Seeing Through a Glass Darkly Among the Facebook Aristocracy

It will of course be no surprise to many of you that we have become a nation of experts on just about everything under the sun it would seem, especially amidst our favorite social media and information highway platforms. Many in fact spout off about things they know; things they think they know; things they don’t really know; and things that are perhaps better off left unsaid altogether. Of particular interest to me is the fact that most of these would be prophets have their particular freak flag that they fly, and that once you look behind the veneer of, always seem to gravitate towards their particular identity politic; victimhood; geography; ethnicity; or particular bandwagon that the cultural elite have been branding to these gullible masses. And in this milieu of a smorgasbord of so-called answers “blowing in the wind”, the quest for some real truth to sink one’s teeth into has been about like trying to nail Jell-O to a freakin wall! This is particularly the case for those who are truly seeking after it, yet which also makes those attempting to speak into the cultural wind with some sort of truthful acumen tantamount to begging for a fistfight of expletives in your social media face in seconds flat.

This new phenomenon seems to be the case among the average Joe who gets his daily diet of information in mere sound bites and video vignettes from their favorite news channel; or even worse, their favorite TV show.   But I’ve found even among those who may have a specialization in a certain area, or having read the latest book on a topic at hand (a real rare phenomenon); and even those who claim allegiance to a particular brand of Christianity or clerical robe, often times speak out of that frame of reference, as opposed to speaking from the overarching motif of grace and that of expressed wisdom sifted through a self-admitted opaque glass. To be sure, I believe there are things we can truly know, and know matter-of-factly, both in the seen and unseen realm, even though the latter regards a metaphysical truth of which modern man has now discounted as mere codswallop. However, that modicum of knowledge that we can come down on, is most often found at the apex of one stalwart platform of certainty: The fact that Jesus took our place. In the words of Bono, it is indeed the “thought that changed the world”.

I say all this to say that it is through the lens of a beneficiary with absolutely nothing to give in return, and also found with no bargaining chips on the table with which to broker a deal with the divine that we then view the world; and that we then humbly attempt to speak into with the unassuming invitation, “Be reconciled to God”. And in spite of what should be obvious to those of us who have walked with a limp on the narrow path for any length of time, I have noticed that the aforementioned groups of people sound off more out of their particular brand of “high-horse” or “groupthink” rather than through both an objective and subjective stance (since the truth we uphold comprises both). Of particular interest and bewilderment for me are those who claim to be harbingers of the ancient path of truth, yet ostensibly do so driven from cultural dictates of current chicness like everyone else, or from a particular “family tradition”, rather than as one speaking from the posture of a prayerful and biblical watchman and discerner of both the truth, as well as the distant mysteries held in equal tension this side of heaven.

In fact, I have found that the quest for truth requires a “both/and” and not an “either/or” approach to arrive at a truth that is substantial enough to both weather the storms of life over the long term, and that also is capable of navigating through both plausible and implausible truth claims vying for attention and allegiance. All in all, we have an awful lot of so-called knowledge that we are sure is “the gospel according to us”, but very little wisdom tempering the claim to such from those who both “know” Him, and equally recognize His ways are past finding out. Though that might sound like the voice of a relativist, it is actually more the story of a weak man’s walk with Christ with his ears and eyes wide open in the midst of both the temporal and the eternal; the secret and also revealed; and equally as part of the kingdom that is both here and still not yet. And it is my personal belief as a wayward traveler on the narrow path, that perhaps once we attempt to get beyond “Jesus took my place”, most of us are found a “day late and a dollar short” of the truth we proclaim, and with big mouths that are better off being shut to a world trying to find it’s way to our path still sadly less traveled.

I must say that it has taken me many years of dangers, toils and snares to come to this very delicate dichotomy between that which I know and that which I am still seeking, and thus I now refrain from too many “soapbox” temptations. I used to preach to my parishioners (unknowingly at the time) from a vantage point of one who had the truth they should listen to, yet quickly conceded amidst my own daily mirror check hoping to see the reflection of a victor of the Christian life, and found instead a mere beggar searching for crumbs staring back at me. From that point onward, I came down from the “holy man chairs” and sat on the pews with the rest of the sinners, and only approached the sacred desk with fear and trembling before speaking “thus saith the Lord” to those in my humble care. It was then that I realized that my theologies and dogmata were of interest to me perhaps, yet not so much to those who were simply trying to get through another night without pulling the trigger, and who desperately needed to see the gospel come in shoe leather of real tangible hope, rather than homilies filled with moral prescriptions no one can keep past Monday morning. Instead, I became a mutual traveler on the narrow path, albeit as one appointed to guide others to where the water truly flowed, and to the one who promised that those who drank deeply of His reservoir would never thirst again. In essence, I also stopped inviting people to church by putting the cart before the horse, and instead directed them to the one who alone had the power to calm and likewise walk through the storms of their lives, footprints and all.

And yet what seems self-evident to those of us who hobble along on the narrow path, is in fact a forest by and large missed by a conglomeration of deviational or comfortable trees by a myriad of other voices in the market square, as well as by so-called friends and family members alike who are praying for our salvation to their way of thinking, and who are “praying for us ” that we finally get it right. They are those who are surer than the word of God itself it seems, and who are relentless in their adamancy that if we’d just fall in line, we could once and for all be just like them, and the(ir) world would then be a happier place.

Though to be sure the “seeing through a glass darkly” Christian life can be a lonely trek on the narrow path, and can be equally comprised of a much shorter “friends” list. And yet at this very acute cost, the opposite tendency of joining in with dogmatic assertion and argumentation while holding too many theological lines drawn in the sand, rather than a more cautious dark glass theology, is much more costly still I’m afraid. And in the aftermath, the former is ripe with casualties that thwart the very mission to bring the “good news” to those who actually want to hear it. Yet to be sure, many take the “glass-darkly” side as synonymous to entrance into the slippery slope of compromise and unorthodoxy, yet walking in the center of biblical tension is a tightrope worth the vulnerability it inevitably brings for those who in the end find the Master there with his outstretched hand guiding us to our final destination.

All in all, as found in the greatest words perhaps ever penned on the topic of love, and words of which are far too easily scurried through on countless wedding days, the apostle Paul himself (the self-recognized “chief of sinners”) reminds us that in this life, “we see through a glass darkly”, and only in the Lord’s eschaton will we “fully know”, and thus will be “fully known” by the only one who truly has the keys to the kingdom. His conclusion holds out before us three things that when all is said and done we can hold on to with a firm and constant surety: it is that of faith, hope and love. The very things we cannot see, but when experienced, are felt far beyond any sermon or moral admonition we could ever remember; and that of which the greatest of those is LOVE. And thus as those of us of whom it is incumbent upon to speak of that which we do know, it must always be through the bestowal of a more loving mirror theology if it is ever to reach the hearts of those that desperately need to hear less from a f—ing know it all, and more from a mutual beggar who has found crumbs to share.

“We are all beggars, this is true”.

the dying words of Martin Luther

 

Selah

 

 

 

How to Save a Life

An Encounter

 In one of those rare moments of late, this week I had the great privilege of witnessing humanity at it’s best at just about the time I had concluded western civilization’s (and more specifically America’s) fall into the abyss as an ever increasing and most imminent certainty. This series of episodic events over the course of the last few months started with my brief encounter with a homeless man whose morose and disheveled appearance struck me to the very core, much as the plight of the forgotten and dismissed in our society always has. Yet this man’s humble and yet acutely saturnine eyes began to tell me a story that I needed to hear for myself.

It started as an occasional dash to the golden arches on a Saturday or Sunday morning for a satiating sausage McGriddle for my wife and I after a weeklong observance of abstinence from life’s fonder pleasures. As I entered the drive-thru, I saw him out the corner of my eye, sitting there like someone uninvited yet nonetheless out front and center lingering abashedly for a few morsels from any rich man’s table. Then, as I ordered my food, I said to the drive-thru attendant, “make that a double order please”, as I then moseyed my way back around to roll down my window with his bag of food and drink with a simple “God Bless” as I then skirted by. This is of course something very easy to do, which at least bespeaks of a heart headed in the right place I suppose. However, it is as also an all too easy “pass” for most of us to skate by the obvious plank in our society’s eye that we like to pretend is simply not there while the time-release nature of our increasing desensitization capitulates once again. And then as I ride off into my middle-class coastal weekend of sunbathing, cold beer and a Sabbath observance and rest on Sunday, I begin to contemplate about what I have witnessed as I often do; and yet again to what the Lord himself would have me do about it.

After guilting myself about my own lack of response to simply open my doors to one such as he, I am quickly reminded of all of societies justifiable reasons one cannot open up his home with a wife and kids to a stranger of his kind. This of course is all quite evenhanded in both a protective and financial capacity; and yet at the same time a very clear watering down of a gospel that once upon a time was the church’s golden rule rather than a now more normal exception to it. And the thought occurred to me that it seems that it must take just about 2000 years or better to go from losing our lives to saving it again. And I’m also reminded very quickly why nothing much happens worthy of a powerful notation to a people who have somehow now lost their first love, and who have clearly forgotten that Babylon is not their home.

A History of College Tries

Nonetheless, on another note, I guess you could say I have been an advocate of the poor and downtrodden for most of my life, to at least give myself a grade on the curve. And throughout the course of my life, on any given day, our family was joined with weary life travelers who stopped in for a time of rest and a little helping hand. Of course I’d like to say that as a result of this ongoing practice I’d have an entourage of successful stories of how my rescue resulted in some “happily ever after” for those in my care. However, the truth is that most accepted my help, all the while rejecting my offer of the one who could really help them, and who then exited out my door to either an untimely death; a trek deeper into their favorite mire; or with a contumacious resolve to simply do it their way yet again. Perhaps the messenger was not as good as he should have been, or perhaps what I learned is that it’s mostly about our obedience to an open-handed life rather than the possession of a pragmatic catalog of “winning” at any heroic rescues to speak of which sell books and ushers one into some church hall of fame. Many who watched as result were sure that we were fools full of naiveté and grandiose ideas in trying to make this wretched world some better place, while others chilly obtuseness resigned them to a comfortable and lingering judgment of our endeavors, towering behind a infectious and rampant belief that “there but for the grace of God go I” applied to everyone but their miserable selves.

Yet even as a person with a track record of at least playing at “losing one’s life” for the sake of the gospel throughout the last 26 years of my life, I’ve gone through periodic bouts of joining the ranks of the naysayers, and then back again to someone who increasingly scratches his head as to why those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ have softened so much of the gospel’s loudest commandment’s around wealth and money to a very sanitized and distant undertone. And as I muse through these things, I make my way back through the drive-thru line again for a fast food fix; drop off another bag of goodies to my new and comfortably detached acquaintance; and off to my next first-world excursion.

And then the day came when I finally decided to engage him. I asked him about his story, and where he’d been in his life. He then proceeded to tell me as a man in his late fifties to early sixties about a family that had all now passed away, and about multiple heart surgeries that left him as someone with already limited skills incapable of full sustainment in this “swimming with the sharks” economy. In addition, he told me about countless tries to gain consistent employment yet continually being let go as a result of his obvious health liabilities to his employer. I then gave a feeble smile, told him I would be praying, and casually mentioned that I wanted people in the community to know about his plight. And then, like a well-intentioned do-gooder, I whisked away to yet another fantastic distraction until this week brought his memory again to my mind.

The Ray of Hope

 It seemed that someone posted something on our community Facebook site inquiring if anyone knew the story of this humble yet familiar untouchable of our seaside community. Then within moments, many began to chime in along with my wife and I about our individual interactions with him and the desire to help in some way. These comments continued amidst an occasional stone cast from Scrooge-like posts bidding us to in essence allow the decreasing of the surplus population to take its evolutionary course. All the while, one brave soul took it upon himself to start a “GoFundMe” page for our new nomadic friend. Within hours, a large sum of money was raised to help get a myriad of essentials this man would need to at least have a chance to breathe but for a moment. All the while, many more have pledged to give longer term support to a man who found himself caught up in a tailspin of life of which he had no ability to recover from. Many more have vowed to work with him to chip away at the barriers in his life preventing him from any type of hope or survival in this dog-eat-dog world of which we are all but a paycheck away from homelessness inside of ourselves. And I’ll have to say that this old dog has been given a new found faith in humanity this week, and with a new resolve to constantly be wiling to speak out and for the vulnerable of our world that the scriptures uniformly and exhaustively compel us towards. So I guess you could say that this week I learned firsthand again how you actually save a life; which most always comes by being wiling to lose some of it first of all.

A Plea to the Church Idea I Love

I’ve been an advocate for some time now of the church taking one homeless person, or family at a time, and to go beyond “feeding the homeless” to actually doing what I witnessed this week in “homing” the homeless; since that is clearly what they need. And as I say this, I know many individuals have actually done this, and many more have spawned organizations that do their best to take many off the streets who have no hope unless a truly good Samaritan should pass their way willing to stick it out over a much longer and messier haul. Yet the truth is, that most of us would not give to organizations that expend most of their resources to the machine itself, with very little left for the propagation of the gospel and to the poor Jesus said he came specifically for. And yet even as I say this, I know that the church has done more to alleviate the ills of society than any other organization known to man “hands down”. Yet somehow I believe that we have allowed the professionalization of the ministry and the needs of those within it’s comfortable and long-term ranks to supersede the needs of the one’s Jesus said were “the least of these”, and to whose humble care is sure and eternal criterion for sitting on his right hand. By choice, however painfully, I finally chose to be an unsuccessful minister in a system that many times fails to read the so obvious writing on the church wall in regards to this fly in its ointment. And to a system that actually once turned a watching world “upside down”. And yet even as I say this, I know that the hope of the world still remains with the church; or at least by those within her ranks. I only mean to say that this week, I learned how to save a life from the roadies and not the boys in the band.

 

Selah

 

 

The Light in Christendom is But a Flicker Now: Part II

Hello friends. I left off last week with some thoughts about the concept of Christian exile, and the flicker of light left in the church in perhaps an unexpected tangent: By way of my confession of voting for the enigma which is Donald J. Trump. In fact, after touching on several issues about my ongoing cracked up life in order to get us there, that’s where I ultimately landed; with the overall purpose of getting us to think about exile and the fact that we are most definitely in it, irregardless of who is temporarily in the White House. I tried to do so subtly by interjecting that our vote as Christians was perhaps more out of fear of having to live as exilic people more than anything else. My thesis was that part of the reason that droves of Christians in America voted for the billionaire and chief, is because we are afraid that for the first time in our known history, the Christian value system is becoming extinct both in the American public square, and in the thoughts, minds and overall consciousness of almost everyone we rub shoulders with now. We’ve all felt it, and we secretly know it to be true, but somehow we’ve escaped once more due to an election without having to give it much reflective thought. And I for one believe that this is perhaps the beginning of our undoing.

 

And of course in a sense, all of this that I’m speaking about is not a secret as I also suggested last week. The reason is because we have actually been on this moral spiral downward motion for several decades now. However, in the wake of the last eight years of a liberal administration, when we’ve actually witnessed the last of nationally accepted Christian ethics fall like dominoes before our eyes and then actually become new laws in the realms of the definition of marriage and gender identity to name a few, the Christian masses are almost certain that Armageddon is just in sight. And as I mentioned last week, many middle class voters showed up in mass for Trump on Nov. 8th also due to feeling that they had been long left out of the public discussion that would concern them for so long, and are those who have been by and large left out of what remains of the American Dream. In addition, those same people who espoused to many of the same values we mutually as a nation had once held so dear, no longer saw their values represented in the main stream. To add insult to injury, the values they and their families once believed in have now come full circle in being publicly derided and dismissed as poppycock to the liberal elite in the know. As a result, this is the shape and the state we’re in.

 

My brief purpose today to wrap up some of these sentiments is not to continue on a political pathway however. This is the case not only because I am not an expert in the political arena, but also because I want to focus more on why we in Christendom, as our light slowly fades, really voted in the way that we did. My consensus is that the reason that we voted the way we did is more about fear than actually voting for the best candidate. The truth is that we voted because we are afraid of living for the first time as strangers and aliens in a world where Constantinian-like state sanctions and national acceptability of the Judeo-Christian value system is truly on it’s last hoorah. It is also my belief, that though this is not preferred in the natural state of things, in terms of our final real spiritual influence in our neck of the world, its demise should in fact be to us as a bittersweet yet welcome long-lost friend.

 

However, up until now, our only friend has indeed been the world I’m afraid. So for decades now, and as a result, the church in America has lost its cultural influence. And the reason has been two-fold. First of all, as Christians have become more and more equal purveyors and evangelists of the American Dream, and as a result have become non-distinct in the culture at large, to the point that no one is truly listening anymore. To make matters worse, the church, in a mad dash to sidestep its corporate lack of holiness and strangeness in Babylon, decided instead that what the world really needed from us was our relevance. As a result we traded clerical collars for skinny jeans, hymnody for rock n roll shows, and real prophetic pastors with John the Baptist-like backbone for CEO’s who know how to grow organizations.   As a result we saw the masses both come and go over the last several decades, and who are now going, going, and you guessed it…now gone. And yet we continually scratch our heads as to exactly what and why it happened. The second reason we lost our cultural influence is because not only is it by nature of Christianity itself that we become strangers and aliens in a foreign land as God’s people always have been, but also because we have needed to indeed reinvent who we are to actually be in exile before we can again gain any credence again in Nebuchadnezzar’s court.

 

You see the truth of the matter is that we have lived as preferred members of the state for so long, that we have no real experience living as people of exile as our own scriptures propose that we must live as. We have not yet resisted to blood, or lost our property like much of the great cloud of witnesses of the early church did, as well as the countless millions who have suffered and still do suffer as exilic people all across the world. We have lived in a land that respected our clergy, upheld our values as having equal billing on the cultural marquee, and have benefited from living in a country that upholds our right to speak our minds as it’s very own Holy Grail. As a result, I’m afraid we are at a real disservice as to what to do about it. We have now exercised our right as free citizens to vote someone out and someone else in more to our liking, and more akin to our particular brand of the truth. And I think that secretly we perhaps all believe that unprecedented economic growth, prayer in public schools, and the Ten Commandments on the courthouse lawn are indeed just around the corner. We’re also pretty sure that our new commander and chief will fix everything that is broken, and pretty soon our own vision of America will be of course “great again”, and things will go back to being as they always have been. After all, as Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home”.

 

I must conclude by saying that I long for the same primrose path as everyone else, and long for the days when the struggle to make it in this crazy world would yield some sort of final success story somewhere over the rainbow. It’s in our human nature to do so, and the Father of course knows we at least desire and even have some need of these things. But as I look out across the landscape of the culture of which you and I are apart, I can’t help but believe that the trajectory we were headed for has only been given but a speed bump for now. And of course, we voted for that speed bump and it is now very prevalently in the road. Yet the truth of the matter is, that the vast majority of our land and even our world are fast and furiously conspiring in order to ensure that there won’t be a second one. As a result, My only prayer for you and I is that when that happens, and it will; I would wish we’d all been ready!

 

Selah

 

 

 

 

Crosses and Resurrections: A Juxtaposition of How Christians Ought To Live

I’ve thought a lot about the cross and the resurrection lately—two very distinct but cataclysmic events that also have their mystical place in the outworkings of our very real and daily lives.   My contemplations have not been because Easter and its emotive reminders of both events are a few short months away; nor is it because we’ll celebrate the birth of our Lord lying in a manger in just a matter of weeks. Instead, I’ve actually deliberated about it primarily because my experience has been that living in either extreme somehow has not served me quite well–nor has it served others of which I’ve had the opportunity to walk down the path of life with thus far. Let me briefly explain.

 

First of all, living a cruciform life has been somewhat easier for me than most. That is of course not to say that I know it better than many more who have suffered far greater than me in this life, and certainly not to the exclusion of our Lord himself whose Passion speaks for itself. However, I would have to say that the cross is what most coalesces with my feeble existence on this earth. In other words, it’s easy for me to believe that a man dying on the cross and saving a world is good news. And as far as I can tell, the gospel has always been better news to the poor, the downtrodden, the broken and battered; and to the spiritual misfits to whom life has given them it’s daily cross to carry. Jesus said that, Paul and Peter repeated it, and it blends in perfectly with the tapestry that is and has been my life-a life of carried crosses more than glorious resurrections. That is not to say that I have not had great seasons of life, some noted successes, and some say I even have a talent or two that the world has yet to stand up and take notice of. However, let’s just say that the cross to me makes perfect sense. And though the resurrection might be good for Jesus and those of us who await the sweet bye and bye, for me the cross has always been a sentiment that has been easy to stick like glue, and through it I make the most sense of my fragile reality in this world, and to those to whom my misery brings familiar and good company.

 

Now I know, I know. Already you’re starting to slip off because it looks like there isn’t going to be good news to this short story. That’s the resurrection in all of us quite frankly, and to the world of which we are apart. And the truth is, we as Christians are at somewhat of a disservice talking about crosses in a resurrection world are we not? And it’s not hard to believe; as history bears this out repeatedly in the blood of martyrs, and the accompanying growth or decline of the church as a result. It is equally not hard to believe in our own daily experience if we take notice. For each and every time we attempt to give a cross response to a resurrection belief system, it is often met with opposition and checkered results. I for one have experienced this time and time again in my own life; when sacrificing something for someone else (a cross), was somehow mixed in with the hope of a good outcome in the end (resurrection); yet like Waiting for Godot, its actualization never came. And this same repeated story has been written in my own blood, sweat and tears; and in forever missing dollars and cents. So yeah, I get the cross; and you could say it gets me–a little more than I would care to be familiar with. And so, it’s equally not hard for me, like Paul, when I am with you, to preach nothing but Christ and him crucified, to the exclusion of the rest of the (resurrection) gospel story. In fact, throughout my short tenure in ministry as a Pastor, I preached this message, and saw a cross under just about every bush and around every corner. Not only did it make sense to me, and echoed from the unity of the book to which I’ve spent my life’s attention to; but as I mentioned earlier, it made sense to my own daily experience and to the via dolorosa of those who were attracted to my message—those to whom the cross was something they could identify with, and to whom it had become a close and endearing friend.

 

But secondly, what of this mysterious resurrection? This experience that only Jesus himself has achieved in the natural order of things, but to which we only aspire to in the kingdom somewhat here, but still not yet. What of the victorious Christian life to which we are given admonition week after week in our Sunday worship services, to whom many claim they have a stake on, but to which many of us are always a day late and a dollar short? We are suspicious of their claims, and yet equally we know somehow that we are to live somehow juxtaposed between these two worlds; with the cross in one hand, and the rolled away stone in the other. I’m familiar with the former, but uncomfortable with the latter–and so are all my rowdy friends. I realize there is no question as to what we are to become, yet like Paul, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep doing”[1]. Or perhaps it’s not the missing of the virtuous mark, but achieving the promise on the other end of my periodic obedience, to which my life may very well depend on; yet seems to be stuck in transit somewhere outside of my experience. Do I live in taking up my cross and bearing it as my daily modus operandi, or do I hold out hope that my resurrection of triumph awaits; or do I experience madness somewhere in between?

 

My take on these things as of late is that they are not an “either/or” but rather a “both/and”; a reconciliation of paradox’s of which I am no one’s expert.   I know that God answers prayer, but the answers seem to be slow and at a snail’s pace in their delivery to my inbox, while others boast of a God who speaks and answers before the clock strikes dawn. I step out in faith with everything on the line, but God often seems to be busy with world wars, or perhaps the election; or a million other things instead of meeting me halfway into the next thing I have endeavored to do for him. I’ll settle for the sun will come out tomorrow, but often it’s anything but. As a result, I’m inclined to nestle back up to the cross (splinters and all), awaiting the roll that is called up yonder, rather than holding real faith and God’s occasional silence in a delicate tension. I must learn to live in plenty and in want, and also know that God is still very much in control and attentive to the needs and cry’s of His children. I can ask for the moon and stars, all the while in full recognition that sometimes my same old address is all I might expect today. Meanwhile, tomorrow is another day of hopefulness, another day of faith in the unseen and yet eternal one who knows my name, and who loves me warts and all; and who even says I can call him Father. I can lay hands on the sick and pray to remove mountains, and accept when mustard seeds weren’t quite enough this time around. I can believe in victory, even when sometimes my failure is my more constant companion. More and more, I can continue to walk with my hand in the hand of the man from Galilee, aware of Golgotha’s nearby hill, but equally engaged in the possibility of a miracle happening somewhere along the way. It is into both of these worlds that I must equally pay attention to; never letting either one this side of heaven define who I am for far too long; and yet always holding out for the resurrection of hope that the world also so desperately needs to know and see fleshed out in mine and your shoe leather.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Romans 7:19 ESV