25 March 2017

Life together

We live in a divided, broken world. Who would have thought that hatred between red and blue, conservative and liberal, race against race, religion against religion would become so strong, so vengeful? The election was nearly six months ago yet the political polarization remains the same. Republicans play hardball with Democrats. Christians issue violence against Muslims. White nationalists defile immigrants and people of color. And they drag the ignorant with them on a crusade of hate against each other. I know you know. We see it in the threads of Facebook, or the sensationalized debates on cable news. You can’t even go through the day without a CNN alert telling you the world is about to end. This heightened atmosphere of polarization seems to be our new normal.

But we are not broken and divided in public life alone; we too are broken in the church. The things we thought would staple our seams together are falling apart. Endless debates and committees attempt to solve our issues, yet we suffer the same division as the world. Cultural differences pit North Americans and Europeans against South Americans, Asians, and Africans. We struggle to resolve issues that separate us from women’s ordination, to racial segregation, to traditions, to music and culture. And while this happens, young adults and youth bleed out of the church. 

Even amongst ourselves in our congregation, we divide. We come from places at the opposite ends of the interstate. We cling to certain circles, we separate ourselves among cliques and friends, temperament, personality, even popularity. 

Who would have thought that my generation would never see peace in our time again?Who would have thought the height of modern reality would not be unity, but division? That the future would bring hate, not love? That our era would bring separation, not togetherness? Perhaps we should not be so surprised. Scripture seems to aptly describe our world. The words of Jesus in Matthew 24 — “You will hear wars and rumors of wars…Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom…Many will be offended, they will betray one another, and will hate one another…And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” 

Beyond the talk of prophecies and beasts and images, there is this prophetic insight we should not overlook: polarization, division, and hate will characterize our world. People will war against each other, they will hate one another, and the love of many will grow cold. 

If there was one value missing from the public discourse, I would say it is love itself. Why have Christians spoken evil against Muslims? The love of many has grown cold. Why is racism now a  normal part of society? The love of many has grown cold. Why can the right not work with the left? The love of many has grown cold. Why do we disrespect each other, why can we not find solutions together, why can we not listen to the other side? The love of many has grown cold. Why do we find it hard to live together in this church community? The love of many has grown cold.

So what do we do now? Can we find healing for our bitterness? Can we find wholeness for our separation? Can we stop this bleeding?

Can our church address this issue?  Is there any way that the church can find an answer to the great division? 

20 March 2017

But does God care about love itself?

I have wondered if God cared at all about our romantic lives beyond the canned advice of sanitized notions of Christian love. The foundational supposition for God is that God is love, but theology usually implies that in a brotherly sense, or an unconditional quality. But does God understand when our hearts break from the throes of romantic love? Does God care when we suffer from the loneliness that pervades us when we long for the embrace of another body? Can the God who angers at injustice and weeps with the mourning, can he care when you love someone but it goes to waste? 

Does he not bear the pain we endure? Can’t he feel our brokenness, our hopeless romanticism? 

Aren’t there verses in Song of Songs that express this loss? “I have sought my true love; I have sought him but not found him. I have called him but he has not answered. If you find my beloved, will you not tell him that I am faint with love?” 

Or what of the perennial analogy of the broken relationship with God and Israel, husband and bride? Does he empathize with us as when his own heart was broken by love?

Surely this God -- whom we take for granted being concerned with justice, mercy, and grace, a God who is love itself -- can feel the same pain as an angst ridden youth sore from the grief of lost love?

Snohomish County, Washington

19 March 2017

On the state of the dead with inspiration from Peter Rollins

I have wondered if the Adventist doctrine on the state of the dead has any more meaningful theological meaning than the ho hum antagonism towards spiritualism. I think it can be this: if we believe that when one dies one does not immediately enter the gates of heaven,  should we not be more occupied with the question of whether there can be life before death, rather than whether there is life after death? We believe that there is ‘life after death’ per se at the Resurrection. If Jesus says, “I have come that you might have life, and life to the fullest,” then are we not looking for meaning in life before death? Shouldn't we be teaching about the state of the living?

Snohomish County, Washington

08 March 2017

On radical religion

I can understand why President Obama refused to describe terrorists groups as “radical Islam” or “Muslim extremists” because if you switched that out for Christianity, a “radical Christian” makes me think of Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, or Pope Francis. A person of radical faith seeks to find the essence and goodness of their religion to fight against all that is wrong in the world. I think of Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail: “Was not Jesus and extremist for love? Jesus Christ was an extremist for love, truth, and goodness. Perhaps the South, the nation, and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”