In 1992 there was a film released starring Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise that received a lot of notoriety known as A Few Good Men. Although I am sure many of you, like me, may not have seen the entirety of this film, we are all on at least some level familiar with it…or at least one scene. The plot deals with a Marine Colonel Jessup who ordered a code red on a fellow marine that ended up costing his life. Tom Cruise’s character Attorney Kaffe is trying Jessup on this account and it all culminates in one of the more famous dialogue exchanges in all of cinema. “Col. Jessep: You want answers?” “Kaffee: I think I’m entitled to.” “Col. Jessep: You want answers?” “Kaffee: I want the truth!” “Col. Jessep: You can’t handle the truth!” You can’t handle the truth…wow. And yet on some level he was right. Kaffee, like many other characters in the story and many of us have a version of the world that exists in our minds that if it gets challenged could really upset the balance.
I wonder if this is ever something we struggle with when it comes to our living out the life of Christ? I especially tend to think on this during this season in the life of the church known as Advent. It’s a season of preparation and expectation for the coming of Christ. But all to often it becomes a season of stress, busyness, economic abundance and distractions that couldn’t be further from the truth of what the Christmas story was all about. Even though the book of John doesn’t formally retell the Christmas story, the writer does give us a testimony as to what this story was all about. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14 The Word of God himself, Jesus, took on flesh and came to us full of grace and truth. I love this last phrase. Full of truth…what is that truth? That we are hopelessly lost without God. What is that grace? God has made a way for us to be found.
Sometimes I think we haven’t been able to handle this truth. I don’t care if you are a brand new believer, still seeker, or someone who has been in the church all your life. To think you have a chance at making it without God’s grace daily being poured out into you and through you is another version of the truth altogether. Even the apostle Paul, towards the tail end of his faithful ministry had this to say, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” – 1 Timothy 1:15 I wonder if we live out of this truth or if we somehow have started living into another version. A version that says, ‘I’m okay’. A version that validates our comfort, our possessions, our indifference towards others, our embracing of ideologies not of God or our piety. Jesus himself said that He was the truth and here is someone who was called a friend of sinners, prostitutes, drunkards and tax collectors; a blasphemer and the son of the devil. How often does our truth align with Him? Or has our version of truth aligned us so well with society that we don’t subvert the selfish norm anymore?
Maybe during this season of Advent we might find that we can’t handle the truth…but that through the grace offered to us through the Word made flesh, we just might try.
Eleven years and three hundred fifty-six days ago I saw these eyes for the very first time (you have to take into account the gotcha day). We walked into an office building and were eventually greeted by four pounds fourteen ounces of wonder that would forever change our lives. People often say to us that we must have been such a blessing to our son to do what we did through adoption, but honestly…it is so much more the other way around. Jonas is a joy. Not only did he give me the gift of being a father for the first time, but he has enriched my life with laughter, wonder, imagination, excitement, and more. But one of the gifts that he has given me that is rarely spoken about is the new eyes through which I see society and culture. I grew up in a middle class evangelical white household. Most of my relationships existed within that same paradigm. But all of a sudden I was thrown into the world of understanding what it meant to see the world through the African American experience because my son is African American.
Now that statement might seem simple at face value and a little redundant. But it is actually quite weighted. I realized it was imperative for me to educate myself more on the black experience in America throughout history. It was important for me to understand black culture and understand all of the nuances of what it means to live as a young black man in twenty-first century America because my son is black. He will be perceived and judged in ways that I have never been perceived and judged just because of the color of his skin; period. And so, because I love him, I was given a new set of eyes through which to see the world through. And honestly, this is the cruciform way of living for us Christians. We are called to lay down our lives, our experiences, our worldviews, our bias, our preconceived notions for the sake of the other. When Paul set about to describe what Christ did for us in doing this he first says, “Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.” – Philippians 2:4 And how do we watch out for each others’ interest until we know what each others’ experience is first like?
I’ve been extremely fortunate in my familial experience. I have a son who is black. I have a son who is Latino. I have a son who is mixed race. Just by the sheer makeup of my family I get to see the world differently. The way I view so much in the world has changed because of them. But this is not the case for most of you. You will have to work to find friends who are different than you (and I don’t mean that they cheer for another sports team). But it is so important that you befriend people of a different race, religion, country, etc. And that you allow the way you view the world to change because of those relationships. If you still hold to the exact same biases, preferences, and lenses that you have had all your life, then it is time to reexamine your experience for the sake of Christ. After all, we are called to lay down all of that for the sake of the kingdom. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26 So may we reexamine our relationships. May we lay down who we have been. And may we get some brand new eyes for one another, for the world and ultimately for the Kingdom of God.
I’d like to paraphrase a recent conversation between my mother and I. “So we’ll have a ham.” “You mean we’re not going to have turkey?” “Well, I wasn’t planning on preparing one. Your uncle usually does that but this is just going to be our immediate family.” “You mean we’re not going to have turkey?” “I mean, if you want to prepare it, I will pick one up.” “For the love of all things holy mom, pick up a turkey. I’ll gladly prepare it.” I mean, after all, it is Thanksgiving. And what is Thanksgiving without the turkey or the stuffing or the green beans or the mashed potatoes or the mac-and-cheese or the pecan pie or the pumpkin pie or any of the other excessive dishes that we stuff around our tables to stuff our selves with all around a holiday we call Thanksgiving…yeish. Don’t get me wrong. I love to overeat as much as the next guy, but something seems amiss if this is what we refer to as Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is a worship term after all. In the Hebrew scriptures we first hear about Thanksgiving as a means of returning thanks to YHWH for that which He had blessed Israel with. And blessing, original blessing even, in the Hebrew scriptures was always predicated upon blessing received, blessing bestowed. Israel would be blessed as long as Israel became a blessing to others. This goes all the way back to the inception of the people of Israel in Genesis 12 when God says to Abram, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” I think sometimes we get stuck on the cursing part and forget to read the rest of the text, “…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” All peoples; everybody will be blessed because of this promise of God’s presence in the life of Abram and his descendants. Think about that for a minute. God established His presence, His blessing in the lives of a particular people so that the entirety of the planet would know that same blessing.
And yet here we are today. In a time of fear and supposed scarcity for resources or jobs or things or whatever it might be. In a recent essay entitled, The Liturgy of Abundance, The Myth of Scarcity, Biblical scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann had this to say, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if liberal and conservative church people, who love to quarrel with each other, came to a common realization that the real issue confronting us is whether the news of God’s abundance can be trusted in the face of the story of scarcity? What we know in the secret recesses of our hearts is that the story of scarcity is a tale of death. And the people of God counter this tale by witnessing to the manna. There is a more excellent bread than crass materialism. It is the bread of life and you don’t have to bake it.” You don’t have to bake it…but you do have to trust in it, lean into and and become more generous and giving as a result of it. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” So maybe this season we think a little differently about Thanksgiving. Maybe instead of just being thankful for the things we have, maybe we learn to be thankful for the things we can give.
Yesterday the world lost an icon. Stan Lee was the founder of Marvel comics and the creator or co-creator of some of the best loved Superheroes of all time. These characters and their worlds of imagination have become household names: Daredevil, The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, The X-Men, The Avengers and many more. Of course, his most well known and most recognizable creation is that of Spider-Man. Spider-Man instantaneously spoke to every kid who ever wished they were more. Here was a teenager who went from super nerd to superhero overnight because of a bite from a radioactive spider. I know it always has me on the lookout for radiated arachnids. But Stan was quick to remind us of the cost that comes with great power. As spoken by Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben, who Peter Parker loses early in the saga, “With great power comes great responsibility”.
A couple of weeks ago I got to lead a retreat for some of the young men from our church and strangely enough this was my theme. Responsibility is something we struggle with in our society today. We want to blame or vilify others for mistakes or missteps that we are often just as culpable for. We want to label other generations as irresponsible or lazy or divisive or fill in whatever moniker here. But the truth is, we all have the power to change the world around us. Some of it is on a small scale, and yet some of us may have an even larger platform. Stan Lee would have reminded us that with Great Power comes Great Responsibility. Almost sounds a bit familiar to those of us who follow Jesus. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” – Luke 12:48 A huge piece of our walk in this world is taking responsibility for the world, for each other and for our mistakes. We’ve been entrusted with so much and how we move about in this world matters.
For a while Stan Lee struggled with being a comic writer. There was a quote from one of his countless tributes yesterday that I think illustrates this well, “I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it, they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain, you’re doing a good thing.” And not only did he entertain, but he confronted racism, hatred, abuse of power and many other societal ills through his stories and through his occasional soapbox (you really should look up Stan’s Soapbox sometime). From one of those many engagements we read these words, “The power of love — and the power of hate. Which is most truly enduring? When you tend to despair . . . let the answer sustain you.” Stan Lee understood the power and responsibility that was afforded him through the pages of Marvel comics. He may be missed, but his influence is evident. Today may we understand the same power and responsibility is gifted to each one of us through whatever walk of life we are on. And may we find a way to let our light shine.
Yesterday I was having lunch with a friend and he asked me a pointed question about my morning routines. “So how many days a week do you usually run?” I responded with my typical five to six days a week, depending. He then asked, “Does your body not hurt?” And I thought a bit before my response. Yes, there’s the typical aches and creaks and cramping and soreness, but honestly I actually hurt more when I take off too many days. I thought about what that meant. Some days I wake up and I really don’t want to run. Sometimes I drive to the trail and hesitate for a minute before opening the door. I even recently reflected on this in another post, “I hate running…It seems like the first five minutes are spent just trying to convince my legs that they know how to do this.
Much of the time is spent making sure I’m looking out for cracks or potholes so I don’t twist my ankle or knee. Then there’s the inevitable argument going on in my head about how far I’m going to make it this time. And if I’m running on the roadway there’s always the extra need to be wary of drivers who aren’t wary of me…But in the midst of all of that my heart starts to find a better rhythm. My breath takes on a cadence that convinces the rest of my body that it knows how to do this. The sweat reminds me I’m alive and the clarity of thinking that comes puts much of my life in perspective. The aches that were present at the beginning take on a new feeling as they push me to keep going. So I run on; knowing that this is good for my mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being…I love running.”
The clarity of purpose behind my running makes all the difference in the world for me and my body. Sometimes I think we struggle with the idea of clarity and purpose in the church body today. There seems to be division and chaos ad nauseam, particularly in the church in America. And I’m not sure that this is so much an issue of unity as it is an issue of clarity as to what it means to be the body of Christ. The apostle Paul put in this way when addressing the church in Corinth. “…so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” – 1 Corinthians 12:25-27 Equal concern for each other; we are the body of Christ.
So our clarity is clear for the health of the body. Our concern is not for our own interest, but for the interest of others. We are the body of Christ. And as we have equal concern for each other we find not only clarity of purpose, but unity in the body. So maybe there will still be the typical aches and creaks and cramping and soreness, but we continue to move towards invoking the Kingdom of God in the world. Because this is who we are.
So I’ve been at Nashville first a little over three months now. I’ve seen homecoming, The Harvest Celebration and even gotten to lead my first fall youth retreat. But last week I got to experience something that I am sure is going to grow to be a favorite of mine as far as all church events go; The Community Fall Fest. There’s food, candy, decorated car trunks, balloon animals, inflatables, music and costumes…so many cool costumes. I love seeing all of the kids, and “adult kids” (present company included), coming to the church in their costumes for a night of fun and festivities. In fact, it seems that more and more each year people are really getting into the Halloween spirit. And yet, sometimes we in the church struggle with what to do when this holiday full of spooks and ghosts and ghouls rolls around each year.
I guess we could start by taking a look at our own history. After all, Halloween began as part of Allhallowtide, a Christian feast holiday. According to HistoryChannel.com, “In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints; All Saints Day…The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween.” Halloween was originally part of a Religious feast intended to honor those who have gone before us. And yet so often we see all of the hullabaloo of Halloween today feeling like something different from it’s Christian roots and as becoming something else entirely. Even as I am writing this I am thinking about all of those who feel like Halloween is a dark holiday to be avoided at all costs…and I respect your opinion, but think with me for a moment. Try putting yourself in the place of one of the kids who got be at our Fall Festival last week or who looks forward to Trick-or-Treating tomorrow night. You’re telling me that for a day I get to dress up like someone else, go around to my neighbor’s houses and they give me candy? It’s almost kind of magical. And who doesn’t love another excuse to eat candy?
I have always looked at scripture a little differently and I hope you will amuse me here. To me, one of the saddest verses in all of scripture is found in I Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” So often we think of this as the natural maturation process, but what if it is talking about the loss of the natural wonder and love that comes with childhood? I think all too often we are ready to grow up and we miss the joy and simplicity of living that can be seen through the eyes of a child. Maybe if we began to see this holiday again through the eyes of a child and all the joy I saw last night we might be able to see it a little differently. Maybe the treat is found through the trick of seeing Halloween as a child. And maybe holidays like Halloween can be enjoyed in a new light as we seek to reclaim the world yet again through childlike wonder and joy.