Saturday, November 11, 2006

Hope for the present and future...

1 Kings 17:8-16

What does the future mean to you? A very simple definition of “future” could be defined as a set of events that have not yet come to pass. Events shaped by the past and the present, but still events that will or may happen. Since we haven’t experienced the future yet, it is almost impossible for us to know what is going to happen in the future, but that doesn’t tell us really what the future means to us.
For some people, they talk about the future as something to have. We say, “That person over there has a bright future.” Meaning, that it seems like that person has worked hard and gotten opportunities in life. For that person, the future is something that seems fairly certain – sense that it will happen. Others talk about the future in terms of plans that are already made. I look at my calendar I know that I will be heading off to Colorado on Friday with a group of our youth for a weekend gathering. To yet other people, the future contains hope for better times. This view of the future usually comes from the reality of the past and present. We say things like, “Next year I’ll have a better paying job, and we’ll be able to do more of the things we would like to do.”

Just this past week has been filled with talk of what the future will be like, what that future will mean for us. I speak mainly of last Tuesday’s elections. The past year politicians have been telling us how they will make life better if elected as representative, senator, or governor. Many people base their votes on what they think that politician is going to do. We take into account the past and these promises and make a decision on who we think is best for us and our governments. And now, we find ourselves here at All Saints Lutheran Church doing some more thinking and pondering over what the future is going to be like at our annual meeting today. We will decide on a budget that, in a lot of ways, tells something about what the next year is going to be like. We will also decide how we want to affirm our belief that all people, including those of different sexual orientations and gender identities, are welcome in this community by becoming a rostered Reconciling In Christ congregation.

To tell you the truth, it sometimes seems to me like a lot of my time is spent worrying and planning for the future. I think that is true for many other people as well. That is a part of what it means to be human, because the future holds so many uncertainties that we cannot plan for. The bright future may not turn out so bright because of an unforeseen illness or hardship that befalls us. Our plans can change very easily because of the unknown. The better days may not come. The future is very uncertain. Uncertain to the point that we become afraid of what might happen. In this fear, we get locked up in trying to ward off what might happen so much that we forget about what is happening – right here, right now. We become jealous and guarded of our resources and spend time trying to stockpile money and resources. This usually comes to the detriment of those who could use our help and attention right here and right now. I’m a big guy, and that’s due in large part to the fact that I sometimes eat as if I don’t know where my next meal is going to come from. Truthfully though, I’ve never known a moment of real, sincere hunger in my life. But there are times when we come face to face with the reality of the present to where the future holds almost no meaning for us. The widow at Zarephath had come face to face with that very same reality when Elijah meets her.

Earlier in this account from 1 Kings, the prophet Elijah prophecies that a severe drought is going to overtake the region where not even a drop of rain will fall unless God wills it. Elijah survives for a while by living next to a watering hole of sorts, but the water eventually dries up for lack of rain. It is at this point that God tells Elijah to go to Zarephath where he will be fed by a widow.
Imagine what it must have been like for the widow during these times. With each consecutive day without rain, the closer that the reality of the present situation came. She had maybe thought that things were going to go like they had in the past. She couldn’t have foreseen that this drought could have been this severe or lasted this long. Each day the meal and oil in her jars became less and less. Each day the time of her death became more and more apparent. Pretty soon there wasn’t much future to look forward to. This becomes most evident after Elijah asks her to bring him some water and a morsel of bread. She responds flatly saying, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”

She has given up at this point. But Elijah hasn’t. He presses on and says the she should go make him something first and then make something for herself and her son. He tells her not to be afraid, but I can’t see how afraid she could have been if she had been so resigned to it. In fact, at this point, there is nothing more to be afraid of. In her sight, the future’s gone. I can hear her saying to herself, “Why not give this man what he wants? I’m going to die anyway.” Essentially she has resigned herself of any notion of control that she has over her life and begins to trust in Elijah and Elijah’s God.

It is in that stripping away of her illusions of control over death that she is able to fully give herself to God. You know what? In doing so, she finds out that God is a God that sustains life even in the midst of death. And when her son dies, she also finds out that God is a God that sustains life even beyond death when Elijah brings him back to life. Ironically, by trusting in God and not herself, the widow finds a sure hope for the future that God will always be present in her life.

That is such a hard thing for us to do – to be able to trust God through every part of our life. As much as we may not like it, we begin to take comfort in those things that give us an illusion of security of the future. When the reality is, that there will come a time when each one of us will die – no matter what securities we may have stored up for us. This seems very disheartening at first, but when I lose that notion of absolute control over my life and trust in God, I find that I’m then free to enjoy the journey that is life and help others to be able to enjoy that journey as well.

So what of the future? Are we to stop planning all together? Should we all turn in our insurance policies? Should we give up our dreams and visions? To steal a line from Paul, “By no means!!” It just means that they shouldn’t become so beholden to our future plans that forget what is important in our lives. If you go along in life measuring your security and success by these attained goals you will always be sorely disappointed, because of all the unknowns and uncertainties. Martin Luther tried very hard to attain absolute perfection, but he realized that God loves us and claims us as God’s own anyway. He called it a liberating experience. Indeed, it is liberating to come to this realization. Our dreams and vision then stop being a burden, and we can then adapt to those “curve balls” that life throws at us.

That is why we begin each service on Sunday morning at the baptismal font. To remind us of our need for God and also to remind us that God is present and has forgiven and claimed us as God’s own. In little bit, will go into that annual meeting and discuss our future financially and as a Reconciling In Christ congregation. As you discuss what this is going to mean for our future as a congregation, I encourage you to think about how God is present in your life right now. We are called to trust in the grace that God has shown us through the life and death of Jesus Christ and spread that good news to everyone in word and deed. I leave you with just one question. How will what we decide today spread that good news in the future?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

On call at the Hospital...

Well folks, 14 hours to go for first on call of the summer, and it already has been a pretty crazy day here at the hospital. I've visited with a family whose mother/grandmother was dying, and I've visited with a mother whose daughter has just been intubated. Oh well... I think I'm handling the situations I've seen pretty well, but I still don't know exactly what to say to people while this is all going on. Hopefully, I'll get better at it as time goes on.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Media Violence (Or Violence in the Media)

For the past day or so, I have been thinking a lot about what someone presented to us about the ethics of Media violence. The place I'm stuck on in thinking about this issue is where the presenter made the comment that one of the ways we can take responsibility for our lives as people centered in Christ is to boycott films or TV shows that utilize violence as a part of their story. My reaction starts by thinking and asking myself is right to blind ourselves to images that, even if they are hyperbole, emanate from a violent world? To me, this in some ways is an attempt to insulate oneself from things that one does not like to see. Can we really just close our eyes and just say, "This isn't happening?" Then, the artist in me starts to speak up and say that violence can and is an artistic statement made by an "artist" or "artists," choosing not to see an (often) important aspect of the artistic message being delivered. For example, when director Quentin Tarantino uses gratuitous violence in his his movies, is he just painting with images of violence much the same way some of Monet's brush strokes are purple rather than red or green? Then the thought that comes into mind is that in my own personal experience, I have watched many violent images in TV, movies and video games, but doesn't the fictional aspect of media violence in effect just simply a way to explore violent feelings without actually committing real acts of violence? Can't I person who has a center that is Christ and still explore all of those feelings that are a part of my humanity?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Reflections on Ethics and Violence

So, now I'm almost done with my journey through my study of violence through the lens of ethics, and I must say that I have learned a lot about the complexities that surround the use of violence and non-violence, especially in the light of my (our) faith in Jesus Christ. The weirdest thing about my study into this issue is that it's not my faith that has been challenged - it's my use (for lack of a better term) of that faith to take action in my life. I ahve come face to face with the reality that the cross of Christ was a very violent event, and, because of that fact, it is very hard to think of it as victorius triumph. I guess, in some ways, I'm still stuck in that Good Friday service that I attended almost two weeks ago. I'm still awestruck by how Good Friday exposes exactly how sinful a creature I am, and I will die, in part, because of that inate sinfulness. I know exactly why Jesus had to what he did, and it doesn't make me feel all that good. In fact, I'm so sorry that it had to come to that. But could there have been another way? I don't know. I only know that that is the way it happened. Dear Jesus, why did you have to let it come to this? I know that you are risen, but I cannot get out of my mind that our sin killed you on that day. The tomb is empty, but I don't know how worthy I am to carry out the proclamation of Jesus' love for the whole world. Come Holy Spirit and give me the strength to see that it doesn't matter how worthy I am to proclaim the Word made flesh - It only matters that I proclaim.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Violence in Music

Lately, I've been thinking about the use of violent images in music. For example, Ice T's "Cop Killer" is a song about frustration with police corruption in dealing with people (mainly Blacks and Hispanics)in the ghettos of America. On one level, the level that put everyone into such a flurry of protest in the mid-90's, it seems to be a mere indiscriminate advocation of violence brought against a whole group of people. On another level, though, it speaks to the raw emotional response to the opression and discrimination brought upon minorities by the very people who swear to "protect and serve."

In thinking about the tension that the two viewpoints espouse, it makes me wonder if there is space in our lives as Christians to express that very real emotion of anger that we all feel at one point or another in our lives. As people called to christain service in response to our justification, can we have time to express our anger in truth before we start to turn to our called christian response of love and care for neighbor? Is there any place for the emotion of anger in our response to "love your neighbor as yourself?" I think that if we are to enter into true recociliation after repentance and forgiveness, then we need express and think about all those emotions that might come up in those difficult situations in our life.

If that is the case, then I truly think that those expressions of violence in music need to be present within the music scene, because they are artistic expression of emotion just as much as any love song is an artistic expression of emotion. One has to be careful, though, to discern what is artistic expression and an outright call to violence and hatred of a person or people.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Vindictive Violence

I just watched "V for Vendetta" last weekend, and it has brought up quite a few questions as to what, in pop culture, kind of violence is acceptable. The main thing that bugged me as I thought about that movie and other images it reminded me of was that there seems to be a notion in popular culture that not only can violence become the necessary route; but also, in some ways, vilence is the RIGHT thing to do in some circumstances. For example, the movie I watched basically hovered around the theme of vengence against a government that controls and kills people to an astonishing degree. The main character "V" knows exactly what the government is trying to do, and puts into action an elaborate plan to expose the government for what it is AND kill those who made him what he is. By the end of the movie, you feel as if the only course of action "V" could take was to kill those who made him what he is.

There is an interesting twist to the whole movie, however. Near the end, large numbers of people march on parliament where a large military force is stationed to stop them from going further, and instead of a violent clash, the people end up being able to walk through the soldiers ranks unharmed. It worked so beautifully that I wonder if the murderous vedetta that "V" carried out was truly necessary. Maybe that means that popular culture is subconsciously espousing an idea that non-violence is great and all, but you still need to have some violent actions take for it to be truly affective and effective.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Tale of Two Strangers

Today I heard two very different, very amazing stories from a couple of people who I consider to be friends.

"It was the best of times..."

I walked into chapel choir today, and walked right in on a story of the kindness of strangers being recounted to the choir. Our choir director told us how he ended sleeping on a cold steel bench for three hours in O'Hare airport, and afterwards, he noticed how much he and other people around him trusted each other with their possessions. Not only that, but he also noticed how because of the kindness of strangers, sleeping people were woken up to be able to catch their planes by strangers. Strange people looking out for other people.

"It was the worst of times..."

I walked into my classroom building today saw my good friend and noticed that his glasses were gone. When I asked him about it, he told me that he had been jumped and beaten by strangers while walking around town just last night. Unknown people, for whatever reason, stole from and beat up my friend for no apparent reason. How can somebody devalue another human being to the point where she or he can steal from and violently attack another human being? Do they just not care that the person they attacked was a person full of love and compassion for other people? I must admit that this is first time in a long time that someone close to me has been the victim of un-aggravated violence. Heck, it may be the first time ever. The whole event seems so raw and disconnected with the depictions of violence I've seen on TV and in the movies. The fake events in "entertainment" pale immensely to reality. It also makes stories like the one I heard in choir today seem unbelievable.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Cycles of Violence

Well, here I am at a new weekend right before my school takes a small break to let students catch up on some reading, and I find myself immersed in a particularly difficult text from I Peter. The basic problem with this text is that one can easily read it as a text saying that one should just quietly endure in her or his suffering because the present life does not matter. Truthfully, that's not a reading I can in good conscience relate to other people. Besides, it seems so contrary to the life Jesus lead and strove for in his ministry, death, and resurrection. All throughout the gospels, we hear time after time stories about how Jesus was either challenging established conceptions of how to act, confronting social structures, healing the sick, or feeding hungry people. That is most certainly NOT a philosophy of inaction. So what are we to do with I Peter and it seeming language of silent suffering? Well, yes it is about suffering. It is about a very real reality that all of us face at one time or another within the world. But, it is not just pointing out an obvious fact of life. It says that the only way one can end suffering, violence, and abuse is to break the cycle of retribution with a radical love and care for other people and breaking down the situations that enable suffering, violence, and abuse to be carried out. So, wives shouldn't just sit quietly as their husbands physically and mentally abuse them, but neither should they return in kind the suffering, violence, and abuse directed at them. They should instead remove themselves from the situation and put into action a sequence of events that either leads to incarceration or treatment for the abuser - a kind of love heals both parties involved. But, as per Jesus' teachings, we should leave it up to the abused to be the sole one responsible for ending the cycle of violence. Indifference and inaction of people on the outside are just as culpable as people personally involved in the suffering, violence, and abuse. We need to be just as active if not more active in finding ways to end cycles of suffering, violence, and abuse we see all around us in the world.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Accidental Shooting

Just last week, the Vice President of the United States of America shot a 78 year old man in face while hunting for farm raised quail at a Texas ranch. No big news here, as this happened about a week ago. But, as funny as this story has been for me and for a lot of people, I'm starting to wonder about the whole dynamics of the accidental shooting in terms of it being an instance of violence. I think that in a lot of ways it boils down to whether or not an accident is a violent act or not. When looking at violence defined as something that has an intentionality to it, it doesn't seem to be a violent act. In other words, what makes this accident any different than the inattentive driver who "t-bones" another car in a intersection? When a car slips on the ice and hits on-coming traffic, does one commit a violent act? That being said, intentionaliy can become a cop out for all those times in history where where a person or persons become un-intentional casualties to people's accidents. I don't mean to say though that intentionality doesn't have anything to with the value judgement pertaining to the accident.

This event in which Dick Cheney shot his friend in stead of a small bird has another little wrinkle to it than just being purely an accident. That wrinkle is the situation Cheney found himself in in the first place. That situation is one in which he felt that he needed to use vacation time to hunt farm raised birds almost literally from his car. I wonder why Cheney needs to commit a violent act in the first place. As the Vice President of the USA who has been gainfully employed for all of his life, his need to hunt that bird had nothing to do feeding himself. Moreover, any aspect of sport has to be ruled out since he had someone else find the bird for him before getting out of his car to "hunt" the bird. The only thing I am left with is considering why he or anyone else needed to kill something. Is this an innate need in all humans? And, if it is, what does that say about us as human beings, animals living in an ecosystem, as the children of God?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

A Shift in Function...

Hello. I know it's been a long time, dear blog, but I think I'm gonna change the functionality of how this blog has been working for me. This bascially stems from an assignment I recieved in my "Ethics in a Violent World" class this semester. The professor told me and my classmates that we would be writing a journal of reflection recounting our thoughts and ideas on the issue of violence in the world.

To start off then I suppose, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be aggressive and violent. The in-class definitions we came up with last week were a big help, but I still have one question about aggression and violence. That is, "Are aggression and violence necessarily fundamentally "bad" actions or are they integral parts in how this world works?" My first reaction is that no, they are not bad, because of the way aggression and violence not lonyl has preserved life, beauty, art, and freedom but also has progessed humankind to develop new ways of thought, new inventions, and (at least) a new standard of living. But then, another part of me asks whether or not that preservation and progression has to be accomplished in such a way that, ultimately, hurts another in one way or another. I come back with this because, all too often, another is hurt in the name of progress and preservation.

Take a look at Hebrew scripture. Once the Hebrew people are brought out of the land of Egypt and brought out of the wilderness to their promised land, they immediately begin a process of progression through invasion, exclusion, and violence that is mandated by God. They preserving and progressing their society, but they are doing it at the expense of peoples who had not harmed them at all in any way, and God seems to utilizing aggression and violence God's self to get done what God needs to get done.

Now take a look at our current situation in Iraq today. God didn't mandate or invasion, but we saw fit to invade that country because they might, just *might*, harm us in the future. And now when it turns out that Iraq really didn't have the capabilities to harm us, we start to justify our action by saying that we did it for the cause of spreading democracy in the Middle East. We want to prgress them further through our aggression and violence. This has now backfired on us and now we are stuck there trying to create some semblence of a stable society. There just has to be another way.

Maybe that's what the Kingdom of God will be like. Maybe it will be a time and place where aggression and violence are not needed anymore to survive and thrive. God I hope so. May the Kingdom of God come.