The Art of the Apology

And no, I don’t mean a defense of anything. And, yes, I am sorry about there being an unintentional pun based on a political candidate I refuse to name so that his name is searchable on my blog. Ok, anyway.

I mean a good old fashioned, “I’m sorry.” How I do hate saying those two words! It’s almost more than I can tolerate having to form those two short words into a sentence and aim them at another human being. I’d much rather give a justification for myself, or a defense of why I’m still wrong… And, yet, I am learning that may be what’s wrong with American culture at large.

As Americans, we have “pride” and “dignity” and “a sense of divine favor” that gives us, if we’re honest, a bit of a complex. From the top down it seems as though we are entirely averse to the idea of admitting our mistake and working to rectify it. Do you want societal change? Good luck, since it will most likely require a person, group, or department to admit a mistake and begin working to correct it.

And, yet, I have been constantly reminded lately of the power of pity. Not a pity party, mind you. Instead, the idea of living in humility and actually inviting pity when we mess up. We offer no excuses, we justify nothing, but instead simply acknowledge the mistake out loud and then ask for partners in fixing it.

If I live my life in a constant state of concern over someone catching me in a mistake – I’m going to have ulcers. Instead, I am learning day by day to simply admit I made mistakes, and will probably do so again tomorrow.

Kids appreciate an apology when adults make a mistake. They learn that mistakes are part of life and that admitting them and then fixing the problem is the right plan of action. They learn that “sorry” isn’t passive, it’s active, and seeks to right the wrong done with real, practical action.

Do your kids see you apologize? Do they see you fix mistakes? How do your kids respond when they are caught in a mistake?

“[…] and forgive us our mistakes, as we forgive the mistakes of others […]”

I’m in the Lord’s Army

If you’re not singing the song in your head now… I apologize in advance that your childhood was a little less exciting than mine. There was nothing better than marching in place, flying around pretending to be a fighter jet, and blasting off artillery fire while singing a song about Jesus.

We often miss the metaphor of Christian life being a battle. We forget that earth is a cosmic battlefield with God’s Kingdom fighting against the forces of darkness, evil, death, and chaos. Our sights get set on human beings rather than the evil that directs them.

Consider this. How would you characterize your church in this battle? Is it a group of non-interventionists who watch warily from the edges of conflict desiring nothing more than to let the war run its course without getting involved? Is your church a squad of highly developed saboteurs, running around tossing verbal bombs into crowds of unsuspecting people who are hit by the shrapnel and venom spewed by uncaring words? Is your church a command center, giving orders out to the community in order to “rally the troops” to fight the culture war?

I thought about it… and came to the conclusion that our church buildings are probably closest to field hospitals, considering that our main objective is to go out and carry those too wounded and sore to move into a safe place where they can heal. A field hospital, or any hospital for that matter, can be a hectic, chaotic place, especially in the Emergency Room. The nurses I know tell stories of frantic days, close calls, and miraculous saves that make me wonder how they keep it up.

I guess what I’m getting at here is the idea that we so often want to pick up a sword or a gun and have at the enemies, or what we think are enemies, instead of picking up the wounded man beside us and getting him to safety. Most of my military experience is video games and films, so take all of this with a grain of salt. The phrase “no man gets left behind” permeates moments of self-sacrifice as a soldier picks up another and carries his limp, but still living body to the rescue zone. How many times in our lives as Christians do we say together on Sunday morning, “no man gets left behind,” and walk by rows upon rows of wounded people on Sunday afternoon at lunch, or Monday at work? How many times instead of picking up wounded people, do we shout at them to pick themselves up or kick them again as we assume they’re enemies?

Paul described our battle as, “not against flesh and blood but against the dark powers that rule this world.” I cannot tell you how exasperated and saddened I am when I continually watch Christians confuse fellow human beings for the real enemy.

So maybe, just maybe, as a soldier in the Lord’s Army, we can begin to fulfill our mission of pulling one person to safety in Jesus at a time. One person at a time.

How do your children picture the Christian life? Who do they see you attack on a regular basis? When do your children see your compassion for others?

Gleefully Watching the World Burn

Ok, just a quick post.

The past week a particular blog post has been circulating around concerning a particular Chattanooga area church. There are some troubling statements in it. It concerns me and I will be praying for that church. (No I’m not linking to the article, nor am I discussing what was said.)

But why would we, as Christian brothers and sisters so gleefully chuckle and clap our hands as this church begins to self-examine? Is there something inherently amusing about watching someone go through a trial? Do we want to watch an entire church crumble?

I would say it would be better for us all to pray. Pray that hearts are softened and change takes place. Pray that people flocking to that particular church are willing to stop, check Scripture, and make wise decisions about how to discuss what they believe.

Paul never had it in his mind to joyfully rip a church to shreds over its beliefs. Read Colossians, in which the church was beginning to face the tendrils of proto-gnosticism, and how lovingly, yet firmly, Paul reminds them of what he taught. Even the harshest of Paul’s letters, Galatians, still has the feel of a stern, but loyal coach who wants to see his players succeed in more than just the game.

So when you read the blog post, don’t cheer or laugh. Don’t secretly hope that all of those people will suddenly flock to your church. Pray. Pray hard.

Manly Fruit

Ok, as an artistic, not-so-macho man, I may not be the person to write this particular post. On the other hand, I’ve heard lately that some people consider the Fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians to be a list of very soft traits. I’d like to correct that.

For one, it was written by a man’s man: Paul of Tarsus. This, if you recall, is the same man that regularly confronted people who were slacking off or missing the mark in the church family. He also dealt with things like shipwreck, beatings, philosophical meetings, and church board meetings. So for all intents and purposes, this guy, on top of being a tent maker, managed to punch several points into his “man card.”

So what would make anyone think the list of wonderful traits in Galatians might not be the manliest of qualities? Let’s see here… we have “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.” Oh… ok. Yeah, the wording here isn’t exactly the cover of a gearhead magazine.

Ok, so let’s go through these and see if we can’t see the deeper meaning here.

First off, love. Sure. Men sometimes have a hard time with this word. Getting a guy to say, “I love you,” can be a bit of a task, even if he genuinely feels the sentiment. But what is the sentiment in the first place? It’s the “I’d take a bullet for you” sentiment. In action movies, when does the guy say he loves the girl? Right before or just after the near-suicidal rescue attempt. Love, in this case, isn’t a mushy feeling, it’s a statement of putting someone else’s needs, safety, and survival above my own. It’s self-sacrifice. And, dang it, men aspire to be the kind of guy that would do that kind of thing. We ask ourselves that question when we watch movies or the news, “Would I be the guy to stand up and protect everyone else?”

Also, just to add on to love and the rest of the following traits. Love doesn’t mean standing back and watching someone destroy themselves. Sometimes, like Paul, like Jesus, like Peter, it involves reaching into someones life and (literally or figuratively) slapping someone awake to reality. Confrontation is a part of looking out for someone’s best interest, especially when they cannot see the harm they’re doing to themselves. Love contains courage, truthfulness, and a desire to pick people up and watch them succeed. This is what motivates teachers, coaches, generals, and squad leaders. We call it different things, but it’s a sense that we can help people by watching their backs and helping them succeed even when they don’t believe they can.

Second, joy. No, this isn’t a “happy-go-lucky” smile plastered across our face. Joy is the expectation of good even in the face of defeat or disaster. In other words: hope. And what person could face off against the likes of evil empires, destructive tyrants, or gross injustice without a sense of something good coming down the pipes? What man could face the loss of a job, the loss of a friend, or an impending disaster without the hope that things will turn out ok in the end? Joy is necessary to the soldier, the rescue worker, or the corporate climber – it’s looking at the end product and working toward that good after all the work has been done.

Third, peace. It doesn’t just mean calmness. It’s a clarity of mind that comes from being connected to something bigger and more powerful than we could ever imagine. It’s the kind of clarity that allows a person to see the wrong in the world and fight against it. It’s the clarity that allows a person to have their lives in order to the point where they can begin pulling others out of the line of fire. It’s the sense of letting go of daily worries  so that the job at hand can be done with excellence.

Next, patience – it’s not just for dealing with annoying people anymore. It’s also connected with joy. It’s being able to play the long game, to outwit, outplay, and outlast whatever obstacle is in the way of victory. Patience is necessary for knowing which risks to take, and which ones will just waste time and energy. Great generals, and people of history had this kind of patience when they were setting up to change the world.

After patience comes kindness. Kindness isn’t weakness. It isn’t letting someone walk over us. Kindness is being capable of voluntarily “giving the shirt off our back.” It isn’t a demanded kindness, it is an offer of help from a place of strength and assurance. It’s like being a safe port during a storm for another human being. It’s sharing rations with survivors of disasters or giving a car to someone in need.

Goodness. We’ve missed this one a lot in the past few years. This isn’t goodie-two-shoes stuff. This is the deep integrity of character we admire out of great men like Lincoln, Washington, Socrates, Churchill, and many more. The great men of history who changed the world for the better, but also maintained a sense of virtue when not in the public eye. We value integrity, honor, and loyalty, and goodness contains all of these things and more, especially when connected to the goodness of God.

Faithfulness. Loyalty. Who are the most hated men in history? The cowards, the betrayers, the disloyal. Many of them have their names become synonymous with the act of betrayal: Judas, Brutus, Benedict. Loyalty goes with integrity, as stated above. Men who stay loyal, who stand their guard or man their post in the face of overwhelming odds are celebrated. Faithfulness may be one of the most honored traits on this list because it does require so much courage to remain faithful as the ship is sinking.

Gentleness. This one probably gets the worst rap of all of these. “But gentleness is weakness.” Obviously you don’t understand the English language. Gentleness is power under control. Consider this example: a sick horse lying on the ground in pain and whimpering and a Clydesdale, gigantic muscles rippling as it leans its muzzle down slowly for a child to pet it. Which one would you say is gentle? A baby is not gentle, but that baby’s gigantic, ripped father with plate-sized hands cradling the tiny body is gentle. Gentleness is being able to wield power (physical, mental, financial, or political) in such a way as not to crush those around us.

Self control. Call this one weakness, and I’ll ask you to find your way to a martial arts training facility. That’ll change your mind quickly. See above for explanation, but suffice it to say, many of our honored men of history were self-controlled. They maintained a constant work ethic and disciplined mental activity to accomplish great feats – whether those be military, artistic, literary, culinary, or politically. Guided effort over time can create the greatest change.

So, in short, the idea that the Fruits of the Spirit are all weakness and not power – kind of a false illusion. In a way, the world has tried to strip away the powerful attributes of Jesus and use particular words to tone him down. As said in the following verse, “against such things there is no law.” Again, these are some of the highest human traits – the pinnacle of what it means to be fully human -to be fully alive!

Which trait most speaks to you? Which one is the hardest for you? How are you helping to train your kids into using the power we have through Jesus to build the Kingdom and change the world for the better?

Putting Down the Gun

I was just on the internet preparing a lesson on the beatitudes and was searching for an image to use to illustrate “Blessed are the peacemakers […]” Would you like to know the first image that popped up on my screen?

A revolver. Now, regardless of your views on guns (which I’m not touching with a 39.5 ft pole) I find it alarming that the Internet’s idea of peacemaking is to point violence in the direction of the issue.

And isn’t America in a nice pickle with that thinking? Instead of stopping, sitting, listening, and discussing with one another we tend to jump straight to a pointed finger and condemning evidence.  (Ever notice that words ending with “mn” tend to be negative? No point, really, just an observation.)

There are so many issues running around right now that involve two sides shouting at one another: moral, ethical, political, theological. It boggles the mind that people who claim to follow a King who didn’t break a thin reed nor snuff a sputtering candle would sink to vitriol, venom, and verbal violence. (Oh, dear, preacher came out – look at that alliteration, would you?)

I guess what I’m getting at is the generally affluent Western, evidence-based culture we have cultivated has led us to a point where we have trouble listening to real issues, and then working to solve the problems without compromising our own values. Yes, we can help others, give them life, without sacrificing our values and morals, but it takes time, wisdom and effort.

Peacemaking is hard work. It involves careful listening, prayer, deliberation, compassion, mercy, pity, and humility. It takes time and patience. And, while, yes, pointing a gun is faster, violence is a peacekeeping action, not a peacemaking one. Death and violence rarely create lasting peace, as current world events have shown.

How do you and your family handle conflict? Is there shouting, anger, and name calling? Is there patience, understanding, and peacemaking? Are you proactive or reactive when handling difficult situations?

Say it with me: “Deadpool” is NOT for kids!

I feel like I might be a little late to this party. I saw the movie last night and while I am about to write about it, do NOT take that as a rousing endorsement that you should run out and see the movie – unless you leave the kids at home and you have a strong constitution. Meaning, there is graphic violence, nudity, sexual content, and lots and lots of strong language (lots of “F” words for those of you wondering.) If that’s not enough, keep reading.

A little history: Deadpool is a Marvel Comics character introduced back in the gritty 90s. The character began as an anti-hero and self proclaimed “Merc with a Mouth.” And, yes, he had a mouth, a foul one. As the years went on, different writers took over the character and began to make some subtle changes, making Deadpool more of a humorous character, but still keeping the dark, twisted, mostly manically insane plots.

Deadpool himself never really considers himself a “hero” so much as a person who looks after himself and a few select individuals. In the comics, he’s known for making lewd, crude jokes and causing general violence and mayhem. Though, in comics, sense their generally made with a preteen/teen audience in mind, most of Deadpool’s

In the past year or so, Deadpool has been making some appearances in shows created by Disney, most notably “Ultimate Spider Man.” There, he is cleaned up and mostly relegated to fart jokes and occasional references to violence. Which, therein lies the problem. Deadpool has slowly worked his way from an obscure cult following to a mainstream character plastered on videogames, cartoons, t-shirts, and other merchandising.

Deadpool, though, is known for darker storylines that tackle hard subjects. For all the negatives this movie does a few things well. (For a reminder of those negatives, go back up and look at the last sentence in the first paragraph.)

I will say in the movie’s defense that it depicts an individual’s battle with cancer very well. This movie packs in the emotional punch of a drama at times while Wade Wilson (Deadpool) struggles with a diagnosis of late stage cancer that has invaded many of his organs. He struggles with indecision, hopelessness, whether or not to subject his then fiancee to a possibly long battle with cancer. He has to cope with a loss of control over his life and anger. Knowing so many people who have survived cancer diagnoses, I can only imagine what went through their heads when hearing the news for the first time, and, in a way, this seems to capture that initial frustration.

He ends up seeking experimental treatment… which ends up being a factory for turning people into mutants and enslaving them for military purposes. Wade continues to stay strong throughout the torture, unwilling to allow his spirit to be broken or to lose his sense of humor (as twisted as it might be.) Again, I have seen the effects of chemo treatment and how much of a toll it has on the body. I haven’t experienced it, but I can imagine it might feel like torture some days.

And then, Wade’s body becomes deformed, large welts and divots in his skin, making him look nearly leprous. And one of the main struggles of the movie is him working up the nerve to show himself to his fiancee, concerned as his is about his appearance and whether or not she’ll accept him.

Again, this movie is far from kid, preteen, or even teen friendly. But, it does have some positive elements. Again – do NOT take your kids to see this, no matter what commercial or poster you see. The studio itself and Ryan Reynolds (the leading actor), have issued statements that this film is not suitable for children.

TL;DR: DON’T TAKE YOUR KIDS TO SEE DEADPOOL! (Have I said that enough?)

The Mysterious Case of Stale Crackers and Grape Juice (Theological Thursday)

As a Children’s minister, I get the privilege of helping children understand what it means to follow Jesus. It’s a joy, and can be overwhelming at times. Part of that job involves introducing kids to the practices that Christians have done for a couple of millennia now. And that awkward segue way leads us into the Lord’s Supper. (And also opens a large can of worms.)

Every week, at our church, I get to watch some faces look puzzled (even after the explanation) as the adults and some children pick up a broken piece of matzah and a tiny cup of grape juice and eat and drink them. If the look on their faces is any indication, their thought must be, “What do I have to do to get that snack? Doesn’t seem like much.” And as a snack, they’re absolutely right – it’s not going to tide anyone over until lunch. So why do it?

Easy. Jesus said so.

Oh… you wanted more than that? Well, if you insist. Honestly, we could just leave it there if you’re not too invested. All right then. But, remember, you insisted.

(What follows is as impartial an explanation as I can give. I can’t hit every point, and this won’t make everyone happy. I have been as fair as possible. If you have questions, contact me. I am also aware of my biases, and they’ll probably be apparent.)

So, in the beginning (not that far back, we’ll be in Acts, not Genesis) early Christians followed the oral tradition by meeting regularly to share a meal together. (Acts 2.42-47) These meals were a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. A remembrance of his death, for sure, but also an honest, fellowship-filled meal. No, really, Paul’s whole diatribe on the subject included a few lines on not getting drunk at the meal. (1 Cor 11.17-22 and following)

As time progressed, theology shifted and the Lord’s Supper was lifted from the meal context and placed in the context of the worship service. (This happened between the 2nd and 4th Centuries.) It was viewed as having taken on the nature of a renewal of Jesus sacrifice, and a bigger focus was placed upon the phrase in the gospel accounts, “This is my body.”

From that time on, the Lord’s Supper was known more regularly as the Eucharist (“thanksgiving.”) Each Sunday, the believers would gather, a priest would bless the elements (called the “host”) and the gathering believed at that moment there was something more to the bread and wine – it now was a place where heaven and earth met and Jesus’ presence was somehow there in the elements.

Later, we got a name for this happening: transubstantiation. Using Greek philosophical thought, Thomas Aquinas (arguably one of the greatest Christian thinkers) developed an explanation of how the bread and wine could still look like wine, but also be the actual body and blood of Jesus. (Short version: everything has physical attributes – accident, and a spiritual reality – substance. So, in the blessing, the substance [read spiritual reality] changed but the accident [physical properties] didn’t. It looked, smelled, and tasted the same, but was in a spiritual sense different.)

Some Reformers had different thoughts on the matter; notably Zwingli, who saw sharing the bread and wine as a moment where Jesus was spiritually present with the believers, not necessarily in the elements. Meaning, the bread and wine were symbols and were not transformed in any way. Rather, the moment when the believers shared together was transformed into a holy moment by the presence of Jesus with the spiritual family. Calvin differed slightly, taking a stance that included some kind of real presence, but that the action of sharing Communion allowed the believers to experience presently a moment of future heavenly joy, peace, and love. Many believers belonging to groups stemming from the Reformed tradition often share in Communion a few times per year in order to give it proper reverence.

Later movements (including the Stone-Campbell Movement) kept the elements, but returned to the ancient practice of weekly sharing of the Lord’s Supper.

So, long story short (for those of you who wanted a quick answer) Christians used to have a full-blown meal. For several reasons, the bread and wine was separated from the meal and became apart of the worship service. Many years later (depending on your church’s beliefs) you share communion/Eucharist together with other believers knowing that, in some way, Jesus is present while it happens.

Most traditions do require baptism before taking communion. Reasons differ, but there is an element of belief and commitment to Jesus that does need to be present. Because it is a remembrance and a future-looking action, we both remember Jesus’ death and resurrection and our own baptism, as well as looking forward to the resurrection and renewing of all things to come.

Now, as for stale crackers – that may just be that some of those crackers are held over from week to week.

Have you had a discussion with your children about the meaning of the Lord’s Supper? Regardless of your tradition or church’s belief, you can have a discussions and explain how your church family believes and approaches this central moment of worship.

(For those of you that are interested, my sources, in no particular order are:

The Story of Christianity Volume 2 by Justo  L. Gonzalez

Reconstructing Early Christian Worship by Paul Bradshaw)