Monthly Archives: January 2017

I think from the time I was a child I could intuitively sense that there was something wrong with the world.  As a teenager this sense and understanding was expressed through the energy of hardcore punk music.  I began to calm down as I moved out of those teenage years and came to understand more deeply that there was something wrong with the world and that it could be explained through the use of theological categories.  The problem was sin and we human beings are sinners, easy enough. I took comfort and solace in learning such things.  But now what?  Along with the typical Gospel statements that Jesus took care of the problem of sin through his death and Resurrection came the doctrine of vocation.  The understanding was that God was now at work through the lives of his people in the various roles and occupations that they fulfill whether father, son, student, auto-mechanic, cashier and that it was all going somewhere; that it was all purposeful.

What always made me a little uneasy about the doctrine of vocation is that, in my experience, it is often used as a legitimizing force for the world as it is.  More specifically, for the world as we know it as 21st century Americans. Instead of actually lifting the veil (this is what apocalypse means) to see what’s going on behind it all, we simply take the veil to be the ultimate reality assuming that God gives his approval of it because it’s there.

But is that really so?

Or maybe the better question to be asked is,

“Is this what we were made for?”

When God created human beings did he do so with the intent that we would one day be cashiers or bartenders or scholars or data entry specialists?  Or is there something more integral and more primary to our creation and thereby our vocations?  In other words, when a friend of mine says to me that he hates his job, that he is miserable working in a cubicle all day, is there a deeper reason for the way he and many in his situation are feeling?  Or do I just swoop down and sweep his feelings away by telling him about what Luther says about his vocation?  That because of Christ he is now free to do his work with the understanding that it’s all going somewhere in this wage economy.

While we are quick to legitimate and even validate the way in which we order our lives we don’t seem to be asking the deeper questions.  For instance, like whether or not the way in which we’ve ordered things in the first place is at all problematic.  This becomes even stranger when we take the time to actually look at the Scriptures which we claim to hold so dear.  Embedded within them is a constant condemnation and subversion of the world we human beings have created.  It’s not the hardworking farmer who does what is expected of him who is acceptable to God but rather the lackadaisical and creative shepherd. This is but a symbol and microcosm of the life of empires from Egypt to Babylon to the United States versus that of a small and basic people like Israel (notice how upset God got when they tried to be like other nations) and the indigenous tribes throughout history.   It’s the difference between understanding that creation is here to be exploited, controlled, and ruled over versus stewarded, taken care of, respected and lived in harmony with.  Christians in the West have overwhelmingly fallen on the side of the former, failed to note the value of the latter and the doctrine of vocation has only served to legitimate this.  Notice the words of Gene Veith on vocation:

“When I go into a restaurant, the waitress who brings me my meal, the cook in the back who prepared it, the delivery men, the wholesalers, the workers in the food-processing factories, the butchers, the farmers, the ranchers, and everyone else in the economic food chain are all being used by God to “give me this day my daily bread.””

Quite romantic, isn’t it?  In many regards that’s part of the problem.  While in one sense this is fine, well, and good he fails to note the deeper malady that is driving this very system wherein we are all connected.  It’s also a bit out of touch.  For the most part, gone are the days of butchers and ranchers and in have come the scourge of factory farming.  Having worked in the restaurant industry it’s a tough job that can be quite demeaning and wearing.  I don’t think such an endeavor is what we were created for (remember, this is key, what we were created for).  Not to mention that much of what drives our economy is the result of the exploitation of those who live outside of our borders in Third World countries.  But, you know, it’s all working together for good, right?

Just a few nights ago after taking my girls to play at a Barnes and Noble (how fitting, right?) we passed more than a few Shell gas stations on our ride home.  Just last night I read about how Shell Oil, in regards to their activities in Nigeria in the mid 1990s, stated in a memo, “Shell operations still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities to commence.”  After this ruthless military operations commenced with activists and protesters (Ogonis) being murdered.  Shell got their oil.  As one Shell Nigeria spokesperson stated, “For a commercial company trying to make investments, you need a stable environment; dictatorships can give you that.” The stories like these are numerous and the U.S. government has often supported such endeavors whether by way of our own military (a vocation which is greatly respected by the church and LCMS Lutherans in particular) or by our very own covert ops (CIA).  I guess at this point, it’s all gravy anyway.  We’re blessed, those people aren’t, well sort-of, right?  After all, God used them to bring me my daily bread, right?

I write this in large part because I am currently wrestling with the way in which we order our lives in 21st century America.  We have become so fractured and individualized much of which is the result of modernization.  While we reap the benefits of technological advances in positive ways there’s also a malignancy behind such advances.  In order to have the good life someone somewhere is often being exploited and oppressed.  As Friedrich Engels said, “We should never forget that our whole economic, political and intellectual development has as its presupposition a state of things in which slavery was a necessary as it is universally recognized.”

The way in which we order our lives in the modern age is something that burdens me more and more each day.  I recognize that I have benefited greatly from the advances of modern civilization and its technology but, then again, this is the only world I’ve known.  Of course I would say this especially as I write this on a computer with the hope that it will be read by you via Facebook and Twitter.  But please hear me out in the midst of my very apparent contradictions.

I am human being who has been completely divorced from the land.  If you took away the modern conveniences that have come to define our modern way of life I wouldn’t know how to provide for my family and take care of them.  Not having supermarkets, where would I get my food? Not having plumbing, where would I get my water?  Not having a car, how would I get around?  We tend to take such things for granted not giving them much thought but the scary part is that they are the product of a civilization that is not sustainable for the long haul.  If there’s one thing that history makes clear, it’s that civilizations collapse.  I doubt that we will be the exception given our consumptive patterns but that’s another conversation for another day.

As I wrestle with such a burden I am confronted by the fact that we humans have created a world within a world.  There’s God’s creation and then there’s our creation which comes to its ultimate expression in the city.  The city operates according to its own standards, which, at its core, are human standards.   I am understanding more why the message of Genesis 3 – 11 is anti-city and I am also understanding why this message rears its ugly head throughout the prophets, the gospels and, of course, Revelation.  By creating our own world within a world we lose aspects of our humanity which are intrinsically bound up with the Creator. Cain builds a city so that he could feel more secure and not have to rely upon God for all that is good.  In so doing creation is further distorted, perverted, used and exploited.  In so doing we create our own standards, our own systems, our own vocations all bound up within it.  Is it any wonder than that so many jobs that we work are so incredibly unfulfilling and almost torturous?  To be a cashier at a CVS or a stock boy in a supermarket (both of which I have done) are unfulfilling for the simple reason that they are the product of our consumptive way of life.  One more cog in a machine that is deeply impersonal and cold.  There’s no relation to the land that we were created to be in communion with, just white lights, aisles, carpets and thousands of products to be consumed.

Nonetheless, I was reminded this past Sunday that as a disciple of Jesus I am to fish for men and that I am to do so because of their unjust lifestyles and ways.  Working first and foremost on myself I am trying to figure out how to do that as I follow Jesus.  As I look out at the world around me, the world created by human beings, I sense that there is a better way.  Namely, the Way of Jesus.  On this I walk seeking to recapture what I lost and what he regained for me through his words and actions.

All eyes are upon Washington or so it seems and the words from Matthew come to me,

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

“Follow me and let’s turn this social order upside down.”

It doesn’t feel like there’s much that I can do right now.  I have work responsibilities, I have family responsibilities, I have school responsibilities.  To make it clear that I am not being partisan I have often felt the same way with President Obama. Ed Snowden, 600 billion on defense, a justice system that favors the rich, I could go on.

Twitter and Facebook are overwhelming me right now.

But then I saw this:

“One of the greatest evils of the day among those outside the proximity of the suffering poor is their sense of futility. Young people say, ‘What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?’ They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the action of the present moment but we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.

The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us? When we begin to take the lowest place, to wash the feet of others, to love our brothers with that burning love, that passion, which led to the cross, then we can truly say, ‘Now I have begun.'” -Dorothy Day

She’s right. The kingdom of God is different.  It doesn’t operate according to the machinations of the world.  It is like a mustard seed, beginning in the midst of insignificance and far away from consultants, lobbyists and the halls of power. And because it’s different I am called to be different. How can I bring about a revolution of the heart?

This evening I will go home to my wife and two girls.  I can expect them to serve me or I can serve them.  I can treat them as objects below me or as human beings created in the image of God.  I can use force when I get angry with them or I can communicate to them why I am upset.  I can hold a grudge when they hurt me or I can forgive them and make things right.  I can objectify others and rip them apart or I can speak well of them and even show empathy. Such actions and responses will inform how they will view the world around them and how they will behave and interact with others.

It’s all connected.

We are all connected.



Recently one Christian claimed that it was the hand of God that elected Donald Trump while another Christian likened Donald Trump to King Herod.

Billy Graham Jr. says it’s the hand of God.

Nadia Bolz-Weber says Trump is King Herod.

Who’s right?

Who’s wrong?

Not only that but while it could be said that the Religious Right has aligned itself with Trump it could also be said that the Religious Left has aligned itself with the Democratic establishment. Rachel Held Evans continues to decry the election of Trump going so far as to agree with government agencies that are trained in the art of lying, deception and redirection. It would seem that many are comfortable “lifting the veil” but only in certain places. And that’s what I find so tiring, even exasperating.

For example, here’s the aforementioned Nadia Bolz-Weber Tweet:image

While the point is well-taken, it’s a bit frustrating given that the person that Donald Trump ran against was responsible for the coup in Honduras which has resulted in the oppression of many vulnerable persons. What’s more, the Supreme Court made abortion legal in 1973 and Planned Parenthood (which Nadia boldly supports) is the brainchild of a woman who wanted to do away with all kinds of vulnerable people. Sure, Donald Trump is a problematic person because of his frail ego, but there are also plenty of things that are very dangerous to the vulnerable in a culture that exalts utility and consumerism above all else. Unfortunately, this is what tends to happen when we find ourselves reading the world around us through the binary lens of the left and right. It so often results in projection and an endless tit-for-tat. It becomes demonic as we take on the role of accuser but only in regards to what we consider important.

So often this is done in the name of Jesus. On a base level it makes sense as Jesus is so very easy to conform to our own image rather than our being conformed to his. Cut and paste, plagiarize and you got yourself your own personal Jesus.

Oddly (or maybe not), it’s this very impulse that he resists during his earthly ministry. Is this not the reason why he has nowhere to lay his head? Left, right, up, down, pure, impure he just doesn’t fit into a box. He is grossly disappointing at times. Ministering to the servant of a centurion, waiting two days before going to raise Lazarus from the dead, slipping away from the crowds that wanted to make him king, talking about taking up a Roman instrument of execution. He always goes beyond our binary ways to a deeper level or what some would call a third way. When we filter him through our lenses of left and right we begin to lose him and his fullness.

Misogyny and racism are beyond problematic but so is abortion.

Immorality and broken families are beyond problematic but so is unfettered capitalism that reduces people to cogs in a machine.

A president who make things up as he goes along is beyond problematic but so is one who kills families with drones and calls Ed Snowden a hacker.

A government that attempts to influence the election of another country is beyond problematic but so is a government that has done so for years.

All of these things are interconnected and they are not so easily divided as we tend to make them. Nonetheless, dividing things in such a way makes the world seem safer and easier to understand. I don’t know, though, because while it may give us a sense of control it actually makes the world a more dangerous place. That, I believe, is something we need to really take to heart as we move into the era of President Donald Trump.

Recently while reading the gospel of Mark as part of my lectio divina practice a line from the religious leaders about and to Jesus popped out at me:

“Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion.  For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God.” – Mark 12:13

While we’ve tended to construct an image of Jesus as meek, mild, humble and submissive I’m sure the Pharisees, the scribes, governors and kings might tell us otherwise.  On the surface I am sure that he seemed quite combative, insubordinate, aggressive and rebellious to them.  These are not the characteristics of a well behaved person or someone we might consider respectful and well mannered.  Yet, strangely these were the actions and behaviors of one who was in full communion with God, of one who sought to truly teach the way of God.

I was drawn to this verse because all too often our behaviors and our thoughts are controlled and dictated by what we think others might think of us.  What’s more, we often form opinions, act or don’t act, based not so much upon our relationship with God but rather our relationship with others.  In a sense we get the relationship equation backwards not realizing that relationships must start with God and go outward.  As a result, we develop all sorts of unhealthy relationships with others where all too often we give in order to take.  With Jesus, though, we witness someone who simply gives to give because he knows who He is in God.

lemmySimultaneously, while having this verse bounce around my head, I watched a documentary on Netflix about Lemmy Kilmister, the infamous front man of the band Motorhead.  In the world of heavy music Lemmy is considered a god and since passing away his godlike status has only increased.  In both the documentary and in various interviews most people attribute this legendary status to the fact that Lemmy did what he wanted, he lived the life of a rebel with a no holds barred attitude.  Such a life brought with it a certain amount of respect and envy from onlookers. According to many, Lemmy is what so many of us yearn to be; the quintessential rock star who lived life by his own rules.

I find Lemmy to be an intriguing figure, his life is not necessarily the one I’ve wanted to lead, but I do respect the attitude that he embodied and am drawn to it.  And in a strange and perverted sort of way I think he had a similar spirit to that of Jesus of Nazareth.  Though, while similar not the same.  It could be said that Lemmy was the quintessential son of Cain, living his life in defiance of not only other men but of God just like the warrior Nimrod (Gen. 10:9).  He didn’t give a crap what others thought and kept going with the help of his bass, band and a bus (how fitting for a son of Cain!).

I’m sure to the Pharisees, the Herodians and even Pontius Pilate Jesus didn’t give a crap either.   His own family said he was out of his mind.  On the surface, Jesus oversteps his vocational bounds and in other cases fails to fulfill them.  He heals a leper, a task meant to be done by a priest, and he forgives debts which was a job relegated to the Temple establishment.  When his family requests to speak with him he shows great disrespect towards them by stating that those who do the will of God are his mother and brothers.  Yet Jesus had a mission, to witness to the way of God which would require that he go against cultural convention and norms at times.  This would bring about hostility and even rejection. On the surface Jesus could easily be confused with someone like Lemmy, but the distinction is that what compels Jesus to do what he does is his communion with God.  Even the Pharisees and Herodians catch on to this.

So often we can come so close to getting this thing we call life right without God, yet even then it’s filled with such perversity, such disorder.  Lemmy’s rebellious spirit is quite admirable but to what end?  Himself?   In a weird way I sometimes wonder if guys like him, whether they believe in God or not, are more in line with the Way given their free spirit and desire to simply live life to the fullest in the present moment.  That alone should give us something to think about.  Is it fair to say that a guy like Lemmy was closer to the Center than we might think?