Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The REAL Santa!

I met the real Santa Claus. No, seriously. He passed the one true test. Let me explain.

I work at Saint Christopher's Episcopal Church in Gladwyne, PA. This past Sunday we had a parish Christmas party with all the works - even a Santa Claus for the kids. But little did we know that when we called to hire an actor to play Santa Claus we would get the real deal.

Most people think Santa's got to have a real beard, rosy cheeks, and a jolly laugh. Well this is all true, but it's not really what counts.

Our Santa had all those things, but it was only until after it came time to pay him that we found out that he was the real Santa Claus. When our secretary was ready and willing to settle up, he politely asked that the $125 be donated to his charity to help families in need. Apparently the real Santa Claus does this every Christmas and doesn't earn a dime for himself.

And after that he got into a giant sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer and flew off into the sky. No joke.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Power in Weakness: A Paradox

The New Testament may be summed up in two words: paradox and eschatology. If one were to read through from Matthew to Revelation, it would not be long before the unexpected paradoxes and counter-cultural messages became obvious. And though there are many accounts of God’s mysterious work in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul best summarizes the work that God has done in Christ when he states that God’s “power is made perfect in weakness,” (2 Cor. 12:9). This fundamental paradox of the New Testament is in many aspects the core of the Christian Gospel. However, the theme of God’s power in weakness must be coupled with the eschatology of the resurrection, for it is here that this paradox receives its significance. Without the eschatological implications of Christ’s resurrection, the paradox would be meaningless. Paul understood this, as did the authors of the Gospels, Hebrews, and Revelation. It is Christ’s death that provides the paradox, and Christ’s resurrection that produces our eschatological hope. Upon these two concepts Paul makes “power made perfect in weakness” a dominant theme for the New Testament.
The four Gospels are themselves the crux of the divine paradox. They are filled with numerous examples of how God chose to work in a way unexpected by all. That God would become human in the form of a baby (Matt. 1:18), come from the poor town of Nazareth (Mk 1:9), heal Gentiles and women (Matt. 8:5, Mk 5:28), serve others (Mk 10:45), ride a donkey in triumphal entry (Luke 19:35), and prophesy his own death (Matt. 16:21) illustrates the paradoxical nature of God’s plan. However, each gospel’s account of the Messiah’s death is certainly the most befuddling occurrence in the entire New Testament. Not only did first century Jews expect an all-powerful Messiah to vindicate the oppressed Israelites, but even the disciples were disappointed and confused that Jesus had died (Luke 24:21). However, as the Gospels testify, Jesus’ death was not the final word. Each gospel recounts the resurrection of Jesus as God’s vindication of the suffering Son of Man. Thus, it is in the death and resurrection of Jesus that God’s paradox of power in weakness is realized in its most explicit form.
Though the four Gospels share many things in common, they too each have distinct characteristics that illustrate the above said paradox. For example, Luke’s account includes a lengthy birth narrative including a focus on Mary, the mother of Jesus. Specifically, Mary’s Magnificat emphasizes how God has lifted up the lowly in a paradoxical manner (1:46-55). Luke also includes the broader themes of Jesus as a different kind of king and a different kind of prophet. In one case Jesus is a humble king, unlike the kind that was to be expected (19:35). In another case, Jesus is a rejected prophet that was not anticipated of the Messiah (4:24). It is especially Jesus’ role as a prophet that enables his eschatological claims to be trusted.
Matthew includes in his gospel examples of Jesus interacting with various scandalous people groups. Nothing could have seemed more puzzling to first century men and women than Jesus’ invitation to Gentiles to enter the family of God (Matt. 12:18-21). In addition to this, Matthew includes the famous Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus turns the Law on its head (Matt 5-7). More specifically, Jesus lists the most unexpected recipients of God’s blessings, including those who suffer for righteousness’ sake (Matt. 5:3-11). It is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ relation to outsiders that further reinforces God’s paradoxical work.
John’s gospel also displays the mystery of power in weakness. Though the scene is not unique to this gospel, the washing of the disciples’ feet in John 13 becomes particularly revealing of the Messiah’s servant nature as John records the conversation between Peter and Jesus in John 13:8. Furthermore, in Johannine fashion, a lengthy dialogue between Pilate and Jesus is presented in John 18 and 19. During this dialogue the topic of power arises and it is here that John tethers his claim for power in weakness to the cross. This dialogue is significant in illustrating Jesus’ condemnation on the worldly understanding of power in contrast to God’s power that is perfected in weakness.
Matthew, Luke, and John are all capable of recounting the paradoxical nature of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, but it is Mark’s gospel that perhaps does it the best. Mark’s emphasis on Jesus as the suffering Son of Man exemplifies how God’s power does not manifest itself in ways that we would expect. Though Jesus is displayed as the powerful Son of God in chapters 1-8, chapters 9-16 become the focal point of this gospel. Over a third of Mark’s narrative recounts the last days of Jesus’ life. What Mark is largely emphasizing is the cost of discipleship – the call to serve and suffer. Perhaps one reason for this focus on Jesus’ suffering is that Mark wrote his narrative during a time of fierce tension in the first century. It is probable that many Christians during Mark’s day were walking the line between non-violent martyrdom and violent zealotry.
Still, historical context aside, the call to suffering in Mark’s gospel is clear. Jesus’ invitation to die for God’s Kingdom is a powerful indication of what it means to be perfected in weakness (8:34, 10:37-39). In the same manner, Jesus makes an explicit claim concerning his own purpose as a suffering servant (10:45). However, despite Mark’s focus on Jesus’ suffering, death does not have the final word. Like the other gospels, Mark includes the resurrection of Jesus and recounts God’s victory over sin (16:6). After his rejection, suffering, and death, God vindicates Jesus and fulfills the promise of true power made perfect in weakness. Therefore, it is in the resurrection that Christ becomes the eschatological “first fruits” that Paul proclaims in 1 Corinthians 15:23. And, it is upon Christ’s death and resurrection that Paul bases the theme of power in weakness seen so clearly in his Epistles.
Though Paul deals with a multitude of issues in his ministry, his letters to the church in Corinth provide many examples of the theme at hand. From the outset of 1 Corinthians Paul makes clear that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God,” (1 Cor. 1:18). Interestingly, this statement is preceded by Paul’s defense of his lack of eloquence in preaching the gospel “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power, (1 Cor. 1:17). Because Paul is largely writing in regard to his own ministry, he makes his own weakness an example of how God uses weakness to display power. Paul continues in his letter to condemn the worldly standards of power and to promote the paradoxical mysteries of God’s work (1 Cor. 2:8, 3:19, 4:1).
Following a lengthy section dealing with specific issues in the Corinthian church, Paul returns to the theme of God’s power in weakness in chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians. It is in this powerful chapter that Paul emphasizes the eschatological reality of the resurrection and encourages the Corinthian church to remain steadfast to the way of the cross. By beginning and ending his letter with these themes Paul undoubtedly makes the connection between the folly of the cross and the hope of the resurrection.
2 Corinthians is a revealing letter into the nature of Paul’s ministry and it provides us with interesting historical details about his relationship with the Corinthian church as well as his opponents. Still, however, the paradox of the cross remains Paul’s maxim here as well. This can be seen especially in Paul’s use of the metaphor of the Roman procession in 2:14-17. This metaphor is used to indicate Christ’s victory over death and, in a more forthright manner, to vindicate Paul’s suffering. By identifying himself as a captive being lead by God in triumph, Paul makes clear that suffering and humiliation are not merely necessary costs of ministry but the very means by which the gospel is spread. Because Paul’s credibility was being challenged, he makes plain his weaknesses and identifies them as proof of God’s grace and God’s power (11:6, 12:9). What is fundamentally clear in his letters to the Corinthians is that Paul was never attempting to defend his own abilities, but rather always used his own weaknesses as evidence of God’s power.
Paul’s letters to the Romans and the Galatians are profound theological treatises that deserve much hermeneutical care. However, within the complex theology are the same elements of the paradox that are found throughout the New Testament. Especially significant in these two letters are Paul’s repetitious affirmations of the new reality “in Christ,” (Romans 3:24,26; 6:11; 8:39; 12:5; 15:17; Gal. 2:4, 3:14,26). This emphasis on our connection to Christ makes personal the paradox of the cross. Paul writes specifically on the nature of suffering and encourages Roman Christians to endure in Romans 5:3-5. And, as in Corinthians, Paul writes extensively on the eschatological implications of the resurrection in Romans 8:18-39. Particularly powerful are Paul’s words on suffering in the present in comparison to the glory to come (8:18). Yet still more writing on the topic of suffering can be found in the book of Hebrews.
The recipients of the letter Hebrews were Christians who encountered persecution and were falling away from the gospel. Therefore, the topics of suffering, perseverance, and hope are central to this book. The overarching message of Hebrews is to endure suffering in the same way as Jesus. The author even goes as far to claim that Jesus was made “perfect through suffering,” a phrase that is definitely compatible with Paul’s paradox (Heb. 2:10). By pointing to Jesus as the perfect example of suffering, the author makes the bold assertion that even God suffers (2:9,10,18; 5:8,9). However, like the previously discussed books, the author of Hebrews understands that Jesus’ suffering was not the final word but instead the resurrection and vindication of God’s work in Christ. Looking to Jesus as the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” the author encourages Christians to look ahead toward the eschatology of God’s glory (12:1-4, 13:13-16).
Though the book of Revelation is not easily understood, it too proclaims a message of power in weakness based on the hope of the one “who is, and who was and who is to come,” (1:8). John writes these letters to seven different churches who are struggling with a variety of problems, including pagan worship, persecution, and complacency. Specifically, John encourages suffering Christians in Philadelphia to patiently endure their persecution and to hold fast to their crown (3:10-11). And to suffering Christians in Smyrna John proclaims the paradox of riches in poverty through suffering (2:9-10). In addition to addressing these problems through his esoteric symbolism, John also provides a great deal of hopeful eschatology not unlike that which may be found in Paul’s writings. In the final chapters of his letter John proclaims the victory of God (19-22). It is precisely upon this victory that John, like Paul, makes his claim for the paradox through the endurance of the saints (13:10, 14:12).
Although not every book of the New Testament has been discussed here, the claim for Paul’s theme of “power made perfect in weakness” is most certainly evident. As seen in the Gospels, Epistles, Hebrews and Revelation, God’s power is made perfect in the weakness of suffering. However, not only may it be discovered that God is a God of mysterious paradox, but it must also be understood that God has defeated death and sin through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is in this fact that the mysterious paradox of God’s power is given eternal significance and allows all who suffer in the name of God to hope in the realized eschatology of the Risen Christ.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Short Story

“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

Once upon a time there was a boy. He was a very normal boy who loved to do normal things like climb trees, ride his bicycle, and eat ice cream.

One summer day the boy came upon a talking tree not far from his home.
The tree spoke up as the boy passed. “Would you like to see my magic trick?”
The boy replied, “Sure!”
“Ok, just watch!” The boy stood and waited but nothing happened.
“I’m waiting…” sighed the boy. But the tree was silent. So the boy left.

In the autumn the boy returned to the talking tree that was now dwindling. The tree recognized the boy. “I thought you had left! Do you still want to see my magic trick?”
The boy was excited. “Yes, please!”
“Alright,” said the tree, “just watch.” The boy stood and waited but nothing happened. So he left.

The boy returned in the winter and the tree looked ugly. The boy wondered if it was dead. The tree said nothing.

In the spring the boy returned to the tree had been and he noticed it had new leaves and buds on the tree. Still the tree said nothing so the boy left.

When the boy returned in the summer he found the giant, green tree flourishing. Suddenly the tree spoke. “It’s you again! So what did you think of my magic trick?”
The boy replied, “I didn’t see it.”
So the tree graciously offered, “Would you like me to show you again?” The boy eagerly nodded. “Ok, just watch!” said the tree.
The boy waited and watched but nothing happened. Finally the boy said to himself, “This is silly. I’m too old for magic anyway.” So he left and did not return.

As the boy grew older he changed. He saw many trees but they were all the same. And none of them could talk or do magic tricks.
Then one day the boy moved away and became a man. He became less interested in nature and certainly never thought about magic anymore. He was very busy working and taking care of things.

Over the years he became very successful and had lots and lots of things. But despite his success he felt empty.
So the man worked harder and became busier and had many things to take care of. He became the most successful man at work, but he still felt empty and sad.

At the age of fifty the man took all of his many things and moved back to the town where he had grown up. It was winter.

One day when he was home he went for a walk. He saw the old tree that had spoken to him many years ago. It looked ugly and bare. He thought about the mean joke that the tree had played on him when he was a boy.
“Magic trick!” he sneered. His eyes swelled with tears and he kicked the fat, stale trunk of the tree.

Months passed and the man was lonely. Almost daily he took walks past the talking tree. As spring blossomed he noticed the ugly, bare tree slowly budding and gaining color. Watching the tree change made him happy.

When summer came the tree had become vibrant and green and the man walked past the tree every day noticing its life and color. Somehow the tree’s life inspired the man.

On a warm August evening the man sat near the tree and watched the sun set. Suddenly the tree spoke. “Excuse me, man, would you like to see my magic trick?”

Feelings of betrayal flooded the man’s memory and he immediately responded to the tree.
“What magic trick! You don’t have any magic! You tried this one on me thirty years ago!”
The tree then recognized the boy from long ago.
“It’s you!” exclaimed the tree.
“Yeah it’s me, and you already got me with your stupid magic joke. So, no, I don’t want to see your magic trick!”
The tree conceded, “Alright. I can’t make you see my magic trick.”

There was a long, anxious pause.

Finally the man broke the silence. “I don’t care about your stupid magic trick. But… There is something I'd like to know. I would like to know how you change… how you go from this big, beautiful tree in summer to an ugly, bare tree in the winter and then back to a big, beautiful tree again.”

It was quiet and the man had his back to the tree.

When he turned around the tree was smiling.
“You saw my magic trick!” it shouted. “My magic trick is changing! My trick is surviving the winter and re-blossoming in the spring and flourishing in the summer.”

The baffled man inquired, “If you can do magic then why don’t you just stay like this the whole year round?”
“Oh I see,” said the tree, “You think that if I have the magic to change then I should use the magic to remain this way the entire year.”
“Yes. You certainly look the best in summer.”
“Well,” the tree began, “It doesn’t work that way. I can’t stay like this on my own. I don’t have the magic.”
“What? But you said you – Then who does?” the man squawked.

“The wind.” answered the tree.
“The wind?”
“Yes. The wind. The magic is in the wind. You see, in the autumn I give my leaves away. If I try to keep them I will die. So I surrender my leaves to the wind and the wind gives them away to the ground and the birds and to anyone who wants them.”

“But don’t you get cold in the winter?” he wondered.
“Yes. The winters are extremely hard and I suffer much. But if I kept my leaves in the winter I would surely die. Surrendering my leaves to the wind is my only chance to live.”
“Don’t you get scared?” the man inquired.
“Yes, but I trust the magic in the wind.”

There was another pause and the man paced back and forth a few times before asking, “So how do you change from winter to spring to summer if you give away all your leaves?”
“After I have suffered the winter,” the tree explained, “the wind brings new seeds in the spring and I begin to grow.”
“Where do the new seeds come from?”
“I don’t know. It’s magic. The wind brings new life.”

The man slowly sat down and thought about what the tree had said. There was a long silence.

Then the sound of a light, August breeze was born in the distance. Slowly the breeze swelled into a significant gale and swept passed the man from behind. At that moment the tree let go of some of its leaves and they floated through the air passed the man. The man noticed the leaves gliding gently passed him in possession of the wind.

Without warning the man’s hat blew away and joined the leaves in their unknown trajectory. At first the man’s instinct was to chase his hat. But after a few hopeless steps he stopped. Turning to the tree he whined, “That was my hat!”
The tree replied, “Those were my leaves.”

The man meandered home and grumbled to a non-existent companion. He hated not having his hat.
In the distance a woman was walking toward the man. As she approached, the man noticed something in her hands.
“My hat!” he shouted. He rushed toward the woman. The man ambitiously returned the hat to his bald head. He was so preoccupied with his hat that he had not yet made eye contact with the woman. When he did he was stunned. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
“I was out walking and the wind blew this hat right to me. So, I decided to go looking for its mate.”
“Oh,” said the man, “thank you. My name is Robert.”
“I’m Caroline, pleased to meet you.” she replied. The two began to talk and they found many things agreeable. They walked along together and the man enjoyed her company.

While they walked the man thought about what the tree had said. About the magic in the wind. And about the new seeds in the spring.

Without warning a gust of wind stole the man’s hat and carried it away again. The woman began to run after it but the man quickly cried “Stop! It’s OK.”

He turned around and stared at the tree in the distance. A gentle breeze swayed the tree and it stared majestically back at the man. He remembered the tree’s words: “I surrender my leaves to the wind. If I keep them I’ll die. It’s my only chance to live.”

A smile came over the man’s weathered face and he turned to the woman. Gently he took her hand and said, “Want to see a magic trick?”

As the man and woman approached the magnificent tree the man looked up into the face of its beautiful presence and began, “Hello, old friend. This is Caroline…”

The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly…

- Psalm 104:16

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Quote from St. Bonaventure

Ask grace, not learning; desire, not understanding; groanings of prayer, not industry in study; the Spouse, not the master; God, not man; obscurity, not clarity.
- St. Bonaventure

Monday, September 29, 2008

What's in a Title: A Glance at MARK 1:1

My favorite children's book is called Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. What a title! Not only does this book's title invite its readers into the mysterious and unfortunate world of Alexander, but it also plays on what turns out to be an ironic twist - a twist that I will not reveal here for the sake of the author, Judith Viorst.

So many other great stories have titles loaded with meaning: To Kill a Mockingbird, A Good Man is Hard to Find, The Jungle, Animal Farm, Heart of Darkness, and others. All of these authors knew what they were doing in constructing the title of their narrative. I would like to suggest that the author of the Gospel of Mark has done the same.

Mark 1:1 is not exactly the first "verse" of Mark's Gospel, but rather his title. It reads: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And, like the various titles listed above, it is loaded with meaning.

Firstly, the term "good news" in the culture of the day was a term used to announce the victory over an enemy, birth of a son, or a wedding (interesting that all three of these are applicable in the case of Jesus). The Greek euangelion can be found in countless Roman texts describing the actions of Caesars. For example, the birth of Caesar Augustus was euangelion, or good new; the enthronement of Emperor Gaius was good news; and the accession of Vespasian was good news. Knowing this allows us to see how subversive Mark was in titling his narrative about Jesus as the euangelion of Jesus Christ.

The term euangelion is found in the OT in its verb form (Isaiah 40:9-10) to refer to the One who brings tidings of good news in relation to the restoration of Jerusalem. Yet another way that Mark's readers would hear this term and immediately make a connection with, not the caesar, but the Messiah.

Secondly, Mark uses the term "Son of God" as not only another way to subvert the secular empire, but also as a way to emphasize the Jewish connection to the Davidic King, the Messiah for which Israel had waited. It is interesting that, despite popular interpretation, Mark did not use the term "Son of God" to stress Jesus' divinity; in fact, Mark doesn't even include a birth narrative. Most Jews of Jesus' day did not expect the Messiah to be divine anyway, so it seems that Mark has focused (at least in his title) on the fact that Jesus is Israel's long-awaited Messiah, and He is LORD; and Caesar is not.

The OT provides a handful of references to the Messiah as the Son of God (2 Sam 7:12-16; Psalm 2, Dan. 7). More important than Jesus' divinity was Jesus' authenticity as Israel's King. Because the term "Son of God" was known in Judaism as a metaphor for the Messiah, Mark's readers did not necessarily interpret this title as divine, but rather as the One Whom God would send to save Israel. And thus, the hearers and readers of Mark's narrative would immediately make the connection that this man is the same One about whom the OT wrote. (Obviously this is still a much disputed fact today and remains the very reason why Jewish and Christian believers hold such differing views about Jesus. However, we must see Mark's context as grounds for strong support for the Davidic Kingship and Messiahship of Jesus)

In addition to this link to the Davidic King, the term "son of god" was also used as a title for Roman emperors and pharaohs. Again Mark is getting to the point: Jesus is the Son of God and the emperor is not.

Audacity is an understatement here, folks. Mark opens his narrative about Jesus with BOLD language! All of this makes me wonder how it is that Christians today ought to title the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.

"Mission Accomplished: The Story of Our Commander in Chief, Jesus Christ"

"Jesus, President of the Kingdom of God"

"The Beginning of the Campaign of Jesus, the Maverick of God"

"In Jesus We Trust: Novus Ordo Seclorum" (Meaning "New Order of the Ages" -writing that can be found on a dollar bill)**

These are just some quick ideas, but perhaps we can invent some new ways to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God for hearers and readers today. This would no doubt make our great brother Mark proud.

** Notice how difficult it is to be subversive when Christianity has itself taken on the role of the empire. The effects of Christendom are dangerous and difficult to combat!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

NUDITY! A Metaphor in the Garden

I wouldn't be surprised if somewhere out there in Sunday School Land there are two felt-board cutouts of Adam and Eve - naked. Well, with fig leaves obstructing their "hoo-hahs," of course. Nonetheless, the images of a naked man and a naked woman are central to the traditional view of the Creation Narrative.

Without taking away from this traditional opinion, I have been wondering if the conventional images of naked people can offer more than a shocking, R-rated Bible story. Perhaps they are also an insightful metaphor concerning our relationship with God.

In New Seeds of Contemplation Thomas Merton discusses human identity in relation to God:

"Everyone of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. This is the man that I want myself to be but cannot exist because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown to God is altogether too much privacy.

All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus, I use up my life in desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge, and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real.

And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible is covered its surface."

I found a few words in this text very interesting. Merton suggests that we are like invisible bodies clothing ourselves with "visible" qualities, covering ourselves with tangible experiences so that we may construct and be in control of our identity.

Consider the parallels with the Creation Narrative. Before eating from the tree Adam and Eve's identities were fully found in and with God. They were nude and unashamed. They were naked and complete. God saw them and they were Good.

After eating the fruit their way of seeing changed and they found themselves lacking. They immediately covered themselves - symbolizing the construction of their own identity. After all, what did the serpent promise? That they would be like God; that is, in control, on their own, independent from God.

And not only did the man and woman's sight change, but God Himself could no longer see them (v. 9). As Adam and Eve clothed themselves they simultaneously hid themselves from God. Merton states that "... there is no substance under the things with which [we] are clothed [and] ... God does not know anything about [these things]."

Perhaps another Sunday School felt-board kit could have a naked Adam and Eve labeled 'Good' or 'Whole.' And then a handful of felt shirts, shorts, jeans, socks, etc. labeled things like power, money, love, knowledge, vanity, success, or popularity. These are some of the clothes with which we attempt to build our identity, but only become less and less visible to God (in the same sense as C.S. Lewis describes the ghostly people in The Great Divorce). Maybe the clothes would be the same color as the felt-board; causing the illusion that Adam and Eve are disappearing when the clothes are added.

As Merton suggests, "the secret of my identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God. ... Ultimately the only way that I can be myself is to become identified with Him in Whom is hidden the reason and fulfillment of my existence. ... If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self then I will find Him."

So come on all people now, let's get naked... and be seen.

Friday, June 13, 2008

OBAMA on Religion

Very intelligent thoughts from an intelligent man. See the clip here.

Concerning Parables...

Last Monday night I enjoyed a great discussion on the topic of parables. During the discussion a friend of mine posed a wonderfully down-to-earth question: What about the people who try so hard to understand Jesus' parables but just don't get it? The question frustrated me all week long and I had to do some studying on the subject.

First is an excerpt from Brian McLaren's The Secret Message of Jesus:

"...So if a parable leaves you confused, you will have one of two responses. You can respond with arrogant and impatient anger which makes you walk away. Or you can respond with eager and curious humility, which keeps you coming back. in this way parables have a capacity that goes beyond informing their hearers; parables also have the power to help transform them into interactive, interdependent, humble, inquisitive, and persistent people.

... Maybe then, we have some beginning of an answer to the disciple's question. Why did Jesus speak in parables? Why was he subtle, indirect, and secretive? Because his message wasn't merely aimed at conveying information. It sought to precipitate something more important: the spiritual transformation of the hearers.

... It helps form a heart that is humble enough to admit it doesn't already know and is thirsty enough to ask questions. In other words, a parable renders its hearers not as experts, not as know-it-alls, not as scholars . . . but as children."

I think McLaren is on to something here in the idea that the parables are not meant to convey esoteric knowledge but are meant to produce action, behavior, and fruit! In Mark 4:12 Jesus says that those who hear and understand will act accordingly: turn and be forgiven. Luke's version of the parable (Lk 8:15) says that those with a good heart will bring forth fruit with patience! Surely Jesus emphasized this in the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 7:24 when he said that those who are wise will both hear and do his word.

Most of that we established on Monday night, but I think McLaren's words are helpful in clarifying some things.

Secondly, when people hear Jesus' parables and walk away without understanding, I think there are two questions we could ask of them:

1. WHAT is it you were expecting to learn from the parable?

2. HOW were you trying to learn it?

Concerning #1:

We could rephrase this question as "What are you looking for?" As McLaren said, if people are expecting information or test-tube knowledge, then, forget it, you won't find it in parables. People who read Jesus' parables this way are like one who reads Moby Dick as a guide to fishing. Seeking this kind of knowing from parables will burn you out! Perhaps this is why so many people leave Christianity wounded, exhausted, and frustrated.

Yes, some people may work rigorously to figure out the meaning of parables, but that does not mean that their effort is the right kind of effort (I discuss how we go about learning below) The Pharisees were no doubt trying their hardest to interpret the laws of God, but Jesus came and said it isn't about your effort, it's about your heart. He rightly pointed out that the Pharisees were self-promoting and pious. If you want to understand the parable, you must be humble and admit your need for the Teacher. Then, you will have already (ironically) understood it. I think that the parable of the soil is all about having a humble, receptive heart.

Also, many people approach Jesus as though he were a teacher in our Western, academic sense. That is, as if he were giving us the answers in the same way as a history teacher. But Jesus was as teacher in the rabbinic sense of the word; and so maybe we would do better to view him as a coach who is not merely giving us answers but actually helping us learn to play the game better. A coach to whom we keep coming back to for guidance and wisdom as we learn how to appropriately live in the Kingdom.

WHAT we are trying to know directly affects HOW we go about knowing it. Therefore, we must also ask "How are you trying to know Jesus' message?"

Concerning #2:

If we are expecting clear-cut answers and informational knowledge then we will most certainly look and look and look but never see. Concerning cognitive knowing, Thomas Merton writes on this beautifully:

"God remains hidden from the arrogant gaze of our investigative mind which seeks to capture him and secure permanent possession of him in an act of knowledge. We must forget the familiar subject-object relationship which characterizes our ordinary acts of knowing."

This familiar, scientific formula for knowing doesn't work for parables! Instead, we must confess that we do not know; and through that confession we will be initiated into the mysteries of the Kingdom because that confession requires our dependence on Jesus. This idea of humility as a way of knowing reminds me of Socrates who wrote, "I know nothing. But I know that I know nothing, so therefore I know something!" Surely humility is a cornerstone for knowing and understanding in the Kingdom. (and when I say "knowing and understanding" remember I do not mean "getting it," I mean realizing I am insufficient without Jesus, realizing I may never "get it" but that's okay)

Remember those 3-D puzzles that were so popular ten years ago? Remember what the key to seeing the hidden picture was? People would say "Relax your eyes. Unfocus your eyes. Don't try to see the whole picture, just focus on one thing." Perhaps this is what it's like to see and perceive the message of Jesus. Perhaps we must not try so hard to understand everything, but rather just focus on one thing: our need for Jesus.

Also, Jesus was NOT offering a one-time proposition: Either you get it now or you don't. No. The invitation to the mysteries of God is always available. So anyone who is frustrated must also be patient, knowing that what matters in the present is not understanding, but turning and recognizing the need for Jesus. Again, it's kind of like Socrates' conclusion: I know nothing, but at least I know that!

I think Jesus addresses more than one way of HOW we come to know in the Kingdom. We may hear and see which are more cognitive kinds of knowing, but we also know through doing - which is why Jesus' message called us to act.

For example, if I read all the coaching books on basketball and watch the NBA everyday I will know a lot about basketball; so in a sense I could say "I know basketball." But if don't learn to dribble and shoot and pass then much of the knowledge from the coaching book is meaningless. Only when I start practicing and doing basketball will I understand more clearly what basketball is all about.

In the same way, knowing in God's Kingdom is holistic and depends not only on cognitive understanding but on our behavior as well. Jesus' parables don't make sense unless we are doing the actions that work interdependently with the message. Therefore, we cannot say "I will disobey God and still understand the principles of the Kingdom."

Paul underscores this in 1 Corinthians 2, particularly verse 14 which says "The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." I think Paul was also on to something in the ways that he described Love, Hope, and Faith as ways of knowing; see particularly 1 Corinthians 13.

Although this is just the tip of the iceberg, this has been helpful for me in attempting to answer the frustrating question of why some people understand Jesus and others don't. I think that WHAT we desire to know and understand matters. And I think that HOW we go about knowing and understanding matters. From my recent studying I am under the impression that there is no one-time, once-and-for-all answer or conclusion. And perhaps that is the point: that God would be so Great and so Mysterious and so Awesome and so relational that we should not settle, but rather, like children, continue to question and remain dependent on Him. Perhaps Jesus didn't want us to know something just once; perhaps He wanted us to keep knowing something better and better so that it would become the determining factor of our entire lives.

I wish to leave you with another quote from Thomas Merton:

"By Faith one assents not only to the propositions revealed by GOD, but one assents to GOD Himelf. One says yes not merely to a statement about God, but to the Invisible, Infinite GOD Himself."

May it be that we do not so much wish to acquire seed as much to know the Sower.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Living in the Future: A Parable

A man desired to leave his homeland and live in a country far away across the sea; for this land was more beautiful and more peaceful than any other land. So he made arrangements to move but could not receive his property for seven years.

While he waited the man began learning how to speak the language spoken in his future homeland. In addition, he began practicing their familial traditions and social customs. He even wore their conventional clothing.

Some years went by and many countrymen inquired as to why the man was living so strangely. The man explained that although he was waiting seven years to move, he had begun living the lifestyle of his future and begun speaking the language spoken by his future countrymen. Fascinated by the man's divergent lifestyle, the countrymen craved to know more about this faraway kingdom.

When the seven years of waiting had finally passed the man was permitted to move to his new property. But seeing that his fellow countrymen were now too living the ways of the faraway country, the man decided to stay in his homeland and share in the new lifestyle with them.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Poem

Some keep the Sabbath going to church;
I keep it staying at home,
With a bobolink for a chorister,
And an orchard for a dome.

Some keep the Sabbath in surplice;
I just wear my wings,
And instead of tolling the bell for church,
Our little sexton sings.

God preaches,—a noted clergyman,—
And the sermon is never long;
So instead of getting to heaven at last,
I’m going all along!

- Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Franciscan Benediction

I came across this recently and want to share it.

May God bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships
so that you may live deep within your heart
May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people
so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace
May God bless you with tears
to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and
to turn their pain into joy
And may God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in the world
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done
to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

- A Franciscan Benediction

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Washington D.C. Part III : When the Party's Over...

We all know how it goes: we attend an informational meeting about Darfur, or Invisible Children, or some other cause and we get inspired... for 4 days. Then we slip back into are textbooks, exams, Facebooking, socializing, Gmaling, etc. and forget all about it. Although our sympathy remains, we are busy-bodies and simply don't know what we can do to help.

To start seeing with the same kind of vision as the remarkable people who form the WFDA, I would encourage you to become more informed about what the WFDA is doing as well as other organizations worldwide. Any website you visit is going to have ample info on how to get involved. (see the bottom for links)

A few weeks ago marked the 40th anniversary of the loss of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While we mourn his death and celebrate his life we are reminded that there is still much work to be done in our world. One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King is:

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

To refuse to accept the starless midnight, as Dr. King proclaims, does not simply mean that you condemn it, it means that you change it. Until the daybreak of peace and justice becomes the reality for the 2.5 billion people in this world who live in poverty we must be, as King encouraged, be agents of change, not merely critics.

Micah 6:8 - He has shown you O man what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.


The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time by Jeffrey D. Sachs

Everything Must Change by Brian D. Mclaren


Women, Faith and Development Alliance

World Hope International

United Way

Islamic Relief USA

Whole Planet Foundation


Amnesty International

Peace Corps

The ONE Campaign


Washington D.C. Part II : Breakthrough Summit for Women, Faith and Development Alliance

One of the hardest realities to confront is that of inhumanity. We members of the Twenty-First Century have a hard time admitting our failures, especially when it comes to basic human rights. As the numbers of the Holocaust do not lie, neither do the current numbers reporting the world's poorest citizens. Among the 2.5 billion people who fall into the categories of either poverty or extreme poverty, roughly 70% are female. Two-thirds of the world's illiterate are female. For every ten men who have HIV-AIDS, fourteen women are afflicted. 500,000 women die each year from preventable complications of pregnancy. The numbers go on and on to illustrate the disadvantages that women face in the developing world.

On Sunday I attended the Breakthrough Summit for Women, Faith, and Development Alliance (WFDA). It was held at Washington National Cathedral and I must thank T.C. Benson for the spectacular 7th-row seats amidst the Leadership Council and various speakers and representatives. The program, which lasted from 1:30p.m. until 6:00p.m., was an inaugural ceremony for the WFDA, a conglomerate of international organizations committed to fighting global poverty.

Men and women from numerous foundations, NGOs, and Faith-Based Organizations were present to commit their support to the WFDA. In addition to these men and women were leaders from a number of nations such as United States, Canada, Ireland, Liberia, India, Republic of Congo, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and many more.

Former Secretary of State Madeline K. Albright gave the keynote address which was nothing short of brilliant. Standing no more than five feet tall, this delicate woman gave a fiery cry to put an end to the preventable causes of extreme poverty and death in our world. She confronted the many persons to whom this fight is a lost cause; those who would give a roll of the eyes and claim "there's nothing we can do." To them she stated simply and firmly: "Poverty is not a force of nature. What we have the power to choose we have the power to change."

Following the keynote address were many short orations sharing concern and commitment. One of these speakers, a Muslim woman from Northern Africa (I have forgotten her name and which country since there were so many present!) shared a wonderful Muslim Proverb:

When I saw the terror in the world I asked God if He too saw these things. He did. So I then asked Him if He was going to do something about it and He said, "Yes I am." I asked Him what He was going to do and He replied, "I made you."

This short thought is not only moving by its message, but also because it is so corresponding with the teachings of Christianity. To see the parallels between the American Christians and the North-African Muslims and the Tibetan Buddhists and the Irish Catholics - all represented at the alliance - was a promising hope for a reality in which our world can unite upon common ground.

This, to me, was one of the most inspiring facets of the Summit: the unification of a body of people with one common hope. At the end of the ceremony there stood on stage more than fifty people - men, women, and children - who have lived in different countries and cultures, who share difference and similarities, all coming together on the stage of the Washington National Cathedral.

And what did we do then? We affirmed our commitment in the best way possible: through song. A special song was commissioned by the Breakthrough Summit and was led by the St. Thomas Gospel Choir of Philadelphia. The lyrics are:

We'll gather our courage, gather our voices
Breakthrough the doubt, breakthrough the walls
Each one is blessed when everyone shares
Gather our voices, raising a song
Gather our voices together and sing!

After singing this through a number of times the postlude began as the thumping of African drums shook the cavernous walls of the cathedral. I stood watching the many faces of men and women passing me by as they marched out through the center aisle. I saw light faces and dark faces, white faces and black faces, red faces, brown faces, yellow faces, and more. And yet as all of these different faces passed, I saw the same eyes: the kind of eyes that hold vision. These are the kind of eyes that know Hope. The kind of eyes that can see the invisible. The kind of eyes that can see things that aren't there yet.

Washington D.C. Part I : The Holocaust Museum

This past weekend I enjoyed the first chapter of my April vacation: Washington DC. It was only my second time to my nation's capitol, my first being in February of this year. I had another wonderful time visiting the extensive network of museums and beautiful parks. On Friday I visited the National Holocaust Museum. Unable to fit this famous site into my last trip I made a point to see it first thing this time around.

I arrived over an hour early Friday morning only to find an already long line extending around the side of the building toward the basin full of cherry trees. I was, however, still part of the first group to enter the exhibit. Upon entering we were herded in a large crowd into an elevator heading to the fourth floor - the museum is set up for viewers to work their way down from the fourth floor. After a short video clip in the elevator the door slid open and we found ourselves confronted with an enormous black and white photograph of one of the many inhumane horrors of the Holocaust.

Two and a half hours later I exited the museum. During those two and a half hours I am not quite sure what happened. It is as if time stopped and then fast-forwarded ahead. I cannot exactly explain the images I saw or the maps I examined or the words I read or the numbers I tallied. To be honest I am not exactly sure if I can grasp the enormity or the absurdity of it all. I am still digesting the entire thing. Still, at this point, the best word I can use to describe my state is "numb."

The one question that remained with me the whole day was "How? How could this happen?" On top of this question was "How could people be so stupid?" and "How could people be so blind?"

What stood out to me the most was the number of people in every photograph. Whether it was an image of Nazis, Jews, victims or perpetrators, there always seemed to be a large number of people. I was taken aback by this. This surely gives support to the claim that human beings will carry out in large groups behavior that they would not individually.

Part of the answer to my question of "How?" is another significant aspect of the exhibit that impacted me. The Holocaust developed so slowly and in such a multifaceted way. What astonished me were the roles that doctors, lawyers, businessmen and many other people played in the Holocaust. The slow and steady discrimination of the Jews was carried out by so many more people than just the Nazis who we typically assume were completely and independently responsible.

At the end of the exhibit is a quote from Martin Niemoller that illustrates the role that neglect played in the Holocaust. The quote states:

First they came for the communists but I did not speak out because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the socialists but I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists but I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews but I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

This quote left me pondering the question: If I am not a part of the solution, am I a part of the problem?

I could write pages concerning what I saw, but I would much rather you visit the museum for yourself and let it move you in a personal way. As for me, I am still attempting to make sense of the insensible, trying to mentally digest the mentally indigestible. My only wish is to understand the complexities of these events enough to disallow anything comparable to occur again.

Eternal Life... NOW!

Have you ever noticed the anticipatory behavior of people who are about to go on vacation? Here at school I am currently one day away from a 10-day break and the all-too-common signs of impending sabbatical are all around me. While some teachers complain aloud, "Get me the hell out of here!" others let their apathy do the talking. Instead of educating, teachers merely baby sit. And students are no exception; they too arrive to school in the morning with little to no expectation to learn - the most that can be said of the ones that do attend school is that they are physically present.

I noticed this behavior back in college as well. When an upcoming break was around the corner, everyone's mind was to be found someplace other than their schoolwork. Assignments that once seemed urgent became "I'll do it after break" assignments. Study habits declined, socializing increased, and class attendance plummeted (especially since most students skipped the last day of classes altogether).

This anticipatory apathy also occurs in athletic events. Consider a basketball game in which one team is easily defeating another, say 34-10, at half-time. Then in the second half the team who is ahead plays poorly and the team that was behind stages a dramatic come back to win 58-57! Have you ever seen the dominant team begin to play poorly or lazily due to their overconfidence? As a sports coach I have seen what happens when human beings are overly focused on the future in place of the present.

What is it about anticipating vacation or victory or some sort of pie-in-the-sky future that causes us to behave irresponsibly in the present? It seems that the human mind is easily manipulated by its perspective of the future. Not only this, but it also seems that the particular way in which a person views the future, a world view for example, will have inevitable effects on the present.

So, if this is true in academia and athletics, could it be true in Christianity as well? Could a determined belief in life after death affect the way one lives in the present? Not only do I think this is the case, but I think that it is justly warranted - what you believe about life beyond death should affect your present behavior. However, I strongly believe that christians have gotten it wrong for many years. For too long the traditional views on eternal life, heaven and hell, and salvation have distracted Christians from furthering God's Kingdom in the present.

Brian McLaren warns about fatalistic eschatalogies (eschatology meaning the study of "last things" or "future/end" things) in his books Everything Must Change (chap. 19) and The Secret Message of Jesus (chapters 18/19). McLaren points out that evangelical christians have long held a view that sees the future as predetermined and incurable. For example, he cites a famous evangelist who once said "If the Titanic is destined to sink, why rearrange the deck chairs on it?" It is this kind of eschatology that gives Christians every reason to separate themselves from the world and simply wait for their retirement or their "going home."

But what if we are not called to "go home?" What if we're called to share in "Thy Kingdom come, on Earth as it is in Heaven?" Bishop N.T. Wright writes about this in his book, Surprised by Hope. He correctly argues that as long as we see salvation as "going to heaven," as away from this world, there is no hope for change and transformation in the world in the present. Wright also states that an individual who sees death as a "going home" has no quarrels with the injustices s/he leaves behind in this world.

These kinds of world views are strongly influenced by Platonic philosophy in which the soul is separate from the body and must escape the mortal world. It is important for Christians to step back and consider the many lenses through which we interpret the message of Jesus. For most, a Western, Platonic, Modern, Post-Enlightenment lens has significantly blurred the visions of the Church. But this topic is very immense and deserves more than a small paragraph of thought. Unfortunately it will not happen here in this post.

Back to fatal eschatology or what I like to call anticipatory apathy. In the same way that my fellow teachers are anticipating their vacation I believe that too many Christians are anticipating eternal life in an other-worldly, heaven. To even begin discussing this, however, it is important to challenge the foundational idea of what Jesus may have meant by "eternal life." The Greek translation of this literally means "life of the ages." It does not mean a spiritual body that floats up into the clouds. In John 17:3 Jesus says, "And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent." Christ Himself was the first example of this eternal life. Remember that He proclaimed "the Kingdom of God is at hand." For more on this see McLaren's The Secret Message of Jesus.

What happens to all of our favorite verses about receiving eternal life, especially John 3:16? Would this new (not really new, more like ancient and contextually sound) view be even better news than we had hoped? Wouldn't it mean that, instead of waiting for some spiritual reward after we die, we're invited to share in life the way God intended here and now in the present? Surely this sounds like Good News to me!

Therefore, eternal life or "life of the ages" is a way of living that embodies the Goodness of God. Luckily we have many examples of what eternal life should look like. Aside from the definition John 17:3 we have Micah 6:8, 1 Corinthians 13, 1 John 4:19, and many more. There is, in fact, one more significant example: the life of Jesus Himself. The fact that Christians have a specific example of how to live life is scandalous. I have often heard this called "the scandal of particularirty" because Jesus is the foundational example for us and to lower our standards is a blatant disregard to His call. Unfortunately for many Christians the example lived by Jesus is seen not as an opportunity to live the life of the ages but rather a standard for comparison by which we are graded.

If followers of Christ Jesus were to accept His invitation to experience eternal life or "life of the ages" here and now in the present by doing justice, loving kindness, making peace, being patient, loving enemies, etc., would we be as susceptible to neglecting our suffering brothers and sisters? Would we be as vulnerable to the influence of greed, power, and other temptations that injure others?

I believe that how we view the future affects the present. Not only is this true for teachers awaiting vacation and athletes approaching victory, it is true for Christians who anxiously anticipate the Kingdom of God in Its fullness on this Earth. However, as we anticipate we also accept the coupled challenge/reward of living the life of the ages here and now, knowing that this is eternal life: to know Thee the only True God and Jesus Christ Whom Though has sent.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Another Email to a Concerned Friend

After recently posting "An Email to a Concerned Friend" regarding my support for presidential candidate, Barack Obama, I received a separate email inquiring about Senator Obama's Pro-Choice stance. Here was my response:

Dear Hillary Fay,

Great to hear from you! Thanks for taking the time to read what I wrote to my friend, it was definitely an impassioned email. And thank you for writing me. I think it's neat the way people our age seem to be open to talking about these complicated matters. That is one of my hopes that our generation will be more open-minded about working together to improve the status quo.

So let's get to it! I'm going to try my best to respond, but I'm not very intelligent. And please don't take any of my explaining as though I would be attempting to educate you on the matter. I just feel the need to explain myself thoroughly on such a complex topic!

You are correct that the abortion issue is important. Personally I am pro-life and I would love to see women choose birth over abortion. I don't think that aborting a child is the ethical thing to do, and I too consider it murdering a human life.

Now, when we consider a fetus to be a human life then abortion is murder. That's easy. Right? Right. And I agree. And I don't think that many people would disagree with the idea that murdering human life is wrong. Most people would agree. So I don't think that the issue finds its complications here. (That is, on the "Murder" argument. Thanks to science and medicine I think most people would agree that abortion is killing a human life)

I do, however, think that the issue of abortion gets complicated when we begin the discussion of a government's right to force a citizen- well actually TWO citizens (the mother and the unborn child) - into a situation that the citizen does not want. This is extremely complicated because our original notion as a country was that the government would not control its citizens. If Roe v. Wade were overturned and women were forced to bear their children then this would be compromising one citizen's freedom for another's.

(I don't agree with my argument, I'm just pointing out the complexity)

Also, if Roe v. Wade were overturned and a law were passed to mandate childbearing, I really don't think abortions would cease. It MAY decline, but we both know it would not stop. Laws don't change people.

That being said, this is where I start to come to the issue from a different angle. And that is that abortion is a symptom. It is a symptom of a greater issue: unwanted pregnancy. And unwanted pregnancy is actually a symptom of irresponsible sexual behavior. So... the issue just got more complex!

If men/women are having sex outside of marriage then there are always going to be unwanted pregnancies. The issue of abortion then BEGINS with sex. (Obvious, yes, I know!) But I think this should have some affect on how we look at the issue. How should we then promote safe sexual behavior? How should we encourage male responsibility as opposed to men using women for their bodies and then leaving them with the decision-making? These are good questions to consider that may help prevent the unwanted pregnancies in the first place.

Then, I find myself attempting to empathize with one of these women. Wow. I can't imagine what it would be like. And when I try, I can almost understand why it would be easier to abort a child than to birth it. There would be so many things to consider. To name a few: relations with father, personal goals (job, school, etc.), economic status, pressure from family/community... That would be a lot to handle. Even if I did see abortion as murder, it might just look like the easiest thing to do.

Then, I try to imagine how women feel before, during, or after having an abortion. I cannot imagine the burden they must bare. I suppose that they are so distressed physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually that only God could ever empathize with their pain. It makes me wonder how much good an "ABORTION IS HOMICIDE" sweatshirt would really do for a woman who has experienced this. It makes me wonder just exactly what impact the protesters standing outside the clinic have on the women entering/exiting the clinic. (My personal opinion is that it must feel pretty terrible to be those women)

One small problem I have with many "Pro-Life" advocates is that they seem to care only about birth and not life altogether (as if to say "We just want the child to be born, then it's your problem"). The right to life should be granted as long as we live, not just at childbirth. So, in turn that should cause us to work for a heathy environment into which the child may be born. Better communities, healthcare, etc. And, personally, my Pro-Life stance means I am opposed to the death penalty (a completely other issue!) because I am FOR LIFE in all circumstances.

It is also very difficult when candidates use broad terms like "sanctity of life." Well, what does that mean? Does it mean you value ALL human life or just fetuses? Does that mean you don't want to see another civilian die in Iraq or that you're willing to sacrifice some lives for freedom? Does that mean that you want to save the thousands in Africa from dying of simple needs like water and basic healthcare or do you view their lives as less valuable? These are tough issues and I don't like that nonspecific rhetoric about "sanctity of life" that so many candidates use. It allows them to sound universally ethical.

So basically I've only discussed a little of the abortion issue. You asked me how I balance my political views with this very important matter. It's a good question... I'll do my best to respond.

When it comes to politics no one gets a Cinderella candidate, we all have to sacrifice in some areas. For me, I try to compromise in areas where I think I can still make a difference, even if I disagree with my candidate. I think that the citizens of the US can impact the abortion issue more significantly than our foreign policy. I mean, if 10's of 1,000's of protesters can't even budge our governments' foreign policy then I'm going to vote for an anti-war candidate!

What could we do as citizens even if our President is pro-choice? Well, that's tough. Maybe write letters to congress. Maybe try to investigate and treat the CAUSES of unwanted pregnancies instead of just discussing abortion alone. Maybe that could come through sexual education classes, supplying contraceptives, after school programs that keep kids busy, or other community aide. Or maybe through funding adoption agencies and orphanages. I don't know. It's difficult. But I think that we could do a better job to begin healing the causes of unwanted pregnancy - that just may take a President who rebuilds communities and gives people more self-value and purpose.

And, I also think that no President is going to overturn Roe v. Wade. I just really doubt that will happen. Therefore, I don't believe most campaign promises that are made about abortion. Take Bush for example, our Christian president for 8 years has done nothing except pass the Partial-Birth Abortion Act. Albeit that's great, it's probably not exactly what most Pro-Lifers hoped for, and it certainly has not ceased abortions in America.

In the end, Hillary Fay, I think that the abortion issue is going to take a brand new conversation. I think it's going to take a willingness to see the seekers of abortion as real women with real needs, not just murderers. And I think we're going to have to trade our "firm stances" and condemning bumper stickers for listening ears and loving dialogue that asks questions like "What can I personally do to help a woman who desires an abortion? What can I do to make sure this newborn child receives good care? How can I help others begin to see the abortion issue as complex and messy, not black & white? How can I help heal the broken hearts of mothers who have aborted children?"

It's not easy. Not at all. But I'm gonna stand with you on the Pro-Life side of things because I believe that all human beings are valuable and deserve life. The question is, what can we do whether Obama or McCain or Romney or Clinton become president? Because I don't think the election of any of them will be the once-and-for-all solution to this problem.

I'm sorry this was so long. These matters are too complex to write a paragraph on! I hope this helps a bit.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Armed and Lucrative!

Everything must change.

As I drove to work this morning I reluctantly reached for the volume knob on my stereo and turned up NPR. I hate listening to NPR but I feel obligated to do so every morning during my commute just because it's a quick way to hear recent news. It's probably the low point of my day. Hearing news about elections in Pakistan, campaigning here at home, violence in Iraq, and spending in Washington: it all significantly boosts my optimism before going to school to educate the minds of middle-schoolers about "things that matter."

This particular morning I heard news of our Senates inability to pass the new Stimulus spending package. The goal of this bill is to put money immediately back into the economy in hopes of slowing a recession. This, of course, was viewed as too expensive and was haulted by members of Senate; namely, Republicans who argued against wasteful spending.

The bill would cost $204 billion over two years and would contribute to an extension of unemployment benefits, tax credits for the coal industry and increased subsidies for home energy costs.

Following this update on the stimulus package NPR moved to the release of the 2009 Pentagon budget. The new budget is the highest it has been in history: $515.4 billion. This budget does not include costs for the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. Shocking.

I continued my commute and learned that the Pentagon is richer than the entire country of Australia and the United States spends more on defense than all the other countries of the world - combined.

As I was driving down the slushy roads and bombarding myself with hot air from the vent panels, I found myself asking aloud, What the hell is wrong with us!!? Why can we spend billions of dollars on defense but not on domestic aide? Why can't we help the poor with their heating bills instead of buying F2 attack fighters that the US doesn't use anymore and cost $300million?

The answers to these questions are quite clear when one comes to see the business of war/defense and the immense profit to be gained through war. However, in addition to the mere acknowledgment of this, one must also take a look at the United States' ingenious role in recent Middle East history.

I'm no historian nor a political science guru, so forgive me for my lack of knowledge. Here some specific examples of the brilliant, military involvement in other countries by the US.

In 1979 Iranians overthrew the tyrant that the U.S. was backing and took some hostages for over a year. This may be one of the strong reasons for bad relations with Iran, but it goes much deeper that this.*

The relations between the US and Iran have a history over 50 years. In 1953 the U.S. overthrew the parliamentary government and installed a brutal tyrant, the Shah, and kept supporting him while he compiled one of the worst human rights records in the world—torture, assassination, anything you like.*

Of course, Iranians have this odd way of remembering what happened to them and who was behind it. When the Shah was overthrown, the Carter administration immediately tried to instigate a military coup by sending arms to Iran through Israel to try to support military force to overthrow the government.*

Then, we immediately turned to supporting Iraq, that is, Saddam Hussein, and his invasion of Iran. Saddam was recently executed for crimes he committed in 1982, by his standards not very serious crimes—complicity in killing 150 people.*

Moving on. 1982 is a very important year in U.S./Iraqi relations. That is the year in which Ronald Reagan removed Iraq from the list of states supporting terrorism so that the U.S. could start supplying Iraq with weapons for its invasion of Iran, including the means to develop weapons of mass destruction, chemical and nuclear weapons. A year later Donald Rumsfeld was sent to firm up the deal.* Backing Iraq not only secured business for defense contractors, but also put more pressure on Iran. This is a classic example of the philosophy: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Well, Iranians may very well remember that this led to a war in which hundreds of thousands of them were slaughtered with U.S. aid going to Iraq. They may well remember that the year after the war was over, in 1989, the U.S. government invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to come to the United States for advanced training in developing nuclear weapons.*

What is interesting about all this Mid-East history is the United States' brilliant playing of all angles and all sides. By demonizing certain figures or people groups, the USA can disguise itself as the "good guy" and pursue the "bad guys" in the style of an old western film.

We are led to believe that the United States is a leader for peace and freedom in our world, but in reality our government has no use for it. As far as the economy goes, peace would simply be bad for business. What I am arguing is that the United States actually desires military conflict in the world so that certain people may profit from it. That does not necessarily mean that the US wants to be directly involved, but as long as their is conflict, our companies will be selling the weapons!

What is the business? It is the sales of military weaponry and the contracting of big time construction projects.

Who are the sellers? Lockheed Martin. Boeing. Northrop Grumman. Halliburton. Bechtel.

Who are the buyers? Saudi Arabia. Israel. Pakistan. China. Egypt. India.

Who profits? The CEO's and politicians with deals tied to these companies. And ultimately, yes, the 10's of thousands of employees of these companies do profit as well. Lockheed Martin employs some 10,000 people in the US. The loss of this company would surely hurt them all.

But, we cannot go on this way. This business is ultimately bound for destruction and failure. It is suicidal to think our economy can sustain itself depending on violent conflict. I fear that we are heading toward mass destruction.

Everything must change.

Instead of turning war into a business, could the United States turn peace into a business? Could these Arms companies instead build new and creative airplanes for the commercial airline industry? Or perhaps special planes designed for humanitarian aide? Could the Federal government fund the restoration of the commercial airline industry so more Americans could afford to fly? Could engineers of Arms companies create new modes of transportation? Could the Federal government invest in public transportation and buy back the national rail system from automotive companies?

Could companies like Halliburton and Bechtel employ US citizens to rebuild cities like New Orleans, Camden, Detroit, and Buffalo? Or perhaps re-engineer parts of America that FEMA defines hazardous? Or design new precautions to natural disasters? Or perhaps be hired by developing nations to assist in big time construction projects for hospitals, schools, office buildings, etc.? Instead of selling them weapons, could we sell them our services?

These are just a few off the top of my head. I'm sure the intelligent minds in DC could create a thousand ways!

So as I'm listening to NPR broadcast on about our spending, and I learn more about this business of war, I find myself asking another question aloud to myself: Is this all our incredibly brilliant minds can come up with? Making money off of war? Selling guns and missiles? Bombing, destroying and then rebuilding? Is this the limit to our economic savvy?

I hope not.

For more information see:

* Taken from Noam Chomsky article found here:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

An Email to a Concerned Friend...

My friend emailed me, asking me why I support Barack Obama. Here's my reply:

Dear "Marmiduke,"

Obama is a representative of the newer generation; OUR generation. More specifically, he represents the "emerging"/"postmodern"/"global community" in which we now live. (please don't get hung up on any of those imperfect terms) I think Obama voices more clearly the mindset which younger (30 and below) Americans have: we're tired of the old, white-male-dominated government, we're tired of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, and we're tired of a divided America that continues to spew on about "red/blue, liberal/conservative, left/right, etc." We want, you guessed it, "change." (i'm fully aware that that word has become the cliche of his campaign, but it still means HOPE for the future)

(if you're interested in this "emerging" culture check out books by: Brian Mclaren, Dan Kimball, Thomas L. Friedman, or David Kinnaman's "UnChristian")

While all of the above thoughts are generic, ideological ones, I believe they sum up the majority of the upcoming generations' views in a broad stroke. The mere lack of political involvement by young Americans is evidence that we're all too jaded by the way things go in this country. It's time for something new. I think we do want change and I'm hoping people come out to vote for it this year.

I believe Obama represents these views due to his unique background. Personally, I love hearing a political candidate speak so openly about his/her past, i.e.: drug-use, religious wandering, self-searching, personal joys/sorrows, etc. He comes off as genuinely intelligent. He's a self-made lawyer, author, state senator. That's impressive. He's the definition of liberal arts educated. He is a gifted man in whom I see character, integrity, and wisdom.

These qualities in his character resemble those of Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi, and JFK. I like that because I like those guys too (I don't know many who hate MLK or Ghandi!). Barack Obama understands that their can be such thing as an "economy of Justice" or and "economy of Love" (I'll explain below).

When it come to his policies I'm extremely concerned with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Healthcare, and Education.

Education: Obama realizes the failed policy of the "No Child Left Behind." If you think it's great just talk to Chuck Massy, the guy knows his stuff! Obama wants to instead reform NCLB by putting the necessary funding into and make it less about standardized testing. He also wants to get rid of federally mandated curricula that merely make profit for Washington lobbyists. He also wants to provide childcare for families whose parents work (this is in my opinion the hardest part about reforming education: poor families' parents are never home to help the children because they must work to pay the bills)

Healthcare: There is no reason whatsoever that American shouldn't have socialized medicine. We CAN afford it. If we reduced defense spending we could easily afford it. And it's not a crazy "socialist" idea: we have socialized police, firefighters, postal services. Why not a minimum level, universal healthcare? (I just recently watched Michael Moore's "SICKO." It made me want to cry, you should check it out) Nonetheless, if you want a detailed description of his healthcare plan, go here:

War: I have never been for the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere. I believe we as a race have outgrown our use for war. It simply does NOT work anymore. Our weaponry has far surpassed our judgement. Our recollection of history persuades us that war works, when in reality it does not anymore (i.e. When war was successful was when one "side" of the battle had superior weaponry, like when white men dominated native peoples through the use of guns) However, nowadays this tactic is useless. This is partly why we refuse to let others have nuclear weapons: because it allows us to have the upper-hand. The quid pro quo war does not work, it merely increases death and in the long run creates more enemies than friends. So how is it serving our "security?"

In October 2002, Obama led an Anit-War rally and called Bush's invasion(s) "dumb war." Obama was fervently against the war(s) from the beginning. This was when I was drawn to him back in 2004; especially after his speech at the 2004 DNC. But, having to play politics in the race for the whitehouse he has lessened his anti-war rhetoric in order to win the votes of many. I don't like this, but I understand that he must do it to have a shot to win. And still, I believe him to be the most anti-war candidate (aside from Ron Paul, whom I like a lot).

Obama has openly expressed his willingness to talk with leaders of other nations, even the "axes of evil." At this point in history we MUST learn to dialogue and work out problems peacefully through compromise. Not just label other countries as enemies - that is dehumanizing. In Obama I see man with the friendliness and sincerity to do so.

So I think that with Obama's ideals it would be possible to begin an "economy of love," a term that I get from Brian Mclaren's new book (and I think he may have taken it from Martin Luther King Jr.). What is meant by an Economy of Love is this: a status quo that is constantly working for Justice and Peace, not war and domination. But what is particularly important about this Economy of Love is that it finds ways to "profit" off of the quest for Justice and Peace. In simple terms it means that instead of making money off of war and defense spending, we would be able to find ways to employ people with jobs that HELP people, work for Justice, make Peace, etc. The problem with times of peace in history is that humans usually get bored with it, they have no purpose, no enemies, no reason to pursue systems of security, etc. What MAY be possible in the future is a global community of social action that pursues Peace and Justice for all.

However, this can never happen if we continue to think in the same paradigm that we currently do. We cannot see the world in terms of enemies and terrorists, we must find a common ground to unite the world together. Even through economy, but no war. I believe Barack Obama can get us on that path. Of all the candidates, he has the ability to break down walls and unite people, and then lead us in a direction of community.

Now, I know that this all sounds extremely idealistic. But what else do we have? Are we not sick of the same old same old? We need a completely new way of thinking about the world crises. We certainly don't need more of the same, look where that has gotten us.

Not only am I FOR Obama, but I don't like any of the other candidates because I think they're all the SAME. They all think within the same paradigm, the "old" paradigm. Even though I like John McCain the most of the Rep., I think he's an old-school defense hawk who will only keep things the same. Spending billions of dollars on our military will only keep our economy dependent on war. It is pathetic to think that war has become an industry in America. It is pathetic to think our self-proclaimed "Christian" president would ever initiate war and violence for the purpose of generating economic growth. (We produce 53.4% of the world's weapons -

But what if money was redirected to constructive matters? Healthcare? Clean water? Foreign aide?

I think Hillary is very intelligent and could do good things for America, but I don't think she'd ever win in a general election against a John McCain or Mitt Romney. People either love her or hate her. She can't get independent voters or swing voters. Obama can.

And please note that I've said nothing about Christianity because I couldn't give two shits about which candidate is "Christian" and which isn't. Don't get me started on Mike Huckabee who said "The Bible doesn't say there's anything wrong with being rich." and "If they [Iranians] come one step closer again [to our boats] then they'd better be prepared to see the gates of hell." Anyone who has to run on a "Christian" platform obviously has no clue what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Now, I realize that I have thrown in heaps of visionary, Utopian ideals, and I don't believe Obama can bring them all to be reality. But I hope he can get us started. I hope he can get us on the right track. Unfortunately that's up to the voters to determine.

Lastly and MOST importantly:

In the end, what else is there to have than hope??? 1 Cor. 13:7 - Love always Hopes. I refuse to think within the current paradigm. I refuse to think that we've exhausted all our possible options and solutions. We can do better. I believe in the Kingdom of God working here and now. And that just might take a little faith in the unseen. In the words of Mclaren: "By 'seeing the invisible' I don't mean practicing make-believe where you try to see things that aren't there. Instead of delusion, I mean vision: a way of seeing things that aren't there YET."

So... these are some of the reasons why I believe Barack Obama should be president of the US.

If you're curious, take a look here:

or here:

or here:



Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jesus Claus!

My parents never tried lying to me about Santa Claus. I think they just wisely avoided the topic altogether and let me figure it out on my own. I have to admit, I haven't found any suppressed childhood damage... yet. But I have always found the folk tale of Santa Claus to be a bit strange anyway, so hopefully I will never one day feel incomplete about not having given much thought about the jolly old saint.

Having just passed the Christmas holiday the effects of Santa Claus are still lingering a bit. And recently I was pondering some different takes on Atonement Theology so, naturally, one may see how the two are so closely related. Actually, I was just recently discussing some thoughts with a friend when it occurred to me that the average American Christian views God much like our favorite North Pole resident. Maybe in trying to refocus the Christmas celebration on Jesus we accidentally copied the Santa story.

When it comes to Santa Claus it all comes down to one thing: the reward-the gift that sits under the $75 Douglas Fur on Christmas morning. That is what it's all about. For the Santa fanatic the end is the gift. For many Christians it is the same. When it comes to God it all comes down to one thing: the reward of "eternal" life. For the God fanatic the end is the gift.

But of course not everyone receives Santa's gifts. Only those who make Santa's Nice List will receive gifts. Those who are on Santa's Naughty List receive nothing, or perhaps coal as the tale suggests. This pattern of thought implies that Santa's gift may be earned by good behavior. Similarly, many Christians view God's gift in the same regard: to earn God's gift one must act accordingly.

The Santa Claus style of considering God is a very clean-cut way to view things. It provides conditions, standards, and just rewards. However, I cannot convince myself that it is anywhere near the Truth of God nor His Purpose for our lives. It just isn't that easy. I thought we were all on the Naughty List ?(Rom. 3:23) I thought that Jesus died to sin once and for all of creation? (Rom. 6:10) And I thought that nothing we did made us good (Mk 7:1-13) or bad (Mk 7:14-23, Rom 8:38)? I thought that our reward was immediate, and developing, and alive in us, not something that came after we died (Mt 5:1-12, 6:25-33, Rom 6).

What struck me most while thinking about this Santa Claus view is that, for me, my favorite parts of Christmas experiences were never the gifts that waited for my greedy hands to tear open. In reality the best parts of Christmas are always the fellowship, the family, the community, the friends, the traditions that overflow with meaning, the food, the conversations, the fights, the laughter, and all the other parts of the journey along the way. Those are the True gifts and the Good things about Christmas. Perhaps those are the True gifts and Good things about a life that pursues God as Father, Lord, and King.