What Is Going On Out There?

These past two weeks have been rather tumultuous to say the least.  I have to say that it was a bit strange to go from the bubble that was the National Youth Gathering of the LCMS in New Orleans back out into the “real” world.  There was another shooting of police officers just up the river from where we were in Baton Rouge, there was an attempted coup in Turkey, there was also a U.S. led airstrike that killed over 85 civilians that were mistaken for ISIS fighters, there were terrorist attacks in both France and Germany and to top it all off we had the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.  The RNC seemed to be the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae full of the various flavors of anxiety, hate, fear and whatever rage we Americans need to get out of our systems.  Of course, the Democratic National Convention has just begun and under the shadow of corruption too, but I doubt anyone will top Rudy Giuliani’s speech.  That dude be cray cray!

We live in a time of “isms”.  There is conservatism, there is liberalism, there is racism, there is sexism, there is classism, there is consumerism, there is patriotism, there is nationalism, there is Lutheranism, there is sectarianism there is materialism, there is capitalism, there is communism, there is fascism and the list goes on and on.   Feel free to add some “isms” if you’d like, maybe would could have an “ism” party or something.  Anyways, my point is that “isms” abound, and “isms” aren’t so bad in and of themselves.  On a basic level it’s good to be able to categorize things, to have an understanding of what they consist of, to know what one is working with.  The problem with “isms”, particularly in such an anxious, polarized, and tense time as our own, is that they can all too easily consume us and become the ultimate standard by which we judge and perceive the world around us.  Republicans are racist and homophobic.  Democrats are secularists who hate God.  All cops are violent and terrible.  The #Blacklivesmatter movement is angry and divisive.  Illegal immigrants are racists.  All Muslims are terrorists.  All hipsters are bad (well, that’s kind of true).

When we Christians begin to succumb to such rhetoric and to such thinking, when we begin to succumb to “isms” wherein we disregard those whom we disagree with and even treat them as lesser than human, we are being taken captive by this present evil age.  We are falling prey to the spirit of Babylon.  When we put all our weight into a presidential candidate or a political party foregoing the very commands of Christ to love our enemies and to consider others as better than ourselves we are becoming captive to the powers and principalities that Paul speaks of instead of the Cross of Christ.

Dutch theologian Henri Berkof wrote that we Christians have higher orders.  Those orders are higher because they come from above as Jesus so succinctly explained to Pontius Pilate.  In fact, the Apostle Paul tells us that having been buried and rises with Christ in baptism we have died to the elemental spirits of the world.  Paul even goes so far as to expound about these higher orders in Romans 12 where he begins by calling the Christians in Rome not to be conformed to the spirit of the age.  He reminds us that we are to abhor what is evil and hold fast to what is good, to bless when cursed, to associate with the lowly and not be haughty, to give thought to what is honorable and to not repay evil for evil, to not seek revenge, but to leave all to the wrath of God, to not be overcome by evil, but rather to overcome it with good.

Because we are so immersed in “isms” we can easily be tempted to think that such things don’t work in the “real” world.  But the reality is that by following God’s higher orders Jesus disarmed the rulers and the authorities and put them to open shame.  Think about that for a moment.  When we confess that Jesus is Lord, we are confessing this truth, this reality, that his Way has triumphed.

Our Lord held fast to what is good, he was not taken in by Satan’s temptations to wealth, power, and a life of ease.  In the wilderness, Jesus rejected Donald Trump’s lifestyle.  He received plenty of curses from the Cross, from the fists of his accusers and those who mocked him and he prayed for their forgiveness rather than get a gun.  He was found in lowly places like rickety boats on the Sea of Galilee, in the house of two poor sisters, and amongst those whom he was taught to hate like the Samaritan woman at the well and Gentile beggars.  He was found amongst those who work the jobs we don’t want and in the neighborhoods we could never imagine living and amongst those we’ve come to despise like the moochers and the corrupt.  Before breathing his last and dying unjustly at the hands of corrupt and ruthless leaders such as Caiaphas and Pilate Jesus does not call down words of wrath  but simply says, “Father into your hands I commend my spirit” leaving all to his Father in heaven.  He had some great opportunities to begin a coup, to begin a revolution, remember his followers were willing and ready.  He had every right to bring down God’s wrath too. But he fully entrusts his entire being to God.  In so doing he overcomes evil with good.  Three days later the Father would raise him from the dead, triumphing over the powers and principalities and revealing them to be ultimately powerless.

Remember these things in the midst of all that is going on.  In the midst of all of this, only one is Lord, despite what others may claim.  In the midst of all of this, only One will continue to remain.

 

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Black and Blue: A Humanizing Exercise

I recently became friends with a fellow graduate student who believes that the Church should be more active in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. This young woman is of Puerto Rican and African American descent. She was passionate about this issue because about 10 years ago her brother was assaulted and arrested by the NYPD while he was walking home from school on the Lower East Side.  After roughing the young man up, arresting him, and taking him to the precinct they soon learned that they had nabbed the wrong man.  It was a case of mistaken identity.  It turns out her brother just so happened to look like a man that they were looking for who, if I remember correctly, was a drug dealer.  Nonetheless, her brother was released and the police officers involved showed no level of remorse and were immediately protected by the powers that be.  Since then her brother has dealt with the trauma that befell him on that afternoon, suffering from severe anxiety and PTSD.  His sister noted that after the assault and arrest there was a distinct change in her brother, he became withdrawn, suffered in school, and was afraid to go outside due to the fear of what could befall him as he innocently walked the streets of New York City.  There ended up being a settlement between the NYPD and the young man, but the damage has been done.

On the flipside, a good friend of mine ended up becoming a police officer in the NYPD about 12 years ago.  His first stint was in one of the toughest precincts and neighborhoods in the entire city: Harlem.  Within his first year he had been shot at twice and had dealt with some horrific things that are often found in poor inner city neighborhoods.  To say that this has changed him is an understatement. He’s now been transferred to a better precinct, but the damage has been done.  Just recently I met up with him and he recounted to me some of what he has had to deal with throughout the years as a cop.  I can say that this man also suffers from certain levels of PTSD.  This makes sense when one considers the trauma he has undergone.  What’s more, when a police officer gets a call to any given situation there’s no way to know what he or she will encounter.  Imagine for a moment what that does to one’s nervous system and brain function over time.  Not pretty.

Humanization.

 

Born On The 5th Of July

I am a grandchild of the Greatest Generation.  The strain of the Great Depression, the importance of World War 2 and the storied growth of post war America in the late 1940s and 1950s are things that I’ve heard much about growing up.  Dates like December 7th, 1941 and June 6th, 1944 will be embedded in my mind forever because I am the inheritor of the great sacrifices, prudence and resourcefulness of a people who did not have much and came together when it mattered greatly.

These things make national holidays a rather awkward and uncomfortable affair for me.    I’m not patriotic nor am I all that nationalistic. In large part, it’s not because I don’t care, it’s because of my faith in Jesus Christ.  Mind you, I fully understand Luther’s doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, but that still doesn’t take away my uneasiness about pledging allegiance to a flag whether American or Christian or joining in liturgies that presuppose that we somehow have God’s favor as a nation.  Nonetheless, if I am being honest, this brings about a certain level of guilt and shame on my part.   I think some might call it cognitive dissonance.  I hear my superego voice saying, “You’re so ungrateful, what would your grandfather think of you along with any of those of his generation who sacrificed so much so that you could have what you have right now?” or “you wouldn’t be so flippant if you were in their situation” or “how dare you, you wouldn’t have the privilege of disagreeing if not for such sacrifices” or “Freedom isn’t free”.  And to be fair, if I had to choose between Soviet Era Russia and post-World War 2 America I’d go with the latter in a heartbeat.

We’re now almost 75 years removed from the day in which the Japanese attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor.  Much has changed since then.  For example, before 1941 we were not a superpower, but after 1945 we moved into the role of superpower.  One scholar claimed that just like Rome we went from being a republic to being an empire in the years following World War 2.  Whereas previously we could be considered a sort of underdog or, at the least, one of the smaller children on the playground, now we were the biggest and the strongest.  As a result, we found ourselves meddling in the affairs of various countries from Iran to Vietnam to Cambodia to Chile to El Salvador and the list goes on.  At this point, it could be argued that we’d betrayed the very spirit of our founding fathers and allied with the spirit of King George III.  Interesting how we often become what we hate, isn’t it?

A few weeks ago we had as our gospel reading the healing of the demoniac in the gospel of Luke.  Many tend to see this as a simple exorcism by Jesus, but there’s much more going on in the text.  The man was possessed by demons named Legion.  Anyone familiar with the Roman army would recognize this as the title or name for Roman military units that consisted of about 10,000 Roman soldiers.  Rome had about 30 such units spread out across its empire.  One of these units occupied the land of Palestine.  Legions were not known for being friendly towards those native to the regions they occupied and controlled.  In fact, the Legions survived by taking resources and taxes from the said regions.  Their presence caused much fear and anxiety amongst the people.  The Legions could drive the people mad with such things. When Jesus exorcised the man of Legion and the people of the town found him in his right mind they were filled with fear and asked Jesus to leave.  They did so because they were afraid of retaliation from Legion.  After all, Legion had just drowned a bunch of pigs.  Thus, Jesus went on his way.PIGS

We Americans often see ourselves as the good guys, as benevolent and good, in any given military conflict.   The parallels between Legion and our American forces are quite disconcerting.  Our military presence throughout the world is not always perceived to be a good thing and has often brought about much anxiety and fear on local populations. For example, our influence and presence in the Middle East has caused much fear, death and destruction going all the way back to Iran in 1953 and the CIA led coup of Prime Minister Mossadegh.  Many of the issues we are dealing with now in regards to terrorism and radical Islam all lead back to us and our policies and actions.

It seems to me that what find ourselves in conflict over today is far different than what the Greatest Generation found itself fighting for.  Understandably, it was a different time and a different place.  As a follower of the Way in 2016, my faith compels me to be very uncomfortable with how much we spend on national defense and the false narratives that we tell ourselves so that we don’t have to actually examine our own culture and way of life.  We often note the sacrifices of those on our side while failing to note those people and cultures we’ve sacrificed to keep our way of life going throughout our history.

I am the grandson of the Greatest Generation and I was born in the American Empire, I was born on the 5th of July.