While I was away…

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We took a two-week vacation for the first time and returned back the middle of last week.  It was wonderful to get away.  It was a little disconcerting to come back though.  While away I only went through some social media notifications, but mostly just so I wouldn’t have a 1000 when I came back.  I didn’t read anything political or partisan – I didn’t want to.  I was on vacation.  I didn’t touch e-mail, even though I knew I would have a ton to go through.  I didn’t care though, I was on vacation.

Then we came back.   Going through e-mail I discovered that there was lots of chaos in the world.  Most of which I didn’t know about and didn’t want to know about.  Most of it was more than I cared to know about.

There also seemed to be a good deal of enraged people too.  Enraged over various things.  But I just couldn’t get enraged.

One thing I learned from this vacation is that when we start from a position of rage and anger, it is us that get burned…and tired…and exhausted…and irrational…and more.

Being enraged and angry all the time doesn’t help.  It doesn’t change anything.  Actually, it usually makes things worse.  That’s not to say we should just throw our hands up and surrender when we see or experience injustice.  Far from it.  From my experience an enraged response will get a reaction.  But it probably won’t be the one you want.  Unless you like anger and being enraged.

What I learned from vacation is that I need more silence and contemplation, not more news and data.  What will more news and data actually accomplish in my life?  Maybe more emotional responses.  It certainly won’t stop the chaos.  It only contributes to it.

I think that we don’t need more social media in the world.  Instead, how about more social contact – real contact – in person.  Or better yet – better social media and better social contact.

We need to start acting like what we want the world to be like, not just say “I’ll pray for you.”  Or wait for someone else to start.

If we are Christians we are each called to follow Jesus into this world and start living in a Christ-like manner.  We can start right now.  But only if we so choose.  Only if we decide to put the anger and rage aside.

Need a reminder of what this might look like – maybe start with the Beatitudes or the Sermon on the Mount.  Or Jesus’ admonition to visit the visit the sick and imprisoned, to feed the hungry, etc.  No where in the bible does it say to wait for someone else to do it, or for government to do it, or work to get certain politicians elected so they can do it, or call some non-profit so they can do it (all the while we complain at non-profit employees get paid because 100% of the donation isn’t going to “the cause.”  Never mind that without these dedicated people there would be no cause – they are doing the work of the cause, so stop complaining.  They don’t make enough.)

You want society to change, start living differently and actually impacting lives.  And take some time for silence.  We need silence in our lives.

Crime and Punishment

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I’m back from my blogging hiatus.  I hope you enjoyed the break as much as I did.

I’m going to continue with our trip to the Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia, PA, USA.

Once we went outside, we came to a display that touched on some important issues – crime and punishment statistics in the US.

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It’s hard to argue with the stats and the visual effect of those stats.  And no, this is not alternative facts or spinning or posturing for partisan political points.  It’s just the stats.  There was no argument being made about what to do about the stats or even that the information was bad.  It just was.  The first image above shows a breakdown of incarceration rates by race.  The darker the color relates to the darker the skin color.

Likewise, here’s another telling stat presented visually:

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It shows the number of incarcerations per 100,000 people in each country in the world, ranked from highest at the top to lowest at the bottom.  The US is by far the highest on the list.

Apparently, we think it’s a good idea to lock people up for a vast number of reasons.

When I look at this it tells me something else about our culture – that we don’t trust one another.  It’s not just incarceration rates that show this, it’s much bigger than that, but this is a nice easy visual that shows this for what it is.

Somehow punishing people doesn’t seem to be working – unless you think locking up a significant portion of the population is a good idea.

But I’m not dumb – doing a complete flip to rehabilitation wouldn’t work here.  At least not right away – our culture doesn’t support it.  A policy is only as good as the people implementing it and the culture that backs it up with attitude, societal beliefs, resources, and relationships.  We don’t have the will to invest in any of those things here as the situation stands right now.  At least not from what I can observe.  Until enough people see that our current system of criminal justice isn’t working for our society, any band-aid fixes that we do will have limited results.

Outdoor exercise

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You know, it’s important to get outside – even for a little bit – each day.  The folks who ran the Eastern State Penitentiary thought so too.  Which is why for a time, cells came with a small outdoor space attached to each cell.

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Yes, that’s right, this little piece of slab would be all yours while you were a prisoner here.

Now all you need is the BBQ.  And maybe some other human contact.

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Special Request

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I have a short, simple special request.  No more celebrity politicians – of any type.  In either party or any party.

I heard that Kayne West was thinking about running for President.  In the last couple of weeks I’ve also heard the following names seriously considering running – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Hart, Katy Perry, Chris Rock, and a host of others.

I don’t care what ticket they are on, they have no business running for president.  Being president isn’t a character slot to be filled.  There’s no best actor award for president.  There are people’s lives to consider.  As much fun as it might be (or not) to watch some celebrity in a debate on any host of issues, it might be helpful if a type of warning label came on before the debates.  Maybe something like “Warning: electing a celebrity can be harmful to everyone’s health.”

Please America, just don’t.  Please Democrats and Republicans, don’t do it.  I know it’s tempting and it’s all the rage right now.  But for the sake of the children don’t do it.  For the sake of my dog, don’t do it.  For the sake of not sending me to the psyche ward, don’t do it.

Thanks.

Service to country

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Even prisoners have served their country.  Eastern State Penitentiary is no different.  There is a plaque listing the prisoners who served in the military.  Notice anything unique about this plaque?

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If you said there are no names on the plaque, then you are correct.  The prisoners who served are listed by their prisoner number.  Very meaningful, huh?

Searching for Messiah

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I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to make the statement that it appears that our society is in search of a messiah figure.  Too often that ends up being a search in the political realm of life – a search for a political and/or partisan messiah who will save the nation/party/etc.

I also don’t think that this is anything new.  We’ve actually been doing this for some time.  I remember when Obama got elected and all the adulation for him, with some going so far as to call him a messiah.

But this isn’t even an American sin.  Go back through history, the search for messiah and the foisting it on a human is ancient.  Emperors of old were considered gods sent to save their people.  But only their people. Everyone else is an outsider and doesn’t deserve saving supposedly.  And of course, that person died and then the search for a new messiah began.  It’s the story of human history.  And yet we think this time it will be different.

Maybe part of the reason we do this is because we don’t want to recognize that the Messiah looks far different from what we want.

The Messiah who saves us isn’t interested in nationalism or America first.  Just like the Messiah wasn’t interested in Israel first or any other nation first.  The Messiah didn’t come to save just a select few people – the Messiah came to save all of creation.

The Messiah who saves isn’t interested in advancing a political party in the 21st century.  At some point, all of these political parties and entities will die off and be replaced with some other sin-filled party or entity.  The Messiah isn’t interested in seizing and holding onto power, something that political parties and politicians live for.

Instead, Messiah has a different agenda.  It’s an agenda that calls us into a new relationship – a changed relationship.  A new relationship with one another, with God, with creation, with ourselves.

So often we want change, but we want those “other” people to change to be just like us. We love hearing the Gospel, but we think that a call for repentance is a call for other people to radically reorient, not us.  However, Messiah invites us to change as well.  How can anything else change is it doesn’t start by changing us, changing our hearts and minds, and then changing what we do and how we do it.

We don’t start this change, God does.  We do however have the ability to respond.  We have been given that by the Spirit who guides us to a new life and new relationships.  How will we respond – with fear? by setting aside God in favor of a god we choose who will be more concerned with power and separation?  Will we hear God’s call and follow, or will we decide that we think we know a better way – a failed way, a way that has been tried through most of human history?

I pray that this generation responds differently.  I pray that I have the courage to respond when God calls me to ways that the world thinks are insane – to respond with love, mercy, forgiveness, and peace.  That is the way of Messiah.

 

Ordination!

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Today I will be ordained.  I’ve got a lot going through my mind because of this.

Ordination marks the end of one stage in life and the beginning of another.  I could go on about this, but I won’t.  Instead, I’m going to talk about something else – or rather a few something elses.

Ordination means that I’m different.  I have a new role to live out – pastor in a congregation.  Regardless of what I want, I’ll be seen differently.  The collar is a visible sign that a person is set aside for ministry.  That means I’ll be listening to many people’s stories and struggles.  I’ll get to experience the highest highs and the lowest lows with people.  I’ll force myself to love people who I might not otherwise love.  I’ll make mistakes and those mistakes will be public.  I’ll do my best to be true to preaching God’s word and offering the sacraments.  I’ll be seen as an example.  I’ll be seen as the one responsible – especially when something doesn’t work.

Ordination means I’m not different at all.  I haven’t changed because of ordination.  Actually, I’ve been changing as a person ever since I’ve been born.  Seminary puts that process in high gear.  Ordination though doesn’t change the person – it’s more of a public recognition of the changes that God has been working in a person.  But being ordained doesn’t mean I’m somehow more special or holy than other people – even if the collar gives people the thought that is the case.  I’m still me.  I still sin and screw up.  I still get mad and swear.  Still struggle with some relationships to people and systems.  And I’ll still need forgiveness, love, mercy, and friendship.

Ordination is many things.  As I go from this day forward I’ll find out what those things are first hand.  So will my family.  They have been along for this ride for some time now and are about to start a new phase in the journey.  They didn’t take a single seminary class, but they have been being prepared for this too.  They didn’t receive any credit for the classes, but they learned.  They didn’t research about the decline of the church in the world, but they came along with me to live in a foreign land and know what it means to be strangers and others.  They didn’t go into the church each day on internship or lead worship, but they came along with me to internship – sacrificing their lives for the sake of this calling – knowing first hand what it means to serve.  They didn’t walk with me on graduation day and receive a diploma, but they did the journey with me and received so much more from God – flexibility, adaptability, third culture, patience, listening skills, compassion, relationship skills, and grace.

This evening I’ll be the one receiving a stole and a laying on of hands.  That’s what ordination begins with.  But it will be my family’s hands that will lay on me in the difficult times – hands that will remind me of God’s unwavering love, grace, and forgiveness.  It will be my wife’s hands that will hold mine when I need them most.

Ordination is many things.  I can’t wait to see what God has in store for my ministry, for our family, and for St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in New Kingstown, PA where God has called me to serve as pastor.

Let’s do this!