Archive for the 'Theology' Category

Palm Sunday: Mixed messages

Whenever I think of Palm Sunday, I often wonder how I should really feel – because, in all of the Christian Holy Days, it’s the one that sends the most mixed messages. And as we follow Jesus’ story in Luke 19:28-48, my stomach should continue to feel unsettled at Jesus’ response to public praise.

At this point in the story, Jesus has achieved rockstar status. He’s built his media platform. He’s got millions of followers – real ones, not just instagram or twitter followers. He’s got groupies. He’s even got haters.

So we do our best to model this in our worship today. In most traditions, worshipers enter the sanctuary with palm fronds to raise during worship in the same manner as the millions who did so as Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem.

We often sing a song with the word “Hosanna” to align ourselves with the crowd as Jesus would be riding on a colt. It aligns with the story – and we might hear (as I did this morning) about the rocks crying out about the glory of God.

I find all of this ironic. When we look deeper at the symbolism, we see that Jesus intended the mixed messages to mix up our souls, to give dissonance that would cause us to question.

First of all, Jesus is riding in on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Luke mentions this five times in the passage – so you’d think that the repetition would be significant, right? The people who heard “Hosanna” (meaning “save us now”) sung in their presence didn’t ride colts – they rode war horses, stallions.

This is like a modern day equivalent of Jesus riding into a cosmopolitan church on an old John Deere tractor wearing shit-kickers, bib-overalls, and a sporting a dip of chewing tobacco (and not ironically like some hipster – Jesus did come from a podunk village north of cosmopolitan Jerusalem)

Second, this is during Passover, when the city is PACKED with people. One historian says 2.7 million people descended from all over to visit – that’s like the entire city of Chicago descending on Jerusalem. And this city is occupied by Roman soldiers, who have already crucified an entire village of people at a time for threatening the power of the Roman Empire.

Third, the crowd of millions is chanting “SAVE US!” It wasn’t just because the Pharisees were jealous of Jesus that they shushed him – it’s because this was ripe for revolt. The Pharisees would later try to show Jesus was leading a revolt against Rome by asking him the famed question, “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” This is a power play through a political question – and a set up in a public sphere to expose Jesus as aligning with zealots to get him arrested.

Many like to focus on Jesus’ “triumphal entry” as the place where we enter into worship. And then, even then, it is poignant to look at Jesus’ response to this production unfolding around him. Remember, there are millions of people worshiping Jesus at this moment, singing Hosanna, and saying “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

But he doesn’t receive their worship as genuine.

He weeps.

Why?

Because even by taking on an identity of a lowly servant, complete with shit-kickers and bib-overalls, Jesus intends to help the millions know the character of his revolution: humble, others-focused, self-sacrificial love.

He knows they don’t get it. He knows they view power differently than him.

The establishment is still anchored in looking at the ways of doing religion, and has thus anchored everyone else in responding in kind. It views power as platform, as followers, as likes, and tries to use public spheres to see who aligns with who in order to win allies to the cause.

Perhaps things haven’t changed as much as we’d like to think they have.

Jesus then prophesies the future for Jerusalem – that in 70 AD, Roman Soldiers would destroy the temple under and kill 1.1 million Jews, and enslave 97,000, according to Josephus. He writes,

“The slaughter within was even more dreadful than the spectacle from without. Men and women, old and young, insurgents and priests, those who fought and those who entreated mercy, were hewn down in indiscriminate carnage. The number of the slain exceeded that of the slayers. The legionaries had to clamber over heaps of dead to carry on the work of extermination.”

This is why Jesus wept. It’s why he says, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes…because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

And get this – as a calculated response, motivated by righteous anger, Jesus turns over the tables and drives out those who intertwine consumerism with worship.

This is why I feel mixed messages at Palm Sunday. We repeat history every year we mix consumerism with worship when we sing songs to the glowing screen and smoke machine and stoke the social media platforms to drive click traffic.

Because when consumerism mixes with worship, we won’t know what will bring us peace.

In their powerful book, Renovation of the Church, Kent Carlson and Mike Leuken write of their own megachurch journey and when they had their epiphany on recognizing the time of God’s coming among them.

“Attracting people to church based on their consumer demands is in direct and irredeemable conflict with inviting people, in Jesus’ words, to lose their lives in order to find them. It slowly began to dawn on us that our method of attracting people was forming them in ways contrary to the way of Christ…In order to help people follow Christ more fully, we would have to work against the very methods we were using to attract people to our church. As person after person shared at this retreat, we slowly began to realize that, to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus, consumerism was not a force to be harnessed but rather an antibiblical value system that had to be prophetically challenged.”

We’re often charged with the euphoria of Hosanna. American Evangelicalism has moved in the last 40 years to become fully intertwined with consumerism. But it’s sobering to remember that the screams of Hosanna prompted Jesus to see the future screams of death of thousands of thousands and weep.

On one hand, I’m left to wonder what would happen if Jesus were to show up in church on Sunday.  How would he respond to the mixed messages of our church today?

On the other hand, I can’t think of a better posture to enter Holy Week. Is my worship genuine? As I enter into Holy Week, will I find myself among the few faithful women who remain by Jesus’ side at the end?

Avatar, Eye-Candy, & Rhetorical Racism: Moving Beyond Tokenism

(This post has been sitting on the back burner for a while, but life with school, ministry, travel, got to a point where this wasn’t able to get out when I wanted it to. Oh well – better late than never.)

I saw Avatar in the theaters and was at first in awe of visual eye candy.  No question it is one of the most visually stunning films ever produced.  I’m colorblind and I was impressed…I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a full spectrum of colors at my disposal to consider how beautiful it would be.

But as I thought about it more, I realized that Avatar was more like the magazines in the check-out aisle of the grocery store: air-brushed eye candy that is pretty superficial and devoid of significant substance or content.

Now don’t get me wrong – Avatar isn’t in the gutter with Transformers 2…that was just awful.  It was as if that film was using the article I blogged about regarding male hormones as a script to help attract men.

But in some ways, Avatar is more dangerous because people take it far more seriously.  I mean, it got a stinkin’ best picture nod.  We’ve already heard enough about the comparisons to Dances with Wolves and The Last Samurai.  Instead of Native Americans and Ancient Warriors we get supersized smurfs that bear a striking resemblance to African Tribal people.

The message of the film is pretty direct: all of the characters who are seeking to expand the empire are white American men (except the hero, Jake) and Jake becomes the hero by leaving his culture and people and saves the people who are not his own, but in the end he becomes one of them.

There are several indirect messages this sends – I could critique the film at length.  I’ll focus on two:

1. On the surface, it seems like such a nice politically correct story.  Jake becomes the hero by becoming cross-cultural and becoming one of those who were marginalized.

But let’s just think about this for sometime.  First of all, Jake might be in body one of the supersized smurfs, but culturally he is still a white American jarhead.  What does it say that he becomes the hero of this people? Why not a leader who was actually native to the planet? What is it about Jake that allows for him to become the leader of a people who aren’t his own?

I won’t leave these questions at rhetorical – I think what this communicates is indirect racism that covertly implies that the redeemed white american is one who still “saves” those who can’t save themselves.  It’s covert imperialism. It’s implying that there is something special about Jake that allows for him to be the leader of the people.

And it’s racist.

What it is indirectly saying is that the Navi people are not capable of developing indigenous leadership in order and require leadership from outside to survive attempts of cultural imperialism.  So, in essence, they are saved from cultural imperialism through…cultural imperialism.

Silly James Cameron; simplistic plot lines are for kids.

2. While this is going to sound like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth, I’m going to address the other end of the spectrum here.  As I’ve said before in other posts, I’m an equal opportunity offender.  And here is where I’m walking on eggshells…and I’m about to make some omelets here.

Americans have a tendency to idealize other cultures as a reaction to being perceived as imperialistic.  I own American imperialism – it is real and it is dangerous.  It’s tragic that a standard of beauty that causes women to whiten their skin with toxic skin whiteners and receive plastic surgery.  That women view themselves in comparison to the Western standards of beauty is dishonoring and dehumanizing to their people made in the image of God.

I’ve worked with young men of several different ethnicities who feel their standard of masculinity is considered subpar to the culturally-biased stuff that is broadcast in Christian Bookstores like Wild at Heart and helped them realize their cultural form of masculinity is by no means less than that of whites.  (BTW, I liked the book. It was important to me. It’s just very culturally bound to White american men.)

Working cross-culturally when I wasn’t the dominant culture has taught me so much on masculinity and femininity that I can’t begin to describe  how much I’ve grown because of it.  Living under the leadership of those not like me have stretched me more than I ever dreamed.

I am one of the only people I know who has had the opportunity to be under the leadership of folks of four different ethnicities (Asian-American, White, Black, and Latino) and both genders for an extended ongoing period of time (at least one year). This is something that I can honestly say has been one of the greatest opportunities for both blessing and frustration, and has grown me and stretched me tremendously.

What I can say from this experience is this: power is what typically reveals cultural strengths and cultural dysfunctions.  We are getting a glimpse of this as we get more global in just a snapshot of current events that causing dissonance.

Was the apology of the Toyota executive sincere?  If it was sincere, what are we to say of the supposed management practices of Toyota that suppressed safety information that may have been contrary to that which management wanted to hear?

For what reasons are babies being born at a rate of 120 boys to 100 girls in China and Northern India?

And what are we to say about the chicken pills taken by women in Jamaica?

If you subscribe to the worldview of Avatar, and you are a white american male like myself, you shouldn’t ask these questions.  It’s offensive.  The rules say you are only able to focus exclusively on the positives of other cultures.

But that methodology is only good for entertainment purposes at a theater…and it’s worth about $10.

When we subscribe to the worldview of Avatar, we idealize the minority on the one hand, demonize the majority on the other, and indirectly say that we the ideal minority is unable to develop it’s own leaders and has to import them from the demon majority, we live in a dangerous world that is unable to move to reconciliation.  Our response is even more dangerous: tokenism.

The response leads to develop minority leadership that is “token” in nature – in other words, minorities are put in leadership for the sake of their presence as minorities in order to appease internal white guilt.

And it’s belittling to minorities.

I got a glimpse of what it means to move beyond tokenism as a part of the search committee that brought the new pastor of my church.  We did not know that one of the leading candidates we rated for our pastor was a Jamacian born Black man.  As we continued throughout the process, we were very up front and honest with him about recent issues of race that were divisive in our church to the point of a staff person leaving.  Evanston is a diverse community, but our church is about 85% white.

Yet it became clear to our entire committee that this was the man whom God was calling to our congregation.  We knew we were asking this man to enter into something potentially difficult.  And as we made the decision, we even received racist hate mail.  But the decision has been clearly one that only God could have orchestrated in his timing, and one that only could have been led by his Spirit.  Not a spirit of political correctness, not a spirit of tokenism, but one that is reconciling people to each other and to God.

And I had a front row seat for an incredible show.

As I worshipped at our installation of the Pastor, I couldn’t help but realize the shallowness the worldview of Avatar.  Like the name of the film, it’s only skin deep.  It will never allow the deepest wounds to be healed. It will just be a vain superficial cover.  Real reconciliation requires moving beyond tokenism, image management,  and simplistic cultural caricatures to true understanding through authentic friendship.

And truthfully, that is just harder than most people really want to work.  But I still hope and dream that in my lifetime we move beyond eye-candy ethnicity and toward real reconciliation.

When Peter Pan had to Grow Up: On Favre vs. The Packers

I was an idealist.

When Brett Lorenzo Favre retired, I deemed that my childhood had officially ended.  It was that moment where the man who I had watched quarterback my beloved Green Bay Packers for so many years had rode off into the sunset through a tear-filled press conference that I watched on my laptop with two other grown men who were at the onset of tears as well.

“What a perfect ending to a perfect career,” I thought. I can cherish this in peace.

What has ensued since has been the best real live enactment of “bizzaro world” from Seinfeld that anyone could ever conjure on this planet.  Favre unretires. Drama. Packers say they don’t want him. Drama. Favre demands to be traded. Drama. Packers offer $20 million to be a spokesperson. Drama. Favre gets traded to the anthesis of Green Bay – New York – with a specific stipulation that the Jets would forfeit their first round draft picks for the next three years if they flip Favre to the arch nemesis Vikings.

Drama. Favre plays, almost reaches the playoffs, then retires. Again.

Drama. Favre hints at coming back to – the VIKINGS! He’s in, he’s out, he says no.

Wait – No! With a week of training camp left to play, Favre says he’s in. And in a white bronco, he speeds from the Minneapolis Airport to training camp and then leads his team to a 3-0 start with an unbelievable come-from-behind victory.

Seriously folks – this isn’t scripted.  Just listen to the talking heads for a while.

The most read piece on my blog is what I wrote about Favre a year and a half ago. It was everything I loved about growing up watching #4 play his heart out. I’d been waiting to write it for years. I had a storehouse of memories that I was anticipating to get out of my head and into print as to how a quarterback shaped a boy, who became a man, and who still picks up a football and thinks he can be like Brett.

But that wasn’t the way it was to be. And I can’t help but think how life mirrors what we’ve seen with the Favre drama.

As much as I pulled all the lessons out of Favre’s life, I can’t help but think how the last 18 months have illustrated the dark side as well. And ironically, in the last couple of years, I’ve experienced more of the dark side of life than I’ve ever seen before. When experiencing great disappointment in life in the past, there was always #4 to watch at one point in time to see that life wasn’t going to, as U2 sung in Acrobat, “let the bastards grind you down.” (My second favorite U2 song).  Brett might not have won every game, but he always went down fighting. He wouldn’t let the bastards grind him down.

But for the Packers’ faithful, this week it becomes real. Favre isn’t in some bizarro world. We’re the bastards grinding him down now. It’s real.  And the one constant we would watch to remember to just keep going…is now the opponent. He’s the enemy.

And that goes against every bone in my body. I’ll be cheering against Brett Favre.

I can’t believe I just wrote that.

Are there any happy endings anymore?

The longer I live, the harder it is to be an idealist.  I see so few happy endings. The more experience I get in all areas of life, the more I see how sin has really stained the world. It’s just not as it should be. Ministry teaches you that more than ever. Whoever thought people in ministry are sheltered needs a reality check – if you do your job right, you’ll encounter sin as you’ve never seen it before – even in the holiest of people.

I’ve seen several friends who have abandoned happily ever after to the good ol’ American, “Yankee Pragmatism” where we settle for good ideas to be partially realized and partially fulfilled, and spin the partial failure into success. It’s because our image-conscious society wants winners, and if you don’t win you aren’t worth talking about. If you can’t sum it up in a 10 word pithy statement, it’s not worth saying now, is it?

Question: If all things are being made new, then why is Favre wearing a Vikings uniform?

Question: If all things are being made new, why do we feel pain and brokenness more deeply once we’ve begun following Jesus.

However overly dramatic this might be, the whole bit of this week’s drama for Favre vs. the Packers reminds me of one thing: The world isn’t as it should be.  Peter Pan should never have had to grow up.

Getting naked with the stakes never higher.

How’s that for a title? 🙂

News flash – the entry is just slightly more boring than the title…I’m just prepping to preach at my church this Sunday.

I’m procrastinating by blogging.

Can you relate?

I speak in front of students pretty regularly, but it is different speaking in front of my church. Students I can be a little more off the cuff and informal.

Not at my church.

It was nearly 20 months ago when I last preached at my church. The experience was memorable to say the least.

Imagine the leader and figure that meant the most to a church for 26 years leaving the congregation after things didn’t end as everyone dreamed. The one person who was the constant; the person who was there for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, and most every Sunday preaching from the pulpit.

Imagine the departure – the final sermon, the tears, the good-byes, the hugs, the kind words.

Now imagine being the guy preaching the next week after he leaves.

I was that guy.

Big shoes to fill? That’s an understatement.

I chose to bring my students with me to share about our experience living in a garbage village in Cairo, and how God met us in the midst of what many would consider the one of the most hopeless places on earth.

Hope was what we needed that day. I tried my best to share hope through the gospel that rainy November day. With tears, the pastors wife greeted me afterwards and thanked me. Even if it was just for her, it was a good day.

This week, 20 months later, I find myself in a very different place in the life of my church. I’m an elder. I’m helping search for our new pastor. I’m having conversations about diversity and missional church and everywhere I go I feel like something is on the brink of exploding – either as an outpouring of love or an imploding of frustration.

They don’t write dramas this good on TV. Except LOST. And 24.

(P.S. I am Jack Bauer)

Twenty months ago, I was on the fringe of the church. Now I feel like I’m in the center of a tornado. Now I’m about to speak about it.

Whenever a preacher steps up to the pulpit, the stakes are high. One of my favorite authors, Frederick Beuchner, says it this way:

So the sermon hymn comes to a close with a somewhat unsteady amen, and the organist gestures the choir to sit down. Fresh from breakfast with his wife and children and a quick runthrough of the Sunday papers, the preacher climbs the steps to his pulpit with his sermon in his hand. He hikes his black robe up at the knee so he will not trip over it on his way up. His mouth is a little dray. He has cut himself shaving. He feels as if he has swallowed an anchor. If it weren’t for the honor of the thing, he would just as soon be somewhere else.

In the front pews the old ladies turn up their hearing aids, and a young lady slips her six year old a Lifesaver and a Magic Marker. A college sophomore home for vacation, who is there because he was dragged there, slumps forward with his chin in his hand. The vice-president  of a bank who twice that week seriously contemplated suicide places his hymnal in the rack. A pregnant girl feels the life stir inside her. A high-school math teacher, who for twenty years has managed to to keep his homosexuality a secret for the most part even himself, creases his order of service down the center with his thumbnail and tucks it under his knee…

…and Henry Ward Beecher is there. It is a busman’s holiday for him. The vestry has urged him to take a week off for a badly needed rest, and he has come to hear how someone else does it for a change. It is not that he doesn’t love his wife, but just that, pushing sixty, he has been caught preposterously off-guard by someone who lets him open his heart to her, someone willing in her beauty to hear out the old spell binder, who as a minister has never had anybody much to minister to him…

…The preacher pulls the little cord that turns on the lectern light and deals out his note cards like a river boat gambler. The stakes have never been higher.

I wonder sometimes why in the world anyone would ever have the audacity to step into a pulpit and preach. Seriously.  I talked with one of my professors in this, and here’s how he described preaching:

“Next to love-making with one’s spouse, preaching is the most self-revealing activity you do.  It leaves you naked.”

Doesn’t that sound exciting?  Getting naked with the stakes never higher.

Why do I do this again?

The Enigma of Failure: Jim Collins, How the Mighty Fall – 1

I enjoy business books.

Even though I’ve been in campus ministry and out of the for profit sector for six years now, I still think much about my time spent at Intergrated Project Management Company as hugely formative, and realized the power a great company can have on both individuals and communities. The Wall Street Journal seems to agree as well, naming IPM as one of the top 15 small workplaces in the country last year.

It was there when I was first introduced to Jim Collins, and his two business classics: Built to Last, a book primarily based on how enduring companies are built, and Good to Great, a response born out of a question from Collins’ friend who didn’t know how to take his good company and help it become great.  Jim Collins has spent a lot of time talking about success.

Until now.  In How the Mighty Fall, Collins turns to the dark side and analyzes how those companies that had all the advantages fell from the top.  And it isn’t pretty – it’s like analyzing a train wreck.

How the Mighty Fall is going to be criticized pretty heavily by several folks. People will likely talk about how it doesn’t have the same rigor as the other books, and they may be right.  They’ll probably say that Collins had an idea and sought to prooftext under the guise of research in order to align with his works in Good to Great and Built to Last.

Whatever.  They may be right, but I think there is something else that is deeper than people’s criticism that underlies their motivation: America has an aversion to failure.

We are scared of it.  We love winners – when the US Olympic Basketball Team lost for the first time, which was inevitable, the players felt like they let the country down.

How the Mighty Fall is an analysis of tragedy. Perhaps it’s just the dark side of me, but I kinda like looking and analyzing failure.  I remember my freshman year of college having dinner with one of the lead engineers in the Challenger Shuttle explosion, and hearing his seething anger combined with intense sorrow over what had happened. It shook him to the core. It shook me, a 17 year old freshman, in a way that I’m still not sure if I understand.

Even (and especially) in my own life, I’ve learned more from my failures than any of my successes. An old high school friend that I’d lost track of long ago facebook messaged me and asked me about being successful. I laughed out loud when I read the message.

I think several people can look at me on the outside and think I’m successful – and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wanted to be considered successful. But I truly think I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded. I hide failure well – but I can point to at least one epic fail I’ve had in school, in business, in ministry, in relationships, in family, in church, etc.

It’s so much so that when I speak openly about failure, people have this strong need to correct me that I didn’t fail because I learned from it. That’s true – but it’s like saying that you prefer to buy a pre-owned car rather than a used car.  A subtle change in terminology doesn’t change the fact that someone else used the car before you. Similarly, a subtle change in terminology doesn’t change the fact that I really screwed up.

Failure used to scare me – a lot. I still don’t like it, but more than ever I believe failure has been the genesis of my growth. Why? To quote Rich Lamb, “Grace is only possible past the limits of our success.”  And our limits of success are discovered only through experience. Experiencing failure. We can only experience epic grace when we’ve epically failed – or, as Jesus said, “she has loved much because she has been forgiven much.”

I only really understand grace through entering failure.

The biblical characters who haunt me most are Saul (the tragic Old Testament King) and Judas (the disciple who betrayed Jesus). Both were filled with the presence of God, either being filled with the Holy Spirit or being with Jesus. Why did they fail? They were more preoccupied with the perception of others view of their success and managing their images than true obedience to what God called them.

I’m going to be looking at each of Jim Collins stages of destruction of a company – both looking at what Collins says regarding business, but apply it to other areas – in ministry, and in our own lives with God.

From How the Mighty Fall, by Jim Collins

From How the Mighty Fall, by Jim Collins

Why? Because the exposing the dark side for what it truly is allows for us to strip it of it’s power. Evil that presents itself clearly as evil is so easy to detect. We watch films and hear the darker musical score and know evil’s coming. Life isn’t the movies – real evil doesn’t have a soundtrack.

The power of evil comes through masquerading as goodness. The best lies aren’t the bold face ones – it’s subtle deceit that twists the truth and leaves us in a place that we never wanted to be, wondering how we got there.

We are afraid of failure because we’re afraid of being exposed – that what we be seen for what we really are.  Shame and failure are linked. Fear of failure is a lie that keeps us from really knowing that we can be loved unconditionally. Exposing failure for what it is allows us to see more than we could ever dream – but it requires a rigorous assessment of what’s really there without dressing it up.

So, let the failure stripshow begin.

Working Together: The Whole Word to the Whole Campus

This was completed several months ago, but it was recently released by 2100 Productions, InterVarsity’s Multimedia company (who are simply awesome).

This is part of a training cirriculum we are using with students across the country in helping building authentically multiethnic ministries in colleges and universities across the country.

Enjoy!

What’s wrong with the world? I am.

I thought that as I aged I would become more wise and understanding of how to deal with evil in the world.  There are times when I wish I was more tolerant of evil for my own sanity.  Case in point – an older gentleman at my church decided to tell a university student to stop talking on his cell phone in a very curt and rude manner today at the worship service at my church.  Me? Let it go?

No way.

I tracked him down, and sternly told him that was not acceptable behavior (all while quivering in anger and fear at confronting someone at least thirty years my senior as his “elder”) for becoming a welcoming community.

Wouldn’t it just be easier if I could accept evil? Why don’t I just let it go and make my life easier?

G. K. Chesterton, when asked to write an essay by The Times of London on the subject, “What’s wrong with the world?”

Chesterton gave this simple response.

Dear London Times,

I am.

Sincerely Yours,

G. K. Chesterton

As much as I and other folks like Bono in today’s New York Times still expound on the problem of evil, and the church’s lack of response, the problem will never be addressed in full until we come to understand in our minds, hearts, hands, guts, and soul that the problem lies first and foremost within us.  Bono lauds Buffet and Gates – but they give out of their abundance, not sacrificially.  What if Buffet and Gates chose to give sacrificially in solidarity with those who they seek to serve – like the woman who gave her two copper coins?

The values that I and other staff have had for becoming agents of justice and righteousness in the world have infected many of our students.  One of the blessings that I have seen over the years is that many of my students have been involved in the global engagement summit at Northwestern University – a way they can engage the campus, partner with those who are far from God in engaging God’s purposes.

Sometimes I wonder if what we are seeing is an authentic revival of the activism we saw in my parent’s generation in the 1960’s that could truly change the world.

At others I cynically wonder if it’s just youthful optimistic high from an overdose on the self-esteem movement that will crash at the experience of real evil – the kind that etches it’s way into your mind and heart like a tattoo that can never be removed.  Students who I have taken among the poorest of the poor suffer often suffer from depression because the despair they encounter is contageous.

Sometimes I wonder if they will cope in the same way we saw those 60’s Hippie’s that today drive the SUV’s, built the big homes, ran businesses like Enron and Arthur Andersen, and now blame others for our planet’s problems.

Those are the days when I want to throw in the towel, and wonder if it is really worth it…am I just enabling a faith that is a “college thing” that will die once students hit the real world and the hot idealism is tempered.

This is why I need hope as much as any – for giving up means I’m just as much a part of the problem.

Today was especially impactful – when the liturgy of my church gives words when I have only groans.

O Risen Christ, you asked for my hands, that you might use them for your purpose.  I gave them for a moment, then withdrew them, for the work was hard.

You asked for my mouth to speak out against in justice. I gave you a whisper that I might not be accused.

You asked for my eyes to see the pain of poverty.  I closed them, for I did not want to see.

You asked for my life, that you might work through me.  I gave a small part, that I might not get too involved.

Lord, forgive my calculated efforts to serve you – only when it is convenient for me to do so, only in those places where it is safe to do so, and only with those who make it easy to do so.  Father, forgive me, renew me, send me out as a usable instrument, that I might take seriously the meaning of your cross.

Then later we sang from Christ is Alive:

“In every insult, rift, and war, where color, scorn, or wealth divide,

Christ suffers still, yet loves the more, and lives, where even hope has died.

Christ is alive, and comes to bring good news to this and every age,

Till earth and sky and ocean ring with joy, with justice, love, and praise.”

The hope of Easter is that Christ is alive.  Hope is only needed when it seems absent, and that the hope of all was killed made hope disappear.  But the resurrection proves that death doesn’t win in the end and that my job is just to hold on, be faithful, and not give up.  The setbacks of today will be pushed forward with or without me,  just as he will make all things right in the end and judge justly. Or as Fydor Dostoyevsky says in The Brothers Karamazov,

“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”



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