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.  

 

A Kindness Comeback

MAKA

A member of the church I pastor, The Venues, gave me for Christmas this year, “Dr. Seuss’s You Are Kind.”  The book is an ode to Kindness.  

The book both humbled me (it is a “thank-you” book) and challenged me – to everyday, in every way, be kind.

Just a few days ago we were singing “Silver Bells” that has this insightful line: “In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas.” 

We live and move in an atmosphere.

We breathe in and breathe out certain types of air.

We feel feelings.

Today, there is a feeling of meanness. 

We breathe it.

We move in it.

America is becoming a meaner place. 

Hate crimes have soared. Americans have become more polarized.  Average Americans say and do things to people they disagree with that in a different time would have been unthinkable.

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI) reminded us of that different time when she released a letter written by her late husband, Congressman John Dingell, upon the death of George H.W. Bush.  She released the letter as a response to the “Maybe he’s looking up, I don’t know” slur that was made about her deceased husband, inferring that he maybe was in hell instead of heaven. 

Here is an excerpt of Mr. Dingell’s letter: 

George Bush came from a time (as did I) when we believed that American equality demands that we treat one another with the same dignity and respect with which we expect to be treated. He was horrified at the harshness our national discourse has taken and deeply disturbed at watching too many people speak past each other. We both shared deep concern about the hateful taunts, the despicable actions and language that plague our political culture.”

What can we do to improve the atmosphere? 

Congresswoman Dingell gave an answer to that question when she introduced the release of her husband’s letter:

“As an antidote to the last week, I found John Dingell’s own words from last December. He was alive at the time and wrote these words about his friend George H.W. Bush. His words were about him and his friend, who both worried about the direction of this country. Happy Holidays and may we take their message to heart.” 

“An antidote” to the poison of meanness is kindness.  

Denise and I went to the movies Christmas night and saw “Little Women.”  I really liked it. Seeing it made me want to read the book. In the book version, there is this exchange between Amy and her mom: 

Amy: “Because they are mean is no reason why I should be.  I hate such things, and though I’ve a right to be hurt, I don’t intend to show it…”

Marmee (Mom): “That’s the right spirit, my dear; a kiss for a blow is always best, though it’s not very easy to give it sometimes.”

The author, Louisa May Alcott, added that Marmee said this “with the air of one who had learned the difference between preaching and practicing.”  

Three writers – Dr. Seuss, Louisa May Alcott, John Dingell – one message:  Rise above the meanness with kindness.  

Marmee is right.  It’s easier to preach kindness than practice kindness.  I should know!

Robert Sutton, PhD, put it like this: “The more assholes you’re around the more asshole-y you get.”  

Here’s my plan for changing the atmosphere.

-Spend more time contemplating Jesus.  My dad used to say, “You become like that to which you pay attention.”  

-Live in that atmosphere of the Spirit of the Christ.  Breathe it in. That’s the only way to breathe it out. “Walk in the spirit and you will not do what your old self desires” (Galatians 5:16).

-Choose not to perpetuate the cycle of meanness. 

-Give a kiss for a curse. 

-Eat more cookies.  I always feel more nice when I eat cookies.  

A Tree That Feels Like Me

Charlie Brown Tree 2

 

We have three Christmas trees in our house this year.  I know, weird. 

One is fancy and stands in our living room.

The newest is beside my desk in my study – a sale-tree that I bought on Black Friday.  I couldn’t resist.  It is an aluminum tree with a color wheel.  Yep, I guess they’re being made again for all of us boomers.   Did any of you have one of those at one time?

But my favorite tree is in our Hearth Room – it’s the one you see above – our Charlie Brown tree.

The fact that I have both an aluminum tree and a Charlie Brown tree is a bit ironic since “A Charlie Brown Christmas” special first shown December 9, 1965, was more directly responsible for the death of aluminum Christmas trees than anything else.  “A Charlie Brown Christmas” resonated with 1965 audiences in a way no other children’s programming had before.  

It still resonates with me.  

Charles Schultz’s characters have been a part of my life since I was 9 years old when someone, I don’t remember who, gave me the book, “Good Grief, Charlie Brown!”

I wish I remembered the name of the person who opened up this world to me. I’m thankful for them. 

Everything I like about Charlie Brown is contained in “A Charlie  Brown Christmas” and that little, lonely, pitiful looking tree.  

It is real.  Every other Christmas special has in it some element of fantasy.  

A snowman that comes to life.  

Flying reindeer. 

But not in Charles Schulz’s story.  The story is build on the reality of sadness.  

Charlie Brown is sad.  “I know no likes me,” Charlie Brown says, walking along, “so why do we have to have a holiday to emphasize the fact?”  Charlie is us.   We want to be liked.  Not just loved.  It’s hard to feel loved when we’re not liked.  

Linus recites Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus.  But, even with this spiritual element, God doesn’t swoop in to rescue Charlie Brown. Neither does Santa, or Frosty. There is no Elf to bring back the spirit of Christmas.  There is Charlie Brown dealing with kids who are mean to him.  And why?  He was only trying to do something good.  When he brings his tree to the group, the insults are launched:

“Boy, are you stupid Charlie Brown”
“I told you he’d goof it up.”
“He isn’t the kind you can depend on to do anything right.”
“You’re hopeless, Charlie Brown.”
“You’ve been dumb before, Charlie Brown, but this time, you really did it.”

How many watchers of that special see themselves in Charlie Brown? How many have heard, still hear, those same insults?  Insults and attacks for only trying to do good. 

And no one steps in to defend him.  To advocate for him.  

He’s alone.  Like the tree he picks.  Charlie Brown and the tree are parallel characters.  Each of them is considered by others to be defective, unwanted, worth-less than other trees or other people.

“This little one needs a home,” Charlie Brown said when he saw the tree on the lot.  

Charlie Brown provided that home.

Charlie Brown was the only one who really saw the tree. Who saw the value in the tree. Who loved the tree.  He thought others would see the tree as he saw the tree.  They didn’t. 

The rejected boy took the rejected tree to his home.  When he hangs a single ornament on it’s tallest branch,  the tree droops to the ground.  Charlie Brown cries out, “I’ve killed it.  Oh! Everything I touch gets ruined.”

Have you ever felt like you can’t do anything right?  Then you get Charlie Brown.  

Linus’ Bible story inspired Charlie Brown to decorate the little tree, in spite of what others said, but it doesn’t heal Charlie Brown from the pain he feels.  What heals him is the other members of the Peanuts Gang coming out into the cold to rescue the tree – with love.  As Linus says, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree…Maybe it just needs a little love.” 

And love is what the gang gives the tree.  Show a tree, or a person, some love, and look what happens!

It may be a story from a comic strip, but it’s a story about realness.  

Real sadness.

Real loneliness.

Real rejection.

Real prejudices.

Real comparisons.

Real realization of judgmentalism.

Real love.

Real community. 

Real change. 

And it’s really good.  

Have a really good holiday.

  

Bringing Kindness Back in Style

Kindness Stories

I read two stories Monday, October 7, about kindness. 

Story #1 was from USA Today.  The story in the print edition is titled: “Kindness is trying to make a comeback.”   

 

It’s kind of like that Ella Moss Bell-Bottom Button Down Jumpsuit that I bought for Denise last Christmas, 2018.  The fashion world said Bell-Bottoms were making a comeback. Not for Denise.  They’re hanging in her closet with the price tag still attached. 

 

Well, she’ll be ready for Halloween!

 

Kindness has been out of style for a while.  But a few people are bringing it back.  

 

A Los Angeles police officer recently posted a video of a homeless woman singing a Purccini aria in a deserted subway station.  The video went viral.  Emily Zamourka, the “subway soprano” is a classically trained violinist from Russia.  She moved to the United States about 30 years ago. Three years ago she became seriously ill.  That illness bankrupted her, forcing her to the streets.  

 

Now, thanks to that video taken by the police officer, Emily, with a recording contract in hand, is on her way to becoming a professional singer.  In the wake of this overnight turnaround, Emily said,

 

“I want to thank the police officer who was so kind to me and  made me gosh, I don’t know, so famous.”  

 

Then she gives us all a sobering perspective and challenge:

 

“I am so grateful, but I also wish that the kindness I am experiencing now I might  have felt when no one knew of my singing…There are people out there and do need to be reached out to, and they’re waiting to be helped.  We’re all the same, and some just need to be reached out to and given an opportunity.”

 

Story #2 is the story of Megan Phelps-Roper, the granddaughter of Fred Phelps, the famous Preacher of Hate at the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.  Megan, in a Ted Talk, reminds us that “We are all a product of our upbringing and our experiences.”

 

Her upbringing was in a religion of:

  • “Us vs. Them.”  The “good guys” were her church.  Everyone else made up the group of “bad guys.”
  • Fear. Her mother summed up the Bible in three words, “Obey. Obey. Obey.”
  • And hate.  Such hate. Megan joined her family on a picket line for the first time when she was five years.  In her little hands, she held up a sign that she was too young to read, much less understand: “Gays are worthy of death.”  Maybe you remember other signs: “God is Your Enemy,” “Your Rabbi is a Whore,”   “God Hates Jews.” God Hates________Just fill in the blank), on and on.  

 

The hate coming out of her family and church was so vicious and disgusting that even   the KKK called them extreme!  Now when the KKK calls you hateful, that’s saying something.  

 

Megan has written a book, “Unfollow” – her story of growing up in hate but choosing love. What turned Megan around? Kindness.  

 

Megan was in charge of the church’s Twitter account.  While others attacked with protests and signs, Megan would attack with Tweets.  

 

She said she was prepared to argue online with the same passion, anger, and self-righteous assurance she was used to when picketing.

 

“What I wasn’t prepared for was kindness,” she said. 

 

She reached out to David Abitbol, the founder of Jewlicious.  

 

She says, “I got to tweeting about how Jews really need to repent for their sins…I accused the Jews of killing Jesus.  David’s response was swift, cunning and angry, exactly the response I expected…but soon after his initial foray, something changed.”  

 

She said she kept sending hateful messages, but he replied differently.  “His responses went from angry insults to friendly bars.  He started asking me questions, and I started asking him questions about Jewish theology, both of us genuinely curious how the other had come to such different conclusions about the Bible.”  

 

Kindness led Megan from hate to love.  

 

Here’s another story of kindness from the life of St. Francis of Assisi.  Francis was riding his horse in the countryside when he saw a leper walking toward him.   His instinct was ours – to turn around and head the other way – to avoid the leper at all cost.  But something happened within Francis. He rode directly toward the man with parts of his face and hands eaten away by the horrible diseases.  Fancis got off his horse, walked to the man and then, hugged him and kissed him – on the lips.

 

Francis writes, “When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure, but then God himself led me into their company, and I had pity on them…After that I did not wait long before leaving the world.”  

 

No, he didn’t die.  That’s not what he meant by “leaving the world.”  St. Francis left the world of meanness to live in the world of kindness. 

We live in a mean world of harsh words and rude behaviors.  

Let’s leave that world (kingdom) and become residents of another.  

Let’s write our own stories of kindness.

…of kissing the leper.

…of listening.

…of seeking to understand.

…of showing kindness.

 

Let’s bring kindness back in style.  

 

Seeing Through Jesus’ Glasses

Aniumal glasses

I was raised in a culture that taught us to develop a “Biblical worldview.”  If we break that down, I guess it means to see the world through the lens of the Bible.  Or, to allow the Bible to  inform and influence the way we:

 – see the world.

 – talk about the issues in the world.

 – respond to the issues in the world.

 I appreciate the intent of the instruction. But, I wonder if the instruction falls short? If it is misguided?

You see, The point of the Bible is to guide us to Jesus – at least that’s what Jesus himself says (John 5:39)

So, why settle for a Biblical Worldview when Jesus invites us to a Jesus Worldview?  

Honestly, we don’t really follow the Biblical worldview of stoning disobedient children, sacrificing animals to appease God, slavery, silencing women, and on and on.  So, I really don’t get the “Biblical Worldview” thing.  I can more easily grasp a “Jesus Worldview.” 

Jesus invites us to “Follow me”(Matthew 4:19).  Not a book.  Him.  

“All authority has been given to me,”  Jesus says as an introduction to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).  Did we catch that?  Jesus did not say all authority was given to a book that some guys were going to write.  All authority is given to Him.    

At the close of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenged the hearers not with “The one who hears the words of Moses, or Isaiah and acts on them is like the wise man, but “The one who hears and acts on (does them, practices them) my words is like the wise man” (Matthew 7:24).

I want to wake up each morning with the thought – “Jesus, let me see all things, all people, through your eyes. Give me your worldview.”

I’m teaching a series called “What Would Jesus Say About…”.  We’re diving headfirst into a deep pool.  One thing I’ve noticed is that most of the discussion about these issues from Christians sound similar to the discussions about these issues from people who don’t claim to follow Jesus. We tend to repeat the views and even prejudices of whatever news source we listen to or group we hang out with.  

I’m inviting people to join me in discovering a Jesus perspective of what is going on today. 

I’m asking myself, and encourage others to ask as well:  

“If following Jesus does not influence or transform the way I see and talk about the issues of our day, I wonder what good religion is?” 

The Creative Power of Words

Words create worldsWords matter. 

Words have power.

Words are creative.

 

The poetry of the Bible colorfully expresses the creative power of words:

And God said, Let there be light… (Genesis 1:3).

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made  (Psalm 33:6).

…the worlds have been prepared by the spoken word of God (Hebrews 11:3).

 

With our words, we create worlds.  

 

I had a phone conversation yesterday with someone very close to Denise and me.  The call was on speaker so Denise and I could both participate. We are both involved in the sad, tragic situation which was the topic of the conversation.  The voice on the other end of the call told me that he was “done with me,” that I am, “dead to him,” that as far as he is concerned, I “no longer exist.”  

 

When the “goodbyes” were said. Denise and I looked at each other – in a state of disbelief – and she asked, “Does your stomach hurt?”  “Like a mother,” I answered. 

 

Words wrecked my world – at least my stomach. 

 

We create worlds with our words.  Maybe our words are not just a response to the world around us.  Maybe the world around us is a response to our words.

 

What kind of worlds are we creating with our words?  

 

A lot has been said and written since the shootings in El Paso and Dayton about our “environment of hate and racism” – our “world of hate and racism”.

 

Here’s my question:  

Have words created this world of hate and racism?

 

Yes. How can that be denied?  

Just read the manifesto of the shooter involved in the El Paso massacre.  

In it are words.  

Words of hate and racism. 

He refers to Latino/a immigrants as “invaders” who could only be stopped by deadly force.  He argues that interracial relationships are a reason to “send them back,” referring to second and third genertion Mexican-Americans.  

 

His words were fueled by hate.  His actions were fueled by words.  

 

Luke records the story of another terrorist in the 1st century who was fueled by hate.  The objects of his hate, the victims of his hate, were people of the Way – the Way of Jesus. Christ-followers.

Luke writes in Acts 9:1 that Saul was breathing threats and murder. The Greek word for “breathing” is “empnueo” from “en” and “pnueuo” – “in breath.”

 

Saul breathed the air of hate. He breathed it in. He breathed it out.

Inhale hate.

Exhale hate.

Commit acts of terror. 

 

Saul was a terrorist who lived in an atmosphere of hate.  His atmosphere changed when he “was blinded by the light” (Acts 9:3).

 

Whenever we speak we put words in the air.  

We create the air that others breathe.  

There are homes, schools, places of business and houses of government and worship where the air is polluted with hateful words. 

 

We can change the air quality.  We can create a better world.  Shed a little light. 

Yes, I am a master at mixing metaphors.  But you get the idea. 

 

Remember, this is not so much about the other guy as it is about me.  As it is about you. What are you and I doing to create with our words a better world?