Archive for the 'Las Vegas' Category

Is It Time Yet???

Yesterday I drove past the Mandalay Bay shooting site on the Las Vegas Strip. Almost a month later the memorial site appears lovingly cared for. A steady stream of visitors includes families and friends of the victims, local residents, and tourists touched by the tragedy. Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo still appears regularly on local news shows with updates on the continuing investigation. He looks a little less tired than he did immediately after the event. The concert site remains an active crime scene closed to the public indefinitely. The yellow crime-scene tape reminds passersby of the havoc wreaked by one very sick man.

As soon as the news broke that night, we heard calls for action to address our nation’s continuing epidemic of gun violence. My initial reaction echoed Old Testament laments: “How long, O Lord?” (Psalms 13:1; 79:5; 89:46; 90:13; Isaiah 6:11). When is enough enough? But many people said, “This is not the time. First we need to grieve and show respect for the victims and their families.”  We did need time and space to process the flood of emotions we’d experienced. That’s happened very meaningfully in the Las Vegas community and across the nation.

Now it’s been almost a month. Is it time yet? If not now, when? How long, O Lord? The news cycle’s moved on to Republican infighting, the World Series (Go Dodgers!), and more. How long, O Lord? A month? Three months? A year? Today I learned that more than 800 people have died of gunshot wounds since October 1! “How long” was too long for them. Oh, I know. Anything we’d done in the last three weeks couldn’t have prevented any of those deaths. But the sooner we act, the sooner more people can live safely and without fear.

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy (D) has re-introduced legislation calling for comprehensive background checks for gun buyers. Murphy’s been fighting this battle since the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. While gun owners and the general public support the concept, Murphy acknowledges his bill has a slim chance of passage due primarily to NRA opposition. He’s also clear that his bill is one small piece of a vast complex puzzle. Other puzzle pieces include mental health resources, a more balanced and up-to-date approach to the Second Amendment, less glorification of guns and violence in entertainment and popular culture, and reduced availability of military-grade weapons and accessories.

I DON’T WANT TO TAKE AWAY YOUR HANDGUN, RIFLE, OR SHOTGUN YOU USE FOR PERSONAL PROTECTION, HUNTING, AND/OR TARGET SHOOTING. I do want you to consider the tension between your freedom to own and use guns and the rights of everyone else (including the 2500+ shooting victims, approximately 840 of whom died)  since October 1, 2017. One piece of this complex puzzle is many, many honest and respectful conversations between folks with drastically differing views. That will require us to set aside our preconceptions and prejudices, listen and share respectfully, try not to yell, and find common ground.

For followers of Jesus, I suggest that conversation includes the relationship between our daily walk with Jesus and our relationship with guns. Are we willing to accept reasonable regulation? Are we willing to speak out and vote against the NRA’s absolutist stance, and support politicians who do so? How do we reconcile our relationship with guns with Jesus’ call to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45) and to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9)? As we said earlier, this dialog about guns, gun use, and violence in our culture will be more of an ultramarathon than a sprint. But we’ll never finish if we don’t get to the starting line and begin the race together.

2015 saw 372 mass shootings in this country. (A mass shooting is commonly defined as one in which four or more people die.) In December 2015 a group of Christian leaders gathered to reflect on this record violence. Out of that gathering came the Advent Declaration on Gun Violence. It represents a considered Christian approach to the issue. Whether or not you agree with every detail, I suggest it as a useful starting point for dialog around the issue with folks in your church. Of course I invite you to sign it if you feel led to do so. I have. And I won’t declare you unchristian if you choose not to! But I hope you’ll take a serious look at it, read and reflect on the scripture references, and invite some other folks to consider it with you.

It’s been almost a month. Countless “thoughts and prayers” have been offered for the victims of the Mandalay Bay shooting and other events. Is it time now for meaningful prayer and action to impact this nation’s epidemic gun violence? I know at least 800 folks–probably close to a thousand by the end of this month–who’d say a resounding “Yes!”–if only they could.

PS 1) Here are links to blogs I wrote in response to mass shootings in 2015: “Response to Roseburg” and “Real Live Hope”.

2) Where have I been all this time? This retired United Methodist has been serving as interim pastor for an ELCA Lutheran church. Great learning experience for all involved!

Easter–Right Before Our Eyes!

Recently we learned of the sudden illness and death of a good friend. She was the organist in the church I served immediately before retirement. Her husband is also a good friend. Marti’s death was the third significant loss for that congregation in a relatively short period. First was the announcement of the pastor’s imminent reassignment (after four years) to another church; the second was the not-unexpected death of a long-time church member whose daughter is also a long-time active member.

I emailed Pastor Jen to encourage her as she made her way through this difficult period, and to let her know my wife and I would attend the memorial service that would be held the afternoon of Palm Sunday.  “It’s a good thing Easter’s coming,” I commented, “because we really need it.”

Dianna and I arrived home early last week to find Spring enthusiastically springing forth in our yard. From a distance we saw our huge Palo Verde tree gloriously shouting “YELLOW!” . When we got closer, we saw that the green-leafed Oleanders had turned pink and white. These signs of new life proclaimed “…the Word of Life…right before our eyes…” (1 John 1:2 MSG)PART_1428255890142_20150405_101636

Early Easter morning our dog Rufus  woke me for his daily walk. Along the way I wondered how our neighbors would spend the day. A  few houses had more cars than normal, likely a sign of company. But we didn’t meet any of the humans or dogs we usually see. Had those humans overruled their dogs? Gone to a Sunrise service? Stayed home to fix Easter brunch? Traveled to be with family? Like that first Easter, it was a very quiet morning.

As Rufus and I turned toward home (and the rising sun), I found myself reflecting on people who really need Easter this year.  I thought of those whose burden of grief included multiple losses–our friends in that congregation; others whom we knew in other places; countless others whose names I don’t know—but God does, thank God! I thought of victims of disaster and violence whose stories fill the headlines—for a little while.  I thought also of others who are footnotes that go mostly unread and unnoticed.

I thought also of people already at work that early Easter morning. Las Vegas’ 24/7/365 culture encourages both locals and tourists to believe we should be able to eat, shop, gamble, be entertained, pampered, transported, whateverwhenever. The good news is that people are working, especially as economic recovery continues. But much of this work is in demanding, draining, dead-end jobs. Many of those jobs come with long hours and (for two-earner households) conflicting schedules that play havoc with family life, sleep, and any semblance of normality. But it’s the best they can do. If they complain, they’ll be gone and the next interchangeable human part will take their place.

“It’s a good thing Easter’s coming, because we really need it.” Our hyper-connected world keeps us (over)-informed of our brokenness—broken people, broken lives, broken minds, bodies and spirits; broken rules, relationships, systems, and covenants; broken communities that don’t know where healing begins; a broken planetary ecosystem that may already be terminal. If Easter’s coming to all these broken places, let it come soon!

Which brings up the role you and I play in redeeming our world. Now that Easter’s come, HOW DOES THE WORLD WITHIN OUR REACH KNOW? If we’ve truly been raised up to a new way of living (as our pastors told us yesterday), CAN ANYONE TELL THE DIFFERENCE? If we’re “Easter People” and “Every Morning Is Easter Morning“ as the song says, HOW IS THAT REVOLUTIONARY NEWNESS OVERFLOWING OUR OWN LIVES TO TRANSFORM THE WORLD WITHIN OUR REACH? How does the Good News of the death of Death (1 Corinthians 15:50-58 MSG) become as in-your-face inescapably real as our Palo Verde tree brilliantly proclaiming “…the Word of Life…”?

The Good News of Easter in your life and mine might look like:

  • Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matthew 5:9) Instead of the polarized yelling-past-each-other that has become the norm, let us learn and model a different style of political and religious conversation. Let us honor the other, with whom we disagree so intensely, as a child of God and thus our brother or sister. Let us listen more deeply and speak less divisively.
  • The earliest church got in trouble with the Roman government because it took such good care of “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40, 45). Let us offer the same revolutionary care to those in our own communities who are “hungry…thirsty…homeless…shivering…sick..in prison”. (Matthew 25:35-36 MSG)
  • The earliest Christians soon found themselves breaking well-established boundaries as the Good News of Jesus spread from Jewish society to the Gentile world. (Cf. Acts 10:1-11:18)Let us identify and lovingly but firmly break unjust (unholy) boundaries in our world that separate people from God and each other.
  • Early Christians understood idolatry with laser clarity. (An idol is whatever takes first place in your life; anything or anyone you award that absolute first priority that belongs only to God.)The Father of Jesus Christ is the only true and living God. All other gods were/are inferior and completely powerless. New believers coming out of various pagan backgrounds were taught clearly that they had to choose between the one God of Christian faith and the impotent idols of their former life. When Roman emperors began asserting claims of divinity and demanding the loyalty oath “Caesar is Lord!” followers of Jesus responded “Jesus is Lord!” The two statements are mutually exclusive. That profession of faith cost countless Christians their lives. Let us be laser-clear about the rampant idolatry, celebrity worship, and consumerism in our culture. (Sounds like fuel for a future post!)

Palo Verde yellow is our 2-year-old granddaughter’s favorite color—at least this week. What if we made Palo Verde/ “…Word of Life…” yellow our favorite color. Let it call us to live bright, colorful new lives. Our neighbors who need Easter so badly just may begin to discover along with us “the Word of Life…right before our eyes.”

A Moving Experience (1)–Now We Know

“…Abraham [and Sarah]…went out without knowing where [they] were going.” Hebrews 11:8

About six months ago my wife and I decided to relocate to Las Vegas, Nevada. I served churches there for a total of twelve years. [Yes, “Sin City” has many churches of “all sorts and conditions”.] Two of our children and all five of our grandchildren live there. Since I retired three years ago, we’ve made that drive (four hours each way from our home in north-central AZ) at least twice a month. We were wearing out the road and ourselves. The solution turned out to be to put ourselves close enough to participate more fully in our growing grandchildren’s lives. (They are, FYI, the top 5 most amazing grandchildren ever. But all of yours are also in the top 5. Don’t even try to do the math!) Our journey to that new home has followed a longer, twistier road than we’d ever imagined. The nasal/whiny voice from the back seat kept asking “Are we there yet?”, and our consistent response was a desperately prayerful, “Not yet. But we’re getting closer.”

Dianna and I are experienced movers. Her family moved every year or two while she was growing up. That experience equipped her well to marry a United Methodist pastor-to-be. My 40+ years of active ministry included more than a dozen job-related moves.  We are grizzled veterans of the Moving Wars. Every move has brought its own surprises. But this time we’ve felt a special kinship with Abraham and his journey. (See Genesis 12-25)  One of his spiritual descendants wrote that Abraham “…went out without knowing where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8 NRSV) That’s precisely how it was for us. No bishop had decreed and whispered in God’s ear our itinerary and final destination. “By faith…” we went out, “without knowing where…”

“Are we there yet?” The voice grew more and more strident. Our quest grew more and more complex. We looked at more homes in more places than in any move in almost thirty years. We encountered folks with hidden (and not-so-hidden) agendas well beyond simple real estate transactions. Two months ago we thought we understood the timeline. So we stored about 80% of our possessions anticipating we’d see everything again about now. We were wrong. So far all we’ve seen of those things is the monthly storage bill.

A few days ago we came to the city once more. We went out with our real estate agent (who’s become a friend) thinking we knew where we were going. Recently the price had dropped on a house we thought could be a good fit. Turned out the price was so reasonable because the house in the flesh was such a poor imitation of its online pictures and promises. We were disappointed but not surprised. We regrouped and turned to a home that had been on our radar. We’d more or less concluded it wasn’t right for us. Turned out it was. Within 24 hours we had a deal. NOW WE KNOW the where, what, and when of our new home.

“By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going.” (Heb. 11:8 MSG) We set out appallingly clueless about where we were going. We considered some seriously “out-of-the-box” options.  Family, friends, economics, and reflecting time on those long back-and-forth drives helped focus our search and clarify our needs and wants. But the crucial part of this journey was the act of saying Yes. It was the step beyond talking, “blue-skying”, and “what if-ing” to doing something. “Faith” goes far beyond simply believing “six impossible things before breakfast”. “An act of faith” chooses to embrace those counter-cultural, counter-intuitive beliefs and allow them to shape our life. The Message translation makes that very clear. Most translations render the roll call of faith heroes in Hebrews 11 with the refrain “by faith…”. The Message’s refrain is “by an act of faith…”. Faith isn’t faith until it’s shaping your life.

Our journey has raised all sorts of spiritual issues, not unlike the issues that confronted Abraham. What’s God’s will and how do we know it? Was our future home predetermined from the beginning in some heavenly script ? Or was it just the best choice available after our unsuccessful attempts to buy the other places we thought were “The One”? Our journey has also included numerous encounters with greed, idolatry, and assorted sin, and also with good and helpful people simply trying to do their best and be helpful. Perhaps we’ll address some of these issues in future posts.

Dianna and I are hardly the only folks “going out without knowing where….” Life shoves us out the door onto the road to somewhere more often than we care to admit. Here’s a prayer for all pilgrims who don’t know the GPS coordinates of their destination:

“Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (Traditional prayer quoted by David Lose in Preaching at the Crossroads)


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