Archive for the 'Advent' Category

Real Live Hope

In early October I wrote a “Response to Roseburg” shortly after the shootings at Umpqua Community College. Politicians of “all sorts and conditions” sent “thoughts and prayers” to those touched by that horrific act—but did nothing new to change things. Both religious and non-religious folks proclaimed the hypocrisy of “thoughts and prayers” that didn’t lead to transformative action. I shared a colleague’s prayer: “Help us listen to your voice in addressing the violence which permeates our culture, and give us the strength and will to do what you ask of us, to bring hope and healing.” I also called for us who follow Jesus torediscover the peacemaking tradition in Christianity….” 

Two months later San Bernardino happened. My frustrated, grieving, angry response was “How Long, O Lord? An Advent Lament.”  I asked brothers and sisters in Christ, How long will we who follow Jesus mirror our society’s attitudes regarding war, violence, and the use of force rather than embodying a countercultural alternative of strong, assertive, nonviolent love in the spirit of Jesus?… how long will Christians living in the USA choose to be Americans first and Christians second?” Popular religion works hard to erase that boundary. I believe authentic faith in Christ sharpens it instead of erasing it.

I’m hardly the only one thinking about how people of faith respond to gun violence.  One such group recently talked, prayed, and struggled their way to an “Advent Declaration on Gun Violence”. Its Preamble says in part, “A spirit of fear, enmity, racial prejudice, distrust, and violence is tragically normal in our [American] way of life. We believe this is contrary to the gospel, and so we say ‘Enough of this. No more.’…There is an urgent need for followers of the Prince of Peace to challenge the easy use of guns in our society.”  

This declaration sets the bar pretty high—but no higher than it’s always been for us who follow Jesus. Signers of  “An Advent Declaration” affirm that:

  • “We advocate for greater restraint and stricter controls on the private use of guns.”
  • “We accept the way of the cross.”
  • “We take up the armor of the Spirit.”
  • “We seek the justice that makes for peace.”
  • “We pursue love for enemies.”
  • “We are confident that the goodness of God defeats evil and injustice.”

The closing paragraph states: “Relying on God’s grace, we commit to lead our faith communities in acts that do good toward enemies, for this is the strongest witness to God’s love and defeat of evil, the most compelling contributor to the transformation of our enemies, the best way to de-escalate violence, and the path to build communities of peace where all can flourish as beloved children of God.

I’ve signed this Declaration. I urge you to read it, ponder it, pray about it, discuss it with others. Don’t sign it unless you intend to act on it! Sign it if your journey with Christ leads you in this direction. It’s not a litmus test for “real Christians”. I don’t pretend that electronically signing a document will change the world. Nor do I imagine that the current 157 signers are enough to accomplish that change—though Jesus started with just Twelve! Let this Declaration refocus your discipleship. Let it lead you into asking new questions, into asking old questions in a new way, and into entertaining new answers to old questions. Let it lead you into conversation with folks with whom you disagree strongly (judging by the intensity and volume of previous engagements!) Let this document lead you to listen deeply and prayerfully to your neighbor, even if he/she doesn’t immediately respond in kind. Eventually that will happen. Let this declaration lead you to serve others inside and outside the church. Let it lead us where we never imagined we might go to do what we never imagined God could do through us. Let the community that forms around this Declaration become a sign of Hope for all who still cry out, “In God’s Name–How Long?”

christmas change

HOPE is the itch I’m trying to scratch. During this Advent season I haven’t heard clearly the outrageous impossible Hope that comes to us in Christ. I haven’t heard how Advent not only looks backward to Jesus’ birth but also forward to Christ’s coming at the end of history to heal the world’s brokenness. I haven’t heard how this Child will turn our upside-down world right-side-up. I haven’t heard how God invites, empowers, and expects every follower of Jesus to help build this New Creation.

I haven’t heard God’s wild, wonderful promises through the prophets: “… swords into iron plows… spears into pruning tools…they will no longer learn how to make war. (Isaiah 2:4 CEB ). “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” (Isa. 11:6 NRSV). I haven’t heard that majestic litany of Jesus’ other names: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 NRSV)  I haven’t heard the en-couraging news that “God is here, right here, on his way to put things right and redress all wrongs.” (Isaiah 35:4 MSG). Nor have I heard the astounding eschatological promise that “Blind eyes will be opened, deaf ears unstopped; lame men and women will leap like deer, the voiceless break into song.” (Isaiah 35:5-6 MSG)

If I’m feeling a hope deficit, what about neighbors going through struggles we can scarcely imagine or comprehend–fire, flood, disease, environmental or economic disasters; refugees who can never go home again; the friends and loved ones of the 12,000+ people who have died in gun incidents in this country in 2015; so many more. How long, Lord?

How do we know “God is here, right here, on his way to put things right…”“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14 MSG) Love wrapped in flesh like ours embodies Hope in the midst of despair and brokenness. “…followers of the Prince of Peace…challenge the easy use of guns in our society…We obey Jesus’ simple strategies of love: refusing to hate in return, unilaterally forgiving those who harm us, doing good to people who oppose us, and continually praying for God to bless all people, even those who treat us as enemies.” A community of people exhibiting such strange and wonderful behavior transforms outrageous impossibility into God’s truth happening through God’s people—you and me!– here and now! :“… swords into iron plows… spears into pruning tools…; they will no longer learn how to make war.”  “God is here… to put things right and redress all wrongs.”

Help us listen to your voice in addressing the violence which permeates our culture, and give us the strength and will to do what you ask of us, to bring hope and healing. In Jesus’ name. Amen”

“How Long, O Lord??” An Advent Lament

US gun crime in 2015 (Figures up to 3 December)

353 Mass shootings        62shootings at schools

12,223people killed in gun incidents       24,722people injured in gun incidents

Source: Shooting tracker, Gun Violence Archive

  • How long will we tolerate nearly-daily mass shootings in our nation and fail to take meaningful action to stop them?
  • How long will we watch processions of victims being transported to the hospital or the morgue—and accept such tragic scenes as the “new normal”?
  • How long will we watch grieving families weep and mourn their loved ones—while praying that our community isn’t next—but do little or nothing to make a difference?

“ If only you would tear open the heavens and come down!”  Isaiah 64:1 CEB

  • How long will politicians let their fear of the NRA keep them from enacting sensible regulations regarding gun ownership?
  • How long will we fail to require licensing and insurance for gun ownership and users similar to that required for other lethal equipment such as motor vehicles?
  • How long will we entertain the ridiculous claim that assault rifles and similar weapons of war are normal household appliances, toys, or sporting equipment?
  • How long will we believe the lethal fiction that we’re safer with more guns in more people’s hands in more crowded public places?

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  • How long will we allow the condemnation of all Muslims for the actions of a few hyper-extremists?
  • How long will we allow misguided policies and divisive rhetoric to become recruiting tools for future terrorists?
  • How long will we tolerate the cycle of mass shootings followed by universal hand-ringing followed by failure to take meaningful action?
  • How long will we talk past one another instead of with one  another and demonize those with whom we disagree?
  • How long will the words of Scripture proclaim our continuing collective insanity (doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results): “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly.”? Proverbs 26:11 NRSV
  • How long will we continue to slash mental-health funding that can provide life-changing treatment for disturbed people who might otherwise become “active shooters”?
  • How long will people of faith trust everything and everyone that promises safety and security more than we trust the One who is “…Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”? (Isaiah 9:6 NRSV)
  • How long will our spiritual leaders remain fearfully silent or at best timidly indifferent regarding guns and the glorification of violence in our culture? (HINT—Christmas Day is too long!
  • How long will we offer “thoughts and prayers” for victims of violence divorced from any commitment to transformative action toward preventing future tragedies?
  • How long will we whine that “God Isn’t Fixing This” when the real issue is our choice (passive or active) not to collaborate with God in healing brokenness and building a new world?

God Isn't Fixing This

  • How long will we who follow Jesus mirror our society’s attitudes regarding war, violence, and the use of force rather than embodying a countercultural alternative of strong, assertive, nonviolent love in the spirit of Jesus? In other words, how long will Christians living in the USA choose to be Americans first and Christians second? Fuller Theological Seminary professor Kutter Callaway writes about renouncing his Second Amendment rights. I hereby renounce mine. It’s time for followers of Jesus to rediscover  and reclaim our peace-making tradition found in the early church, the Mennonites, Quakers, and Church of the Brethren,and more recently Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, the Sojourners movement, and others. More along this line soon.
  • How long will we talk and sing about Incarnation (God’s love embodied in Jesus) while failing to become God’s instruments through whom Redeeming Love becomes physically present to all neighbors within our reach?

“The Word became flesh and blood, “and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” John 1:14 MSG

Living Toward the Light (Flood Journal 2)

The house we’re living in while our “water incident”-damaged home is repaired is only about three miles away. But it feels much farther. We’re a little higher up the mountain. The neighborhood is more densely wooded. The houses are farther apart. It gets much darker much more quickly.

That’s why Carson and I walk less at night. Neither my aging eyes (yes, I admit it!) nor his nine-year-old dog eyes work well in the dark. Our eyes need light to see! I have no desire to run into four-legged strangers larger than a rabbit, especially a coyote or javelina with a temper—and an appetite for a 17-pound Shih Tzu. Carson’s self-image is “Fierce Invincible 100-lb. Rottweiler Lap-Dog”. But four-legged strangers don’t always see that side of him.

Our ritual morning walks continue. Lately, however, they’ve started in “deep darkness” as the days have grown shorter. We walk east the length of our quarter-mile driveway to the road. Our “light” as we set out is at most a very faint hint in the east. By the time we’ve followed Carson’s meandering route and turned back toward the house, the light has begun to grow. As we turn around and walk west, the light is rising behind and around us. The light reveals the true identity of menacing shadows. They are rocks or bushes—just as they were yesterday, last week, and last year! Now, ten days past the winter solstice, we celebrate the light’s growth each day.

We longed for the light this past Advent season. Many people honestly wondered whether it would come. On a personal level The Flood dislocated us literally and spiritually. Newtown shocked the nation, even more so because it was the week’s second mass shooting, following the previous Tuesday’s incident in a Portland, OR mall. Congress again displayed its dysfunction as it failed to solve the “fiscal cliff” issue and left other critical legislation untouched. [I give our legislators minimal credit for today’s Band- Aid, assuming the House has sense enough to add its consent.] Syria and Egypt continued to be unstable in the Middle East with little hope for peace on that patch of earth. Extreme weather hammered much of our country while climate-change denial continued unabated. You can write the next verse as well as I.

But “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5 NRSV)  The Sunday after that horrific Friday our Methodist choir joined with Catholic and LDS singers in a community Christmas concert. It’s a long-standing annual tradition here in Chino Valley, Arizona. Some Christians in the community don’t care to associate with such a doctrinally-diverse group, but we just keep on singing. The young LDS missionary from Ogden, Utah who sang next to me struggled to fit this unique gathering into his worldview. We don’t agree on everything, but we agree on the joy of Christmas. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” After the concert, Dianna and I watched the Newtown Memorial service we’d DVR’d. Again we saw people transcending deep divisions to share comfort and hope. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” TV journalist Ann Curry invited us to do “26 Acts of Kindness”, one for each Newtown victim. Thousands of people responded. (I’m among those who count 28 victims, including Adam Lanza and his mother.)  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Serious conversations around the issues of guns, mental health, and the pervasive violence in American culture are happening and will continue. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  It’s early, but some politicians show signs of growing enough backbone to confront ideological extremists with common sense. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  Recently my colleague Rob Rynders posted a blog titled “Why the UMC Needs an Era of Innovation.” It‘s so boldly visionary that I hear “realists” refusing to believe, mumbling, “It’ll never happen”. But Rob’s next post, “Innovative United Methodist Ministries”, lists eleven innovative ministries already in progress. That’s by no means all the newness blossoming in the wilderness, United Methodist or otherwise (cf. Isaiah 35). “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

I started writing this nearly two weeks ago, before Dec. 21 and the Winter Solstice. Shortly after Christmas, we experienced a period of extended moonlight. Carson and I really appreciate moonlight in the “deep darkness” of this land we now call home. The moonlight can be nearly as bright as the sun. But that brightness never lasts. That brilliant light happens because the earth, moon, and sun are aligned so that the maximum surface of the moon catches the sun’s light and reflects it to earth. But as the heavenly bodies move, that alignment shifts. Eventually we have moonless nights and “deep darkness”. (That’s more than I know about astronomy, so no follow-ups, please!)

On a recent morning walk (Carson calls it “Dawn Patrol”), I thought about how our lives of faith reflect Christ, the Light of the World. When we’re aligned with Christ, the light is as brilliant as that full moon that turns darkness to daylight. Folks see Christ in and through us with laser clarity. But when things get out of alignment, the darkness deepens. “Christ-in-us” is anything but clear and inviting. “Deep darkness” covers everything.

If I were a resolution-maker, 2013’s one resolution would be: “I will do all in my power, and be open to God doing all in God’s power, to keep my life aligned with Christ, the Light of the World, so that Light may shine through my life for all to see and live by”. We who follow Jesus are “The people walking in darkness [who] have seen a great light”. We know on this side of Christmas and Easter that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Never. Not ever. Thanks be to God!


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