Friday, April 18, 2014

From Noon to Three

Today is Good Friday on the Western Christian calendar. Our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters will celebrate the same in a few days.

After the show trials before religious and secular authorities, the beatings by soldiers who will gamble for his garment and the ravings of a rent-a-crowd, Jesus of Nazareth in crucified between two criminals on a small hill outside the walls of Jerusalem.

Even in his death his detractors dare him to perform miracles to save himself while his followers either scatter in fear or watch in incredulity and sorrow as he experiences unspeakable agony.

While suffering, Jesus asks his Father to forgive the perpetrators of this heinous crime and finds time to offer absolution to a repentant thief.

From noon to three, a veil of darkness shrouds the scene as the One called the King of the Jews endures unutterable agony and alienation, the bearing the pain and penalty, alienation from God and humankind, and, in the end, a peace as he declares, "It is finished!"

What just happened?

According to the earliest Christian confessions in both the New Testament and first-centur literature, Jesus died for the sins of the world, bearing the judgment of God for humankind's rebellion. Jesus is both the sinless representative and atoning substitute of guilty humanity. In his death is satisfaction of divine justice and the expression of unconditional love. His death bears all the deserved and undeserved suffering of humankind, from Adam to the Apocalypse. In his cry of, "Why?" are all the unanswered questions of our circumstances. And in his words of comfort to the humble thief are the seeds of hope as we already glimpse that death itself is defeated in the death of Jesus. And when Jesus declares, "it is finished" and "into you hands I commit my spirit" we see the triumph of hope over despair, mercy over wrath and love over all.

From noon to three the world is reconciled, an amnesty offered a race of rebels as uncompromising holiness and unconditional love embrace on a wooden stake. These hours do not explain evil - the Cross defeats its. These hours do not remove us from challenges - they offer strength to endure, knowing that Easter Sunday is coming.

This is the Good News of Good Friday, the cruciform heart of the Christian faith. All the "red letters" - the words and works of Jesus of Nazareth - are proclaimed and performed with this moment in mind. From Advent to Trinity, from a babe in the creche to a man on a Cross, all of the divine search for lost humankind culminates in this moment of passionate embrace.

May we receive this love once again...and share it across the street and around the world with boldness, humility and wisdom.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

It's Complicated

The Ukraine and Russian imperial aims.
Syria: who are the "good" and "bad" guys?
Israel and a two-state solution: Is "recognition" of Israel necessary?
Immigration: cheap labor or cheap votes?
Welfare and food stamps: who "deserves" help?
"Affordable" Health Care: someone pays.
Immigration: How do we remain hospitable and make citizenship and the rule of law meaningful?
What moral values will we enforce in a civil society?
Religious convictions and conversions: are affirmations of truth now "intolerance?"

It's complicated being thoughtful.

It's easy to shout and smear.

For our future I hope civil and principled discussion will take place and reasonable ideas prevail.

The alternative is anarchy and new totalitarianism.

Let's choose thoughtfulness.

Monday, February 24, 2014

One Moment Changes the World

One moment can change the world. Billions of human decisions are made every day across the globe. On the surface, most are innocuous or mundane, from changing a diaper to going to work. Sometimes they are history-altering, such as protests in the Ukraine or stock market crashes or rallies.

Sometimes unforeseen changes begins with a simple decision. St. Francis begins to rebuild an church one brick at a time...and a movement still vibrating begins. John Wycliffe begins translating the Bible into English and now billions can read the Scriptures in their own tongues. Bartolomeo de las Casas protests slavery and the long road to Emancipation begins. William Wilberforce stays in politics and fights for the end of slavery and scores of other causes for 50 years.

The challenges of the USA compel action, but voices of change are quickly drowned out in a sea of agitprop polemics. The current levels of hypocrisy and self-deception, short-term thinking and political manipulation are unprecedented in our history. It is not only the elites that are to blame. Millions of people are consciously or unconsciously capitulating to a fatalism of inaction. The gulf between professed principles and actual practices in widening daily. Consider:

  • "Everyone" loves the concept of a balanced budget. But no one will even begin with small cuts in over bloated salaries.
  • Immigration should be guided by law, but anyone supporting a modicum of regulation is a racist or xenophobe.
  • Millions are looking for work, but unwilling to labor in fields or service jobs.
  • Leaders decry the influence of lobbyists, then join their ranks as they depart "public service."
  • Amoral anarchy is lamented as millions quietly engage in vicarious games and entertainment venues.
  • Tobacco is social evil number one...but billions of tax dollars flow from its consumption and we are making a worse mistake with "medical" marijuana. 
  • We advocate a healthy lifestyle, then pass out condoms to middle-school kids and offer "4th meal" fried food at midnight (to all the consumers of "medical marijuana.")
Lamenting these and other evils, from abortion to divorce, redefinitions of marriage and family, educational outcomes and government intrusions into religion is easy - changing minds, hearts and wills in not.

Cries for spiritual awakening are the best start...and may they grow in intensity and sincerity.

Calls for activism and voting are helpful.

Maybe there is one more step...or millions of steps...that can propel lasting change. Perhaps each of us can have one moment that changes the world.

Our one moment arrives unexpectedly. It is veiled in other apparently "normal" decisions. Our moment dawns as we decide each day to love God supremely, love our neighbors unselfishly through our work and demonstrate in deed and declaration the veracity of the first principles that make for a flourishing life and society. If millions of "ordinary" people embark on a devoted and disciplined pathway of reverence for God, respect for all people, rigorous self-examination and right practices in their private and public life, the world will change. 

Some may emerge as leaders, even historic figures. Others will be agents of change one relationship at a time. Instead of continual lamentation, let's ceaselessly labor for the common good. Instead of captivity to edutainment, let's learn the proven pathways that yield prosperity for future generations. Instead of immediate pleasure, let's infuse principles that allow the next generation to flourish.

One moment changes the world - it is our decision today.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Flip the Switch: Transforming Today

2014 begins with freezing temperatures across the USA, destabilizing governments in the Middle East, mixed economic news, a gridlocked federal government, and the normal hostility of elites toward any semblance of morality and common sense. In other words, just another day in our beautiful and broken world. 

Globally and nationally the cry of the populace is simple, "We need jobs!" The desire for meaningful, sustainable work is woven in to the fabric of Creation and found in every person of conscience. In spite of stock market gains and an explosion of billionaires, most of the nation and world are not feeling hopeful. this concerns offset somewhat as we discover that abject poverty is declining at a rapid rate and millions of new enterprises are beginning every day. 

The polarized political rhetoric and the simplistic thinking of the chattering classes Left and Right is not helpful in making this next year better. It is not enough to say, "more government 'investment' [read here more jobs for bureaucrats]!" or "the magic of the market" [forgetting that the rule of law, access to markets and personal virtue and property rights are necessary conditions for flourishing]."

As politicians maneuver for reelection, I propose a more radical approach to our future. No, it is not a bumper-sticker or a million-person march or even an Internet petition. Let's start a revolution of humility and service through our everyday activity. Let's "flip the switch" in our hearts and minds and recast our work - whether paid or unpaid, public or private - as humble service to God and for the common good. 

I am not suggesting an idealistic vision that avoids the drudgery and sweat of daily labor. What I am saying is that all moral and meaningful work at its core is service and when we think this way, there is more energy and wisdom that when we just do it for the paycheck. We should agitate for safe conditions and access to markets. We must uphold personal virtue and the rule of law against amorality and anarchy. We can resist the tyranny of encroaching government by exceeding standards of conduct and creation-care. 

Every company is serving the common good when they supply good jobs. Every clerk makes a difference in serving customers that contribute their resources to the economy. Volunteers sustain our communities as they offer care and services that help people thrive, from coaches to rest homes visitation. 

For people of faith, daily work is worship, as all domains are viewed  as doxological offerings to the Lord. For people of all faiths or none, an ethos of humility and service dignifies and empowers each person and helps erode the class divisions that arrogant elites and envious masses resent so much.

Let's transform today from the inside out. Let's offer each person we meet love and respect. Let's give our bosses and full day's work and our employees the resources they need for flourishing. Together we can transcend the pundits' polemics and make our world better one decision at a time.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving Peace

Thanksgiving feasts are as old as humankind's agricultural bounty. They are found in every culture. Gratitude for another yeast's food engenders humility before the Almighty and compassion for the less fortunate. The 1621 Pilgrim feast is regarded as the first Thanksgiving Day in American history, though Floridians in St Augustine (founded in the 1560s) and Virginians in Jamestown (1609) claim celebratory moments antedating the survivors of the Mayflower crossing.

The 1621 feast was the culmination of a series of miracles sustaining the fledgling colony. From sheer survival (half the colony died during the winter of 1620-1621 spent aboard the ship) to the encounter with the English-speaking Squanto, the Pilgrim's were truly the recipients of many Providential blessings.

A forgotten part of the Thanksgiving legacy is the half-century of peace enjoyed by the Pilgrims and their Native American neighbors. So many of the narratives of the Americas after 1492 are filled with conquests, displacements and disease. It is refreshing and instructive to see Europeans and Amerindian communities enjoying positive relations. The Pilgrims owed their survival to the helpfulness of Squanto and others. The Pilgrims experiences of marginalization and persecution no doubt influenced their policies of respect and toleration.

As we enjoy the bounty of our tables and televisions, let's pause for a moment and thank the Lord for abundance and the relative peace and stability our nation enjoys. When virtue and mutual respect guide relationships, there is peace and property for all.