Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Narrow Gate

It is said that God's love is unconditional.  My question is:  What do I have to do to gain this unconditional love?  Because it seems to me that no matter how often or how deeply we may claim that God's love is unconditional, there always seems to be conditions.  So, I put it to you.  What are the conditions of God's unconditional love?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Thoughts on the Narrow Road

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." Jesus (Matthew 7:13-14)

I grew up within the influence of evangelical pentecostalism as it came to be expressed and practiced in the mid 20th century that shaped my understanding of what the narrow and wide gates represented. In time I found that the way I had understood these words was unsatisfying and often simply discouraging. I grew up and lived with folks, young and old who theoretically had chosen the narrow gate and gave a lot of energy, or at least lip service, to trying to woo others from the wide gate and through the narrow gate. But as the years passed, I found that if our understanding of the narrow/wide gates was accurate, we on the supposed "narrow road" weren't doing all that hot traversing it or even staying on it except by mass/self deception/justification gyrations through which we convinced ourselves into believing we indeed were walking along the narrow road.

Today I watch and listen as many in my tradition of Christianity continue to believe they are following the narrow road when in fact the outcome of their attitudes and actions are the destructiveness that Jesus said characterizes the results of walking down the broad road. (btw, I grew up on a side street of of Broadway! So anytime we went anywhere we had to drive,walk or ride bikes along Broadway! There was no escaping the Broadway where I grew up!)

My walk down what I thought was the narrow road but which turned out to be just another lane on the broad road led me to an Evangelical dead end. That is a long story... but there at that dead end amidst the rubble of destruction I began a journey with the Lord of the Dead End that has at least given me a glimpse of the narrow gate that leads to the narrow road that leads to life.

In the coming days and weeks I intend to share some of my thoughts on the narrow gate and the narrow road and how I have come to understand what walking the narrow path means and why so few find the gate and even fewer walk the road. I hope this expression of my thoughts will perhaps give some encouragement to any who might read them.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Cross Talk

Before anyone knew that Jesus would end up being nailed to a Roman cross, he was already using the cross as a symbol in his call to discipleship, “If anyone comes after me let him take up his cross and follow me…” I’m certain that when Jesus cast discipleship in these terms he wasn’t thinking about the jewelry or tattoos of 21st century USAmerican consumer culture. I have wondered what those who heard him speak these words thought of his call. Did they have any idea how literally Jesus would fulfill his own words?

We know of a few occasions where Jesus used cross bearing as a way to understand what he meant by discipleship. You will find this language in Matthew 10:37-39 in the context of giving instructions to the disciples for their first “mission trip” to Judea. "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." 

Luke14:25-27 is where we find a moment when Jesus turns to the crowd that is following him with these word. Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 

 Again in Matthew 16:24 we hear Jesus say to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." in the context of his own near future arrest (see also Luke 9:23-27 and Mark 8:34-9:1). 

In using the cross and the idea of cross bearing, Jesus is taking a scene that many of those who heard him must have personally witnessed since Roman capital punishment was a public event complete with parading the convict through the streets carrying his own cross to the place of crucifixion. In the real world setting of those who heard Jesus, these words, “Take up your cross and follow me,” must have painted a startlingly graphic picture.

The cross is a powerful symbol and it is in his submission to death on the cross that Jesus, dare one say, ironically creates the possibility of a whole new creation, a new creation that includes us. Take some time to read the context and consider what it is that Jesus is calling us to. As you do, consider the idea of endings…for certainly at the very least, whatever else the cross meant, it certainly spoke loudly of endings! And just what is the end Jesus calls us too? At the same time don’t forget Easter! Though the cross speaks of endings, the cross of Christ becomes the gateway to life. 

Symbols are powerful ways to communicate. Jesus used the cross as a way to communicate what being his disciple meant. Paul develops some of the meaning of the cross and we find that the cross of Christ was central to the message of the gospel. In 1 Corinthians he writes, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God...for indeed Jews ask for signs (acts of power) and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:17-24 NASB95)

Power and wisdom - politics and knowledge – we crave and labor for both today as did our ancestors centuries ago. We have developed political theory beyond that of the first century and the political ideologies of the past few centuries have spawned how much human suffering in their pursuit of eliminating human suffering. We live in what is being called the information age. The U.S. Army understood this and a number of years ago went through a major top to bottom reinvention of itself in light of the information revolution (see Hope is not a Method, Gordon R. Sullivan and Michael V. Harper, Broadway Books, 1996). Jeremy Rifkin in his book, The Age of Access (J. P. Tracher/Putman, 2000) while not dealing directly with the issue of wisdom or knowledge or information (the three are not necessarily equivalents, but are often treated as such) recognizes that those who control the communications systems in an age of information will control much power.

Wisdom and signs, knowledge and power! And the message of the church is the message of the cross! The cross, where the power of the state exercises its ultimate and final power: death according to its best wisdom. Yet it was at the cross that God provided the means and possibility of both true wisdom and true power. 

Consider this: after all the generations and with the accumulation of so much information, knowledge, and philosophy; with political ideologies and theories of economics that have sought to answer the questions of human suffering and progress, why is the world today still in such bad straights? Is Paul still right when he observed that through all our human wisdom, we still have not come to know God? Is it perhaps time to reconsider the possibility of what the cross of Christ means and what it would mean for you and I to take up our crosses and follow him?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Monday, July 20, 2015

On being an immigrant nation

"Immigrant nation"  Has a nice ring to it.  Until the next group of immigrants show up.  But is "immigrant" the right term to use to describe how our nation came to exist?  When I think about our history, I'm not sure "immigrate" is the right term for what happened.  Perhaps a better term to describe what happened would be "hostile takeover."  Perhaps that is one of the reasons that those who are already here are so fearful of the next wave of immigrants... we have a kind of subconscious fear that they will do to us what our ancestors did to those they found here when they first arrived. "We"assume a certain right of possession without giving much if any thought to how "we" came to possess the land we have come to consider our own.  The only "right" we had in this land was what we took through a more powerful technology.  We slaughtered and displaced the inhabitants of this land and built our nation on the blood soaked soil of those we conquered.  Of course we justified what we did by dehumanizing the existing inhabitants and even now "we" get anger and rather pissy when the surviving descendants of the original inhabitants protest the continued usage of the derogatory terms we used to dehumanize their ancestors in the first place.

Can we turn back time?  Can we undo what we have done?  Can we ever make amends for the atrocities that we perpetrated against original inhabitants of this land?  No.  But we can admit our atrocities and prejudices and our oppressive and destructive policies and give deference to the longing of those whose nations we destroyed when they ask us to remove from our culture those things that are offensive and continue to demoralize and dehumanize them.