Archive for the ‘Righteousness & Justice’ Category

Star Trek, Tikkun Olam, & Tending a Christian Positive Vision

July 16, 2016

leonard-mccoy-leonard-bones-mccoy-6347756-500-379This summer I began watching Star Trek. It started as a Netflix nightcap. I’m not nor have I been a Trekkie. Therefore, I humbly request grace from the Trek Nation. To parody Bones, “I’m a theologian not a astrosciencefictionist!”

Over the past couple years I am disheartened as I read the news feeds or watch the summer blockbusters. The movies are dystopian operas of adolescent angst out to purge some empire. The fiction feed reality as the populace arise in violent protest against whatever imperial aggression a various group is targeting. At night then, Star Trek offers sanctuary to explore new worlds of aliens that remind us being humane is supposed to be a human trait.

Star Trek, as I understand it, takes place in the future where society has improved. Basic needs are met for everyone. Earth is united, and the Enterprise’s mission is to seek new lands and cultures for curiosity rather than domination. This is a Edenic society for men and women of any color, creed, nationality, race, religion, and proclivity.

uhura_chekovOf course, when the original series aired it was the antithesis of 1966. The world was embroiled in a cold war (but Chekov was a navigator on the bridge of the Enterprise). It was the time of the National Organization for Women and the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Yet, before there were female astronauts or military officers in the USA, Star Trek’s Chief Communications Officer Uhura was a black woman. President Kennedy had been assassinated a couple years earlier, we were at war in Vietnam and protesters of various kinds marched the US streets.

It was written by Gene Roddenberry, a bomber pilot and police officer, who gave us a world where arguments were solved with words rather than wars. Star Trek gave us something better, a utopia to look towards. It was a reminder we are better than this and should strive to be better than this.

Our current trajectory mirrors the late 60’s/early 70’s with Russian conflicts, American rights under scrutiny, and a bogged down war in Asia. The world needs a new Star Trek conscience. We the church should write the script. The church has this future utopian society to share. I am worried sometimes we read the prophecies and focus less on the desert blooming and more on the destruction looming. Roddenberry said, “Star Trek speaks to some basic human needs: that there is a tomorrow.”

tikkun-olamThere is a Jewish saying called, “Tikkun Olam” translated as “Repairing the World.” From Genesis our first commands are protection and cultivation of the whole planet. Israel was a culture-busting nation. What other nation provides cities of refuge for the accused to have a fair trial for instance? Let us tone down the rhetoric and work to repair the world, to provide a vision of the utopia to be had, where the Joel 2 prophecy of male and female, slave and free, is as obvious in reality as it is on the fictional Enterprise bridge.

Mother’s Day in Church: Healthy or Harmful?

May 7, 2016

This weekend we celebrate mothers on a national scale. It began with the intent of bringing healing and has led to silent hurt. For churches it is one of the most quietly painful Sundays. While I believe we ought to embrace and thank our own mother I question how many people suffer silently on this celebrated Sunday?

ann-reeves-jarvis-program-cover-wvrhcLet me begin with its history. Anna Reeves Jarvis in the mid-1800’s organized a “Mother’s Work Day” to gain awareness and bring together mothers who lost children from both sides of the Civil War in order to care for the poor health and sanitary conditions.

After her death, her daughter, Anna Jarvis, sought to create a national, “Mother’s Day.” Following its commercialization, she lobbied for its abolishment saying, “I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit.” She even opposed greeting cards saying it was, “a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write.” Ms. Jarvis died in 1948 blind and poor, never having children of her own.

The holiday we celebrate today has become quite distant from its original intent. If ever there was a time for a holiday to unite the country it would be now. A holiday created to bring grieving mothers to the aid of the less fortunate in their communities; to have a movement of wounded healers, that would be something.

sculpture2_645_469_55On Mother’s Day Sunday I stand in the pulpit and see a different scene than the one promoted in commercials. I see the hurting more than the healing. I see the daughter who still grieves her mom who died too early. I see the empty seats of the lovely woman and her husband who went through many failed pregnancies and the mother of a stillborn who couldn’t find the strength to attend worship today. I see the women who never married, the woman who had to give up her child, the one who had an abortion, and the one who outlived her teen son.

Let us be thoughtful when honoring women for one aspect of womanhood that we do not do greater harm in the church. As I read my Bible I see many strong faithful women who struggled with motherhood for years. Their seats may have been empty tomorrow had they lived in our generation. I see faithful women like Hannah and Elizabeth who were barren for years, Naomi who lost her husband and two sons and her adopted daughter Ruth who lost her husband after 10 childless years. Remember Mary, a pregnant teen due to unusual circumstances. And so the list goes. I wonder how a similar woman feels on Sunday when she gets a consolation door prize though not a mother. This a holiday was meant to bring hurting moms and young widows together and to encourage us to remember our own mothers before they are gone. So let us honor your mother but quietly and not at the expense of other faithful childless women.

Innovation needs Righteousness

November 7, 2015

I find it interesting that the Bible records two men named Lamech who have inspiring, imaginative, and innovative children. One son, Jabal, began the first communities and commerce by creating settlements and domesticating herds. His brother Jubal gave us culture by inventing musical instruments. Their other brother Tubal-cain gave us technology with the process for creating bronze. At the same time there was another Lamech whose son was a farmer. His only other description was that he was a righteous man. And only that son, Noah, was saved through the flood. I see the pattern reemerging with the new innovators and inspirational people disassociated with and ridiculing the righteous.

When Israel first became a nation their neighbors had far more advanced metallurgy. The Philistines had moved from bronze to iron unlike the Israelites. Only two people had these new and improved swords – King Saul and his son Jonathan. After David and his band of righteous men lived among the Philistines they were able to acquire the new smithing technology. David may have started with sling and stone but reigned with iron in his fist.

Technology and innovation are not bad but they are best used in tandem with righteousness. Did you know that hospitals in the West began because of Christians taking care of the discarded sick along the roads of the Roman Empire? The arts and culture appeared on the walls and ceilings, and in the music-filled halls of the churches before museums and theaters were created. New technology and the first major use of print media empowered the Reformation under people like Martin Luther and the printing press. Public education began in the 1780’s as an ecumenical movement to create what they dubbed Sunday Schools where children for the first time could learn reading, writing, arithmetic, and biblical comprehension no matter their economic status. Before foster care and nursing homes there were church-funded orphanages and convalescence homes. All of these were publically funded by generous donations and not underwritten by the government.

Some people say that the culture of America started to decline the moment prayer was taken out of school. I think it was earlier than that. It was when the church allowed all of these institutions to be run apart from the church. Our local schools are suffering because of an impasse on the state budget. Healthcare is extraordinarily expensive now that the government is managing it. Hospitals are ending chaplaincies. The red tape for honorable foster parents is both headache and heartache. The media even attacks Christians suggesting that just by being religious disqualifies one for even the office of the president.

Genesis reminds us that a nation filled with community, commerce, culture, and technology apart from God is no match for the Flood. I believe we are called to be innovators and simultaneously proclaim our righteousness through our work. Join me in reclaiming our part in the public to create a just society based firstly on Christian compassion.

Don’t Just Let the Rocks Cry Out

October 10, 2015

Recently two public displays of the Ten Commandments have been removed from the public square. One located in Connellsville, PA, the other in Oklahoma. Both were removed because the defendants would not justify the cost of the lawsuit, acquiescing to the better-funded minority voice. These are part of a larger trend to distance Judeo-Christian ethical influences on society.

The Decalogue expresses the central tenets of civility. It identifies the universal truths of the selfishness of mankind and provides the guidelines for a better society. The world needs to be reminded of dignity, courtesy, honor, and respect for all life.

The Commandments are not laws but they are the principle themes from which law is derived. Let me enumerate briefly the base values of civil law from a non-religious reading of these stones.

It begins with the principle of deference. Each person must not be self-serving. We must submit to an ideal beyond ourselves (for Christians that is the Trinitarian God). Where Maslow says our greatest need is self-actualization, we say a just society begins with self-sacrifice.

Idols are forbidden which speaks to the heart of how we bond in our society. We have a need to set up false securities, create propaganda, and feel the illusion of control. Idols are used to manipulate powers to work on our behalf. We must accept that we cannot control as much as we desire.

The overuse of the divine name causes devaluation. The proliferation of anything causes desensitization. Desensitizing increases apathy. The more we see the less it impacts us for change. Just take the 24-hour news cycle, or violent shows and games for examples.

Sabbath demands we value all our resources. It speaks of earthly ecology humane treatment of organisms and dignity towards all persons. It expects us to work, to be compensated and to not be enslaved.

Honor and respect of parents, elders, and leaders (who are most likely appointed over us rather than chosen by us) is another central tenet in need of reinforcement by our society.

The preservation of life in any known stage of development or regression is expressed in the term murder. It is the proactive stance to aid, sustain, and nourish persons whether family, friend, or foe.

Adultery and stealing cover the rights of an individual and their property from physical or psychological abuses.

Lying sets the fundamental principle of truth. And coveting says our problems are primarily internal mindsets over external actions. Greed allows us to read the facts in our own way and use a version of the truth to expedite our own agenda.

But now we cannot rely on these stones to persuade society. The stones have been rolled away. Good. Instead of relying on silent stones the Church must enter the public forums and proclaim them loudly by our belief in action. It is our responsibility. Don’t let the rocks cry out for us. Be the Church acting out our faith in the public forum to change, challenge, and christen the culture.

Supermarket Righteousness

July 3, 2012

Sometimes we Christians make righteousness a theological state of mind rather than a practice of our faith. I once heard Bruce Waltke state that “righteousness is disadvantaging yourself in order to advantage others.” I think that is one aspect that ought to be explored in, say, supermarket etiquette. Does righteousness exist in your trip to the store? Righteousness is how you respond to the situations that present themselves in public and in public places when nobody is watching.

Take for instance those pesky shopping carts in the parking lot. How does one express righteousness with a shopping cart? Pretty easily. I remember when we used to have to bring the cart back to the store when we were through with it. Many people would just leave them strewn across the parking lot. Now we have cart corrals. I feel for all those youngsters sent out into the weather to retrieve those carts because for some reason we shoppers cannot seem to place them in the corrals in a decent and orderly manner. They are all in disarray making it more difficult for others to place their carts in the corral and sometimes they get stuck up on each other because of how we carelessly leave the front portion open. We are in a hurry, we know someone else is paid for that job, so we are quick to leave it a mess. How Christian! Aren’t we supposed to leave the world better than we found it? Are we not called to ease the work of others, not add to it? Yes, it will take you 10 more precious seconds. No, you will not get any thanks, and the workers will seldom see you do it. But God is watching how you live out your righteousness. Place the cart in the corral stacking them as intended – you may even need to move a couple other carts to line them up appropriately. That small act of kindness, of taking time to be nice is the mark of righteousness. Yup, you are disadvantaged, you receive no pay, no thanks, and you have to spend more time at the cart corral. But the advantage you give to others, to the young employee trying to make a living pushing shopping carts, to the motorists trying to dodge the overflowing cart bins, to the next person to place their cart in the corral… if you can be a righteous cart-caretaker then when you find yourself in the middle of the big righteous decisions of life, you will have the advantage.

Now, after you tackle the carts, just think of all the ways righteousness presents itself on the shelves and floors of the supermarket. This is your cathedral of holiness. Misplaced items, dropped change, that one bag of groceries left in your pile from the person before you, fallen displays (even if you didn’t do it), and that nagging sign that says, “20 items or less” or “cash only.” Yup. Having a theory of righteousness and no practice of it leaves you with bupkis. Christ died so you could live – so live out your Christianity quietly in public. Who knows who might be watching a few aisles down… or a few clouds above…

Blessing You, Blessing the World (Jeremiah 4:2)

October 5, 2010

Oh Lord, You call me to throw away the things I put first before You. Boy, that’s hard. Sometimes I think maybe I can just do the things I placed before you a little less, but you say, for me, I should throw it out. Ditch the idol, not, spend less time with the idol. Help me to let go fully and give You all of me.

Your word today through Jeremiah is that blessing You is found by being a blessing in the world. If I turn from my idols, swear allegiance to Jesus and live these three things out: truth, justice and righteousness, that not only would I be blessing and worshipping you, but I would be evangelizing. “As surely as the Lord lives, you could do… truth, justice, and righteousness. Then you would be a blessing to the nations of the world and all people would come and praise My name.” (Jeremiah 4:2) If I am truthful, work for justice and live in all ways righteous then I am an evangelist. It isn’t rocket science, it’s righteousness. Oh, Lord, but I think doing truth, justice and righteous can be harmful and difficult for me! Help me to take the blows like a running-back and push forward to honor You and make Your name known by my actions in truth, justice and righteousness. Amen.

Righteousness and Justice from Genesis

July 2, 2008

As I continue to unravel the concept that God is looking for those who live out righteousness and justice I found a connection to the very first family of God. The first sin was against God, a breakdown in righteousness. And their children saw a breakdown in justice as Cain overcame Abel. From the very first pages, the pleasing of God was found in righteousness and justice and the judgment of God came to those who broke these very foundations. In order to continue to be close to God requires righteousness and justice and the punishment in each case for rebellion against living right and just lives was exile; exile from the garden and exile into the land of wandering (Nod). May righteousness and justice overpower our decisions that we may glorify God and thus enjoy His presence forever.

Righteousness and Justice – God’s Plum and Level

June 23, 2008

Throughout the Scriptures the people of God, from the servant to the king are measured by their righteousness and justice. These are God’s measuring systems as illustrated in 2 Kings 21:31, “I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab.” And Isaiah picks up the theme in 28:17, “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line.”

RIghteousness is sacrifice in order to lift up another whereas justice is restoring righteousness when it has been put down. The Divine Plum Line checks our motives and our virtical relationship with our Lord who has called us to act as He has revealed Himself, the father to orphans, widows, aliens and the disadvantaged. The Divine Level checks our horizontal relationship with our fellowman, doing our part to put right what once went wrong.

Over and over again Scripture places these two words together, righteousness and justice. Psalm 9:8 says that the Lord, “HE will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice.” Isaiah says in 9:7 that the Coming Messiah will reign in the coming kingdom, “establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”

The book of Proverbs says that the Fear of the Lord is found in doing what is right, just and fair (1:2-7). 21:3 that “to do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” and in 22:21 that “He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.” To have wealth, honor and life 23:4 says we must be people of humility which is equated with the Fear of the Lord. In sum, if we are willing to do righteousness and justice, to humble ourselves before God and man we will find life (even if it costs us our own on earth) true prosperity (even if we are poorer because of investing in the lives of others who cannot repay our kindness) and honor before the Lord.

Let us live as if we are being checked to see if we live straight and level lives before our God who keeps accounts. Let us live in righteousness and justice.

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