Monday, December 22, 2014

Laws of Justice and Mercy

Monday 12/22/2014 6:55 AM
My assigned scripture today included the laws of justice and mercy found in Exodus 23:1-9. As I read them I thought about how appropriate they are for our modern world and, unfortunately, how often they are missing. “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness. Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit. … Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent. Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.”
As I read through the list I immediately thought of current events that illustrate each of the issues. False reports and misinformation are constantly leaked and propagated in our political processes by both Democrats and Republicans. Political spin-doctors take the news and mold it to fit their party’s point of view, truth be damned. Rabble-rousers hijack peaceful protests; turning crowds into frenzied, destructive, looting fanatics. “Illegal aliens” are blamed for many of the ills of our society but they are taken advantage of by those who do not pay a fair wage for work done. We are complicit in the injustice when we fail to stand up for them, choosing instead to benefit from cheaper prices for goods and services.
I found it interesting that one verse warns against showing favoritism to the poor in a lawsuit and the next verse warns against denying justice to the poor in their lawsuits. There are times in our judicial system when the poor cannot afford the high priced attorneys that are retained by large corporations or wealthy individuals, and suffer injustice as a result. There are other times when people feel sorry for the down and outers in our society and hold them to a different standard because of their standing. It seems like both scenarios are wrong.
The saddest part of this to me is that the Christian community should be at the vanguard of seeking after truth, justice and mercy for all people but too often we are the ones spreading misinformation, perverting justice and oppressing the foreigners. May God have mercy on us and help us to see the error of our ways.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Downward Mobility

Monday 12/15/2014 4:34 AM
Today I read the song Mary sang after she encountered Elizabeth, whose baby leapt in her womb upon meeting Mary. After praising God for the great things he had done for her, she sings, “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” Rueben P. Job, one of the authors of my devotional book comments on these verses. He writes, “God’s promise seems no less preposterous today. Turn the values of this world upside down? Rich become weak; poor become strong? Each of us chosen to be God’s special witness to God’s promise of love and justice? It does seem like a preposterous promise, until we listen carefully to the Advent story, observe the life of Jesus, and listen to the Spirit’s voice today. But then we see that the promise is for us. The responsibility to tell the story is ours. And yes, the blessing and honor come to all whose lives point to Jesus Christ and God’s revolutionary purpose in the world.”
There are not many today in the church in North America who preach this kind of revolutionary message. We mouth the words about caring for the poor and seeking justice for the oppressed but when it comes to living it out, we fail miserably. We see the blessing of God as living in a free society where we can worship comfortably without fear of reprisal and being able to pursue our dreams of living a comfortable life with adequate finances for retirement. As a church we do little to promote love and justice for those who are oppressed in our society. We lobby for secure borders to our country to keep out the alien rather than seeking justice for those who have been allowed to live within our borders because their cheap labor allows us to maintain our lifestyle. We strive for upward mobility, a prized ideal in our culture. God’s people are to strive for downward mobility, standing with those who are oppressed by our governmental systems, which marginalize the weak and protect the interests of the powerful.
The question for me today is, how best is that to be done? Do I become an activist, joining protests and marches in the streets that demand rights for the oppressed? Do I lobby my representative in Congress to enact laws to address the issues of justice for the weak? Do I work within the church, striving for a change in the attitudes and the actions of God’s people? Perhaps it’s a little bit of all of that. It all seems too overwhelming and the immensity of the task tends to paralyze me. I need to have the courage to take a step.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Potluck

Friday 12/12/2014 4:14 AM
Yesterday we had our annual division holiday party. We have a potluck in one of the labs and enjoy each other’s food and company. Some of the retired employees return and friendships are renewed and strengthened. We traditionally give gifts to the office staff, sign cards to thank them for their work for us throughout the year and to wish them happy holidays.
As I was signing the cards of the staff yesterday one of my colleagues was telling me that one of the staff members was an atheist and another had a religion that does not allow her to celebrate anything so I should be careful of what I write in the cards. Unfortunately, I wasn’t careful, choosing instead to wish them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I’m pretty sure I could be labeled intolerant in broader society, forcing my views onto others.
I’ve thought about this quite a bit over the course of the last day. If someone wishes me a Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanzaa I am not offended, I politely say thank you and feel honored that they took the time to share the joy of their celebration with me. I know I am in the cultural majority, so that may taint my perception, but I struggle to see why I should be careful in sharing the joy of this season of the year. It seems to me that if we live in a culturally diverse community we should take the best of each culture and make it a part of the combined culture. As it is, it seems that we tiptoe around constantly worrying about whom we may offend and lose out on a lot of joy. We do not live in a vacuum of self-centered isolation; we live in a vibrant, people-filled world. It’s like a potluck; we have a lot to appreciate and to share with each other.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Hope and Change

Friday 12/5/2014 4:01 AM
Today I read Lamentations 3. Many of the verses remind me of the last year, a time where God has seemed to be silent in my life. “(The Lord) has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead. … Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. …I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, ‘My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.’ I remember my affliction and my wandering, … I remember them well and my soul is downcast within me.”
After Jeremiah lamented his condition of being afflicted and abandoned by God he breaks out with a triumphant statement of hope for which Lamentations 3 is most well known, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” My response to that great hope should be the same as that of Jeremiah, “‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’ The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. …Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him.”
This week has been filled with social unrest. Last week a grand jury failed to indict a police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri. Earlier this week a grand jury failed to indict a New York police officer who choked an unarmed black man, despite the fact that the man repeatedly told the arresting officers that he could not breathe and a witness filmed the incident. There have been demonstrations and riots across the country calling for judicial reform, for a change in a system that upholds the status quo and fails to provide justice equally to all people.
In the middle of Lamentations 3, after this passage that describes the faithful love and compassion of God for people, come the words of verses 34–36, “To crush underfoot all prisoners in the land, to deny people their rights before the Most High, to deprive them of justice – would not the Lord see such things?” The thing that I find so troubling is that the Christian community should see the world in the same way that God sees the world. If segments of our society are being crushed, denied their rights, and deprived of justice, Christians should be leading the charge for reform and change. They should be in the vanguard of those seeking justice for the oppressed. Unfortunately it seems that many Christians are the ones fighting hard to maintain the unjust, unequal, and biased systems that prey upon the weak and disenfranchised.
My response needs to be the same as that for which Jeremiah is calling in verses 40–42. “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven, and say: ‘We have sinned and rebelled…’ Streams of tears flow from my eyes because my people are destroyed. My eyes will flow unceasingly, without relief, until the Lord looks down from heaven and sees. What I see brings grief to my soul because of all the women of my city.”
I believe that our society needs to change. We need to live up to the Pledge of Allegiance, which describes our nation as being under God, with liberty and justice for all. I’m not sure how I can personally affect the change that is required but I’m quite certain that if I examine my ways, seek after God, repent of the part I have played in the perpetuation of injustice, and align myself with those who are oppressed, the Spirit of God will direct my path.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Vulnerable, Yet Secure

Sunday 11/30/2014 5:14 AM
I am six feet eight inches in height. Being tall can have its advantages. Jaci likes it because I come in handy when she needs items that are stored on the top shelf in the cupboard and I am also easy to spot in a crowd of people or in a store. My head sticks up above everyone else’s head and above the aisles so she simply looks up and tries to find my balding pate.
What is an advantage for her can be a disadvantage for me. When I am in a crowd of people I can see a long distance over the top of the heads of others but I can also be easily disoriented when the crowd is moving, as happens when entering or exiting a sporting event where thousands of people are in attendance. It can give me the feeling that I am afloat in a sea of people as I watch their heads bobbing around me and I can become dizzy to the point that I almost fall over.
My psalm for the week is Psalm 27. Verses 5 and 6 read, “For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord.” I like the image of hiding in the shelter of the sacred tent, safe from all the enemies that may surround me. It’s nice to be lost in the crowd with no responsibility to lead. I simply follow the person ahead of me and; much like a bird in a swarming flock or a fish in a swirling school, I am also less likely to be attacked by a predator. On the other hand, being set high upon a rock gives me mixed feelings. It is a nice to have an overarching view of things from that perspective but it can also be a very vulnerable position. One is easy to spot if one’s head is above all the surrounding territory and things that stick up are easy targets for those who would want to do harm.
God wants me to have the security of hiding in the shelter of his wings but he also wants to set me high on a rock. He doesn’t want me to blindly follow everyone else around, trying my best to blend in without drawing attention to myself. He wants me to be set apart for all to see, to sacrifice, with shouts of joy, in the midst of a crowd of people that horde more and more for themselves. He wants me to sing and make joyful music when those around are singing dirges. He wants me to see the big picture, to have perspective, in a myopic world.
The danger of living in such a manner is that of becoming a target for others around. The nail that sticks up is usually hammered down. If I attempt to live differently from the crowd, those around will closely examine my life, looking to charge me with hypocrisy or of having ulterior motives. I become more vulnerable in a world that can be extremely hostile.
Do I trust God enough to lead me against the flow of the crowd, to a life of sacrifice and love? Do I have the desire to see the world for what it is and to be a beacon of hope and joy for others to see? Do I have the courage to live my life vulnerably, to have God set me high upon a rock, or do I crave the security of the crowd too much to take a risk? I pray that I will be vulnerable enough to follow the Spirit, trusting God for my security.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Joy and Peace

Saturday 11/29/2014 8:07 AM
Psalm 90:14 caught my attention as I read my assigned reading for today. “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” Over the course of the last twenty years it has been my habit to go for an early morning run and then sit for a while and have a time of Bible reading, meditation and prayer. More often than not I receive direction or encouragement during that time of quiet reflection, which gives me the strength, courage and confidence to live my life with abandon. Thinking about the great love of God for me and for the world allows me to live with joy and peace even when the things around me seem to be deteriorating. It brings hope in the midst of hopelessness.
John 17 records Jesus’ prayer the night before he was crucified. He prayed, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” I believe that my time of quiet reflection each morning allows me to know God better, which brings with it the joy, peace and hope for which so many long.
The following prayer from the book, Prayer, by O. Hallesby, is my prayer today.
Though I’m but dust, I pray,
Before God standing,
Not asking pleasure’s way,
Nor gold demanding;
But greater things I ask,
From God requesting
No less than that he give
To me that I may live
Life everlasting.
My heart now overflows
With prayers and praises.
My Heavenly Father knows
Each sign that raises
My heart ever nearer to his heart so tender;
For there’s my joy and peace;
In thee I’ve found release,
My soul’s Defender.

Friday, November 28, 2014

In the Breach

Thursday 11/27/2014 4:57 AM
Today is my fifty-ninth birthday and it is also Thanksgiving Day. Psalm 90, my psalm for the week delivers a good reminder that human life lasts about seventy or eighty years, that it goes by quickly. I need to remember that if I want to gain a heart of wisdom.
My birthday and Thanksgiving Day have been overshadowed by events in Ferguson, MO, where a grand jury failed to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of a black teenager, Michael Brown. There have been protests and riots throughout the country as citizens rise up against the systemic injustice of our judicial system toward minorities and especially toward African-Americans. Today my reading includes a meditation written by Jesuit Father Luis Espinal shortly before his assassination by paramilitary forces on March 22, 1980, in La Paz, Bolivia. Nearly thirty-five years have passed since then and thousands of miles separate the events but his writing is a good reminder for me.
There are Christians who have hysterical reactions,
as if the world would have slipped out of God’s hands.
They act violently as if they were risking everything.
But we believe in history;
the world is not a roll of the dice going toward chaos.
A new world has begun to happen since Christ has risen…
Jesus Christ, we rejoice in your definitive triumph…
with our bodies still in the breach
and our souls in tension,
we cry out our first “Hurrah!”
till eternity unfolds itself.
Your sorrow has now passed.
Your enemies have failed.
You are a definitive smile for humankind.
What matter the wait now for us?
We accept the struggle and the death;
because you, our love, will not die!
We march behind you,
on the road to the future.
You are with us
and you are our immortality!
Take away the sadness from our faces.
We are not in a game of chance…
You have the last word!
Beyond the crushing of our bones,
now has begun the eternal “alleluia!”
From the thousand openings of our wounded bodies
and souls there arises now a triumphal song!
So, teach us to give voice to your new life throughout all the world.
Because you dry the tears from the eyes of the oppressed forever…
and death will disappear…

As I age it is easy to become cynical about the wrongs that are in the world ever changing for the better. It seems that the purveyors of evil and injustice are prevailing over those of righteousness and justice, and no amount of protesting or fighting against it will change it for the better.
I like the imagery used by Father Espinal, where he describes our bodies as being in the breach. The image that I get is being a bullet in the breach of God’s gun that is aimed at righting the wrongs in the world. God uses his people to effect change; but he doesn’t use the same weapons as the world. He calls me to love, and to exhibit righteousness and justice in my interactions with others. I need to remember that I am part of a great battle but I must not despair, thinking the outcome of the battle is up for grabs. God has the last word and he has already spoken. I pray that I will be an outspoken voice promoting hope and new life in Christ and that I will have a part in drying the tears of the oppressed rather than being the cause of their tears.