George Floyd & the Uniform

May 28, 2020 § 2 Comments

“We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated.”

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

The death of George Floyd is a public travesty, and a violent reminder that racism runs deep in the soul of our Nation.

A man was murdered by another human being – in broad daylight.

It was a public execution.

One of those humans wore a uniform. In our society the uniform presumes authority and respect – a public trust. By virtue of that uniform, he had power over the man he killed, even before their confrontation.

Everyone wears a uniform of sorts. It can be as formal as a badge and sidearm, or as constant as a title, such as ‘Mom.’ And, whether a badge or a clerical collar, and regardless of the nature of the calling, each one demands a certain expectation and trust. When that trust is violated, there are casualties.

People are killed. Lives are ruined. Hope is weakened.

Being enraged with this act is no more anti-cop than it would be anti-soldier to protest a war, or anti-clergy when outraged over ecclesiastical abuses. I know far too many good cops to allow someone like this to destroy the profound respect I have for the profession.

In fact, it is that deep respect that drives much of my outrage.

For those who take vows, to protect and serve, such violations erode the sacred trust they ask from the public.

Suspicion undermines respect.

Rage pollutes opinions.

Communities are fragmented.

Authority is corrupted.

In the coming days there will be protests, lawsuits, articles, accusations, explanations, and pronouncements. But don’t let the ambient noise divert your attention. Don’t let old patterns of justification pollute your thinking. Don’t let skin color segregate your perspective. Don’t allow a lifestyle to take your eye off the ball.

By any standard, on every level, this was a lynching.

It was murder.

A man with a family and friends literally had the life choked out of him in real time, so much so that it was caught on video.

Have you ever watched video of a lion pride hunting and killing their prey? One lion or lioness clutches the throat of the victim in its powerful jaws, while the others feed off the living, often howling prey. It is the savage, but instinctive reality of life in the wild.

Floyd pled – he howled – not even for release, but for air.

For oxygen.

How many breaths did it take for you to read this sentence? That’s all George Floyd asked for!

Breath!

The uniformed man refused to relent. He left his knee, and all of his weight, on his handcuffed prey, acting as judge, jury, and executioner, abusing his authority as license to kill. His fellow officers turned deaf ears to the man’s cries. They betrayed their uniforms – and their oath of office.

And George Floyd died. The story ended.

The Minneapolis Mayor proclaimed, “our city is going to be better off for it,” which is all good and fine, and hopefully there will be good that comes from this.

But not for George Floyd. He is gone. Once again, a person, created in God’s Image, was treated like a beast to be tamed, or prey to be hunted down.

Friends, this is not someone else’s problem!

“Come Quickly, Lord Jesus”

the least

May 27, 2020 § Leave a comment

“…I will praise him in the midst of the throng. For he stands at the right hand of the needy one…”

Psalm 109:30b-31a

The two photographs below are from South Africa. In the foreground of the first is the most decrepit neighborhood Katherine and I have ever seen. In the distance is an elementary school designated for this neighborhood, where amazingly, among the ruins and disrepair, there is hope.

In one regard, the current COVID-19 pandemic has leveled the playing field. Neither those in plenty, or those in need are exempt from the reach of the virus. Rich and poor, and regardless of faith, skin-color, or ethnicity, all stand in the same line outside the same grocery store, waiting for the indoor count to allow entry.

Westlake Neighborhood, Cape Town, South Africa

Initially, the virus seems weighted towards the poor. A March 11 Time Magazine article relates that the Coronavirus may disproportionately hurt the poor (embedded in that article’s title). Among this segment are those with low-income jobs that, in many cases are not accompanied by medical benefits, including sick leave. Many in this category live in close quarters in greater populated areas. A cardiologist friend recently related to me that over-crowded homes, poor ventilation, and unfiltered water among the poor, contribute to the problem.

However, any who work high-trafficked areas of business put all at risk, because they can’t afford to take days off. This means that those who come into contact with them; co-workers, customers, clients, are all compromised.

In a way that could not have been anticipated, this pandemic has brought together the haves and have-nots.

If you want to find God, look for the needy. That is where He stands. Jesus referred to the least of these in describing the oft-neglected segments of society. He teaches that when we care for the least of these, we do so for him.

He doesn’t even qualify it with words like ‘as though you were doing it for me,’ but adamantly asserts that any effort to care for the weak is an expression of care for him, in the way he told Saul (later Paul) that his assault on Christians was actually a personal attack on him (Jesus).

It isn’t that God loves the poor, weak and needy more, but that society regards them as less, and often ignores them as though they don’t count. But to God, they do.

Westlake Elementary Missionaries

At Westlake Elementary, missionaries surprisingly gained permission from the state to train the children in life and faith, while a young couple ministers in the neighborhood, where the wife grew up in unspeakably abusive conditions.

At some point in the woman’s life, through the kindness of others, God changed her heart. Then he compelled her to forgive those who so violently treated her, and to return to her neighborhood. Then he sent her husband.

Then he sent them – to minister in Westlake, alongside their missionary friends at the elementary school.

In a time when everything affects everyone, the Church has an opportunity to enter in, and embody the heart of God, with the Christian message that reveals a Redeemer who left his comforts for our chaos, his riches for our poverty, his throne for our weakness, and then, to hang in payment for sins we should bear.

The news doesn’t get any better than that, friends…

grace & peace.

Finding the Breach (& standing in it)

May 20, 2020 § Leave a comment

“Whatever the news, I wanted him to hear it from someone who cared about him.”

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

The above quote is part of Bryan Stevenson’s recollection of the execution of a Vietnam veteran whom he was called to defend, eleven years after he was incompetently represented by a court-appointed attorney, and only three weeks before his scheduled execution. By the time Stevenson came on the picture it was too late. His desperate last-minute attempts to secure a stay of execution failed, and this finds him awaiting word.

When he first contacted Stevenson, the man was desperate and frenzied, but in the moments before his execution, he was at peace, and to Stevenson’s surprise, he expressed gratitude to his last-second attorney, simply because he cared.

The Bridge

Has it ever occurred to you that more than anything else, God just wants you to be there? In the Christian universe it is easy to measure success by the wrong metrics. We think that our efforts are worth it, only if the payoff is a net gain: a conversion, an admission, a changed life. But in the currency of the gospel, it is the storyline of grace that wins the day.

For this reason, I love the Psalmist’s description of Moses, when God was breathing fire after Israel had once again forsaken Him.

“Therefore he said he would destroy them – had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.” (Psalm 106:23)

It is important to see that God’s relief was temporary. Israel would repeatedly rebel, until ultimately they became an exiled people. But was it all a waste?

The answer is no. Moses serves as a reminder that it is not temporary relief that the world needs, but Jesus, who not only stood in the breach (on the Cross), but died there, to do the very thing Moses could never secure for eternity – to turn the wrath of God from an otherwise hopelessly rebellious humanity.

The key is that Moses was God’s chosen one. He could stand in the breach, because he was safe, not from harm, but judgment. Only those who enjoy intimacy with the Almighty can brave the enormity of His holy presence, and live.

More often than not, to my shame, what I get so wrong, is that the intimacy I enjoy with God, through Jesus, is the testimony that those wrestling with the uncertainties, doubts, struggles, and sorrows of this world, most need – and long for.

They may not be able to articulate it, but they know it when they see it. And when it isn’t attached to some artificial agenda, it is deeply desirable.

Getting this wrong leads to all kinds of self-protection, self-righteousness, misguided guilt, and artificial pressure, and creates barriers in trust with those I have been called to love.

Because for those who know Jesus, the Christian testimony isn’t a strategy, but a transparent life of repentance and faith that accompanies any who enjoy intimacy with God.

Live the Faith, and the message will be heard!

We can’t change hearts, and only God is in the transformation business. But we have Jesus, and in his Name, we can stand in the breach, because he has stood once and for all – for us.

Friends, this is our good news.

grace & peace.

A Wrecked Rhythm

May 13, 2020 § Leave a comment

“[Sabbath] is resistance because it is a visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods.”

Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance

If this moment we find ourselves in has done anything, it has forced us to consider who we are in light of great uncertainty. Economic instability and job security are heavy on hearts and minds. High School and College Seniors wonder if the next level awaits them, and what it will look like when they get there. Their inability to walk the aisle is symbolic of how our world has come to a stop of sorts. Weddings have been put on hold. Funerals are limited to small graveside gatherings.

Set UpOne of the byproducts of this moment is work from home. For those of us who are accustomed to driving to the office, it is an adjustment. Our dining room table has become my office desk. Katherine is teaching elementary music at her keyboard in our basement. Zoom is family (who else wishes they had stock in this company?!)

With others who have observed the same, we have found that we are working more, not less.

For this, God has mandated Sabbath, or rest.

Since this isn’t an exhaustive theological treatise, suffice it to say that God has built rest into the ecosystem of human well-being. We cannot be fully human if we cannot stop and lay aside agendas that dominate our minds and emotions at the expense of our reliance on God, our true Source of all care.

I have to confess that this is perhaps the most difficult thing for me to do. The work is always there: deadlines, sermons, studies, teaching, meetings, conferences, counseling. The rhythm of work, rest and recreation has been wrecked in my universe. The temptation is to think that rest is optional, but Jesus says otherwise.

Interestingly, the New Testament reveals Sabbath as something we enter into, as much as what we do. And it begins with Jesus who invites us to himself: “Come unto me… and I will give you rest…” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Rest and worship are radical acts of faith, in which we acknowledge, as individuals and in community, that we are more than the sum total of our stuff, our failures, our ambitions, and our experiences, and that true value and care, are found in our Creator, who made all that is… and then rested, and then made us His.

Sabbath is the reminder of what fear constantly attempts to make me forget – and always at the expense of those I love most.

Throughout the narrative of God’s people, the seventh day, the seventh year, the Year of Jubilee – all are intended to aim towards understanding that in Jesus the ‘It is good’ of creation, and the ‘It is finished’ of the Cross converge in him.

In Jesus, the work is completed, the debt is paid, and true rest has begun, until fully realized when he makes all things new.

Rest assured friends, this is our good news…

grace & peace.

the Day of Small Things

May 6, 2020 § Leave a comment

“Little is large if God is in it.”

Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola, Jesus, A Theography

I was recently made aware of how on Sunday mornings, a woman in our church, a widow, phones her friend, also a widow, who does not have internet service, in order that they can worship together as our service streams, she on her computer, and her friend as she listens through her phone.

Such a small, but beautiful expression.

And the picture in this post was taken by a young woman in our church, a nurse on the frontline, who recently received this care package from a couple (members of our congregation) that quietly left it at her front door.

Small Things.

RileysSmallness and small beginnings comprise a theme that is woven throughout the gospel’s redemptive story. From the moment God created everything out of nothing, the big stories in the scriptures demonstrate God’s greatness with the obscure and unknown.

We can be glad for this. In spite of our own relative smallness, God invites us to collaborate with Him in the daily course of His grand care of the world, not by shows of strength or displays of greatness, but within the boundaries of our own limitations.

Zechariah prophesied that in time, “whoever despised the day of small things shall rejoice…” (4:10a). He foresaw when those who deemed the small things as meaningless, would be given a new perspective. Have you considered that the small things you offer might be received as life-giving in big, unexpected ways?

My guess is that when all is said and done with this current crisis, we will look back and remember that to some extent we were sustained by the power of seemingly tiny gestures, like a boy offering Jesus his lunch, who in turn fed thousands with it.

It is the simple kindnesses, the meager offerings, the encouraging phone calls, the anonymous prayers, the neighborly acts, the invisible sacrifices – people caring for others in quiet ways that will likely not be detailed on the evening news, but that are also not lost on the Father.

After all, isn’t this what endears us to the gospel? That in God we have a Father who wrapped His Son in obscurity, in the smallness of a newborn – for the sake of His spectacular design for making us His?

Isn’t this our good news?

grace & peace.

 

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