Friday, May 9, 2008
A mist of sadness spritzes the terrain of my soul again today. Actually, this damp chill pretty much defines the daily weather pattern in one region of my inner life. I’m not sure what to name this part of myself except to describe it with words like despair, sadness and melancholy. Oddly, I’m not terribly worried about these dark emotions. My Christianity has led me to conclude that I need them.
Many want to escape feelings of sadness and employ a variety of tools to do so. Friends often work to “cheer up” the sad, hoping to hurry the sufferer onto sunnier pathways. As a pastor I like preaching hope. In fact, I cannot remember a time I’ve encouraged despair from my pulpit.
My August vacation initiated my latest sojourn into this sad land. My family and I enjoyed the beauty of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. We spent the better part of two days traipsing through Civil War battle fields where good men, many who were deeply dedicated Christian men, not unlike myself, slaughtered one another. Those from the south defended State rights and slavery. Those from the north championed federalism and “freedom” all the while practicing an equally dehumanizing form of labor in her factories. Both could only see the sins of the other and neither could find a nonviolent way to resolve the great issues.
At Coaling Hill my mind wandered back to my youthful days when Holy Spirit filled members of my holiness denomination fought over campground properties, leveling accusations and hurling barbs against one another. No blood was spilled, at least not the kind a bandage can staunch. But each side inflicted painful wounds.
My wife and I celebrated our anniversary in the Massachusetts Berkshires the following week. Waiting for the Boston Symphony to begin our last night, I leafed through the program founding this observation by Serge Koussevitzky, music director from 1924 – 1949. “So long as art and culture exist there is hope for humanity.” Thinking of my recent battle field reflections, I wondered how anyone could believe what seemed to me such blatant naiveté.
Soon after returning home Katrina struck. Natural disasters happen every year around the globe stealing the life of someone’s family member or friend and wrecking havoc with those left behind. As beautiful as the world of my vacation was, land and sea are menacing places. One is tempted to embrace the sarcasm of a recent cartoon in which the fellow responds to news of Katrina, “So THIS is intelligent design.” Yet the same Christian understanding that leads me into despair won’t allow me to embrace this sarcasm.
This autumn I and my congregation are plunging into the Old Testament, seeking helpful insights for our lives. The opening pages of the Bible, remind me that something has gone terribly wrong with the planet including the world of human relationships. Nothing is quite the way God intelligently and lovingly designed it. Everything good has been twisted by alienation from God, including myself, Mississippi and Louisiana.
The New Testament observes, “The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth. We ourselves, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:22-24).
I easily become wrapped up in daily life. I enjoy my home, my car, Cherry Garcia ice cream, the mountains, the shore and much more. Though my mind protests, my enjoyment of physical things suggest that materialism defines my practice of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” That’s why I need an occasional foray into the land of despair. It reminds me that I cannot attach my joy or place my hope in the good experiences of the material world, for sooner or later that world will turn on me in tragedy. Neither can I anchor my joy or hope in people, any people, Christian or otherwise. The best people inflict wounds, sometimes fatal wounds. Ironically, the quality of my life demands that I embrace despair of this life.
Though I enjoy this world and work to make it a better place, my joy and hope must reach beyond everything this life offers to that future when my body will be made new and placed in a new heaven and new earth (2 Peter 3:13). As a Christian, I believe that this future reality is available to anyone through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe it is joy and hope rooted only in a living Jesus that saves me from an overwhelming flood of despair.
Therefore, I have come to welcome an occasional walk through melancholy drizzle. I need it. So please don’t try and cheer me up, just yet.
Monday, April 28, 2008
The garden spread before the manor in complete and appalling disarray, her grandeur lost long ago in the uprising. The gardener’s knowledge and skill hadn’t been good enough for the stately tulips who staged a coup early that spring. They could not have anticipated the annual ritual of vicious uprooting and choking they would unleash.
But unleash it they certainly did. Still hidden beneath the soil, the red tulip bulbs conspired with the yellows to finally rid themselves of the gardener. She had kept them confined in only one area of the garden. Fully aware that their supreme dignity and vibrant color contributed to the garden more than any other flower or shrub, they determined to secure a broader presence for themselves.
Beautiful but rather small minded, the tulips did not expect an insurgency by the roses once they buried the gardener behind the weeping cherry. This, of course, precipitated riots among the pansies, petunias, and peonies. Feeling threatened, the variegated greens on the western border sent roots sprawling in all directions. The azaleas and rhododendrons reacted by spreading their branches up and out. It wasn’t long before the holly, great pine, and dogwood felt the need to usurp some control over their shorter friends.
The first season after that Tulip Spring, as the rebellion became known, ended in disarray. Each passing season the former grandeur sank further into confusion as the plants struggled for control and dominance. For years now, this patch of ground drew only sad nods as passersby longed for the return of the gardener.
It took a yellow tulip. She whispered to the tiger lily about her longing for yesterday’s beauty, even if it meant the tulips would be confined to standing tall in their narrow patch, and for so short a time each spring. The tiger lily excitedly passed along the glimmer of hope. Soon flower and shrub, bush and tree, buzzed with conversation.
It wasn’t easy, the negotiations. Getting the variegated greens to be satisfied with their place along the western border required intense diplomacy. The rose bushes didn’t want to be pruned. After all, they had grown quite dominate through the gardener-less years. But finally the azalea convinced the roses that less presence would mean more beauty. Of course, the azaleas had to agree to severe pruning, as did, well, just about everybody else.
The members of the garden finally began to realize that each plant had its place and value to the whole, even though they all looked, smelled, and stood differently; and even though they all grew at different times and contributed their beauty for different lengths of time.
Attitudes began to change in the garden. Regaining their grandeur in order to bring delight to the occupants of the manor – and every passerby – became their common agenda. Sadly, they still lacked one thing.
Perhaps, they thought, if we combined the life in each of us, as if we were one large plant, enough of it would permeate the garden so that the gardener, lying under the weeping cherry tree, would return to life.
They did. And she did.
Then it happened. They hadn’t anticipated this. Full of new life, the gardener’s mind brimmed with new ideas for the garden. It would be grander than it had ever been! But this would mean moving the tulips, and the pansies, and, well, just about everything.
The garden, still in appalling disarray, sat in shock. What ideas did the gardener have in that head of his? Would they like this new arrangement? Who would get positions of prominence?
The resurrection of the Gardener presented them with a brand new choice. And again, the tulips led the way.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
These are fighting words, I know. But, if theologically conservative Christians care about reflecting the heart of God to our society, we must confront ourselves with truth that will likely, at first, anger us, only then to transform us into effective witnesses to Truth.
If God’s self revelation reached its zenith in Jesus Christ, then we must admit that his priority is not to merely prevent abortion, but to rescue all lost humanity. No true Christ-follower can go about ridding the world of abortion in a way that hinders the “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16) and “He does not want anyone to be destroyed” (2 Peter 3:9) mission.
To rescue an unborn child in a way that hardens the mother’s heart to Christ is both un-Christ-like and contrary to God’s redeeming passion for the world. When you do this, you fall into trap of the Deceiver! The God who showed himself in Christ must ache when you picket the homes of abortion providers and directors and employees of women’s centers. You have so successfully projected what Christians, especially Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, are against onto the consciousness of this nation, that the average person on the street hardly understands the holy and transformative love that dominated Jesus’ life and ministry, and compelled him to the cross.
Yes, the child in that mother’s womb is important to God, from conception forward. Why else would God himself (in the second person of the Trinity) come into the world beginning with 9 months of gestation in Mary’s womb?
That said, the 50-million aborted babies since Roe v Wade have received no greater love from the Heavenly Father than far greater number of infant to 5-years olds who have died from preventable diseases in the world during the same period.
Consider these statistics from UNICEF as reported in the British medical journal, Lancet. Worldwide child mortality rates dropped about 2.5% annually from 1960 to 1990. From 1990 to the present, rates of decline have slowed (!) to about 1.1% annually. Even with these declines, death still visits over 10 million children under 5 years old every year! The highest rates of death are on the continent of Africa while, due to population size (1 billion) the largest number of child deaths occurred in India.
If you read the previous paragraph you know that 10 million childhood deaths reflect the lowest rate if deaths since 1960! So do some conservative math. Arbitrarily cut that number to 5 million. Multiplied by 35 years (since Roe v Wade) the math results in 175 million deaths. The majority of these deaths are caused by solvable issues like unsafe water and sanitation, and lack of vaccines. Let’s assume the bare minimum majority, 87.51 million deaths.
Do not be deceived. If conservative Christians had invested the same entrepreneurial energy in preventing early childhood death in the world as we have in the anti-abortion campaign, we would have saved as many or more birthed children from death as we have unborn children, and that despite international hurdles! There is no way to prove this, of course, but I cannot imagine it not to be true.
Are we, are you really interested in saving children?
More important, I believe caring for impoverished birthed children at home and abroad, while speaking the truth about God’s value of children in the womb, would very possibly have prevented much of the contentious cultural warfare that divides the nation today and hardens so many against a “we’re against it” kind of Christianity. I suspect, the same Deceiver who tricked Peter into opposing Jesus’ talk of death (Mark 8:33), has also used the anti-abortion movement to hinder his disciple-making mission in America.
Think about it. The so-called culture war really took off with the creation of the Moral Majority. The major impetus for its creation was what? Abortion. This single issue has done more to polarize the nation and set verbal, and sometimes, physical fists flailing than any other issue since 1980.
Lest you forget, most of our mamma’s lectured us about how many it takes to tangle. If conservative Christians had taken the Roe v Wade decision as a clarion call to get passionate about birthed children around the globe, and had we gotten passionate about making sure health care, living-wage jobs, and quality education is as abundantly available in the inner city as it is suburbs, and had we offered the proverbial cup of cold water in Jesus’ name; tell me the cause of disciple-making would not be further ahead today!
We can’t undo the damage Roman Catholics and Evangelicals (my religious group) have perpetrated in the past 28 years. Still, we could start making some small, yet significant, changes now. Like what?
- Attitudes changed from seeing abortion providers as enemies to persons loved by God.
- Protests outside clinics changed to coffee, donut and cookie kiosks. “Here, enjoy a little refreshment. You’ve got a tough day. Wish you’d make a different decision, but whatever you decide, you can count on our love.” And on the way out, after the abortion, “Care for another cup or a cookie?” And the signs? Let’s start with the slogan, “You are valuable beyond what you can know!”
- Stop giving to anti-abortion organizations and shift that money to organizations like World Hope, World Vision, and CareNet pregnancy centers.
- Elect leaders you believe will best help America’s poor and poorly educated (these are those among whom the greatest number of abortions occur!). Then get involved in ministry to them yourself.
Are we, are you really interested in fulfilling the Great Commission (to make disciples of every nation – literally “ethnic group”) in the spirit of the Great Commandment (Love God with all your heart, mind and soul, and your neighbor as yourself)!?