A Sad Realization about a word…

I was listening to the news this morning when the NPR podcast that helps me get ready for the day shared a frightening statistic: nearly 40% of Republicans seemingly approved of the use of violence to defend what I will call the “American way of life.” I was a bit upset, so I did some digging. The actual source of the survey reported, “Nearly three in 10 (29 percent) Americans completely or somewhat agree with the statement: “If elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves even if it requires taking violent actions.”

All of this was upsetting, but it bothered me on another level that this was listed under the religion section of NPR. 0https://www.npr.org/2021/02/11/966498544/a-scary-survey-finding-4-in-10-republicans-say-political-violence-may-be-necessaR and the included snippets of an interview with the head of the agency (American Enterprise Institute) that performed the survey, the director Daniel Cox connected what was labeled as the White Evangelical church and really questionable beliefs. Cox shared with NPR: ” ‘As with a lot of questions in the survey, white evangelicals stand out in terms of their belief in conspiracy theories and the idea that violence can be necessary,’ Cox says. ‘They’re far more likely to embrace all these different conspiracies.’ ”

Now, I’m white and I believe in the Good News (the “Evangel”), but I do not agree that there is any necessary use of violence in this nation’s politics. I believe in being evangelistic and in the act of evangelism, but the word “Evangelical…” I think that word has been dragged through the mud so often that I cannot connect myself with it in good conscience.

I am thankful for this snippet from the actual survey’s release: “However, although a significant number of Americans—and Republicans in particular—express support for the idea that violent actions may be necessary, there is a notable lack of enthusiastic support for it. For instance, only 9 percent of Americans overall and only 13 percent of Republicans say they “completely” agree in the necessity of taking violent actions if political leaders fail.”

I believe 9% is too high. The church has a lot of work to do, especially when such a large swath of the church has what I see as a troubling relationship with the very political violence I believe we should oppose. Blessed are the peacemakers…

Race and Faith

This morning I read an article from the Associated Press News that raised some troubling issues. The quote that stuck out to me as a minister was a direct quote of the President. He said : “American parents are not going to accept indoctrination in our schools, cancel culture at work, or the repression of traditional faith, culture and values in the public square, Not anymore.”

The implied indoctrination that was being referenced appears to be the ongoing conversation and education about the ongoing subjugation and subsequent oppression of people of color over the past 400 years that has been highlighted by secular efforts like the New York Times’ 1619 Project and religious efforts like the “Imagine No Racism” Campaign of the Upper New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and the “Sacred Conversations on Race” Campaign of the United Church of Christ.

As a minister who just highlighted two local denominations’ attempts to wrestle with the cultural sin of racism, it may be obvious where I am going with this post. I reject the authority of any politician to label one set of beliefs as traditional. Even if I agreed with the source of the beliefs (e.g., the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, etc.), I would still reject the assertion of any political leader when they use their office to say that one aspect of faith is traditional.

I can appreciate that many individuals might say that this is being blown out of proportion, but let me lay out several reasons why I am choosing to make this statement at this moment and on this subject.

  • Many people of color are expressing themselves and their experience of American culture. As children of God, their experiences and voices have intrinsic value that should be respected. Giving a venue to those voices does not diminish the voices of others.
  • Each generation begins anew the cycle of learning and growth. Each child will grow into a predominant culture, but each child will also have the chance to work at changing that culture. Gaslighting the expressions of persons of color as they emphasize the events that affected their families is an atrocious way to act towards others. In my opinion, labeling one set of beliefs as traditional and trying to silence the voice of others is gaslighting.
  • Bear with me for a moment here: as a male, I have to be careful of mansplaining things. Even when I have the best intentions, it is very easy to talk over others. This tendency is amplified when dealing with others who have traditionally been silenced. I’m not sure this is a phrase yet, but saying that one Eurocentric view is traditional is a great example of “Whitesplaining.”
How the road forward can look when your viewpoint is dismissed

Folks, it is easy to look at someone who has political power and give them the authority to make pronouncements. It sometimes feels safer to keep your head down and remain silent. Silence is not always the best option, especially when silence leads to the dismissal of others and the diminishment of our society as a whole.

Sermon: “On Goliath, then and now”

Sermon: “On Goliath, then and now”
Date: June 24, 2018
Scripture: 1 Samuel 17:1, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49
Preacher: Rev. Robert Dean

Note: This is the manuscript that I am preaching on today. There’s always space for unexpected leadings of the Spirit. In other words, I often wander off script.

Once upon a time, there were three bored kids on summer vacation. They look all around and all they could find to play with was a single quarter. One of the kids started flipping the quarter.

“You know,” she said, “every time I flip this coin it lands on heads.” She flipped the coin three times and it landed on heads all three times. The second kid asked for the quarter, looked at it, and said “I bet every time I flip it, it will land on tails.” The coin was flipped three times and, wouldn’t you know it, it landed on tails all three times.

The third kid asked for the coin. He looked at it long and hard. He weighed it in he hand, flipped it around in his hand a bit, and made up his mind. “You know, “ the third child said, “it might seem funny, but I think I just made twenty-five cents,” put the coin in his pocket and walked off. Somewhere, their parents’ hair grew a little grayer as the arguing began.

Of course, that story is meant as a joke, but I tell it for a very serious reason. Three kids each looked at the same coin. Two of the kids saw that there were only two possibilities. They were bored, and the coin would land on heads or tails every time. The coin was a distraction on a boring day. The third child saw the coin and saw twenty-five cents. The way they viewed the coin changed the way they acted with the coin. Their outlook affected the way they acted.

As funny as our story was meant to be, it gives us a way into a very common fact of life. The way we interact with the world is affected by the way that we see it. One bad experience with a dog can make you less than thrilled with the idea of meeting a new dog. The words your parents used in your youth to describe your neighbors can affect the way you see them and their children today. We are affected by our worldview and our worldview has an effect on how we read scriptures.

Let me ask a simple question every Christian should ask now and again. How does your outlook on life affect the way you read the scriptures? How does the way you read scripture affect the way you look at life? The assumption of church is often that the scriptures affect the way we live, but do we ever stop to look at how our lives affect the way we read those scriptures?

Let’s take today’s reading as example. Most of us who are a certain age or older have an image of this story, the story of David and Goliath. The image was put in place when we were young by stories in Sunday school and church camp. For me, the image I grew up with was a giant man who was just covered in muscles. The Israelites were afraid of Goliath because Goliath was tremendous. In honesty, David did not stand a chance against the Goliath in my mind’s eye. Goliath was big, strong, and powerful. David was just the youngest child of a large family and didn’t stand a chance. David’s place was where he was as the story begins. David was sent to deliver cheese, because how much trouble can a small kid get into with cheese?

The image I took away from the story was one of David overcoming tremendous odds. What’s strange is that the scriptures themselves do not really line up with that image. At least, they don’t line up when you pay close attention to the science behind the story.

The tallest man alive, according to the Guinness Book of World Records is Sultan Kösen (K-ay-sen). He was, when measured in 2011, eight foot, 2.8 inches tall. The man named Goliath described in our scriptures had nearly a foot and a half on Mr. Kösen. He was really, really tall. Now what makes that interesting, is that every inch of Goliath has weight. There are several formulas used to calculate the proper weight of an individual by height, but assuming that Goliath was 25, Goliath should have weighed:

If based on the Robinson formula (1983), the ideal weight is 353.4 lbs
If based on the Miller formula (1983), the ideal weight is 301.1 lbs
If based on the Devine formula (1974), the ideal weight is 399.3 lbs
If based on the Hamwi formula (1964), the ideal weight is 445.1 lbs
All of this means, based on one healthy BMI recommendation, his recommended weight is 360.2 lbs – 486.8 lbs.

Think about that for a moment. Assuming the lowest ideal body weight, the body weight which would have the most muscle with the least fat, Goliath would have weighed more than 300 pounds, been carrying over 150 pounds of armor, had likely more than 20 pounds of weaponry with just his spear, and that isn’t counting other clothes, his leg-guards, his helmet, his javelin, or even his shield, provided his shield-bearer wasn’t carrying it, which seems likely as a shield would have really helped when David started launching stones.

What’s more interesting is when we apply another formula from modern science to the breastplate which Goliath wears. A study by the American Association of Physics Teachers suggested a surprising conclusion when studying backpacking individuals who carry large backpacks over a period of time. Let’s be clear, the weight would be carried on the back instead of the front in a backpacking situation, but the challenge of Goliath did take place over several days.

According to the article in “The Physics Teacher” entitled “Backpack Weight and the Scaling of the Human Frame” by Michael O’Shea, there’s a revelation about a common misconception. The misconception is this: one imagines that a larger person can carry more weight comfortably than a smaller individual. When a person at 220 pounds looks at a healthy individual whose Body Mass Index (their BMI) is not overweight, one would expect that they could carry more than a healthy individual with the same BMI who weighed only 132 pounds.

Unfortunately, the science of our assumptions do not add up. O’Shea studied people on intensive hiking trips for over twenty years and found that the 132 pound students on his trips tended to have an easier time carrying the weight than the healthy larger individuals who went into the woods. When he did the science, which I will not repeat here, he found that the weight of the individuals did not correlate with the amount they could carry. A person with significantly more musculature at 220 pounds than a person who weighed only 132 pounds struggled significantly with the same weight in their backpack.

You might ask how that could be. They have another 88 pounds which is composed primarily of muscle. How could they struggle to carry the same weight backpack as someone nearly two-thirds their size? The study showed that the extra musculature carried by the more heavily muscled individual decreased the amount they could comfortably carry and manage because the weight of their very muscles acted against them.

What does this have to do with Goliath? Goliath has people who can carry his armor for him, right? Consider the musculature weight needed to walk around with all of the equipment we’ve seen described. Think about how tall Goliath is described as being in the story. There are two possibilities here. Either Goliath carries all that weight because Goliath is an incredibly tall and incredibly lanky individual who uses his strength to carry all of that weight or Goliath is standing there taunting David because he likely has so little strength left that all he has left in his arsenal are verbal barbs.

When you look at the science behind Goliath, it is actually a strange story to have in our scripture. If you look at it in the eyes of a literalist, someone who believes the Bible is true word for word, you have a real problem. Goliath had to be not only freakishly tall but also freakishly strong. Goliath was so large, perhaps the word giant is the only way to describe a person who could carry that much weight with that height and still appear to be anything but a mess.

What if we looked at it differently though… What if the Bible is trying to make a point to us? Yes, Goliath is 9 and ¾ feet tall. Yes, he likely is carrying around enough weight that the ground, if not flattened by great use, would have likely sunk into the ground as he walked. Yes, Goliath is described in intimidating terms.

It also should be said that this gigantic man of inhuman proportions is dead at the end of the story. I hate to put it so bluntly, but the small shepherd boy kills Goliath. The scripture reading stops, but David walks up Goliath and cuts his head off with his own sword, presumably with Goliath’s shield-bearer just standing there slack-jawed. Goliath meets a brutal end at the hands of a young shepherd.

File:Guillaime Courtois - David and Goliath - Google Art Project.jpg

“David and Goliath” by Guillaume Courtois

So, what kind of coin is this? Is this a story out of the history of this man named David? Are we supposed to look at this image and say “Wow. I wish God were as present in my life as he was for David.” Are we supposed to look on a story like this with jealousy? Are we possibly willing to see ourselves as one of the Israelites who goes on after David to conquer the Philistines after Goliath falls? Are we seeing this story as an invitation to wait for our opportunity when our David shows up? Do we cry out to God for a hero as the Philistines stand there shouting out?

Such a response might be understandable. Look at the world we live in. There are children separated from parents within the borders of our own nation. Those kids are held by our own government. We sometimes think that it is not our problem, but those pesky scriptures keep popping up. Think of the words of Deuteronomy 10:16-21:

“Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of Lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the stranger, providing them food and clothing. You shall fear the Lord your God; God alone you shall worship; to God you shall hold fast, and by God’s name you shall swear. God is your praise; Jehovah is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.”

We hear words like these and the connections are hard to miss. We might not have been in Egypt, but many of our ancestors only left Europe because life in those places was challenging. Who would have jumped on a boat and risk the ocean except to seek opportunity or freedom in a new land? How many of them kissed the ground when they got off the boat? There are some in this place who have the blood of the original Americans within their veins and their ancestors survived hardship, challenge, and difficulty in the wilds of history even before Europeans came to this land. Europeans did not exactly make it easier upon arrival. Those of us who are in this room have been given opportunity and blessing and it can be easy to want to hold onto those blessings tightly, but the words of scripture… God calls for circumcised hearts, even as our minds scream out that there’s only enough for us. Even if our hearts are not stubborn, our own self-interest is often very stubborn.

Yet, scripture is clear. God is not partial. God takes no bribe. God executes justice for the helpless and for strangers. The Israelites were called to remember that they were once strangers in the land of Egypt and a good memory would remind them of Abram coming with his wife out of Ur to begin the story of the people. They were called to remember God’s blessing because God blessed them in their need. Has God gone deaf? Has God gone blind? God is our God. Doesn’t that mean we should consider what the impartial God would want?

Yet, sometimes we act like those Israelites. We stand there and watch. If we wait long enough, David will come. If we wait long enough, there’ll be another revelation. If we wait long enough, we can distract ourselves. In college I was forced to read a book on the nature of popular culture. It was called “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” Maybe a fitting sequel could have been “Waiting Around with Ourselves to Death.” Yes, we believe God will bring justice for those strangers in our land. Yes, God will hear the cry of children. Yes, God will act. We just seem to be waiting for David to show up.

What if the whole point of stories like David and Goliath is for us to realize that Goliath isn’t what he seems? Yes, a strong man carrying that big armor at that height would be intimidating. Yet, could he really do anything to the people if they’d just gotten up and worked together? Who cares if he’s over nine feet tall if there are “two or three of you” gathered together? Who cares how much he can carry if he isn’t even wise enough to put the spear down and grab his shield?

What if we’re not supposed to wait for David? What if we’re David? What if you are David? You! Yes, you! Last week in this place, someone prayed for those kids. I won’t mention them by name, but I will say there were a lot of amens in the room. What if everyone who said “Amen” did something beyond just say “Amen?”

What if we insisted that those kids are cared for, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because we know of how potentially hazardous it is to annoy a God who hears the stranger and cares about their well-being?

What if we didn’t wait for November, but we started pressing for change in the way our representatives act now. What if we wrote our representatives, shared our concerns, share that we are not interested in their political party, but insist that they work for change now? What if we showed up at the next event they hold in town and ask what they’re doing right now to help? What if we didn’t see such a huge problem and say “Where’s David?” What if we stopped and said “I am a child of God and this changes today!”

Do you know something, that story about the three coins at the beginning was meant to be humorous, but it also had several purposes. Did you laugh at that third child’s actions? Did you think he was being a bit unfair? If I was his parent, he wouldn’t keep that coin.

Someone is taking advantage of these kids. Someone has taken their coins. Whether these children are here seeking asylum, freedom, or are the children of parents who have broken the law, they are suffering. Heaven knows what’s happening to the elderly and the infirm who cross the borders out of fear or perceived necessity. It should cause us to act, for we were once a people who were strangers in Egypt, strangers on wilderness coasts, and faced with strange people from a far off land. We have been in their shoes and we should remember how God was present for us.


Let Us Ramble: Nineveh and Change

I would like to begin this entry by pointing out that I sometimes struggle with the work of the Council of Bishops. I find that they often equivocate on challenging issues and I long for firm statements marked by honest reflection on scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. I long for deep statements based on the discernment that comes from the Holy Spirit. I sometimes feel disappointed, but that’s what happens when imperfect people gather together. Disappointment happens and that disappointment is inevitable. I still respect that body of leaders and consider their words carefully.

So, when I see statements like the one made last week by the Council of Bishops, I find myself doing more than simply paying close attention. I practically cheered when I read the Council of Bishops refer to racist behavior as racist, harmful behavior as being harmful, and urging on United Methodists to call for an apology from President Trump. These unequivocating and straightforward statements were startling coming from the voice of the bishops of the United Methodist Church. I would expect such words from an individual bishop, the General Board of Church and Society, or even individual conferences, clergy, or churches. As it would be almost impossible for the General Conference to gather globally to release a real-time call for repentance, this is probably as close as a statement can come to being a statement on behalf of the church. In the very least, such unity among so many of the leaders of the denomination is a powerful statement. My wife summed it up when she looked it up last night after we discussed how the statement had affected me. She simply said: “Wow!”

So, today I am honoring their request to call for an apology. To be honest though, I do not believe an apology will be enough. I want to call for repentance, but not just from Donald Trump. I believe we have an illness in our society that has allowed us to bring this kind of behavior to the highest levels of leadership. I believe we need to take a long, hard, and somber look at ourselves.

This past weekend the Revised Common Lectionary scripture included John 1:46. I did not preach out of the lectionary this past Sunday, but I know many of my colleagues did preach out of that prophetic moment in scripture. Jesus is beginning his ministry and calls Philip to follow. Philip comes across several of his friends and invites them on the journey with him. One of them, Nathanael, asks Philip if anything good could possibly come out of Nazareth…

Many of my colleagues point out that Nazareth was one of “those places.” Recent national news has focused conversation on several of “those places” in our own world. Could anything good come out of Haiti? Could anything good come out the heart of Africa? Could anything good come from one of “those places?” How are those places tied to the people who live in them? What does it say about the descendants of those places when we speak it such hateful terms?

As many of “those places” are filled with people created in the image of God, many of my colleagues had a field day, but I avoided the temptation to lash out. Today is a national holiday celebrating Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man whose ancestry arose out of one of “those places.” I wanted to save my words for a more fitting day like today.

So today, I wanted to begin with a story. The story is an old story and was once passed from family to family and from community to community until it was written down.

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom in a far off land. The people of this kingdom were wicked, cruel, and hostile. The king was powerful, mighty, and by no means innocent. People affected by the people of this kingdom cried out to God on account of the kingdom and the great city within it. God heard the cries of the injured, saw the wickedness of the land, and sent a prophet to tell them that their end was coming. For three days the prophet walked across the city and stated their fate.

People burst into a panic. They stripped off their fine garments and covered themselves in sackcloth. They stopped eating—mighty and meek, all of the people joined in mourning. When the king of the kingdom heard the news, he joined in their grief, he sat down in ashes in garments made of sackcloth. He decreed with his nobles that all would join in the great mourning. Humans and animals together joined in the mourning.

God saw their repentance and changed their fate. Their humility and repentance saved them from their own destruction. The prophet was not exactly happy about the situation, but repentance came to that city.

Those of you who enjoy your Hebrew Scriptures probably realize that I was retelling the story found in the book of Jonah about the city of Nineveh. In my career I have preached several times about the story of Jonah being swallowed up and many more times about how Jonah needed to learn about compassion, but I am not certain that I have ever preached on the subject of what happens in Nineveh itself. Nineveh, the great city and all of her people, has sadly become a bit of a means for other lessons in most of my sermons, messages, and reflections.

Yet, I find myself drawn to Nineveh as I consider recent events. In the translation that goes by the name the New Revised Standard Version, Hebrews 13:1-3 says:

“Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.”

The author of Hebrews calls on the church to do many things in this chapter of scripture. We are called to things like mutual love, empathy, compassion, and even to simply remember what others are going through in different circumstances. We are warned not to forget our duty toward hospitality, for who knows when we might seek to entertain strangers and instead find ourselves in the company of angels?

As a Christian, when I hear words like those shared by the President of the United States last week, I find myself appalled. When the door is slammed shut in the face of people and places where there are serious problems, Is slamming the door in the face of those facing modern struggles really all that different than the people of the early church forgetting those struggling in prison or facing torture? If these conversations really do go hand in hand with conversations around harder standards for asylum seekers, then we need to realize that the words of Hebrews might apply directly to us without much interpretation.

it is my great fear that we are slamming the door in the face of not only angels, but in the face of people created in the image of God. We are slamming the door in the face of those who call out for justice to a God who listens. When we willingly forget our duty to Christ by neglecting love, compassion, empathy, and even memory, we are doing something incredibly wicked. Do we actually believe that we are so unique as a nation that we are above reproach? Where does that kind of blindness come from as a people? Do we forget that God is ruler above nations and not for nations?

Surprisingly enough, when I googled the phrase “sackcloth suit,” there were entries and sponsored ads. Unsurprisingly, the Brooks Brothers suit Google tried to sell me was not made up of sackcloth. In honesty, looking back into Catholic tradition, there has been a history of “hair shirts” made of irritating haircloth meant to inspire discomfort and thus inspire humility, which is quite fascinating. Looking at the history of the practice, the rarity of practice in modern times, and it seems unlikely that I could find any hairshirts at the local mall.

Of course, that’s probably a moot point. I have difficulty seeing sackcloth on many of the folks that I see when I walk past an interview on a television in a store, in restaurant, or on my Facebook feed. I will say that I did go out of my way to pick up a swatch of burlap while out after church yesterday and attempted to make a burlap necklace. I can tell you two things:

  • First, I’m not great at arts and crafts.
  • Second, wearing it for a couple of hours was a real irritating experience. My neck was itchy, irritated, and it made my shirt look terrible. I was considering wearing it for Lent, but it was so difficult to wear without being noticeable that I am going to have to consider alternatives if I am seeking to practice my piety before God and not before other people.

My terrible necklace, wound around my wrist, so you don’t need to see the hints of gray beginning to show up in my goatee…

The attempt did answer a really important question for me though. Is it comfortable to go out of one’s way to repent? Oh, heavens no. The King of Nineveh and the people of that place must have been really uncomfortable and very motivated. They went out of their way to not only refrain from food and drink, but went further to introduce a level of discomfort into their life that must have been incredibly frustrating.

The Council of Bishops is correct. President Trump’s words were racist, are offensive to all people of God who believe that the people of those nations are made in the image of God, and they caused a significant amount of harm both internationally and domestically. President Trump needs to repent. We need to repent also.

I say these things as someone who has needed to do a significant amount of repenting in his own life. I grew up on Grand Island, NY. I grew up believing the Seneca Nation was trying to take away our hometown and I had a lot of very strong opinions about the Seneca. I grew up among a people who looked at the native population of what was my hometown with a less than Christian light. Let’s be honest, at times I was downright racist. I thought of reservations in ways like our President speaks about other sovereign nations like those named last week.

I was wrong. The things I believed were wrong. The way I acted in my heart towards my human sisters and brothers in the Seneca nation was wrong.

My change in attitude started thanks to a band called Five Iron Frenzy singing about social justice and introducing me to a book. I read“Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown as a teenager and it confused me greatly. The stories I read were so unlike the stories people had shared throughout my life.

My convictions continued to change when I was invited to go on a Volunteer in Mission trip to Four-Corners Native American Ministries. I was broken down further in my heart while helping fix windows in the homes of widows, standing underneath the Window Rock in the heart of the country of the Wind Talkers, looking over American flags flying over the graves of brave patriots and warriors, and walking through the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, AZ. My best friend Michael (rest in peace, my brother) stood with me under a blue sky as I began to confess my sin and my struggle underneath the eye of Window Rock. It was Michael who told me that I had a lifetime of amends to make and that I would have to keep working at things. I have sought to challenge and grow in my understanding since that day and since that conversation.

I was so ignorant and so foolish to accept as normal what I had swallowed hook, line, and sinker as a kid. I never had an issue with hanging around North Buffalo near my grandmother’s house, even as the neighborhood changed from a primarily European neighborhood to a more diverse neighborhood. I was happy to spend time within walking distance of a comic book store and a “Record Theatre.” (Thanks for the memories Mr. Silver…) I didn’t care who lived between Grandma’s house and my comics and my music. To this day, I still feel more nervous on a reservation than I do in a city, but I know this one thing to be true: If I believe that God’s image is in all people, then all people are worth treating as children of God, whether they live in a city, on a country road, in a Haitian village, on the coast of Africa, or anywhere in God’s beautiful creation.

I do not aim criticisms at the President of the United States lightly or from a place of superiority. I have been complicit in my own biases over the years. Still, truth must be held as truth. Evil is evil. Racism is racism. There is a severe need for not only an apology, but for true repentance when we engage in the acts of accepting and advocating for evil.

The old phrase of Rev. Charles F. Aked stands true as much today as it was in the fight against the abuses of alcohol: “It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing.” As a people, we cannot in good conscience stand by in times like these without calling for repentance. What’s more, we cannot in good conscience stand by without examining our own behavior and seeing if we are also in need of repentance.

May God help us all in these challenging times. May we move towards repentance without hypocrisy.

Let us Seek: Enthroned Forever

This morning I stood outside the elementary school where my children go to school. Today is Flag Day in the United States. Our children sang songs, marched, paid tribute to the flag, and were very patriotic. The presentation was a stirring event for everyone involved.

I returned to my office, visited with the CHOW folks serving in the Zimmer Annex, spent some time reading from my book for the Academy, and then sat down at my computer to look up the menu for the local deli down the street. I clicked on Facebook while Kelli made me a delicious sub for lunch. I saw an article about violence in Virginia. I read an article which was updating as I read. Violence, death, and pain suddenly filled my mind.

I wanted to go back to the circle in front of the school and see my kids celebrate the flag. I wanted to go back to the moment where all of my cynicism crumbled before a child who marched proudly and another child who signed boldly with their classmates. It had been such a powerful expression of innocence and I wanted to go back to that place.

I have been asked how I handle being a citizen of earth and a citizen of heaven. I tell people that I have dual-citizenship. I am a citizen of the United States and a citizen of Heaven. I love the nation where I was born, but have accepted allegiance to the Kingdom of God. I have made vows as a minister that have further tied me to that nation as an ambassador of the “Shepherd” of us all who serves within the church.

Ultimately, as a result of my faith and may vows, my allegiance falls foremost to my citizenry in Heaven. History teaches me that nations come and go, and that life is short. The dictionary teaches me that eternity is endless. My citizenship in Heaven is established by and through Jesus Christ and will last as long as I am held with love by God. My citizenship in Heaven is eternal since nothing can separate me from the love and God. My citizenship in Heaven is eternal since Christ will not lose me.

Unfortunately, my ties to Heaven do not release me from the sorrow of events like those that took place today in Virginia. My heart is broken as more folks lay in hospitals injured by violence. My heart is broken as I know at least one person lies in a morgue.

Even reading the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for today did not bring comfort today, and not just because Job gets told off by God in one of the readings. If anything the readings (except Job’s selection) brought longing for a better world into my heart. Consider the words of Psalm 29:10-11: (NSRV)

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!”

I long for a world where God sits enthroned over humanity. If Jesus is the image of the invisible God, then I truly long that Jesus would be enthroned. The world needs more compassion, more grace, and more love from her leaders.

In my opinion, the world would seemingly be a million times improved if Jesus were to return. Consider the promise of John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

In defiance (apparently) of Jesus’ words to us, my heart is troubled by the violence that I see in the world where I was born. On this Flag Day. I wish that everything could be happy songs sung by children, but this is a dangerous and questionable world. I want the peace of God to fill the hearts of the world, because the world just doesn’t offer the peace we need on days like today. I fear we need the strength spoken of in the Psalms, because this world can shift like sand in a single moment. We need to build on the rock for when the storms come.

The reading from John 14 brings more longing than perhaps anything else. John 14:25-26 says: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

Teach me, Holy Spirit. Teach us all. Remind us of Jesus’ words and teach us how to live in this world of rifles, bullets, and death. Our sins stain us scarlet. Wash us clean and we shall be as fresh as newly fallen snow…