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Archive for May, 2014

A Prayer for My Fellow Grads

May 30th, 2014 No comments

I dedicate to my fellow grads at Bethel Seminary San Diego:

Eternal God,
you call us to ventures
of which we cannot see the ending, 
by paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love supporting us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

From: Book of Common Worship Daily Prayer Edition

I Rise

May 28th, 2014 No comments
maya_angelou

I Rise

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise. 

Maya Angelou

 

A Prayer for the Fallen

May 26th, 2014 No comments

I wrote another blog about Memorial Day a couple of days ago that focused on the idea that we should celebrate the day by exercising our freedoms, particularly the freedom we have to enjoy ourselves and our loved ones in peace. It is to protect this freedom that we have a military. And it is this freedom that those who fall in combat die defending. So let us celebrate. But I wrote then and believe that we must also reflect.

As a historian and a veteran I have undertaken a study of the actual combat experiences of my contemporaries of the Vietnam Era. As part of that effort I have contrasted these memories with the much more raw ones of those who fought in later conflicts, particularly Iraq and Afghanistan. There are enormous differences between the eras.

By the time America’s involvement in Vietnam came to an end the American public by and large had come to blame the war on those who fought it. When servicemen returned home they were advised not to travel in uniform in order to avoid unpleasant and sometimes violent confrontation with a public that despised them. One may argue the justice of the war, but this injustice is undeniable. To send men against their will to fight a war that no one wanted and then to vilify them when they did what they were called to. It was a particularly shameful episode in our history.

Many of those who went to war in Vietnam, especially in the beginning, were still caught up in the national hangover of World War II and under the spell of a Kennedy-esque idealism that saw American involvement in Vietnam as a sacred duty to defend and perpetuate the blessings of Americanism everywhere. I think they, we, my generation, were the final acolytes of the bright and shining lie of modernism: that through education and technological advance liberation and enlightenment were inevitable. Many of those who volunteered to go to war in Vietnam did so with pure motives, even if what motivated them turned out to be purely absurd.

I don’t want for a moment to suggest that today’s military does not serve with the same valor or devotion as those who served in the past. But I think one of the outcomes of the Vietnam era was the death of post-war idealism. I have spoken with many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and have not found the quasi-religious idealistic patriotism that animated the previous generation in the beginning of the war. Many cannot even tell me why they were there, or why America was there. No matter. In the end I think every generation of warriors finds their courage and willingness to sacrifice in their love for each other.

I do think that the all-volunteer force with which America must now project its power makes the spilling of American blood easier on the politicians. Not faced with the prospect of conscription for themselves or their children, Americans can indulge in a forced and false gratitude toward those who serve and flip the channel and forget about it. I recently read the experience of an Iraq war vet who wrote to the effect that they [the soldiers] pretended to protect people who pretended to appreciate it. I think he was writing about the Iraqis but I think it does apply to many of us. One wonders which is worse: an honest and passionate though wholly misinformed rejection of a war (it wasn’t the rejection of the war that was misguided, it was where to place the blame), or a cheap and passionless jingoism.

I prayed a prayer for Memorial Day. I prayed that we would remember and honor those who were willing to sacrifice everything in the service of this country, and did. The blood that is shed for freedom is the supreme human manifestation of love. But I also prayed this. I prayed that the day will come soon when we will no longer need to raise memorials to fallen comrades. When we will no longer see friends and mothers and widows weeping at decorated graves. The triumph of peace is promised at the final trumpet. But it falls to us, the living, to work for peace today.

And so I ask that on this Memorial Day we reflect a moment in the midst of our celebration that freedom is paid for with blood. The blood of Christ shed on the cross by God’s love bought for us who are his followers the freedom to love as he loves. Let us resolve to work for peace and justice by loving as Jesus loves, so that “these dead shall not have died in vain.”

This day is for those who gave all.

May 24th, 2014 No comments

There are some who criticize celebrating Memorial Day by going to the beach or picnicking or barbequing. In a sense I understand their point. Memorial Day began as a remembrance of Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War, and by the twentieth century the remembrance had been expanded to include all fallen members of the US Armed Services. It is not to be confused with Veterans Day. Veterans today like to say (rightly), “All gave some, some gave all.” This day is for those who gave all. So it might seem odd that we remember the fallen by having a day of summer fun.

But why not? Is that not what they died for? I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ observation about the purpose of government:

It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects — military, political, economic and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden — that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.

The Armed Forces exist to ensure that the state survives, so the purpose of our military is to allow such moments as we enjoy on Memorial Day to go on. And so those who die in the service of the country, die for that.

Now that may seem a trivial thing to die for, but it is not. To live in peace and freedom is not cheaply bought. Retired Air Force Colonel Walter Hitchcock famously observed that “freedom is not free” and from the era of the American Revolution to the present day there have been those of our countrymen who have been willing to sacrifice everything so that others might be free. And in the United States, like it or not, the freedom that they died for was the freedom to go to the beach and have a barbeque, and all of the other things that constitute “ordinary happiness.”

So in a way, if we are able to spend some time enjoying ourselves and our loved ones on Memorial Day, that is as great a monument as can be erected for the fallen. Just let us not forget the price that was paid.

Not the poverty of our heart.

May 20th, 2014 No comments

“If we were dependent entirely on ourselves, we would probably pray only the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer [Give us this day our daily bread]. But God wants it otherwise. The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.” – Bonhoeffer

Coexist

May 19th, 2014 No comments

Jesus not only could coexist but did coexist in his incarnation with an array of competing truth claims remarkably similar to those popular today. What Jesus did not do is surrender to the fallacy that all truth claims are equally valid. The Bible actually instructs us to coexist (i.e., Je. 29:4-7). The problem for the contemporary world with co-existence is that I think most of those who sport this bumper sticker confuse coexistence with assent. I can and must co-exist with people whose truth claims are wrong, but I cannot forsake the one valid truth and that is that Jesus is the “way, the truth, and the life.” (Jn. 14:6).

“leaders who faithfully carry out Jesus’ instructions to the church are bound to be transformational.”

May 16th, 2014 No comments

There is a critique of the contemporary church in that there is a tendency on the part of church leadership toward over-reliance on secular management theories and techniques, as eloquently stated by John Piper in his book Brothers We Are Not Professionals.[1] In general I agree with this assessment and hope to keep central in my own leadership the fact that the church, the ἐκκλησία, is not a secular organization but a “called out” people; “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9 ESV).

Yet I believe that by its very nature transformational leadership theory, though stated and developed by secular scholars, is well fitted to the mission of the church because of its focus on something higher and greater. It is my contention that the very nature of organizing a group of people to live out the gospel is transformational. Jesus’ leadership was transformational before Burns defined it for the contemporary world, and leaders who faithfully carry out Jesus’ instructions to the church are bound to be transformational.

 

[1] John Piper, “Brothers We Are Not Professionals,” Desiring God (blog), n.d., accessed May 16, 2014,http://www.desiringgod.org/books/brothers-we-are-not-professionals.

What a great prayer for the day!

May 12th, 2014 No comments

“The truest lengthening of life is to live while we live, wasting no time but using every hour for the highest ends. So be it this day.” —Charles Spurgeon

Happy Mother’s Day!

May 11th, 2014 No comments

15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you! 
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; (Is. 49:15-16 NIV)

Made in His Image

May 9th, 2014 No comments

That we know that we sin when we sin is an indication that we are made in His image.

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