Monthly Archives: May 2016

Learn War no More: A Memorial Day Prayer

My attempt to put words to prayer this Sunday of Memorial Day weekend… we do not honor war, we do honor those who lost their lives to end it.
God of incarnate love and mystery beyond knowing. God of chaos and order. God of creative cooperation and of unrequited shalom.

From the beginning you have bounded a space for us between seas and skies in which life may prosper and we may thrive. You built a garden wholeness, righteousness, and justice. And called on us to live within it in balance and harmony to all of creation. A land where tools are for tilling and gathering in.
And yet we make tools for killing and separating out.
As early as the first family of your world we have struggled with common life together. We are quick to see advantage and threat. We are quick to claim uniqueness and individuality and in such a worldview we are threat to one another – and your kingdom far too accepting of that which we compete against.
And so we know strife… and contest… and war…. All too well.
In the murkiness of our distorted vision we yet endeavor to create a land which knows life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We yet endeavor to extend that hospitality, generosity, and wholeness to all people of all lands, and of all ways. That we fall short does not mean that we fail… it means that have yet more work to do – yet more knowledge of grace and love to learn – yet more transforming of our minds to abide in the interwoven web of all life with peace and harmony.
In the meantime God, we are grateful for the people who rise to walk the murky in-between times where chaos and order go to war. We are grateful for those willing to put themselves in harm’s way in the past, the present, and the future. We are grateful for those who have taken up arms, inhabited trenches, walked wildernesses unknown, and entered the chaos of contested spaces to seek to hold back the tides of war. We are grateful for those who gave their lives in service to the welfare of others and the common good of all people. In a world in which we do not seek war… but in which war finds us, we stop to honor those who drawn a line in sand and bound the seas saying, “here you shall not pass.”
God in unclean lines of daily lives we stop to acknowledge as well that we are at war with ourselves. We see schools become front lines in our dysfunctional relationship with violence. We find officers of peace become targets of blood lust. We find systems of order become sin-ridden ways to separate, demean, and keep your waters of justice from flowing. We turn our inner rage on one another using tactics of abuse and dominance to win a sick sense of personal worth. Our self-righteousness expresses itself in a need to force the other into our way and justify ourselves by demeaning and destroying when conversion is unsuccessful. In a world convinced that the strong survive and the weak may be trampled underfoot… violence becomes, it is, the order of the day.
We confess our own complicitness… and our acceptance of the inevitability, or even, necessity of this way – it is not of you God… it in not in your calling on our lives. It is not as we were created to be. We aspire more to be Cain… than Christ.
And so we give thanks for soldiers and politicians, police officers, and legislators, activits and every day citizens who seek not to be conformed to this way… but to make a new way in the wilderness of our own making. Prophets who speak to power, and power that seeks to build up the down-trodden, tear down walls, and relieve hostility. We are grateful for those who tear down the systems of sin to seek once more a place for the mixing of the nations – a mixing of the creations of the Earth big and small and as diverse as the stars to come together in mutual love and respect where none is Lord but you… Guide us in that way once more, o Christ who confronted power from the cross, and death with resurrection, and hate with forgiveness, and self-righteousness with self-emptying mutuality, in your name we pray – and in your way we seek to walk, this day and forever more, Amen.

Using the Right Words

“That’s just stupid.”  “You’re so ignorant!”

I have seen an increase in what I consider a disturbing trend, and to be fair I fall prey to it myself – I have no moral high horse to sit on here.  The trend is the equation of intelligence with moral character.  More accurately… that intelligent people agree with me about the correct way for society to order our common life, and dumb/stupid/ignorant people do not.

Outside of a defensive, “I don’t do that,” or a knee jerk response of, “but they are stupid!,” the first response that  I expect many people might have is to say, “why does that matter.”  I’m simply venting my disagreement with the way they are thinking and acting by attaching to it a derogatory statement of their mental processing of life (in this, their intelligence).  Well…. I think it matters because words matter.  Our words shape our reality, they are framework through which we engage and respond to life.

And particularly, how we name a problem alters how we address its solution.

Many of the times we fail to fix societal ills it is because we incorrectly diagnose the problems.  Misdiagnosis leads to bad treatment… EVERY TIME!  You have to ask the right questions to get helpful answers.  Words matter.

When we have a conflict of moral and ethical responses, when we have a conflict of world views… the cause has little (or nothing) to do with intelligence.  We would all like to believe 1) that we are very intelligent and that 2) all intelligent people will thus come to the same conclusions as I do.  But this just isn’t true.  Intelligent people are capable of using that tool for good or ill.  And people who are less intelligent are just as capable of transforming the world with great good.  It is a particular skill (tool) which doesn’t determine how it will be used.

I had the opportunity recently to listen to a couple of people in state government speak about their faith as it applies to their work in government.  They were all brilliant people. They did not agree with me… or even with each other.  Similar faith claims… similar intellect and educational levels… vastly different views of how to get “good” results for the common welfare of all people.  And this is before we even talk about folk who don’t even share “common good” as a goal.  I know brilliant people who selfish and manipulative.  There is nothing inherently good about intelligence… or even education.  We are misnaming the problem!  And in so far as we do that, we aren’t going to come up with any worthwhile solutions.

I consider myself an intelligent person.  I have a pretty excellent education (which has as much to do with societal advantages and my parents as anything about my intelligence).  And I prize both of those things… probably too much.  But when I think of my kids, while I hope that for them as well, these are not my top priorities.  More than anything else I wish to raise kids of strong moral fiber with a love of neighbor.  That doesn’t come with an IQ rating… or get taught in a book.  And if I think it does?  I’m pretty likely to fail in my goal.

And if we want to seek consensus building and shared goals and tactics towards that goals, we won’t get there in demeaning others, imagining that only dumb people disagree with us, and that all intelligence is used for (my) good.

So maybe we can all agree to go beyond the playground insults.  (And I do mean ALL because this seems to be a universal challenge on all sides of the equation.) And start taking a bit more care with our words… that we might take better care of each other.

Go to Hell!

Jesus descended into hell… this, for me, is the most radical theological statement the church makes, and the best good news for us all.

Hell, really more than a place (but even as a place) is the state of those for whom God does not exist – it is a place outside of the presence of God (of life and of love). On the cross God becomes God forsaken. Jesus, forsaken by God, dies and is “cast” into hell – into the land of those forsaken by God and denied the presence of God.

And yet… incarnational theology is almost always all about the yet, and this yet is that Jesus is God. God has landed in the land of God-forsaken by God’s own act, and when this happens what we learn is that there is no place now, no where, no when, no being or state of being or place of being or personhood of being that is denied God! The very place defined by God’s absence has found God right in the middle of it.

What better statement do we have than this: hell is the abode of God!

And what better theological litmus test do we have than this: if your statement doesn’t make sense coming from the mouth of the God who makes hell a dwelling place of incarnate love… well, you are on the wrong track.

He descended into hell. Thanks be to God.


postscript: this isn’t my first such post, like I said, it’s important to claim.  If you want a lengthier and older and maybe less direct thought process on the subject of “he descended into hell” you can find more thoughts of mine here: