On a recent family excursion to Boston we explored the famed “Freedom Trail”. This is a 2.5 mile path that meanders through downtown Boston, passing by 16 historic locations significant in the nation’s colonial journey toward independence and freedom. It’s an interesting walk that combines the preserved markers of history in the middle of a contemporary urban center that is filled with the sights and sounds of progress. One particular visual that I found noteworthy was an old burying ground adorned with weathered markers and headstones, some of which were located flat against the foundation of a modern office building. The office building’s windows overlook the resting place of revolutionary heroes, buried just feet beyond. Such is the juxtaposition of contemporary life in the midst of history.Continue reading
Category Archives: Christian Faith
This week the number of deaths in the United States due to Covid-19 surpassed 600,000. The worldwide death toll is now estimated to be 3.84 million. As the number of cases has significantly dropped in the U.S., in direct correlation to the availability and distribution of vaccines, it’s easy to move past these numbers and this news. We have become somewhat numb to all the numbers, the data overload of cases, tests administered, vaccinations given, and (sadly) deaths. This is especially true if your life has not been directly impacted by Covid-19. Perhaps you had a mild case, don’t know anyone who has been seriously ill, or lost their life. Perhaps you’ve bought into the conspiracy theories too frequently boosted by the politics of it all. You may be an anti covider (anti-mask, anti-vaccine). Afterall we each have the “freedoms” to think what we will, right?
Freedom, however, cuts at least two ways when it is immersed in an ethic of Christ following faith. If I am a follower of Jesus, I am not just free to do what I choose – come what may; I am free to act for the good of others – the love of others, as Jesus put it. In other words, I don’t just make decisions and choices based on what is best, easiest, or most comfortable for me; I consider the other as I live my life “freely”. I am free from the tyranny of oppression, but free for the expression of social good. I am free from the dictates of the state when it comes to worship, but free for the safe gathering of the body of Christ in worship. I am free from sin through the blood and love of Jesus, and free to not knowingly sin against others. Freedom is never just understood or expressed in terms of its individual application. Freedom, for those who know it in Jesus, always has the other in mind too.
For over 600,000 of our fellow countrymen and women Covid-19 brought the worst possible outcome – their death. In the confusion of understanding the disease and how it is contracted, persons often unwittingly shared it with family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. Now, however, we are in a different place. We have a greater understanding of how the disease spreads. We also have (at least in the USA) wide access to mitigating vaccines that have proven very effective in combating the disease. We are free to receive these inoculations. They are even being distributed for free. Our best chance of circumventing another Covid-19 spike and it’s related consequences is directly tied to the good public health practices we have all learned, capped off by becoming vaccinated.
For some, due to complicated health histories, this may not be possible. But for the vast majority of us, it is. Those who are hesitant would do well to speak with their primary care physician and get their questions answered one by one. Then they will be free to make an informed medical and public health decision. Not a political decision. Not a decision driven by fear or bias. A decision made with the best advice of medical science.
Yes, it’s a free choice. There is no mandate. No one can tell you what to do, or make you do it. This is America – at it’s best and it’s worst. But I imagine, many if not most of that 600,000, could they wind the clock backwards, and be given an opportunity to become vaccinated against Covid-19; I imagine many would freely choose to do so.
Recently, after a day working in the lawn and garden, I became aware that part of my face felt funny. High on my forehead where my cap fit snug against my temple, there was a little discomfort. I brushed my fingers against it and felt a bump. Occasionally it seemed a little itchy, so I scratched at it. Later that evening I looked in the mirror and discovered the bump was now swollen, puffing out my left cheek and causing my left eyelid to droop.
What’s a guy to do? I showed it to my wife. Complained a little. Took some Benadryl, and went to bed. By the next morning the swelling extended across the top and down below my eye, making it difficult to hold my eye fully open. Weird. I still had no idea what had caused this new look. I did not remember being bitten by any insect, wondered if it was poison ivy, ruled out shingles, and resolved not to google other possibilities.
Later in the day I remembered that Jesus had something to say about folks who are having trouble with their vision. Specifically he said: Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5 NRSV)
Jesus had a way with words, didn’t he? That particular saying did not win him any friends among the scribes and Pharisees. But, coupled with my own temporary eye impairment, it got me thinking. One of the tragic side effects of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the need to distance oneself from others, especially those of other households. This was true in the pre-vaccination months, but even today we are repeatedly cautioned to maintain “social distance”.
The trouble with such practice, reinforced over months and months, is that keeping one’s distance can lead to isolation, which can lead to myopia in lifestyle, which might result in self-centeredness. (You ever read the book If you give a mouse a cookie? One thing does lead to the next!) One of the social side effects of Covid-19 is the tendency it has awakened in us to critique our neighbor’s speckled vision, when we’ve got lumber trouble in our own eyesight! Why is this?
My faith teaches me that people need people. We were created to be in community. That often translates to a faith community, or to Jesus’ command to love your neighbor. We are social creatures – even the most antisocial among us needs someone. And when we are able to come together and socialize, meeting unencumbered, face to face, there are certain norms of conduct that guide those interactions. In short, we might see some specks on our neighbors eye glasses, but we would never comment on them.
Removed from face to face proximity, the norms seem to change. I’ve noticed over the last many months that persons have said and shared things via the distance of technology (social media, text, email) that they never would have face to face. It’s as though social distance has given permission for some of the norms to be abandoned. We are quicker to point out specks than ever before. The current cultural-political divides are evidence of this. Unfortunately, what has been modeled at the highest levels, when it comes to vilification of others, has filtered down to workplaces, neighborhoods, PTA’s, faith communities and other forums of grass roots level living.
Which brings me back to my temporarily impaired vision. When your eye is swollen it’s hard to see past that. Your vision is a little blurry as you catch the shadow of eyelids, eye lashes, and squint through extra tears. After a day of this you want to go sit in the Lazyboy chair and close your eyes. It’s rather like coming to the end of a day of video calls, or screen work from home. Just about the last thing on your mind is your neighbor, unless of course that neighbor has done something that irks or annoys you just a bit.
The ability to move past such impairment and distortion in eyesight requires us to focus our vision beyond self again. Jesus had things to say about this as well. When asked what is the greatest commandment, he replied: love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (And) … love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39)
Could it be that in pointing us toward the love of others, and not just a love of self, that Jesus is revealing how we can deal with the log in our own eye, and graciously overlook the speck in another’s? It seems that this ongoing time of pandemic is calling each of us to deploy what my sister sometimes calls “EGR” living. EGR stands for “extra grace required”. Many of the self-help gurus have counseled this for self during these challenging days. “Give yourself some grace. Don’t be too hard on yourself.” But what about applying that same generosity toward others? Looking outward, not just inward, will improve the eyesight and vision of us all.
As ministry leaders look to guide congregations through and past the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, many are beginning to think about what the Church will look like moving forward. It is premature to declare that we are on the other side of this crisis, but it is not too early to give consideration to what ministry (re)engagement could be like as we move toward that day.
Just as we learned to value “engagement” as a meaningful measure of ministry impact mid-pandemic, we will be looking to measure “re-engagement” in a post-pandemic world.
In the online world of virtual church, pastors and ministry leaders have measured the impact of their services in a couple of ways. Through analytics we have been able to measure the number of connections or views provided through various online platforms. These numbers tell you how many “views” or IP address connections each livestream broadcast, social media post, or Zoom meeting generated. While interesting, and not without value as a measurement, analytics alone cannot measure the true impact of ministry.Continue reading
This morning I began my day with some time in Psalm 47 and a prayer guide titled The Songs of Jesus by Timothy Keller. Psalm 47:1 says: Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy. In his reflection on this psalm, Keller writes: “Rather than think of ourselves as an embattled, political minority or persecuted underdogs, Christians should be so over-flowing with the joy of our salvation that we feel the privilege of singing his praise to those who do not know him.” (p.98 The Songs of Jesus)
As Christ followers we serve and follow a risen Savior. He is King Jesus, the One who overcome sin and death. His resurrection, celebrated just last Sunday, makes it possible for you and I to know joy. We can know the joy of our own redemption from sin. We can know the joy of abundant life in Christ. We can know the joy of a promise of eternal life with him when, one day, we enter into our life after death. In short, there is so much to be joyful about.
Yet how often do we project a different message through our countenance, our words, or our behavior? When we go through life long-faced, despondent, complaining or piously encumbered, we act more like that “embattled minority” Keller counsel us to avoid representing. My experience of Easter this year was joyful, was yours?Continue reading