Remembering Dr. King

Next Monday, we will observe the national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Personally, I have long been an admirer of Dr. King – he consistently stood for justice, for peace, and for non-violence. He believed in the Kingdom of God, and he believed that Christians, regardless of color, ought to do all they can to create outposts and colonies of God’s Kingdom here on earth – to create what he called “beloved community.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When I was in graduate school, I did a project on Dr. King’s rhetorical skills, looking at the way he was able to take traditional black preaching styles – with the use of Biblical storytelling, rhythmic phrasing, and uplifting hopefulness – and combine that with the best of white preaching styles, with its rhetorical structure and its use of logic and Aristotelian reasoning. The result was preaching which communicated to both white and black audiences. In the process, I read just about everything that Dr. King ever said or wrote. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from him.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. 

Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”? Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I can do no other, so help me God.”? And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? … Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. 

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

The time is always right to do right.

But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. The type of love that I stress here is not eros, a sort of esthetic or romantic love; not philia, a sort of reciprocal love between personal friends; but it is agape which is understanding goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of men. This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization.

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”

“Chains Shall He Break…”

The music of Christmas has always been one of my favorite parts of celebrating this season of joy. When I was a child, I remember my mom had Christmas music playing during the entire month of December. Christmas music continues to be special to me, both the serious and the silly, the sacred and the secular. I want to tell you the story behind my favorite of all Christmas songs.

The year was 1847. Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure was the commissioner of wines in a small French village who had some local fame as a poet. Although he was not a regular church-goer, the local priest asked him if he would compose a special poem for use at that year’s Christmas service, and Cappeau agreed, and soon completed the poem entitled, “Cantique de Noel.” But Cappeau felt that the poem needed to become a song, and so he turned to a musician friend, Adolphe Adams, for help.

Adams was a Jew, but he agreed to help his Gentile friend compose a song for a holiday that Adams did not celebrate, to honor a Messiah that he did not worship. The tune was finished, and three weeks later, “Cantique” was performed for the first time at the midnight Christmas Mass. The song found wide acceptance in churches across France.

But a few years later, Cappeau walked away from the church; meanwhile, French church officials discovered that the tune had been written by an unbelieving Jew. They denounced the song as being unfit for worship services, lacking in musical taste, and “total absence of the spirit of religion.”

Personally, I think that’s a good thing, but I digress…

Anyway, that might have been the end of “Cantique,” except the song found its way to America a few years later, and was given new life by a staunch abolitionist, John Sullivan Dwight. You probably never heard of him – frankly, neither had I – but he prepared and published a new translation of Cappeau’s poem into English. Dwight was especially moved by the third verse of “Cantique.”

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love, and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His Name, all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy, in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us, praise His holy Name:

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever!
His power and glory, Ever more proclaim!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever!
His power and glory, Ever more proclaim!

And so, “O Holy Night” became popular on this side of the Atlantic, at first in northern homes during the Civil War, and later, throughout the country.

There is a legend that says during the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, a French soldier on Christmas Eve stood up, exposing himself to enemy fire, and began to sing “Cantique de Noel.” The Germans held their fire, and when was finished, a German soldier began to sing “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come,” a Christmas hymn by Martin Luther. The story goes that troops on both sides observed an unofficial Christmas truce.

“O Holy Night” became involved in another Christmas miracle of sorts a few years later, in 1906. Reginald Fessenden was a 33-year-old university professor and former assistant to Thomas Edison. On Christmas Eve of that year, using a new type of generator, Fessenden began to speak into a microphone: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed…”

Across the country, and far out at sea, wireless operators who were used to hearing only coded dots and dashes over their equipment heard a man’s voice, reading them the Christmas story! It was the first known radio broadcast. When he finished reading the story, Professor Fessenden did something even more remarkable. He picked up his violin and began to play a Christmas hymn – “O Holy Night.” And so it became the first song ever heard on the radio.

I love this carol, and it always moves me to tears, in part because of its soaring melody, and also in part because it answers the “So What?” question of Christmas. Jesus came to Earth – so what? He taught us about the love of God – so what? This song reminds us that we must live out the meaning of Christmas in the way that we treat others, to love God by loving our neighbors, and to join the work of Christ in breaking the chains of sin and injustice.

Grayburg Memories

(Dear Readers – I’m taking a few days off, so with your kind permission, I’m re-running a blog post from 2013. Thanks and God bless.)

Grayburg.  That was the little community where his grandparents lived, and he loved going to visit.

His grandparents lived in a small white house on two lots, with two gigantic sycamore trees in the front yard.  He loved everything about the place, and he especially loved that during the summer, he could come and stay for a week, and have his grandparents all to himself.

His grandmother’s name was Sallie, and when the boy was little, he had a hard time knowing what to call her.  His other grandmother was “Grandma,” so he tried calling her by the name he heard other people calling her.  But she wouldn’t allow him to call her “Sallie.”  So somehow, “Sallie” became “Sa Sa.”

There was lots to love about going to Grayburg.  The boy loved walking down to see Sa Sa’s sister, Aunt Bib.  Her name was Vivian, but everyone called her Bib.  Aunt Bib was cool.  She taught him how to play dominoes, and how to do leathercraft.  And she had a BB gun he could shoot!  She also had bee hives, and always had lots of fresh honey, whipped into a creamy spread for morning toast.  And when he spent the night, she would let him get up in her bed, and they would put the covers up over their heads, and hold flashlights, and she would tell great stories.  Her version of “Three Little Pigs” was the best.

There was another sister, too – Aunt Hazel.  So Grayburg had lots of family connections.

Walking from Sa-Sa’s to Aunt Bib’s house was an adventure.  The streets were paved with old-timey blacktop, and in the summer, the sun’s heat would soften them to the point that the boy could push down into the pavement and made little dents with his feet.  He thought that was really cool.

Sa-Sa was a great cook, and his favorite was her chicken and dumplings.  The dumplings weren’t the lumps of dough that most people made – hers were more like thick, wide strips of chewy deliciousness.  She would take a hen, and put it in a pressure cooker for hours to tenderize the meat.  And she had another secret – when she was making the dough for the dumplings, instead of adding water to the flour, she would add chicken stock.  The flavor was amazing.  As was the smell going through the entire house.  And the hissing and clattering of the pressure cooker as the steam vented and did its thing.

There was a lady who came and helped Sa-Sa with her cooking and cleaning, an old black lady somewhere between the ages of 60 and 200.  Her name was Daisy, and she was wrinkled and thin with wiry gray hair, but she had a smile that could light up a room.  Daisy had been Sa-Sa’s friend and helper as far back as the boy could remember.  Farther than that – his mother said that Daisy had been a fixture in their home for almost as long as SHE could remember.

One of the boy’s earliest memories was going with his mother Sa-Sa and driving WAY back in the Piney Woods of East Texas, to an old shack where Daisy’s mother lived.  It was important to the boy’s mother, for reasons he didn’t understand.

Of course, one of his favorite parts about Grayburg was the trains.  Sa-Sa’s house was only a block or so away from the Missouri Pacific mainline between Houston and Beaumont, and on to New Orleans.  So there were lots of trains.  There was a long siding there, where trains would stop and pass each other, and a small yard where pulpwood was loaded onto flat cars, to be taken to sawmills.  And there was a small station there.  It was a sort of creamy yellow-beige color, with dark brown trim.  There was a freight deck on one side, and the station had a bay window where the agent could look down and see trains without having to leave his desk.

Inside, the station was painted in a tired ivory color, that might have been pretty at some point, but now was just dull and sad.  There was a potbellied stove for the occasional cold days, and a ticket window with an iron grill where you could buy passage to all points.  And there was a single small restroom in the corner.  Over the restroom door was a small metal sign.

Whites Only.

One time, the boy asked his dad about it.  “But, if Daisy were here and needed to go, where would she go?” he asked in all childhood innocence.

As it turns out, there was an outhouse out in the weeds and mud at the edge of the railyard.  His dad pointed out to the old privy and said, “I guess she would have to go there.”

The boy just looked at his dad.  He didn’t say anything else.  But all he could think about was how unfair that was.

EPILOGUE: This story takes place in about 1961 or 62.  And it’s a true story, because I was that little boy.  And what I remember was how many people seemed content with things as they were, and seemed not to notice unfairness.

And I guess my point is this – Jim Crow segregation laws are long since a thing of the past, thank God.  But unfairness and prejudice are still with us.  In society.  In our churches.  And in our hearts.  Jesus told us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come.  Surely the first place it must come is to our own hearts and our own lives.  And that means being willing to notice unfairness wherever it is.  And to work to change it.

No matter how uncomfortable it might make us.

Just My Two Cents Worth

Let me say from the start, that I know a lot of people – including many of my friends – will be upset with what I am going to say here. Some because they will think I have gone too far. Others, because they will think I have not gone far enough.

I want to tell you a story about a neighbor; let’s call him Jose. That’s not his name, but that’s what we’ll call him. Jose is in his early 40s, a good husband and loving father. He is a roofer, pays his taxes, and works hard for a living, frequently putting in very long days on brutally hot roofs.

And Jose is in this country illegally.

When he was a baby, his parents brought him and his siblings across the border – illegally. Eventually, his parents and his brother and sisters were able to get their status changed and become American citizens. Unfortunately (I think because of some paperwork errors), their new status did not apply to him, and so he remained illegal.

Jose eventually learned English, got married, got a good job, and began raising his family. Then he was caught in a surprise raid at a job site, and deported. He found out that even though he was technically a Mexican citizen, because he had been taken out of that country while still a baby, there was no record of him being born there, or ever living in Mexico, and so he couldn’t get any kind of paperwork from that government, and had no legal status there. As far as that country was concerned, he did not exist.

He came back to America, determined to get through whatever bureaucracy he had to in order to become a legalized citizen. But before he could make that happen, he got caught again. And deported again.

So now, because he has been deported twice, he is permanently ineligible for citizenship.

I have lost track of Jose. The last I heard, he had gotten back across the border, and was back with his family. But I don’t know any more than that.

I don’t know if the rule changes announced last week will apply to him or not. I hope they do. I do know that a family has been torn apart, and a good man caught in a political mess, mostly through no fault of his own.

So there’s a lot I don’t know. I’ll tell you what I DO know, and what I do think.

I know that we must have better security on the border. We obviously have to be vigilant against terrorists coming across. We cannot have open borders, and I know we cannot have programs that promise citizenship to anyone who can find their way across.

On the other hand, I know we must not allow ourselves to be swallowed up in the “climate of unreasoning fear” which now seems to grip our country. We must not be so anti-immigrant that we forget that very few of those of us now living here now, had families who were here when the Pilgrims landed.

I think we need to remember that the overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants are NOT like the headline-grabbers who make the news and are taking benefits they are not entitled to. In my experience, the illegals I have known pay their taxes, don’t take any benefits, get taken advantage of by their bosses and landlords. They mind their own business, and live in constant fear of being caught and deported.

I agree with President Reagan, who said in 1984, “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots here and have lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.”

I know that over and over again, God urges His people to care for the alien, the widow, the orphan – to plead the case of the defenseless, to care for those in distress. I know that those scriptures still apply.

And I’ll tell what else I think. I think if it was a bunch of blonde-haired, blue-eyed Canadians sneaking across the border into Montana or North Dakota, we’d be having a different conversation.

No Need Among You

I was blessed last week to be able to attend the “No Need Among You” Conference in Waco.  This is an annual conference that brings together churches, para-church ministries, non-profits, NGOs, and other groups whose focus is serving and working among lower income and inner-city populations.  The conference is sponsored by the Texas Christian Community Development Network.

The conference title is taken from two scriptures.  One is Deuteronomy 15:4-5, which says,

However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.

The other is Acts 4:33-35 –

33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

(Quotations from the NIV, emphasis added.)

How am I to think about the poor?  What kind of responsibilities do I as a Christian have towards them?  Even asking those questions causes some people to become defensive.  Others will immediately begin offering excuses for why they can’t, haven’t or shouldn’t offer help.  There will be stories about welfare scam artists, professional freeloaders, and abusers of the system.  Some will even cite scriptures such as, “You will always have the poor with you” (John 12:8), and “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10).

Do those stories exist?  They do.  Are they true?  In some cases.  Are those scriptures correct?  They are.

None of which relieves me of my responsibility before God to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the alien and the stranger among us.

First of all, in regards to those Bible verses, even a beginning Bible student can tell you that one should always let the context of a particular verse guide your interpretation of that verse.  In John 12, Jesus is NOT giving us an excuse for failure to address problems of economic disparity; rather, He is teaching us that we should set appropriate priorities for how we invest our resources.  He was acknowledging the reality of a situation, not expressing His approval of that situation.

And in 2 Thessalonians, Paul was correcting a lazy bunch of so-called Christians who had talked themselves into thinking that because Jesus’ return was imminent, they didn’t have to work to provide for themselves or their families, and could instead live off the generosity of other believers who were footing the bill for lunch.  This laziness, masquerading as spirituality, is what he was addressing.

Nearly everyone agrees that there are those who abuse the system, and take advantage of other people’s desire to help.  Does that mean that we should encourage fraud and ignore waste?  Of course not.  Our systems should be as streamlined and fraud-free as we can make them.  But that does NOT take away from my responsibility to live a generous, open-handed life, and to love and care for those God puts in front of me.

If they abuse my help and kindness, that’s between them and God. My job- my calling- is to help.  And to love as Jesus loved, without judgmentalism or limit.

Go read Amos.  Learn how God feels about the poor, and those who abuse them.  Perhaps the prophet’s sharpest comments are directly at the religious people who sat by and let others take advantage of the poor without doing anything to stop it, sometimes because they are so busy their religious ceremonies.

Merchants who have one set of scales for buying, and another set of scales for selling.  Exploiting those who can least afford it by charging outrageous prices.  Failing to pay fair wages, and finding reasons to withhold even what is owed.  Some of the very things that business owners today – sometimes even “pillars” of the local church – are still doing.

They call it sharp business practice.  God calls it something else.

Fine, you say.  I don’t own a business, I’m not cheating anybody, I want to help but don’t want to enable someone’s drug habit or other destructive lifestyle.  What can I do?  I’m glad you asked.  Here are five suggestions:

1.  Get informed on what poverty really is, and the face of poverty in America today.  Turn off the TV, spend a little less time on Facebook, and read these books if you really want to see things from another perspective.

Every Church MemberWhat Every Church Member Should Know About Poverty, by Bill Ehlig and Dr. Ruby Payne.  Ruby Payne is well-known for her groundbreaking research and helpful organization of economic classes and how people in one class use “hidden rules” to survive.  This particular edition is geared towards helping church members understand this complex issue and have a Nickled and Dimedpractical framework for channeling their desire to help.

Nickled and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich.  From our middle class perspective, we tell people, get a job, get off welfare, support yourself.  Start out with “unskilled” jobs and work your way up.  But here’s the secret: there was a time in America when a minimum-wage job was indeed a ticket up to the middle class, but generally speaking, it is no longer that way.  In this book, Ms. Ehrenreich tells the story of going around the country for a year, working as a waitress, a nursing home aide, a Walmart employee, and trying to make a living at it.  Remember the old joke about, “My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with the facts”?  That applies to this book.

When Helping HurtsWhen Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  This is another book that will challenge you and what you think you know.  Beginning from a Biblical perspective of understanding how the Fall has corrupted our world, the authors show way our usual “band aid” approach of trying to give poor people things brings unintended consequences, and actually can end up doing more harm than good.  You’ll never look at a food pantry, clothes closet or Thanksgiving basket the same way again.

2.  Cultivate relationships with people who are different.  It’s easy to stay within our little cliques, to read only those who agree with us, to gravitate towards others of our own background and status.  But that is not community.  God compels us to go out into the highways and byways, to reach out to the lonely, the marginalized, the forgotten among us.  Go next door and meet your neighbor, even if they are different from you.  “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

3.  Tip the maid.  You may think your hotel room is overpriced, but I guarantee you, the lady cleaning your room is not getting rich off the deal.  She is helping to subsidize your trip.  Give her a tip when you leave, and more than just a buck or two.  And for Christ’s sake (and I mean that with all reverence), do NOT leave her a gospel tract.  A $10 or $20 bill will do fine.

4.  Support local businesses, farmer’s markets and buy Fair Trade Certified goods.  Yes, I know FTC coffee is more expensive, and cantaloupes are cheaper at Walmart.  But when we shop with a conscience and with some awareness, we are having an impact that goes far beyond just the dollars that we spend.

5.  Get involved at church.  Help transform your church’s outreach from relief to one of empowerment and development.  (Read “When Helping Hurts” to understand the difference.)  Start a financial ministry so that people don’t have to borrow money from a payday lender.  Turn your food pantry into a food co-op.  When you sit on the budget committee, advocate for giving the janitor a living wage, and hire him 40 hours a week so he can have health insurance.  Yes, I KNOW  that might mean not paving the parking lot this year.

Which option do you suppose God is more interested in?

Thoughts for the Day from MLK

When I was in graduate school, I once did a study examining the rhetorical style of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s preaching.  What I found was that Dr. King was able to successfully combine preaching styles from both black and white homiletic theory.

What I mean is, Rev. King was able effectively to merge the best of black preaching style, with its powerful storytelling, vivid images and rhythmic cadences, with the best of white preaching styles, with its rhetorical structure and its use of logic and Aristotelian reasoning.  The result was preaching which appealed to both white and black audiences.

In other words, good communicators are always able, in every situation, to find the available means of persuasion – exactly as Aristotle himself taught in his book on rhetoric, so many centuries ago.

In honor of today as the day we remember and honor him, here are some of my favorite MLK quotations.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”

The arc of the universe is long, but it tends towards justice.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

The times is always right to do right.

But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. The type of love that I stress here is not eros, a sort of esthetic or romantic love; not philia, a sort of reciprocal love between personal friends; but it is agape which is understanding goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of men. This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners, will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood… I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”…was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand I can do no other, so help me God.”….And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.”….So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?…Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I just want to do God’s will.  And He’s allowed me to go to the mountain.  And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land!  I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land.

Run to the Darkness

(Thanks to David McQueen and Keith Roberson for their “tag-team” sermon that got me to thinking about this.)

People run OUT of burning buildings.  That’s simple human self-preservation: get as far away from danger as possible.  Yet we know there are those who run INTO burning buildings.  We call them firefighters.  We also call them heroes.

Normal human reaction is to get away from gunfire, especially if you’re unarmed.  But soldiers routinely run TOWARDS gunfire, especially when a buddy is in trouble.  And medics will do this, even though they are unarmed, to save a life.  Heroes in action.

These are examples of physical courage in the face of danger.  But there is another kind of courage, just as rare, and just as worthy of celebrating.  It is the kind of moral courage that runs into the darkness where another person is trapped.

As humans, we were meant to live in relationship with others – family members, co-workers, neighbors.  We were meant to live in community, to provide mutual support and encouragement.  But relationships are messy.  If we want to enjoy truly mutual relationships with others, that requires that we make ourselves vulnerable.  It also requires that we allow others to be vulnerable to us.

And there’s the problem: we like to keep our emotional distance.  Oh, we’re fine with relationships as long as they’re on the surface, or as long as it doesn’t require too much of a commitment from us.  But when a neighbor or a co-worker needs someone who is willing to listen, to “weep with those who weep,” to be willing to just make an investment of time, are we willing to be that person?

So I come back to our opening thoughts.  We admire the courage, the loyalty, the selflessness of a firefighter who would charge into a burning building, or a medic who races into a combat situation to save a life.  Are we willing to do the same thing for someone who needs a friend?

The world is desperate to see the love of God.  The world is aching to see Christians who will live out what they say they believe.  Are you willing to be that person?  Am I?

Are you willing to be the one who goes to the old man who lives down the street, and has no one to talk to?  Would you spend an hour a week just sitting with him and listening?

Or how about the single mom at work.  Will you be the one who reaches out to her and offers to baby-sit for a little while just so she can go buy groceries without the kids?

When Jesus said He would build His church and the gates of hell would not “prevail” against it, what did He mean?  That Hell would attack the church, but that the church would never fall to those attacks?  Well, that’s certainly true, but I think that interpretation misses the point.

I mean, think about it: Gates are for DEFENSE!  When Jesus said the “gates of hell” would not stop us, He’s telling us THAT WE NEED TO ATTACK HELL!!! Storm the gates! Rescue the prisoners trapped there!  Find those who sit in darkness and bring them out.  Somebody cared enough about you and me to go get us; now we need to go get someone else.  This is what the Kingdom of God looks like.  Each one matters.  Each one is important.  And no one gets left behind.

Be a friend to the friendless.  Be a neighbor to the lonely.  Be a brother or a sister to the one needing a family.  Be the hands and feet of Christ, reaching out to care for the least of these.

A few years ago, Kathy Troccoli released a song written by Chris Rice and Helena Teixeira: “Go Light Your World.”

There is a candle in every soul
Some brightly burning, some dark and cold
There is a Spirit who brings fire
Ignites a candle and makes His home
Carry your candle, run to the darkness
Seek out the hopeless, confused and torn
Hold out your candle for all to see it
Take your candle, and go light your world
Take your candle, and go light your world

Frustrated brother, see how he’s tried to
Light his own candle some other way
See now your sister, she’s been robbed and lied to
Still holds a candle without a flame
Carry your candle, run to the darkness
Seek out the lonely, the tired and worn
Hold out your candle for all to see it
Take your candle, and go light your world
Take your candle, and go light your world

We are a family whose hearts are blazing
So let’s raise our candles and light up the sky
Praying to our Father, in the name of Jesus
Make us a beacon in darkest times
Carry your candle, run to the darkness
Seek out the helpless, deceived and poor
Hold out your candle for all to see it
Take your candle, and go light your world
Carry your candle, run to the darkness
Seek out the hopeless, confused and torn
Hold out your candle for all to see it
Take your candle, and go light your world
Take your candle, and go light your world

Take your candle. Run to the darkness. Go light your world.

No Fear

I will not give in to fear. I refuse to give in to hate.

Do I like the direction in which the country is heading? I do not. Do I believe the current occupant of the White House shares my values? I do not.

But I will not give in to hate. I will not give in to fear.

For many though, this election was far from an easy decision. Yes, the positions of the Democratic party on abortion, on gay marriage, and on other issues, are not in line with what I believe. On the other hand, I reject the extreme greed, selfishness and materialism that seem to drive many of the Republican policies. I’m not sure Abraham Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt would recognize what has become of the party they once proudly championed.  But John “ask not what your country can do for you” Kennedy probably wouldn’t recognize some of the Democratic positions, either.

For once, I actually found myself agreeing with Bill Clinton when he said that he preferred a national attitude that says, we need to help one another, because we’re all in this together, rather than one that says, “I’ve got mine, you’re on your own.”

The scripture says, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak.” Might that not include economic failures as well? In Bible times, landowners were required to make provision for the poor, the alien, the widows and orphans. What should that provision look like for today? I don’t know the answer, but I do believe that the fact that some people abuse the system, shouldn’t mean that we refuse to help others.

Granted, we should not reward laziness, and simply throwing money at a problem – whether it’s taxpayer funds, or private donations – rarely solves anything. And yes, Jesus did say that the poor will always be with us. But I don’t think He meant that we should be content with that, or that He meant to let us off the hook from trying to help.

So I will not give in to fear. I choose to live in hope. I will “make every effort” to reach out to the poor, the lonely, the disenfranchised. What does that mean? It means knocking on some doors, offering a hug, delivering a meal or a sack of groceries. It means opening my door for some people to come eat with our family, and opening my heart to others, to build friendships with people who aren’t like me.

It DOESN’T mean just volunteering on Thanksgiving morning at some soup kitchen, or giving a few dollars for a Sunday School Christmas project, so we can have a warm fuzzy. That’s sacrificing to the LORD my God that which cost me nothing.

But I will not harbor resentment, or hate, or despair in my heart. I will not look to Washington for answers, nor wait for the election of 2016, nor put my hope in princes, of either party. The weapons that I fight with are not the weapons of this world, and my struggle is not against flesh and blood.

I will pray for the President and for Congress, because the scripture commands me to do so, and because it’s the right thing to do. I will submit to lawful authority, so long as it does not require me to disobey God, because every civil authority is established by God and answerable to Him. I will render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto to God what is God’s.

The same Roman government that Paul urged his readers to pray for and submit to, was the same government that executed him. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego refused to bow to the king’s statue, they didn’t question his right to exercise authority over them.

God establishes seats of power, and brings down nations, to accomplish His purposes, and He doesn’t ask my opinion. Do I like the fact that some states have legalized gay marriage? Of course not. Do I approve of the way my taxes are being spent? Certainly not, at least not in every case. Do I approve of laws making assisted suicide legal? No. (More on that later.)

But these are all symptoms of a larger problem. The human race is fallen. We need a Savior. Relationships are broken – between people and God, and among us as humans and neighbors.  Unless and until we deal with that brokenness, nothing will really change.

(By the way, legalizing marijuana is just one more symptom of that brokenness. It just shows people looking for some peace – they’re just using something that cannot satisfy.)

But I will live in hope. Not some pie-in-the-sky kind of mindlessness that refuses to recognize the seriousness of the situation, but the kind of hope that knows that God is still in charge, even when I don’t understand. The hope that comes from knowing that greater is He Who is in me, than he who is in the world.  Knowing that my God will one day wipe every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more pain, or crying, or death, for the old order of things will pass away.

And there will be no more hungry children. Or crack-head welfare mothers. Or economic oppression. Or injustice against the weakest among us. Or abuse of power. Or corporate greed. Or bloated government. Or environmental disasters.  Or any of the other things that plague us because of our brokenness.

Until Jesus returns to bring the Kingdom in its fullness, I will work to make it real in my life, and in the lives of those around me. I will share my food with the hungry, and not turn away from the stranger in our midst. I will declare good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, and proclaim release from captivity for those who sit in darkness. I will work to bring justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with my God.

I will live in hope. And I will not give in to fear.

The Column I Didn’t Want to Write

I’ve been meaning to write something for over a week now.  Intending to do so. Putting it off, because I really didn’t want to write about this.  But I find that whenever I start to try and write about something else, that little voice in the back of my head shouts me down, and keeps bringing me back to this.  So, rushing in where angels fear to tread…

I’m so sick of politics, I could just vomit.

Now, you have to understand, I’ve been interested in politics for as long as I can remember.  I actually remember the anti-Goldwater TV ad from 1964 with the little girl and the nuclear explosion.  It’s probably on Google if you haven’t seen it before.  And I remember well the ’68 election between Nixon and Humphrey, and George Wallace’s 3rd party candidacy that gave the election to Tricky Dick.  And I never fail to vote.

So when I say, I’m sick of politics this year, that’s big to me.

I have dear friends who are on the right, sending me vast amounts of emails about how absolutely disastrous it will be for the country if President Obama is re-elected.  And I have dear friends on the left politically, warning of the horrifying social catastrophe that would follow a victory by Governor Romney.

People, get over yourselves.  Frankly, I can’t stand either one of those guys.

When did the party of Abraham Lincoln become so filled with so much greed, hatred and xenophobia?  When did the party of Teddy Roosevelt – an arch environmentalist and trust-buster – become so devoted to hyper-individualism, at the expense of balance and common sense?

When did the party of Franklin Delano “All we have to fear, is fear itself” Roosevelt, become the domain of professional victims?  When did the party of JFK become the party of the guaranteed handout?  Wasn’t it Kennedy who famously asked, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  Still sounds like a good idea to me.

I guess there are two things that really bother me about the current political dialogue discourse arguments that I see.  One is the notion of political enemies.  They say politics is the art of the possible.  The fact is, our nation was built on political compromise.  COMPROMISE IS NOT A DIRTY WORD.  It just means recognizing that the other guy might also have a good point.

When the framers of the constitution couldn’t agree on whether the national legislature should be based on the states or the people, they compromised, and gave us a bicameral system – the Senate, where members are chosen by the states, and the House, with members chosen by population.  (Am I the only one who remembers 8th grade American history? Jeez.)  It was a compromise, and 200+ years on, it still looks like a pretty good one.

The other thing that bothers me, and maybe even more so, is the meanness with which Christians are attacking each other other this.  Right wing Christians don’t understand how people can claim to be believers, yet support progressive positions on various social issues.  Left wing Christians can’t see how conservative believers can fail to support programs to help the poor and the marginalized.  Both sides need to get off of their moral high-horse and realize our allegiance to Christ must supersede our political affiliation.

Yes, we should use whatever means we have to bring make the Kingdom of God come on earth, as it is in Heaven.  On the other hand, the problems we deal with are often caused by poor individual choices that bring terrible consequences.  Yes, the scripture is very plain that God expects us to help the poor, the widow and the orphan.  On the other hand, it is equally plain that the poor were expected to glean their own food, and that, “if any will not work, neither let him eat.”

It’s not either-or.  It’s both-and.

Both sides like to use fear to whip up their supporters.  But how often in scripture does God say, “Don’t be afraid.”  Over and over again.  So I am not giving in to fear.  I am trusting that whoever wins the election, God will still be in control of the future, of nations and events.

If this has made you mad, I’m sorry.  Both sides can make good arguments for their guy, but I’m not interested in turning this forum into a political debate.  In Romans 14, concerning other controversial issues, Paul said, “Whatever you believe about these things, keep it between yourself and God.”  Sounds like good advice to me.

Jesus is my Commander-in-Chief, regardless of whatever temporary occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue may be making noise at the moment.

A Buck and a Quarter

I took the bus to work this morning.

Now, that’s not all that unusual – I often take the bus to work.  But today, Kathy had to keep the car with her, and so even though it was sprinkling, I had to take the bus to get downtown.  The fare is $1.25.

There’s something remarkably humanizing that can happen when you use public transportation instead of your private vehicle.  You share the experience of the trip with your fellow passengers.  There were two apparently deaf ladies, communicating furiously with sign language.  There was a heavy-set man, obviously a waiter, who got off at the same stop I did.  I’ve seen him a few times around the neighborhood, but I don’t yet know his name.  There were a handful of other folks, and a very young driver whom I hadn’t seen before.

Taking the bus humbles you just a bit.  You have to adjust your schedule to fit theirs – that bus is going to go by my house at 8:32, whether I’m ready or not.  I have neighbors who have to take two buses, and then walk some distance, just to get to work.  Sometimes that means they may have to leave their house way before time to be at work, to allow time for the ride, the transfer and the walk.  Or maybe they need a really understanding boss, who won’t hold it against them if they miss a connection and show up late for work.  And when it’s the end of the day, they still have an hour’s worth of a bus ride just to get home.

One of the disciplines believers are called to practice is fasting.  Remember that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus didn’t say, “IF you fast…” – He said, “WHEN you fast.”  Fasting, as we all know, means to voluntarily give up food for a specific time, skipping a meal to have extra time to pray or read the Bible, for example.  But fasting is also a good way to identify with the poor and the hungry.  When we discipline ourselves by going without food, we remember that there are those who are hungry, and we learn compassion by identifying with them.

Giving up food is not the only kind of fasting.  Sometimes we can fast from television, from the Internet, or from anything else – even our cars! – if it will help draw us closer to God, to realize that HE is our ultimate desire, and to enable us better to identify with others.

This idea of IDENTIFICATION with others is important to God.  I am convinced it is a major factor in Jesus’ coming to Earth – so that, as Hebrews says, we could have a High Priest who was tempted in every point as we are, yet was without sin.

Let me respectfully suggest that, from time to time, you leave your car parked at home and take the bus.  Yes, it’s good for the environment and all those reasons, but more than that, it’s a good way of identifying with, and sharing in the humanity of others.

Not bad for a buck and a quarter.