Archive for December 2015 – Page 2

Jesus is a Prayer Shamer

These mass shootings are starting to seem routine.

In the wake of the San Bernardino murders, all the politicians and talking heads were behaving predictably. Those who support more gun regulations were using the shooting as another opportunity to press that point home. Friends of the NRA were doing everything they could to avoid touching the question of why it’s so easy for murderers and terrorists to get their hands on assault weapons.

Then The New York Daily News disrupted the whole conversation by publishing this:

God Isn't Fixing This

Immediately, pro-gun partisans cried fowl. This was “prayer shaming“. An assault on faith. Maybe even a new front on the War on Christmas.

It’s interesting how different our interpretations can be sometimes.

I’ll admit, the headline is pretty troubling from a theological perspective: GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS. As a follower of Jesus, I believe exactly the opposite. My faith teaches me that God is the only one who can mend this mess.

But then I keep reading on to the sub heading: “As latest batch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes.” Well, that just sounds a lot like the Bible.

The Bible’s prophetic tradition has no time for cheap expressions of religiosity in the face of suffering and evil. God is fed up with people who “draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote.

Jesus himself quotes this passage from Isaiah when speaking to the Pharisees, the most devout and religious people in his time period. He calls out the religious leaders of his day in ways very similar to last week’s headline in The New York Daily News. He denounces the many ways in which pundits and politicians mouth pious words and humanitarian sentiments but do nothing to address the daily injustices experienced by ordinary people.

These leaders are those who “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger.” They’re the ones who say all the right words while failing to act. They say “peace, peace!” where there is no peace. They dress the wound of our people as if it were not serious.

As strange as it may seem, The New York Daily News may have actually gotten this one right, from a Christian perspective. A snowflake or Christmas tree on our coffee cup isn’t going to make our country a more Christian society. Religious words and calculated condolences aren’t going to restore God’s peace to our streets. The religion of Jesus and the prophets is a sincere faith expressed through positive action for change.

In the words of James, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Thoughts and prayers don’t cut it. Neither does self-righteousness.

What would it take for all of us – Red State and Blue State – to seek peace and pursue it? What would it look like for us to practice a public faith that is focused more on compassion and less on being right? How can we become more like Jesus, willing to stand up to the hypocrites who mouth the words of God in order to deceive and distort?

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Take a Break for Beauty

There’s a reason that all the most important American holidays are towards the end of the year. The light is growing dimmer, our skies are overcast, and the leaves are falling off the trees. Everything seems to conspire to make these days dreary and devoid of color. And we’re not even to winter yet. We need all the encouragement we can get. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas – our celebrations get bigger as we move into the darkest days of the year.

Here where I live, it’s been raining, misting, and spritzing for the last several days. A cold drizzle to accent the mid-afternoon twilight. Lethargic from the weather and unable to concentrate on my work, I decided to take a little break. I went for a walk in a part of town I’m less familiar with. I decided to get outside and see what I could see, rain or no rain.

I was well-rewarded. Just a few minutes into my walk, I took a random turn down a dead-end street and found myself at the entrance to a wooded nature trail I didn’t even know existed.

Setting foot on that path, something shifted inside me. The soggy leaves squished under my feet and raindrops splashed me from treetops. The air had changed. The sights, sounds, and smells of the city were suddenly far away. I was enveloped by a sense of peace and presence.

There was life here.

The dim, inanimate world that I had inhabited just a few minutes ago had been transformed. The rocks and moss under my feet seemed to breathe beneath me. The trees welcomed me into their forest. In a flash, the world had been re-enchanted. The land was alive, and I was a part of it.

I would have lingered there on the trail as long as daylight remained, but I had to return to work. Still, the sensation of aliveness remained with me for the rest of the day. When the darkness seemed too much to bear, all I had to do was remember myself standing on that wooded path, flanked by the mossy trees. I was rooted again in a community of living beings that thrives even in the short, dim, rainy days of late fall.

I’m grateful that I took the time to go exploring. I’m glad I took a break for beauty. There’s so much more to this existence than meets the eye. Life is here, all around us, if we’re willing to see it.

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