Posts Tagged ‘Peace’

best-family-beach-vacations-east-coast_f_mobiThere are certain times when my office sits empty.

Sometimes it’s because I just work better at coffee shops for some reason.  Sometimes it’s because part of my work as a pastor is to be with people, and those people aren’t always at the church.

But this summer it has largely been because I’m on vacation. I have one more on the books, the first one that Rhonda and I will be taking without kids in over 4 years. And I have to be honest with you about why, especially this summer, I’m using up all my vacation time…and why you should, too.

Reason #5: I’m never not a pastor unless I’m gone.  And even then I usually am. As I approach the 10 year mark in this profession, I am becoming more and more aware of this reality.  Now, I know pastors aren’t the only people who feel this way about their jobs, but I’ll let you in on a little secret:

If, by some miracle, I make a friend who is not a parishioner, and who did not know me before I was a pastor, you know what I tell them that I do for a living?  I tell them I work for a non-profit…and that I don’t like talking about work.  Because the minute I tell them I’m a pastor, I either a) become their pastor/counselor with no chance of reciprocity, or b) become seen as the morality police, and the relationship significantly changes.

Vacations, being with family, these become grounding experiences where I am reminded that I am not just a pastor, but a father, husband, son, and yes, friend.

And you are those things, too.  And if you forget that, you need to go on vacation.

Reason #4: I’m allotted the time, but no one expects me to take it.  Even I don’t normally expect that I’ll take it.  And so when this summer came around and I had the opportunity after, frankly, a difficult year, to spend extra time with family far and near, I decided to set my calendar…even though I didn’t think I should.

How amazing is that?  I didn’t think I should.  And I didn’t think I should because, implicitly and explicitly, I have been trained to see my work as my measure of worth and value, and that is just not true.

One of the reasons I’m offered a generous time-off package is because I work a lot when other people aren’t working like, oh, every weekend (and most every holiday except for 4th of July requires me in a funny robe).  And having sat next to people on their deathbeds on many occasions, none of them wax nostalgically on their time in the office.  They wax on their time with family, “away”…and, well, I want some stuff to wax about.

And you should want some, too.  I sit with people on their deathbeds, and not once have they regretted a vacation opportunity they took, even in the face of mountains of work. Go on vacation.

Reason #3: When I’m “off,” I’m not off.  This is closely related to issue #5, but not exactly the same.  In this world of hyper-connectivity, even when I leave the office my “work day” doesn’t end until I close my eyes, and it begins with a “quick email check” the minute I open my eyes.  It’s a personal problem.

Oh, and that emergency number knows no clock…which it shouldn’t.  There’s a reason we have an emergency number, and please know that I am always willing to rush to the hospital.  But that means I am on call.  And it is something you should know about your pastor: they feel as if they are always on call, because by and large, they are.

And I’ve noticed, especially as my children have gotten older, that the divided life I lead between watching them with one eye, while keeping the other eye on my iPhone, has been destructive for my spirit and my parenting (let alone my “spousing”).  Jesus says we are to give away ourselves for others, but that means I have to have something to give away.

Let me be very honest for a moment with you: I am jealous that you get to leave Friday late-afternoon and come back Sunday night from mini-holidays to the beach or to the mountains or to the lake.  With my work schedule, we can sometimes leave Friday evening, but we always have to be back Saturday night.  And if there’s a wedding or a funeral or a church event or…I mean, it just doesn’t work out.

And if none of that resonates with you, remember that the Sabbath is instituted by God.  Do you take an actual Sabbath?  I often don’t…and I need to.

Vacations can, if we allow them, be times that we are actually, truly off (even though that’s not always the case).  And if you are leading a divided life, with one eye on the things you love and the other eye on the things other people think you should love, you need a vacation.

Reason #2: My grandfather. He worked for “Ma Bell,” as he called it.  Southern Bell at the time.  Union work, which allowed him to retire early, support a family, have a great pension, and live a good life; it taught him the value of a work week.  Jobs like that are scarce anymore.  But he told me once that his people (union folks) worked hard to make sure that 40 hours a week was the standard unit for work in these United States, and that though I would probably work over 40 hours, it shouldn’t be the norm.  And if it was the norm, he said, “well, what did we work so hard for?”

Well, it’s the norm.  And not only is it the norm, it’s the expectation for most salaried professionals. For you, probably. Which is a problem, and it is killing our ability to work so we can live, and pushes us into the living to work category of existence, save for the privileged few who have 4 hour work weeks.

Do honest work. Do good work. To meaningful work, a full 40 hours of it.  And then we should honestly rest.  Good rest.  Rest with meaning and intention.  

Reason #1: I love my family more than my work. I have to say that because, well, I’m not sure they can tell that by my behavior most of the time.  It is just true that, as a pastor, I put other people’s families in front of my own. A lot. And while I can’t make up for lost time, I can look toward the future with intention.  Vacationing is one way I can do it.

And don’t get me wrong, I love these people, and I (usually) love my work.  But do I love it more than the first calling I had, to be husband and parent and son, to be faithful to that first claim upon my life?  No, I do not. And if I don’t want to become resentful, and if I do not want my family to resent my work, I have to attend to the balancing act somehow…imperfect as I walk it.

So, what about you?  Do you love your family more than your work?

The ability to vacation at all is such a privilege in this world, and it’s not afforded to everyone…I realize this.  How can my work as a pastor speak to that inequality, while also being honest about my own need to be away?  How can your work do the same?

 

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I wasn’t going to post about the recenscreen shot 2014-06-10 at 7.30.47 amt school shootings that we’ve endured as a nation these past few weeks, but here I am.

I wasn’t going to post about them because I just don’t think I can anymore.

When I look down at my son, when I drop him off at school, I don’t think of him as in danger, or as a target.

But I guess we’re starting to these days, right?  I mean we’re talking about more armed guards in schools, we’re talking about lock-down procedures and evacuation routes not just for fire, but also for “live-fire” scenarios.

And I guess now we’re talking about bulletproof blankets to cover my baby should someone come shooting up his school.

In Isaiah 11:6-9 we find a vision for a new Earth, and it doesn’t look like like my son huddled under a bulletproof blanket.

And it doesn’t look like my son cowering behind an armed guard with a gun, a teacher with a gun, or even he himself holding a gun.

In that day, “The wolf will lie down with the lamb, the leopard with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together, and a little child shall lead them.”  In verse 8 it gets even better, “the infant will play near the cobra’s den, and a young child will put it’s hand in the viper’s nest.”

The problem with that day is that we don’t think it’s today.  The problem with that day is that we think the prophet is talking about animals.  And, I guess, in a way he is because he’s talking about the created order, the whole created order, being turned on it’s head.

But primarily, though, the prophet is talking about people.  Humans.  You and me.

And the prophet is talking about creation not living in fear, even in natural fear.  It would be natural for the goat to fear the leopard, the child the viper.  But in the world that has “knowledge of God,” even that kind of fear isn’t needed.

Because God is doing a new thing.

See, here’s the problem I have with armed guards, with armed teachers, with armed citizens, and with something as ridiculous as bulletproof blankets: it buys into the fear.

If the day of the Lord is to eradicate fear, then why do we belabor under the wrong assumption that we must continue to purchase it?  This youth at Reynolds High School was obviously hurting and sick.  I do not believe he was a monster.  You don’t have to be a monster to do monstrous things.

But his parents were law-abiding citizens with a closet full of guns.  Why?  Recreation?  Collection? Sport?

It doesn’t really matter now, because in the end they were saved for a mass shooting.

And the remedy to that, I think and believe, is not to buy more guns, is not to buy more kevlar, is not to arm more people.

The remedy for that is, I think and believe, to take the prophet seriously and believe that today is the day when the world is filled with the knowledge of the Lord.  And I don’t take that to mean that everyone is Christian.  I don’t take that to mean that everyone thinks the same things.

The “knowledge of the Lord” is not the ability to recognize God, it is the ability to trust as God trusts.

And how does God trust?  In the Jesus story, God trusts the power of life and resurrection enough not to repay hurt with hurt, but to bathe in love and forgiveness.  I mean, what would it look like if we raised our children not with a closet full of semi-automatic guns and hand guns, even if we teach them to respect guns, but rather with a closet full of the belief that semi-automatic guns aren’t necessary in this world.

They aren’t necessary to have a good time, they aren’t necessary to obliterate targets, they aren’t necessary for common citizens.

They just aren’t necessary.

We need to excavate fear, dig it up like Indiana Jones, and reveal it for what it is: an idol we’re being forced to worship these days.

It’s obvious these people need mental help.  But they also don’t need easy access to weapons.  And I don’t think that’s an either/or situation.  It’s a both/and.

But I really expect the carillon cry on this issue to come from the church, to come from Christians.  I really expect it to come from people who look at Jesus and see someone who didn’t repay evil with evil. I really expect it to come from people who hear stories every damn week about the Jesus who healed the sick, even the mentally sick.  We need to provide that care.  And I really expect it from people who every year hear the story of how Jesus told Peter to put his sword away. “The one who lives by the sword, dies by the sword…”

I really expect it to come from those who would wonder what it means to hold a weapon with no other purpose in the world than for the killing of another human being, a being created out of love by the God who creates all things for joy and good. Licensed police officers, military officers, they all consider that question…at least, I hope they do if they take their work seriously.  We, as a society, have called them to that office, and it’s not one to be taken lightly.

Certainly not one to be taken “recreationally.”  We have licensed law enforcement, and give them licenses, for a reason.  Part of that reason is, I think, because they take it seriously enough to honor the responsibility.  I don’t think the average citizen does, and we’ve shown that by having these “open carry” situations throughout the country now…that, in and of itself, is a sign of mental health issues, I think.

And look, with all this talk, I’m not even talking primarily about gun control.  Gun control has not worked well in Chicago.  I’m all for it, but do I think it will save my baby?  No.  This is a complex issue.  But the church doesn’t just need to condemn the shooting, they need to condemn the situations that led up to the shooting: mental health, easy access to semi-automatic weapons…

And we need to condemn the fact that too many of the “faithful” in this world don’t trust that the Earth can be full of the knowledge of the Lord if they would just live into it.

I’m talking about changing the hearts and minds of this world to realize that the day of the Lord is today.

And tomorrow.

And it was yesterday…we just didn’t trust it enough to live into it.

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”-Martin Luther King, Jr.index

Love is heavy.

It brings with it many frustrations and tears.

I walk with people caring for aging parents and see this to the fullest.  They are tired, weary, worn.  They love their parents…but it is a heavy burden.

I walk with new parents and see the same thing, after a while.  They are tired, weary, worn.  They love their children…but they’re a burden.

Or parents of children with special needs.  Or adults who work primarily in the service industry.  Or adults who work in social services, or nurses, or educators, or hospice workers.

Or people who do justice work.

Because, and this is a truth about humanity that I think is under-appreciated by those who don’t work daily, one-on-one, with a wide swath of humanity: people suck.

They do; no two ways about it.

But sometimes the general nature of people can get the best of us.  Especially those of us who fancy ourselves as doing justice work.

How easily justice work can turn into hatred.  I’ve seen that too many times.  Justice work becomes full of “us and them” dichotomies when the heart is left unattended.  The unattended heart easily turns to hate over time.  Calcification is the natural state of everything that is left alone.

The heart is no exception.

We like to think that love and hate are opposites.  No; they are cousins.  Love and apathy are opposites.  Hate and apathy are opposites.  Love and hate are cousins who quickly dress alike in their zeal and passion when left unattended.

Love and hate are like those twins you dated in high school.  You’re always wondering if they’ve pulled the old “switch-a-roo” on you.

It does no good to hate the oppressor…MLK knew this in a powerful way that is instructive for us all.

Working against an oppressor must be a labor of love, not a labor of hate.  If it’s not, then pain is just transmitted instead of transformed.

This, of course, is easy for me to say as a white, able-bodied, heterosexual, male.

But even there, too, I must be careful.  In my zeal for justice work I can get sucked into reactionary hate against my status and privilege.

I must learn to give up my privilege as best I can.  Hating it does very little to change things.  Only in giving things up can we change them.

Jesus understood this.  “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”

As I said, MLK knew this.  He gave up his justifiable hatred for a humanity that moved…moves…too slowly toward justice and peace.

But that’s indicative of a heart attended to.  Attending to the heart is heavy work.

But letting the heart calcify…that’s the work of the dying and dead.

I think the task of justice work these days is to work against systems of oppression while also attending to the heart.

Unfortunately I don’t see it very often.  Too much “us and them” talk coming from liberal circles.  Too much silence from conservative circles.

The radical circles are the ones speaking against justice while attending to the heart.  MLK was a radical, not letting the heart calcify to the point of hate.  I think he knew that, to do otherwise would be to replace one burden for another.

And Lord knows we have too many burdens to add anymore to this world.

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I should be honest.  I don’t want all of your guns taken away.  You can keep your hunting rifles and shot guns; guns you use for sport.

And I know that puts me at odds with some people, even people within my own congregation.

But I want to take away your handguns.  And I want to take away your assault rifles.  And I want to take away your high capacity clips*.  And I want to take away your ability to sell your guns to anyone you want.

I do; I have to be honest, I do.  And there are reasons.

The number one reason is because I’m about to have a baby. And in 2012 we had over 500 homicides in Chicago.  In the past month alone we’ve had half a dozen shootings in my neighborhood, most before 10pm.

I walk to Starbucks before 10pm.  I walk to the gym before 10pm.  I walk to the 7-11 before 10pm.  And when we have a baby, we’ll walk with the baby.

And I want your guns gone because I want my baby to live, along with everyone else who wants an ice cream fix at 9pm.

And I know there are gun safety classes.  And I know there are locks for gun cases, and safe handling procedures.

I get that.  But I also get that we could offer tank-driving courses…it doesn’t mean I’d like for just anyone to be able to buy a tank.

And I understand that we’re having a discussion about rights, and about ownership, and about the freedom to do what one pleases.

But my baby has a right to live.  So does yours. They have a right to walk down the street.  And I’m not worried about you shooting my baby; that doesn’t worry me.  I’m worried about that other person shooting my baby.  With your gun.

That worries me.

And I have to be honest, I’m not sure how a Christian can interpret Isaiah 2:4 without questioning ownership of weapons that can cause death on a massive scale, which I think we can recognize as war:

God shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.

The prophet is talking about nation rising up against nation; I see that.  But when you live in Uptown…

…or Kenwood…

…or Albany Park…

…or Inglewood…

…or any place you find dividing lines…

…people choose their nation.  War happens.

And they defend their nation.  Sometimes with your gun.

Or when we have people who have an imbalance in their brain, or who have unending despair to the point of delusion, or who become paranoid to the point of insanity, or who are just plain assholes with nothing to lose, they become a nation of one against the world.

And they defend their nation.  Sometimes with your gun.

And despite what the arguments might claim, I cannot conceive of how more guns make us safer.  I want teachers to teach, not to shoot.  I want playground attendants to watch the monkey bars, not scope out targets.

I want tools to fit the situation.  Teachers teach.  Playground attendants monitor the playground.  They fit the situation. A handgun is a tool for only one situation: killing a person.

They’re designed to do that.

And I’m well aware that a hunting rifle can kill, as can a shotgun.  I’m also well aware (because I’ve hunted) of the amount of time it takes to reload, to use, their bulk…

Not the weapon of choice for someone with ill intent.

As a father, as a pastor, as a Christian who takes Isaiah 2:4 seriously, I don’t want to let you keep your gun.  I’m sorry.  I really do sympathize.  Freedom is important, we must be a free people.

But my baby must be free to live.

And I know this problem is bigger than you having a gun.  It’s about mental health support, and about poverty, and about wellness.

It’s about the fact that we teach violence.  As Isaiah says, “we shall study war no more…” except funding for cancer research by the government versus military spending was roughly 5 billion to 144 billion in 2008.

So please, stop saying we’re a Christian nation.  When this statistic changes we can talk about that claim…

We teach violence with our pocketbooks.  We call it defense, but it is violence.  And I’m not saying we don’t need to defend ourselves; what I am saying is that we should call a thing what it is.

Defense spending is paying money to learn war.

And in learning war, we teach war.

And then we wonder why people shoot other people.

And I’m a reluctant Christian at times because I often hear people make the case that somehow the freedom to buy and sell firearms is connected to the freedom that God desires for the nations.

Read Isaiah 2:4.

Yes, yes, I know there are other scriptural examples of God supposedly encouraging nation to rise up against nation.  But the prophets are the conscience of the people, and despite what historic redactors might want you to read, Isaiah speaks a word of honesty.

We must beat our handguns into something else; we must beat much of our defense spending into something else.

And I know you’re reluctant to do it.  But I’m asking you to do it for my child, and your child.  I don’t care if he/she has the right to own a handgun, but I want them to have the right to live, to go to school, to walk down the street without being shot.

We can start unlearning war.  And perhaps a good way to do that is by making the tools for war unavailable to just anyone.

After all, tools should fit the situation…

*Apparently “clips” are different from “magazines” according to responders (see below).  Needless to say, I’ve only hunted with shotguns, and haven’t had to use these items.

I live in Chicago, not Sanford.

And yet, I find myself in Sanford a lot lately.  Not physically, of course.  Just mentally.

I find myself there because, well, the streets of Chicago can be scary, too.  There are times when I’m walking around my neighborhood and I’m looking for the suspicious character…and find myself being the suspicious character in some neighborhoods.

But luckily, I have a tool that counteracts the fear of suspicious characters.  I’m not talking about a gun, a baton, a taser, or some other self-defense tool or technique.

I don’t have those.

I have “The Peace.”

“The Peace” is what I share every Sunday morning at my church, where I go around to shake the hands of people I know, and people I don’t know.  And as I do it, I say, “The peace of God be with you!”  It’s a peace that I extend with my hand.  It’s a peace that I, sometimes, extend with a kiss.

It’s a peace that I extend to everyone.  Everyone there.

And I do it, week after week, first and foremost, to teach myself.  To teach myself how to be the peace, to live in the peace of God, that peace that I’m extending.

Secondarily, I do it to receive the peace of the other person.  To allow myself to be vulnerable to them, to receive their blessing, that we hold to be the tangible blessing of God.

My hope is that in living in this rhythm of intentionally greeting people I don’t know on a weekly basis, I might be shaped and formed into a person who doesn’t fear the stranger, the “other” in front of me.

Some weeks I feel it “takes” better than others.  But I go back, week after week, believing that the process is teaching me a spiritual muscle memory that will pay off.

And why?

Because otherwise we end up worshiping idols.  Like the idol of security.  Security that comes with packing a firearm with you.  And as a good friend said recently, “The idol of false security always demands blood.”

And that’s what we saw in Sanford: the idol of false security taking its blood payment.

But for those of us who profess to be Christian, we have a different model, a different norm that we practice week after week in the liturgy.  The Peace can teach us, if we pay attention, that vulnerability leads to relationship, that openness leads to community.

The Peace can teach us how to act with courage, and not to seek out false security.  Courage, as I see it, is holding the appropriate amount of fear, but stepping forward nonetheless.

If Christians profess the faith of a Christ who is calling the universe toward unity (read Ephesians 1 if you’re wondering what that mystery might look like), then why are we so silent on this issue?  Why are we not lifting up the tools that we have, that we use, that we practice to counteract this issue?!

I think we are inactive, and largely silent, because we fail to take The Peace seriously.  We don’t reflect on the liturgy anymore; it’s simply the bridge between the sermon and communion.

That, or worse, it’s a time to greet our friends. Exclusively.

But what if that time, in every community, could be a time when we actively counteract the violence around us?  Where we reach out to the other not with a sword (or gun), but with an open hand?

Of course it appears as if other things muddy these particular waters.  Racial tensions are very present (and very real).  Policies and laws that glorify the individual rather than the community provide for troubling legal escapes.  But the fact remains that the church has a wealth of knowledge in the communal practice of our liturgical gathering to speak about this issue, and even those that muddy the waters!

Where is that voice?

This is one of the reasons that I’m a reluctant Christian.  We’ve become so numb to our own worship practices that we can’t see them as tools for daily living.  We might as well get in line at at our local chain coffee shop, put in our ipods (and, isn’t it funny that all of those products begin with “i”…we’ve stripped the community out of everything), and never greet those around us.

What does it mean to participate in a meal where all are invited forward and none leave without something?  What does it mean to bathe a person in the waters of grace and tell them, definitively, that we affirm their existence as a child of God?  What does it mean to weekly greet people we do not know, to welcome them into our personal space without asking them for something?  What does it mean to sing corporately songs of longing, songs of peace, songs of lament, shunning our ipods, iphones, i-gadgets for just a while?

You’d think such practices, if internalized, could be life changing.

Or, in this case, life-saving.

We have tools for this.  We’ve just forgotten how to use them.