Tuesday, November 13, 2012

This is the body of Christ . . .

My friend, Jamie Wetzel, is the Administrative Minister at Meridian Christian Church. A week ago tonight I joined with he and several others from his church for an "Election Day Communion" service. It was an inspiring way to end the evening. Jamie's words so so exceptionally well crafted. They may be the finest "communion devotions" I have ever heard. With his permission, I share them with the readers of Frankly Speaking.

One of the main functions of this practice of Communion is to remind us of things that we have a tendency to forget. As we approach the table, it draws us back to the truths that we need to hold onto. So tonight, it is valuable to recall what we are doing as we gather around the table. 

We gather around the table: 
  1. To remember the life that Jesus modeled for us and called us to. There’s a number of reasons why we get so tired of the election season, but one reason is because it has a tendency to turn otherwise nice people into raging hate-mongers. The sad thing is, followers of Jesus often fall into this trap as well. The reality is, we need a constant reminder that no matter the situation, we are to embody the same attitude as Christ. When we approach the table of the Lord, we see bread and juice and we are reminded of the life he modeled: a love for enemies, care for the broken and forgotten, denial of self, sacrificial humility instead of grasping for power. Communion then, reminds us of how we are to live in this world. 
  2. To remember that the power of God is the hope of the world. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype during election season that a candidate, or an administration, or a country is the only hope for this world. So much so, that it’s implied if we go with “the other guys” then there will only come gloom and despair. We come to the table to remind ourselves of the truth, that only the power of God gives sight to the blind; only the power of God hears every cry of the oppressed; only the power of God made a spectacle of the powers and authorities at the cross; only the power of God raised Jesus from the dead; and ONLY the power of God can bring hope to this world. Communion reminds us that our hope is found in Jesus through the power of God. 
  3. To remember our sin and the need to repent. We need the table to jar us back to the sobering reality that our sin has separated us from God, that it is real, and that it is serious. Communion places in our hands, for us to hold, and touch and eat, the tangible reminder that our sin deserves punishment. We are reminded that Jesus took that punishment upon himself, and allowed his body to be broken, and blood to be spilled from his body. We need the table to drive us back to repentance, over and over and over. And so we gather together so that we will never forget our sin. 
  4. To remember that God’s grace is available to all. At the table, we are reminded that God does not show favoritism. We are reminded that God’s grace does not discriminate nor divide. The political parties tell us that if we are a woman we will align with them, or if we are a man, we will join them, but the table reminds us that male and female are welcome. The political parties tell us that the other guys are rich and greedy or poor and lazy, but the table calls out to the rich and the poor, “come.” The grace of God is open to all and shatters international boundaries, gender lines, social divisions, and political affiliations. Communion reminds us that we are not to deny to some what God has openly offered to all. 
  5. To re-pledge our allegiance to Jesus. One of the things that bugs me about politics is that we are forced to choose between imperfect candidates. In order to choose a candidate that supports the issues we are passionate about, we have to compromise on the ones they support that we are uncomfortable with. Family values, social issues, economic strategies, and foreign policies are often all over the spectrum, and we have to vote using labels such as “the lesser of two evils.” 
What would it look like for a candidate who “remains faithful forever, upholds the cause of the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets prisoners free, gives sight to the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down, who loves the righteous, watches over the alien, sustains the fatherless and the widow, and frustrates the ways of the wicked”? 

How great would it be to put our trust in one who does all that he promises, and will reign in justice and righteousness, mercy and love? 

That candidate exists, and he’s already won the campaign, and his name is Jesus. There is no competition, there is no challenger, there is no recount. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We come tonight to re-pledge our allegiance to him and him alone.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thanks, Dad

At South Lansing Christian Church, we took a moment to say thank you, yesterday, to our veterans. Like you, I am incredibly grateful for the sacrifices that these fine men and women made on our behalf.

My dad is my favorite veteran. Dad served in the United States Navy Reserve right after high school. He was stationed on the USS Lowry, a destroyer that was an escort vessel to the USS Randolph, an aircraft carrier that operated in the Atlantic. Dad was part of history when he was on the Lowry.

They were just steaming into Norfolk, and were expecting leave when the Captain informed them that leave was cancelled, and they were to undergo emergency resupply and immediate deployment to Cuba. Apparently Khrushchev decided to put some missiles in Cuba and President Kennedy didn't think that was such a good idea. 

Dad said they headed into the Caribbean at full steam to take up station as part of the Cuban blockade. For days they zigzagged across the ocean, trailing a submerged contact. Eventually the sub they were tracking was forced to surface. Dad told me that seeing the hammer and sickle of the Soviet flag on the conning tower of that submarine was the most frightened he had ever been.

The November 1962 issue of Life magazine detailed those fateful thirteen days about that time that shows the Soviet submarine with my dad's ship in the foreground. I take pride in my dad's service, and in knowing that he was willing to lay down his life at such a crucial time in our nation's history.

Each of us knows a veteran. Take a moment today and call him or her up to say, "Thanks!"

Friday, November 09, 2012

A path home


After Tuesday's stinging rejection Republican leaders are saying the GOP needs to tackle immigration reform. Its about time.

For too long, immigration reform has been a political football. If Social Security is "the third rail" that politicians have been afraid to touch, then immigration is the subway train. Mention "reform" and you run the risk of getting run over.

There haven't been many in the GOP that were willing to even consider a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. The mere whisper of the idea sets off a howling chorus of "Amnesty! Amnesty!" among the far right. Out come the posters of the handful of immigrants who are convicted murderers. News reports of emergency rooms in border towns being overrun by uninsured Mexicans and South Americans run non-stop on Fox News.

I welcome the change -  even if any turnaround has more to do with the shifting demographics of the electorate than the call to "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free." If it takes 70% of the Hispanic vote marking their ballots with a big "D" to get Republicans to do the right thing then I'm all for it.

I know, I know. You're thinking: "I thought you said you weren't going to write about political issues; I thought you said that the election was over and it was time to move on." And you're right to note the inconsistency. But this is an issue I've been writing about for some time. In a post back in 2006 I wrote about the dilemma. I've been talking about it much longer.

My first mission trip was with Amor Ministries back in 1998. We traveled to Tijuana to build a house for a family living in a squalid border encampment. Their "home" was four garage doors salvaged from the local dump with a fifth laid across the top for a roof. It had a dirt floor. No running water. A backyard baño.

As hard as their life was, there was a family living up the street with one that was much harder. This family had a tiny seven-year-old daughter. Shorter than the rest of the neighborhood children; she couldn't have weighed forty pounds. Our team brought some gifts to her and the other neighborhood children. A toothbrush and toothpaste. Crayons. Coloring books. She was too sick to show much enthusiasm.

Through our interpreter we asked what was wrong, and learned that she had a heart defect. One that, if not corrected, would likely kill her before she became a teenager. It broke our hearts. We felt so powerless. And though we tried to make some contacts when we got back to the states, Indiana was too far away and were unable to connect with the right people to make anything happen.

I still wonder about that little girl.

The thing is, if that is my little girl, I swim any river, climb any fence; I do whatever I have to do to get her to an American doctor. Just across the border is a modern American city with the finest hospitals, and the finest doctors. Three miles north that little girl gets the heart surgery she needs to change her life. If all that separates my little girl from a life saving surgery is a line, you'd better not stand in the way, because I'd immigrate illegally, and so would you.

There has to be a common sense approach that allows us to embrace people that want a better life for their children. That's how you and I (read "white people") got here, after all. Some ancestor fled a potato famine or a repressive political system. A great-great-grandparent sacrificed and saved enough Shillings or Francs or Deustche Marks to get on a boat and sail west toward hope.

Given how great a body of water the Atlantic is, and how far our ancestors had to come, why are we surprised - and resentful - when someone wades across a drought-shallow Rio Grande?

I say we welcome any and all who will pledge their allegiance to the flag. Any and all who will work hard, pay their taxes, and raise their families to love this nation that has said, since 1903, "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free."

For too long this issue has been a cauldron of political poison. What do you say we get back to the America our great-grandparents knew - not a boiling kettle of political frustration, but a hope-filled melting pot of ethnic diversity.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Now what?

Another election day is past and America has spoken - or at least 60% of registered voters have, according to initial reports.

Elections divide us. There are winners and losers. They put a spotlight on our differences. And although they provide the opportunity for sincere discussion and compromise, elections all too often end up devolving into partisan entrenchment. We dig in our heels and add fuel enhancer to our vocabularies. According to Rasmussen, about one out of every four people have had a relationship with a friend or family member negatively impacted by this year's election.

So what now? The reality is this: there are Democrats, Independents and Republicans in our church. There are supporters of both Obama and Romney among us. To our credit, we have kept the partisan discourse from dividing our church. But can we go beyond that and find common ground upon which to unite?

I think we can.

I think we can unite around the common purpose of "Connecting our community to God's story, one person at a time." I believe we can focus on our mission to “Help people write the next chapter of their faith story by providing environments where they can seek, study and serve God."

Let that be what unites us. Let the Lordship of Christ and the worship of our Heavenly Father provide the basis upon which we call ourselves siblings. In Christ there is "no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ."

Time to move on. Time to move forward with what really matters: the things that are eternal.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Almost over . . .

The most contentious, most important, most critical-to-our-nation election in the history of this week will be over in about 30 hours. You read that correctly. The most important election . . . this week.

I agree with Brian Roberts. This is not the most important election in the history of The United States. The most important election in the history of this country resulted in the election of Abraham Lincoln. Before that, people owned other people. This election is important, as are all elections. But the most important ever? Please.

Neither is it the most negative.

According to the New York Times, the elections of 1796 and 1800 were much nastier. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams hated one another. Obama's attacks on Romney's ties to Bain Capitol and the far right's obsession with Obama's birth certificate pale by comparison. Jefferson's opponents hated him so profoundly that they characterized him as
a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father, as was well known in the neighborhood where he was raised, wholly on hoe-cake (made of coarse-ground Southern corn), bacon, and hominy, with an occasional change of fricasseed bullfrog, for which abominable reptiles he had acquired a taste during his residence among the French.
No, this is nowhere near the nastiest election ever.

That probably comes as little consolation to the three of every ten people that say the election has caused more stress in their families. According to a Rasmussen poll, 1 out of every 4 people say that "the upcoming election has negatively affected their personal relationship with a friend or family member." Nearly half (45%) say they have "gotten into a heated argument with a friend or family member."

I have not.

I've tiptoed, side-stepped and danced my way around the election so frequently that I'm about to qualify for a spot on dancing with the stars. I've perfected the art of the pastoral two-step, managing to keep my friendships and my family intact.

Its not that I don't have some opinions; I do. I just keep them to myself.

Its a shame, too. Though we live in a country where freedom speech is celebrated, we somehow have become far less generous to the speakers.

The fact is, I ought to be able to have a conversation with my left-wing, lily-livered, liberal whack-job friends without fear of losing said friendship. I should be able to talk about why they want to protect trees but not babies, and they should be able to ask me why I want to kill guys who are locked up for murder, but not allow people trapped in bodies riddled with Lou Gherig's disease to take their own life.

It shouldn't matter if I vote for the big business, tax-the-middle-class-but-give-a-pass-to-millionaires, woman-hating, racist, war-mongering Mitt Romney. or the freedom-destroying, tree-hugging, baby-killing, gay-marriage-supporting, maybe-he-is-or-maybe-he-isn't-a-citizen Barack Obama. Either way, I should be able to have a civil conversation with someone on the opposite side of the fence without lowering my opinion of my friend or raising my blood pressure.

But, it seems we cannot.

At least it will all be over soon. Then maybe we can get to work repairing those strained relationships in time for the Thanksgiving Day family reunion.