Perhaps You’re Not as Free as You Think You Are

Jesus Knows Our Address

 I’ve searched frantically for a movie clip from a made for TV film in the 90’s about the life of Jesus, and have come up with nada, zilch!  I remember the movie struck me though with this portrayal of Jesus, as He was giving his words of wisdom, as one who seemed like he was on a strong regiment of Prozac.

He was depicted in this particular movie as having this constant proverbial smile, never wiping that plastered grin off his face for too long.  I also remember some religious people didn’t like the movie at all.  Too much grace I’m afraid don’t you know.  Shocker alert!  And if I remember correctly, it was probably for the same reason they don’t like most films on the life of Jesus that don’t portray Him as a milquetoast figure; while also high on His deity, with the exact recitation of the King’s English nailed down, and extremely low on emphasizing much of his humanity to disrupt the comfort of the Pharisaic nature in us all.  But having said all that, the thing I remember most about the film was the scene when he is walking through the village and has an interaction with Mary Magdalene.   For several scenes leading up to the encounter, we see her stalking him so to speak, watching his every move, biding her time before she will see for herself what all the fuss is about with this mysterious man from Galilee.  And then it happens. As they finally have their brief encounter, Jesus extends an invitation for her to follow with an added reminder that with that call there is an invitation to be “truly” free.  And at that very moment, Mary then quips the following: “Free, Ha!  I already am free”.  To which Jesus then tenderly rebuts with the words, “No you’re not, but you could be”, with that same Joker-like grin penetrating her now deficient come-back line.

 Give Us Free!

 The culture at large talks an awful lot about freedom, especially in the home of the supposed free and the land of the brave.  We spout off a lot about our freedom, our rights, and banter with a no holds barred refrain to be exactly “who we are”, as if somehow that is what freedom actually is (as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone of course).  Added to that subtle inaccuracy is the belief that somehow the repression of what is innate down deep within the fibers of our being is indeed that yet unrealized life-giving spirit which will ultimately set us on the course to: well, you guess it: happiness.  Ironically, it is also interesting to note that though our culture has by and large embarked in a wholesale boycott of Christian values that seems to speak to the contrary of our supposed freedom that is somehow boundaryless, most seem to be naively unaware that the freedom to discourse on this very idea came from the very values they now reject!  For our very ability to express our liberty and to (credulously) moralize on and on about it, is due to the 2,000-year history of breathing in the Christian air that has existed primarily in the West.  Air that came to their land in a new-found freedom experiment of which we are all still a part of.  And if this is true, perhaps we have now permanently thrown out the baby with the bathwater!

But nevertheless, the real point is this: Are those of us who have now let our proverbial freak flag fly (Neil Young) as high as it can possibly go, actually free?  And, if we are not actually free as Jesus proposed to Mary and that I now propose to us, is it not really because we bloody well don’t want to be; especially if it means it will cost its radical redefinition and thus the reorientation of the course of our life with us no longer in the driver’s seat?  And could it also be that the very things that we suppose make us free, are actually very comfortable and yet predictable chains that keep us imprisoned and in fact “unhappy” under our own administration of lock and key?

An Encounter at the Pool on Shabbat

 You know I wouldn’t stake my life on it, and I promise not to start a new denomination on its’ tenets, but sometimes I wonder if something like this was going on behind the scenes when Jesus encountered a disabled man at the Pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath.  The text in John chapter 5 tells us that Jesus saw him lying there and realizes that his affliction has been lengthy in his life, and so he asks him an almost nonsensical question from my vantage point, but that adds to the point of our story.   He says to Him, “Do you want to become well?”, which I find telling to say the least?  And I don’t know about you, but I think my quick retort would have been, “No JC, why don’t you just go ahead and strike a match to me and put me out of my misery?  Yea, that should cover it!”  But instead, the man basically explains that it’s not that he doesn’t want to be well, but that every time he grovels over to get into the pool that is supposed to have healing powers, some other Tom, Dick or Harry gets there first.  And as a result, he simply cannot get “to” the potential healing just a few crawls away.  And in typical Jesus fashion, He says to the man, “Stand up, Pick up your mat and walk”.  And as you guessed it, the man picks up his mat and high tails it out of there.  But no so fast.  It’s Shabbat of course, and all of those religionists are ticked (another shocker alert), though that isn’t the point of our emphasis today.

Being Disabled Ain’t So Bad

 What actually struck me, is that after the dogmatists pin the poor crippled man on the details of his healing and remind him what day it is (as if he didn’t actually know), Jesus then encounters the man one more time before we exit the scene.  And Jesus says to him these attention-grabbing words: “Look, you have become well.  Don’t sin anymore, lest anything worse happen to you”. 

 Now before all you “grace-only” people start to flip your lid about where I’m headed with this, let me just say that I find it noteworthy that Jesus responds to him in this way.  Whereas most of the time Jesus says something along the lines of “Your faith has healed you”, or something similar, He says instead what most of us Pharisees both secretly believe and want Jesus to say all along.  And that is, that the man must have done something to deserve his plight.  And here’s our justification right here sitting up pretty just like stink on poop, served up nice and smelly!  But as I linger a little longer at the table of the Lord’s word, I wonder if what we find is of course some of that, but also what we discover is that the man really didn’t necessarily want the deliverance; just yet.  But perhaps maybe, just maybe, the long imprisonment of his physical ailment became like a familiar and comforting friend.  And perhaps again, the chains that afforded him to no longer have to beg for his daily meal and sustenance, was a little out of his comfort zone.  Which is why he always seemed to come up just a scuttle shy of his actual healing.  Or just maybe, like you and I at some point in our life, he really didn’t want the freedom that only the Lord can give when it’s all said and done.  And perchance we too, like the man by the pool, realize both what the release of the chains will mean in our new experience of survival now naked and afraid, and yet also the healing that would come with teeth in it, reminding us that with the graceful call, is also the size-able “Don’t sin anymore” part we often rather resolutely miss.

 Are you Really Free?

 You know Jesus said that it was actually the “truth” that would set us free If I’m not mistaken.  And as best as I can tell from some forty-nine of my fifty-five years sitting at the feet of the scriptures, that truth is both manifold and inexhaustible.  It is of course at the outset, the truth about who Jesus is and the life He came to give which is only found in Him whether we buy in or not.  It’s also found in His words, His life, and His body and blood that we ingest into ourselves both figuratively and literally (Your welcome Catholics and Protestants).  And yet it’s also the truth about us is it not?  It’s the truth about the mirror we hold up each day, now free to not look away but to rather embrace what we find and ask God to help us “sin no more”.  It’s the truth about the houses we build made of sand, the pride that often comes right before our fall, and the deification of ourselves as the end-all, be-all of our existence on this earth.  It’s the truth about what we think is our freedom to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and submit to nothing or no one, and equally about the actual enslavement we have instead heaped up for ourselves by ignoring the sine qua non to our actual freedom.  And perhaps the truth is, we don’t really want to be free if that’s what it boils down to.  And so, I propose that most of us that pride ourselves in sticking our very stoic middle finger up to any who would take us down from our libertine pedestal, are actually not free at all.  At least that’s what the Son of Man said.  But guess what?  You could be!

Selah

Trumpism, Not Donald Trump: Part 3

For the last two weeks, I diverged off of the beat and path of my usual meanderings of this cracked up American life in order to talk about something that had been on my mind for some time now.   I had been desiring to first of all introduce the idea primarily as to why Christians showed up to vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, but also speak to the fact that it has more to do with “Trumpism” and not necessarily a vote for Donald Trump.  I introduced that thought process in the blog entitled https://marknealprince.com/2019/07/18/trumpism-not-donald-trump-part-i/as well as last week’s post https://marknealprince.com/2019/07/23/trumpism-not-donald-trump-part-2/.  I left off last week beginning to unpack why Christians actually voted for the avant-garde Commander and Chief, speaking along the lines of understanding the difference between two kingdoms; the world and the church.  I’m going to pick back up where I left off as we plundered the narrative of the scriptures as a whole from the Old Testament, and this week I hope to zero in on how that progressive understanding also further shaped the sentiment of the New Testament writers.  Hopefully, as we progress a little further, we can at least get a better understanding as to how people who claim to be about love, care for the poor and needy and the alien and the stranger, can also be for their own country’s kingdom and values simultaneously.

An Understanding of Two Kingdoms(continued)

As we enter into the New Testament world with the introduction of Jesus on the scene, the consensus of “kingdom” and what it means to the Jews is still on the minds of everyone.  Mostly, that idea of kingdom is very wrong in that the majority of the people, as well as the disciples at first, still think prematurely of a Kingdom of power that will come and rightfully restore the Jewish people  to a renewed Davidic kingdom, finally free from their oppressors and a force of both good and strength for the world.  Others such as Simeon and Anna (Luke 2), who hang around and pray in the temple all day, know this is indeed not the case.  Ironically, as we fast forward to Jesus’ ascension at the birth of the early church (Acts 1) we still find many of the Lord’s followers asking basically, “Is this the time that you will establish your kingdom on earth”?  Jesus reply is both telling and frustrating to his hearers, as Jesus has been speaking about the kingdom to them for days and yet they still don’t get it.  He essentially lets them know that this time of which they speak is only for the Father to know, but for now His kingdom will enable them to receive power to be “witnesses” of a kingdom that will instead be one of a reordering of the heart.  And also, one that empowers those who heed its message to be a transformative “salt and light” in how they live their lives, show love and compassion to others, and who also speak kingdom truths regardless of the costs associated with doing so.

     Slow to Learn

It would take both Peter and Paul a little later on, as the New Testament was being penned and circulated, to help the early church broaden its view on this subject.  However, it was Jesus that first homed in on the differences of the two kingdoms people thought they knew something about; many of which had forgotten their very costly Old Testament lessons.  The first case we’re given for our instruction is when Jesus is taunted by the Pharisees in an effort to catch him in a trap, where they ask him whether or not it is lawful to give taxes to Caesar or not (Luke 22:19-26). And here it is that we have the statement that has no doubt changed the world that we exist in, and that is equally educational in this tale of two kingdoms, where Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”.  The clear idea here that Jesus wants to get through people’s heads first of all, is that the kingdom of power they envision now is not the one He has come to set up.  His synopsis for the crowd is that governments have a job to do in that they render law, order and protection; and as a result of that representation, taxes are due to them for that service they provide.  Likewise, Jesus is stating that the Kingdom of God is a different matter altogether, but that is also has things (time, tithes and talents) that it also will require of us, but that are to not to be confused with what Caesar is about.  But stay with me here.  Let’s fast forward now after Jesus has been arrested and taken to Pilate, where we witness another teachable moment to the inquiring minds who truly want to know that is put before us regarding this two-kingdom motif.  Pilate in essence asks who Jesus is and whether or not he is indeed King of the Jews.  Jesus’s reply is that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), and that if it were, His servants (like all worldly kingdoms) would be fighting forcefully to overthrow it, and because they are in fact not fighting, this explains that the kingdom He proclaims is not a worldly kingdom. Case in point: The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world are two kingdoms with vastly different agendas and purposes.

     The Pillars of the Faith Guide Us Onward

From here, gleaning from the pen of the two most famous apostles who laid down what the church was to believe and practice in these matters was both Peter and Paul.  And ironically, both in fact took these same things to mean a clear distinction between the two kingdoms, both positively and negatively.  Negatively in the sense that we are to be separate in terms of our values from the world’s, and rather to instead of conforming ourselves to them, be transformed by reorienting our minds to thinking Godly (Rom. 12:1,2).  Positively, in the sense that we are compelled to pray for all people, including our rulers and those in authority. Timothy in fact tells us this, under the tutelage of his mentor Paul, by admonishing us that we are to do this so that we might have the possibility of having quiet and peaceable lives, even in the midst of an ungodly society (I Tim. 2:2). Peter in fact tells us in I Peter. 2:13-17 this very thing as well where he writes:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (ESV)

And for those who might be inclined to think he said this because they had such a well-mannered Emperor in office that everyone simply adored, we need to be reminded that Nero was his name-O!  And far from “liking” Christians as a people, history tells us that he did however appreciate their usefulness for lighting up his gardens at night, and the very pillars that gave us these instructions were both “given the ax” under his reign!  And yet Paul nonetheless correspondingly tell us this in Romans 13:1-7:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.Therefore, one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (ESV)

     A New Understanding

And it is here that we begin to see the formulation of the church’s two kingdom variances.   And through the teaching of the scriptures, the church begins to understand that though they are to speak boldly as to the truth they have been commissioned with, they are likewise; where it does not conflict with thwarting the preaching of the gospel, to be the best of citizens.  They do so by cooperating with the worldly kingdom in the good that it does and the order that it provides, and which is indeed sovereignly set up by God to enact justice for their specific kingdom of which they are residents.  Conversely, this does not mean that all kingdoms are good, and in fact many throughout history have wreaked havoc on their constituents in the most brutal of ways.  In this case, the early church always used its influence to speak in the right way to power, trying to change the things they saw as grave injustices, even at great cost to themselves.  Some such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, went so far as to join a band of Christian brothers to assassinate Adolph Hitler, however unsuccessfully.  And yet even Paul in Acts 22, uses his own rights as a citizen of Rome that he was indeed born into to stop the powers that be from treating him like and dog and beating him unjustly.  The term “wise as serpents, and gentle as doves” is pregnant with meaning in order to discern the right approach in our day to day lives here, however it will always be done so with both pluses and minuses along the way.

Selah

Stay tuned for Part 4

 

Loving the Sound of Our Own Voice

The word narcissism is thrown around a lot these days; and for good damn reason.  In fact, our culture breeds those who exemplify it now like seahorses, yet they all seem to live far too long!  This dilemma is in fact something that anyone, even without a spiritual bone in their body, can easily spot a mile or so away.  And even if they don’t get out much, I’m sure Facebook or Instagram would be a case in point as to their predominance.  Yet, for those of us who add a daily mirror check through the reflection of that outdated book we always hear about, then we should actually be meeting the narcissist in ourselves most regularly–if we allow God’s laser pointer to zero in on that particular bullet point of our lives.  It is no less the case I’m afraid for many who peddle the word of God on any given Sunday in our pulpits across America.  And as much as we’d like to think we are exempt from the analysis; I beg to differ.

A Month of Sunday’s Ago

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 20 years ago now that I served as one of those clerics myself in a local church.  And preaching was of course important.  And it is my humble opinion that it is indeed very vital in the life of the church.  And as much as I used to think that anybody with a “call” could get up and say “thus saith the Lord”, I’ve come to believe that those that do it should have what Stuart Briscoe once suggested, “the heart of a child, the mind of a scholar and the hide of a rhinoceros”!  It is sufficient of course to also add that the preacher’s task is pivotal to aid in guiding the hearts and minds of people towards reshaping the world they are far too often conformed to, and to act as spiritual chisels in the lifetime task of transforming their thinking towards the mind of Christ instead.  This of course is no easy assignment, and the fainthearted and the unqualified need not apply.

Now I for one, though I have preached a good bit in the past, I have for sure sat in on more sermons than most.  And as a result, I would like to think I’m a pretty good guide as to its consequent blunders that cause many people like myself to prefer a root canal instead.  Besides noting the obvious fact that people who cannot take a 2000-year-old book and bring its relevant reality into the life of the average person, which causes them to seriously wrestle with its truth claims should never be allowed to do it, there are other more even weightier issues I’m afraid.  For instance, sometimes methinks, in light of the importance of what we’ve been called to do, perhaps we like the sound of our own voice a bit too much.

Who You Calling a Narcissist?

I think part of the reason we fall prey to this tendency is because though our task is indeed a difficult one for a variety of reasons, it is also equally a vastly rewarding one.  I came to this realization first hand after I finally threw in the towel on the “full-time” ministry (whatever the Hell that’s supposed to mean) and entered back into the world of well…you and me.

First of all, I had the privilege of spending 10 to 20 hours each week immersed in the scriptures and mounds of theology books, which is synonymous to giving a new tool to Tim the Tool man. I loved it! And most pastors with a call towards this task should, or else get out quickly while there is still time for all of us to escape the sermonette.

Secondly, if I was of course doing what Pastors should be doing (no differences of opinion here), I was able to spend the rest of my time praying; doing the work of an evangelist in the public square; trying to help the poor (like pulling eyeteeth!); visiting Aunt Ethel and Grandma Louise, and of course burying Uncle Joe.  Those of course were all things that I actually loved to do by virtue of the call, and in fact the only thing about my job I disliked was getting folks hitched. That’s’ a story for another time.

But imagine if you will, being a Jesus freak, and getting to go to work every day and do Jesus freak stuff. It was the greatest reason in the world to get out of bed.  And yet what I realized once I entered back into the workforce of the average Dick and Jane, was that I had a somewhat protected life.  But let me explain.

Amazing What?

You see what I had so easily forgotten, is that while I was busy week after week trying to get those “unspiritual” people to be committed, and to give Jesus their all, I found out that they were often simply too busy getting laid off from their jobs; losing their homes; having their teenagers commit suicide; and praying to God that their spouse might make love to them again.  You know, the small stuff.

In essence, sometimes, though I would have told you I was giving them a steak every Sunday with the words I had prepared, I was also equally guilty of beating the dogshit out of them at times, totally unawares.  And in that sense, I too was guilty of loving the sound of my own voice given the task I had been commissioned with, more than bleeding with the people who were simply looking for Jesus in some possible shoe leather.  Not some condescending tower of theological certainty and ex cathedra pronouncements upon their life, but an ear to listen to, a shoulder to cry on, and a grace that used to be called amazing.  And in that sense at least, I missed it for a while, much to my great disappointment.

A Solo Pulpit’s Silent Ego

But I think likewise, loving the sound of our own voice manifests itself in another very subtle way that we often miss.

For instance, when Pastors preach every Sunday and yet never equip others to do likewise, people are not able to witness something more akin to something the scriptures actually beckon us to do. As a result, we bypass the exemplification of humility to congregational narcissists who might not yet know what it looks like, by showing firsthand that we’re actually not actually the cat’s meow at all.

Instead, oftentimes we get either the same preacher week after week (who is quite frankly not that good) or we get the golden tongued orator we can’t get enough of, yet the church is built around his persona and magnetism, and thus people tend to worship his reflection right along with him.  And as a result of this gross error in judgement, as pastors exit to “bigger and better deals”, churches fold in the aftermath, having built the church house around a bigger narcissist than ourselves.  And it would seem that even though Paul reminded the Corinthian church (a church sadly reminiscent of today’s) that neither he, nor Peter, no Apollos died for them; they constantly gathered for the smooth operator sermonizers, who could have been banging the church pianist after choir practice, but somehow the fact that they could “preach the word” was the glue that held the whole house of cards together.

And as a result of this pastor worship, everyone now goes to the biggest and best show in town to hear the guy with the tightest skinny jeans and the best three-point sermon. All the while people shuffle out and shake their hands as they exit unchanged; and yet it seems in America we love to have it so.

Hello, My name is Mark Prince, and I’m a Narcissist

So, I guess you could say I’m a recovering narcissist, simply calling shots now from the sidelines as I see them.  And though I still revere the task of the preacher and even the foolishness of its message to the Greeks and the stumbling block it still is to the Jews, I sometimes wonder if us preacher types have stopped to realize that we may not be that big of a deal after all. And maybe, just perhaps; our own reflection has blinded us to the fact that what people are most in need of is one who simply looks a little more like Christ.

Yep.  That oughta do it I think.

Selah

Reading From the Wrong Script

A Bad Funeral

It’s been several years ago now that I had the grave misfortune of attending a funeral none of us ever want to attend.  It was the service of a once precious little girl that grew up way too fast in a mad, mad world, assimilating all too naturally from her life’s’ pedigree into the all too predictable “fast lane”.  A lane we’re told is sure to make anyone lose both their mind and life—and yet the latter was to come to her first.

I had a brief smidgeon of time to be involved in her life before the end of her innocence, and my wife and I bumped into her again as a girl all grown up with babies of her own; extremely lost, but continuing the fight that was hers since the day she first put her foot on the ground.

As we plopped into our seats that somber early afternoon, one could not help but notice the clientele by the litany of escalades in the parking lot–and by the clear demarcation of illegal apothecary types dispersed among the audience.  It was a population riddled with those who were living on life’s jagged edge, and yet ripe for hearing a message in this captivating hour that pointed to some north star of truth and hope for those with ears to hear. Or shall we say, it was an audience prepared for a preacher of good news.  Yet as the minister began his message, after a few quite interesting eulogies and the like, the hopefulness I had for help to be forthcoming for this audience that were lost in a masquerade of their own making, was quickly drowned out by words of a man holding the wrong script.

Who Stole the Pastor’s Lines?

It seems that the pastor, though not really having a precedent from the lips of Jesus nor his apostles, felt that the majority of his homily should be focused on the fact that they were all…well, sinners.  I guess he figured that somehow they were unaware of this fact.  And though I believe there is a time and a place in a message for this reality to come to bear on an audience, due to the travesty of this particular moment in time, the need of the hour seemed to be in pointing them to an absolute in a way that they could both understand and receive.  A truthfulness that would lead them to begin asking the deeper questions and wrestling with their life as a “to go bag”, rather than “preacheresque” dreams of an altar call of nothing more than jailhouse religion at a bloody funeral for goodness sakes!  But my analysis of the necessity at hand would not have its day, the true gospel was not preached, and I’m quite sure most business was carried on as usual as everyone exited the missed opportunity.

Christianese

This led me to ponder the fact that this is all too characteristic in Christendom even today, where we speak in “Christianese” rather than in the language of the kinds of people we are engaging.  And the reason is, because we are merely reading from a script we have well-rehearsed after eons of bad Sunday School, a faulty hermeneutic, and best-selling books by those who assure us that the gospel absolutely has to beat the Hell out of you before you can even begin to have hope for that uncloudy day.  And there is indeed a grain of truth in every lie, so let me briefly explain.

Read the Book Man!

 Jesus himself gave us some examples of knowing your audience.  For instance, when talking with Nicodemus, the Pharisee who was also a curious seeker of the truth, he chided him a bit, but was gentle in getting him to understand why there was a need to be born “again”.  Yet with the merely religious and patronizing scribes and pharisees, his patience wore thin; as he riddled them with questions they could not answer, and diatribes of which they would not soon recover from.  Yet all the while, it was the sinners who in fact “knew” they were that he gave the greatest freedom and latitude.  It was an open invitation to walk with him for a little while and take a little look see, and perceive if perhaps there was a way, a truth and indeed a life they should follow other than the false gods of their own making. He brought the best wine to their parties, healed their lame and dying, and once they took it upon themselves to actually decide to follow the man from Galilee, he implored them to “go and sin no more”.  In short, Jesus patiently loved people into the kingdom starting with where they were at. He was not in a hurry to count the “decisions for Christ”, because he wanted to make sure that people were “all in” for the long haul, or not at all.  In that sense, everything was black and white for Jesus.

We then have some examples from others, although the greatest soul winner of the last two millennia, the apostle Paul, gave us the insightful lessons in “non”-scriptedness. It was instead a speech rooted in none other than the law of Christ, that reminded us in I Corinthians chapter 9 that he became “all” things to “all” people in order to win some.  To the Jew, he became like a Jew, to those without the law he became as one without it, and to those who were weak, he became as weak.  This should cause those of us who call ourselves heralders of the gospel message to retune the antennas of both our ears and our speech.

Again, Paul reminds us in Colossians 4:3-6, as he asks for their prayers for himself as a communicator of the gospel where he writes:

At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a doorfor the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.  Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (ESV)

I’m going to go on a limb here and resign to the fact that some things are as plain as the nose on our faces, and thus need no further explanation.  But I do think Paul even gives us an actual example many times of what this might actually look like.  His most famous one of all however would have to be his sermon on Mars Hill where he engages every Tom, Dick and Harry wannabee philosopher in Athens who constantly gathered to hear the next “new thing”.  He does so by at first quoting from their own poets whom they respect, gives a passing credence to their own belief system, and then used a tangible bridge builder by talking about an “unknown” god they perhaps seek but know nothing as of yet about, in order to begin an exercise in winsome conversation.  He reminds them that it is indeed man’s quest to both seek and even find God, and then assures them that even in their sinfulness, God is so very near to them, and indeed can and will be found if they so desire.  And in fact, it is not until he has done a lot of fancy footwork in laying out the gospel, that he politely reminds them that God is most emphatically calling them to repent.

The God of the Living?

I am reminded of these clear signs from both the Master and His most successful missionary, and yet one wonders if any of us have been listening at all.  And as a result, I secretly weep for those who continue to have to listen to a script nobody is even remotely paying attention to anymore. It thus becomes evident to me, that the ones doing the preaching no longer read the headlines, and that to most truly lost people, God is still dead indeed.  And it’s not the overabundance of Nietzsche’s disciples who are still killing Him I’m afraid, but rather the evangelists who have clearly disregarded how to actually raise him from the dead!

 

Selah

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Where’s Your Homeboy Now?

 In St. Peter the Rock’s 2nd epistle and chapter 3, the edgy disciple-prophet pens a verse in the middle of a lengthy narrative on the so-called “negligible” signs of Christ’s coming, from scoffers who prognosticate that the jig is up on the Christians once and for all, for the “so-called” Messiah has no clothes.  In a nutshell, it’s time to stop the babbling and go home. In essence they say that first of all, God doesn’t judge anyone (though ironically they don’t believe He exists), and secondly, that if we are still taking a can of whoopass through life down here and waiting around for a trumpet from the sky to come at any minute, we are indeed the gullible and thus deplorable Christians the “educated” masses think we are.

In fact, the verse says exactly what they are still saying some 2000 year later:

They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:4 ESV)

In other words, science now “knows” the better order of things, and that what goes in a test tube always then comes out of it in predictable fashion, and the “sign” theory is outdated, along with the good book and its people; and so it’s now time to shut the whole thing down.  Even though of course, both the might of the Romans and the “fine-tooth comb” of the religious establishment were unable to do so by simply producing a very dead body about 20 years earlier.

Yet Peter then first of all reminds them that God’s judgment is not only a surety at some point off in the distant future, but that it’s track record is also certain for those who want to take a trip down memory lane: perhaps starting with, I don’t know…the flood maybe?  He then builds a case by saying that just as that was evident when the time came, it will be undeniable again, and he uses that to build a case for the reason for the apparent stall out.

Is God Being Slack Concerning the Promise?

 In essence, Peter says that God is giving all of us, including the scoffers, time to perhaps take a double take and relook at this whole Christian thing with new eyes again.  And he suggests that by turning our glance away from merely the truth of the particulars, that instead; as Jordan Peterson has at least partially reminded us, we should spend more time in the realm of the universals.  His admonition in turn, though still conceding to us the tangible truth of real matter and all its boasts, is to equally compel us towards the spiritual truth that hangs in the balance in the grasp of the whole truth, and nothing but the truth–so help us God.  A realm of truth, even with its now “multi-millennia” of signs for inquiring minds wanting to know, that the culture writ large has long thrown out with the baby, and the bathwater.

Dooms Day Preppers

I can remember like it was yesterday back in the 70’s, when the runaway best seller The Late Great Planet Earth was released.  At that time, along with the overabundance of cheesy movies low budget filmmakers produced in its aftermath, churches (including mine) were sure we were in the cross hairs of the end of days, and that the eschaton of God would be imminent.  Fast forward to 2019, and like me, I’m sure most who call themselves by the name of Christ now feel that if Jesus isn’t now on His way in short order, we secretly wonder if Peter’s nemeses were on to something.  Perhaps He is not coming like we thought, or like the Thessalonians, maybe we fell asleep and somehow missed the whole shebang.

Jesus talked about some signs too in Matthew 24.  Things about false messiahs; wars and rumors of wars; nation against nation; famines; pestilences and earthquakes.  He would then add that this was only “the beginning of sorrows”.  He would go on further to say that all of us who called ourselves by His name would be hated to be sure, something about the “abomination of desolation” (with varying interpretations of what this was or would be), and the gospel of good news being taken to all the nations (of which Paul made boast of being completed even in his own time).

He also talked about the parable of “the fig tree” (which most believe referred to Israel becoming a nation in 1948).  Many would also talk about “this generation not passing away” until it was fulfilled to mean, as many dooms-day prophets heralded, that sometime around 1988 was to be the final curtain call.  He then went on to give many other signs–yet assured us that not even He knew the day or the hour.  Instead he uttered that this particular occurrence was strictly in His Father’s timetable, but assured us that alertness, attention to holiness and preparedness for the hour should be the state of the church at all times.  And so still we wait, while the volume of the scoffers has now reached colossal proportions in every market square and computer screen.

Is the Enemy Us?

And yet I wonder.  Smack dab in the middle of Jesus’ signs for us to pay attention to, he mentions something that I feel bears ponderance now more than ever.  He says that during these times, “that because lawlessness increased, the love of many will grow cold”.  And the apostle Paul seemed to be echoing Jesus sentiment again, when in 2 Thessalonians, he speaks about “the great falling away”, which almost every Tom, Dick and Harry soothsayer agrees refers to the state of the church at that time as becoming corrupt, irrelevant and chameleon-like in perfectly blending in with the scoffers themselves.  And of course, that is where I begin to have a sort of out of body experience that sure as Hell feels like the real thing from where I’m sitting.

For instance, does anyone still called by the name of Christ doubt that lawlessness has increased calamitously in our now “global village”, and even in our own lives–thus causing our love for Christ to, I don’t know…grow cold maybe?  And is that not also what John the Revelator is alluding to when he reminds the church at Ephesus that they had “lost their first love” before he lays out the apocalyptic time clock?

And in hobbling along this narrow and sometimes lonely path, searching every so anxiously for the Jesus missing in America and in my own life, perhaps the signs we should be looking for have been building a barricade from our eyes in our own back yard for some time now.  And all the while, the myriad of money changers we gave the new keys to have now reentered our various temples, as we shuffle in week after week for the show that must now begin.  But perhaps, just maybe; the signs are indeed everywhere now, except we have become the church-going, therapeutic, moralistic and deist scoffers, who no longer live like they are leaving at all.

 

Selah

 

 

The Narrow Path Thing

Blog ADHD

I guess you could say I’ve gotten a little off focus lately, with you know… with um, that narrow path thing I’m always going on about.   It’s of course always on my wayward heart and mind as it relates to the part of it I see drastically missing now in the church, and equally in this here ragamuffin. But I can’t let it go.  It won’t let me I’m afraid.  Old age and senility is a bitch I guess.

You see after at least 50 years of reading the scriptures devotionally, academically and in mostly utter desperation to grovel to the crumbs from God’s table in order to get through the given day, its commissioning and its constant beckoning to be on that exact path, will not escape me.  I want, I need, I have to be on it—but, there aren’t many travel companions as a Nazirite once opined.  And so I’m walking, I’m hobbling along.   But here I go again, thinking I can, thinking I can, and resting in the fact that somehow He can, through me…conceivably.

A Prophet’s Graduation

So yes, it haunts me pretty regularly, it is true.  And I often wake up from my grandiose narrow path dreams mesmerized at the fact that Christianity went and stole Jesus right from under our noses as we were sipping our lattes, planning our next weekend excursion, and tipping our way into the final icing on our “cake life” of the treasures that yet await us in heaven—or so we’ve been told.

But I’m not so sure.

And though I’ve been accused of sometimes being a “wanna be” prophet of woe, I get the feeling that perhaps I’ve now graduated from the class and am the real McCoy now. Not that anyone is listening, but I’m beginning to feel the “Thus Saith the Lord” off in the distance of my ears ringing, and so I’m speaking it out for those of us who have ears to hear and eyes to see.  But maybe first we need to lose the air pods, cut the noise off, turn the lights down or simply turn around.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign

It’s funny how things go in life. There are little signs, little guideposts along the way that you know are leading you to something, even when no one else may be paying bloody attention.  And then God subtly reminds us in that still small voice thing that there are yet remnants of witty bitty prophets of worldly insignificance who have not yet bowed the knee to Baal or Molech, and who confirm to us that the answers that have been blowing in our collective wind have the potential to raise up a valley of dry, dead as Hell bones if we will let it.  That’s happened to me a lot lately.

It started with a few epiphanies that I wrote in my prayer journal which I then posted on social media, as those rare instances where you feel God pointed his finger right through the sky and into your heart and soul and “stuck” around for a month of Sundays.  Things such as:

We absolutely must drop the notion that as a Christian, everything we say and do will be liked by others regardless of our earnest desire to be winsome. In fact, if we are now to truly follow Jesus, we will more than likely earn the title of court jester”.

Or this:

“Either you work for the glory that is now, or for the one Jesus says is yet to come. But very rarely does He entrust both to us”.

And then last but not least:

“Either we believe all of what Jesus said was true or we don’t. But it’s high time we absolutely believe that the behavior should reflect our conclusion on the matter”. 

 And if that wasn’t enough, Ann Voskamp walked in my reading life and upset what was left of my own very self-protected, yet very broken applecart.  The one, two punch.  Kaboom. She came, she conquered, I’m now done.

So, What Is the Narrow Path Anyway?

And so, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a pastor friend of mine several months back.  The poor guy actually read some of my blogs a time or two and so he asked me, “Mark, so what is the narrow path anyway dude”? And I thought to myself, “Why’d he have to go there”? Foul ball.  No, but really, I’m glad he did.  Because perhaps I need to redefine it for myself again before I can sheepishly begin to articulate it to others.  Drumroll please!

You see the truth is the narrow path is designed to tell us something right out the gate.  It says to us ever so, I don’t know, OBVIOUSLY, that by the road being narrow, and few finding it, that the way is…well, hard I think.   Cruciform.  Yep, I’m sure of it.  In fact, G.K. Chesterton once said about this exact fly in the ointment that “The Christian life has not been tried and found wanting but has been found difficult and thus left untried”.  I couldn’t have said it better myself G.K. You see the narrow path first and foremost has to mean that if the Christian life costs your nothing to walk it, speak it and live it out in Sodom and Gomorrah (in case you thought you were in Kansas), then more than likely you took a detour of some kind, and that perhaps if you see all your friends there with you too, you may need something akin to a minority report.

I also think the narrow path has to mean something that sounds an awful lot like LOVE.  No, not the easy peezy, Japaneezy kind for goodness sakes, that simply loves those who are “loveable”. Even gosh darn pagans do that. But something more akin to enemy love I heard a teacher once say, or that at the very least seeks to love and bless even when others will occasionally, or perhaps frequently curse and join ranks with gossip columnists eat up with days of our lives of which they mostly know nothing about, or who secretly hope for our final undoing.  Yea, I think it’s that.  And It’s not a cheesy love either that simply “grins and bears it”, but one that often is “butt hurt” and yet chooses to love anyway, and to bless anyway, and even gives a tunic and goes a mile or two further, and even turns a sore cheek now and again. Something about “love bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things” rings a bell.  Yea, I think this is to walk a narrow path–sometimes alone I’m afraid.  In fact, oftentimes of late it seems.

Oh, and I think it might have something to do with FORGIVENESS too perhaps.  Yea, so Jesus kind of talked a lot about that I believe. We are to forgive.  Not necessarily to forget, but maybe to throw it in a “sea of forgetfulness” or something like that maybe.  Like God did, and always, always does.  Maybe its “seventy times seven” or maybe “to infinity and beyond” as Buzz always said.  It means sometimes saying, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”, or maybe even “Forgive them, since I too have often been unforgiving and unloving too”.  You know, tit for tat.  Reciprocal FORGIVENESS maybe even.  Love and forgiveness have to be the dynamic duo I’d say.  Yea, that’ll work.

Oh, and perhaps it means to GIVE maybe.  Oh not the 10% thing necessarily, though perhaps not to its exclusion somewhere, or to something, or to even someone. In fact, to walk with the narrow path jive turkeys, it means giving a lot; maybe everything, even when knowing it is pearls thrown to some swine of sorts.  Maybe even most times.  No return on investment, no pragmatism, no accountability, and no blind man coming back to thank us. Just giving out of our plenty and out of our nothing maybe, for some joy set before us perhaps.  Very Macedonian-like methinks.  Very Pauline if you will.  And perhaps Petrine, and Johanine, and all very disciplee and stuff.  Or better yet, very Jesusesque don’t you think?

It means giving a good damn about all the plight you see both inside and outside your four walls without scurrying about so quickly so as to not think hard or deep enough about what it is you just saw, or if there is anything I or my collective brethren should do about it.

It means churches not so hung up on services but perhaps more SERVICE to others, both in and outside the sheep gate.  In word and deed.  Good news and Good works alright.  And maybe, just maybe even with one of them there church thingies on every city block in the good ole bible belt, maybe we become a real talk of the town and own the plight of the homeless, the mentally ill, the widow, the single Mom and the fatherless. And perhaps while we’re at it, instead of churches becoming more like mausoleums, gymnasiums, Tony Robbins workshops, and the only spot you get your weekly “ex cathedra”, they become more like homes of refuge to those types.   You know, the ones Jesus said are actually like looking directly at Himself I believe, and are the difference between becoming a right-handed sheep or a left-handed goat-for-nothing.

Hard Times At Narrow Path High

Yea, I think it kind of means all those things, and of course a whole lot more.  But, that’s a good damn start, I think.  That’ll get us going I believe. Yes, the difficult road of love, forgiveness and where we actually store up what we have and what we haven’t somewhere else I heard a man born in Bethlehem once say.  And whether or not we hang around sinners, beggars and whores, or stay comfy inside church doors. Hey, that rhymed!

But you can bet that it’s a lonely, sparse road though this narrow path thing.  I’m telling ya.  And evidently, there are few there be that find it I heard a Galilean once say. But perhaps you’re either in or your out, you sink or you swim, you separate boys from men, put on your big girl panties, or something like that.  But what I do know is, that the narrow path doesn’t get a word in edgewise around here much anymore, and I think that’s why the church increasingly looks pretty much like everybody else on that other road over yonder–safe and secure inside a cocoon of orthodoxy, while the rest of us are busy not even applying the itching ear salve their serving up on any given Sunday.

Selah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vanity, It’s Definitely My Favorite Sin

The Devil’s Advocate

In 1997, I was quite captivated by a movie starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves entitled “The Devil’s Advocate”.  I was finishing my undergraduate degree in Pastoral Ministries and Bible, preparing for my entrance into a Master’s program, eagerly ready to embark on a call into “the ministry”.   The movie struck an analytical chord in me, first of all because Al Pacino is one of my favorite actors, but secondly, because the movie seemed to get the aspect of “demonology” visually depicted that was most accurate for a Hollywood movie, and painted a grim picture of just how far any one of us particular “Humpty Dumpty’s” can fall prey to his many times unsuspecting devices.

Ironically, the lead attorney who has never lost a case (Keanu Reeves) plays Kevin Lomax, and Al Pacino plays a character by the name of John Milton (ironically the name of the author of Paradise Lost), but who is none other than Mephistopheles himself.  In the introduction to the movie, we witness Kevin Lomax representing someone accused of child molestation, that as the case unfurls, he actually finds out is guilty as Hell.  Nonetheless, as he cross examines the prosecution, he finds more holes in their story than a high-powered lawyer has a right to, and as a result, the jury rests with a “not guilty” verdict.

Fast forward through the movie’s twists and turns, after Lomax now has a carrot of an even higher-profile job being dangled before him from John Milton, and a credulous ride on the dark side that he could have never imagined, the movie then concludes with Kevin realizing the error of his ways through his chaotic dance with the devil, and we then enter the same introductory scene.  Only this time, the now enlightened and virtuous Kevin now refuses to represent the guilty pedophile.  Our hearts soar as we see this spiritual epiphany of Kevin revealed to us, while the reporter Larry grabs Kevin and his wife (played by Charlize Theron), and essentially lets them know that Kevin is now the hero, and he wants to do a story that will be the ultimate “do-gooder” story sure to grant him a new kind of fame. As Reeves and Theron smile at each other with a sense of utter righteous nirvana, the scene then fades as Larry now turns into Al Pacino’s character (Satan) who then says with his shit-eating grin, “Vanity, It’s Definitely My Favorite Sin”.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3M68wcB6L0s

Vanity’s Slippery Slope

The thought occurred to me as I considered my own entrance into a “do-gooder” profession at the time, just how imperceptibly oftentimes Satan can take the good that we would do, and can “ipso-facto” turn it into a narcissistic plunge without us even recognizing it, until it’s web around us is fully grown and we’ve been consumed by it ever so completely.  It’s a very slippery slope that catches us incognito, and in its aftermath, it devastates not only our own lives, but also the star-gazed lives of those who falsely project their spiritual hopes and dreams upon us, looking to us for their proxy of Christ himself.  Of course, the apostle Paul hammered this age-old problem out for us quite clearly  in the book of I Corinthians, correcting their “celebrity preacher” propensity, when he reminds them that it is neither He, nor Apollos, nor Peter that is anything at all, but that it is only Christ that we all should follow.  He further reminds them in Chapter 13 quite shockingly, that we could even become so good in our own eyes, perhaps even giving our bodies to be burned alive for those who follow us, and yet; if we have not love (the true motive of righteous living), we are in his words…nothing.  Or perhaps a close second dilemma, is that of being nothing more than a sounding gong or a clanging symbol that everyone can hear, yet no one can seem to turn off as we genuflect at the sound of our own voice and virtuous tabloid.

When I was a rebel pastor, I was constantly confronted both with my own potential for good, and equally my ability to disappoint, continually humbled as I would step into the pulpit to even attempt to say “Thus Saith the Lord” to anyone.  As a result, I tended to preach on topics that I myself was working through in my own life, before I could even begin to hold out anything sacred and substantive for others to take a hold of and embrace for themselves.  I saw the potential for vanity in me, as I looked out Sunday after Sunday at vanity’s equivalent congregational reflection staring back at me; equally caught up in having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.  The kind of power quite frankly, that is only made perfect in the weakness we experience both from our arduous journey into our quest for righteousness as nothing more than sinners saved by grace, and from the malevolent force called “this fallen world” that is persistently antagonistic to such a paradoxical caveat of true winning.  Yet it is only here that Christ can form the crucible of love that has even the remote possibility of making us into someone who would even dare to say, “follow me, as I follow Christ”.

All is Vanity Saith The Preacher

I realize I have written about this in some form or fashion a lot lately.  I guess you could say it is my soul’s quiet preoccupation as I reflect on all the world’s fool’s gold that abounds, and in constant amazement that no matter how much I know it, it is still so easy to fall into its predatory grasp time and time again, as vanity indeed thrives everywhere in our culture today.  I see it in the eyes of “road rage” as I sneak out into an intersection with plenty of room to cross, as those I encounter speed up, almost as if to taunt me with the idea of smashing into my car because I dared to cross while they were on their way to God knows where. I see it in bowed up chests and laser like stares, as men and women walk confidently and defiantly with observable chips on their block, daring anyone to look at them in the incorrect way as they live out their daily survival of only the fittest.  I see it in the media outlets and political pundits who put forth their “two cents” on every matter under the sun, arrogantly claiming their lack of “deplorable” status, distancing themselves from the obvious “dregs of society” that suck up all the space that they occupy.  I see it also in Hollywood’s constant big-headed projection of itself as the standard of which we are all to aspire and work for.  And I now see it equally in the church, where ministers dangle very closely on the precipice of being far too caught up in their own reflection, while the casualties of their unsuspecting tutelage continue to wonder who will yet take up the basin and the towel, rather than succumb to a form of self-consecrated, white-washed simony that rivals the marketplace of which we are all apart.

I believe Tom Conlon tells us the truth of the matter in his song Ohio, where he writes these words that I have reflected upon a good bit lately.  He says, “Everyone wanna be famous, no one wanna be righteous”.  And, well, I suppose both he and the devil are both right after all, because vanity; well it really is our (my) favorite sin.

Selah

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=43&v=3775n_mb05A

 

 

Awkward Dinner Conversations on a Ship of Obtuse Fools

An Epiphany of Sorts

It was about a year and a half ago that I found myself on a particular “ship of fools” shall we say.  I don’t mean by my deprecating comments to exclude my own ability to “play the fool” from time to time in regard to what I will reflect upon today.  But what alarmed me this precise evening, was a specific “comfortable numbness” to the things that should actually really matter, but that were not only “uncharacteristic” of my chosen drinking buddies this insightful evening, but that also sounded an alarm inside of me as to just where we are at with the culture, and even the Christian sub-culture at large.  And in the aftermath, it has since then caused me to further cogitate on the abysmal shape we are currently in regarding our once revered and assumed virtues once taught by the Alpha and Omega himself.

For those who don’t know, I’m in the educational software business as a sales dog, and I travel quite a country mile in my particular territory to get the job done on most weeks of the year. As is also typical, at least two to three times a year, I leave on an overcrowded and suffocating jet plane to our corporate office for various sales meetings of sorts.  After all day meetings and “death by PowerPoint”, we are typically whisked away, absent of any down time, to a posh restaurant or venue where dinner and drinks are served, and where those of us across all departments spend time getting acquainted, sharing stories, and enjoying some sodality of sorts.  And on one particular evening not too, too long ago, we were scheduled to go on an excursion upon a luxurious yacht for a moonlight dinner cruise.  That sounds nice enough I know.  Yet as fate would have it, the weather was not conducive to taking the coveted “three-hour tour”, and we simply spent the evening in dock and went about the business at hand without missing a beat.

Party Foul

Now in my usual Mark Prince manner, I am somewhat the “life of the party” when I’m up to the task, and I found myself this particular night at the table with a group of ladies that ranged from their early 30’s to late 40’s, leaving me (yours truly), as is now often the case, as the Senior at the table.  As I was enjoying my dinner and a few adult beverages, I was also doing my level best to get the table laughing and engaging everyone to make the night go both fast and well.  And then, without really noticing it, we wandered adrift into this conversation about love and marriage, as each one talked about everything from their almost picture-perfect marriages, to some who had pulled the plug on the institution long ago.  And then there it was, like a lady of the evening waltzing in and settling down in the front row at church during the middle of a really bad sermon, an awkwardness and a hush you that you could have heard a mile away plopped down on the dinner table right in front of us–when I rather abruptly related the struggles of marriage to individuals not being will to die.  Mic drop!

Now as I peeled the elongated stares off of the center of my forehead like dead skin on a wound, it occurred to me that we were in the middle of a Sunday School lesson that both no one had graduated from at this particular table, and that no one was volunteering to take part in for the present or near future.  So, I guess you could say that my popularity contest with the ladies took a sharp turn now going from “hero to zero”, and I was now center stage with my pants down left to explain my most unwelcome and equally unfamiliar conversation.  At that point, as I tried to simply explain, that in order for marriages, or any relationship for that matter to work long term, it all boils down to someone, at some point, and oftentimes the same person quite frankly, being willing to essentially “die” to themselves, forgive, and live and let die.  As I then continued to peel the remaining skin off of my forehead, in a moment of apparent frustration, I looked at them and said, “Damn, have none of your gals ever been to Sunday School for goodness sakes”?  Of course, this didn’t go quite how I planned, and from then on, my only course of action was to make an attempt at a quick joke amid the deafening silence, and slowly disappear out of my chair like an escape artist to the barstool of rescue awaiting in the next room.

Who the Hell Wants to Die Anyway?

And of course, the thought then occurred to me quite perceptibly so; that no one wants to “die” anymore. In fact, we see it just about everywhere we turn our heads these days.  For instance, I see it often and quite sadly at a plethora of dinner tables in any given restaurant in America, where aged depravity coupled with long standing marital bitterness comes full circle to our bated eyes, as elderly couples sit opposite one another drinking their wine and eating their food without even a glance in the other ones direction, reflecting alone in their quiet and un-blissful misery of “till death do us part”.  And the profound sadness I feel as I witness this time in marital “living Hell” is almost too much to bear.  I can scarcely take it in.  And as unpopular as it may seem, and equally out of step with the current ethos of pervasive thought in the public square and average living rooms, the lack of death in our individuals’ lives is the fresh steamy dog shit on the squeaky clean living room floor!  It simply has to be addressed, yet we’re finding ways it seems to simply sweep it under the rug, and then in a quite diversionary manner, imagine that the stench is simply a newly discovered aromatic that will over time simply “blend in”.  But of course, the lack of death in relationships across the board “is” the crux of the problem, despite its unpopularity at dinner conversations on your ship of choice. It is indeed why marriages exit on irreconcilable differences and the like, why siblings grow apart; why kids grow up without Moms and Dads; and why there are after all wars, wars, and rumors of wars, as a Nazarite once opined long, long ago.

The Cruciform Road Less Traveled

Several years now I watched a fascinating and equally poignant movie entitled “Calvary” that almost no one even heard of.  It was a subtle “Christian” masterpiece if I must say, that was not even remotely billed as such, but that hammered the nails of its message right into the feet and hands of any who dared to receive it’s unwelcome and yet healing balm it offered us.   In one particular scene Father James Lavelle, played by Brendan Gleeson expresses to his daughter as they brisk about on an Irish seashore, that “I think there’s too much talk about sins and not enough about virtues”.  To which his daughter Fiona replies, “What would be your number one”?  Father Lavelle then readily replies, “I think forgiveness has been highly underrated”.  And later, for our conclusive purposes today, the movie then comically explains why the subject of death is such an awkward and unpopular dinner conversation aboard our various ships of obtuse fools, when it explains in particular wittiness, as the person simply called “the writer” says to Father LaVelle, “You know how you can tell you’re really getting old”? To which Father Lavelle says “No, How”?  To which the writer then retorts, “No one says the word ‘death’ around you anymore”?

And perhaps that explains it after all does it not?  You see the truth is, that the Outlaw preacher came to die because the world on its own terms both wouldn’t and couldn’t, without some cosmic divine intervention. It was indeed an experiment already tried for quite some time and was found wanting, and still very much is.  In fact, Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, that in describing the virtue at its core, it is; or rather should be, the ability to be willing to be “defrauded” at times, and to even “suffer wrong”, to which is oftentimes the real “one-two punch” to the gut of our eternal unwillingness to budge in our relationships, when quite frankly; someone almost always has to be the one who is willing to, well…die.

But the bruised reed from Bethlehem came in by stealth quite cleverly, and fooled the world in a constant mad dash to always incessantly fight to be #1, and to stoically never let anyone else see them sweat, so help them god.  And while we are dead set on living and winning still, He turned the world upside down by cruciform losing, which is why many today call him Lord; yet sadly wear his statement of “deathful” winning around their necks, rather than as a quite regular mantra as to how we all should actually seek to live.  And as a result, the talk of death on the ship of obtuse fools still makes for a most awkward dinner conversation.

Selah

Does Reciprocity of “Give-and-Take” Exist In Relationships Anymore?

A Question

I’ve reflected on this particular topic for some time now, asking the discernable “sixty-four dollar” question as it relates to others as I “people watch” all around me, while also rather sheepishly asking it of “yours truly”.  For after all, what is good for the goose as they say, must also be good for the gander.  And as far as it goes, up until now, I felt that I had at least somewhat passed that particular test.

For instance, when someone called me and needed something, if I had what they needed, nothing was spared. If I was called upon to give advice; or to simply listen; to be a shoulder they could cry upon; or they needed a place to stay; or if called upon to look at something that was most important to them, I would dare not relinquish it.  I did so simply because after 27 years of devouring the scriptures with both my mind, heart, and equal brokenness, I cannot walk away from the mirror of those well-rehearsed lines and not recognize that I indeed “am” my brother and sister’s keeper.  I “am” somehow to be the hands and feet of Jesus in some form or fashion, and both my schedule and my prayer closet should flex for allowance of that oftentimes inconvenient, yet gospel-like intrusion into my life.  And, should we need a reciprocated mutuality of this same comfort upon ourselves, should we not also be able to count upon it?

Narcissism and Facebook

Well before we hold our breath in the endless waiting line, perhaps our answer comes to us front and center in the current climate of chronic narcissism and now habitual attention deficit disorder?  For me, it’s plain and simple, or black and white, even as I often fall short; and yet, it seems for most of us now, this obvious nudge to go beyond our now routine superficiality of paper-thin convictions and relationships has become an inconvenient truth threatening to hold us back from “living our lives”.  I believe Facebook, of which I am a reluctant patron of, is part and parcel of the problem.  We scroll through old friends and mostly mere acquaintances unremittingly, periodically adding them to our “friends” list, perhaps not realizing it’s “friends with(out) the benefits.  We presume our “likes” and “tags” show in fact that we are comrades of sorts, even as we scurry on to our next diversion keeping us at a comfortable “stone’s throw” from real communication, interaction and love bestowed on our “so-called” virtual friends, many of whom should fall into a quite different category of “brothers and sisters” if their posts claiming their love for Jesus is descriptive of who they actually are.  But Facebook need not bear the full culpability, as I fear this casual “hit it and quit it” relational interaction seeps from these flickering pixels seamlessly into the flesh and blood world of our daily grind equally I’m afraid.

Privatization

For instance, our homes have long become our private castles, hiding us away from the pain and suffering that exists just outside our door, all the while scampering out occasionally for food, drink and never-ending entertainment; and then rushing back into our doors safe and secure again inside the womb of indifference, as we then settle down in front of a speaking idol that beams out constant nonsensical garbage certain to fuel our desensitization all the more.  And as we interact with our peers in our work-day week, once we leave on Friday, the unwritten rule, outside of an occasional joining up for a frolicsome rendezvous, is that the weekends have become our sacred parish of “us four and no more”, as our self-made stained glass windows expediently keep out those that come with any hint of a bag full of predicaments and a worn out welcome to boot.

What About the Church?

And as I ponder this even more, I wonder as it relates to the faith I claim to possess, and that the church proposes to offer assistance with, how we are doing in this same arena?  Are we, as supposed guides of the blind, pushing back on this privatization of our lives that keeps our shoe leather of caring comfortably at bay?   Oh, we use words like “family”, surely understanding that Jesus alluded many times to the fact that His family would be even greater and ever more loving than our own nuclear family.  Yet oftentimes, when we are no longer the shiny new visitor, or the over-committed and tithing acolyte, we find that perhaps we are still “a day late and a dollar short” of feeling safe and loved by a collective family, who at a moment’s notice will go out of their way to leave their light on for you.

And as I muse about this 800-pound conundrum in the church’s and my own room, the question I have recently asked myself is this: Have we now come to a time that our Christianity means mostly nothing outside of the mere trappings of church life full of weekly “sermonettes by preacherettes to us as christianettes”? Or to put it more pithily, I wonder if we truly inculcate the values of Christianity into our daily lives and relationships where the rubber actually meets the road, and beyond the veneer of regular church attendance, an occasional check in a large golden bowl, and constant swaying to the everlasting catalogue of predictable muzak?

The Rub

For sure, the lack of real mutual “give and take” of real community lacking in our daily lives and in the place we call church is often spoken of, and no shortage of ink has been spilled in the description of it, and perhaps I won’t offer anything new here today.  Although it does seem that the lack thereof is slowly killing us in ways we have yet to give attentive runway to in our own topsy-turvy lives; and at least for me, the devil is for sure found in our individual details. Yet I just can’t help but quietly wonder if we’ve not been so busy “going” to church, that somehow; just maybe, we forgot that we are actually supposed to “be” one.

Selah

As It Turns Out, Freedom Is Not Actually Free: On Flags, Freedom, and Racism in America

Dedicated to Paul, John and The brother from Another Mother

I typically shy away from hot button issues, first of all because they are “hot”, and secondly, because I mostly only wanted to write about The Narrow Path and the few that find it; and how the one leading us on that path is oftentimes found immeasurably missing in America.  Nonetheless, a friend of mine encouraged me to reconsider after reading my blog from last year titled: https://marknealprince.com/2017/06/09/trump-vs-everyfrickingbody-our-new-mascot-for-sticking-it-to-the-man/  He’s a black man (don’t you hate that we have to make that distinction), who is my brother from another mother, but who happened to think that particular blog struck a cord and was funny, and that I should reconsider writing more along those lines.  So here goes an experiment.  Who knows where the wind will take us, but at the very least, you will get a piece of my mind on the matter for whatever it’s worth.

Oh, and last but not least, this blog is a tribute to my two new friends (Paul and John), who reminded me just yesterday that gentleman can disagree agreeably, and that white boys can talk about the race issue too, and have something equally to say to add to the conversation as long as we are willing also to actively listen.  This is of course something that I did not realize I could do in the public square given my particular shade of melanin.  Thanks Paul and John for the reminder, and for the olive branch to take part.

First of all, my other friend I mentioned truly is a brother from another mother, and he has come to the conclusion that I would make a great black guy, or that perhaps I actually am one and just haven’t come out of the closet yet.  However, I must say that my friend and l and I differ politically, about as far as the Cleveland Browns are from a Super bowl win.  He lives in the Bronx, and probably secretly attends Farrakhan rallies, believes all black conservatives are “Uncle Tom’s”, and though I didn’t know it until I experienced it recently, has a hard time holding back his anger due to some of the racism he has both seen and experienced growing up in this country.  After emphatic listening, I still then chide him on the fact that the left already has his vote without any effort, just for the hair on his neck to raise up a little bitJ.  And after we piss each other off real good, we part with “I Love You Man” and we pray for each other.  And for the record, if I were in a foxhole, he’s exactly who I would want with me without reservation.  You see the thing is, it’s the Christian flag that binds us together and not an American one, yet it has some faint similarities at least in theory that we should talk about.

My Battle Against Racism

I’ve never experienced the kind of racism that many blacks have by a long shot, but I have experienced it nonetheless.  You see I wasn’t raised a racist.  My family didn’t talk about it.  We never heard or used colorful language to describe black people, and quite frankly, in my heart of hearts I’ve always despised those who take part in it. Likewise in my own family, I never spoke of it, never talked about it, walked away from family and friends who participated in it, and starved it’s folly from ever gaining a foothold of any kind! And so primarily the racism I experience is one of looking at my black brothers and sisters with my “I love black people” heart, and them refusing to engage me with eye contact, talking behind my back, and refusing to let me get too close. That’s about the extent of the racism as I have experienced it, and I’m not looking for a trophy, a history month, or my own channel as a result.  But it’s racism just the same.  A fact many of us I believe fail to miss.

In fact, I often talk to my friend and I ask him why we all have to draw identity flags in the first place. Why can’t we as Christians just be for “people” and not black or white?  It seems that’s the first step to fighting it to me.  We stop racism by not being a racist ourselves.  A novel idea I suppose.  He says I just don’t understand, but then as I seek to understand, though I get it, as a Christian with a broken halo I really do believe this is where the rubber meets the road.  I would even be so bold as to say as I have shared with my brother, the fact that years ago when racism was “systemic” (a loaded word for sure), it’s a damn miracle black people didn’t rise up and decrease the surplus white population!  Thank God, they found a leader who knew better and had the secret love sauce, and I pray his message continues to resonate, because I believe it has been long forgotten.  And the fact that black people have used restraint for the most part is a testament to them, yet I really believe it is by and large due to the God that they serve, whom they know is the only one who can cure the sickness that is the individual human heart. You see racism isn’t just found in America.  It’s found in humanity, and it has been so since man first put his foot on the floor.

NFL and the Flag

As I got into a somewhat political conversation on Facebook yesterday (never advisable), I was reminded by some of my new black friends that the racism issue is somehow behind this whole NFL and the flag thing, something I guess us white boys miss.  Though admittedly I think it shouldn’t be about that, I guess I’m starting to see why.  However, there is one thing I’ve learned in my almost 54 years of life sometimes the frickin hard way, and it is that people reject what they don’t understand.  And thus the genius of communication always lies in making sure people have been communicated to properly about what all the fuss is about. Until then, we’re just throwing pearls to swine.

And so my personal perspective is that kneeling on a field doesn’t actually protest anything that accomplishes whatever end game is envisioned.  It’s kind of like trying to get someone to do something you want and then you start talking about his or her mama!  The gloves then come off, and there’s not much anybody can do but pick up the broken men pieces.  Case in point.  Wearing a t-shirt saying, “I can’t breathe” is easy.  Kneeling is also easy and sexy, but it does nothing but tick off the very (majority) of people (right or wrong), who equate Americanism not too awfully shy of the Holy Grail, and of whose flags and blood of their black and white fathers also runs deep into the sinew of their bones.  As a result, I think the strategy misses the mark, and I also refuse to buy into the “systemic” narrative as an overarching belief system. What I do believe however is that there are people who are racist (shocker), and there are systems than can have racism as an overarching demon as it’s marionette, pulling long term belief system strings that now run on autopilot.  When and where those systems are exposed, after peeling back the layers of that complex onion (a rarity), it is at the apex of the matter that protests and communicative voices have their most dramatic effect.  And believe it or not, that core is found in our very constitution that cries out, even when not always practiced, that “All men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights”and that “among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.  Now to deny that America has been grossly hypocritical in holding up that standard at times would be uncritical (in a Republic, not a democracy), yet it is still those very laws that a wise Atlanta bred and born turned Alabama preacher once used to push a new narrative to replace an old one. And he was descriptive of the biblical dictum, as one who was “wise as a serpent, and gentle as a dove”.  Where may I ask are his descendants?

Now to Really Piss You Off

On a very sensitive note, if I really wanted to piss my friend off, all I needed to say (however guarded and thoughtful) was that I didn’t think Obama was a really great President.  I said I believed that he is a good man, one of the greatest orators of our time, is a faithful husband and father, but quite frankly was a liberal ideologue that did not deliver “hope and change”.  In fact, I believe that by his tone deafness or subtle racist innuendo, he pushed the narrative away from what seemed to white people at least, to be a country having for a couple of decades gone in the right direction, back to where racism was again all up in our grill. He would then get on to me and say, “Mark, what is it about you white boys?  Can’t we have just one damn black President and be proud, when yall have had so many crackers”?  And to that I’d say, “Well, we’ve had a ton of terrible white ones, why can’t you have one bad black one”?  And perhaps we need to be reminded again that the same people that voted Donald Trump into office, were those that voted for the hope and the change twice!  That seemed to tell us that at least individual people and a good majority of the collective whole were starting to look past that dark period of our history and actually vote as thinking people on issues instead of skin color.  However, I’ve been informed that this is now no longer the case across the board.  Perhaps I’ve been sleeping under a rock, or so it seems.

Freedom Is Not Actually Free

The truth of the matter is, that freedom is not actually free; something I’m afraid that we have long disregarded.  It wasn’t free for Martin Luther, for MLK, or for Rosa Parks.  Our founders knew this as well as they risked their own lives from threat of the crown should they have failed.  And so they gave us a Republic and not a democracy, with limited government accept to protect its citizenry, and to uphold laws that would ensure their initial vision, where all men would be given the freedom to equally be able to live as they so wished without oligarchies, dictators or the sole will of majority rule.  And though the experiment was not perfect by a country mile, as an anomaly that it was in terms of nations, it created correctives and checks and balances so that the people would sense when it ran amuck (assuming the people are good), and would challenge the laws that were to be upheld to reform itself, and as such as a nation always reforming.  But in a Republic, we cannot legislate people into being non-racists, as much as you and I might wish that we could.  In fact, this can only be accomplished at around the same time that pigs start to fly, or when politicians want anything more than another vote!  Because you see, individual sin-sick hearts are free also to be bigots, yet all the while you and I are free to ignore and not concede to their intolerance, and equally to collectively call it out when we see it; while in the meantime “refusing” to be the racists looking in our mirrors reflection.

This is a tribute to Paul and John who also believe in my right to disagree, and to my brother from another Mother; and to those who died for our freedom to equally protest the motive and sacrifice they made.  But it is more so a tribute to all my black brothers and sisters, to let you know some of us crackers are really listening, and we hate racist bastards right along with you. But if it’s OK, we’d really like to talk about it with you, and not at you.

Selah