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Monthly Archives: February 2021
Second Time Around Sunday.
First published in the October 19, 2018 issue of Christianity Today.
But why would God want to hide? Is he just waiting to jump from his hiding place in quantum uncertainty and shout, “Surprise!”? Does he want to astonish us by the revelation that he has been here all along, working in our lives and our world, turning evil to good, and making all things serve his incomprehensible purpose?
Perhaps. God, as the Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon once pointed out, loves throwing parties: “Creation is not ultimately about religion, or spirituality, or morality, or reconciliation, or any other solemn subject; it’s about God having a good time and just itching to share it.”
Yet there is more to this than God’s love of a good party
“What Should Christians Do About President Biden?” I hear that question, though perhaps in a less respectful form, regularly. It is more like, “What about Biden?” or “Did you hear what Biden’s done now?”
Most of my friends are Christians who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. In conversations about politics I, who did not vote for either of the major candidates, generally find myself on the outside. I sometimes try to reframe, or perhaps enlarge the frame, of such conversations to include God’s plans for the church and the world and Christian responsibility within those plans.
What is that responsibility? What should Christians do about Biden? The biblical answer is that
they should pray for him. St. Paul urged “that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority…” As the Bible scholar Christopher Wright put it, “Paul commands all kinds of prayers for all kinds of rulers.”
How should we pray for rulers like President Biden? Continue reading
We often assume that 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a is telling us what we are ordered to do – or at least what we should do. But read it for yourself: There are no commands here—not a single imperative (or even subjunctive) mood verb in this entire section. Paul is not ordering us to love; he is describing love to us. The 15 active voice verbs in this section provide us with love’s operating specs, which we can then use in our own lives. This is intensely practical stuff.
Look at the first spec: love is patient. That lets us know that if we are living in love, we will be seeing patience. But what if we see impatience instead? That is also helpful. It means an adjustment is necessary – not that we need to try harder but that we need to come to God in trust and possibly repentance, so that love can start flowing again.
The same thing works for each of these actions listed. Love acts kindly. That is an operating spec. If I am living in love as I was designed to do, I can expect kindness to be part of my life. On the other hand, if I am easily angered or am keeping a record of the wrongs, that is an indication that I have moved out of love and adjustments need to be made.
Can you see how helpful this could be? Continue reading
That way follows a well-worn path to hypocrisy and apathy. 1 Corinthians 13 is not about what we should be doing. There is no “should” about it.
Grammarians describe “should,” “would,” and “could” words as subjunctive mood verbs. In verses one through three, where Paul describes the lengths to which someone might go to be an honorable person, there are ten subjunctive mood verbs. This is the try harder section. But where that leads – to the conviction (verse 2) that “I am nothing” and, (verse 3) that “I gain nothing” is not where we want to go.
In the next section, which runs from verse 4 through verse 8 and contains a description of love, there is not a single subjunctive mood verb. What does that mean? It means that here Paul is not telling us what we should do but what love does do. When we read this as if Paul is telling us to dig deep and be more patient, be more kind, less envious, less angry, we only succeed in frustrating ourselves—and frustrated people do not love well.
When, later in this letter, Paul tells the Corinthians to “Do everything in love” (1 Cor. 16:14), he is not saying, “Be more loving!” He is telling them to enter into love and do what they do from there. When he tells the Galatians to “serve one another in love” (Gal. 5:13), it’s the same kind of thing. It is not, “Try harder to be loving,” as if we can manufacture love, but “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 1:21). Since “love comes from God” (I John 4:7) and not from us, “digging deep” usually only leaves us in a hole. We need to go to the source of love. We need to go to God. Continue reading
According to the political scientist Eiten Hersh, of Tufts University, “politics is for power.” In his book by the same name, Hersh, who self-identifies as a political liberal, complains that Americans have lost sight of this obvious truth. This is especially true of the left who, in recent years, has engaged in what he describes as “political hobbyism … emoting and arguing and debating, almost all of this from behind screens.”
Whether Hersh is right or not depends, it seems to me, on two things: (1) whether power is a means or a goal and (2) what type of power is being considered.
If in politics the use of power is seen as a means to an end and that end is the common good of a people, then the acquisition of power is not only a legitimate pursuit, but also a necessary one. However, power is dangerous even when it is legitimate. And it is dangerous, in part, because it is addictive.
The American Church, particularly its more conservative wing, has suffered from this addiction. In the 1970s and 1980s, under the leadership of the Reverend Jerry Falwell, Sr., conservative Christians began seeking power in both politics and the media. The Moral Majority flexed its muscle to oust liberals from Congress and “The Teletubbies” from the airwaves.
The power conservative Christians wielded grew. Politicians began courting them.
Hundreds of years before people began celebrating Valentine’s Day, the holiday du jour for February 14 was Lupercalia. The philosopher Plutarch refers to Lupercalia as a time when “young men of noble families run through the city naked and …strike those they meet with shaggy thongs.” They were history’s first streakers.
Though respectable people no longer took part in it, the festival was still being celebrated in the middle of the third century when a priest named Valentinus – we know him as St. Valentine –lived in Rome. Fast-forward to 496 AD. Lupercalia is a distant memory. February 14 is now the day to celebrate the Feast of St. Valentine. Continue reading
“Religious people think they are better than everyone else. They are so judgmental. I don’t even want to be around them.”
How do you answer? You go back to Jesus. “I don’t know if you know this, but Jesus felt that way too. The people he liked to hang out with most were the ones religious folks looked down on. When they put them down, Jesus stood up for them.”
Jesus had a lot to say about that too. Check out: Matthew 7:1-6; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 10:3-37 (the story of the Good Samaritan); all of Luke 15; Luke 18:9-14.
Some people say, “You know, I’m just not the religious type.” Whenever someone says that to me, I always respond, “I’m not either.” They can hardly believe it. But then you can go on and say: “And you know what? Jesus wasn’t either.” Then you can tell them about Mark 7:1-13, where Jesus distinguished between religion and knowing and loving God. Religion wasn’t his thing, but he was all about God. You might go on to say that the Bible hardly ever mentions religion – that’s not what it’s all about.
Then you can ask: “What? Did you think Jesus was really religious or something?” You will get their curiosity up. Who knows? That may open the door for further conversations – either with you or with some other person God will send along.
It is natural, when we are telling people the good news, to want to make sure we have all the right words – it makes us feel safer. But having the right words won’t help if we’re living the wrong life! A life with God that is authentic and satisfying is what provide opportunities.
I’ll mention three characteristics of that kind of life. (There are of course more.) First, it is genuinely optimistic. This is not a Pollyanna, turn a blind eye, kind of thing. This is a life of hope built on the certainty that God will make things right. God is so much a part of the hopeful life that it is inexplicable apart from him. If your life can be explained without recourse to God, you’re too much like everyone else.
The authentic God-filled life is also a connected life. Connectedness is largely missing in our society. Over the past few decades, social scientists have consistently found “slippages in self-confidence, growing regrets about the past, and declines in virtually every measure of self-reported physical and mental health … regardless of gender, age, marital status, and educational attainment.” This in one of the world’s wealthiest nations.
Studies have found that this unhappiness is rooted in a failure to connect. Here’s how one sociologist summarized it: “Americans over the past several decades became increasingly detached from family and friends …. There is indeed a large body of evidence indicating that social connectedness … has a powerful influence on self-reported health and happiness.”
It was God who said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We understand that, but we don’t know what to do about it. Jesus does. He offers a connected life. If we are living that life, connected by dozens and dozens of threads to our church family, we will have opportunities to tell others the good news.
Sixty-nine commercial spots ran during this year’s Superbowl. Each thirty-second commercial cost two million dollars, which means, if I did the math right, that advertisers spent 138 million dollars to convince us to buy their product during just one television program. One suspects that Pepsi, Anheuser-Bush, Cadillac and others don’t buy into the lingering myth that television content has no lasting effect on viewers.
John Paul II once noted that “Vast sectors of society are confused about what is right and what is wrong and are at the mercy of those with the power to ‘create’ opinion and impose it on others.” I am not sure who the Pope had in mind when he referred to “those with the power to ‘create’ opinion and impose it” but I suspect he was thinking of those in the entertainment industry.
Television and the movies have a bully pulpit in almost every home in America. So what do they teach? For one thing, they teach that religious people are always suspect, usually odd and sometimes dangerous (unless, of course, they are clergy, which almost guarantees them to be dangerous). A recent study conducted by the Parents Television Council found that 25% of the time religious people are portrayed on television, it is in a negative light (22% of such portrayals are positive). But on NBC, the network of West Wing, ER and “Must See TV”, over nine out of ten portrayals of religious people were negative. Apparently someone at NBC is on a mission to warn America that religious people are greedy, mean and, very possibly, sexual predators. Continue reading
This is a true – and sad – story. I do not know the details, but I have become acquainted with the outline. It seems personal to me.
Violence, war, and famine were not happening over there. They were happening here, all around the family and the village. Dangerous men were strongarming them for protection money – money they could not afford to give, money that was needed to buy food.
There was nothing they could do. They scraped what little money they had together and paid them off. By the time the army arrived, it was too late; their tormentors were already gone. Besides that, the soldiers were as bad as the men they were fighting.
After two dreadful growing seasons – most of the people in the village were farmers – poverty was pervasive throughout the region. The farmers had no crops to sell. The village artisans had no one to buy their merchandise. Life in the village had always been difficult, always only one step ahead of indigence; but during the last three years starvation had been nipping their heels.
But word had been spreading through the village and around the region that America was the land of promise, the land of plenty. In America, there is law and order. Its people live in peace. Hard work brings prosperity there, unlike here, where it invites extortion.