Thursday, May 5, 2011

Unresolved conflict… 

      Like many of us, I was surprised to learn this morning that Osama bin Laden was dead.  By the time you read this, surely we’ll have heard more details than we have now.  We’ll likely have become saturated, even overwhelmed by nonstop commentary.  Whatever the case, it’s been hard to think of little else today.  And I’ve been most struck by one detail that hopefully doesn’t spark one of those- seemingly endless these days- rounds of conflict in the American body politic. I refer to the fact that early this morning, some chaplain or sailor aboard an American aircraft carrier laid Osama bin Laden to rest in a watery grave, after washing his body and wrapping it in a ‘traditional’ white shroud.  Or at least that’s what news reports I’ve read suggest.

We may learn soon that something different happened.  Assuming not, though, I find this idea remarkable.  Imagine being the chaplain on board that evening, and receiving a call you’ve never imagined possible.  “Chaps, you’re trained for burials at sea, yes?” “Yes.” “Christian?  Islamic?”  “All of the above.” “Well, brush up on your Islamic burial rituals.  Osama bin Laden’s dead, and you’re doing the honors.” “What?!”

      How would you respond? Rick Warren, author of A Purpose Driven Life and mega-church pastor extraordinaire, sent a tweet of Proverbs 21:15 upon hearing the news, a kind of Biblical gloating it seems, "When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” Wow.  Visceral, even understandable reaction, but not exactly inspiring to the better angels of our nature.  A colleague and friend posted the following on Facebook, “Kyle wishes we wouldn’t rejoice in death. So tonight I pray that one day we’ll all know and experience a peace that passes all understanding.” That’s also Biblical, quoting Philippians 4:7, and perhaps more apropos to my allegiance to the Prince of Peace. Nevertheless, with apologies to Kyle, I was filled this morning by, not rejoicing, but still real happiness. Because justice had finally caught up with a murdering man who attacked my country and sought to hold us all- children and adults- hostage to hate and fear.  I’d preferred if bin Laden came quietly, alive.  But since that wasn’t realistically going to happen, I’m glad he’s dead.  Jesus forgive me.

      Yet for all the terror, sadness and insecurity he caused the US (and world), some military chaplain/sailor disposed of Osama bin Laden’s body with a kind of respect.  Maybe it was a political act, avoiding backlash amongst some Muslim communities.  Perhaps it wasn’t even as respectful as imagined by whomever gave the order.  But I’ve been learning recently about Roman history.  When they defeated an enemy, the body was brutally mistreated and grotesquely displayed.  Whatever happened here, that didn’t happen, and I’m hopeful it was for good reasons.
 Remember Jesus saying, “Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you?” Thus, a person like Osama bin Laden, for American Christians, provides a major test.  I can’t, honestly, admit to loving him much.  I’m disgusted by his ideology, angered by his disregard for human dignity.  His death surprisingly completes something in my heart I didn’t realize remained unresolved still.  And while that feels normal, given who he was, I’m also a bit ashamed.  Can’t I have forgiven by now, even though he refused to repent?  That’s how God treats me, after all.  Couldn’t I have proved better by not gloating in revenge, but overcoming through love?  That’s who I want to be, though part of me also wishes I’d celebrated at Ground Zero.

      But mostly, I’m proud of whomever washed public enemy #1’s body, prepared it for burial “according to Islamic practice,” and prayed on the ship’s deck while it slipped into the deep blue.  As his followers crashed airplanes into buildings, bin Laden surely didn’t do that.  But to Christians, and many Muslims, overcoming enemies isn’t primarily about defeating them with superior strength.  It’s about proving yourself more able to love, even when it’s hard.  So to that nameless sailor/chaplain who prayed at bin Laden’s ‘funeral,’ assuming there is one, well done, good and faithful servant.  Thanks for doing what many couldn’t.

Grace and Peace,
Read more!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Open Spirits, Open Minds…

Let me tell you about Liz. She was the daughter of close church family friends during my childhood, and three years my elder. I remember, during youth events, Liz playing guitar, leading prayer groups and bible studies, and often helping others go deeper in faith. Liz was very cool, I thought. In fact, I first undertook church leadership roles because I wanted to learn whatever Liz seemed to know about God. Serving other youth, as she did, seemed the way to do it.

A few years later, during college, I met Mark. He was the college group minister at a local church and brilliant acapella musician. A Christian acapella musician myself, I thought Mark too was very cool. As I got more involved in that church group, Mark and I grew closer. I learned about his personal devotional habit, even joined him for a few months of reading the entire New Testament in thirty days. And I believe that because I’d spent time learning what Mark knew about God, in Spring 2002 I decided to attend seminary.

In seminary, April the first year, I attended Laura’s church. She preached with passion and brilliance, personal investment and scholarly depth. Thus, I was really impressed. I thought, “Whatever this woman knows, about church and God, I need to learn.” So I asked to be Laura’s intern the next year and, thankfully, she agreed. It was the best internship I could’ve imagined. Her example and ideas still guide my steps. In fact, I trace the root of my decision to not be a Navy chaplain or full-time theology professor, but an honest-to-goodness church pastor, to her wonderful mentorship.

Maybe you’re noticing a pattern- Times that I’ve opened my spirit further to what God was doing in my and others’ lives have led to me opening my hands wider in service and stewardship to God and God’s church. And these are just mentor/friend figures; don’t get me started on my faithful parents and amazing wife! In fact, I think that’s one familiar- maybe typical- path for Christian spiritual growth. We open our spirits to God in some increasingly sincere way. God inspires us, feeds us, challenges us, leads us. Then, suddenly, we’re opening our hearts and hands wider to others.

This month, you’ll hear more about the many ways this idea has played out in many lives besides mine. Through scripture, guest speakers, sermons, etc., Open Spirits, Open Hands will PCCC’s May Theme. Not coincidentally, during May we’ll also ask you to make pledges for the 2011-2012 budget. As you may know, our annual budget ends every May 31st, so we’ll construct a new one to discuss and approve at the yearly June congregational meeting (June 26, this year). Therefore, we’re asking you to have pledges into the church on or before May 22nd. A letter with more detail and a pledge form will be mailed soon. I’m simply planting the seed so you can begin thinking now.

As a side-note, I hope you don’t take this as reason to skip church during May! Indeed, we won’t talk just about money, but the many ways we can be constantly growing as Christians- in our knowledge and love of God, our openness to God’s always different ways, our stewardship of the time, talent, treasure and earth God’s blessed us with, our service to God and others. In other words, while we’re giving May a specific ‘stewardship’ focus, the truth is that’s not very different than what we always do. Open our spirits wider to God. Leading to further opening of our hands and lives to others. It’s kind of the rhythm of Christian living. Yes, we’ll ask you this month to put a dollar amount on that and help build next year’s budget (and if you thought last year was big, I’ve got an even greater feeling for next year!). Nevertheless, I pray that’s only one step you take during May to grow in faith by growing in service and stewardship. And while I’m at it, let me again thank you for what you already give so generously and courageously, in so many ways!

Grace and Peace,
Read more!