Our time in Windhoek and the LWF Assembly had come to an end. It was time to head back to the US. Graduation from seminary awaited in two days.
Our time in Windhoek and the LWF Assembly had come to an end. It was time to head back to the US. Graduation from seminary awaited in two days.
“We’re erasing history when we take down statues and remove the Confederate flag. Stop erasing history!”
This is the argument of the moment. It’s the idea that if we take down statues honoring Confederate personalities from Southern State capitals and non-battlefield locations (and in some places outside of the South – ie Maryland), then we are erasing their memory and erasing the memory of what the Civil War was really about.
Here’s are some things to consider regarding this argument.
1. Let’s talk about actual history. In my sermon this past week I quoted people who were alive at the time of the confederacy to show what the Confederacy was actually about – slavery. You really can’t do research on this and not find plenty of quotes from the era that shows that the Confederacy and the Confederate cause during the Civil War was really about preserving slavery and the structures and systems that supported slavery. Look up William Thompson, the man who designed the Confederate flag – read what he said the flag stood for. Read the Secession Statements from any of the Confederate State. Read the words of Jefferson Davis, the first president of the Confederacy. It’s pretty clear what these folks, who made up the actual Confederacy, believed what the Confederacy was about. That’s not twisting history – those are actual beliefs of the people who started and supported the Confederacy. For those who support the idea of maintaining the original intent of the Constitution, then we should use the same logic when it comes to the original intent of the Confederacy too.
2. While we’re talking about history, let’s talk about the history of the actual statues – when were they put up and why. Most of these statues went up in the early 1900’s and were efforts to keep alive the ideas of the Confederacy. They were placed in locations that were meant to send a clear signal of who was in charge and who was acceptable
3. What history are we actually erasing? – the fake history of the beautiful antebellum south that never existed in the first place, or the façade that gets thrown around as Gospel truth because we prefer to remember the Confederacy as something quaint and pleasant. Do we keep this fake history because the reality of slavery is just too difficult to deal with? And the fact that somewhere around a million people died because of the Civil War.
4. Does this mean that the only memory we have of the confederacy resides in statues and a flag? I don’t see a whole of statues and flags dedicated to Rome, or Greece here in the US – and yet, somehow, we manage to remember the history of those civilizations. Maybe that’s just too distant and on foreign soil. How about this instead. Are there any statues for the war of 1812, how about flags with the appropriate stars on the flag? Yet we still have a memory of this war. Statues and flags aren’t the only way to remember history. If it was, we’d be screwed. And frankly, the internet would have disappeared as something powerful for human memory too.
5. What is the real fear? Is the fear that we’ll talk about the truth of the history and that we’ll feel guilty that we’ve been honoring a lie this long?
6. So if we extend the logic that is being argued here originally, then we should have forced the Iraqi people to keep up the statue of Saddam Hussein, lest they erase history. We should have highly encouraged the Russians to keep up the statue of Lenin when communism fell, in order to preserve history. We should have left the “whites only” and “blacks only” signs up in order to preserve history. Or maybe that’s different, although I’m not sure how.
7. Some times tearing down statues and laying flags to rest isn’t about erasing history at all. Sometimes it’s about remembering the actual history and the horror that goes with it and deciding that there are better ways to remember history, and it’s not by erecting or keeping statues that tell a skewed history. Instead, let’s tell the full history. Here’s a pretty good article that asks an important question that relates to this very issue – http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/08/20/why-there-are-no-nazi-statues-in-germany-215510 Why are there no nazi statues in Germany?
I’ve been to one of the locations that keeps the actual history of Nazism alive and well – Dachau concentration camp. There, they keep the actual history of what happened alive. It’s not a façade. It’s real. When we start actually keeping history of the Confederacy, then I’ll be happy to go to a monument that shows what it was about. I will walk the grounds of a plantation – especially the slave “residence” and learn about the life of the slave and see monuments dedicated to slaves who died at the hands of their masters. Why do we erase this portion of history? Because it’s uncomfortable? It’s our history and we don’t want to deal with it. It’s easier to tell a lie, then deal with reality. It’s not as painful. It requires no change. Until we acknowledge the actual history of the confederacy, we aren’t going to move past it.
Many thanks to Mitch Teemley for nominating me for the Sunshine Blogger Award. Mitch has a great blog and is a great and interesting person. Mitch likes to share his humor, inspiration, and tell us all what it’s like to produce movies – really interesting stuff. You should check out his blog you won’t be disappointed.
My Answers to Mitch’s Questions
Questions for My Nominees
Ok, so some of these are the same as above, but I have a few others too.
Let’s play a game for a moment. Pick a controversial issue. Any issue. Try picking something that are pretty adamant about.
Now imagine being on the other side of that issue. After you get past the initial feelings of anger or frustration or whatever, go past that to something deeper.
Think about the argument of this opposing position. Get past the memes and one liners that you are used to seeing. Start to think about what supporters of this position are actually arguing for.
Think through how you could come to a conclusion that makes sense. This is important, because I can guarantee that people come to their conclusions for reasons that make sense to them. When we can start to see how the opposing side comes to their conclusions, it changes the way we interact. We start to discover that we’re not as far separated as we thought. In many cases we even discover that there is overlap and similarities in what we both want. Often, the difference come out in how we get there.
This is a good exercise, but it’s not easy. It’s never easy to let go of what we think is the only logical and reasonable way to look at any issue and consider an alternative. That’s doesn’t mean you have to agree with the decision or even like it. But I know that you’ll come away with a little more understanding of your opposition – and maybe even see the humanity in them.
(This is an edited version of what I preached yesterday – close, but not exact. I’ve added in some things after some reflection).
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
This past week and a half, I’ve been taking a January term class at the seminary on science and religion. It’s been fascinating. We’ve covered every major scientific topic you can think of. The professor is very engaging – he’s a theologian who has been in conversation with scientists for over 30 years and he know both science and theology very well.
An important point he made during the class was that there are different models for how science and religion interact with each other – some are based on a warfare model seeing that the two are at odds with each other. Other models start with an assumption that science and religion are not at war with each other.
Also during the course we talked about digging down to actual science. Often the debate that occurs is not even about science, but rather, other things. Take evolution for example. There’s the science evolution, and then there is a whole lot of other things that claim evolution as a foundation that have nothing to do with science. A good example would be Social Darwinism. The difference is that science deals with what is. Ideology, philosophy, and even theology deal with what ought to be. Social Darwinism is not dealing with what is, but rather what ought to be by its proponents.
Social Darwinism isn’t really talked about directly in our culture, but it’s been around for some time. It’s an ideology that claims survival of the fittest as its mantra. It believes that might makes right, that the unfit don’t deserve anything and we shouldn’t care for them. I think you could even make an argument that the Prosperity Gospel message is related to Social Darwinism too. The Prosperity Gospel is a message that says that we can see who God has blessed based on the amount of wealth they have.
This whole mindset proclaims a message of what the world blesses – wealth, power, strength, might, force, ruthlessness, conquerors. Want evidence of this? Look at who our statues and monuments are dedicated to – generals and politicians – the “leaders” of our world. We pay the powerful and the mighty a lot of money because our culture tells us that worth and value is measured in monetary terms. And so our VIP’s are worth more than other people.
That’s the world outside the doors of the church. Yet we come inside and hear a counter cultural message today – the Beatitudes. This is Jesus’ sermon to his disciples and those that overhear it on who God blesses. Jesus’ sermon calls us to take this message with us when we leave, and to bless those the world finds unblessable, worthless, not valuable, unfit, and not deserving life.
Do you want to know who these people are that the world has deemed unfit? You don’t have to go far. Head over to one of the local food pantries – there are plenty of “unfit” people in the world’s eyes. There is plenty of judging and condemnation to go around. “why don’t they get a job, or work harder?” “They have it so easy – they are given food.” Let that sink in for a moment – do you really believe that being poor is easy? Do you think anyone in that line really wants to be there?
If the food pantry isn’t your cup of tea, how about a visit to a hospital. The world says that the terminal ill are unfit – they are only sucking up resources that could be used for healthy people. They cost too much.
How about a children’s hospital? I was working out at the Y the other day and the TV’s were on. One station had politics – all the VIP’s making decisions. Another station had sports – all the VIP sports figures making millions. And the third TV has a commercial for a children’s hospital. The children imaged were in wheel chairs, had disabilities, and were deformed. You can bet a politician’s salary that these kids are considered a drain on society according to the world’s standards.
Too sappy for you – how about you head on down to the local nursing home. There are plenty of people who are just sitting around waiting to die, are lost, forgotten.
Don’t like that – how about finding homeless people in any city large or small. You might want to check some of the storage facilities – there are usually some homeless vets who survive in these.
How about the handicapped who can’t work?
The list can go on and on – I’m sure you can add to it if you think about it, especially in light of this past week’s events.
The problem with Social Darwinism, the prosperity gospel, and all of these ideologies that place human value in terms of financial resources or other immaterial things is this – at some point every single person becomes unfit, unblessable, and costing more than they are worth. Every person! This includes those who adopt this ideology. There are no exceptions because are all going to either get sick, get old, get injured, or something else that knocks us down from our prime. That’s the reality of life for everyone.
Thankfully, this false message is not the only message we have. Jesus presents an alternative message – one that is available right now, not sometime in the distance future.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit” – meaning the poor – those having nothing. To be poor in spirit is to recognize that there is nothing we can do or have that will earn us God’s love or salvation.
“Blessed are those who mourn” – You mourn because you have lost something or someone dear to you.
“Blessed are the meek” – Another word for meek is gentle, or not using force.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” – or justice.
“Blessed are the merciful” – those that are compassionate to others.
“Blessed are the pure in heart” – or clean in heart. This is a whole being thing, not just the organ in your chest. It’s the idea that every part of who you are moves towards being pure, not just going through the motions.
“Blessed are the peacemakers” – Those making peace. Again, this is a way of life, not a destination.
Jesus presents us with an alternative, a counter cultural message today, feeds us, and sends us out to bless those whom God blesses, to love those whom God loves and favors. To be a fool in the world – according to St. Paul. Because the beatitudes are foolish if we listen to the world.
But if we listen to the world, we better be prepared to be declared “unfit” or a drain on resources at some point.
Jesus opens his arms to us, calls us in, and blesses us, regardless of our abilities or what the world thinks of us. Because our value is not in what we have or even what we do. Rather our value is in who we are – blessed Children of God. Thank God for that. Amen.
We started our tour of the nationality rooms at the Cathedral of Learning. Each day, I’ll take you inside for a quick peek at each room. You’ll get one view. There’s a ton a details that you won’t get – hopefully this just whets your appetite so you will go see the rooms for yourself.
First stop – the Yugoslav room
The Yugoslav room has lots of wood, as you can see. And the gentlemen on the wall are all famous and important figures in the Yugoslav cultural past. I love the dark wood.
So what does it mean to be a Christian at the end of 2016 in America?
Have you ever really thought about this question?
For many, being a Christian is just another identity to add to other secular identities. Apparently, many seem to think that Christian is just another moniker to add to the list of how a person defines themselves – adding to the list that includes their political party loyalty, nationality, and a host of other things I’m not going to get into here. Because that’s not the point of why I write this.
What does it mean to be a Christian?
It’s something that transforms who we are. Our loyalties lie with God and the Kingdom of God first. A Christian follows the way of Christ – attempting to follow out what he told us to do and be. Forgiving as we are forgiven. Living peace, as are instruments of peace. Showing mercy, as mercy has been shown to us. Offering love, as we have been loved. Giving grace, as we have received grace. And when we screw up and break relationships with God, one another, ourselves, and the rest of creation – then acknowledging that, and receiving forgiveness so we can go at it again.
That’s one answer to what it means. But not “the” answer.
It seems easier to define what being a Christian is not. But what’s the point of talking about that – there are plenty of voices who argue about this already.
Being a Christian isn’t about fighting over what being a Christian is not. It’s about how Christ transforms us and changes us to be something different in a world that is more interested in power, being right, control, violence, dominance, might, and more.
Being a Christian is attempting to live out an ideal – one we will never live up. Yet, that doesn’t mean we give up on it. If Christians kept trying to live into what we were called into, the world would change.
However, here’s the rub. It’s not about what we do. That should be apparent. We’ve been trying for centuries – and the result has been a ton of death and destruction and lives ruined. Most of the time because it’s our version of what we think Christianity is and using Christ to support our way of thinking and believing.
Yet, being a Christian isn’t about that at all. It’s about dying to self. It’s not using God for our advantage. It’s being conformed to God’s will. It’s surrendering. It’s being in a right relationship with God. It’s not about rules. It’s about joyful living. It’s about accompanying people in the crap of life. It’s about so much more than most of us even come close to knowing.
What would it mean for your life if you actually lived out what Jesus calls us to?
How would that change your life? What are you waiting for?
How would it affect the world?
Being a Christian today is more than a political party sub-label. If that’s all it is, it’s worthless.
But if it’s something that changes lives – then watch out. Christ might just call us to live differently. Christ might just call on us to interact with other differently – especially those we consider our enemies and opponents. Christ might just call on us to give up some things so there is room for us to receive other, better, things.
What does it mean to be a Christian today? I would guess it looks a lot different than what most people think it does.
The Gospel lesson for today is:
36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
Given how our society pretty much ignores Advent and completely misunderstands the church season, I decided to re-write today’s Gospel lesson in such a way that society would understand and could relate to it.
A reading from the 24th e-mail of Black Friday savings:
But about that day and hour, no one knows, neither the clerks, nor the managers, but only the CEO. For as the days of shopping in person were, so will be the coming of the Sales of the season. For in those days before the internet they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the store, and they knew nothing about the sales until Noah came back home with his presents already bought and wrapped a month before Christmas and swept them all away by showing off completed shopping list, so too will be the coming of the sales of the season. Then two will be in the football stadium, one will be getting text messages and one will be left wondering how they missed the sale. Two women will be making Thanksgiving dinner together, one will do all her shopping online with one finger on her phone and one will be left wondering why her friend isn’t listening to her. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your savings e-mail is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the iphone had known in what part of the night the hacker was coming, he would have installed malware and would not have let his phone be hacked. Therefore also be ready, for the Black Friday savings are coming to your device at an unexpected hour.
The Gospel of consumerism.
Here’s the deal – Advent is a misunderstood season. Mostly because so many people misunderstand who Jesus is. Jesus isn’t just a nice cuddly baby who was born some 2000 years ago, then grew up and was a nice guy and a good teacher who taught people to be nice to one another. People don’t get tortured and executed to being nice and teaching people to just be nice. If that’s all he was, then guess what – Jesus has no impact on our life today, nor should he.
But Advent reminds us that Jesus is more than that – Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah who is coming and who is bringing the Kingdom of God in the future, in our present and who started the process in his birth so long ago. Jesus isn’t a one time event in the past who has no impact on our lives today. Jesus messes with our lives and with the world. He isn’t the messiah that you buy at the story, or elect. He isn’t the messiah that entertains us. He is the messiah who turns the world right side up.
Jesus brings us the gifts that matter – the gifts of love, peace, joy, forgiveness, hope and so much more. He gives us these gifts and calls on us to share them far and wide telling us not to worry, they won’t run out. We are called to give the gift of respect to those we disagree with, the gift of mercy to those we can’t understand, the gift of love to family, friends and neighbors, the gift of forgiveness to those we claim are our enemies, the gift of patience to our children, the gift of attention to all those who feel lost and left behind and forgotten.
Advent messes with us because Jesus messes with us and our world by making all things new, reconciling broken relationships, and giving us the gift of salvation. This is something the worldly version of this crazy consumer season can’t ever provide – not even close.
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