Saving Jesus

The biblical account of what happened after Jesus’ birth – especially the stories of the wise men and of the holy family fleeing to Egypt – is about how Jesus was saved by those who had searched for him, cared about him, who heard from God about Jesus’ endangerment and then obeyed the warnings that they heard.

In the case of the wise men, they were warned in a dream not to return to King Herod. To obey that warning was risky, because it meant disobeying someone very powerful. But if they hadn’t disobeyed Herod, Jesus may well have been killed. Their obedience to God, then resulted in our salvation…which is an amazing thing to think about: that the obedience of one generation – or even one person – can produce ripple effects which change things from that time forward.

Joseph hears from an angel and is warned about Herod’s plan to kill the baby Jesus. The biblical text conveys urgency. His response (it reads) is immediate. The angel spoke, and he gets up, got Mary and Jesus together and took off for Egypt.

Like all scripture, this story speaks inexhaustibly. But I’d like to focus on how the story indicates there are times when God gives warnings and we are called to act – for the purpose of saving Jesus.

I find myself sometimes frightened for the mission and ministry of Jesus when I see perversions of his message. Those who claim to speak for Jesus, but whose words and actions do not reflect his teachings. Followers who claim their leader is speaking for Jesus, when she or he is not. I think of those leaders and pastors who do special harm to the cause of Christ by their very public scandals of infidelity or dishonesty. It’s embarrassing, and it’s harmful. Some people who use these failures as their reason for not being part of organized religion, but I think some are looking for an excuse. Even if that’s the case, these things do harm. I find myself wanting to speak up and say, “wait a minute! That’s not Jesus. That’s not the Lord’s fault. Don’t lump us all together or blame Jesus for the failures of those who claim to be his followers.”

I think that we have an obligation to speak up like that. I know it’s respectful to let people have their own opinions and yes, people may not come to one church because they heard of something that happened in another church, but I don’t want to let such folk do damage to Jesus and his cause by linking him to those failures and perversions. Someone saying, “I’m not going to have anything to do with Christianity because of what happened at this one church or because of what was done by this one Christian” is like saying, “I heard of this one politician who was crooked or dishonest, so I’m not going to have anything to do with the United States of America!”

Jesus and his message are, in a very real way saved by those who, like Joseph hear what God is saying and act. Who listen and obey. They save Jesus and the message he came to proclaim by their integrity, and their witness, and their action. And maybe by being willing to speak up and say “hey, blaming Christianity for the ways some people have perverted it is a copout.” 

We don’t know if Joseph woke Mary and Jesus up after the angel’s warning, but it does say that he travelled by night… that could be because he didn’t want anyone seeing them leave, or it could be because it was night when he got the message, and he responded immediately. But when the angel gave him a warning, he acted.

“Get up”, the angel said to Joseph, “and save the child.” May we do the same.

Saving Jesus

The biblical accounts of what happened after Jesus’ birth – especially the stories of the wise men and of the holy family fleeing to Egypt – are about how Jesus was saved by those who cared about him, who heard from God about Jesus’ endangerment, and then obeyed the warnings that they heard.

In the case of the wise men, they were warned in a dream not to return to King Herod. To obey that warning was risky, because it meant disobeying someone very powerful. But if they hadn’t disobeyed Herod, Jesus may well have been killed. Their obedience to God, then resulted in our salvation…which is an amazing thing to think about: that the obedience of one generation – or even one person – can produce ripple effects which change things from that time forward.

Joseph hears from an angel and is warned about Herod’s plan to kill the baby Jesus. The biblical text conveys urgency. His response (it reads) is immediate. The angel spoke, and he gets up, got Mary and Jesus together and took off for Egypt.

Like all scripture, this story speaks inexhaustibly. But I’d like to focus on how the story indicates there are times when God gives warnings and we are called to act – for the purpose of saving Jesus.

I find myself sometimes frightened for the mission and ministry of Jesus when I see perversions of his message. Those who claim to speak for Jesus, but whose words and actions do not reflect his teachings. Followers who claim their leader is speaking for Jesus, when she or he is not. I think of those leaders and pastors who do special harm to the cause of Christ by their very public scandals of infidelity or dishonesty. It’s embarrassing, and it’s harmful. Some people who use these failures as their reason for not being part of organized religion, but I think some are looking for an excuse. Even if that’s the case, these things do harm. I find myself wanting to speak up and say, “wait a minute! That’s not Jesus. That’s not the Lord’s fault. Don’t lump us all together or blame Jesus for the failures of those who claim to be his followers.”

I think that we have an obligation to speak up like that. I know it’s respectful to let people have their own opinions and yes, people may not come to one church because they heard of something that happened in another church, but I don’t want to let such folk do damage to Jesus and his cause by linking him to those failures and perversions. Someone saying, “I’m not going to have anything to do with Christianity because of what happened at this one church or because of what was done by this one Christian” is like saying, “I heard of this one politician who was crooked or dishonest, so I’m not going to have anything to do with the United States of America!”

Jesus and his message are, in a very real way saved by those who, like Joseph hear what God is saying and act. Who listen and obey. They save Jesus and the message he came to proclaim by their integrity, and their witness, and their action. And maybe by being willing to speak up and say “hey, blaming Christianity for the ways some people have perverted it is a copout.”  

We don’t know if Joseph woke Mary and Jesus up after the angel’s warning, but it does say that he travelled by night… that could be because he didn’t want anyone seeing them leave, or it could be because it was night when he got the message, and he responded immediately. But when the angel gave him a warning, he acted.

“Get up”, the angel said to Joseph, “and save the child.” May we do the same.

An Old, Old, Story

Every generation wants to live in good times. People work to make that so.  But there are sometimes circumstances bigger and more powerful than our efforts. The American Civil War, the stock market crash and Great Depression, the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s… we could reach farther backward in time and just keep going.  It’s difficult to live during a time when our own effort cannot turn things around, when there are forces at work which make us not-so-hopeful for the present time and immediate future. But even then, we are called to learn from our mistakes and to hope. It’s just a drag that any given generation suffers because of the willful, selfish, and short-sighted concern of those who came before them, thereby paving the way for the coming day of reckoning that the aforementioned catastrophes and conflicts symbolize.

Those who count themselves part of the Judeo-Christian tradition, along with secular historians, have biblical examples of such times. We think of the repeated rises and falls of the people of Israel – economically, politically, morally. What’s interesting to note is that each time such a failure takes place – whether in the pages of biblical history or in secular annals – there is one more example added to the list. Christian history has its failures, too and yet they each seem to fit some earlier template. As the late historian J. Rufus Fears often said, “The first lesson of history is that people don’t learn from history.”

One lesson that seems pertinent is that the morality of leaders does matter, whether in the realm of religious, corporate or civic life. In hundreds of ways (if not thousands, over time), leaders communicate to their constituency. Because of each generation’s desire to live in good times, the populace seems ever willing to look the other way when the economy is good, or their group (whatever that group may be, whether racial, ethnic, political or religious) is winning. People gloss over the moral failures of deception, self-interest, arrogance and corruption because things are going well for them. They believe, hope, or delude themselves into thinking that surely the next generation will straighten out the matters of immorality, injustice, inequality and hubris — if indeed they even see them as problems. Sometimes the fall is experienced by the next — or the next after that — generation. Sometimes the leader or people of the generation that experiences the collapse are blamed. In many cases, the seeds of that harvest were planted long ago.

Like beetles under the bark of a healthy-looking tree or the invisible erosion taking place beneath an eventual sinkhole, when the foundational principles of society are so diseased that they cannot bear the weight of life’s ever-present needs and problems, collapse occurs.

I love the principles upon which the United States of American were founded, even if they have not always been realized. I am grateful and blessed to be a citizen. But these days, I sense the growth of a cancer that may, like countless examples in history, result in a collapse of the nation that Americans in every generation have dreamed would come to fruition. If – or when – it happens, I doubt historians will say “they weren’t clever enough at politics”, “there were forces that overwhelmed their ability to feed the people”, or “they were conquered by another nation that was superior in technology and military might.” I suspect that it will be the old story repeated innumerable times and still not heeded: it was the corruption of the moral standards which allowed hate, deception, partisanship, and hubris to take their eternally-predictable toll.

The “The” Word

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DNA ancestry kits are producing some interesting results. People are finding out “I didn’t know it, but I’ve got some of that in me!” I especially enjoy seeing people becoming excited enough to research and find out about a part of their ancestry of which they may not have been aware until recently. Hopefully, they develop a newfound pride in this part of them they’ve discovered exists.

What we’re learning is that no one is as pure anything as they might have believed. If only we could translate that awareness into our attitudes toward others when it comes to using the word “the.”

You know what I’m talking about: it’s all around us. Far too many people use the word “the” to lump individuals into groups, making it easier to judge, hate, and dismiss them. “The gays”. “The Latinos”. “The liberal media”. “The blacks”. “The liberals”. “The conservatives”. “The democrats”. “The republicans.” We could go on and on.

I’ve heard people talk about “the gay agenda”. There is no such thing. Do you think all gay people agree on all points of their politics, religion, or priorities? Do you think there’s some mass mailing to all LGBT+ people that gives the directive “here’s what we’re all going to do this month”? Do all republicans or democrats or whites or Baptists or Catholics agree on all things such that it might be said they all share the same agenda? Not in my experience. Even in narrowly defined sub-groups, the bell curve rules.

We make it easier on ourselves when we draw such assumptive conclusions, but we don’t make ourselves smarter. We also rob ourselves of one of the most fascinating and wonderful discoveries in life – that every person is unique. Each one has differing hurts, scars, opinions, needs, gifts, strengths, and potentialities.

It’s an easy shift – and helpful, I think – to exchange the word “the” for “some” when describing groups that may share some dominant tendencies or oft-held opinions. Even using the word “most” – if accurate – is so much better than employing the lazy and prejudicial “the”.

Think you could make the “the” shift? I’m going to try.

Do You Have the Time?

an image of people walking in rush hour

Swiss psychologist Carl Jung said, “Hurry is not of the devil, hurry is the devil.”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been considering the truth in these words as they relate to the widely-acknowledged spirit of divisiveness and anger in our nation.

I’m not sure I have a solution except to say, “we need to slow down!” When a well-crafted meme that appears on Facebook (and let’s not even ask whether it’s accurate or true) becomes the basis for one’s political, religious, or ethical opinions, something is wrong. Someone “read something on Facebook” about so-and-so, and bases their conversation, voting, and feelings on that post. They re-post it as if it’s the gospel truth. It spreads. More are infected. Something is wrong here. But who has time to read, research, or engage the perceived enemy in conversation? Nope. Too much work.  We’re in a hurry.

Something is wrong here.

But that’s the game these days. Actual debate, discussion, or (God forbid!) listening to the other side has been replaced by the well-thought out jab, barb, or “gotcha” moment that leaders hope will be repeated, reported on, and re-posted. Two hundred and eighty characters (Twitter’s new per-tweet limit) is hardly sufficient for the kind of dialogue necessary to show compassion, interest, or respect.  But who cares about those things? –  that’s not the game these days. The object is no longer dialogue, conversation, or understanding. It’s attack, demean, and harm. Something is wrong here. But who has time for long, drawn out conversation? Who has time to investigate, reason, and consider? Why should I spend time finding out what you think and believe before I launch into telling you about what I believe? Who has time for that?

The answer: we all do.

Time management experts tell us the good news and bad news about time management. The bad news: you aren’t going to get any more time. The good news: you have all there is. Poor people don’t get any less than rich people, smart people don’t have any more than those who are less-smart. Every single person alive gets 24 hours every single day. The difference is made in how they use the time they have.

The problem isn’t that we don’t have time to do the hard work of thinking, reading and listening. It’s that we’re too hurried to do so. What might happen it we re-prioritized our online viewing or reading such that we valued quality over quantity? What if we began to see that one truthful article is of more value than a thousand that are untrue?

According the prophet Isaiah, even God is willing to sit down and listen: Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.” (Isaiah 1:18) Seems to me like an example worth following. I’ll bet the devil wouldn’t like it.

Have You Got the Time?

Swiss psychologist Carl Jung said, “Hurry is not of the devil, hurry is the devil.”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been considering the truth in these words as they relate to the widely-acknowledged spirit of divisiveness and anger in our nation.

I’m not sure I have a solution except to say, “we need to slow down!” When a well-crafted meme that appears on Facebook (and let’s not even ask whether it’s accurate or true) becomes the basis for one’s political, religious, or ethical opinions, something is wrong. Someone “read something on Facebook” about so-and-so and bases their conversation, voting, and feelings on that post. They re-post it as if it’s the gospel truth. It spreads. More are infected. Something is wrong here. But who has time to read, research, or engage the perceived enemy in conversation? Nope. Too much work.  We’re in a hurry.

Something is wrong here.

But that’s the game these days. Actual debate, discussion, or (God forbid!) listening to the other side has been replaced by the well-thought out jab, barb, or “gotcha” moment that both talking heads and elected leaders hope will be repeated, reported on, and re-posted. Two hundred and eighty characters (Twitter’s new per-tweet limit) is hardly sufficient for the kind of dialogue necessary to show compassion, interest, or respect.  But who cares about those things? –  that’s not the game these days. The object is no longer dialogue, conversation, or understanding. It’s attack, demean, and harm. Something is wrong here. But who has time for long, drawn out conversation? Who has time to investigate, reason, and consider? Why should I spend time finding out what you think and believe before I launch into telling you about what I believe? Who has time for that?

The answer: we all do.

Time management experts tell us the good news and bad news about time management. The bad news: you aren’t going to get any more time. The good news: you have all there is. Poor people don’t get any less than rich people, smart people don’t have any more than those who are less-smart. Every single person alive gets 24 hours every single day. The difference is made in how a person uses the time they have.

The problem isn’t that we don’t have time to do the hard work of thinking, reading and listening. It’s that we’re too hurried to do so. What might happen it we re-prioritized our online viewing or reading such that we valued quality over quantity? What if we began to see that one truthful article is of more value than a thousand that are untrue?

According the prophet Isaiah, even God is willing to sit down and listen: Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.” (Isaiah 1:18) Seems to me like an example worth following. I’ll bet the devil wouldn’t like it.

It’s – and We’re – More Complicated Than That

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I’m not a political pundit. I understand a few things about party politics, and why parties build platforms around which they may rally support. But when it comes to human beings and the issues they seek to sort out, it’s a grave error to assume that the party can represent all persons. The same is true for denominations,  faith traditions, nationalities, ethnicities, teams, and even groups of friends who choose to associate with one another.

I’ve discovered that not all people who wear “Make America Great Again” hats support all actions and policies of the president who made those hats popular. I’m certain that the president would not support all the attitudes and beliefs of those who wear them. I’ve discovered that not everyone who supports the option of abortion is comfortable with that support, and the nuances of their belief do not include support for abortion in all circumstances. I’ve discovered that people who support civil rights and equality in the workplace for gay and lesbian people may not support gay marriage and may not be comfortable with transgenderism. While they are often portrayed in ways that seem to say, “you’re either with us or against us”, issues such as border security, immigration, #metoo, universal healthcare (and the list could go on and on), are too complex for quick judgment about both those who support and those who oppose them. Thinking people do not allow leaders to dictate their beliefs and attitudes on these issues. They think through them and do not allow identity politics to limit their analyses. To allow leaders to define what we should believe is an abdication of our greatest gifts as humans – conscience and the ability to critically reflect.

Among Jesus’ twelve disciples were undoubtedly men who shared varying views on many things. Simon the Zealot and Matthew (the tax collector) were almost certainly on opposite sides of the political spectrum – and yet, their friendship with Jesus allowed them to somehow look past those differences, and align themselves in cooperation when it comes to following Jesus.

I’ve discovered that your opinion of whether I’m liberal or conservative, right or wrong, informed or ignorant depends as much on you as it does me. If you’re to the left of me, you’ll think I’m conservative, even if I’m also left of most people. If you think I’m way too liberal, it may be because you’re to the right of me. The fact that I may also be to the right of most other people on an issue can easily be overlooked, and underappreciated.

I’m too complicated for you to judge me, or to assume that my stance on one subject necessarily implies others, as well. I suspect the same is true for you. Maybe I’m just (finally) getting to the point of truly understanding what Jesus was warning could happen when he said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7)