Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I Don't Have an Answer

Every generation of Americans has been marked by specific events. For my parents, the landing on the moon, the Cuban missile crisis, and the Kennedy assassination were all fragments of history they could point to as "I remember where I was when..." moments. For the generation prior, they remember things like Pearl Harbor and VJ day.

My generation's moments are much different, and the case could be made that no American generation has dealt with as many domestic tragedies as mine. I remember where I was when I heard that Timothy McVeigh had decided to blow up a federal building in Oklahoma City, or when two lunatics decided to shoot up a school in Littleton, CO, or one gunman opened fire on Virginia Tech, or when terrorists declared that America wasn't that far away from the Middle East and definitely wasn't safe on September 11, 2001.

Now we are faced with another tragedy. We have another story running non-stop on every news network. Another American decided to remind us how unsafe we actually are. I will always remember where I sat when I read on twitter that some lunatic walked into an elementary school in Connecticut and shot 20 beautiful little children to death along with six teachers and his own mother. I was sitting in a coffee shop with one of my best friends, Adam, in Denver, Colorado wasting time. I read out loud to him the tragic news and then continued to read, pray, and search scripture for comfort. I read Isaiah 40, a popular passage around this time of year, and fought back tears.

"Comfort my people" the passage starts. God is telling Isaiah to comfort His children because they will be delivered. Their sins will be pardoned, their violence will cease, and their redeemer is on His way. The covenant God made with Israel will be accomplished. God has one plan through Israel to bless the world, and He will uphold His end of the bargain.

Advent, the season Christians for thousands of years have observed, is about that yearning we are all feeling right now. The yearning that something is wrong with this world and we just want it to stop. We want suffering and tears to end. We don't want any more mothers to buy tiny caskets. All religions recognize the flaw in the human condition. We all recognize the need for redemption. Two thousand years ago, the Creator did something about it. A better way was revealed.

Followers of this better way have a responsibility to do something about evil. We have a charge, found in 2 Corinthians, to be the ministers of reconciliation. That means we need to find a way to keep these shootings from happening again and again. There's some reason they keep happening in this country more than any other. Our schools, movie theaters, and public places have become shooting galleries for young men wanting to "go out with a bang" more than any other civilized country. In the past 30 years, there have been 61 such shootings--61! No other developed nation has even half of that number. There is something desperately wrong with a culture that breeds this type of killer.

Is gun control the answer? Is the abolition of the second amendment the answer? Should the government look at gun-violence as a public health concern? I don't know. I don't have an answer. I do know I shouldn't have to pray for a parent who has to explain to her six-year-old why his classmates had their faces shot off in front of him at school on Friday.

Many are asking where was God in all of this? The answer is simple: He was there. He was in those classrooms and hallways while a tragedy took place. Maybe He allows tragedy to happen because this is the world we have made for ourselves and He loves us enough to give us what we want. That last sentence may seem horrifying and grating to many, but it's the only answer I can stomach. I know God loves us, and of that I am more certain than I am of my next breath. I know God hates to see children murdered. Why didn't God keep this particular madman from doing what he did? I don't really know. My best answers seem trite and even anathematic at times. There's a good chance that, on this side of Glory, I'll never be able to adequately explain Sandy Hook to anyone from a theological perspective.

I do think it is time for America to take a serious look at itself. We need to do some soul-searching to figure out what can be done to limit these types of tragedies, because they seem to be a uniquely American occurrence. I also think we need, more than ever, to be a people marked by the love, acceptance, and compassion of Jesus as we try to demonstrate a better way to live. The Kingdom has come, the covenant has reached its dynamic climax, and we are now the hands and feet of the Incarnate Word on Earth, seeking to bring redemption to a broken world.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Twenty Seven

Another trip around the sun. Whirling world-traveling wild year complete, I can only be anxious about the next. What is in store for me on my 28th orbit?
Where will I go?
How many more passport stamps and customs agents are in my future?
How many more handshakes and new friends?

My life still seems like it's ahead of me, but the more I think about where it's taken me, it seems I have a lot more behind me than I realize. Windshields are bigger than rear-view mirrors, as the old cliché says, but it's hard not to reflect on a year as crazy as mine has been.

The cool thing about being born in December is that my new year coincides closely with the calendar's. That makes reflection more logical. Without reflection on the past year, I would often lose sight of where I am headed and how I plan to get there. More importantly, I'll begin to think disease-ridden thoughts, like the one that tells me my plans or ideas have anything to do with what is going to happen. That thought is so pervasive I have to constantly spin away from it into the open arms of an unknown, cloudy reality.

Last year on my birthday I thought I'd never get a job and I'd be living with my mom in Dallas forever. Now I have a job, and an apartment, and mom doesn't even live in Dallas anymore. I've been on the other side of the world for extended periods of time since then. I've been to New Orleans and New York on disaster relief trips for my job since then.

The future is a pretty girl with an aloof personality. You want to get to know her quickly, but she won't let you. You think you've got her figured out, and then she turns into a crazy person. You think she's going to settle down, then you find yourself looking into her eyes while driving into an evacuated disaster zone or watching rebels set fire to a car in protest.

It's the aloof girls that are the most interesting, and it's the future we focus on because the past is too known, too familiar, and too over. She's unknowable, exciting, and probably dangerous. Eventually she'll kill me. But every year I'll run at her full-speed with my eyes closed and hope for the best. If you think God doesn't love that about me, your god is too small. Don't box God in and allow him to show you what He can do with a wholehearted life.

The past can be an anchor, or it can be a set of wings. With proper reflection and meditation on your story, God will show you how to fly into the future--the dangerous, exciting, and unknowable future.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent as Invasion

On June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops landed on a 50-mile stretch of beach outside of Normandy, France. It was the largest amphibious assault the world has ever known. More than 9,000 Allied troops lost their lives that day, and over 100,000 troops began the march across Europe that led to the end of World War 2. An invasion by the allies was expected, but through countless espionage and misinformation operations, the Nazis were unsure of exactly where this invasion would take place. 

According to legend, after a 10-year siege of the city of Troy, Odysseus hatched a plan for an invasion. A giant wooden horse, the symbol of Troy, would be built. While the Greek fleet pretended to sail away in defeat, a select group of soldiers would hide inside the horse. The Trojans thought the horse was a gift to the gods and a symbol of the Greek surrender, and they brought it inside the walls of the city--effectively sealing their doom. 

The element of surprise is a powerful weapon of war. The enemy can't know where the attack is coming from, especially if the enemy is heavily fortified and entrenched. A good invasion takes incredible planning.

Both of these invasions were also full of risk. Had the Trojans suspected foul play, Odysseus and his men would have been destroyed inside the horse. Had the Germans figured out the Allied plan, the result would have been devastating. The Allied command took the risk into account and decided the Normandy invasion was the best chance of winning the war. 

Most people don't think of the Christmas story as an invasion. A baby seems like an odd choice for a conquering soldier. Bethlehem wasn't exactly a political center of the ancient world. 

However, the Christmas story is the story of an invasion. This baby was the conquering King of the universe sent to make things right. Bethlehem was ground zero of the greatest victory in the history of the planet. When Christ was born, at the "culmination of the ages" according to Hebrews 9, God was risking his Son as part of His infallible plan. Jesus describes the situation in the Parable of the Strong Man. 
Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house. (Matthew 12:29)
The strong man in the parable was Satan. He and his minions had been ruling the world for long enough, and Jesus came to tie up the strong man. His birth set into motion the climax of the promise given to Abraham and allows us to plunder Satan of the things he has taken from us. 

When we help those less fortunate, when we end the cycles of abuse and poverty and disease, and when we seek to save the lost we are partnering with Christ in plundering the strong man's house. Christ has already been declared victorious. The invasion was successful. We can collect the spoils of war in the blessings available to us when we share in Jesus' work on earth. 

In the greatest surprise attack in history, God invaded earth as an infant in a food trough and defeated an enemy who stood no match for the power of the all-powerful, compassionate, merciful Creator. This Advent season as we join with one another across the globe in our observance of the hope felt by creation before Messiah's invasion, let's remember to also be a part of the continuing "war effort," and do our duty to plunder the strong man's house. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Expectant and Hopeful

When you are a kid, Christmas means presents. That's it. You tell people about baby Jesus and Santa and elves, but you really only care about that year's haul. This excitement about acquiring toys and goodies from the fat man in red begins just as soon as the halloween candy has been processed through your tiny digestive tract.

December is a month-long waiting game. For a month you watch Christmas movies and sing Christmas songs and talk about Santa and shake presents and "no sir, you may not peek!" It is a month of stressful, yearning, expectant hearts wanting to tear through wrapping paper. 

There's a lot I could point out that is wrong with that attitude towards possessions. There's a tolerance for greed that is unfathomable in this culture's treatment of December. However, the sweat-beading on a child's head as he looks under the tree and is overcome with anxiety about what he cannot wait to receive is the result of a misguided emotion, but is real nonetheless. 

Look at the book of Isaiah, the language of the prophecies concerning the coming of the Jewish Messiah isn't calm. It isn't "I think it'll be great when Messiah comes, you guys." It is feverish, rich with the imagery of revelation, healing, and things finally being set right.

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness; they will be glad in Your presence as with the gladness of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders,The rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian. For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult,And cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire. For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore.The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. 
There's nothing in that passage that is remotely calm. The Jews waited in eager anticipation for the coming of Messiah, they sweated and yearned and prayed for his revelation. The same emotion I had as a kid hoping I would come away from the tree with enough loot is the emotion December really is all about. Breathless anxiety and eager anticipation of the coming of God With Us. Advent is the first season of the Church calendar, and the first day of Advent was this past Sunday. During this time, we are reminded of that anxious expectation felt by all of creation before the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. 

Look at the way Simeon, a man who longed for the day of Messiah, responded when he saw Jesus as an infant. He said "Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel." He can die in peace because he knows the promise has been kept, the chains will be broken, and all things will be made new.

That's why we sing all these weird songs. Well, most of the weird songs, at least. "I Saw Three Ships," is the most inexplicably written set of lyrics in human history and should be thought of as a riddle and not a song.

It's why we pray for Peace during each day of December. We want the Kingdom established--the Kingdom Isaiah foretold having no end--to increase in our lives and in our communities and for peace to increase in our world. 

The divine Word, the thing spoken by the Creator God in Genesis 1 which spun planets into existence and is described as "holding all things together," in Colossians 1 put on skin and moved in next to us. He dwelt on earth in human form. God invaded a fallen earth longing to redeem his beloved. That's what we celebrate and why we try to train our anxious hearts to want only more of Jesus. 

Pray for peace, promote peace, work for peace, and let yourself remember what it felt like to be an anxious kid before Christmas while you await the incarnate Word. 

About Drew

My photo

A follower of Jesus, trying to build myself and others up from the inside out.