now I see

George Floyd’s memorial service in Minneapolis Thursday opened with the singing of “Amazing Grace.”

Who doesn’t love “Amazing Grace”?  

While it is a favorite of all, “Amazing Grace” seems especially meaningful to black church-goers. Historically “Amazing Grace” has been an anthem for those longing for freedom from oppression from white supremacist ideology and policy. 

Which is so interesting! 

Because the writer of the hymn, John Newton, was a slave trader!

Yep.  His story is instructive for us today.  

  1. Fear motivates. 

I don’t like it and don’t use it.   Some preachers like it and use it.

Newton converted to Christianity in a storm that scared him to run to religion.

  1. The Christian experience is a process. 

Newton admitted later, “I cannot consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word.”  Maybe that goes along with a fear-based-conversion? 

  1. We hang on to unChristlike attitudes and actions for a long time after becoming a Christian.

It took 34 years after his conversion for Newton to renounce slavery.  He published a pamphlet called “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade” and confessed, “It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in  a business at which my heart now shudders.”  

The pamphlet was sent to every member of Parliament and was instrumental in Great Britain outlawing slavery in 1807. 

Do we call ourselves Christ-followers but still hang on to a racist philosophy?  I’m not talking about the lynching type of racism but the type of racism that says, “We’re not racist! We had a black president for crying out loud!”  

 Read these lyrics from “Amazing Grace”:

“I once was lost, but now am found.

Was blind but now I see”

“Was blind but now I see.”  I wonder if Newton was talking about moving from blindness to sight concerning slavery.  Have we moved from blindness to sight:

*concerning our own racism?

*concerning systemic racism?

It took Newton 34 years to renounce his racist views.  

It’s been 57 years since Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech (August 28, 1963).   

It’s time.  

 

 

Just Listen.

Just Listen

Amid the nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd, I’ve listened to the voices of the past and present.

Not to speak.

Not to react.

Not to defend.

Just to listen. 

As you read this post, I ask you to listen to the words of Coretta Scott King from her “Solidarity Day Address” delivered in Washington D.C. on June 19, 1968.

June 18, 1968, was the 15th anniversary of her marriage to Martin Luther King, Jr. Her husband had been assassinated two and a half months earlier (April 4, 1968), a victim of racial violence.

June 19, 1968, was two weeks after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy (June 6, 1968). Her speech included a message from Ethel Kennedy, the wife of Senator Kennedy

Violence was on the mind of Coretta Scott King. 

But not the violence we might assume. Here are her words.  Hear them.  Feel them.  

“In this society, violence against poor people and minority groups is routine.  I remind you that starving a child is violence.  Suppressing a culture is violence.  Neglecting school children is violence.  Punishing a mother and her child is violence.  Discrimintion against a working man is violence.  Ghetto housing is violence.  Ignoring medical needs is violence.  Contempt of poverty is violence.  Even the lack of  willpower to help humanity is a sick and sinister form of violence.”

(Coretta Scott King, June 19, 1968)

 

Teachers, Thank You!

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” 

That line from Joni Mitchell’s 1970  song “Big Yellow Taxi” referred to the environment: 

“They  paved paradise and put up a parking lot…They took all the trees and put ‘em in a museum..” 

But today, I’m singing it in regards to our teachers.  

Today is National Teacher Appreciation Day. 

With COVID-19 closing schools we’re missing our teachers and recognizing how important they are to our lives, our families, our communities, our country.  


Teachers.  Thank you!  We have taken you for granted.  We want you back.  

You have been:

Disrespected.

Underpaid.

Unappreciated.

We put athletes on Wheaties box.  Why?  Are athletes really our heroes?  We’ve got some upside down values in the USA.  Guys who dribble a ball down a court can make $20 million a year.  Teachers stand in a classroom and shape our children and, consequently, shape our future,  bring home an average of $50 grand. 

That’s just not right.  

Lee Iacocca, the guy who brought us the Ford Mustang and Ford Pinto (You can’t win them all), and revived a Chrysler Corporation that was ready to be buried, made this observation: ““In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less.”

People are saying that we will create, post-COVID-19, a new normal.  How about making paying and appreciating teachers, as the heroes they are, being part of that new normal?

Here are some heroes that shaped me:

Mrs. Summers, 3rd Grade Teacher at Kinyon Elementary School in Poplar Bluff, MO.  Thank you for enhancing my love of books when you took the last 15 minutes of each class to read to us, Mark Twain’s, “Tom Sawyer.”

Mrs. Langford, 5th Grade Teacher at Eastmoreland Elementary School in Joplin, MO.  Thank you for giving me a note at the end of the year in which you called me “a boy with promise.” 

Dr. Gerald Cowen, Greek and New Testament Professor at Southwest Baptist College in Bolivar, MO for opening my eyes to the cultural and historical context of Scripture.

Dr. William Tolar, Dean of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for not telling me what to think but teaching me how to think.  I’m still learning. 

Robert Frost wrote, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”  

I think a good teacher is an awakener.  

I’ve had good teachers. 

I’m still learning.  I’m still waking up.

COVID-19 and Earth Day

Covid and Earth Day

COVID-19 has stopped us in our tracks.

The Earth has noticed. 

In the middle of all of the bad linked to COVID-19, there is a good.  

We notice that good today, April 22 – Earth Day. 

The skies are cleaner.  The waters are clearer.  The animals are happier and healthier. 

Levels of nitrogen dioxide – a component of smog created mainly from burning fossil fuels – have dropped over major US cities since March “stay at home” orders were put in place.

In the air over New York City, Columbia University found a 50% drop in carbon monoxide emissions, a 5-10% drop in carbon dioxide emissions, likely a result of the drop in traffic. 

Now, a pandemic is a terrible way to improve the environment.  

Terrible.

COVID-19 has brought to us hurt and heartache.  

It has also brought us a “what if…?”  What if we learned life-long, life-changing lessons about how we treat the environment? 

We will return to our jobs, to our favorite restaurants, to our hair stylists, to our traveling plans, to our ballgames and concerts.  We want that. 

But, maybe we won’t return to “dominating” and “mistreating” our environment.

Maybe that will change. 

Maybe we’ll see the planet like the Hebrew story of creation pictures God seeing the universe, as something “good.”   

The Hebrew word for “good” is used in Exodus 2:2 which records the birth of Moses.  The writer says that his mom saw that he was a “beautiful” boy.  Are you singing John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” right now?  “Good” in Genesis is the same Hebrew word as “beautiful” in Exodus 2:2.  

The planet is beautiful.  The planet is good.  God loves it.  So should I.  

The day of my spiritual awakening

Was the day I saw and knew I saw

All things in God and God in all things.

Mechtild of Magdeburg (1212-1282)

COVID-19 and Palm Sunday

Featured

Thank You

Happy Palm Sunday

Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, riding on a donkey.

Pilate has also arrived, riding on a war horse.  

Two leaders. Two different ways of leading. 

Two animals. Two different images.

When writing about this event, Matthew reflects on Zechariah 9:9:

“Say to Daughter Zion (Jerusalem), 

‘See, your king comes to you,

Gentle and riding on a donkey,

Even upon a colt, a foal of a beast of burden.

“Gentle?”  

“Riding on a donkey, even a foal of a beast of burden”?  (No, the Rolling Stones are not the originators of the phrase.)

What kind of King is this? 

Where’s the display of power? 
Where’s the “Hey, I’m a big deal!” attitude? 

It’s not there.  We won’t “see” that in Jesus. In Jesus, we “see” a different way to live and to lead.  Jesus is reframing power. Oh, yes, Jesus has power.  “All power (authority) has been given to me (Matthew 28:18),” Jesus tells his disciples.

But this Jesus kind of power is “seen” not in the person who is served but in the person who is serving (Matthew 20:25-28).  

Wanna see power today?  Look at  the 1000s of medical personnel serving us, “giving their lives as a sacrifice” in this war against COVID-19.  

That is power on display.  

On this Palm Sunday, the beginning of Passion Week, we thank them for their passionate and sacrificial service.

 

Living in the World of COVID – 19

hand sanitizer

This is the week, on which we will all look back, when everything changed.  Every click on a newsfeed seems to bring with it another report of another change to our daily lives: 

 We’ve kissed handshakes goodbye.

The Stock Market keeps going down. My retirement is in jeopardy!  I guess I’ll work several more years!

Stores temporarily closing (Apple, Nike, Under Armour etc). 

Some restaurants, bars, movie theatres in certain states,  closed.

Chick-fil-A, Starbucks and others moving to “Drive-thru” only.

Even Golden Corral is moving to a “To Go” service only.   Can we go back for seconds and thirds?

Major Sports events cancelled. I just heard that MLB opening day is postponed indefinitely. 

Amusement Parks (Disney Parks, Universal Studios,  Silver Dollar City, etc) temporarily closing or moving back their opening date. 

Welcome to the world of COVID-19.  

Devin Wright,  my son and pastor of Mission Gathering in Issaquah, Washington, commented that March Madness may have been cancelled, but March Madness is still here, just without the basketball.  

Unfortunately, preachers and politicians are contributing to the madness.  

In all times, especially in changing times, we need leaders who can be trusted.  We need leaders who know the facts, who can interpret the facts, and lead us into a better future.  

When we, as leaders, fail to interpret the situation accurately, we lose our credibility.  

By late winter 1933, the nation had already suffered more than three years of economic depression.  More than 11,000 of 24,000 banks had failed. Millions of people were out of work and millions more were working at jobs that barely provided enough to live on.  On March 4, 1933, newly elected President, Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his first inaugural address, in which he gave us this memorable line,  “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  

But, before he said that, he said this: 

“I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel.  This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in your country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.”  

Drum roll. Get ready for it, here it come – the line we remember:  “First of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

There it is.  The famous line.  But “no fear”came after “Just the facts, ma’am,” (thanks Sgt Joe Friday)

But, that line sounds different when heard with the lines that  go before.  

Part 1: “Speak the truth, frankly and boldly.”  Don’t “shrink from honestly facing conditions in your country today” 

Part 2:  “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  

Let’s be brutally honest about the situation we face.  And, let’s never lose faith that things will get better in the end.  

Last Sunday, we canceled our in-person Sunday service at the request of the Greene County Missouri Health Department, and chose instead to live-stream a service with only essential personnel present.

Not every church in our area followed the request of the Health Department.  I don’t understand why. Maybe they had legitimate reasons. Maybe not. I just know why we chose to do what we did. When public safety is at risk, which by every account it seems to be, it’s best to act on behalf of the public even when it costs us personally.  That just seemed like what love would do.  

In the words of Harry Smith, Perhaps think of it this way: that by staying home, you could save a life. And you know, that feels pretty good.”

Listen to our scientists – even more than to our preachers and politicians.                 Be loving in all we do. 
Fear can lead to discrimination and selfish decisions.  Replace our fear with faith, hope, and love, working to create a better world for all.  

 

What if the Bible Is Not Our Guide?

This Book Doesn't Have Any Answers

Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth – the B.I.B.L.E.  Have you heard the Bible explained that way?  It’s clever.  But is it accurate?  

I said in my teaching Sunday that I used to think the clever acrostic is accurate.  But not anymore.  Let’s be honest.  The Bible isn’t really a very good instruction manual or guide book.  

I know.  That rubs us the wrong way.  But, as Billy Sunday said, and I paraphrase:  “If something rubs you the wrong way, maybe you need to turn around.” 

I needed to turn around.  Maybe you do too. 

Think with me:  The Bible tells us, for example, to “Be kind to one another,” “Love one another – even our enemies,” “Give generously to the poor.”  All good. 

But next to these good things are some bad things- really bad things:  

Rape (Deuteronomy 21:10-14; Numbers 31:15-18); 

Slavery (1 Peter 2:18; Titus 2:9) 

Genocide (Deuteronomy 7:1-2; Deuteronomy 20:15-17) 

…are all commanded – by God.  At least the writers pass the buck to God for these commands.  Are those instructions ones that we should follow?  I hope you’’ll answer “No”.

One more thing. It doesn’t make much sense to claim that the Bible is an “infallible” guide in what it says if we cannot agree on what it says.  “But we agree on the essentials,” I hear someone saying.  We really don’t.  Go to amazon.com  and type in “four views” in the search bar and get ready to “turn around.”  We’re given page after page of books about various ways of interpreting key Christian doctrines:

Four Views on Hell

Four Views of Atonement

Four Views on Divine Providence

Four Views on Eternal Security

These are not peripheral issues.  These are some “big rocks” of Christianity.  In each book we find opposing views in which each proponent is absolutely certain that their particular interpretation of the Bible is the right one.  

If the Bible spoke clearly on these issues then why isn’t there a “The Only View” series.

So, if we remove the Bible as our guide, what do we put in its place?  Are we just free to do whatever we want – to do what is right in our own eyes (Judges 21:5)? 

I offered, Sunday morning, an option given to me by mother throughout my junior high and high school years.  Here is the question she told me to ask myself when considering the rightness or the wrongness of an action: “When you consider this action, ask yourself, ‘does the life of Jesus well up inside of you?’”  

That’s good.  

Denise and I went to Little Rock after Sunday’s service to see my dad.  Drinking a glass of wine and eating Girl Scout cookies, (what are the rules for pairing wine with Girl Scout Cookies) with dad, my sister and Denise, around dad’s kitchen table, I asked dad about mom’s counsel to me.  He told me mom read that in a book by Watchman Nee, an author that greatly influenced my parents.   

For 52 years I’ve been under the impression that mom came up with that on her own!

So, this morning, I did a quick Google search trying to find the exact quote.  I didn’t find mom’s version of it but I did find the following statements by Watchman Nee.   

Read them with an open mind.  Contemplatively. And get ready  to “turn around.”  

“Brothers and sisters, as we live before God, our actions must not be determined by good and evil, but by the life within.”

Hmm. “Actions determined…by the life within.”  Let’s go on…

“When we have the life within and feel life rising up, we are doing the proper thing.” That sounds a bit like Mom’s version. 

Then there’s this from Nee: “Many problems arise because we only have a standard of right and wrong.  Many mistakes are made because we do not have the standard of life.”

Then Nee, a mystical Christian,  offers this prayer,

“Grace me so that I live by the tree of life, not by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  I want to constantly pay attention to life…”

Mom was telling me, and I’m just now really hearing it: “Don’t live by an external rule book (the Bible), instead, live by an internal life – the life that is “graced” by  the Spirit of Christ.  

Have you been indoctrinated into seeing the Bible as your guide?  

Yes.  We need a guide.  No doubt about that! 

But have we settled for an external law when we have within us an internal life?  

“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives and you will not obey your selfish desires (Paul to the Galatians, found in 5:16).

“And when that one comes, the Spirit will guide you into all truth” (Jesus, to his disciples, recorded by John, in 16:13).  

“Pay attention to life” the Christ-shaped life within (Watchman Nee to Mom; then Mom to me).  

I will live in the awareness of the presence of life in me and I will pay attention to it.

That will be my guide.