Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Kindergarten Dad

In the morning, around 8:25, I'll drop my five year old son off at his elementary school.  As we slowly creep forward in the drop off line, I'll begin to tell him how proud of him I am and how important I believe learning to be.  As he unbuckles his seat belt, I'll tell him how much I love him and wish him a good day.  He'll smile and say, "I love you too, Dad," and then he'll jump out.  I'll watch him walk away with his backpack over his shoulders, hanging over half the length of his body.  His tennis shoes will show underneath, looking too big for his spindly legs.  If the last 10 days are any indication, my eyes will well up (you know how these Oklahoma allergies can be).

For the last five years, my wife and I have kept him in something of a bubble of love.  I guess the moment a child exits the safety of the womb, insulated from the world, we try to rebuild a womb of a different sort.  This second womb we usually call "home."  Over the last five years, we have loved him best we know how.  We have tried to instill the values we hold most dear.  We have attempted to create an atmosphere of peace and joy, where he could flourish as a human being.  For the last five years, we have tried to protect him from all that would harm him and nourish him with all he needs to grow and mature.  And yet, just a couple of weeks ago, we experienced the birth pangs of Kindergarten.  Suddenly, he was forced into this strange new world while we were needing epidurals.

Now, I trust my five year old son to a teacher I have barely met and a school I haven't spent more than one hour in.  I find myself praying for public school teachers and administrators in a way I never have before.  I'm trusting one of God's greatest gifts to them, for 7 hours every day, as are all the other young families in my zip code.

Every day, when I watch him walk into the building, I'm reminded of how dependent we all are upon each other.  If he turns out to be a person of character and a responsible citizen, it will be because MANY people have shaped him:  extended family, school teachers, coaches, friends, Sunday School teachers...  The truth is that NONE of us have gotten where we are in life on our own; NONE of us raise our children on our own; NONE of us make it in life on our own.  Much of the rampant individualism and over-privatization we hear about today is just the great myth that each of us is the captain of our own destiny and an island unto ourself.  For the life of me I can't understand why so many people draw such impermeable boundaries between "family values" and "social justice."  The moment I drop my kid off at school, what's good for family and what's good for society seems to collapse into one.

Every day, when I watch him walk into the building, I begin to wonder if anyone he will bump into that day will recognize how important and invaluable he is to me.  He's my son.  Then again, he goes to school with other people's sons and daughters who feel the same way.  Come to think of it, everyone I bump into at the grocery store, Starbucks, or Jiffy Lube is someone's son or daughter.

So I guess what I'm saying is- be nice to one another.  Whether you are at an elementary school or somewhere else- just be nice to one another.  All of us need each other, and everyone you run into today is someone's child.  As of two weeks ago, the person you bump into might just be mine.  Now if I could just get my allergies under control!      

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Peacemaking Amidst Culture Wars

Well, it has begun again.  You've heard it I'm sure.  The trumpets are blasting.  The infantry and calvary have taken their strategic positions.  The trenches have been dug, and the canons are loaded.  "Culture wars," is the cry.  In the wake of the Chick-Fil-A saga and in the throws of vitriolic political campaigns, I've overheard numerous people on both sides of the issues express their fury at those who would undermine our society and values.  I've read articles from religious leaders about the pungent dangers of Christians disarming and retreating.  Underneath the conversations and the articles, however, is a worldview that contributes to and exhaserbates the problem rather than solves it. 

Think about the term- "culture wars."  We are now using militaristic language to describe the struggle we find ourselves in.  This particular lens is precisely what is fueling the conflicts before us.  The problem isn't in what we see as much as it is in how we see.  Let me explain:

If we believe we are in an idealogical warfare, then we begin in a defensive posture, cultivating fear and spreading paranoia.  We are more apt to shoot the other (whoever the other happens to be) than we are to share a meal with them because we began with the assumption that they are a threat.  Furthermore, since the enemy is "attacking," it becomes so very easy to dehumanize them (to treat them as something other than a beloved creature created in the image of God).  How can we love what we are deathly afraid of?  Perfect love casts out fear; it doesn't perpetuate it.     

Warfare implies trenches.  The enemy is dug in, and we are no less.  The enemy is faceless and abstract, and they are the source of the problem (which is how we justify ALL wars of all types).  This is no time for introspection, personal confession, or humility.  No, the enemy has a monopoly on the evil in our midst and must be removed.  Meeting in the middle is nothing short of appeasement, and the time for dialogue has come and gone.  The guns are already loaded.  This is why there has been so much talk (from both sides) about claiming their "freedom of speech," but no one is talking about a Christian obligation to listen and respect (even if we disagree).  Trenches make it impossible to move toward the other, and so everyone stands entrenched and paralyzed with no progress in sight.  For many people, their entrenchment is less a conscious choice than a simple result of blind partisanship, static views of truth, and uncritical absorption of whatever the media labels as news.  It is so easy for all of us to fall into a trench without even realizing it, which should give all of us pause for reflection and deliberation.

Trenches, in their very essence, are exlusive.  Trenches are meant to keep "us" in and "them" out.  We would rather protect ourselves from each other than give ourselves to each other.  Those who would dare step out of their trenches and defy the conflict are viewed as suicidal headcases, fit for nothing but crucifixion.  Yet, how can we proclaim a kingdom in which all are welcome when we are crouching in our trenches?  Who could even hear us from such a stooped posture and remote distance?

In warfare (even ideological warfare), victory is achieved through power.  We must kill in order to live and conquer in order to win.  Thus, the goal is success (be it elections, record days of sales- whether high or low records, policies, voter turnout...).  The hope is in the power of control.  Even if we have to sacrifice some of our integrity, some of our truthtelling, or some of our graciousness to win, then so be it.  On the other hand, Jesus seemed to believe in the power of love, rather than the power of control.  He was willing to face personal suffering and asked his followers to do the same.  In this way, the cross is our standard of truth; not public opinion or sales receipts.      

In short, the Jesus I believe in would summon us to put down our idealogical guns and pick up our crosses and towels.  The Jesus I believe in would have us claim our responsibility to listen before we claim our freedoms to speak, so that when we do speak we might speak truthfully and lovingly to people who might respect us enough to actually care what we are saying.  The Jesus I believe in would call us to follow him- which means coming out of our safe trenches and risking the vulnerability of love.  The Jesus I believe in would call us to be peacemakers rather than rigid idealogues.  The Jesus I believe in is reconciling ALL things to himself, which makes our trenches seem rather arbitrary.  The Jesus I believe in didn't just bring into question the piety of the trenches, but the necessity of the war altogether.  The Jesus I believe in made the news for eating WITH sinners rather than making the news for eating AGAINST them.  The Jesus I believe in cared a lot more about people than issues of piety (e.g. the Sabbath controversies in Mark).

So my plea for Christians is to put this talk of "culture wars" behind us.  It is not faithful language, and it lends itself to alientation.  My plea is not to pick the right trench, but to question the war.  My plea is to be known by our love- not just to love- but to be KNOWN by our love.  My plea is to see the world through another lens- maybe the lens of reconciliation and peacemaking.  Wouldn't it be something if peacemaking was the news we were actually making? 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Roosters and Repentance

One surprise on our recent visit to Hawaii was the roosters, walking around in public with no boundaries or limitations.  One morning, a stubborn rooster woke us up early and evoked the fledgling poet within me.


But why does the rooster crow
still- on this infant morning.
Does Peter still need his reminder
or does the siren sound for
some other's benefit- pledging
a commitment beyond their keeping.

Or is it the fresh light of
a new day that stirs the
rooster so- head high,
chest out, royal herald
of good news from the One
whose dawn always engulfs the night.

July, 2012

Friday, August 3, 2012

Transcendence (or "Standing at the Foot of a Waterfall")

So I haven't blogged in a while because I've been busy on vacation.  This year Rebecca and I celebrated our 10th anniversary by going to Hawaii for 10 days.  (Of course, Rebecca says the 10 years have felt like 10 days, but that goes without saying.)  Like the rest of humanity, I knew Hawaii was a beautiful place.  I expected glorious views and breathtaking vistas.  What surprised me was the kind of beauty I beheld.  It wasn't the kind of beauty that makes you step closer into it, like an art gallery where the image is fixed on canvas.  It was the kind of beauty that somewhat frightened you because of the sheer glory of untamed wilderness.  It was the kind of beauty that took your breath away and made you want to take a step back lest it pull you in.

Most of the beaches I've been to are large beaches full of pure white sand, and the ocean is fairly calm and predictable.  Because Hawaii is largely volcanic rock, the beaches aren't as large.  You are right there, feet away from an ocean with unpredictable currents and rip tides.  Waves frequently collide with rocks sending the surf feet into the air.  On the islands, you are surrounded by water (which is usually the case with islands I guess), miles and miles of water.  Just thinking about the breadth of Pacific was enough to make me shudder.  Sunsets there made the sky above the clouds come alive as much as the ground below them.  Again, it's beautiful, in a wild and powerful kind of way.

On our second day on the island of Kauai, we took a hike- a long, strenuous, taxing hike.  We climbed two miles up the Napali coast, where the ocean meets unbelievable cliffs.  The views were amazing, and the height of the steep cliffs was terrifying.  

After descending to a beach, Rebecca and I hiked another two miles inland, along a beautiful river.  The trail was dangerously muddy and almost impassable.  About the time I began wondering why in the world anyone would call this fun and do this sort of thing on vacation, the tree line gave way to a deep valley and a huge waterfall.  The height of the fall literally took my breath away.  There we stood, with mud on our legs and sweat on our shirts staring up at something much larger than us.  I arched my back and craned my neck to see the top of it, but I couldn't.  I tried to swim out under the fall, but the pool was too cold.  Truly, it was one of the most remarkable things I've ever seen.

It's hard for me to convey with a few pictures and words, but the beauty of Hawaii was different from what I expected.  I guess I was reminded that some of the most beautiful things in this world are also the most dangerous.  I felt awfully human staring out at the vast Pacific.  I felt peripheral watching the sun light up the dusk sky.  I felt powerless watching the waves smash the shore and currents overwhelm their contents.  I felt frail staring down high cliffs.  I felt incapable of taking in the fullness of the waterfall.  Around every turn and over every cliff, I saw scenes that reminded me that I am but one creature in the vast expanse of creation and most of the things that occur in this world are outside of my control and beyond my competence.  Hawaii made me experience my frail humanity, in a beautiful kind of way.

I'm a preacher, and I often talk about God's power as if I somewhat understand it.  But last week, I went to Hawaii and stood at the base of a waterfall.  Not only could I not see the top; I couldn't even tolerate the pool at the bottom.  But I jumped in anyway.