A Relevant Message from Our History

second-inaugural-address-quote

 

I’ve had several post-election conversations with people on both sides of the political divide.

One of the more intriguing elements of the conversations is the “God” part.

“What role did/does God have in  elections?”
“We prayed and our prayers were answered.”
“We prayed and our prayers were not answered.” 

“The answer to the ‘God-part’ question is in the Bible!” I’m told.

“By me kings reign” (Proverbs 8:15). 

“…he removes and sets up kings” (Daniel 2:21).  

But what about this one?

“They set up kings without my consent;  they chose princes without my  approval” (Hosea 8:4).

“Hmmm.  I didn’t know that was in there.”

This contest of Scriptural “one upmanship” is tiring.

I received some comfort and direction from another time in America’s history.

It was inauguration day, March 4, 1865.  The nation was fractured.  Some people were hopeful.  Some people were fearful.   620,000 men had died in the Civil War.

Between 30-40,000 people had gathered at the east entrance of the Capitol.  In the crowd were Frederick Douglass, the African American abolitionist and newspaper editor, and the actor John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer, seething with hatred.
President Lincoln stepped to the podium.  With keen theological and political insight, he said, “Both sides read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other…”

The 56 year old President helped the nation focus on what mattered in the days ahead,

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Good words then.  Good words now.

A New Way to See

col-sanders

What do you see when you look at the pic of Col. Sanders?

1.  The KFC founder with a cool “Western” or “String” Bow Tie? or,

2.  The KFC founder with a big head and a tiny stickman body?

The original KFC logo with the pic of the Colonel came out in 1952.

I was born in 1956.  Until today, I have looked at that pic and seen option 1 – The Colonel with a cool tie.  Today, someone pointed out to me option 2!

Now, it’s all I see.

I can’t unsee it.

What that person did with Col Sanders, Jesus does with life.  Jesus didn’t draw pictures but he told picture-stories. We call them parables. Jesus used parables to not only help us see things more clearly; but more often than not, his parables were told to help us see things differently!

When Jesus finished his stories, people found themselves slapping their foreheads and exclaiming, “Wow!  I’ve never thought of it that way!”

Let me give you a “for instance.”  It’s recorded in Luke 10:25-37.  Jesus is in a conversation with an expert in the Law of Moses, who asks Jesus a fundamental question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life.”  As far as questions go, it doesn’t get any bigger than that!

The answer given by Jesus isn’t found in most “Gospel Tracts”:  Love God and love your neighbor as yourself…Do this and you will live.”

Out of this came another question from the Lawyer: “Ok, then, who is my neighbor?”  

Luke says the Lawyer was trying to “justify himself”  – “looking for a loophole, he asked, ‘And just how would you define neighbor?’” is how The Message puts it.

The religious expert was trying to determine who he did and did not have to love.

So, Jesus told a story.  We call it “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.”

Isn’t in interesting that, in answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus does not give a straightforward answer?

He could have handed the lawyer a list of people to love.

He could have given a catalogue of characteristics to look for in people whom he should love.

He does not.

Instead, he tells a story.

A story is ambiguous.

A list is straightforward and simplistic.

These are interesting times.  Some familiar landmarks have shifted and some people are anxious, worried, scared, angry. They want unambiguous, straightforward answers.

And Jesus tells us a story.

It’s a story that presents another way of looking at things…

At people.

At religion.

We don’t always like to look at something in a new way.   We like the old way.  The way it looked before.

And so we shut out people.  We shut out ideas.

The original hearers of Jesus’ story were not just surprised.  They were shocked.  The hero of the story is not a person of their own race or religion.  He’s a Samaritan!

“What?  Did you hear that? Can you believe he said that?  A Samaritan?!  Come on now!  This is too much.  He’s really crossed the line this time.  He’s been in the sun too long.  He stayed too long with the wine at that wedding.”

But, I think Jesus knew exactly what he was doing.  With this story-picture, Jesus is saying, “All people even people you don’t like, you don’t understand, who don’t share your values, who don’t vote like you, who don’t look like you, who don’t love like you are your neighbors.”

It was a new way of thinking and seeing for them.

It’s a new way for us.

But it’s His way.

I hope I will never unsee His way.

A New Way to See

col-sanders

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you see when you look at the above pic of Col. Sanders?

1.  The KFC founder with a cool “Western” or “String” Bow Tie? or,

2.  The KFC founder with a big head and a tiny stickman body?

The original KFC logo with the pic of the Colonel came out in 1952.

I was born in 1956.  Until today, I have looked at that pic and seen option 1 – The Colonel with a cool tie.  Today, someone pointed out to me option 2.

They’re right.  It does look like a big head with a tiny stickman body.

Now, it’s all I see.

I can’t unsee it.

What that person did with Col Sanders, Jesus does with life.  Jesus didn’t draw pictures but he told picture-stories. We call them parables. Jesus used parables to not only help us see things more clearly; but more often than not, his parables were told to help us see things differently!

When Jesus finished his stories, people found themselves slapping their foreheads and exclaiming, “Wow!  I’ve never thought of it that way!”

Let me give you a “for instance.”  It’s recorded in Luke 10:25-37.  Jesus is in a conversation with an expert in the Law of Moses, who asks Jesus a fundamental question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life.”  As far as questions go, it doesn’t get any bigger than that!

The answer given by Jesus isn’t found in most “Gospel Tracts”:  Love God and love your neighbor as yourself…Do this and you will live.”

Out of this came another question from the Lawyer: “Ok, then, who is my neighbor?”  

Luke says the Lawyer was trying to “justify himself”  – “looking for a loophole, he asked, ‘And just how would you define neighbor?’” is how “The Message” puts it.

The religious expert was trying to determine who he did and did not have to love.

So, Jesus told a story.  We call it “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.”

Isn’t it interesting that, in answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus does not give a straightforward answer?

He could have handed the lawyer a list of people to love.

He could have given a catalogue of characteristics to look for in people whom he should love.

He does not.

Instead, he tells a story.

A story is ambiguous.

A list is straightforward and simplistic.

These are interesting times.  Some familiar landmarks have shifted and some people are anxious, worried, scared, angry. They want unambiguous, straightforward answers.

And Jesus tells  a story.

It’s a story that presents another way of looking at things…

At people.

At religion.

We don’t always like to look at something in a new way.   We like the old way.  The way it looked before.

And so we shut out people.  We shut out ideas.

The original hearers of Jesus’ story were not just surprised.  They were shocked.  The hero of the story is not a person of their own race or religion.  He’s a Samaritan!

“What?  Did you hear that? Can you believe he said that?  A Samaritan?!  Come on now!  This is too much.  He’s really crossed the line this time.  He’s been in the sun too long.  He stayed too long with the wine at that wedding.”

But, I think Jesus knew exactly what he was doing.  With this picture-story, Jesus is saying, “All people even people you don’t like, you don’t understand, who don’t share your values, who don’t vote like you, who don’t look like you, who don’t love like you, are your neighbors.”

It was, for them, a new way of thinking and seeing.

It’s a new way for us.

But it’s His way.

I hope His way is all I will ever see.

Heresy Hunters

heretic-nametag

 

I watched CBS’s “60 Minutes” a couple of Sunday night’s ago.  Scott Pelley interviewed King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, the King of Jordan.

 

They talked about terrorism.

They talked about refugees.

They talked about ISIS (He’s causing them fits.)

They talked about how “think tanks” in the West think “they know us better than we know ourselves.”

They talked about Islam.

 

You can read the interview here.

 

I learned a lot. But this is the biggie.

 

The King said this about Islam:  “…in Islam, us traditional Muslims, it is not our right to call people heretics.  God decides at the end of the day.  The jihadists take it upon themselves to call the rest of us heretics…”

 

Did you catch that?  “In Islam, it is not our right to call people heretics.  God decides at the end of the day.”

 

That hit home with me.

I’ve been called a heretic more than a few times.

 

Christians throw the “heretic” word around like pizza chefs throw pizza dough. Hold a view that differs from some Christians?  Watch out for the “H-bomb!

 

You’ve heard of “witch hunts?”  This is a heresy hunt.

 

The first heresy hunters were members of the ancient tribe of Manasseh called Gileadites.  There had been a longstanding feud between them and the Ephraimites in northern Israel.  To make sure no undesirables got into their camp, the Gileadites set up a check point at the fords of the Jordan River.  They challenged anyone trying to cross the river to say the password: “shibboleth.” The Ephraimites, no matter how hard they tried, just could not properly pronounce the word.  It always came out “sibboleth.”  When that happened, the Gileadites would cut off their heads.  All because they couldn’t pronounce the “sh” sound. I know: Crazy.  Check it out for yourself here.

 

Over the centuries the church has continued chopping off heads of people who didn’t say something the “right” way.

Iraenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons in the 2nd century, claimed there was only one proper Church, outside of which there could be no salvation.  Other Christians were heretics and should be expelled, and, if possible, eliminated – killed.

 

By the 5th century there were over a hundred active statutes in the Roman Empire concerning heresy.  From Augustine onward,  most theologians agreed that heretics should be persecuted.  Thomas Aquinas thought it was a good thing to burn heretics.  Even better to burn them alive.

 

Any deviation from the current orthodoxy line could be judged as heretical.

 

Here are few things you could lose your head over:

Allowing women to preach – 12th century (and in some churches today!).

Pacifism.

Eating  meat on Friday.

Refusing to take oaths or make a pledge (The Waldensians of the 12th century – and some people today).

Translating the Bible into common languages.

Baptizing adults instead of children.

Opposing capital punishment.

Hanging the 10 Commandments on a wall (1676).

Believing/teaching that the earth revolves around the sun.

 

The punishments for heretical thinking varied:  Yes, there was the traditional beheading. But there were some more creative methods that would make some politicians proud:

*The Judas Chair:  The “heretic” would be placed in a harness and lowered onto a pyramid-shaped seat, with the point inserted into their anus or vagina, then very slowly lowered by ropes. The torture might last a few hours or a few days.   More often than not, the victim died of infection.

*Drowning-especially for Anabaptist for their views on baptism.

*Skinned alive.

*Some had their mouths stuffed with gun-powder which was then ignited.

*Castration.

*Children were killed in front of their parents.  

 

All in the name of Jesus.

 

The hunt continues today for people who don’t say things “right.”

 

All in the name of Jesus.

 

When Jesus describes the final judgment scene he doesn’t include questions on belief.  Nothing  about inerrancy, the Trinity, or atonement theory. His concern is how theology translates into how we treat people.

 

“I was hungry, did you feed me? I was thirsty, did you give  me something to drink?   I was in prison, did you visit me?  I was naked, did you give me clothes to wear?  I was sick, did you take care of me (Matthew 25:31-46)?

 

Theology matters.  I get that.  But how do we tell the difference between good theology and bad theology?  

 

Is it, as Jesus indicates, how we treat people (Matthew 7:12)?

 

The King of Jordan admitted that there are heresy hunters in Islam — yep, we know them – jihadist, ISIS.

 

What does that say about the heresy hunters in Christianity?

 

Hmmm.

 

Until I was 10 years old, I had a speech impediment.  There were some letters I just couldn’t pronounce. The impediment resurfaces every once in awhile. It can be a bit embarrassing while teaching.  If you ask me to say “shibboleth,” I may not say it right.

 

According to some, I don’t “believe” right.  

That’s ok.  
It’s still my desire to live in each moment.  To hear in each moment the voice of Jesus say, “Well done, good and trustworthy servant…”  

An 8-Year-Old Superhero

th

Last Friday was the first day with my Lunch Buddy for the new school year.  The “Lunch Buddies Program,”  part of “Big Brothers Big Sisters,” matches a volunteer with an elementary age child.

This is the 3rd year my lunch buddy and I have been buddies.  We eat lunch together, talk, play “Sorry” (his rules), go to the playground and play tag (with my inhaler handy), slide down the slides, swing on the swings, monkey across the monkey bars.

I love that 30 minutes a week.

I love that kid.

 

The idea is for the volunteer to help the kid.  You know, though, it goes both ways.  More times than not, he’s more a “helper” to me than I am to him.

Friday, he was the helper, the teacher, the adult.  I was the kid.

 

We were in the school library, eating lunch while playing a game.   I noticed a new book on display – a book on Superman.

So, I said, “If I were a superhero, I’d love to fly. Just run down the street, jump up and fly!”

I posed the question to him, “What would you do if you were a superhero?”

 

I was expecting web-spinning or wall-climbing like Spiderman.

Super strength like the Incredible Hulk.

X-ray vision like Superman.

Self-healing like the Wolverine.

Having cool stuff like Batman.

 

But no.  He went a totally different direction.

 

Here is his answer.

You ready?

“I’d like to help people,” he said.  

 

Boom!  

 

I felt small enough to crawl under the kid-sized library table at which we were sitting.

I was schooled.

 

“Your answer is a lot better than mine!” I told him raising my hand to give him a fist-bump.  

 

And it was.  No doubt.  

 

Is this what Jesus meant when he held up a child and said, “The kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children” (Luke 18:16)?

 

My lunch buddy doesn’t know this verse but he certainly lives it: “All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:21).  

 

I knew the verse but wasn’t living it.

 

When I left the school, my lunch buddy hugged me and said, “Thank you for coming to see me.”  

“You’re welcome,” I responded, ”Thank you for teaching me today.”

Olympic Fever

Olympics

Do you have Olympic fever?

No, I’m not talking about the Zika Virus, or catching something from Guanabara Bay. I’m talking about “Gotta watch it” fever.

I thought I was immune to the fever this time around, but I caught it after only a few minutes of watching.

There are a lot of storylines to follow beyond mosquitoes and toxic bays.

  • Michael Phelps winning his 21st Gold Medal.  I like this joke from Eric Bransteen: “If you drink your milk and smoke this blunt, one day you’ll win as many gold medals as Michael Phelps.” — a dad trying to inspire his kid.  I have to admit, the Gold Medals and Marijuana combo crossed my mind.
  • Gymnast Osksana Chusovitina is competing in her 7th Olympics.  She is 41 years old!  I saw her perform while sitting on my couch with a bowl of Air-popped popcorn in my lap.
  • Cupping?

Then there is this:

The Refugee Team. A group of 10 athletes, with no home, no flag, no national anthem.  They share the common experience of being displaced.

 

Some fled wars, kidnappings and persecution.

Others’ homes were destroyed.

Some were separated from their families at a young age.

Some were caged and starved for losing competitions in their home nation.

Yusra Mardini is on the team.  She’s a refugee from Syria.

A swimmer.

Good thing. Because the motor on the flimsy dinghy she and 19 other refugees were using to escape stopped.  The teenager dove into the water and helped pull the dinghy for over three hours to the Greek Island of Lesbos, saving all on board.  No swimming competition she faces in Rio will compare with that act of endurance and bravery.

Speaking of her team of refugees, Yusra says, “We are still humans.  We can do something.  We can achieve.”

I wonder if she has been made to feel less than human.

That can happen.  Maybe that’s why Exodus 23:9 admonished the Israelites and maybe us, “You shall not oppress a stranger (ger – an outsider, a resident who has no family or clan to look after him) for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).

The Bible’s charge is based on empathy.  The Israelites had “walked a mile” in the immigrants’ shoes.  “Since you know what it feels like to be a stranger, you must never abuse or oppress the stranger.”

The Israelites were to love the immigrant because Deuteronomy 10:18-19 says that the God they worship loves the immigrant.

If we love God, it makes sense that we love what/who He loves.

One more story from the Olympics is thought-provoking:  The opening ceremony. Not Gisele Bundchen and her runway walk, but the comments by International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach:

“We are living in a world of crises, mistrust, and uncertainty.   Here is our answer: the 10,000  best athletes in the world, competing with each other, at the same time living peacefully together in one Olympic Village, sharing their meals and their emotions.  In this Olympic world, we see that the values of our shared humanity are stronger than the forces which want to divide us.”  

James describes a similar world in James 3:16, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”  Sounds like “crises, mistrust, and uncertainty.”

The solution?

The Olympic goal “…is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity?

James’ solution?

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure and full of quiet gentleness.  Then it is peace-loving and courteous.  It allows discussion and is willing to yield to others; it is full of mercy and good deeds” (James 3:17).  Then he closes out with this powerful challenge:  “You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor” (James 3:18 The Message).  

Watching the Olympics, for me, goes beyond cheering for your team. And I cheer loudly!

It’s bigger.  Much bigger.

It’s seeing that we are all basically the same.  Same dreams. Same disappointments.

It’s seeing a universal desire for peace.

It’s seeing the path to peace is recognizing the dignity of all people, of each individual.

Shooting Hoops on My 60th

Hoop

 

I turned 60 last month.

“Turned”

The same thing we say about milk that’s gone bad.

“The milk has turned sour.”

“Phillip has turned 60.”

 

People were great with their birthday wishes:

“I can hardly remember 60….”  Everything is relative.

“Happy Birthday, you six decade old fart.”

“60 is Sexy.”  At least Denise thinks so. Don’t they call a person 60-69 a sexagenarian?  It fits.

And then there were some “made me cry” comments.  In a good way.

 

Decade birthdays, for most people, are bigger than the others.

Several weeks before the big event, Denise and my kids asked me what gift I wanted for the occasion.

I didn’t hesitate with an answer.  I had been thinking about it for a while.

“I want a basketball goal in the driveway.”

“No, really, what do you want?”

“Really, that’s what I want.”

So, I now have a basketball goal in my driveway.

 

My sons and daughter’s-in-law came over yesterday, and the boys and I put it together and rolled it out of the garage into position.

Denise and I broke it in with a game of H-O-R-S-E and “Around the World” yesterday evening.

 

Why would a 60 year old guy – an empty-nester – want a basketball goal in his driveway?

It takes me back.  Turns back the clock…

To my childhood…to my son’s childhood.

Dad showing me the underhand free throw that was they did it back in his day.

My boys and I talking and shooting hoops.  Our best conversations were not held in my study, but in our driveway.  There’s something about a ball that brings out stuff in guys.

It takes me away.  It’s a mental break.

There are  times that it is just me, the ball, the hoop, and my thoughts.

 

Shooting baskets can be a highly personal, solitary activity, or a completely social one.  It is both for me.  So don’t be surprised if you drive by my house to see this sexagenarian shooting hoops.

It may be for a few minutes.  Maybe for an hour.

I know this for sure:  It will be a good time.