Versus You


You verses you.
What it really is.
What we really do.

Not who we despise
When we roll our eyes.
Just you versus you.

Not, "They make me say..."
Or, "They make me do..."
Just you versus you.

"But I'm mad as hell.
They don't treat me well."
Still you versus you.

"God made me this way.
It's his fault today."
Not really the truth.

"I'm just throwing stones
They already threw."
Not righteous. Not new.

There is no excuse.
Just me versus me
And you versus you.

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Tenanites

In biblical history, the Israelites have had to deal with a lot of other "'ites"; Canaanites, Jebusites, Hivites and and a host of other people groups that spell check doesn't recognize. As a family, we've been studying our way through the parables in the book of Matthew. While narrating back what he remembered from the parable of the tenants, my nine year old son identified a new group.
"...then the owner of the vineyard turned it over to the Tenanites to produce its fruit."

After we all had a little laugh and continued our study, the nature of the slip became somewhat profound. A targeted portion of the audience for Christ's parable was the religious and political authorities whose forefathers played a role in driving out all the different enemy-ites. Now those authorities had become the object of Jesus's metaphor about people who will be driven out. They had become the enemy-ites. It went over about as well as Jesus's teachings about them usually did. They looked for a way to arrest him.

So here we are today with a tendency to feel rather confident about the rights we associate with being Christian. We're well established to say the least. That's partly because of the privilege we've inherited from righteous forefathers. I know our nation wasn't forwardly founded on Christianity but it was close enough that Christians have naturally grown to expect a high level of privilege and influence.

 A prominent point in the parable of the tenants is that God's "vineyard", the resources he has invested for the purpose of getting a return, are only for those who have returning it to him in mind. I say all this to pose a question for myself as much as anybody. To any degree and at the risk of fighting God himself, has privilege and influence turned my faith into the means of preserving my privilege and influence? Faith may well result in both but I see the need to keep scrutinizing my own motives to make sure they're focused first on what God expects from his investment in me. It's easy to become a "Tenanite".

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Hot Potato

I'm on an Old Testament kick again. It's so interesting to study God through the context of historic examples with a specific nation, Israel, designated as his people. That's something we don't have in quite the same way today. It lets us see God without the modern ambiguity about what he's directly responsible for. It's not all tidy and flattering but it is all a truthful glimpse of who he is.

My most recent musing comes from the the book of 1 Samuel where the Philistines are playing a panicked game of hot potato with the ark they stole from Israel after giving them a sound thumping. It seemed like a great victory to the Philistines until deadly illness almost immediately started inflicting whatever town they tried to keep the ark in. As the pattern became clear and the loss piled up, they returned the ark to Israel and their life presumably returned to normal, worshiping the pagan god Dagon in relative health with no immediate doom at their door.

Not to be taken as a God who plays favorites, when the Israelite's got the ark back, God also killed seventy of the them who looked into it. Apparently, if God does lead you to put some real semblance of him in a box, you had better not look too closely.

Anyway, this account carries a couple interesting points for me. One is that God shows favor but not favoritism. Even if you're fortunate enough to be the ones who really do have God in your box, you still have to be careful, perhaps even more so. And that leads to the second point. The Philistines were spared simply because they returned the ark, not because they turned to serving the God of Israel. Sometimes the only thing needed to get out of acute trouble is to stop actively fighting God's people and stealing their stuff. He'll deal with them harshly enough on his own.

Friday, October 11, 2019

In the Land of the Blind

"In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king."
In the land of those who have lost their driving privileges (a.k.a. the foundation house next door) the king is the visitor in the black SUV with chipping, purple wheels and a stereo that lets Wiz Khalifa sing "young, wild and free" to the whole zip code. It's a good jam but as they stand on the sidewalk and triumphantly wave their cigarettes up and down to the beat, it's hard not to laugh at the irony of those who thumb their nose at restraint while trying to drink tiny bits of freedom through a legally kinked straw.

I imagine there's a case being made that the legalities that kink the straw are the thing to be scrutinized. No comment. It's always been tricky business for societies to establish laws that strike the right balance between giving freedom and protecting others against the misuse of it. It seems apparent we're fighting our own nature. I'm not immune. Young, wild and free sounds good to a middle age guy watching from the second story window of his business as well. It just conflicts with the rewards of being responsible that I've come to value more than unchecked freedom.

So I guess that's the thing in this bit of musing. If the one eyed man is king in the land of the blind, who's king in the land of the seeing. I'm convinced that truly seeing changes our fundamental nature to be concerned first with the well being of those around us. Perhaps I'm small minded but I can't see that becoming universal in our current reality. So, I dream of it as a component of Christ's kingdom when young is irrelevant, wild is considerate and free is no hazard to our neighbor. I think we'll still dance triumphantly to the best jams ever. We just won't dump our cigarette tray in front of the neighboring business when we're done. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

High Standards. Low Expectations.

There is an awkward tension in the Bible between facing how short we constantly fall of God's standards and still persevering to be like him. And the more you read, the more is on the line! Hoping to do better each day, we prop up our self esteem and motivation with scriptures about his grace and strength in us before abruptly crashing once more into our old nature like a supervillain with an endless supply of kryptonite. "Consider how far you have fallen"? No problem!

I'm one who emphasizes the value of works in our faith. I'm also the screw-up. In that light, a principle I've encouraged myself with for a long time is, "High standards. Low expectations." It can sound derogatory but let me spell it out a little. It applies first to God's attitude toward you and me. "High standards" is the perfect (or even marginally better) person we all hope to be when comparing ourselves to our Father. "Low expectations" is our Father's knowledge that this is grade school field day. From his own humanity, he also knows we're more likely to trip on our shoelaces than win the event. He's the parent cheering for us anyway, even if we finish last. Just finish! There's enough participation ribbons for everyone. That's why that demeaning parent screaming for nothing short of 1st place is appalling.

But after the participation ribbons are given out, the podiums are real. Father's high standards are attached to his interest in passing his kingdom and wealth onto his children, each according to their ability. His condemnation is only for those who don't trust his encouragement enough to try. That's why he's keeping track of your success, not your failure. He's looking for things to reward, not punish. And he's not weighing them against each other to see how much good is canceled out by the bad.

Yes. Sometimes, discipline has to happen for our own good, to make us children who can handle greater privilege. But that kind of judgement is for parents, not children. And we're the children! Beyond that, it's not merely an encouragement that there's no condemnation in Christ. It's the law! You don't have to beg. Now, retie your shoe laces and go persevere at that higher standard you're struggling toward. Between the lines of Father's warnings to never forget his patience and grace is the message that it's not hard to make him proud.