Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Oklahoma_City_bombingFive years ago, the first year I blogged, I wrote this piece about the Federal Building bombing in OKC on April 19, 1995.  The importance of that date is still with us, so I’m updating and republishing these earlier thoughts.

Fifteen years ago today, I was standing in my office at Oklahoma Christian University when one of my colleagues rushed in and said, “A bomb just exploded downtown!”  I thought, “That’s interesting,“  imagining something like a small letter bomb or something that blows up an office, set by some disgruntled employee.

Of course, within minutes the reports started coming of what was until 2001 the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil in modern times.  Now fifteen years later, the country has experienced worse, so it is easy to forget what we learned from Oklahoma City.  Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Home-grown, flag-waving extremists are just as dangerous as foreign jihadists. Immediately following the bombing, reports of Arab-looking suspects were all over the news; the real bomber, however, was born in New York of Irish Catholic parents, voted “most promising computer programmer” at his high school, a decorated veteran of the first Gulf War, and an outspoken anti-tax, pro-gun, anti-government proponent.  The current extreme political rhetoric and hyper-polarization frightens me!
  • The use of war metaphors does not justify killing innocent people. McVeigh declared war on the federal government, so killing kindergarten children in the Murrah Building was for him an unhappy, but acceptable consequence of his military objective. Neither as individuals nor as countries should we be confused about the morality of killing innocent people for our own benefit.
  • Average people are amazingly good and amazingly brave in a crisis. Immediately following the bombing, police and medical personnel rushed towards the bomb site. One of our church members was among the first police officers to arrive; he crawled into the rubble to pull out a baby covered in ash—but alive.  Vendors brought bottled water, sandwiches, blankets, medical supplies; people of all sorts came to help however they could.  Students at OC with just minimal training in first aid rushed to the scene, wanting to do something to help.  I’m not sure I have ever experienced a greater sense of community.
  • Everyone is damaged; the world is diminished by such acts of violence. Our friend the police officer was so traumatized by what he saw and experienced in the first hour after the bombing that he spent months –maybe longer—seeking help and attempting to recover.  Not only the families of the victims, but the friends of the families of the victims, and the relief workers, and those who narrowly missed being victims just by “chance,” and the man who rented the delivery truck, and people who sell fertilizer, and everyone who works in a government building who goes to work every day, the whole community has been damaged. There are no armies, no federal agencies, no screening devices, nothing that can restore this world to wholeness. We can only forget–which we will with time.

But Christians must live in certain hope, participating with God to transform this world from being a bombed-out shell to a place where swords have been beaten into plowshares and lions lie down with lambs. What we can’t forget is that we belong to the Prince of Peace!

garage-salePreparing for a garage sale of my Mom’s things has been a life-changing experience for me.

My parents were pretty typical of people who were born in the 20s, spent their youth during the Depression of the 30s, were young adults during WWII, a young family in the 50s, struggled a bit through the sixties, aged in the 70s and 80s. Dad died in 1989. Mom lived by herself but continued to work another ten years, then she grew frail and died this year at the age of 91.

That’s a summary of two people’s lives in just four lines of words—more than most people get.

Financially, I think they were pretty average as well. Dad grew up as an only child in a small Kansas town. His father managed the grain elevator for 42 years, so they had a good, steady income, but nothing lavish. Mom grew up on a farm in Justin, Texas, one of 12 children. Her father died in a wagon accident when she was a young teenager, and her mother stayed on the farm with some of her sons for many more years—just sustaining the family, not accumulating much materially.

Mom and Dad married in June 1945, both of them with what we today would call good marketable skills. Dad had chosen extensive technical training in electronics over college. He was first a radio operator for Braniff Airways, then worked for Bendix, training people to repair the fantastically popular, newly affordable televisions.  When they moved to Fort Worth with their toddler son (me!) in 1949, they rented a small 900 sf house. Shortly after the twins were born in 1950, they bought their first house—a modest two-bedroom frame home in a new neighborhood—very middle class for the 1950s.

Dad worked hard, managing the Electronics Department for Leonard’s Department Store—the Macy’s of Fort Worth in the 50s. Mom stayed home and had child #4 in 1955. We were now a family of six in two bedrooms and one car, but we had all we needed–not everything we wanted—pretty much like everyone that we knew!

In 1958, we moved to a new 1300 sf  three-bedroom house near the new Christian school (FWC)—a big stretch financially for our family. The house payments were $74/month and tuition was $10/month per child.  We couldn’t really afford it, so when I was in the 7th grade, I started working off my tuition by sweeping classroom floors after school each day, a job I continued until I graduated from high school.

The 60s were hard on the family. Dad’s health began to fail to the point that he lost his job. Mom had gone to work shortly before #5 was born in 1961. We kids were pretty much on our own to figure out money for college—or not! But that was pretty normal too.

When Dad died in 1989, he left Mom less life insurance than the funeral cost, but the house was paid off and with no large outstanding debts, her income from teaching during the day and working at Foley’s at night, enabled her to live modestly.   We teased her that she took advantage of her Foley’s discount so often that she probably lost money by working at Foley’s.  She was of that generation that just could not pass up a big discount or a great bargain—even for things you didn’t really need right then—because you might need it later and you might not have the money for it then.

So, for the last 20 years of her life, Mom accumulated—nothing expensive, nothing even of great sentimental value.  Between Foley’s and garage sales, Mom accumulated!

Now she was not a hoarder like you see on TV, but she did have a hard time throwing anything away.  She was very generous about giving things to people if she thought they would like it—but she didn’t give things away, just to clear out space—nothing.

So now that she is gone, that is our task.  So much of what she collected over the years is completely valueless now—shells, rocks, newspaper clippings, shoes, clothes, cheap pictures of The Last Supper, fingernail clippers, pens, books—yes, even books.

That’s one of the transformative things that I’ve learned. No one wants old books—not rare books—just old books. My dad was a voracious reader, He had hundreds of books, many James Hilton paperbacks, Mathematics for the Millions, Fort Worth Christian Lectures, English-Spanish Dictionary, Complete Concordance of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, and on and on.  He loved those books; I loved them too!

And I’m sitting in my office looking at a whole wall full of my books now, thinking to myself, “Why am I saving these books? My kids will have to go through them, just like we are, and they will have to throw most of them away!”

And then I sit in our living room and look around at the little brass table that we found at an estate sale in Germany, and the two end tables that we splurged on in Oklahoma City when we first moved back to the States, and the light fixture that Sherrylee found in the antique store in South Dakota, and the many baskets that she likes to decorate with. OK, that’s just stuff!

But what about the beautiful rug that we paid good money for in Turkey, the silver that I gave to Sherrylee as a wedding present (actually only a couple of place settings), the little nutcrackers that we’ve had since our days in Germany, the etching of the Marktkirche in Hannover or the Matrushka dolls made to resemble our family from Russia????? This is not “stuff!” These are from our LIFE! These are our history! Grab the pictures! Find the home movies! That’s what we save from the fire!!

The garage sale at Mom’s has been a good reminder to me that we are going to leave it all, that someday our family pictures will be hanging in Cracker Barrel, that what we are so emotionally attached to is, in truth, just stuff to those without our memories.

If you don’t really believe that moths and rust don’t eat up all your earthly “treasures,” just come to our garage sale on Saturday!

Romans-13Probably because of the flurry of recent candidacy announcements along with the terrifying thought of two years of presidential campaigning, but I’ve been involved in two or three challenging conversations/discussions in the last few days specifically on the role of Christians in the political process.

Last Sunday night, for instance, our small group met for a study of Romans 13, where Paul makes the following extremely challenging statements:

  • “Those who are in positions of power (authority) have been placed there (established) by God.” (v.1)
  • “So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.” (v.2)
  • “The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good.” (v.4)
  • “Give respect and honor to those who are in authority.” (v.7)

As if that were not clear enough, he wrote similar things to Titus in Chapter 3:

 Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone.

Among whole rooms full of mature Christians, we did not have very much agreement on how to apply this Scripture.  Our questions began with the Bonhoeffer dilemma of whether as a Christian he had either godly permission to conspire to assassinate the maniacal head of Nazi Germany—or perhaps even the obligation—then we proceeded to the “right” to break the law and sit in the front of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama!

Some argued for differences if Christians live in a democratic society where resistance to authority is allowed within measure. But that exception only underlines questions about Christians in Communistic countries, monarchies, hegemonies, or even failed states with tribal warlords who exercise authority?

And do these Scriptures only apply on a national level? What about the state level, city level, employer level, family level?

Isn’t the real question, what is St. Paul really talking about?  I don’t have all the answers to these very difficult questions, but I do have some observations about a few things that seem pretty clear to me.

First, authority (government) is not a bad word! You may not like some particular form of government, but God has always organized His people, and they have always been required to submit to that authority—for their own good.  The earliest authorities were Moses and Aaron and those who rebelled against them were swallowed up by the earth itself (Numbers 16). After Joshua, God raised up judges (Judges 2:16) as the local officer of God among Israel.

Perhaps the worst moment in Jewish history is described at the end of the book of Judges, when the Holy Spirit records, In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). (If this sounds good to you, you need to re-read the Old Testament.)

Secondly, God’s intent is that authority is used for the good of His people. Neither Jesus nor Paul nor any of the early Christians lived under governments that were benevolent to Christians. Quite the contrary, both Jesus and Paul lost their lives to “authorities” as did many Christians.  And the Old Testament is full of examples of God punishing nations (kings, generals, nations) for their unrighteousness—for abusing people rather than doing them good.

Thirdly, the larger context of both the passages in Romans and Titus is that Christians should act with love towards all and for the good of others. Look at all of the admonitions leading into the command to submit to governing authorities:

  • Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse! (12:14)
  • Live in harmony with one another. (12:16)
  • Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. (12:17)
  • If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (12:18)
  • Do not take revenge. (12:19)
  • If your enemy is hungry, feed him. (12:20)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities.  Does it help you to read these sentences together instead of pausing because they are divided by a big chapter heading?

Paul runs the whole idea together in the Titus passage as well:  Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

I don’t have all the answers to the biggest questions these passages raise, but I do think that I know what Jesus would say to American Christians heading into another season of presidential campaigning:

“Don’t slander anyone!  Be peaceable and considerate.  Be gentle toward everyone. Bless, and do not curse.”

AdeleWoman in Gold (2015) is a David and Goliath story that would make Malcolm Gladwell proud.  The film y is based on true events surrounding Maria Altmann’s attempt to reclaim five paintings by Gustav Klimt that had belonged to her family prior to the Nazi Anschluss of Austria.  Her Jewish family had been a gathering place for many famous artists including Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Johannes Brahms, AND Gustav Klimt.  Her uncle Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, whose wife Adele was one of Klimt’s favorite models, bought the portraits of his wife from the artist, and they hung in the home that Maria grew up in.

Shortly after her marriage, she and her husband barely made a harrowing escape from Austria before the Nazis closed the borders and eventually found their way to California.  When in 1998, Austria passed new laws to make restitution of Nazi-stolen art more accessible, Maria began a process of trying to get back the Klimts that belonged to her family—and that is where the film begins.

As always, Helen Mirren is remarkable as the older Maria Altmann. Her foreign accent and German pronunciation are absolutely convincing. Ryan Reynolds is a little pale beside her, but is adequate to the part of her attorney.  The foreign cast members are terrific, especially Allan Corduner who plays Maria’s father.

The agenda of the film is the same as the George Clooney The Monument Men (2014), but this is more about the personal impact of the Nazi pillaging as well as the struggle for closure for the victims and their families.  One of the most poignant scenes finds Maria weeping after her victory because it did not bring back the people or times that had been stolen from her.

If you care about such things, and you do—but you may not realize it—the production values of the film are also outstanding:  the golden tones play with the “Woman of Gold” theme, the widely varied soundtrack (from Schoenberg to O Mary Don’t You Weep), and the lush sets from fin de siècle Vienna all capture your senses.

Although the film has a happy end, the limits of restitution, both for the victim as well as those who create barriers  are carefully explored, so, while it is not a complicated film, the drama feels authentic.

You will enjoy this film, and you’ll want to go see the Klimts in person the first chance you get.  Those are worthy results from two hours in the cinema.

ADI hope you were among the many who watched the NBC mini-series A.D. The Bible Continues which premiered Easter Sunday.  This series, as you likely know, is a welcomed sequel to The Bible which aired on the History Channel in 2007 with extraordinary ratings.

Sherrylee and I did not see the first series as they aired, but we bought the DVD and used them as part of our devotionals for several weeks.  The only negative thing that I will say here about A.D. is that it is going to be much better when watched without all the commercial interruptions.  It’s pretty difficult to jump from the raw emotions of the crucifixion to car commercials appealing to your most materialistic pleasures.  We intend to DVR the program and skip the commercials in the future.

The executive producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey have kept the scripts well within the biblical context, while—and this is their genius—adding the creative imagination to the gaps in Scripture. Of course, the writers take some license with the biblical text, but not so much that most of us who believe are offended as was the case with some recent attempts of Hollywood to appeal to Bible-readers—think Noah (2014), which you may not have even seen.

Probably to take advantage of opening on Easter Sunday, this first episode rehearsed the entire Easter Story again. Fortunately in my opinion, while the horrific suffering of crucifixion is not mitigated in any way, the focus is more on the drama surrounding the death of Jesus and the struggle for faith of its witnesses.  Joseph of Arimathea must go against his own high priest to bury the body of Jesus in his tomb—because it is the right thing to do.  The few disciples who have even found their way back to the others wrestle with whether to wait three days and see if there is really any chance of His return—or not!  Even Pilate has to deal with his wife who is convinced by her dreams that Jesus is a good man.

But the Burst of Resurrection is the best moment!  I love the angels in these two series.  They are warriors!  We first see this in the two who go to Sodom to test and rescue Lot and his family.  The “wings” crossed over their backs are swords with which they fight their way through the wicked city.  On Resurrection Sunday the angel, standing in dazzling light, pulls his sword, challenging (unnecessarily) those who guard the tomb.  I love the show of strength and power as opposed to wispy, softly-blurred angels.

Just as with the angels, the other characters are a little stronger, a little more raw, a little more Middle Eastern than we have often seen—and it makes this production better!  I can’t wait to see what they do with Stephen and Paul and Simon Magus and Lydia.

In addition to the mini-series itself, NBC and the co-producers are launching what they call a digital talk show called Beyond A.D. , which will be taped with a live audience and will basically be a dialogue between audience participants and some of the cast, the producers, and other special guests.  The description says that both historical and spiritual topics will be discussed.  Beyond A.D. will launch next Sunday night April 12 and should create wonderful new possibilities for people to explore the Story.

Cynics will argue that NBC is just lining its pockets with a sure hit—taking advantage of the many American Christians starved for something decent to watch on television–and I’m sure there is some truth to the comment. Surely, however what St. Paul said to the early Christians in Philippi is true here also:

It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. . . . Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, . . . But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice.        (Philippians 1:15ff).

9.5 million people watched A.D. last Sunday.  That’s good!

Rainy-Day-HD-ImagesI woke up this Saturday to a bright, sunny spring world—horribly incongruous to the reality of what happened on Friday.  If this were a movie—which it is not—Saturday would be overcast with a weepy downpour, not the crashing thunder of Friday evening, but the low rumble of distant disruption.  The creation would be mourning the death of its Creator.

The disciples were huddled together behind closed doors on Saturday.  A few were so weary with fear from Friday that they had slept. They had slept while Jesus prayed in Gethsemane—the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  Some perhaps wandered in early Saturday morning after a sleepless night of hiding, lest they too be crucified.

Only John had actually been at the cross. Had he and Mary the Mother cried together all night? He was now responsible for her and he didn’t know what that meant.  Over and over he had had to tell the others what he had witnessed: the nails, the jeering, the darkness, the Words, the End. He told of the surprise that Nicodemus and Joseph had shown up to bury the Body.

The women disciples were with the men—all the Marys, Joanna, the others—they had wanted to finish annointing the Body, but they had not been prepared on Friday evening to finish before the sun set, so they would get it all together on Saturday, then go early Sunday morning and finish.

Peter—Jesus had called him a Rock, but it turns out he was just dust! He had been so brave when Judas and the others had shown up among the olive trees, but Jesus had healed the very one he had slashed.  How was he supposed to feel about that? It really took the wind out of his sails. He did follow as they led Jesus away, but he couldn’t—didn’t—follow as far as John had gone—and that had been when it happened.  He hadn’t meant to curse—it just came out of his fear!  When the rooster crowed, his heart broke.  He was no Rock.  He was as bad as Judas.

For three years this small group had been with Jesus.  For three years they had seen him do the unexplainable! He turned water to wine, walked on water, healed the lame and the blind—even raised the dead. They believed in him. He was the Messiah they had hoped for—though different from what they expected.  He had promised to be with them—but he had lived very dangerously, even talked about going away—about dying—as  if he expected this!  They  had tried to protect him, but when he headed toward Jerusalem—they knew it was trouble!

Now here they sat. He was dead, his lifeless body lying shrouded in a tomb, sealed with a stone and guarded by the Romans so that no one could steal him away and fabricate hope. They were alone—and afraid.  The Jews and the Romans could have saved the expense of guarding the tomb.  These disciples were not leaving the room! Saturday was a bad, bad day!

And what about Jesus?

On Friday afternoon, His Spirit had left His Body and gone into the Hands of God the Father. Peter would later write about Jesus preaching to the spirits in prison and there are several references to his descension, so perhaps He spent Saturday harrowing hell and bringing Good News to those who had longed for His coming, but died before the fullness of time.  Much we don’t really know, but this we know:

His body was in the tomb, but His Spirit lived. He knew He would be reclothed—the temple would be rebuilt—in three days, so He was obediently waiting for the plan of God to unfold and Resurrection power to be released.  Where He was on Saturday was not dark and hopeless, rather the Light was brighter than ever, just waiting to explode and blow away the stone and the darkness!

Now the brilliant sunshine of this Saturday morning is starting to make sense to me.

On Good Friday

The_Church_of_the_Holy_Sepulchre-JerusalemOne of my biggest disappointments on our visits to Jerusalem is that the traditional site of Golgatha and the garden tomb of Jesus are completely encased, totally overwhelmed and obscured, by the church that was built to preserve and honor them.

Not long ago, I was driving in Dallas with our grandsons after a hockey game, when I realized that we were not far from Commerce Street and Dealey Plaza, so spontaneously, I decided to drive by and give them a little glimpse of the history of what happened there in 1963.  Little has changed on that historical spot.  The “grassy knoll” is there, the overpass, and the street follows the same path, so you know as you drive over the marker on the street that you are passing over the very spot where JFK died.

What Christians have done in Jerusalem would be like Americans enclosing all of Dealey Plaza in one or more connected museums, covering the grassy knoll in marble to “preserve” it, and allowing tourists to peer through a window the size of a 1950s TV screen at the X on the street, marking where the first bullet struck.

It’s quite true that landmarks, especially open-air landmarks, if not protected, tend to erode and disappear.  Even the museums that are built to protect them cannot really prevent disaster. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem  has burned several times, was literally shaken to pieces by earthquakes, and has been severely damaged by wars over the centuries.

One conclusion, therefore, is that in our attempts to preserve, we obscure at best and perhaps destroy that which we seek to venerate.

Sometime before 1839, a workman placed a ladder on a ledge above the door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Shortly thereafter, the Christian churches (and Muslims) who were fighting over political control of the physical site agreed to a status quo for the sake of peace.  Today, 175 years later, that ladder remains above the door of the church.  Once again, because of the extreme desire for preservation, which in this case meant maintaining the status quo in all respects, even the peripheral becomes “holy.”   The ladder is today called the immovable ladder and is pointed out by the tourist guides.  Though not yet holy, I have no doubt that someone will find a way to sanctify it.

Another conclusion is that preservation often leads to defending the status quo, which inadvertently can transform common elements into sacraments. 

Today is Friday, the Friday before Easter Sunday. We are remembering that Jesus was crucified.  For six hours, he suffered physically and spiritually because of our sins.

Finally, he died; the Son of God experienced the Curse in His flesh, but His Spirit passed into the hands of His Father who honored His death with Life.

It’s really not very important for Christians to preserve the hill or the cross or the robe or the tomb.  Preservation seems a dangerous and ultimately fruitless occupation.  It can lead to obscuring, even destroying that which is real!

What happened on that Friday really happened! Let’s don’t build museums around it; let’s don’t die warring over the status quo.

Let’s let the simple fact be true enough that we spend our lives believing it and living out its implications:

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. (Romans 5:8-11, NLT)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,104 other followers

%d bloggers like this: