HWJR

Reactions are a dime a dozen. We have them all the time to the news, to stories, to friend’s actions, to tragedies and comedies, to world events, and local happenings. The way we react often shows what kind of person we are, though.

Consider your reaction to the following statements, made without commentary:

There is probably a mosque somewhere in your town where Muslims worship in a traditionally Arabic fashion.

There is a group of transgender folks who gather for support and encouragement in a local cafe in your town.

There are several people you know who have either considered abortion or have had one.

One of your family members may be homosexual.

Immigrants are entering the country everyday, both legally and illegally.

The political party you support will probably not make any real changes to fix urgent problems if elected.

What kind of reaction did each of those statements illicit from you? Were you angry? Sympathetic? Concerned? Distressed? Happy? Encouraged? Worried? Aggravated? Sit with that emotion for just a moment and consider why you feel that way? What belief or information is driving that feeling?

Emotions are important, they are a natural part of being made in the image of God. Throughout the Bible, we see that God shows emotion. He is not a being of apathetic distance, but a father to his people. God is shown as happy, sad, angry, pleased, disappointed, all emotions we regularly experience ourselves. Jesus shows these emotions himself, laughing, weeping, becoming angry, and showing frustration. But consider what causes the emotions in God’s case.

His anger comes in the face of oppression, when people scoff at God by exploiting the land and the people. When the poor are not given their wages, and the widows and orphans are left to fend for themselves. His anger burns at those who disregard holiness and the Law, who rebel, intentionally or unintentionally, against what God has decreed. Jesus becomes angry on several occasions, once even harnessing his anger to drive out those trying to make a profit off of worship in the Temple.

God’s joy comes in his people banding together in worship and common cause. He delights when his people show compassion and deal justly with one another. Jesus rejoices when people give up their selfishness and follow his path of giving, love, and sacrifice. He delights in the gifts of the widow and the woman who anointed him.

The questions I need to ask is: How Would Jesus React? When we read through the gospel accounts and then look at the statements above, what reactions can we honestly say Jesus would have at those statements? How would he view these people who are also made in God’s image, who are also God’s children?

Within the same week, I have finished a book and am in the middle of a podcast that seem to work together. The book is titled Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road and it details the life of Mazhar Mallouhi a man who describes himself as a Muslim follower of Christ, meaning he is culturally Muslim (read “Arabic” if that is more comfortable), but he views Christ as his Lord. He seeks to bridge the divisions between Christians and Muslims by pointing to Christ with his life and actions and to point out where tradition on both sides causes more problems than solutions. The Cracked Podcast, which is not kid-friendly, in the episode “How Evolution Made Us Unfit for the Modern World” talks about how our brains aren’t made to handle the amount of anxiety we face in today’s world. They point to how drinking, drugs, and suicide are on the rise as coping mechanisms for the sheer number of stimuli that we face. Consider that some of you are feeling a sense of dread from that last sentence alone.

Consider, then, how Jesus reacted. When he saw a problem that broke his heart, he let it. He wept, he hurt, he shared in the shame of those he met. That was only ever half of his reaction, though, he then did something about it. Then, he let his Father handle the rest. He healed, he forgave, he fed, he welcomed. We see so many problems in the world that break our heart and gives us fear and anxiety. And, to be fair, sometimes anxiety and depression are due to chemical imbalances that need medical attention. Instead of living in that anxiety and despair, let’s do something about it. Whether that’s seeking medical help, donating funds, giving of our time, welcoming someone into our home, or meeting someone we wouldn’t normally speak to, doing something is the second part of the reaction.

Mazhar Mallouhi points out in an interview at the end of the book that “Western” Christians tend to spend a lot of unnecessary time asking about God’s will. Mallouhi points out that if you have read the Bible for any length of time, God’s will is pretty well clarified: justice, compassion, mercy; take care of the orphan, widow, stranger; seek God and his Kingdom; don’t worry, but give everything to God. This also comes from a man who was imprisoned for his faith for over a week in solitary confinement and torture who struggled to see God’s will. He came to the conclusion that he was sharing in Jesus’ suffering and shame, just as Jesus shared in humanity’s suffering and shame on the cross.

When the news comes on tonight and you feel yourself begin to react, ask yourself why and then ask yourself what you are going to to about it. Either get up, and do something, or give it up, and let God handle it. As Jesus says, worrying about it will change nothing, not even change your hair color (you at least have to act to change your hair color.)

How do your reactions to current events affect your children? Do they see that they have agency through God to change situations? Do they see that their only option is worry? How do you discuss the ideas of worry, and giving things over to God?

Arguing with God

Betting is not something my family does often. In fact, I was taught growing up to, “Only bet if you know you’re going to win.” And, really, at that point it’s not so much gambling as it is an investment with no money upfront. I’ve only ever won two bets in my life (with actual money on the line) and it was over things as silly as what kind of batter was used on the Marietta Diner’s Monte Cristo sandwich and whether or not Sicily was an independent state apart from Italy. Regardless of the winner, I learned that debates often get settled and can end on good terms, or can end up with both parties frustrated.

So what happens when we argue with God? Or, maybe a better question is, “can we argue with God?”

To answer the second question first, yes, we can argue with God. Moses debated with God. The psalmists argued with God. Abraham bargained with God. Jesus had some back and forth in the garden. Jacob wrestled with God, and Job called God to a court date. So as far as the Bible is concerned – go for it. Now, the only caveat there would be the first question – then what?

Well, it turns out remarkably well for most of these people. Moses and the psalmists are reminding God of His promises, and those promises are honored. Abraham is bargaining for the lives of some fairly questionable people, but still in line with God’s character as described in 1 Peter where God is patient and wants everyone to come to repentance. Jacob leaves with a blessing… and a permanent limp. And Job… well… let’s talk about Job.

Job’s life was great, until it wasn’t. God had enough faith in Job to call the Accuser’s bluff and allow a trial by fire. Job had nearly everything taken from him, along with his health. And he wonders out loud how this sort of thing happens. Job calls on God to answer him, to just give him some reason of why. Job is willing to admit his guilt, if there is something un-confessed and un-forgiven, and to submit to God, if only God would answer. Obviously, from chapter one, we get to see that Job’s and God’s relationship is mature, clear, and healthy, but suddenly Job is thrown into uncertainty and just wants an answer. He gets a little terse with God in his speeches, though not going so far as to blaspheme or speak against God.

Then God shows up. And God is ready for the trial. He uses the same confrontational tone Job does, respecting the relationship, and calls Job to the floor asking him to explain how the universe works and asks Job if he has the power to run the world. Job realizes what having a full-on come-to-Jesus meeting really means and answers demurely that God’s right. God, however, keeps going, creating more questions than answers. And we have to assume that over the course of those questions, Job begins to realize that God had never forgotten him or looked away, despite the horrific pain Job experienced. (God speaks about watching over the lives of animals who live far from human eyes – and why wouldn’t God keep an eye on Job if He kept an eye on them.)

We have full rights as children to question, debate, bargain, and argue, but we have to consider what we will do when God does show up. What happens when we offer up something huge to God and he actually calls our bluff? (I still feel like God smiled a little too quickly when I halfheartedly filledĀ  out an application to teach English in China. My bluff was called and I ended up going.) God is our Father, and we can often act pretty childish sometimes. But the more our relationship with God matures, we realize that we can speak openly,plainly, emotionally, and vulnerably with Him. And, He will respond in kind, by leading us through questions and situations that help us to better understand our relationships and lives.

You can argue with God, but, remember, “With great power comes great responsibility.” When God does answer, and does show up… how will you respond?

How do you handle debate and argument in your family? Do your children feel able to come to you openly and vulnerably? Are discussions shut down quickly or is understanding reached? How does your style of discussion and debate model God’s responses to His people?

Does Asking Show Weakness?

American culture is strange in the way that we have a hard time asking for what we need. We grow up being taught the American motto of “pick yourself up” and a healthy dose of self-reliance. In one way, this is an admirable quest to create self-reliant individuals capable of creating new, exciting ways of expression, technologies, and interactions. On the other hand, the concept of the ask has become almost taboo. We have this horrifying mental image of ourselves with hands outstretched weak, vulnerable, helpless as we wait for someone to meet our need.

But is it so wrong to be vulnerable, to wait on someone’s aid? Is it wrong for a commander to ask his soldiers to back him during a particularly harrowing fight? Is it wrong for the president to seek counsel or ask another foreign leader for support in an international conflict? Is it particularly weak to admit that, perhaps, we have a need that we are sorely lacking in ability or resources to meet?

A quick read of the first five books of the Bible shows leaders, strong men and women, who all cry out to God in their moments of vulnerability: Jacob’s fear at meeting his estranged brother, the Israelites in captivity, trapped between an army and a sea, or Moses or Aaron troubled and worn down by the trials of leadership. The first five books of the New Testament also show many people who cry out to Jesus, the early church crying out on behalf of Peter and the other apostles, Paul on behalf of the churches. Many of these people are individuals we would consider strong, grounded individuals, and yet they were willing to make themselves vulnerable to the King and Lord of all.

We may fear being overheard as well. Speaking things out loud, into the world is powerful. Genesis uses speaking to describe God’s creation, mirroring our ability to make things happen by speaking them. Now, I sure would love to speak food into existence, but our speaking doesn’t have that kind of power. It does have the ability to instill courage, joy, comfort, peace, to begin a movement, or to rebuke in love.We might, and rightly so, be afraid of what may happen when we speak our troubles, insecurities, weaknesses, or doubts out loud. We may fear our own reaction if we accept those things we hold at arms length. Or maybe we fear that the spiritual forces of evil may latch onto our weakness and begin attacking at the crack in our wall.

If the Enemy does hear our weakness? Well, consider that an enemy in wartime is often watching for movement and interaction. Many times, communications simply corroborate the information gained from observation. It’s almost like approaching the teacher when dealing with a bully. Sure, the bully hears the problem and vulnerability, but the bully also becomes aware that his target now has a powerful ally. Same with wartime, sure, the enemy knows of a breach in the wall, but the thought of facing down a powerful ally will give that enemy pause before attacking. Consider, too, in light of many of the Lament Psalms, we often don’t cry out and reveal our vulnerability until we are feeling attacked and weakened. Our concern at that moment should not be whether or not the Enemy hears, but rather anticipating the answer from God, our Father, who is always present.

Prayer is a conversation with a parent. Parents, from what I’ve gathered, can often know what their child needs and wants before the child asks.I know, personally, that my parents were amazingly accurate when it came to Christmas and birthdays, even without asking me. I’m sure I gave myself away, but they listened, even when I didn’t ask. But, sometimes they would wait until I asked, until I realized what I needed. I feel like God does the same. He does know us inside out and knows the hairs on our head, but he wants us to ask. We often don’t have because we don’t ask.

But what good is prayer? Prayer is a moment when God’s time and space overlap with our own. In those moments, God hears and speaks with his child. And, the mechanics of prayer differ slightly depending on your theological outlook. One of the primary views is that God knows, and has a plan, and that our prayer is what draws us into that plan as we grow to understand what God has laid out for us since the beginning of Creation. Another view is that our prayers do, like a child’s pleas, have the ability to affect God and have him act on our behalf.

CS Lewis describes humanity as an amphibious creature that lives both in a physical reality and in the spiritual reality. He goes on to point out that our spirit is affected by our body and vice versa. So, when we bow our knees in prayer in our physical bodies, our spiritual self submits itself to God by adopting that posture. When we extend our hands to receive blessing, our spirit positions itself in thankful receipt of that blessing. And, when we physically speak our needs, our prayers, our spirit is speaking as well, along with the Holy Spirit, who knows us so intimately that it can fill in the gaps between our words with deeper meaning, helping to plead our case.

Truly, Jesus said it best in the Sermon on the Mount. He teaches us how to pray, reminds us to keep our eye on God during our worship and service, reminds us not to worry, reminds us that realizing God’s forgiveness of us helps us to see others clearly, and finally reminds us to ask… to ask! Matthew 7.7-11 is all about asking, seeking, knocking all referring not only to God but to others. Others may meet our needs out of annoyance, or frustration at our asking, but God fulfills our needs out of love.

The thing about asking, which brings us full circle, is the vulnerability of waiting for the answer to our request. God, or another person, is free to say “no,” or “yes,” as the case may be. We fear the “no,” but we must bravely risk the ask. So, in a way, never asking at all shows us as insecure, as being afraid, unsure how we will react to a negative response.

May we be as bold as Hezekiah, asking for the sun to go backwards. May we be as bold as Jesus, asking for his people to be one and to model his love. May we be as bold as Moses, who debated with God in the wilderness. May we be as bold as Abraham, bargaining for the lives of Sodom and Gomorrah. May we be as bold as Jacob, who refused to let go of a heavenly messenger until he received a blessing. Let us be confident in our position as royalty in Christ, as God’s children, and understand that “no” shows as much love as “yes” sometimes. May we boldly ask, and boldly understand.

When do you pray together as a family? On what are your prayers focused? Do you praise? Do you ask? Do you focus on yourselves, on others, on the world? What are your children learning about prayer from your prayer time, and the way you interact with them? When they hear praying is like speaking with a parent, will that be a positive, or a negative story?

Who Gets My Sympathy?

I’ve spent some time lately with two men that I had never really noticed before. Both are older brothers like me, and in their culture they are due honor, and a magnificent inheritance. Somewhere along the way, though, their younger brothers ended up with the honor, the inheritance, and left them with less than what they expected. Their younger brothers are heroes, of a sort, while these two men sit in relative obscurity, depending on who you know.

The first man is named Ishmael. For a while, his father’s pride a joy, and later his father’s wife’s castaway. Left to die in the desert, God looked down and saved his life, making him into something great from what would have been another wasted life. Between he and his brother, his brother got the story, but our sympathy is with Ishmael.

The second man’s name is Esau, a man tricked, deceived and cut out by his own twin brother. Left with a consolation prize. Sure, he made some poor decisions and lived life his own way rather than follow the advice of his mother or father but did he deserve such a cold surprise? His story involves one of the most heart-achingly painful moments of realization and loss as he and his father both realize at once that they have been deceived and they tremble, not with rage, but with sorrow.

Many of our arguments and debates in America at the moment hinge on the strong opposing the weak. White v. black. Democrat v Republican. West v East. Mature v yet-to-be-born. If we follow, truly follow, Jesus’ life and message, our lives should be directed toward the weak, rather than the strong. When the next national debate comes on, ask yourself the question: “Who is advantaged here? Who is disadvantaged?” Perhaps, as in the case of Ishmael and Esau, we can all develop some empathy for the overlooked. Or, like Ishmael and Esau, as the older brothers, show humility and quiet strength in accepting the victories of the younger brothers.

Where do you see the disadvantaged that need support? Where do you see strength that needs humility? How do you explain helping those that need help to your children? What methods do you as a family use to help others?

 

Laundry Theology

I came across an idea today that is distinctly Jewish, but it bears some thought. The author made a point that the central Jewish religious consciousness is the mistvah – or the doing of what God said, in overly simplified definition. He makes a contrast to what he, being Jewish, sees as the central Christian idea of avoiding or washing away of sin. I found it an interesting contrast.

So, in effect, do Christians seem to be focused on the job of taking off dirty clothes and getting them washed? Do we focus overly much on the “do not’s” rather than the “do’s?”

I have seen so many Christian Facebook posts and heard so many sermons on the idea of sin. And, as Ecclesiastes points out, there is a time for everything. But when do we ever get to the doing? When do we get to the praying continually, giving thanks in all circumstances, giving with a cheerfulness, walking the extra mile, shrugging off insults, and welcoming the stranger, outcast, widow, and orphan?

Mitzvah is considered, again simplified, as something to be acquired, something to put on, like clothing. Heschel, the author, points out that Jewish tradition describes sin as “losing mitzvah” which is one reason why Adam and Eve felt naked, because they had stripped off the one mitzvah (rule) they had.

Also, as Christians, we’re called to a much higher standard than “keep your new shoes clean.” If we go through our day focused on, “Don’t mess up,” we are ultimately missing out on the joy of Christianity. Our goal should be to go out and do the good deed, be charitable, be kind, be sacrificial in our giving to others. We don’t hear that enough. We serve a King, and he has commanded His people to love, to get out there and take risks on behalf of others.

What is the focus in your home? Do you and your family focus on the do not’s or do you focus on the do’s? What is your standard for living life: keep clean while avoiding sin, or take risks in kindness and generosity? Are you shooting for the curb or aiming to shine like stars in a crooked and depraved generation?

Movie Review: Suicide Squad and Your Distrust of Others (Oh, and Star Trek Beyond, too)

And here goes another unpopular opinion: Suicide Squad was as disappointingly mediocre as Batman v Superman and had all of the charisma of a wet paper bag in a humid car trunk on a 3 hour drive.

And, why? I wanted to like this movie. I went in with all of the expectation of a kid at Christmas, albeit a dark, grim, gallows-humor-themed Christmas, and was again reminded that, as of right now, DC and Warner Brothers have little to give to the girls and boys than coal… which is on fire… that melts the Christmas stockings, which, of course, are super flammable anyway. One of my biggest problems with this movie continues to be the number of punch lines set-up and then left dangling. A pink unicorn was perfectly in place to save the life of one of the more bizarre characters, but was switched out for a wad of money. Why have the character make a big deal about the unicorn but not go for the easy punchline?

Anyway, my wife and I may have made a strategically poor choice seeing Star Trek Beyond right before viewing Suicide Squad. Star Trek was an exciting romp through a brightly lit, colorful world full of interesting characters who were more interested in development than in shooting one another. This team of explorers was able to plumb the depths of their respective characters in more fulfilling ways, pairing up in unexpected ways for more clever interactions. The music was well placed and the humor impeccably timed. Each character needed to find himself or herself by the end of the film, and each one did, coming to different conclusions that fit their true natures. And I didn’t even mind the “mystery box” reveal or somewhat predictable plot line because I had fun. If it weren’t for the violence in this movie, I might recommend it for kids, because of the journey and underlying hopeful message of the film. As it is, I would recommend this for preteens and up, with parental supervision.

I cannot say the same for Suicide Squad. To be honest, this film probably would have fared better if they had gone ahead and pushed for the “R” rating. Watching a bunch of hardened criminals watching their language and trying to be cautious with their violence, if not their threats, made for an odd movie. And these films seem unwilling to acknowledge the the whole idea of costumed heroes and villains is, inherently, a little silly. Why try so hard to make things overly realistic when a clown girl with a baseball bat is fighting spooky space monsters next to a man named “Captain Boomerang?” What bothers me the most about the current state of the DC movie universe (DC being the Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman cast of characters) is its total inability to trust anyone… ever. Sure, this movie was about lowlifes and criminals coming together to get something done… but Guardians of the Galaxy did that… better. In a way, the movie tries to get across that the “bad guys” in their sociopathic distrust of other humans are fundamentally right in the way they think – each of the non-superpowered humans in this film lie, cheat, withhold, and murder with abandon in a way that seems to surprise even the “bad guys.”

The conflict for me between these two movies is their underlying message. Star Trek aims high with the, “If we work together, anything is possible, though we will struggle.” Which adequately sums up much of life as we know it. Suicide Squad, on the other hand seems to say, “Don’t trust anyone, especially authority, especially ‘normal’ people, and always keep your finger on the trigger.” It’s a hopeless message that actually speaks to the generation coming up behind me. This current spirit of distrust and hopelessness will only get worse unless the generation that has the authority chooses to use that authority for the better – to prove their trustworthiness against the perceived odds.

While it may be wise to harbor some natural distrust of the sinful nature of human beings, what kind of life is it to raise a child to believe that sinful nature is all there is to humanity?

And as for a movie that will inspire young girls and young women to aspire to greatness… go watch Star Trek Beyond. Men and women equally dash into the fray, take one on the chin, and have to make face tough choices. Both are equally admirable in their bravery, competency, and intelligence. Suicide Squad, however, thinks women are objects, or fundamentally untrustworthy, or better seen and not heard. Just because women are included in a team does not mean they are represented fairly or well.

So, in the end, have you as a parent discussed issues surrounding trust and hope? What do your conversations at home concerning the news, current events, and others in your neighborhood sound like? Do you teach a necessary, fundamental hope? Or do you focus on the worry, the despair, and the pain?

Look Around at How Lucky We Are to Be Alive Right Now

I mean, really, the top-grossing, most engaging piece of art created this year is a Broadway show about immigrants who become American Founding Fathers played by an almost entirely non-white cast. If you would have told me a Broadway show would capture the mainstream culture before hearing about Hamilton, I never would have believed you. And the title of this blog comes from a song. Give it a listen here.

Being honest with you, the political discussions taking place right now seem so backwards it’s discomforting. The Republicans, usually the party of patriotism, American exceptionalism, and ra-ra-‘Merica has become the party of doom, gloom, and the Apocalypse. Meanwhile, that patriotism and optimism about the future has migrated to the Democratic party, usually known for their criticism of the American way of life.

Setting politics aside for a moment, look around. We are living in a time of prosperity. For the most part, our biggest concerns in America are whether or not the AC is working in this heat wave or why the DVR isn’t programming properly. Our biggest choices are what to watch on Netflix or on what cuisine dinner will be based. Let’s face it, our biggest challenges right now are small compared to what some families face in disputed territories or war-ravaged regions.

Do I think life in America is perfect? No, I don’t. We have problems, yes, just like any family who’s going through some changes. America is like a huge adopted family – with all of the blessings and struggles that come along with that. We have conflicts and concerns, but we should be able to work those things out, right? There’s no need to consider now to be the end times… right?

Consider this, kids worry… a lot. Kids are concerned about divorce, about shootings, about why some of their relatives don’t like black people or Muslims. Kids watch the news and lie awake at night wondering if the terrible wars and bombings will show up on their own doorstep. What are you doing to allay those fears? How do your words reflect that your child is as safe as possible?

Despite what the 24-hour news cycle would have us believe, we are safer now than in any period of history. We have fewer wars, fewer murders, and crime, except in a few spots, is down nationally. But, saying, “You know what, guys? We’re doing all right. See you later,” doesn’t get people to watch the news.

So, isn’t this enough? Can we be content with what we have while striving for a better tomorrow? How does the old saying go, “We’re borrowing this world today from our children?”

When your child seems worried, take the time to talk through the issues. Use your experience, what you know of God, and critical optimism to give hope for the future.