Strike yer colors (please)

I’ve never seen so many Nazi flags, not even on the History Channel.

No, I don’t mean at the alt-right/old fascist whatev rally in Virginia.  I mean in the social media posts by people objecting to that rally.

It brings up a persistent question.  Do we do better by making active shows of resistance to shut down a crazy movement, or do we disempower it by depriving it of publicity?  I think there are examples and arguments to support both positions, and I’m not going to be so vain as to assert one or the other as universally useful.  It is an important question and one that deserves constant asking if great evils are to be headed off.

It is easy to condemn some “bad guys,” especially when our cultural virtue signalling declares open season on them.  You can concoct international neo-fascist villains in movies about terrorism and that won’t cause the uproar you get with an Islamic terrorist as the antagonist.  When it came to executing White male mass murderer Timothy McVeigh, the usually vocal anti-death penalty crowd went pretty much mum.  We have a natural inclination – which you can blame on sin, biology, social psychology or (d) all of the above – to identify and chase away a threatening “out group.”  That’s not a solution, because we’ve been doing it forever and the same problems persist.

Praying about it and seeking wisdom in the Scriptures of my faith, I was given memory of Jude 1:23,

Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives. (NLT)

It isn’t loving to let others, up to and including the hateful and oppressive, perish in their sin.  To resist their bad ideas and actions can be the most loving possible response.  It is to attempt to rescue them from ultimate destruction, just as much as it is to protect other people from the harm they might inflict.

But this must be done without being “contaminated” by their evil, that is, by getting sucked into participation in the very thing we claim to protest.

The resistance has to manifest something different.  As one observer points out, that wasn’t exactly what happened in Virginia,

Mutually antagonistic flag waving.  Not a call to something better, just a colorful assertion of my superiority to you.

I was at a protest some years ago.  Two groups were demonstrating on opposing sides of a foreign policy issue.  We were both marching in circles, brandishing our witty placards and bellowing our slogans.

At some point, someone in our circle challenged us to shut up and pray.  So we did – we went silent and dropped to our knees on the sidewalk.  The other group kept chanting for a few minutes, then fizzled into silence and dispersed.

Again, I’m not saying that this is some universal solution – it might just as well have happened that some nut jumped into his car and ran over us while we prayed.

What I’m saying is that the real resistance is that which manifests something better, even if risky, than the facts on the ground.  I really don’t see any substantial difference between alt-right and antifa “demonstrations.”  I don’t see substantial difference between alt-right and SJW social media histrionics.

Jesus sets a tall order before us.  He calls us to represent a kingdom that is different from any order on earth, in fact, it’s pretty much upside down from what we call normal most of the time.

This kingdom waves a flag, but not a symbolic piece of fabric.  The Old Covenant presented it as a new kingdom of peace and justice: the New Testament proclaims it in the person of Jesus, the heir of ancient King David’s line and Son of God, a living signal/banner/flag of peace and justice to the whole world,

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
   and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
   the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
   the spirit of counsel and might,
   the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
   or decide by what his ears hear; 
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
   and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
   and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
   and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
   the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
   and a little child shall lead them. 
The cow and the bear shall graze,
   their young shall lie down together;
   and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
   and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 
They will not hurt or destroy
   on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
   as the waters cover the sea. 

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

 On that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that is left of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Ethiopia, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. 

He will raise a signal for the nations,
   and will assemble the outcasts of Israel,
and gather the dispersed of Judah
   from the four corners of the earth.

(Isaiah 11:1-12, NRSV)

So let’s strike our earthly colors, and ask God to unfurl us as that living banner of a better kingdom, even if we must suffer losses in this life to live in it.

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Guess Who’s Coming to Church

I’ll make a long story short by linking to my own care giving blog, where I describe how my son with autism accompanied me on a preaching road trip.

To make the drive more pleasant, I pulled out our collection of hits by 60s/70s Canadian rock band The Guess Who.

About 90 minutes into the drive, while I was absorbed in worries about how my son would do at a strange (that is, new to him, no value judgement on the very kind congregation) church, the song Hang On To Your Life played.  I’d forgotten that the album cut ended with singer Burton Cummings’ lugubrious offering of Psalm 22:13-15 (King James Version),

They gaped upon me with their mouths
As a ravening and a roaring lion
I am poured out like water
And all my bones are out of joint
My heart is like wax
It is melted in the midst of my bowels
My strength is dried up like a potsherd
And my tongue cleaveth to my jaws
And thou has brought me into the dust of death

According to some sources I’ve consulted (OK, Googled), Cummings was having fun with his agony from a bad case of sunburn.  Just the same, hearing it as a Christian, my mind turned away from my anxious thoughts and toward the cross of Christ, which this Psalm foretells and from which Jesus quoted the first verse, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Such is God’s grace that playing The Guess Who as tranquilizing background music led to a behind-the-wheel contemplation of the cross of Christ, preparing me to preach him and to break the bread in proclamation of his death until he comes again.

Just for info’s sake, here’s a video of the song.  The Psalm is quoted at about 3:40.

Can’t we just be friends?

Ah, Valentine’s Day. Remember when romantic rejection – somebody didn’t “like” you – felt like a fatal injury? I guess I’m getting old enough to look back and… OK, not laugh, but not cringe with as much gravity. “Can’t we just be friends?” is funny now; it used to be injurious to my soul.

Rejection. I prayed Psalm 71 this morning and the word came to mind.

For you are my hope, O LORD God, my confidence since I was young. I have been sustained by you ever since I was born; from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; my praise shall be always of you. I have become a portent to many; but you are my refuge and my strength. (Verses 5-7)

The Psalms, according to Jesus himself, point to him. With that understanding, these verses are so painful; the eternal Son who dwelt in eternal glory spent his 33-ish years from conception to crucifixion on the bad end of rejection.  His fidelity to his divine nature and mission were things the world wanted to keep at arm’s length, to say the least.

The Prophets saw it coming,

He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces3d render of red broken heart om white background
he was despised, and we held him of no account. (Isaiah 53:3 NRSV)

The Evangelists recorded the fulfillment,

 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.  He came unto his own, and his own received him not.  (John 1:10-11)

Wow, at least those we court try to let us down easy.  They offer a cool (in temperature, not social standing) friendship.  Jesus gave his heart and got the cross.

Makes today’s shenanigans seem a bit less urgent, I hope.

 

 

Coming into focus

This is embarrassing to admit, but until I read it at Morning Prayer today I’d not noticed the revelation of the Trinity lurking in Isaiah 9:6,

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, that he may be with you forever… John 14:16

Mighty God For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God… Deuteronomy 10:17,

Everlasting Father Pray then like this:“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”  Matthew 6:9,

Prince of Peace But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace… Ephesians 2:13-14

trinity-cross
Trinitarian Cross, carved in fish bone.  Photo by the Rev. Kenneth Tanner

 

The reconciling of our human life to the eternal, creative love that is one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, was foretold by the Prophets, born of the Virgin Mary, won on the Cross, first harvested at Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension, given to us to proclaim at Pentecost, and awaiting each of us in our death and all of us in the return of the Prince of Peace.

 

Leaf me alone

A friend from my Army days hails from New Mexico.  He used to mock ethnic stereotypes by adopting a hyper-Spanglish accent that sounded like a white guy trying to sound barrio.

One of my favorite such phrases was when he was annoyed:

Leaf me alone, esay.

It came to mind when I read John 6:15 this morning:

Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (John 6:15 ESV)

Jesus had just fed a large crowd, and they were down for some bread and circuses.

20160817_102837
Tell it to the hand.

So Jesus, sent into the world to save it, temporarily steps away from its tumult to pray, turning his back on the crowd in a prophetic enactment of leaf me alone, esay.

The ancient prophets, picked by God to speak in tumultuous times, sometimes reached a limit at which words, even divinely supplied words, seemed useless or even counterproductive.

The faithful have vanished from the earth, no mortal is just! They all lie in wait to shed blood, each one ensnares the other.  Their hands succeed at evil; the prince makes demands, The judge is bought for a price, the powerful speak as they please.  The best of them is like a brier, the most honest like a thorn hedge.  The day announced by your sentinels!  Your punishment has come; now is the time of your confusion.  Put no faith in a friend, do not trust a companion;  With her who lies in your embrace watch what you say.  (Micah 7:2-5 NAB)

Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;  for it is an evil time.  (Amos 5:13, NRSV)

My gut instinct is that we are in an evil time.  Of course I could be wrong.  But I sense the church (at least here in the U.S.) in a crazy making situation where people want it to stay out of their business on the one hand but fault it for not coming up with “statements” on this, that and the other thing on the other hand.  People want a theocracy but only for their particular issues.  They will “come by force to make us regents” but only with their hands up our backs as their puppets.

Hence we hear about the Benedict Option, which might be one expression of leaf me alone, esay.  To save our words for God and for those already drawn to him, ignoring all the social media about 10 Things the Church MUST do to attract absolutely everybody all the time.

In Elijah’s day, the crowd was hunting down and killing the prophets.  Godly people hid them in caves to weather the persecution and survive as God’s witnesses for a better day.

You’re no better.

The name of this blog comes from the Bible passage recording the one written document attributed to the Prophet Elijah.

The passage might be summarized as You’re no better.  The King and people of Judah believed themselves to be entitled to God’s favor, even as they behaved in ways no better than neighboring nations.  Elijah warns them of God’s disfavor, and the prophecy comes to pass as the kingdom is devastated by those it considered lesser people.

You’re no better runs through my head as the American political reality show plays on in the two major party conventions, and in the news and social media surrounding them.  There is a whiff of perception in people saying I don’t think I can vote for either one.  But that avoids any recognition of how we might might enable both.

This morning I saw this well done video about the rise of Hitler.  Comments on it, as you might guess, tend to be Yeah that’s exactly what the other side is like.  Which cries out for the warning, You’re no better.  Both “sides” play to our resentments and real and imagined problems; we behave in ways that allow them to grab and maintain power.

You’re no better.  We’re no better.  We need that kind of humility  and realism to stop ceding more and more power to Caesar to slay our bogeymen, who are all to often just flesh and blood neighbors.

But even from the religious or spiritual community, which should carry the prophetic voice, we hear Wait, yes, we are better.  There’s an opinion piece trending, in which the writer condemns a key penitential prayer and demands that Pope Francis abolish it.  Yes, some kind of cosmic peace and love is to be attained by appealing to an authority figure to ban what bugs you, never mind what it means to others.

Which is to say to the author, You’re no better.  

Confession of sin is a great equalizer and can be a source of peace.  It asks us to stop and question what we’re feeling, thinking and doing.  It is to hold up the constant possibility and probability that we’re no better and to restrain action based on the false narrative that we are.  It is to admit that we all stand in need of mercy and, as we receive it, are all obligated to offer it.

I’m no better for sure.  I’m as bad as the next person when it comes to saying There oughtta be a law.  But most laws beyond a few big ones that value and protect all people equally – You shall not commit murder, for example – are just one group of people considering themselves entitled to impose themselves upon others.

Watching the Hitler video can be a good spiritual exercise.  If you can watch and say, Yeah, that’s those other guys.  Glad I wouldn’t have been part of that, it is worthwhile to ponder what Jesus says in Matthew 23:29-30,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’

Because the odds are we’re no better.

We have to do SOMETHING

Jesus attacked religious leaders – in particular the Pharisees – for multiplying laws and taboos to ensure righteousness but effectively pushing people away from the loving God who was trying to gather them into his kingdom.

American politics have secularized the Pharisaic method.  No matter how good things might be, we amplify the problem and call for a response by the government.

We default to a pseudo-priestly caste to declare and then do something about a metastasizing list of problems.  And there are plenty of aspirants to that priesthood filling publicly funded positions to do something about this, that and the other thing.

caesar
Augustus von Prima Porta (20-17 v. Chr.), aus der Villa Livia in Prima Porta, 1863

1 Samuel 8:10-20 is worth reading as we invest more and more power in government:

So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

More terrifying is the peoples’ response, which sounds like it could be right out of a contemporary on-the-street voter interview. “A leader to decide and do it all for us.”

But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

It is a sad time as our nation descends into the craving for authoritarian “solutions.” We lament political “gridlock” and bewail the hypocrisies of right and left while we without irony invest politicians with more and more of our daily lives, at greater expense to each of us and all of us.

For those whose fealty is with a king not of this present world, here’s the good news:

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39 ESV)

But our enslavement to mortal rulers is going to hurt a lot along the way to the eternal kingdom that is to come.