Why do so many want to be blind?

Tags

, , , , ,

Yesterday’s Gospel reading was about Jesus curing the man born blind.  His neighbors, the Pharisees, and even the man’s parents didn’t like this change – it was out of the norm.  Turns out the only ones who could really see were Jesus and the man.  Everyone else had blinders on.

The neighbors had blinders on – the man lived in a community, but the people around him didn’t even know his name.  They just knew him as the name who was blind and who begged.  It would have been too messy for them to get to know him. They would have had to do something, and well, they are really busy, don’t you know.  Better to just walk past.

The Pharisees had blinders on – they saw the man as a pawn.  They knew what they believed and so this man could provide ammunition for them.  He only mattered so long as he was useful to them – if he gave them the answers they were looking for.  Their blinders were with a narrow view – right thinking and belief.  Everything else outside of their purity test was messy and didn’t belong.  Anyone outside of the orthodox thinking was labeled as an other and sent out and away.

The man’s parents had blinders on too – they were afraid and so they hung their son out to fend for himself.  This shouldn’t be shocking though – why was the man begging at all?  Apparently his own family didn’t care for him.  Maybe he was the family secret that his family didn’t want to talk about.

How many of us have blinders on?  How many in our society have physical sight, but are spiritually blind?  We find it messy to even notice those who are begging for food – those that we pass by over and over and over again.  If we found out their name, we’d feel like we’d feel like we needed to do something.

How many of us have blinders on? How many in our society see people as a pawn in a political or religious game – to be used to support our ideas and beliefs about what is right.  When people are just something to be used, we’ve made our beliefs and thoughts idols where we sacrifice others at the altar of being right.  All in the name of God of course.  That makes it all ok right?

How many of us have blinders on? What family secrets are we hiding?  What family secrets do we just not talk about?  What about the family members who have committed suicide, have a drug addiction, spent time in jail, have a pornography addiction, are homosexual, have committed a sexual crime, suffer through a financial crisis, are in dangerous and abusive relationships, and more?  It’s not polite to talk about these things and people.  We might feel the need to do something about it – so much better to keep the blinders on and not see them or talk about them.

Yet Jesus takes the blinders off our eyes.  He shows us the mess and forces us to look at it.  And he comes to the mess and heals the blindness, so that there can be healing for those that are broken.

It’s time to take the blinders off.  Yet I don’t think any of us willingly take them off.  I think that we, like the parents of the blind man, are too afraid to see what’s really going on around us.

Instead, Jesus is the one who takes the blinders off of us when he determines we’re ready.  Ready for what?  Ready to respond, to live our his call to care for those around us – our neighbors who have a name.  When the blinders come off, it’s time to look around and actually see the world around us.

Beauty in strange places

Tags

, , ,

Last week, I took a short break from travel pictures, but I’m back with travel posts this week. I’m picking up where I left off – beautiful Longwood Gardens.

DSCN1450

There are places in Longwood that look like something out of a dream.  The above picture fits that to a bill.  I can almost imagine the hanging plant as a living creature, ready to talk with me.

DSCN1451

The beauty comes alive – especially when we allow our mind to wander.  Our eyes open to see a whole new world right there in front of us.

Lesson for the church – welcome imagination.  There is beauty in creativity – allow it to flourish in the church and see what wonders come to life.

What is natural?

Tags

, , , , , ,

An accompanying question would be “what is normal?”  I’m thinking specifically of American culture right now.  Is what we are experiencing normal?  Is it natural?  Are we on a trajectory on the cycle of civilization?  Can it be stopped or changed?  Should it?

I don’t have the answers.  But then again, I don’t think the answers matter that much.  It’s the questions that matter.  The questions are what open us up to possibilities.

These questions have been a constant through theological history too.  It’s a question of predestination – or is everything all set and there can be no variation?  Another variation of this expresses a different view – the end result is set, but the way we get there is open.  This opens up possibilities whereas the first view leaves us hopeless, mere puppets in a play.  I wonder how there can be love when there is no openness to possibilities of how things progress.

What is natural in our world?  Sin, death, anger, violence, power, control.  There have been more positive things too, but when we measure and mark history, it is often based on events like war, devastation, and rulers.

The Gospel and the reign of God are the things that are unnatural in this world.  That’s because the world is broken by sin.  The world’s norm is that might makes right. Yet Christ declares that the meek and poor in Spirit are blessed.  The world celebrates the division and war, yet Christ declares that those who are doers of peace are the blessed ones.

What is natural?  What is normal?  Is it what the vast majority of human history has been made up of?  Or maybe this history is not normal at all.  Maybe it’s out of whack.  Maybe Christ has what normal is, but we’ve been looking at the world upside down.  Maybe he’s turning the world right side up again – making all things right – bringing the world back to normal.

How many people have to be hurt?

Tags

, , , ,

How many people have to be hurt in the name of flawed ideas?

How many people have to be wounded in the name of bad theology?

How many people have to be tortured in the name of country?

How many people have to have their livelihoods wrecked and destroyed in the name of being right?

How many people have to die for the sake of an ideology?

How many people have to be killed in the name of God, or freedom, or justice, or revenge?

How many people have to be hurt in the name of __________.

Why does your church exist?

Tags

, , ,

This is not an existential question that I’m asking here.  Why does your church exist at all?  If you asked the people who attend your church why it exists, I wonder what the answer would be.  Have you ever tried this?

I asked this question a lot when we were in Finland back a couple of years ago.  I received a variety of answers.  What I learned from it was that the church didn’t know why it existed – it just has existed for a long time.  This was a question that the church was struggling with as its influence in the Finnish society was declining.  There were individuals who were working to provide focus, were listening to what God was doing in Finland, were discerning what God was calling the church to do and be.

But how about where you are?  Why does your church exist?  If you asked 50 people in your congregation, would you get 50 different answers?  Would you get 2-3 answers?  Would you get a bunch of “I don’t know” answers?

Why does your church exist?

Hey, let’s talk past each other

Tags

, , ,

Have you ever been in a “conversation” where the other person just talks past you?  You know what I’m talking about – they say something, then wait for you to say something and while you are speaking, they are thinking of what they will say next.  They are concerned with either making a point, or shooting down your idea or argument, or having the last word.

This happens more often than we like to admit.  I’m not sure why though.

I wonder if social media has anything to do with this, or if it just a symptom of it.  I don’t know.  Maybe it has nothing to do with it.

When it comes to politics and religion, this happens a great deal.  We talk past each other on important and unimportant issues.  We talk past each other on immigration and health care and a whole host of topics.  Why though?  Are our beliefs about these things so shallow and weak that we can’t handle some questions and criticisms?  Do we believe that we must have all the answers and that our beliefs must be air tight?  Do we believe that if our opponent finds a weakness somewhere in our argument that the whole thing will fall apart like a house of cards?

This happens in religion and theology too.  We talk past each other when it comes to abortion, the existence of God, and high church vs. low church.  Why?  What do we have to gain by talking past the other person?

Talking past someone is a completely defensive posture.  In a sense, there is a belief that we have nothing to gain from the other person – nothing to learn.  We are afraid of losing something.  Here’s the real deal though – if this is your posture, you’ve already lost.  It’s just a matter of time until it all comes tumbling down.  You can’t survive by contracting and becoming smaller.  You thrive by expanding and growing.  Not necessarily in terms of literal numbers, but rather in terms of growing relationships, knowledge, wisdom, experience, being open and vulnerable.

So, what do you do if someone is talking past you?  Change things up.  Stop and ask questions.  Be honest about what is going on and confront the other person too.  Is there a willingness to change the conversation so it is really a conversation?  If not, you’re wasting your time.  If they are and you are, then you’ve just entered something great.

Quick fixes won’t fix us

Tags

, , ,

American culture has a fascination with quick fixes.  I don’t think I need to go into detail about this.  Just look around.  Think about the next time you are sitting at a traffic light and you grow impatient waiting for the light.  Or how about waiting in line at the grocery store.  Americans don’t like a church service to go over one hour.  Our political candidate “debates”, if you want to call them that, offer candidates 1-2 minutes to express their solution to any given problem facing the nation – as if fixing a large problem can be solved in a matter of a few sentences.

Quick fixes sound good on the surface, but they are like microwave dinners.  Sure, they look good on the packaging.  Sure, they smell good when you take them out of the microwave.  But if you don’t scare it down in a matter of minutes, the meal is cold.  And to be honest, it doesn’t taste nearly as good, and isn’t even close to as healthy if you took the time to make a proper meal.  But hey, who has time for that right?  Just don’t expect to be healthy then.

I don’t have the answers to our culture’s challenges that we face. I don’t know what policies we should be implementing.  Based on my experience, I do know this much – there are not one-size-fits-all solutions for any problem out there.  What works here probably won’t work in another part of the world, let alone in another part of the country.  That’s because there is a unique set of people, with their own experiences, knowledge, level of trust, and more.  It’s what makes us the context of an area.  It’s what makes it unique.  Sure, there are some overarching themes that can be taken from one place to another, but when it comes to implementing those themes, I’m willing to bet that they must be implemented in different ways for different cultures and contexts.

So, does that means we just throw our hands in the air like we just don’t care – no, of course not.  What are we to do.  Here’s a start – sit down with people and eat with them.  Sit and eat and drink and talk.  This is how community is created and sustained.  Eating and drinking with others has this weird effect – it slows things down, it forces conversation, it equalizes people, it opens people up.

I think this works in a variety of situation – not just people you have a relationship with.  Ever try eating with someone who is your enemy?  Try it sometime.  You might see someone different at the table across from you than you thought was there.  You might be different too by the end of the conversation.

I’m willing to bet that when we eat with people – regardless of friend or foe – we’ll come away with new insights.  We may find that the person across from us is a lot better than we thought.  Then again, we might also come away realizing that they are worse.  We aren’t living in la-la land here.  We may come away with brand new ideas, ways of doing things.  We also may come away having shared something incredible too.  And these things could take on a whole new life of their own.  Even if none of that happens, even if you head isn’t full of new ideas and options, even if your heart isn’t full of appreciation and love, your stomach will be.  And that’s a start.

What is Christianity?

Tags

, , ,

Is Christianity the culture?  Is Christianity tied to what it means to be American?  Is it counter cultural?  What does that even mean?

Christianity came about because of Jesus, who lived in the first part of the first century CE (or AD if you prefer).  He lived in Palestine, which was under Roman jurisdiction – actually it was under the rule of a client kingdom.  This may sound like a technicality, but it’s important.  It was an independent kingdom that paid tribute to Rome and did what it could to keep itself in Rome’s good graces.  This of course would end after Jesus’ death.  The Zealots (political extremists who didn’t like any dealings with Rome) were often causing problems for the ruling party and eventually created a rebellion that ended when the Temple in Jerusalem was leveled by Rome.

Christianity rose up in the midst of this.  It continued to grow, thanks to people like Paul, who spread the message far and wide throughout the Roman empire.  It grew large enough that it caught the attention of the Roman rulers who eventually persecuted Christians – they needed a scapegoat when things got bad and a minority religion was a perfect fit for this.  (Yes, I’m simplifying things greatly here.)

Because of this, along with the radical teachings of inclusivity, overturning honor and shame in society, monotheism, and more, Christianity was counter cultural.  A huge difference, and cause of great pain, for Christians was loyalty to the reign of God, rather than the reign of Caesar.

It was only later with Constantine that Christianity became a state religion, and then the official religion of the state.  He used it for his own purposes and power.  And it became a part of the state and what it meant to be Roman.  And as a result, criticism of the empire changed.  You can’t be criticizing openly the very people who are building you basilicas now, can you?

Yet here we are almost two thousand years later and an ocean and sea apart from the origins of Christianity.  A great deal has happened since that time.  If we are guilty of anything, it is thinking that we fit into the early story of Christianity – as if anyone around at the time of Jesus knew there would be a USA – let alone a land across the ocean, outside the known world.  The world was believed to be flat back then remember?

Is Christianity counter cultural?  It has been.  It has also been the basis for the culture, or so we like to think this way.

Is Christianity American?  Nope.  We can’t lay claim to it solely.  Besides, which version of Christianity are we talking about anyway?  What does it mean to be an American Christian?  Where do our loyalties lie?

When we look at the American landscape we see a wide variety of Christians which mean there is no one answer to these questions.  And maybe that’s the point and a good thing.  Uniformity is a nice idea, but I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he said “Follow Me.”  I don’t think he meant that to mean “do as I tell you to do like a bunch of robots.”  I think it means variety and context.  And it will change over time and with location and different people.

Christianity might be counter cultural.  Or it might be totally consumed by culture.  Or, just maybe, it will be both depending where and when we are talking.

Control

Tags

, , ,

Humans love to be in control.  We love to determine who gets what and how much.  We’re really good at it too – or we should be given how so much of human history is made up about humans squabbling to control land, people, resources, etc.  In reality though we suck at control.

Most of our political battles are about control over something.  Take immigration.  The battle over immigration is about who gets to enter, how much they can get harassed, and how assimilated they need to be.

Same thing with poverty. The battle of control is over who gets what and how.  With poverty, there are assumptions made – that if you are poor you shouldn’t have anything (anything at all) that is “nice.” The assumption is that poor people are supposed to be miserable all the time.  So those that can implement policies that make sure they can control how the poor feel – miserable.

Politicians are big on control.  So are churches so very often.  Politics and organizational religion is often very focused on controlling what you can do and what you must believe and who you can talk with.  It’s been this way for a long time.  Jesus got himself in trouble for doing things that went against the norm, for restating the Law, and for hanging out with the scum of society.

Of course, not all politicians and not all religious leaders or denominations are control freaks.

Here’s the thing with having and using control over others.  Often it becomes subjective.  Those in control get to determine who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, who’s in and who’s out.  The problem comes when you go to a different jurisdiction (somewhere where other people are in control).  There is often a different set of good and bad guys.  They could, in fact, be the exact opposite of what you just experienced.  It’s all based on context and preference.  Mostly it ends up being someone in control determining who’s in and who’s out.  And then lots of people rationalize it to make sense of it.  There must be a reason, don’t you know.

Maybe if we spend less time trying to control people and more time trying to help people, we’d be better off.  But then again, we’d have to admit that we don’t have all the answers.  And then what? We’d have to get along with people.  Scary, isn’t it?  Control offers stability.  Yet, at what price?