Thursday, April 30, 2009

Crisis de jure

I am frequently bewildered by the ferocity and energy of the 24 hour news cycle. When News stations had a half hour an evening they tended to stick to "hard news" and were usually covering stuff that mattered -- we might debate how they covered it but generally it was information that was recognized as important. There were newspapers that tried to tell the news in written form so you could read it at your leisure. Nobody screamed at us.
Now everything has to be a catastrophe, a crisis, an Armageddon. This is not to say that the economic situation, ABMs 100th day, or swine flu is not important. It is to say that when the news channels have an enormous financial stake in keeping us watching there is a tendency to present things as more critical and more important than they actually are. All the air time devoted to the Octo-mom would be a prime example of this. I don't need television to have a game of "spot the loony", I can play that game on my own in my own time just by wandering around town for a while.
I think we could create a real crisis . . . stop watching the TV news channels and see what happens. Between the declining revenue streams and declining advertising dollars we might see some of the hysteria for what it is . . .
I choose NOT to be afraid. Whenever there is a visitation of God in the Bible (generally an angel) the first words of the angel are "do not be afraid". When Jesus appears to the disciples on the first Easter evening he says "do not be afraid." I am convinced that the opposite of faith is not doubt (doubt is good, healthy and keeps us seeking); the opposite of faith is fear.
Turn off the news, look around you, trust, pray and above all else . . . do not be afraid.
dr. bj

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Random Thoughts on a Thursday

I find it great that the Christian movement chose to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus over a 50 day span instead of just a single event. The resurrection is the very core of the faith -- it deserves all the attention, discussion, celebration we can give it.
. . . In Central New York the arrival of Spring is a wonderful thing. Bulb flowers in full bloom (and more coming) grass is greening, trees are budding . . . and the lure of the golf course courses through my veins . . .
I am often amazed at the kindness of friends and frequently blessed by the grace of strangers . . .
There is something about sunshine and lifts my heart . . . I wonder about Revelation 21 that says that there will be no sun or moon in the New Heaven and New Earth -- instead, it says, that God will be the light . . . I wonder what "God Light" feels like (is that the light that was created in Genesis before there was a Sun?)
Its the middle of April and the Detroit Tigers have not been eliminated from the playoffs!
Paid my taxes yesterday (ouch) but am grateful for what it provides (usually).

I am thinking a lot about what we don't see around us. I suspect that many of us get so locked into our routines that a normal day is somewhat akin to sleep walking. Get up, clean up, eat, go to work, stop, eat, go back to work, stop, go home, eat, relax in the evening . . . We don't see the beauty (or the pain) all around us. I want to live life awake! On the days I am awake I am walking about in a state of constant amazement!
Dr. Bj

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Day of Unspeakable Hope

I occasionally allow myself (nay, force myself) to watch one of the 24 hour news channels. According to the latest: we are all going to die of starvation because of the economy, NO, wait, we are all going to die of earthquakes, no, wait, we are all going to die from a tornado, no, wait, it will be a nuclear missile from North Korea (a terrorist, a former Soviet republic . . .). No wait global warming, an alien invasion, tainted peanut butter, the octomom will kill us all . . . no wait. . .

And then come the solutions. Put your trust in this political party the other guys are idiots. No, sorry, wrong group, put your trust in this political party we were wrong about who the idiots were. No, oops, wrong again, put your trust in this man -- he'll see us through. Put your trust in the TV religion sellers; this self help craze; that new product. Or, just say to Hell with it all and drink our beer, or booze, take this drug . . . or . . .

To the fear mongers I have this to say: we are all going to die. The mortality ratio of the Human Race is still 1:1. Whether it is by missile, tornado, cancer, or I get hit by a bus tomorrow, the end is still the same. This physical life will end. The question is not whether or not I might die or how. The important question is have I actually lived when it came. Did I find the reason for my being? Did I live a life worth living.

To the solution people I would add: the trouble with human solutions is that they have humans running them. We are all flawed broken creatures. I can love my fellow humans, I can learn to trust many of them . . . none of them can be the source of my hope and certainly not some political program.

So what do I do. I need hope. Someone once said you can survive three weeks without food, three days without water, three minutes without air . . . but none of us will live three seconds without hope. Hope is what gets us up and gets us moving. Hope helps us to keep trying!

Which brings us to the odd center of Christianity. I have long suspected that in order to be true it has to be a little odd, so this doesn't bother me. The odd center of Christianity is the journey from the brutal execution of an itinerant Rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth to whispered and then shouted rumors that he has come back to life. Could it be possible that someone has defeated death? Could it be possible that the deaths I have experienced could be resurrected? Could it be possible (hope against hope) that what he said about himself and his life was actually true and that following him and serving others is where life's true meaning will be found?

When I get to Easter (every year it seems) something happens in my heart. The despair of the world around me -- seeking life in the transient things of of money, sex and power -- falls away and I realize that there IS someone in the universe worth being the focus of my life. When I get to Easter and the church is shouting its core creed (Christ is Risen! Indeed!) My heart tells me . . .and so am I. Risen, filled with hope and ready to begin again to live the life to which I am called.

Have a blessed Easter, everyone.
Dr. B J

Friday, April 10, 2009

God's (Good) Friday

Now comes the worst (and best) of the Christian story. Jesus, son of God, sent into the world to offer his life as an offering for the Sin of the world willingly goes to the cross to die. There are many things about Mel Gibson's "Passion" that were over done and there is something unhealthily disturbing about the brutality of his presentation. However, at a critical moment in the film he does get something right. When the time of the crucifixion arrives, Jesus lays himself down on the cross. Whether it is historically accurate or not does not matter. It IS theologically accurate. No one takes Jesus life. Jesus is not a martyr, tragically killed at the prime of life. Jesus willingly lays down his life for ours.
I remember it being explained this way when I was a young Christian. A man is brought to a Village Justice for an excessive speeding ticket. He and the Justice are life long and very good friends. At the trial the entire courtroom watches to see what the Justice will do to help the plight of his friend. People watch in amazement when the Justice levies the highest possible fine and penalty on his friend. Then the Justice stands, takes off his robe, walks to the Bailiff and pays the fine. That is Good Friday. Every human faces the stiffest penalty possible -- this penalty is the consequence of God's amazing love. God takes off his Robe (see Philippians 2), and, in the person of God's only begotten son, Jesus of Nazareth, takes our place at the execution -- pays our penalty.
God's Friday is the day redemption becomes the norm and becomes possible for any and all of us. All we need to do is embrace for ourselves what God has done for the whole world.
Amazing Love, indeed.
Dr. BJ

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Holy Thursday

Today is Holy Thursday, sometimes called "Maundy Thursday" after the Latin word for mandate -- Jesus mandated communion when he said "do this in remembrance of me." Personally, I don't like the Maundy language and prefer to stick with the older "Holy Thursday". On this day, in the first Holy Week, Jesus gathered with his closest friends for the traditional "Seder Meal" in an upper room in Jerusalem. It is deeply significant that Jesus would choose this meal -- an ordered symbolic retelling/reliving of Israel's deliverance from slavery in Egypt -- to create and, in some ways, recreate a way to retell, relive and remember his life, death and resurrection. Far beyond the sense of "mandate" is this sense of anemnesis (reliving) Jesus act of self giving, self surrender, self emptying that accomplishes the reconnection of a self centered wandering world back to God.

Holy Thursday is filled with other images as well. There is the foot washing, religiously practiced in some Christian traditions but generally only practiced this night. Jesus demonstrates for us servant leadership in this act of grace. There is the culmination of Judas' betrayal when he arrives in the Garden of Gethsemane with temple guards and, what on surface could only be called, a lynch mob. There is the profound prediction and later the painful fulfillment of Peter's three fold denial (restored and forgiven with a three fold I love you in John 21 after the resurrection). I can hear the rooster's crow. . .

Holy Thursday -- gathered with friends, reexperiencing the love and grace of God, remembering, Jesus.

Dr. BJ

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Middle of Holy Week

We are half way between the unbridled joy of Hosanna on Palm Sunday and the spine chilling "crucify him" of Good Friday morning. Wednesday of this week is known in many circles as "Spy Wednesday" the day Judas went to the Chief Priests and took 30 pieces of silver to sell out his Lord. Spy Wednesday because the Gospel says "from that moment he (Judas) began to look for an opportunity to betray him."
I often wonder what my "Jesus selling price is."? How much have I been willing to sell my faith, my integrity, my relationship with my savior? I know that I sell him for instant gratification; I sell him for my own personal comfort and convenience; I sell him for political expedience; I sell him for personal gain. When we look at Judas the popular thing to do is to wag our heads and speak with outrage asking "how could his friend do that to him." But, I suspect, it is all cover. Any of us, committed Christ followers and non believers alike, have done the same thing to people we love countless times over. What is my betrayal price? The scary part is, when I am being honest with myself, I know that I have one.
Holy Week, to be redemptive, has to take us into the depths of our brokenness. Out of the depths of our brokenness we can finally see the amazing, unspeakable, unfathomable act of sacrifice and love of Jesus on the cross. St. Paul said in Romans 5 "Love is this, while we were still sinners (betrayers) Christ died for us. That proves God's love toward us."
Yes, it proves God's love toward us . . . but that level of love over my betraying heart is painful, indeed, before it is healing.
Dr. BJ

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Holy Week

Palm Sunday through Easter marks the central story and events of the Christian Faith. The events of the week are often observed and celebrated in real time. It was a Sunday that Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem and was hailed as the "King Come in Peace" by crowds shouting "Hosanna (save us!)" and waving the defacto national flag of Israel, the palm branch. It was three days later, on Wednesday that Judas went to the chief priests in Jerusalem and betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. It was the next day, Thursday, that Jesus gathered his community together and, in the midst of the ceremonial traditional first meal of Passover, the Seder, Jesus washed the disciples feet (demonstrating servant/leadership); Jesus took bread and cup and transformed the traditinonal Seder meanings into his body and blood; and, Jesus spoke his long farewell to his followers (See John 13-17).
Late that night Jesus is arrested. Over night he is abused, tried and dragged off to the home of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.
Friday, Jesus is tried before Pilate, he is condemned to crucifixion. After he is beaten he is nailed to a tree, around noon, he hangs there for three hours before he surrenders his spirit and dies. Late Friday his followers, with the help of a rich friend, take his body, wrap it in linen cloths and spices and place it in a newly cut tomb.
Saturday everyone rests, according to the commandment.
Early on Sunday -- Jesus is raised (but more on that later).

As I journey through this Holy Week, I want to see thing in real time as I walk with Jesus through his last week and final offering of his life for the sin (my sin) of the world.
Dr. Bj

Thursday, April 2, 2009

John 14

Jesus is giving last instructions to his followers. He tells them to be fearless (14:1); he tells them to trust in him (14:6); he tells them they will never be abandoned or alone (14:16-18); he tells us to live in peace (14:27).

Sections of this chapter are often read at Funerals. Curiously, it contains language that was part of the 1st century betrothal ceremony. The groom to be would arrive at the house and would offer a cup of wine to the intended. If she took the cup and drank she was accepting his proposal. He would then say "I am going to prepare a place for you. I will come again and take you to myself so that where I am there you will be also." He would then leave, build a home for the two of them after the completion of the home they would be married and begin life together. It is Jesus promise to his followers that his departure is temporary that he has gone only long enough to prepare a place for us -- he will come back and take us to be with him forever.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

John 12 and 13

John 12 and 13
And so begins Holy Week according to John. Chapter 12 has the anointing of Jesus at Bethany and the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the day we call Palm Sunday. I love the exasperated comment by the Pharisees in 12:19 "You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!" They can see at a glance that their problem with Jesus is much larger than they imagined.
John 13 begins the Last Supper discourse. This runs through to the end of Chapter 17. Notice the events of chapter 13 -- Jesus teaches servant leadership by washing the feet of the disciples. He predicts his betrayal and calls out Judas Iscariot as the one who will do the betraying. The Author of the gospel gives us a wonderful statement in 13:30 that not only describes the time of day but the state of Judas soul. "So, after receiving the piece of brad, he immediately went out. AND IT WAS NIGHT!"

With the betrayer out of the room Jesus teaches the central command of his ministry. In fact it is the only place where Jesus uses the words "a commandment I give". John 13:34-35 is a passage I committed to memory early in my christian walk. "I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." The mark of all Christ followers is a radical commitment to community.

The chapter ends with Jesus foretelling Peter's denial . . . before the cock crows -- before dawn -- you will deny me three times.

Dr. BJ