Monday, August 27, 2012

Wanna Live Forever?

“I am the living bread … Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

These are the words of Jesus, a promise given in a metaphor in John, chapter 6. To “eat this bread” is to be in relationship with him, indicating a closeness that continues to grow over time, in the same way that any relationship matures.

In John 6, the Jesus relationship goes from “Listen to …” to “Be nourished by …” and now “Abide in ….”  If you read through the chapter closely you can see this movement, from one phase of relationship to the next.

A crowd of 5,000 gathers to hear what Jesus has to say, and they are fed. At the next level, Jesus challenges them to “rethink bread” and believe in him. There are some who resist.

For those who are left, Jesus takes it deeper. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” Now it is not a matter of simply being nourished by Jesus, it is a matter of mutual “abiding” - you in him and him in you. There are more who resist; verse 66 records that “many of his disciples turned back” after he says these things.

The first dropouts were happy to be fed, but didn’t want nourishment. The next ones to leave were satisfied as long as Jesus was doing the nourishing, but were unwilling to allow him further access into their lives.

Jesus will nourish us, but he wants to do more. He wants to “abide in” us. Jesus’ desire is to abide in us with the kind of life that is so abundant, so amazing, so enormous, it can only be described as “eternal.”

Are we willing to let Jesus abide in us? Will we grant him unfettered access to every part of our lives? Or are there some nooks and crannies we’re just not that comfortable letting Jesus into? Our finances? Our politics? Our marriages?

What does it mean for Christ to abide in us, and to abide in Christ? What does it mean to live forever?

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Bacon, Marriage, and Freedom of Speech

When somebody says something out loud, exercising their right to free speech, and then somebody disagrees with that person out loud, the second person is ALSO exercising their right to free speech, correct?

So, why do many conversations seem to go something like this…

1) Person A: I do not like bacon.
2) Person B: Really? Bacon is delicious.
3) Person A: Hey man! I’ve got free speech!

Line 3 is a red herring, and does absolutely nothing helpful for the conversation. People tend to call Line 2 “backlash” and “intolerance” and even “oppression” and all sorts of nonsense. And then, whereas we were once talking about the relative deliciousness of bacon, now we are all of a sudden talking about the right to speak freely.

So, line 4 should now be -

4) Person B: Yep, you sure do. So do I. So, do you want to continue talking about bacon or what?

When the conversation is magnified from bacon to same-sex marriage, the emotional investment increases, but the progress of the conversation should look just the same.

1) Person A: I think same-sex marriage is wrong.
2) Person B: Really? That’s discrimination.

Now Person A has a choice, and what they decide will either advance the conversation or shut it down. It could look like this…

3) Person A: I don’t see it as discrimination, because(insert reasoning for this position).

At that point, we are having a conversation! Hooray for us! Respect, graciousness, rationality, and all that good stuff.

However, lately it looks more like this…

3) Person A: I’m just using my right to free speech.

As if Person B wasn’t? In response to this, Person B now has a choice. They could follow the red herring. This diverts all the attention away from the question at hand and pretty much shuts down any chance of meaningful dialogue. Free speech is not the issue; same-sex marriage is.

I believe that Person B should now avoid any reference whatsoever to free speech and advance the conversation. Person B’s avoidance of the red herring may very well advance the conversation, if Person A is willing to come along.

4) Person B: I know we do. So, I think denying same-sex couples the right to be married is discrimination. So tell me why you think it isn't.

The conversation can indeed be salvaged. I still believe (though my faith is faltering) that human beings can actually have substantive and meaningful conversations with each other regarding issues about which we disagree, especially if those conversations are held in the context of a loving and respectful relationship, rather than an anonymous online forum or other public media outlet.

If you disagree with my take on this conversation, I promise you I will not characterize your response as “backlash” or “intolerance” or “oppression” and hope you don’t characterize mine as such. Those are strong words, and need to be reserved for appropriate situations. 

To be clear, I am not saying that one should never use such words, but rather that the time to use them must be limited. If what I am saying is oppressive or intolerant, by all means tell me and show me how it is so. It is not oppressive to simply disagree with somebody; it is oppressive to deny somebody their rights. And a person calling another person's opinion "oppressive" is not automatically oppressive in and of itself.

The culture of easily accessible mass communication may have altered our capacity for respectful dialogue, but I hope that we haven't lost it completely.

To tell you the truth, I don't really like bacon all that much. And ... go ...

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Hope to Transcend

Shooting at Sikh Temple in Milwaukee.
Rover landing on Mars.
Burning of a Mosque in Joplin.
Olympic track and field.

Sunday, August 5th, 2012 saw the worst and the best of humanity interwoven into one otherwise ordinary day. When you reflect on what “we” (meaning we as human beings) accomplished Sunday, it really is remarkable.

Horrific violence and inspired ingenuity. Senseless destruction and astounding achievement. Hand in hand on the same day. What a mess.

It is so good. And it is horrible. At the very same time. That’s the reality; neither that everything is awful nor that everything is peachy keen. It’s a whole lot of both.

A little boy has five loaves and two fish. And Jesus uses them to feed a crowd of five thousand people. And then there are leftovers. And it’s funny, but it looks like there’s more of the leftover than there was of the original meal.

How in the world would a story like this make any sense in a world that has days like August 5th, 2012? I mean, so what? It’s such a little story, silly even. What in the world does a dusty old story like this have to say to us today?

Something about the meagerness of this life, presented in contrast with the abundance of the life that Jesus offers, maybe? Something about how Jesus can take the inadequacy of this mess and transform it into something transcendent?

I think there’s something there that makes it possible for us to have hope, and in our hopefulness seek to become the world God desires. The best and the worst, together redeemed and transformed in the presence of Christ.