Our Lacking Collective Consciousness

A few weeks ago I had an interesting experience with a local car dealership.   I had gotten a letter in the mail from Subaru Motors that with my lease was about to end I ought to go in to my local dealer to talk about my options in relation to my current vehicle.  And so I did.  Now I must confess I don’t do well with car salesmen, I feel weak and stupid around them.  They’re also not very good at answering my direct questions which leaves me frustrated and confused.  This time around it was no different.  Yet this time around they remembered who I was – the pastor at the red church down the road.  When I was there in February to get a car for my wife they found this out and preceded to tell me where they go to church.  In fact, the sales accountant is a regular church goer at one of the churches in our valley.  Anyways, during this experience they were pushing me to lease another car telling me that it would be really easy and worthwhile because of the equity I had in my current lease.  When I spoke about purchasing the vehicle they kept going back to the idea of leasing.  When I asked how much equity I would have in the car they said they couldn’t tell me at that time but to first get it all fixed up and come back set up the lease and then they could tell me.  I then left the dealership and went home to tell my wife.

A week later my wife and I went to the dealership and asked more questions.  Interestingly enough, they couldn’t remember all of the details of my recent visit and they tripped over their words and contradicted themselves.  In fact, I again asked the accountant “how much equity do I have in the car to put towards the next lease?” to which he said, “Oh, none.”  Hmmm, interesting because a week ago he said he couldn’t tell me until I came back with my car all fixed up.  Again, we realized they really wanted us to lease because that meant money for them whereas if we bought that meant only money for Subaru itself.  My wife was pretty angry when we got home.  And I became more angry as I thought about how the “church going” accountant was pushing me to do something that would benefit himself more than me.  And that’s when it hit me.  Christians in America are incredibly lacking in their collective consciousness.  I knew this before but dealing with this on a very personal level at this time in my life really bothers me.

You see I have no problem believing that the accountant goes to church regularly, in fact I’m pretty sure he does.  But what I have a problem with is the fact that he, a Christian man, was blatantly trying to take advantage of me.  And this probably never struck him as being wrong or at least as incredibly dehumanizing and therefore not pleasing in the eyes of God.  But I can’t necessarily blame him for this because we American Christians don’t approach our neighbor in such ways, we haven’t been taught to put our neighbors needs above our own on such a level.  Sure we’re taught to be good to one another on a very superficial level.  Being nice, helping the old lady cross the street and being pro-life.  But when it comes to the deeper stuff like not taking advantage of my neighbor on an economic level we fail big time.  I believe that this is due to our individualistic approach to life which is embedded in our psyches as Americans.

When all that matters is me and my personal relationship with Jesus then oddly enough our neighbor will take a backseat.  If all that matters is what Jesus has done for me then his claim and call on my life isn’t really that significant – at least not enough to cast off the elementary principles of the world.  If this is all that matters then it’s really easy to ignore all the other things that Jesus said and did before being crucified on a Cross for me.  If you don’t buy what I’m saying then I point you to prosperity churches in America and notice how they are growing.  Take a look at the “Christian” section in your Barnes and Noble and you’ll see that they’re mostly filled with self help gurus such as Joyce Meyer, TD Jakes, Joel Osteen and so forth.  These authors and their messages are but an out growth of how our individualism has shaped the message of Jesus, of how our culture has shaped Christianity.

But what’s even more sad is how such things don’t even register with us in the “Orthodox” churches despite the fact that the prophets have a whole lot to say about such issues.  Just take a quick glance through Isaiah, Jeremiah, and of course Amos.  The constant big sin that is confronted is the Israelites failure to show justice and mercy to their neighbor, they care more about profits than their neighbor’s well being.  And these very sins are indicative of how they perceive God, for you are what you worship.  When Jesus comes on the scene he goes at it with the Pharisees because they put their law above their neighbors needs.  Always remember that the Pharisees were good men, very moral and upright.  Their fundamental flaw was their desire to uphold the law no matter what happened to their neighbor.

And yet today I am afraid that our collective consiousness is far worse.  This is so widespread and more influential than we realize.  Just look at the Missouri Synod, we have two seminaries and 10 undergraduate colleges that take student loan money to continue their operations whilst leaving the students to foot the bill, more particularly future church workers.  It’s as if Nehemiah 8 doesn’t doesn’t apply whilst we pat ourselves on the back for continuing “true” Lutheran education that is derivative of a system that for the most part no longer exists (prep school, junior, senior colleges).  Yet look at what we have so long as you don’t look at what is happening to our neighbors, those whom we send out to you.  Do you see the disconnect?  Do you see the failure at a collective consciousness?  And what’s interesting is that those who fight this are those who remain loyal to the institutions and the frameworks of thinking in the current culture.  The answers usually come in comments like “tough!” “you don’t understand the real world” “oh get over it” and list goes on.  But what about our neighbor?  How can such living and thinking and approach to the world around us be God pleasing?   How?!  Please tell me!

Yes, we American Christians have a poor collective consciousness, worse than we realize because as I said earlier we are so incredbily informed by our individualistic presuppositions.  It’s hard to get outside ourselves isn’t?  Part of the problem is that we have been taught that the Christian faith is something that can go alongside of the culture.  Hence, the idea of the separation of church and state which is so often emphasized and recalled.  Yet, there wasn’t such a distinction for Jesus of Nazareth and only poor exegesis would argue so.  The Gospel is meant to take hold of all of us, it redefines what we know and how we see the world.  Hence Paul’s call to nonconformity in Romans 12.  And yet it seems as if the world has the upper hand.  It seems as if it’s the world first and Jesus second for many of us American Christians.

Peace,
Scott+

I Guess I’m a Coloradan Now

Whenever summer rolls around here in the Colorado mountains I make it a point to get out and hike.  Whenever winter comes I make it a point to get out and ski.  Living in such a beautiful place I feel obligated to be out and about.  I can’t fathom not being outside in the summer or on the ski slopes in the winter (that’s if there is good snow) on my day off.  To me it seems like a waste if I am not taking advantage of all that Colorado has to offer especially when it comes to being in the ministry and not knowing if God will call me and Becca away to another place (with God one never knows).  Come next month I’ll have lived here for 3 years and counting.  In that time I am amazed at how much I’ve gotten used to the Colorado way of life.  In some ways I am amazed by how much I have come to take on the culture here without even realizing it.  This really hit me the other day when I went hiking in the beautiful Gore Range.

On Monday I hiked to Pitkin Lake, a 4.7 mile hike (9.4 miles round trip) that starts at 8,440 ft and ends at 11,420 ft.  Like any hike in Colorado it was beautiful.  From the Aspen trees to the waterfalls to the little lakes to the rugged peaks, it truly is God’s country.  But it’s what happened when I reached the lake that made me realize that maybe I’m a Coloradan now.  When I got to the lake I met some people who had just reached the lake before me.  They were relaxing and enjoying the sights and as is usual when you’re the only human beings in about a 5 mile radius you get to talking with one another.  Also, it’s always interesting to find out where people are from and what they’re doing in Colorado.  Usually its vacationers from around the country and sometimes the world.  But this go around they, like me, were locals.  Two of them were from Vail and the other was from Edwards.  When they found out that I was from Glenwood Springs they asked me about how the weather was out our way (it’s been really dry here this year).  We also began to comment on how surprised we were by how much snow there was up by the lake due to our incredibly dry and warm winter.  This followed with us sharing different hiking stories about where we’ve been and what we’ve seen.  Commenting on the past snow levels and what hikes were hard and what were easy.  One of the guys then asked me about how skiing was out by me and I then lamented how horrible it was this year to which he expressed how horrible it was in Vail as well.  We then began to talk about the skiing conditions that we encountered and how we didn’t get our money’s worth out of our passes.  And this is when I realized that I might be a Coloradan.  You see we were talking about things that three years ago I had no clue about.  Now I was able to converse and find commonality with people in ways that were foreign to me a few years earlier.  Not only that but I was able to talk with a certain level of knowledge and experience which, I must admit, felt really cool.  I now have a decent amount of knowledge in regards to the culture and gear related to hiking and skiing.  I have a better sense of the workings of the wilderness and a deeper appreciation and respect for nature and the environment.  It could be said that I have become hippie-esque in my outlook on life but maybe that’s just the Holy Spirit.

So I guess I’m a Coloradan now.

Peace,

Scott+

Embarrassed

This past week I attended the 49th Rocky Mountain District Convention of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.  Whenever LCMS Lutherans gather I always find it to be interesting from a sociological perspective.  Group dynamics are always at work no matter the institution; no matter church or hardcore scene or government.  But I find a consistency whenever I gather with my brothers and sisters in Christ who adhere to the LCMS label.  And it doesn’t matter if it was during my time as a seminarian or as a pastor.  No matter the “political” sway of the given group or of Synod at the time there is one thing that is apparent to me: we are so very insular and albeit Pharisaical.  And honestly, it embarrasses me.

This time around the incident that made this very apparent to me was during the opening night of the Convention.  At this time the Synodical President Matthew Harrison spoke to us about the present state of Synod and then took questions and comments from anyone at the Convention.   Of course, a few people got up and made the usual and predictable statements praising the SP for his Confessional and Biblical fidelity which followed with the usual clapping.   But then came the question and comment that made me embarrassed for my church body.  It was a loaded question, one that everyone already knew the answer to but was asked to reconfirm, to resolidify, to bring praise and attention to what we believe and confess.  A young woman asked the Synodical President if he knew about the recent Facebook group known as OWN (Ordain Women Now in the LCMS) and what his stance on this issue and group was.  Before anything else, I want to say that our SP handled this question very well and I was impressed with the way he carried himself in regards to the other questions and concerns he received.  But this one was just ridiculous because we all know where he stands on the issue especially considering that he helped put together and edit a book in regards to the issue of women’s ordination.  After the SP was done answering the woman’s question she preceded by letting him know that she had been kicked off of the OWN Facebook page.  With that statement most of the convention goers clapped along with a few cheers.  And that’s when I felt embarrassed because it seemed so staged.  Embarrassed because it doesn’t take a lot of courage to mention and applaud such things in a room full of people that one knows that they agree with.  Embarrassed because these moments reveal how so very insular we really are.  In these moments I always wonder about the outsider and what they would think coming into such an environment.  How would they perceive us?  Would they think we were Christians?  There’s something here that is so very antithetical to the spirit of Christ.  It’s a “Ra Ra Ra look how great we are” moment.  The focus is not on Christ but rather on ourselves and more specifically our stance on an issue that is not nearly as primary as the Gospel itself.

Peace,

Scott+

Sin’s Far Reaching Aspects

I wrote this about a year ago for the church website and thought I’d share it again. Enjoy!

One of the disadvantages of living in a culture that is so radically individualistic is that we tend to see sin in the same way.  Sin is relegated to the individual and the individual alone.  Just like our own destiny or purpose in life – all relegated to the individual’s personal choices and decisions.  Yet, I have found that I am growing increasingly uncomfortable with such sentiments and beliefs.  Even the church in America looks at sin through the lens of the individual.  Rarely, do we as Christians view another person’s sin as our sin too.  Rarely do we look at another person’s failure’s and mess up’s as our failure’s and mess-up’s too.  All too often we see ourselves as isolated islands wading through the waves and currents of life.  I suppose that this is why so many people hold to the idea that “God helps those who help themselves”.  It gets us off the hook in relation to the God-given responsibility that we have towards our neighbor.  We no longer need to feel uncomfortable when bad things happen to decent and honest people, we no longer need to feel guilty or sad when we see a mother of three struggling to get by.  Because if we can really control our destiny than the fault falls on each and every single individual on their own.  But then this is where I get frustrated.

What about the child who is born into poverty in the south Bronx to a mother who is a heroin or crack addict?  Doesn’t that put the child at a horrible disadvantage in relation to growing up to become a well adjusted, normal human being?  What about the child who is born with a father who is an abusive alcoholic?  They can’t control the emotional scars that will be placed upon them at an early age.  What about the child who is born into a family that never really wanted him or her in the first place?  Believe me, I’ve actually witnessed such a situation.  All these “what abouts” reveal that sin is a far more complex thing then we may really realize.  All these “what abouts” make what initially seems to be a rather black and white world all the more grey than we ever expected it could possibly be.  Now we can’t necessarily look a person in the eyes and think, “you are where you are because of your own choices.”  It really does go much deeper than the individual, it in fact goes back to the community.  It goes back to us – to the collective whole and not simply to the individual.  Really, it ends up becoming a vast web of sin.  And we find that like a fly trapped in a spider’s web there’s no way out, no way that we can free ourselves.  Like the fly we await our death at the hands of the spider – Satan.

In the end no matter how we cut it, no matter what level it is on, we human beings consistently fail one another both individually and collectively.  The effects of sin are astronomical both individually and collectively.  This brings great uncertainty and a sense of desperation, like being trapped in a spider’s web awaiting death at the hands of the spider.  Pondering such a point gives us an indication of the vastness of sin, of the great power and impact that it has on us not just personally but also communally. “What ifs?” and “Whys?” never cease to abound in a world wrought with sin.  Free will may suddenly seem not so free, in fact confining and alienating.  And maybe that’s the point.

Really, the effects of sin can never be accurately measured due to its enormity and that’s why we have Jesus, that’s why we need Jesus, that’s why the Father sends Him into the world as one of us to reconcile us and the world to Himself.  That’s why the Father sends Jesus to free us from the web of sin, to free us from death at the hands of sin and Satan.

You see, for all of the horror that sin has caused Jesus has come to take it away, he has come to free us from it.  He is the only Way out of the web of sin, of a world so tangled in all that is sin.  He is the only place where we can find peace because of the heavy burden that is sin, because of the web that is sin.  Because of Jesus we can now look and live in a world that no longer seems hopeless but hopeful because have been freed from that which confined us, from that which trapped us.  The web of sin no longer confines us but makes us realize the wonderful grace of our Father in heaven.  For He comes and He frees us from our sin not on account of anything that we have done for we stand helpless like a fly caught in the web.  For when He sees us, He sees no sin for He sees His Son who stands in our place.  We enjoy the benefits of Jesus, we enjoy the benefits of a God who loves us.  We enjoy the benefits of His favor which brings freedom. The freedom to live according to the grace that was won for us on the Cross.

Therefore where sin and alienation once reigned we see God reigning and making things new, freeing us!  Because of Jesus we need not get worked up about the “what ifs?” and the “whys?” because our certainty lies in Him, because God’s love for us has nothing to do with us but all to do with His Son Jesus Christ.  Therefore as God’s people we enjoy the benefits of the perfect man – Jesus Christ.  We enjoy the benefits of knowing that we are loved and that our God desires our salvation.  He desires for us greater things than we could ever imagine.  Amen.

Peace,

Scott

More Influential Than You May Realize

When I was 15 years old I started going to hardcore punk shows.  In fact, I can pretty much remember every show I’ve ever been to.  I’ve been to over 100 shows and my wife can tell you it shows in relation to my hearing.  I usually watch TV with the volume pretty high. What’s funny is that I didn’t realize this until I got married.

The first hardcore show I went to was Murphy’s Law and SubZero at 7 Willow St in Portchester, NY during November of 1997.  The vibe, the intensity, the sense of fear, the intimacy with the bands and there being no barricade.  The mosh pit, the pile-ons, grabbing the singers mic.  It was new and so cool.  From that moment on I was hooked.  More specifically I was hooked on a thing called New York Hard Core also known as NYHC.  I can remember going out and buying my first hardcore album which was Sick of It All’s Blood, Sweat and No Tears.  And then the next one which was Madball’s Set it Off.  The message and the aggression of these bands resonated with me so much, I had finally found my tribe!  From that moment on I was fixed and couldn’t wait for the next show.  On Wednesdays I’d run down to the local stationary store to see the show listings in the latest Village Voice.  I’d look over Coney Island High’s listings, CBGB’s listings, the Wetlands’ listings and then make sure to see if there were shows in places that didn’t normally have shows.  The names that I looked for were embedded in my mind: Madball, Sick of It All, Agnostic Front, Breakdown, Downlow, NRSV, Murphy’s Law, SubZero, Kill Your Idols, Awkward Thought and the list went on.  When I found out the date of next show I counted down the days, it was what I lived for.  Especially if it was the first time I was seeing the band.  And the routine of going to a show was always the same, hop on the 4 train at Woodlawn and head down to the city on a Sunday afternoon.  Rain or shine, it didn’t matter, we were there and ready to let it all out.

Being a New York City hardcore kid has been a huge part of my life.  I listen to all kinds of music nowadays but I always come back to hardcore.  It’s like a drug fix that I need to have on a daily basis.  It’s always resonated with me and it’s hard to explain to those who don’t “get” it.  Often people think it’s bad because it’s aggressive and abrasive but in most regards it’s rather positive.  From the straight edge bands like Minor Threat and Youth of Today to the spiritual bands like the Cro-Mags and the Bad Brains to the socially conscious bands like Sick of It All, Ignite and Agnostic Front.

But when it comes to NYHC there’s been one thing that has always bothered me, it doesn’t get much recognition despite the fact that it has been incredibly influential in ways that most people don’t even realize.  So much of what we see today in style, clothes and even music is the direct result of the New York Hardcore scene.   Tattoos and piercings, baggie pants, camo cargo shorts that are sold in Kohl’s, vintage clothing, the NY Yankees hat craze in the 90s led by Fred Durst of Limp Biscuit, the gentrification of the Lower East Side, CBGB t-shirts, the Emo and pop punk bands that cite NYHC bands as influences such as Fall Out Boy and New Found Glory.  The influences are greater than many realize.  And yet there’s barely any mention of NYHC.  It’s always funny when I see a teenager wearing a CBGB t-shirt or some young girl talk about getting a tattoo or better yet how cool it would be to live in the East Village of NYC.  It’s funny because what was once looked down upon or not even thought of as being cool is now cool.  Isn’t it interesting how that works?  Pop culture has a way of doing that.  I guess the far reaching aspect of NYHC really hit me when I was at Seminary and the guys there talked about getting tattoos.  It hit me then that tattoos were truly no longer cool.  But I still do think NYHC is cool.

Peace,

Scott+