Friday, April 30, 2010

Christian Peacemaking: Is the Enemy to be Loved or Leveled?

If you haven't heard of the Hutaree, I hope it is because they are a peripheral fringe group with no impact or relevance, and may they stay that way. The Hutaree is what I would call a Christian militia, even though in my world that is self-contradicting--an oxymoron. Their website contains pics and videos of men in military fatigues, toting their rifles, running through the brush, I assume, in pursuit of "the enemy." They are preparing for the "end times" apocalyptic war heralded by Christ's second coming. They seem to relish and eagerly anticipate the bloodshed that will ensue.

They are very confusing to me. They speak of "carrying one's cross" but those sure look like, sound like, and kill like M16A4's or some military rifle in all their pics and videos. I didn't see a single cross being toted. I suppose all you can do with a cross is bludgeon someone with it--or die on it.They're carrying instruments of death as agents of death ; Jesus carried an instrument of death, as well. He was on the receiving end of death; he didn't administer or inflict it. He calls his followers to embrace a similar lifestyle in imitating him.

I have acknowledged in a previous blog that there is a disparity between what I aspire to be and live like as a Christ-follower and what, indeed, I truly am. It frustrates me about myself and about the church that we often look so unlike the One we claim to follow. One of the Old Testament prophecies about Christ describes him in this manner, "He will not cry or shout out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out." (Isaiah 42:2-3) A person who is unassuming. Nothing abrasive about him (unless he was dealing with the religious establishment.) Gentle and meek--a bruised reed he will not break. That poetic language is a moving depiction of Christ's tenderness and regard for others. In contrast, so many Christ-followers today are "shouting" individuals. Today so many of his followers are not only raising our voices but raising our rifles at our enemy whom Christ commanded us to somehow love rather than obliterate.

At the very top of the Hutaree web site, as a banner, is John 15:13, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." I'm amazed at the degree to which we all twist texts and contexts to make them mean what we desire. This is certainly twisted. Somehow laying down our life has now become the justification for the taking of a life. Jesus was all about giving life, not taking it. His command was not, "Minimize the collateral damage but, by all means, take out the enemy." He said, "Love your enemy." How is it that some of us claim to follow Christ but talk and walk the very antithesis of what he talked and walked?

The Hutaree are the extreme. This isn't merely about them. I'm concerned that all-to-eagerly the mainstream church is ready to disregard all that Jesus Christ taught and all that he fleshed out in everyday life. I'm concerned that we are so willing to trade in our own cross for an M16A4.

This is a complex issue with numerous layers to peel. I don't claim to have all the answers nor do I think my own position is iron-clad, free of any and all incomsistencies or dangers. But I can't escape this haunting fear that we are claiming to follow Christ, but are looking nothing like him.

Am I on a cross or do I have someone in the crosshairs?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Song for Every Occasion

Regardless of your plight, your mood, the season of your life, there is a country western song for YOU. Relax and enjoy.

For the impulsive adolescent who's breaking up with his third girlfriend in three weeks, GET YOUR TONGUE OUTTA MY MOUTH 'CAUSE I'M KISSIN' YOU GOODBYE

For the lover who should have been much more selective and is now rationalizing, HER TEETH WERE STAINED BUT HER HEART WAS PURE

For the codependent, IF YOU LEAVE ME CAN I COME, TOO?

For the bitter born-again, THANK GOD AND GREYHOUND SHE'S GONE

For the boozer whose lover is the booze, I'D RATHER HAVE A BOTTLE IN FRONT OF ME THAN A FRONTAL LOBOTOMY

For that lovesick individual who is desperate for some space, IF YOU DON'T LEAVE ME ALONE, I'LL FIND SOMEONE WHO WILL

For the one who can't contemplate the breakup, WHEN YOU LEAVE, WALK OUT BACKWARDS SO I'LL THINK YOU'RE WALKING IN

For the less-than-monogamous, YOU CAN'T HAVE YOUR KATE AND EDITH, TOO


For the codependent and confused, I'M SO MISERABLE WITHOUT YOU IT'S LIKE HAVING YOU HERE


For the wannabe romantic who means well, IF MY NOSE WAS FULL OF QUARTERS I'D BLOW IT ALL ON YOU

For the one who can't decide whether the relationship is growing or ending, WE USED TO JUST KISS ON THE LIPS BUT NOW IT'S ALL OVER

For the one tired of the control issues, IF YOU KEEP CHECKING UP ON ME I'M CHECKING OUT ON YOU

For the couple whose honeymoon is over, EVER SINCE I SAID "I DO," THERE'S A LOT OF THINGS YOU DON'T

For the person who needs one more reason to stay away from the alcohol, I KNEW I'D HIT ROCK BOTTOM WHEN I WOKE UP ON TOP OF YOU



For the one whose lover won't let them break up, HOW CAN I MISS YOU IF YOU WON'T GO AWAY?

And, finally, for those who are aging but still have it in them, GIT OFF THE STOVE, GRANDMA, YOU'RE TOO OLD TO RIDE THE RANGE.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tolerance of Diversity As Long As You Agree With Me

Can't we all just get along? Why is it so difficult for us to coexist in amicable fashion? I'm not talking about supposedly peaceable countries trying to live in peace with war-mongering rogue countries. I'm talking about you and me. I'm talking about me and the next door neighbor. I'm talking about the Left and the Right. I'm talking about the intoxicated college student whooping it up outside my bedroom window at 3:00 a.m. Why do people have to act so adversarial? The right certainly has some representatives who can be venomous and vitriolic in their spewing of rhetoric. Glenn Beck's recent vehement urging people of faith to exit any community of faith and reject any priest/pastor who talks about "social justice" certainly was divisive and mean-spirited, not to mention possibly stupid. I haven't listened to Rush in years because I could no longer handle the disdain and loathing which he seemed to possess in regard to anyone who might be "a liberal."

However, make no mistake about it; bias and prejudice are not a character flaw of only those who are right-of-center, whether politically, socially, or religiously. Bias and prejudice are Equal Opportunity employers, making no distinction as to race, color, age, gender, national origin, religion, mental or physical disability or ice cream flavor preference. Those who would and do criticize the conservative camp for its dogmatism and rigidity are often no more tolerant of differences than their conservative counterpart. They sound understanding and tolerant and accepting of differences, but they aren't.

An example. This past week the American Humanist Association supported a a judge's ruling that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional. I don't particularly care whether there is such a day or not; each year there are 365 days of prayer at my disposal, so I'm not going to quibble over 1. What irks me is that the AHA wants that day revoked and in its place the National Day of Reason. Here's a comment from the AHA website, April 16, 2010: "This ruling is a victory for religious freedom and separation of church and state in this country," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "The government should not be directing citizens to pray. In addition to being unconstitutional, it's also especially offensive to people who don't believe in a god and are made to feel excluded by the observance."
The site goes on to say, "President Obama indicated that he still intends to recognize the observance on May 6, as the injunction against the National Day of Prayer would not take effect until after the appeals process has been exhausted. In response, the American Humanist Association urged the president to instead recognize the National Day of Reason, the non-theist movement's response to the National Day of Prayer. Also held on the first Thursday in May, the National Day of Reason is a day in which events are held across the United States in order to commemorate reason--a far more inclusive observance."

Maybe I'm missing something, AHA, but I'm not feeling the humanist love. You complain because you "are made to feel excluded" but you want to engage in behavior that is just a excluding by declaring the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. You're not satisfied or content with BOTH a day of prayer and a day of reason; you want YOUR viewpoint as nationally-sanctioned, and yours alone. That sounds awfully Right of you, and certainly humanist but not very humane.

This is merely one example of how this polarizing by both Left and Right is frequently playing out in the public arena. Whatever happened to civility?
George Washington, the "father " of our country, posted 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, based on a set of rules composed by French Jesuits in 1595. It seems we went from 110 rules of civility to none.

Yes, we differ. Yes, I surely hold some things to be true that you do not. Yes, my values may differ from yours. Can we hold those beliefs, those values in tension without creating tension between us as two human beings? I regard some things to be absolutely true and right; I regard an antithetical view or behavior to be false and wrong. But I am committed to regard and treat you as my brother, my sister. To that I am committed.

As a Christ-follower, I am committed to emulating the life and person of the one whom I follow. I am committed to a life of "turning the other cheek," rather than slapping the other's cheek. A Christ-follower is committed to peacemaking, not peace-breaking. A Christ-follower is committed to loving the enemy rather than making enemies. Jesus described his followers as "the salt of the earth." Salt served two purposes--preserving and flavoring. God, forgive us when our words or actions poison rather than preserve our relationships with those we love and those we don't. God, give us grace to provide flavor--rather than instilling fear--in the lives of those with whom we live and work.

A passage of Scripture (Colossians 4:6) contains this determination: "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." Sadly, often my conversation seems to be full of grudge, seasoned with sarcasm.

Nonetheless, I'm committed to a different way of living, of loving, of treating people with whom I differ.

Jesus' way.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hicksville Highs and Lows

I'm back from Hicksville. My wife is almost back. Don't get me wrong; she returned with me, but psychologically, it's taking her some time to re-establish equilibrium. I never had psychological balance to begin with, so, consequently, the hike to and from Hicksville had little impact. It was the time in Hicksville that has me in recovery-mode. Here's some slices of life in Hicksville:

*I drove to the Hicksville Bank to see if a particular feature had changed. Nope--still there. The parking lot still provides a hitching post for the Amish to diagonally park their buggies. Apparently, it was a slow day at the bank.

*Something took me by surprise. I've always known that Hicksville isn't the epicenter of liberalism, but I was stopped in my tracks by the conservative sentiment painted across the windows of a local business. Of course, the business is owned and operated by one of my cousins. I didn't have the courage to ask Dave about his political stance; I just snapped a quick photo and sped off quicker than a Republican can spell "healthcare legislation disaster."

In case the picture isn't clear for you, in the upper windows is painted "Palin/Beck 2012" and across the lower windows is contained "ONE BIG ASS MISTAKE, AMERICA," what I assume to be a reflection on Obama being elected President. I think if I had engaged Dave in conversation about politics it would have been "one big ass mistake," so I discussed the barometric pressure, instead.

Life there is simple; the front page of the latest Hicksville News Tribune addressed the pros and cons of the newly established school policy of mandatory playing-of-a-musical instrument for all 5th and 6th graders. The NRA wants each of us to pack a weapon; Hicksville wants us to carry a clarinet. Actually, I think the world would be a beautiful place if we all would follow Hicksville's lead.

I poke fun at my roots, but, at the same time, am grateful for those initial anchors and guides. They are people who would do anything for you. You don't have to guess; what you see is what you get--duplicity is the exception. Nothing fancy, little sophistication. Unimpressed with credentials and degrees, most of them are the real thing.

Before we left Hicksville I stopped by my dad's graveside. I stooped and touched the earth in a futile attempt to somehow re-connect with him, a simple man whose body lies beneath the soil, but whose spirit soars in realms beyond my reach.

I am blessed to be back; I am blessed to have gone. After all, a day in Hicksville is like a month anyplace else.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Hike to Hicksville

Some religious adherents pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Other devout followers travel to Mecca. I'm going to Hicksville.

This Thursday, my wife and I casting off all worldly distractions, flagellating all sensual desire, denying the appetites of the "flesh" and following the promptings of of the "spirit." We are going to Hicksville. It will take us 6-7 hours-- possibly more-- contingent on how intense the avoidance and procrastination become. It is my experience that a day in Hicksville is like a month anyplace else. Only the best for my wife; we will stay in Hicksville's finest, and only, hotel.

This is a fact; I was born and raised in Hicksville, having spent the first seventeen years of my life there. Correction--the first seventeen years of my existence there. Our team was the Hicksville Aces. Our opponents pronounced it with a short "a." Our school colors were red and white, and one of our cheers was, "Red and White! Aces fight!" Yell that with short "a" school spirit. It's not easy being from Hicksville.

I attended frequently enough to be a graduate of Hicksville High. I can only estimate the deep and lasting impression made upon potential colleges and employers when their eyes came across that bit of biographical info.

Don't get me wrong. There is stimulation in Hicksville. The glow of the neon light draws me, beckons to me. (I'm told Charlie's Tavern got a new sign.) Can't wait to see it. Family also draws me. My mother and brother still reside there. Like Martin Luther King, they've "been to the mountaintop." And decided to stay there. I will go to visit them, and catch up with some of my cousins, two of whom still dwell on the peak, as well.

Lest you dismiss Hicksville as a mere speed-bump en route to where you really want to go, you need to be aware of the town's literary ambiance. Hicksville has its own newspaper. No, it's not called The Hicksville Swill. Nor Your Fill of Hicksville. It's the weekly and elegant Hicksville News Tribune. With headlines such as "Gertrude Bumfardner takes Blue Ribbon at 4-H " or "Horses Happy: New Hitching-post Installed at Bank."

I go back to Hicksville because those 17 years not didn't only serve to deform me in some small capacity but in a major way informed and formed me. I will re-visit some old childhood haunts as well as havens. My brother and I will likely go out into the country (away from the neon light) and go hunting, whether in-season or not. Are starlings ever out-of-season? I will go to the cemetery and visit my dad's graveside. I'll touch the dirt in an effort to feel connected with him, and though he's been gone 19 years, I will talk to him and miss him dearly.

Though I make fun of Hicksville there is something about the simplicity and pace that I appreciate. It's home, though I will never live there again. It's peaceful, but I'm too restless to stay long. It is full of memories--some dark, many delightful. It is "old school" and often maligned by self-proclaimed sophisticates such as myself. "New school" might feel cool but I wonder if it's not full of crap. Hicksville--home of the Aces and still haven for the asses that would judge it.

On Sunday, we will trek down off the mountain, descend to the plain, and drive back to Illinois. While gone, I will likely be enfolded in a euphoric transcendental trance due to the cosmic vibes in Hicksville. Consequently, don't expect a blog for about a week.

I hope to provide an account of my visit upon my return. If I return. . .

Thursday, April 1, 2010

It's Not ALWAYS Good Friday

The good news is: Chocolate Bunny has risen. The bad news is: He melted on the dashboard.

Easter is coming. Chocolate rabbits, Easter egg hunts, and a man claiming to be God and vowing that he would raise from the dead three days after being crucified. Such a quaint picture, isn't it? I confess that often the chocolate bunnies and the Easter eggs that are dyed seem more "real" than the man who died and rose from the dead.

Christ's resurrection promises power. Victory over evil is implied in resurrection. There wasn't merely a bodily resurrection (as if that in itself might not headline CNN), but the Scriptures attest to a moral and cosmic resurrection. All things are made new; the "principalities and powers" have now been defeated; personal transformation is now possible because sin has been overcome. That's pretty bold terminology and as I look inside myself and around me at the current state of affairs it would appear that the sin principle still is predominant and that not only our culture but the global community in its entirety is morally and socially disintegrating. I might go Easter egg hunting on Sunday but you can bet I'm double-bolting and triple-locking my doors on Monday. Where, exactly, is all this resurrection power that Christ has unleashed upon the earth in light of his own resurrection?

I often don't see it. Maybe the issue isn't the authenticity, the actuality of Christ's resurrection; maybe the problem lies with my sight. I'm not seeing "it" because there is an eyesight problem, not because "it" is suspect. Scripture certainly attests to this as a possibility (e.g. Isaiah 26:11, "O Lord, your hand is lifted high, but they don't see it."

Even if my sight weren't flawed, maybe I'm seeing only the immediate or apparent story. Could it be that Christ in his resurrection penned a completely different story that only eyes of faith glimpse and participate in by reading between the lines? In the gospel of Luke is recorded a moving incident. Jesus has been crucified and this his followers know. He has also risen from the dead and this a number of his followers don't know. Two such Christ-followers are walking together and talking about all that led up to Christ's crucifixion. Their hopes died when Christ died. If his death was final then he was certainly a dynamic spiritual leader--but nothing more. Their hopes have been entombed with Christ. Jesus joins them on their journey and Luke states, ". . . but they were kept from recognizing him." He converses with them, and they pour out their lament to him. "The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one. . . " (Luke 24:13-35.) We had hoped. Past tense.

Present living often plays out in the past tense, doesn't it? I had hoped. . . I survey the global scene around me and scrutinize my own internal landscape and I don't see much evidence of Christ's resurrect
ing presence and power. Like those two Christ-followers, I say to myself, "Well, I had hoped. . ." But,that's not the end of their story, my story, history. There's tremendous irony here: they were plodding along sadly acknowledging to the risen Lord that they'd given up hope because he's dead--so they thought. Similar to President Obama going incognito, and as you're sitting at Starbucks you happen to strike up conversation with him, and telling this new acquaintance you wish you had an opportunity to meet the President. These two Christ-followers were living in a new era (post-resurrection) and didn't even see it or know it. Add a third follower.

Maybe what we see and what we often conclude aren't the end of the story. Maybe there is, indeed, another story the risen Lord continues to tell. Dare we believe that heartbreak isn't the end of the story. Is it possible the unspeakable tragedy isn't the end of your story? Is it possible that though thousands of innocent people have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan (which we term "collateral damage" in order to justify our military conscience), it isn't the end of the story? In the March 23 issue of The Christian Century, in an article, "Now Can We Sing?" William Willimon is astounded by the typical Haitian's attitude about life in Haiti-hell. He comments, "On two mission trips to Haiti with undergrads, there was widespread agreement that the most disarming thing about the country was the laughter of the children, along with their raucous singing. . . . How dare they sing?. . . Was their laughter an escapist respite from the unmitigated tragedy of their lives, or a smart rebuke to our assumption that their lives were trapped in tragedy? As darkness fell upon Port-au-Prince after the earth heaved that January night, people danced in the streets and sang hymns. On CNN, Anderson Cooper was incredulous."

I, too, respond as Willimon does. "Those singing-through-their-tears Haitians make me wonder. . . " He doesn't so much wonder about them; he questions himself. What am I missing? What are we missing? Could it be that those children get it? Are those children aware of and living in a story just as "real" as their tragedy but a story that has and will overcome their tragedy? A story that transcends tragedy?

Willinon concludes his article, "Dare we risk defiant delight? Listen, in Port-au-Prince they are singing: Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!"