Vision / Course Correction

I have not written since November.  It is hard to write about transition and direction when you find yourself not exactly sure where you are going.  I think it is about time I discussed this Vision Correction / Course Correction, for both my old friends and those that are crossing my path.

 

“Be good to your servant so I can go on living
and keeping your word.
Open my eyes so I can examine
the wonders of your Instruction!” (Ps 119:17-18)
Open my eyes
Throughout my time in high school, something was just not right. I was just not comfortable.  I noticed it in the classroom … an inability to follow along with teachers.  It was evident on the athletic field, mostly baseball … I could not track the ball as well as I always hadl. Without ever  really noticing it, I found myself moving to the front half of the classroom. During my senior year it should have occurred to me when I could not see the numbers on the scoreboard from the wrestling mat, but like the proverbial frog in the pot (not familiar with this proverb?  Check it out here,)  I was oblivious to the change. (I am truly disturbed at how many people have set out to prove / disprove this boiling frog theory … people are really wack!) Myth or truth … you get the point … slow change is often imperceptible.

 

For whatever reason … I did not notice that my vision was deteriorating. In my last month of school a military physical indicated my substandard eye sight.  Two weeks later … I saw the individual leaves on the trees.
Clarity
It is unclear (see what I did there) when I began to experience spiritual squirminess.  One could argue that this was just a mid-life crisis since it started  around my 40th year and about the time the oldest of our seven offspring began to move on to bigger and better things. I was busy with work, church and had begun coaching regularly, but that notorious question began to roll around in my head … is this all there is? I began to believe that I had buried my talent in the ground: that God was about to take it away and give it to the one with ten.  When I voiced my own disappointment in myself, most people gave an answer that did not sit well with me; “there is no higher calling than being a father and a husband. You have raised great kids and that will have impacts way beyond your lifetime.”  Something about the self-centered nature of that statement just rubbed me wrong.

 

 _sermon_on_the_mountYears of teaching the parables of Jesus and the sermon on the mount in children’s church just made me feel like I was missing something major. Jesus was pressed from every side by the consequences of a fallen creation – His creation.  He directed His anger at those who should have known His love for the down-trodden sinner and grieved along with Him; those who should have been first to jump in and work to restore a broken world.  About two years ago it occurred to me that I could be more closely identified with those Pharisees than with the crowds of sinners  to whom He poured out His grace. How could I so readily lose the big picture? Although I will get into that much more in detail in future posts, I am convinced that I allowed subtle (some not so subtle) influences to draw me away from the Kingdom work that was started by Jesus and concern myself with the work reserved for the one who sits on the throne.  False battle lines were drawn between “us” and “them” and the pride of a soldier just out of boot camp coursed through my being.  A spiritual equivalent of the “let’s go kill some Commies”  that I heard during my time, serving in the Cold War, poured across the conservative air waves and blanketed my Facebook newsfeed. (Note: the “other side” had their hate whisperers as well which of course justifies our own position advancement)

 

1Kings1912
Any of you who have followed my blog may have recognized when I began to hear that small still voice. I realized that I was not a sheep, but a goat.  The fire under the pot was lit and I either needed to jump out or become Frog Soup.  Since I have abused my body so badly over the years I determined I was not fit to become a meal so I jumped out With my vision clearing, it was obvious that a course correction was in order.

 

 It has been a process that included a great deal of study, observation and prayer.  I sought sources outside my comfort zone and ones that would have been considered blasphemous to me a few years ago.  I am learning to look past the behaviors and history of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-26) and to look at her as Jesus did.  It is unnatural to picture a resurrected creation, but I believe that it is possible. I have a long way to go.

 

I left the tradition that I had been associated with for 30 years: not because of the people or the teaching. They have been a loving people who fed us, took care of us, and helped us raise a family of faith.  Through corporate worship and Spirit led preaching, I developed an unquenchable longing for God’s presence.  The power of the Holy Spirit worked in and through me.  I witnessed powerful miracles. Over 30 years, scripture has become a natural part of who I am. God has been sovereign through out and I was exactly were I need to be.

 

Compass ColorDespite all of that God has directed me in another direction and removed me from some life patterns that prevented me from maturing and moving on. I have developed a love for liturgy and many of the lessons-learned by the early church and throughout history. I have realized that even when I don’t agree with everything another tradition believes does not mean that I cannot worship alongside them and learn from them. Movements that have been scoffed at by traditional evangelicalism (Emergent, Progressive, Missional), main line “liberal” denominations, and Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches all offer insights and are a part of God’s plan to bring about restoration to His Kingdom.  At this point, Lynn and I have committed to worshiping as part of a “three streams” Anglican Church (ACNA).  We like it because we can grow and serve and not “sweat the small stuff”.

 

 Now that I have gotten this out of the way, hopefully I can start writing consistently about where I see God taking me now.

 

This was somewhat inspired by a Twitter buddy Chad West ( @MisterPreacher) (http://misterpreacher.com) I think I also can be labeled a “Recovering Pharisee” In light of this new found label, I would like to leave you with the story of a couple of accounts of some other “Recovering Pharisees” with whom you may be familiar.  Nicodemus – That creepy night stalker that sought out Jesus to avoid being called out by his “buds.” &  Gamaliel – Who utilized his wisdom and status to not only influence the counsel, but later on prepared Saul of Tarsus for ministry as the Apostle Paul. They were associated with exactly the people they needed to be around to be developed and utilized by God without becoming clanish and hardened.

 

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him,“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8)

 

“When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:33-39)

The Fire is Burning – Hot Button Issues (Death)

Over 30 years ago, I became a part of our Creator’s plan to rescue His world from our sin inspired abuse.  Overly dramatic way of saying that?  Maybe, but it seems to me that His word is pretty clear about His coordinated effort to restore the creation that He entrusted to us. What is important is that He gave us a responsibility over His creation; not a responsibility as enforcers of law, but as shepherds and stewards of His grace and love.  “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. ”  The only thing I really know of Jesus is the grace, love, and mercy that He has shown to me.  If this is the part that He has shown to me and modeled in His Son, then that is all I can share with a world that needs it as badly as I do.

[Note: I know I used the word creation.  Please do not get hung up on this.  I don’t really care how important you think it is, how stupid or blind your think the opposing side is, how you interpret scripture, what you think the humanist agenda maybe … blah, blah, blah … let’s just leave it at once there was a different existence (or lack of existence) and now somehow we are here.  Yes, I believe that there is a God that has a plan and had the plan from the beginning and brought all this into being.  You may not believe that and that is fine, you can read all this and chuckle at my ignorance, I am OK with that. You may believe in a miraculous literal 6 day creation and a day of rest or you may believe something in between.  Origins may be important to you and think I am compromising the truth.  OK that is fine too.  Feel free to shake your head and pray for me if you do that sort of thing.]

Back to the story … I stepped into a new culture that was completely foreign to me and I had no idea what this new world should look like or how I fit into it.  So like so many of us, I resorted to the same lazy method of learning that I always had … hang with the inhabitants and mimic their behaviors.  Oh and at the same time, Lynn and I were starting on that adventure of marriage and parenthood.

Music, prayer, bible study, topical sermons, and fellowship meals.  At first, being part of a fellowship with “common” beliefs was great. I was a bit of a love sponge and I was eating it up … for a while. The challenge was that we had been raised with experiences,  values, beliefs, relationships, and baggage.  What it seemed like we were being asked to do was exchange all of those things for a new set of experiences, values, beliefs, relationships … and baggage.  Obviously no one actually said that, but as young people we were all for a radical change and so we bought the whole package, especially the “hot button issues.”

After many trips, falls, failures, stops and starts there was a defining moment that brought a challenge to my belief paradigm.  I can’t even tell you what year it occurred.  It was a discussion between my Dad and my brother-in-law. They were discussing the inerrancy of scriptures and my Dad asked a simple question, “What in scripture makes you think Jesus would be for capital punishment?”  Whoa!  I could not reconcile Jesus’s character and teachings in the gospel with the death penalty.  I did not mention it at the time, but every year when I performed my annual ritual of reading the Lord of the Rings (Yes it was a book first), this conversation came back to me.

Of course this is not scripture, but it seems much like the conversation that Jesus had with a group of men who were a bit too eager to dole out death.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”  This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.  But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.  Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:3-11)

Admittedly, I don’t read Greek and do not have access to ancient original texts, but as I understand it, pre-Constantine Christians, (through the 3rd century) were pretty consistent in their stands against the taking of lives in any case.  As a sailor sleeping between the tubes that held enough power to annihilate millions of lives, this was a problem for me.  The thought of being part of a shooting war bothered me more than I ever admitted. As I walked about Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates and met shop keepers and their families, I began to see the world differently.  Sitting in a class room of special needs students in Kuwait City and seeing the love and tenderness that those parents had for those children softened my heart.  They saw us the same way, but thought of our government and leaders as “Christian Extremists.” I could not imagine being a part of an attack that left these families as “collateral damage.”

This is hard to admit for me all this and I can’t say that I am conflicted about it. I am a veteran.  My soldier son-in-law just came back from Iraq to a heroes welcome and my son is a Marine Reservist. It is difficult to be proud and yet so conflicted.  I think one of the things about war and violence in general that is a given that the vanquished never love the victor.  So is it our job to “defend” our nation and our freedoms or is it our mission to provide love to those who are hateful?  I don’t know exactly how to do this, but I believe that even if we think it is an impossible assignment does not mean that it is not our mission.  (I am still ruminating on this and I am not looking for someone to help me figure it out.  As I hinted to above, I am done with being told what to believe)

So what am I trying to say?  Here it comes my liberal friends … I am pro-life.  I categorize capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, and war as violent acts that do not seem to fit into the character of a the one who set a pattern of giving second chances and healing.  Although I have been accused of being a sexist and woman abuser by a family member because of this stand, I can not reconcile taking a life just because its convenient, unfair, or tragic.  Whether it is a result of a violent act of aggression, poverty, or just oops … I believe that the life within is valuable.  Now you may be able to justify this by saying that while a baby is inside the womb, that it is not a person and is just a part of the woman’s body.  I am not a woman and I have never carried a baby inside of me (although 10 little appendages did carry the Farley gene pool from the moment of conception).  Every woman I know that was carrying a child that they wanted, considered it a child, even those who have previously had abortions.

We, (myself include) have this tremendous ability to redefine things in order to avoid the uncomfortable truth of situations.

  • Collateral damageWe raise armies, put them in snazzy uniforms, teach them words like courage, duty, and honor to protect them from the hard truth that they are becoming part of a killing machine.  We change the name of the department that they work for from the Department of War to the Department of Defense so that it sounds more acceptable. We glamorize these weapons that are designed to kill massive numbers of people from large distances so that we can comfortably take lives without even seeing the “target.”  We come up with slick marketing campaigns that label these with beautiful words like “shield” and “freedom” and dehumanize our opponents with terms like empire of evil.  It sounds rather romantic when we are painted with honorable words and the enemy is cast as monsters.  Maybe they have been deceived by evil leaders … but who is to say that we have not been deceived as well?  How can we avoid the fact that we are killing … people?  By redefining war.
  • MLK Cap PunWe have developed a nation and a society that was founded and has been maintained through violence.  It is glorified in our media (maybe with a long face, but glorified all the same).  We color manhood with a broad brush of machismo and leave our daughters completely confused by the mixed messages that we send them.  Battle lines have been established between the “haves” and “have-nots,” developing extreme arrogance on the one hand and despair on the other.  It is no wonder that we have a society with heinous and violent criminals and victims who demand justice.  Justice – a redefined name for vengeance?  We disguise the vengeful taking of a life, albeit a guilty life, behind “protecting” the public and call it justice?  Are we so quick to decide that a person has no worth? Are they beyond healing?  Is there no possibility that this person could not positively impact someone’s life in the future? How can we avoid the fact that we are killing … a person?  By redefining justice.
  • BurmaWe are a people devoid of meaningful relationships with few solid role models to teach us the important skill of loving one another.  We have defined love as an ideal to be reached or a physical bond that quiets our emptiness if only for a moment.  We have lost the concept of love, compassion and grace as a way of life. We strive for the unreachable goal of love and settle for a cheap counterfeit of physical contact. A gift that was created to be the deepest physical bond between loving human beings has been reduced to an instinct driven form of entertainment that instead of developing bonds, creates addiction.  The means for lovingly creating life has become a weapon, a crutch, or a poor attempt at imitating intimacy.  The life that was intended to bring joy and multiply love has been re-labeled a mistake, a misfortune, an inconvenience.  (“religious” families have heaped shame on their children further compounding the confusion) We have redefined an embryo, zygote, and a fetus as just a tissue that is an extension of the mother; therefore not a life with value and a plan (the actual definition calls it an offspring).  We use words like reproductive rights and the right of choice to protect women from becoming mommies.  In moments of clarity we realize that it might actually be a life, but reason that it would not be fair to bring this child into an “unfit” or “unprepared” family situation or that the child is imperfect and would not have the highest quality of life.  We say that we are actually saving lives because women would die in botched attempts to terminate pregnancies.  How can we avoid the fact that we are killing … a person?  By redefining love.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  (Jeremiah 29;11)

20 years ago, I sat in a rocking chair next to Lynn’s bed at Norfolk General Hospital, rocking and singing to my third son,  Andrew Cory, who had passed away before he was born.  Andrew’s life, not his death, were a part of God’s plan to renew and restore His creation. Our grief and subsequent healing over the hole that was left in our hearts were the evidence of God’s grace.  Our grief counselor at the time told us that the difference in losing an unborn child or an infant is the lack of memories.  What is lost is a future and a hope!

The value in any life is that future and hope.  When we take a life, we have made a judgement that there is no hope for that person and we reason that we are taking away a hopeless future. God’s plan of rescue is to restore that hope and He wants us to be a part of that.

 

Hope

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1)

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.     (Hebrew 10:23-25)