Dec 25 2012

Whatever Happened to Christmas

This post is inspired in part by the recent school shootings, in part by an article I read this past week, and partly by this Sunday’s sermon.

As I struggled to read through the news over the past couple of weeks, I have found myself thinking that the recent violence, and the subsequent bickering and politicizing, was so contrary to the spirit of Christmas, with its message of “peace on Earth and good will toward men.” Since I was a child we’ve sung “Silent Night,” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and pictured serene scenes of snowy hillsides, etc. etc. Christmas is supposed to be a serene, joyful celebration, is it not?

In reality, Christmas is a very violent holiday. They say that depression and the suicide rate is up at Christmastime. This year, so were mass killings. Historically Israel has been a violent place, and it was no less violent under 1st century Roman rule. The Christmas story concerns a people in bondage, where we know that crucifixions were common by the Romans, and where adulterers were killed in the streets by the good, religious people. We read about Mary and Joseph’s travel to Bethlehem under duress, and that they were forced to deliver a baby under the most unsanitary, unpeaceful conditions. Add to that the fact that Jewish governor, Herod, ordered a mass execution of male children to try to wipe out Jesus.

Christmas is a story of how great joy (as the angels proclaimed to the shepherds) came in the midst of great turmoil, suffering and violence. So, it is perhaps not out of place that as we celebrate Christmas this year we have news of parents grieving over the loss of children and many more using this tragedy to lobby for their own causes.

It is ironic, I think, that the arguments on both sides of the 2nd Amendment only reveal that nothing has changed, that people are still under the same delusions that existed in the 1st century. Some still think that physical might changes things, and others still believe that laws will solve the problem. As the New Testament writings teach us, the reason that Jesus was born — and the reason he died — was because laws couldn’t solve anything. Much of Jesus’ message was trying to convince Israel that the Kingdom of God could not come by violence or physical might, but also could not come through keeping the law. As Paul says, the law was given so that sin would increase.

Ain’t that the truth.

If anything, Christmas should remind us that violence and suffering exist because of sin. And so Christmas itself exists because of sin, and because of suffering, and because of loneliness, and because of the darkness that surrounds us. It’s because of these things that we need to celebrate Christmas.

“the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16 ESV)

The world can be a depressing, sad, evil, scary place. These days I hear people asking, “Where was God?”

The answer, of course, is retold every Christmas.


Sep 28 2012

Winning Proves Nothing

Why it doesn’t matter if your candidate wins

First, let me just say that in spite of the fact that I have strong personal feelings about who I don’t want to be President (yes, you read that correctly), I won’t be discussing that here. In fact, this will probably be my one and only politically-focused blog post of 2012.

And, oddly enough, the point I’d like to make is this: The winner of this election proves nothing. As helpful as fact-checking is, this election has absolutely nothing to do with which side is more truthful, or more importantly, which vision of America is right.

Whether you are voting for the elephant or the ass (words chosen for their alliterative qualities), it’s okay to be happy if your guy prevails, at least until reality sets in. However, don’t for a moment begin to think that winning validates anyone’s political ideals. Even in the unlikely event of a landslide, the winner cannot honestly claim he has a mandate. It only means that he was better at playing the game (and, ironically, perhaps better at obfuscating truth).

The Truth is “out there”

The presidential election (or most elections, for that matter) is not about truth, or the validity of anyone’s political, economic or social agenda. We know by now (although people keep falling for this) that what a politician says more than likely has very little to do with what he actually accomplishes (or sometimes intends to accomplish).  Bush, for example, wanted a small government, and ended up creating a monster (aka the USA Patriot & Homeland Security Acts, not to mention the deficit). I won’t even begin with Obama.  You could put it this way: “Whatever happens in the campaigns stays in the campaigns.”  Reality happens after the election, and truth is not in the campaigns, it’s “out there,” somewhere.

In the current election, truth is perhaps a scarce commodity. On one hand, we have a president who, for lack of a better term, lies.  On the other hand, we have a candidate who believes one day he’ll be god over his own planet.  To be honest, I’m not sure which is worse, someone who knowingly tells untruths, or someone who is just deceived (okay, for the record, I believe Mormonism is inherently and intentionally deceptive, but I won’t get into that now, so don’t ask). Perhaps this is a bit more blunt than you’re used to, but I have never been described as politically correct.

What’s at stake

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that this election is not incredibly important. I honestly think another for years in the direction we’re going could be the ruination of the country, at least as we know it. There are those analysts who have already predicted the failure of the USA, and we’re heading down that path. As some have said, what we are really dealing with are two very different visions for what America should be.  One side still believes in the Constitution as written and believes that America has the resources and therefore an obligation to the rest of the world.  The other side would like to see America take more of a back seat role, and takes a more liberal view of the Constitution. Then there are the social aspects. The great divide is philosophical, not geographical.

I don’t know why I’m telling you this, you know the differences, if you’re paying attention.

Bottom Line

Bottom line, the election is important, and I would encourage all conservatives to vote (yes, that’s a little joke).  However, let me say this again: The side that wins the election is not necessarily the side that is right. The fact that more people have been conned one way or the other (face it, political races are confidence games) will not determine which vision is better for America. And, it won’t change how you or I think about the issues.

I will continue to believe what I believe regardless of who wins. As the Avett Brothers sing,

When nothing is owed or deserved or expected
And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected
If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it

(“Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise”)

I do hope that a particular candidate wins, but not because I think he’s great; it’s because I believe he will better represent my political philosophy, and I know that whether or not this becomes reality remains to be seen. “My guy”—that is to say, my candidate du jour—has won many times. He (sometimes she) has also lost many times. And, Presidents all do some good and some bad. I happen to think Clinton did some good things (as much as I dislike and distrust the man), and that Bush did some bad things, as much as I liked him personally.

If the side I vote for wins this time, I realize there won’t be paradise on earth—just perhaps it won’t go to hell quite so soon.  And, I realize that winning doesn’t validate what I believe; it just means there may be a chance to turn things around. Losing, oddly enough, may validate my beliefs better than winning, but I’m not that desperate to be validated. Winning could mean a lot of things, but it can’t make me (or you) right.

 


Jan 12 2012

It’s Football, People!

Okay, already I’m sidetracked. But, I just can’t help myself.

About two thousand years ago, Jesus told a story: Two guys walk into a synagogue. One stands up and makes a big deal about praying in public. The other guy doesn’t. (Luke 18:10-14)  It’s one of those parables that doesn’t get talked about all that often, and I’ll let you hypothesize as to why.

For weeks now, I’ve been hearing about this Tebow guy. I Googled him, and found out he is a football player. That’s all I know.  Apparently he makes a big deal about praying in public, which makes some Christians happy, thinking this is what it means to be a “real” witness.  It turns a whole lot of other people off, and whatever he does on the field to demonstrate his Christianity is lampooned all over the internet.

I’ve never seen him play, and didn’t know what he looked like until a few minutes ago, when I pulled up an article online that talked about a recent survey where 43% of the responders believe his team wins due to divine intervention.

Seriously?

World hunger, strife, genocide, human trafficking, natural disasters and Obama. Do you really think that God cares about football?  Really?  (Personally, I think he’s too busy trying to figure out who should win the Grammys.)

It’s Football, People!

I haven’t taken the time to read about this survey, but if this is even close, it’s embarrassing.  I’m beginning to understand why there are so many atheists.  Are American Christians really clueless enough to think that the Kingdom of Heaven revolves around their favorite sports team? And, do they think that being religious in public is a good Christian witness? Remember Matthew 6:1-4:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Bottom Line

I’m not passing any judgment on this football player; I am not calling him a Pharisee, or anything else. He may be a humble, sincere guy who’s just been snookered by American Phariseeism. There are a lot of them around.

My concern is about those who somehow think Tebow is somebody to be worshiped. It’s not fair to him, for one thing.

But just think about it—for years pastors have been preaching against pro football, as it was the Sunday church service’s biggest competition, possibly becoming more popular than church.  Over the years this has changed; many pastors have succumbed to the culture, and now we hear about football every Sunday morning from the pulpit.

However, I really doubt that God has become such a fan that he’s now picking the winners.


Jun 6 2011

Whatever became of sin?

In 1973 Dr. Karl Menninger wrote a little book with the provocative title, Whatever Became of Sin?, in which he questioned the disappearance of right and wrong from psychiatry. It was a good question in 1973, and it’s a good question today.

Coincidentally, after I had begun to write this post, I ran across this from Michael Hyatt:

In recent years, I have noticed an increasing tendency for people to admit to mistakes rather than sins. It happens at every level, whether someone is caught cheating on their spouse, filing false insurance claims, or shoplifting from a clothing store.

Today, also coincidentally, we have Rep. Anthony Weiner’s confession of mistakes. I won’t go into details, Weiner already being the butt of too many weiner jokes. The point is, he didn’t confess to anything really sinful; he merely made a mistake.

The problem with mistakes

Mistakes are unfortunate situations, like forgetting to wear pants when you take a picture of yourself, or accidentally tweeting the photo to some girl who is not the one you are married to. Oops!

Mistakes could even be your fault—but mistakes don’t make you a sinner, they only make you a mistaker. Which is fine, until you find that you need forgiveness.

Jesus didn’t come to take away the mistakes of the world.

 

I couldn’t resist.