reflecting a bit on America: shades of gray (no, don’t even think about bringing down the Washington Monument, etc.)

This is the fourth of July, and if you’re going to read only one blog post today, settle in on this one from Brian Zahnd, I Love You, America, But Not Like That.

There is no doubt to me that another part of the reckoning due to the enslavement and mistreatment of Africans has come for America. We are in a day when  some would see the dismantling of all of America’s cultural landmarks. Almost the entire tent coming down to be replaced with something else.

There’s no doubt that great evil was done, and that the founding father’s blindness or acceptance of slavery is plain downright wrong. There is no gray in that. And as George Will pointed out in his most recent (outstanding) book, The Conservative Sensibility, there would be no United States apart from the slavery which under girded it, and gave founding fathers the time to hammer out the foundation of this nation.

What we need to keep in mind is the whole. Not excusing any part that is wrong and actually downright evil. But remembering what was good. I shouldn’t neglect to mention the other part of what’s called America’s original sin: the stealing and killing of native Americans, “Indians.” Both African-Americans and native Americans suffer to this day.

Without trying to cover everything that should be, I just want to point out here that we need to see life as it truly is. I love biographies that are not hagiographies, but try to tell it, warts and all. That’s one thing among many others that I love about the Bible. It doesn’t try to hide the blemishes, blotches, and indeed complete failures of characters. A great case in point is David, said to be a man after God’s own heart no less. But his actions when you read the account we’re not altogether good. And what he did in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah were downright evil. But do we dismiss and diss David? No we don’t. It’s not like the bad part is forgotten, because it’s not, and shouldn’t be.

Looking at American history, I can still respect men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Instead of just seeing their flaws, I can acknowledge their good points, and greatness in some respects. Ironically holding to ideals on paper, not lived out entirely in their lives.

Again, this is not to excuse what’s wrong, or say what’s past is past while failing to see the many ramifications and realities which live on to this day.

So let’s not bring down the Washington Monument, or the Jefferson Memorial, etc. If anything is idolatrous then yes, that ought to come down. But let’s leave memorials like what I just mentioned intact. We should not even be considering removing them. I’m not referring to monuments that honor those who rebelled against the United States, the Confederacy, etc. They ought to be moved into museums, no longer to be honored in public squares. We can set up with our iconic memorials, new works that remember what Africans had to endure, and the great contributions African-Americans have made to this nation. As well as memorialize the good native Americans have done.

God have mercy if any of our lives are looked at strictly in terms of good and evil. For some there is great evil, other’s great good, but for all, there’s some mixture, so that there’s a certain shade of gray. As we Christians look to the one light of the world, Jesus, to expose our own spiritual darkness, and all the spiritual darkness around us, for the good of all. In and through Jesus.

the light that gives life

פ Pe

Your statutes are wonderful;
therefore I obey them.
The unfolding of your words gives light;
it gives understanding to the simple.
I open my mouth and pant,
longing for your commands.
Turn to me and have mercy on me,
as you always do to those who love your name.
Direct my footsteps according to your word;
let no sin rule over me.
Redeem me from human oppression,
that I may obey your precepts.
Make your face shine on your servant
and teach me your decrees.
Streams of tears flow from my eyes,
for your law is not obeyed.

Psalm 119:129-136

Jesus is called “the true light that gives life to everyone” (John 1:9). In context that certainly means to all who have faith at least as the primary meaning. Scripture also is called light (Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 6:23-24; see also Philippians 2:15-16).

We need the light of God’s word to shine on our darkness. All of this is in an interactive relationship with the God who is light (1 John 1:5-7). Instructive words for life. In and through Jesus.

the moral fabric of society and the Christian witness

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 2:14-16a; 4:8-9

Philippians is a great (short) book to read and meditate on. Interestingly, Philippi was a Roman military outpost, so at least in that respect, it was quite what we would call today, nationalistic. It surely had the normalcy of cities with city life and its own culture. Paul’s letter is written in that backdrop.

Fast-forward to today, and while we see stark differences, I think we can find more similarities than not. For Christians to live in a kind of exile on earth as ultimately citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20-21) had its precedent in Jeremiah 29 where the people of God were to settle down and live as witnesses of God, hopeful for the true good of the nation where they lived.

Paul’s words on what we’re to think on involve terms that were quite embedded in the culture of his day. What is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, yes- excellent or praiseworthy. Our thoughts are to be on such things. If we embrace politicians and systems that violate these ideals, are we really adhering to what Paul is getting at here? I would argue that we’re not.

Christians can advocate for the unborn, for the protection of minorities, etc., while not lining up with what is untruthful and ugly. We should never have any part in that, or at least hold it at arm’s length. Someone once told me something we all more or less take for granted: “Politics is dirty.” Okay. But that doesn’t mean Christians should get in that dirt, nor look the other way, thus unwittingly participating in it.

And that gets to Paul’s words quoted above, that we’re to conduct ourselves in keeping with being God’s children: in a manner, first with our tongues, in which we’re blameless and pure, without fault in a warped and crooked generation, as we hold on to the word of life: the gospel or good news of Christ, and Scripture in that context. That we’re to be witnesses of the light of the world, Jesus, and not dim the light we are in him is central to what Paul is getting at.

If we care about society, then we can’t accept something less than that. Our main concern by far is our witness, and being faithful to Christ. We hope and pray for the best in this world, and acknowledge its limitations, while pressing for better. And we realize that the one true life is found only in the church through the one good news in and through Jesus.

being the light we are in Jesus in the darkness

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16

I think we’re in a dark spot in world history myself. But the darkness is actually palpable or at least present in any era. In fact, when it seems the most light is when it can actually be the most dark.

If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

Matthew 6:23b

Paul tells us essentially the same thing, of course in a different context and with a different pastoral concern:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.

Ephesians 5:8-10

All of that to say, no matter what era we live, we have to realize that only in the Lord are we light. And the rest is darkness. The darkness may seem light, perhaps as in reminiscing on “the good old days.” But that can especially be dangerous in that the reality is more subtle. When the Antichrist finally comes, won’t it be in the guise of light, like Satan, who masquerades as an angel of light, and his servants, who masquerade as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)? We must beware of embracing darkness in any form.

Our light is in Christ, what we’re to let shine before the world. Not that no good can come out of the world in God’s working. But only in Christ are we light, and we’re to let that light shine before others with our good works, just as Jesus told us (first quote above).

In this way we fight against the darkness so prevalent. We speak the truth in love, and above all, seek to live it out in love, the truth of God in Jesus.

This may seem counter what we think or have practiced. We must beware lest we get caught up into the darkness ourselves. Instead, we must simply live out what we already are, in and through Jesus.

full attention to King Jesus the Lord

Nowadays we are being bombarded on the news here in the United States about the upcoming election. Full attention is given to it night and day, and if we’re not careful, we can be easily sucked into that vortex. It’s even harder to get out of it than it was easy to get in.

May I suggest that for the follower of Jesus, that attention is misplaced? I believe it is, because come what may in the election in November, not only will the world carry on, but much more importantly, Jesus will remain on the throne, as the King of kings and Lord of Lords.

Does that mean we’re to pay no attention to the news, to what’s going on in this world, to its politics? I think we do well to give it some attention, but never our full attention in the sense of it being the thing that matters the most. What matters, compared to which nothing else matters at all is that Jesus is King and God is at work in and through him through the gospel in and out from the church. If we lose sight of that, then we’ve lost sight of the true kingdom work of God. Not to say that other good is not taking place elsewhere. It simply does not have the signature of God in Jesus by the Spirit through the gospel in and out from the church.

The world wants us to give it our full attention, and ultimately our heart allegiance. And both the Christian religious left and right more or less have seemed to do so, and many within their ranks continue. But in so doing, we need to ask ourselves the hard question whether this is our calling in the world. Some would insist yes, as if the Lordship of Jesus includes practically a co-regency or sharing of rule with the nation states of this world. Quite to the contrary, if one takes the witness of scripture seriously. Such are under Jesus’s reign and indeed subject to his judgment.

And so we do well to give our full attention between now and November and beyond to one King, and one politic in him: King Jesus, and God’s grace and kingdom come in him; the good news proclaimed and witnessed to by the church. The real mover and shaker in the reality of the light and truth that is in Jesus.

this election year

This is election year, and it has never been more contentious in my lifetime than this time around. I have good friends who regularly share on the specifics of this, and I have to some extent, as well. I still am open to sharing input which I think might be helpful. And I’m now thinking particularly of one book, soon to be released, in helping us think through and respond well to the seeming madness and hysteria which is fomenting around us. Entitled, Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity, by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz.

I am not at all saying that those on either side are necessarily at all mad or hysterical. People have strong, and in some cases well thought out reasons why they’re voting on either side, or perhaps not voting at all. And whatever concerns we have, and I have some serious concerns myself, there should never be a litmus test in the church based on how one votes. Unfortunately I’ve run across that with a few Christian leaders, who at least make it clear how one can’t vote and remain in their eyes anyhow, a faithful Christian.

I will continue to read articles shared by friends, and may respond on their sites. But by and large I would like to be involved in listening to others think through this entire matter, and participate in what good I can glean out of that.

They say the best teaching helps students not simply regurgitate what is taught, but rather, catch on to the dynamic in play, so that the goal of the teaching is somehow realized. And the outcome of that will necessarily look different from one person to the next, because we all have our unique perspectives and gifts. The differences can contribute to the whole, in ways we often can’t see in God’s working and will. And I would include in that, potentially differences in how people do vote and why.

We do the best by learning to listen well and listen some more, speak well (probably softly), with the goal of speaking the truth in love. And for us in Christ, with the goal of likeness to Christ, and as a light, God’s grace and kingdom come in him.

What I’m choosing to do right now is not what anyone else ought to do. Everyone is different for sure, with different giftedness and calling, along with each unique life journey. What is most important is that we don’t leave our faith at the door, but bring it into all that we do, including our interactions with others up to the time of the election, and beyond. As through it all we remain one in Jesus and his witnesses through the gospel.

“walking/living in darkness” and “the dark night of the soul” two different things entirely

There are those who believe that no believer in the present should experience anything of the depths of the psalmist in Psalm 88. After all, didn’t Jesus say:

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

John 8:12

The walking in darkness is a motif in scripture which has to do with living apart from the light of God. Deeds of darkness accompany that, as Paul makes clear. Isaiah touches on this as well. There is both a culpability as in deserving blame and an ignorance here.

The dark night of the soul as John of the Cross called it, is something entirely different. The light is present, oddly enough, but it’s almost like something of an eclipse is taking place, so that experiencing God seems all but lost. We find this not only in the Old/First Testament, but in the New/Final Testament, as well. No less than Jesus himself experienced something of this in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross itself. We could make an argument that Paul experienced something of this himself (2 Corinthians).

The dark night of the soui is paradoxically when the light can be most at work in our lives in a work of not only exposing, but helping us eradicate as in get rid of folly or certain habits of the heart. Inclining us to the new way, to God’s will in Jesus. Of course in the case of Jesus, although he learned obedience from what he suffered, he was also without sin (Hebrews), no folly in him. So the dark night of the soul can be at work in something of a mysterious way in shaping us according to God’s will, as well.

As a brother shared recently, we fail to read the New/Final Testament with the Old/First Testament in mind. The writers of the New Testament wrote thoroughly immersed in the teaching of the First Testament so that there is continuity between the two Testaments along with the radical newness in Jesus that the fulfillment of the First Testament brings.

And so in Jesus we are those who no longer walk in darkness, but who have the light of life. And that light is at work in our lives, exposing our own darkness, so that we can more fully live in the will of God together in Jesus.

Transfiguration into Lent and onto Good Friday and Easter: our focus as always, Jesus, and the Triune God in and through him

Father Michael reminded us, as did the prayer from the Book of Common Prayer that the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36) and the light that is in Jesus prepared the disciples, and prepares us for what follows: the way of the cross into death and resurrection, which of course is fulfilled in Jesus. In Jesus all of God’s promises are fulfilled, yes and amen in him to the glory of God (2 Corinthians).

Ironically the light on and in Jesus prepares us for what follows: his exodus he accomplishes for God’s people, for humankind, for the world, in his death and resurrection. So the light prepares us for the darkness that is to come. In Jesus we enter into death and resurrection beginning in this life, and in so doing, we not only come to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, but we also become like him in that very death, in his death (Philippians 3:10).

As Father Michael reminded us, a part of the narrative in Luke (chapter 5), the light that is in Jesus exposes our darkness. In Peter’s case, his reaction was one of not feeling worthy to be in Jesus’ presence, since he knew himself to be a sinner. But as we confess our sins we have God’s promise in Jesus of forgiveness so that we in and through Jesus become “light in the Lord” ourselves, only because something of that light is on us. Like Moses (Exodus 34), but fulfilled in the surpassing glory in Jesus, we with unveiled faces behold (or contemplate) the glory of the Lord, Jesus himself, and are transformed from glory to glory into his resemblance by the Spirit of God. The light shining on us as God’s people is the light of the Lord in the transformation of our lives into his image. We are becoming more and more like Jesus. Like Moses, we probably won’t be aware of that change, in his case an actual light of glory on his face that would gradually fade before he would once again be in the presence of God. But we should be able to look back to our younger days, or a few years and notice a change in us, in our character, which is more like Jesus.

Yes, the light that is in Jesus prepares us for the darkness which follows. We experience the gospel through faith and baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, so that we might live out something of that gospel to the world. To know Christ is to begin to know and live in that. Something we especially remember and reflect on as we enter into the season of Lent. In and through Jesus.

the light of life dispelling the darkness of death

Yesterday, Father Michael educated us a bit on Candlemas and encouraged us to be a witness of the Christ light which dispels the darkness of death, because of Christ’s death and resurrection. Jesus shared fully in our humanity, while not diminished at all in his Deity, except that he fully lived on earth as a human, subject to the limitations which humanity brings, except that he did so as only God could and would, being God. Which meant that he never sinned, though tempted in all points as we are. And as I shared later at the nursing home, the fact that Jesus entered fully into our humanity, and in doing so, into our experience, means that he can help us in our experience in a unique way, as one who has fully gone through that himself. Here is the main text from which Father Michael preached (he uses the NRSV, which you can find on the link):

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Hebrews 2:14-18

As Father Michael pointed out, since we share in Jesus’ resurrection, we need not fear death. We certainly don’t look forward to it. But we know it is the passageway into resurrection, into the existence of the eternal life in which all creation will share in the new creation already present and fully to come in and through Jesus. We are witnesses to this faith which gives us a never dying hope in nothing less than the promises of God.

meditation for the Epiphany

With today being the Epiphany, Christmas season has ended and the season of Epiphany has begun. Epiphany is the idea of a revelation that makes a difference, that changes things, that can even change our lives.

In the case of the Christ child, lives indeed were changed many years ago, when Magi from the east, perhaps from the far or near east, we don’t know, but from scripture and at least from divine guidance through the appearance of a star made their way to visit a king who would be the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Messiah for the world.

These men were struck by this star and persevered in this planning and undertaking of a long journey with the costly gifts of gold (emblematic of royalty), frankincense (symbolic of prayer rising to God) and myrrh (reminding us of the suffering to come). When they arrived at the house where the young child and his mother were, they fell prostrate before him and presented to him their gifts.

May we have that same spirit, that same light, yes that epiphany, that come what may we may persevere to follow the light, that we too may see his face and behold his glory.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod,Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Matthew 2:1-12