Sep 302017
 

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Sep 302017
 

Matthew 26:57-75

Jesus Before Caiaphas and the Council

57 Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered.

  • I wonder if they were working off a bounty?
  • They went directly to the High Priest – waiting with him the scribes and elders.
  • Try to imagine an enemy of state so dangerous that he would be hauled in before the President and his Cabinet for questioning.

58 And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end.

  • Two points here (1) it’s from a distance – the sheep are scattered and Peter is not going to get too close to the action – he does not want to be identified as one of the followers, and yet oddly he will be identified.
  • (2) To see the end. What was Peter expecting to see – the end Jesus spoke of – or just an ordinary execution?

59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death,

  • Note that they were seeking false testimony – here we have a court set up to draw in false testimony.
  • I am not a lawyer, but have watched enough Law & Order to know that is suborning perjury.
  • Who did Jesus die for? Sinners! He sits at their tables for food & drink and he stands in their courts.

60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward

  • I guess they could not find someone whose false testimony would stand up in court.
  • Then they found 2.

61 and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’”

  • Well at least they listened to what he said which is more than we can say about the disciples.
  • How many of us can quote from the pastor’s sermon later in the week?

62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?”

  • It is funny that Jesus has told his disciples that they would be brought before the governing authorities (Matt 10) – but here now is Jesus, as usual doing it first. Going before them, showing them the way.

63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

  • Interesting question – adjured is kind of like being put under oath.
  • Jesus remained silent until being put under oath – even Jesus puts himself under the governing authorities and answers.
  • Jesus is being obedient to the law and fulfilling the law.

64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

  • And he testifies – again he speaks the Daniel 7 words ‘Son of Man’
  • With these words Jesus declares himself to be the one who establishes God’s kingdom – he is equating himself to be God.

65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.

  • I never understand people who say ‘Jesus never claimed to be God.’
  • Anyone who denies that Jesus ever called himself God just does not read the scriptures.
  • As usual, the enemies of Jesus always hear him loud and clear.

66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.”

  • Judgment passed – the verdict is in — Death!!

67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him,

68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”

  • Why the mockery? If you are truly God (the son od man) this stuff should not be happening to you.

Peter Denies Jesus

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.”

  • Here is Peter’s moment to fulfill his previous claim to never deny Jesus.

70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.”

  • It’s funny that the text does not say “and Peter pondered his answer.” No, he just blurted it out.
  • I try to imagine Peter’s body language and his hand motions as he really tries to sell this denial.

71 And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

  • Another servant girl – it is interesting that the Lord used servant girls to allow Peter to confess Christ – no pressure with servant girls.

72 And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.”

  • 1st time – I don’t know what you mean
  • 2nd time – I don’t know the man
  • 3rd time – he adds an oath – he is not just making a statement.

73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.”

  • Now the crowd turns to Peter. He is now in deep – earlier it was just dealing with a couple of servant girls – now it’s a crowd.

74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed.

  • Invoking the curse is like saying God Damn it! Or I’ll be damned if I know that man.
  • Perhaps like ‘I swear to God I don’t know what you are talking about’ or ‘I swear to God I don’t know that man.’
  • Peter denies being with Jesus but by the end of this gospel Jesus declares “I will be with you always.”

75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

  • Conviction!
  • And in the end we are all Peter. When Peter said he would die for Christ, all the others said the same — and like Peter, they all denied Jesus.

 

Sep 292017
 

I asked my friend Rob Murphy to write about why he has strong feelings about the current NFL protests…because I know his heart for God and people.

He graciously consented and this is his article.

 

Please refer to our Code of Conduct (under Pages in the right sidebar) before replying.

I Would Like To Be Decent

Let me begin with a clear statement:

“I’m going to give you the real deal: I’m an American, I don’t desecrate my flag and my national anthem. I’m not gonna do anything against the flag and national anthem. I’m going to work within those situations, but this is my country, and I’ll work out the problems, but I’ll do it in an intelligent manner.”

You have an agree/disagree response to this statement.  I have proffered this statement earlier this week and been told several times that it’s everything from “boorish” to “exclusively white privilege”.

The interesting thing is, it’s not my statement.  It’s from NFL Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown.

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Our culture is so divided now that several African American men have been deemed “not really black”.

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Anyone with a semi-functional use of Google can suss out Jim Brown’s bona fides as a man who knows the Civil Rights struggle in America.

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But even his life-long, first hand experiences are being deemed cheap currency by some in our culture.

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The Great, Impossible Divide

The greatest difficulty I (and many of my friends and peers, race or color an irrelevant factor) have is finding a unified voice in what these protests are about.   I’ve heard everything from a stolen Presidential election, police brutality, racism among law enforcement, illegal and immoral ongoing wars in foreign lands and even the blanket statement ‘racism’.

The originator of the NFL protests, Colin Kaepernick, made clear his protest motivation:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”   

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It’s a clear and concise statement.  It is in dramatic conflict with other declarations he’s made in public appearances regarding historic civil rights figures like Malcolm X and Fidel Castro.  Those men are prominent figures in global civil rights for varied reasons.

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Most recently, the anthem protest issue has become clouded with many voices protesting many different issues via the anthem protests.

Surveys have shown that the protests have sown immense disunity among followers of the NFL.  Favorable views of the NFL amid the protests have fallen by half in one recent survey.

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Since 2001, the NFL has made a specific marketing and strategic earning plan based on exploiting a sense of grief, alliance and patriotism in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and the subsequent declaration(s) of war.  The United States suffered horrific civilian loss on 9/11/01 and in the intervening 16 years, grievous loss of military personnel in wartime.

The NFL has profiteered from the war, a perceived surge in patriotism and exploiting the plain sympathy most decent people experience when we see some family experience loss of a loved one during war time.

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We’re empathetically driven to celebrate when we see loved ones restored following a tour of duty for graduations, births and birthdays.  The NFL (and other entertainment agencies) have manipulated the public’s empathy and sympathy.  The NFL has repeatedly brought our Gold Star families, organizations that bring services to wounded vets, and a cavalcade of those who have suffered over what has become an interminable war with what seems no end in sight.

I believe the NFL is guilty of crass exploitation of those who have suffered loss during the last 16 years.

I recognize the crass exploitation by the NFL (and others), but I refuse to further cheapen the loss and suffering by stacking more crass exploitation upon these families by nodding approval or participation in a protest.

Practicum

As a pastor, I’ve officiated and assisted at many funerals.  I’ve officiated a funeral of one family member who died of AIDS related illness.  I did not lecture on the dangers and physical consequences of my family member’s ‘alternative lifestyle’.    That would have been monstrous.  I assisted in a funeral for a woman who was killed drunk driving.  I did not lecture her children or family on the dangers of alcohol abuse.  That would have been appalling.

Is it true that drunk driving claims lives?  Yes.  Is it true that decades of casual sex may result in death and disease?  Yes.

But the people there were invited as a memorial, remembrance and an offer of hope and comfort through the comfort of shared humanity and even words of hope from God Himself.

Gold star families are invited to these games.  It is very likely an exploitive act by the NFL.  Certainly, Disneyland benefits from the positive “marketing” of hosting “Make A Wish” Foundation recipients.  How ghoulish would it be to go to some child at Disneyland who “Made a Wish” and attended Disneyland with his or her family and say “This is all corporatism; you don’t really matter, this is all a money grab by Disney.  You’re going to die just like all the other Make A Wish kids have died and you will not be remembered.”?

There are countless commercial breaks during a football game.  Literally hours of programming time to make a commercial that reaches out to every viewer at home and make an appeal to bring about any kind of change in all of society.  Those commercial breaks allow for the undivided attention of the entire stadium audience.  There is a lengthy halftime that also allows for commercials and in-stadium promos.

The average NFL game lasts over three hours.

Source:

The game (in theory) consists of 4 – fifteen minutes quarters and 1 – fifteen minute halftime, officially.  That’s an hour and fifteen minutes of runtime.  Commercialization expands that game time by nearly two full hours.

There is ample time to inform the viewing audience at home and in-stadium of any (most?) social ills occurring in our country.  There is opportunity to inform, fund-raise, protest.  Two hours of commercial time is longer than the average feature film.  Entire wars and revolutions have been distilled into two hour movies.

The national anthem lasts around 2 minutes, 20 seconds.  In comparison to the entirety of the game, it is barely a commercial break.  It is a fleeting glance of time.

Source:

That seems a very short window to show simple decency to invited guests who have suffered loss in service of our country.  There are literally hours at the disposal of any player(s) or spokespersons to make any declaration their conscience demands and all their creativity allows.

I am unclear on what is being protested.  So are the protestors and the viewing audience.  My conscience is clearly telling  me what to do with  2 minutes of decency.

Sep 282017
 

Do Not Be Anxious

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matt 6:24)

When Christ calls us through the Gospel into His kingdom, He dethrones the lord of the world, who commands the idols we previously served, and becomes our Lord. Our old lord, Satan, although defeated and disarmed by Christ at the cross, does not leave us entirely alone. He remains capable of whispering lies and accusations to us. Therefore, two lords contend for us, but a disciple of Christ serves only Christ.

“for either he will hate the one and love the other”

Idolatry occurs when a Christian takes something, such as money, which he should be lord over, and allows it to become lord over him. When this happens, Christ is dethroned and we no longer serve Him. Christ refers to this as hating Him. Let us look at three examples from the three estates into which God places us:

Society. When a governing official is taken captive by avarice, He can no longer serve as God’s servant for our good (Rom 13:4). Antipas’ covetousness cost John the Baptist his head (Matt 14:3-11). Today it is not uncommon to learn of governing officials who tip the scales of justice, legislate and/or show partiality on account of avarice.

Church. When a pastor or priest is driven by avarice, He can no longer serve as God’s servant of His Word, which is to preach without partiality, rebuke sin and proclaim the Gospel. The avarice of the temple priesthood led to the violent rebuke by Jesus, who said: “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.” (Matt 21:13) Today it is not uncommon to learn of pastors and priests who cover up abuse, adultery and other sins, or who change the message of the Gospel, on account of avarice, in violation of their oaths to serve as Christ’s under-shepherds.

Family. When laity, particularly parents of young children, are drawn into any of the idolatries which occupy our culture, Christ and His Word often are the first casualties. For example, if “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17), what do you suppose happens to faith if we stop hearing? What are we willing to suffer or do without to hear God’s Word addressed to us? Is the Gospel worth getting up on Sunday morning? Missing a soccer game? Making an offering at church? Teaching God’s Word to our children? If Christ is our master and the Gospel offers treasure in heaven, will we treasure gathering together as His body to receive His gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation, through hearing His Gospel and receiving His sacraments?

“or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

One who serves his master, Christ, is devoted solely to Him, as the Psalmist sang: “I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.” (Ps 73:23-24) To be devoted to Christ means we are to receive His gifts and trust His promises. His gifts mold our will to His will like a father holding and leading a beloved child.

Jesus was devoted to the will of His Father. He emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant (Phil 2:7), living not by bread alone, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4) This is what it means to be poor in spirit. The blessed poor in spirit have Christ as their master; they live from His Word. And it is to the poor in spirit that Jesus gives the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:3). When you have Christ and His kingdom, everything else is trivial by comparison.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (Matt 6:25-32)

Just as Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread, Satan tempts us through our bodily needs to turn from Christ and seek our bodily needs in idolatry. Even though we cannot guarantee the future or the length of our lives, Satan would have us follow him rather than the Creator of heaven and earth. When we slip into unbelief, one of the first symptoms is anxiousness.

Here Jesus gently says to us: “Repent of your unbelief. Your Father who looks after the lower things in creation, such as the birds and the lilies, is capable also of looking after you; but He is not only capable of it, He loves you above all the rest of His creation and knows what you need, so do not be anxious; He will provide for you.”

How do we know this? We know this because Jesus laid down His life for our sins and was raised from the dead to give us a gracious God whom we call Father. That is how much God so loved the world! Therefore, for those in Christ, there is nothing to be anxious about.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt 6:33)

Jesus knows all too well that in ourselves we are not capable, nor willing, to believe or obey Him. Almost off the cuff, Jesus refers to His own disciples as “evil” (Matt 7:11). Therefore, the blessed poor in spirit seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Our relationship with God is not begun, continued or finished on the basis of our own righteousness, but solely by the righteousness of the One who fulfilled the Law and the Prophets for us (Matt 5:17), who was baptized by John “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15) for us.

Therefore, the Divine medicine for anxiousness, Jesus says, is to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. We do this by continuing in His Word, gathering as His Church to hear the Gospel and receive the Sacraments, and by prayer, particularly the Lord’s Prayer: May He sanctify us with His holiness; give us His kingdom; provide us with our daily bread; forgive our sins; etc.

We seek because we currently live in the already/not yet tension of salvation. We walk by faith, not by sight. Yet even in the midst of this seeking, Jesus promises: “and all these things [bodily necessities] will be added to you.” Therefore, there is nothing for us to be anxious about. Amen.

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Amen.

Sep 272017
 

When summer is coming to an end and fall is around the corner, football begins to take the spotlight of the American sporting world.  To some degree, it even takes the national spotlight as the sport has become quite predominant in our culture.  This past week, football even dominated the political spotlight as league-wide demonstrations in the NFL garnered much attention.

I have plenty I could write here about the protests, but will take a pass and instead write about another topic with significant impact on the sport.  One whose impact can be much more severe on the lives it affects than any political action.  And that is the subject of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE, and other adverse and debilitating conditions caused by brain trauma.

I have loved the sport of football since an early age.  Although I never played it in an organized fashion, I have always loved watching and following the sport and enjoyed playing enough pick-up games of varying intensity throughout my life.  There is something innate about the sport that appeals to both the athletic pursuit and the warrior mentality.  And it is always a major highlight for the week when both my Philadelphia Eagles and Penn State Nittany Lions win, especially when they do so in dramatic fashion on the very last play of the game as they both did this past weekend.  (Come to think of it, both of my teams winning on the very last play of the game in the same week has probably never happened before, at least as far as I can remember.)

Those who choose to play the game of football, especially in an organized sense at higher levels, have long done it knowing they were taking on significant risks to their health, both long term and short term.  It only takes a brief viewing of the game for one to realize how quickly and easily broken bones and torn ligaments and potentially even paralysis can occur.  Worst of all, there have been quite a few deaths over the years and that continue to occur in present day that are directly related to injuries suffered on the football field.

Until recent times, the damage that can occur to the brain as a result of playing football was not well known or understood.  Even today, there is seemingly so much still unknown as to the extent of damage and injury that can occur to the brain through the sport of football and how to diagnose it.  What we are learning about more and more, however, is that some players who had CTE and other brain trauma suspected to have come from playing the game have suffered through harrowing conditions.  These terrible circumstances affect not only the players but their families and others around them.

This subject was recently brought to mind again when it was reported that Aaron Hernandez suffered from a severe case of CTE.  Hernandez was a star tight end for the New England Patriots at the beginning of the decade who ended up receiving a life sentence in prison for a murder he committed.  While already serving his life term, Hernandez was tried for two other murders in an unrelated case but was acquitted.  Soon after this acquittal, Hernandez took his own life in prison.

After the discovery of Hernandez’s CTE, his lawyer has sued the NFL on behalf of Hernandez’s family.  What role CTE played in his murderous and other troubling behavior, we’ll probably never know for sure.  Hernandez’s documented bad behavior started well before he even entered the NFL, but I would also assume he started playing football at an early age and who knows when the CTE first started taking effect.

It would also seem that CTE and other brain damage and injuries is not relegated to just the sport of football.  Seemingly other sports such as boxing and MMA and hockey and even soccer (which the rest of the world would call football) would carry some risks.  Football would appear to carry the greatest risk, but the possibilities cannot be ignored in these other arenas, either.

I am probably not giving up my football fandom anytime soon.  Yet, at the same time, I have a growing conflict as to what to think about the risks of CTE and other brain-related debilitating conditions.  Thankfully, I don’t think I have much concern of having contracted these conditions from my sporting lifetime and I don’t have any sons with whom I need to be concerned with playing football.  But others have real concerns to deal with.  And I don’t know how many of them are properly aware of the risks or take them seriously enough.

I am not calling for people to give up playing or being a fan of football or to stop their kids from playing the game.  I certainly would not want to give up a sport I love or make my kids do the same.  Every activity we take part of in life carries some level of risk.  Some obviously greater than others, but where do we draw the line?

How does our Christian faith influence how we think about such an issue?  I don’t really know.  God wants us to be wise and to take care of our bodies and to look out for those we are responsible for, yet at the same time, He created us to be able to experience passion and enjoyment.  And for those who love football, it can make for some tough choices.

I don’t have the answers, I only throw these things out there for the sake of thought and discussion.  And especially for those of us who have more direct impact of football on our lives, may God give safety and wisdom in discerning what He would have us to do.        

Sep 262017
 

1. The problem with the NFL/national anthem protests and counter protests is that , (per the new normal), no one is actually listening to what the other side is saying in favor of reaction and over reaction. Protests against racial injustice are not protests against the flag, but the flag means something sacred to a great many people in this country, not something to be used in any sort of protest.

I choose to hear and respect the views of all who are involved.

It would seem that we could find a way to find common ground if we would stop allowing those who profit from division to manipulate us…

2. The problem with #1 is that too many don’t want to find common ground, seeing their fellow citizens as enemies and people who need to be vanquished. A house divided…

3. There is also a great generational gap in how different groups view the flag and the anthem…the day when these symbols held a common meaning to all people is long past. For many in this country under 50 years of age, patriotism is an obscure concept…

4. I was thinking about adding a political page to our code of conduct and theological affirmations…my identity is primarily as a Christian and a pastor, so my political interest is mainly bound up in those issues that affect “the least of these”. That doesn’t necessarily demand partisanship…

5. We should invoke a national day of morning over the death of nuance in political and theological discussions…

6. Let’s be honest…there are few greater joys than offending and feeling offended. May God grant us repentance we don’t really want…

7. How would we interact with others if we actually believed the Sermon on the Mount was truly the word of God and proscriptive for Christians? What I see is that many think it a way of defeat when Jesus saw it as a means of conquest…

8. It is equally foolish to deny the history of racial injustice in this country and to indict all white people for it. Blame is a blunt and very limited tool, especially if you’re trying to build something…

9. To place the Christian faith on the left or the right of a political spectrum is to deny its true place alone above all earthly things…

10. Until I have forgiven seventy times seven and left many gifts at the altar in order to make reconciliation, I have not experienced the power of the faith I claim to hold, nor can I…

 

Sep 262017
 

The early church and military service…

Jane’s story and how her leaders failed it…

The world as it is, not as I would have it…

Nine ways to protect your children from sexual abuse…

Jesus is here…

Confession, absolution, kyrie…

A brief introduction to the life and ministry of Luther…

The problem with the ultimate bumper sticker scripture…

Hating your neighbor will make you dumb…

Photoshopping death…

Spotifying Christianity…

I’m drowning…throw me that…anvil?

The lost purpose of learning…

Theology and science…necessary tensions…

On flags, athletes, and Christian reverence…

Is “normal” really just a setting on the washing machine?

Why do churches use liturgy?

It’s Trump vs. the NFL and we’re all losers…

Fake apocalypse news shouldn’t eclipse real tragedy news…

To confess our faith or pledge our allegiance…

Romans 13 is Gods word and “abolish the police” is not…

Nine things you should know about the Jewish high holy days…

The helpful history of minority demonstrations…

Uniting Methodists…

How to sing in the dark…

Are icons ok to use in prayer and worship?

A tribute to Rich Mullins…

Sep 252017
 

Rejecting the New Normal 

Sadly and perhaps tragically, our culture and society seems to be getting more and more uncivil.  We are certainly all too familiar with the rude and crude tone in national politics, talk radio, cable news, celebrity Twitter wars, and social media in general that has created a new normal that is shockingly and appallingly uncivil. Many major news outlets… have stopped allowing readers to offer comments at the end of online articles due to an increase in uncivil commentary. 

Social Learning Theory instructs us that people will model or emulate the behavior of others and especially behavior from models who are seen as high profile individuals like national politicians, Hollywood and athletic celebrities, and so forth. However, just as the  frog placed in an increasingly warming pot of boiling water may not perceive a temperature difference until it is too late for survival, perhaps we too can habituate to increasingly uncivil behavior and especially when high profile members of our society appear to not only get away with it but are often reinforced for it.”

Thomas G. Plante, PhD

I’ve decided that I don’t want to get used to the “new normal”.  

I have millennial friends who seem unable to make it through three sentences without dropping the “F” bomb at least twice.  I’ve been told, “It’s the new normal”.  In discussions, it is now common for people to take the most extreme position possible, yell the loudest and consign those who disagree on any point to eternal damnation.  Shouting others down, I’m told, is the “new normal”.  Careful, meticulous research – the result of literally years of study – can be presented and, in an off handed manner, be rejected as “fake” or “biased” without a single glance at the research, sources or materials presented.  Once again, we are informed that it is simply the “new normal”.  The life, actions and statements of a person in leadership may be shown to be immoral, corrupt, and/or filled with false assertions while openly engaging in nepotism in their position of trust.  When questions about such a person are raised, however, we are informed that they are a visionary, or new to the job, or, indeed, that they have been placed there by the “hand of God” and that such questions are inappropriate at best, or at worst, sinful.  Such reasoning is the “new normal”.

I am speaking, of course, not about politics, but about the Church.

Moreover, I am not speaking merely about one segment of the Church, but about the Church at large.  It is far too easy simply to target ultra-conservatives.  We need to recognize that for every Jerry Falwell, Jr., boasting of “packing heat” to deal with a supposed Muslim threat, we also have those like the ultra-liberal Katherine Jefferts Schori (former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church) who forbade the sale of church properties to congregations leaving the Episcopal Church, preferring to see them become mosques, bars, or simply left vacant.

There is, however, something that links someone like a Falwell and a Jefferts Schori and that is their equal appropriation of the “new normal”.  The bullying tactics of the “new normal” have been employed by both, as have been the consigning of certain groups to perdition, the off handed rejection of careful scholarship, the lack of transparency in financial and pastoral/leadership decisions, as well as the megalomaniacal assertions that they indeed know God’s will in a more profound manner than other mere mortals.  Moreover, they really, really, don’t like people asking them pointed questions, preferring that people simply listen… passively and uncritically.

Whether they know it or not, or, indeed, want to admit it, the extremes are mirror images of one another in employing the “new normal” of belligerency and incivility.

Now, I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the “new normal”, whether employed by liberals or conservatives, is inimical to the spirit of the Gospels and the example of Christ.

Some like to believe that by embracing this “new normal” we can somehow sanctify it, after all, didn’t Christ overturn tables and drive the money changers from the temple? Unfortunately, we are much too influenced by the dramatic artistic renderings of the event – tables and money flying through the air, a whip in an upraised hand, animals escaping from cages, priests running away.   Yet the Synoptic Gospels make no mention of a whip and, according to Nathan O’Halloran, it is more likely from an examination of the text in John, that Jesus used some ends of ropes lying around to drive the animals out of the temple precincts, pretty much as any herder of animals might do, no doubt followed by their owners! Not as dramatic (and we do like drama) but possibly a bit more accurate.  Moreover, the point was not to be found primarily in the action that took place, but in the meaning of the action, “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”

I’ve always found it interesting that although the Samaritans as a religious community were castigated by the first century Jews in Palestine, Christ did not pronounce a judgement on them as a group.  He spoke of them, and with them, almost exclusively as individuals – the woman at the well, the “Good Samaritan”, etc.  In our own day, in the Church, it has become common to marginalizing someone’s opinion simply by placing them in an opposing group that has a label – “he’s a liberal”, “she’s a conservative”. It is significant to note, however, that it was not Christ that made use of this technique, but his enemies, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”  Interestingly enough, Christ only replied that he did not have a demon and ignored the marginalizing slur, saying only, “I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.” He was not going to play the game of division by association… and neither should we. What was “normal” for others, was not “normal” for Christ.

All this is to say, that we do not have to accept the “new normal”.  Indeed, by accepting the “new normal” in society, or in the Church, we become less than what we are meant to be as believers and often dishonor the One we claim to follow. 

Oh, by the way, to my good millennial friends – I love you dearly, but keep the “F” bombs to yourself.  In this, as in other matters, I don’t want to get used to the “new normal”.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

Sep 232017
 

Blessed are you, Lord our God.
How sweet are your words to the taste,
sweeter than honey to the mouth.
How precious are your commands for our life,
more than the finest gold in our hands.
How marvellous is your will for the world,
Unending is your love for the nations.
Our voices shall sing of your promises
and our lips declare your praise.
Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Blessed be God for ever.

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