I recently sat with two older men who have called the Key Peninsula home for many decades.
Now Is the Time
Time has a funny way about it. Moment by moment, it slips quietly by. Seasons and holidays return, whether we are ready for them or not.
The ancient Greeks used two words to describe time. Chronos referred to seconds passing into minutes into hours and into days, summer giving way to fall and winter, November passing into December. Chronos is the way we grow older, time and this world flowing past us like water through a riverbed.
Their other word for time was kairos. Kairos describes the important moments that happen, the day or season in which something of great significance is occurring.
In chronos, Dec. 7, 1941, was 24 hours long. In kairos, that day shattered and reordered the entire world. It lasted until World War II was over. We could say it still carries on, the standard by which all disasters are now measured.
Nov. 8, Election Day, only lasted 24 hours. But it was a kairos moment, a day that America seemed to convulse and quake. Repercussions of that day’s events will last for generations to come, for good or for bad.
The days before the election indicated that our country was divided, and the response proved it. Some woke up elated and hopeful; others awoke angry and fearful.
People are hurting. Our country is angry. Some protests have become violent, but so too have some people used Mr. Trump’s victory as an excuse to engage in religiously, racially and sexually motivated attacks on our population. The early days of the transition process don’t portend well for our country’s future.
In a few weeks, Christians across the country will celebrate another kairos moment, the coming of God to Earth in the form of a baby named Jesus. Christmas may include singing and laughing and feasting and presents, but it is ultimately about a refugee family fleeing from government tyranny and about God entering human existence in an act of sacrificial love.
The Sunday after the election, I stood in front of the Lakebay Church congregation and said we have one calling in life: the work of reconciliation. I told them that our model is the story of Jesus, who left behind power and privilege to identify with the poor and the powerless; who, from love, sought out his enemies and called them to peace.
This is a kairos moment. The world needs reconcilers, people who will listen before judging, forgive when wronged, and seek the good of others before acting out of self-preservation. We need men and women who will partner with suffering people to stand against systems and structures that dehumanize and crush hopes and dreams, be they rural farmers or those caught in urban squalor.
Will you join in the voices of destruction, bigotry and divisiveness? Or will you join us in the hard work of peacemaking and reconciliation?
On behalf of the Key Peninsula ministers, I pray that the light of Christmas drives away the darkness in our lives. May we all be peacemakers, wherever we find ourselves.
It’s Time to Grow Up, America
We’ve become the equivalent of a middle school playground.
Violence changes us. It drills into our hearts with anxiety and fear.
Reflections on a Decade
During a recent renovation project at the Lakebay Church, I pulled a painting off the wall. I was surprised to discover an inscription on the back.
“Presented to Lakebay Church Dec. 24, 1944 By ‘Victory Class.’” Underneath were listed 18 names. The importance of the date couldn’t be missed. Christmas 1944, in the heart of World War II. The name “Victory Class” carried multiple meanings in that context.
A few days later my neighbor Dale stopped in. He’s a KP native, born and raised here, so I showed him what I’d found. A smile crept across his face. “Yes,” he said, “I knew all these people. They were a bit older, but I knew them.” He pointed out names on the list: “This one went to the Air Force. This one still lives here. I played with her when we were kids.” Dale knew all of them, and, through him, I heard their stories.
I was reminded of a line from the Book of Hebrews. The author lists men and women who remained committed to their call in spite of turmoil and pain. He calls them “a great cloud of witnesses” who surround us, challenging present readers to run the race faithfully to the end.
It is to our detriment that we have lost a recognition that we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before, and that we are leaving a world to those who come after us. In our pursuit of the Next New Thing, we scorn the past as hopelessly backward. In our pursuit of profit and pleasure, we are creating a frightening legacy for earth’s inhabitants 100 years from now.
In his book “The Moral Imagination,” John Paul Lederach notes that “… meaning, identity, and story are linked through narrative, which connects the remote past of who we are with the remote future of how we will survive in the context of an expansive present where we share space and relationship.”
A healthy identity is grounded in a strong sense of our past, connecting us together as we share this life together, pointing us toward creating something for those who will follow us. Embrace the past to know who you are today. Know that, someday, we will all be the ancestors of future generations. What are we leaving them?
One of my great privileges is sharing breakfast with the old guys at The Homeport. They always have good stories to tell. They talk of the Key Peninsula in the old days, of serving in Vietnam or Korea; they talk about surviving divorces and the death of loved ones. They remind me that people have walked this way before, and survived. They also remind me that I’ll be the old codger someday.
That painting is still in my office. I read the inscription almost every day to remind myself that I am not alone. I share this journey with all humanity –– those long gone, and those yet to come.
I pray that future generations will be thankful for the legacy we leave.
My friend’s son passed away last spring. He was a young man, whose life was taken by cancer far too soon.
My friend texted me a picture from his son’s memorial service. In the picture, friends and family sit smiling in their church pews, each holding a shiny, white helium balloon at the end of a silver string. It was, according to my friend, not so much a funeral as a party.
The next day I stood in front of the people at the Lakebay Church and told them, “Death thinks it has power. The grave thinks it has the final say, but we have balloons. We win.”
I was reminded of that picture in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Paris. We all watched in horror as violence and destruction rocked the City of Light; we mourned with the French people, if even from a distance.
Within a few days, the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published their next edition. The cover showed a dancing man, riddled with bullet holes, holding aloft a bottle and gulping from a glass. The accompanying text said, “They have weapons. . .we have the champagne!”
It’s ludicrous, of course. Champagne in the face of automatic weapons? It’s as silly as balloons in the face of death.
It’s almost as preposterous as the Christmas story. Herod had an army. Rome had the might of empire. The forces of hell stalked the dark night, bringing death, destruction and violence. Against all of that came a baby.
This baby, the story says, was the ultimate weapon, sent to overthrow powers of evil and death itself.
Later this month Christians worldwide will be remembering and celebrating a tiny infant, born in a stable, announced by angels and greeted by shepherds. One small child, yet the terror of tyrants and terrorists alike.
In the darkest night we will sing “Joy to the World.”Choirs will cry out “Hallelujah!”Families will gather around tables to feast and celebrate. Champagne will flow. Lovers will dance. Children will delight at all the sights and sounds of Christmas.
It’s exactly what we need. This world can be a dark, painful place, with danger and grief waiting around every corner. If we’re not careful, we’ll get sucked down into the endless cycle of anger, blame, and retribution.
If we allow grief to take away our joy and hope, then we’ve lost. Instead, we need balloons. We need champagne. We need to dance. We need to remember the baby that was also a Savior.
We must celebrate, laughing in the face of death with our silly balloons, our drinks held high. We must remember that love wins the day, because that baby was the demonstration of the greatest love. We spite the darkness when we dance and sing and rejoice.
We say to those who would do us harm, “You may have guns and bombs, but we have balloons. We have champagne. We have Christmas. And so we win.”
On behalf of the KP Ministerial Association, I wish you all a peaceful, joyous, and merry Christmastide.
Much has happened in our world in the last few months. The Supreme Court made it legal for people of the same gender to marry. A nuclear deal was signed with Iran. NASA sent a spacecraft past Pluto. We all celebrated Independence Day with explosions, fires and chaos.
The political season arrived with daily announcements of another potential candidate. Recently passed laws, like the legalization of marijuana, still garner debate. Racial tensions have erupted as well, with the murder of black church-goers in South Carolina, the murder of a woman by an illegal immigrant in California and a spate of church arsons across the South.
All these events have a way of dividing us against one another. Regardless of the issue, we Americans stake out our position as the only correct position, and then get about the business of shouting down all other voices.
Television newscasts devolve into people shouting at each other. Online comment pages turn into torrid streams of insults and accusations. Social media fills up with posts and articles denouncing and demonizing those with whom we disagree.
In short, we make enemies out of each other, even though we are all residents of this same beautiful country.
French-American philosopher René Girard has written extensively about the scapegoat mechanism with which humans manage their stress and anxiety. He wrote that when our unfulfilled desires bump up against reality and fall short of our expectations, we seek a sacrificial victim to take the blame.
In other words, when we aren’t feeling happy, we search around for people to blame. We turn them into enemies who are responsible for all that is wrong with the world. We demonize, we dismiss, and with great malice we seek to destroy.
Unfortunately, some people have figured out this is an easy way to gather a following and raise support. Politicians, political action committees, religious leaders or public figures denounce “those people” as a threat, and then ask us to support them (usually financially) as they rally against the evil scourge.
Just in the last week, I’ve witnessed this in action, with the enemy including immigrants, people of color, those in the LGBT community, Christians, the New World Order, people who listen to rap music, teenagers, tailgaters and drug users.
As a Christian, I follow one who commanded we love our enemies; a man who, in fact, chose not to create enemies but instead crossed boundaries and barriers to seek relationships with all people. I have friends like this, friends who don’t see “us-vs.-them,” who don’t look at others and see enemies; friends who reach out to people across the aisle, seeking peace, rather than blame.
This is what healthy and mature people look like, and it’s a good model for us all to follow. Recognize that most of our anxiety can only be resolved when we address our own issues. Stop looking for people to blame, but instead reach out and seek to know and understand the other.
You are not my enemy, regardless of your beliefs and practices. I hope you’ll recognize that I’m not your enemy, either.
A friend of mine once bought some beach-front property and set out to build the largest house he could. He didn’t need the space, but was determined to eke out every single square inch allowed, because he said, because it’s my right to do so.”
He alienated neighbors, destroyed ancient animal trails, lost many friends, and built an unnecessarily extravagant home just to prove he could. As a veteran, he said, “This is the freedom I fought for.”
We give a lot of attention to our freedom and the price paid by many to maintain it, but I grow concerned that we increasingly ignore the responsibility freedom brings. Freedom from tyranny, oppression and government interference has too often turned into freedom to misbehave, to be careless with neighbors and to pursue pleasure at any cost.
“But I have my rights” is the cry of obnoxious neighbors. “Freedom of speech” is the defense of the bellicose bully. “Get over it” is the response to requests for more socially acceptable behavior.
In his book “Religious No More,” author Mark D. Baker writes, “Freedom is not an autonomous independence that means a person can do as he or she wants…Freedom does not diminish our responsibility to each other.”
In other words, freedom is not an excuse for everyone to do whatever is right in their own eyes. Freedom has a twin sister known as responsibility. Or, in more familial terms, neighborliness.
Freedom gives us choices, and neighborliness asks that we choose responsibly, considering what is best for the community beyond ourselves.
Freedom without a sense of neighborliness isn’t healthy. Freedom shouldn’t mean we can destroy the Earth just because “I have private property rights.” Freedom shouldn’t mean corporations can treat employees as medieval serfs, just because they have the right to maximize investor profits.
I was given a lecture when I was handed my first driver’s license: “Driving a car gives you a lot of freedom. But it’s also a huge responsibility. One false move can hurt a lot of people. So enjoy the freedom, but drive responsibly.”
Freedom is not a license to drive like a maniac, to spout off insulting comments toward online neighbors, or to pollute the neighborhood with your choice in bad music. Others share this space around us. With freedom comes responsibility toward them.
Paul wrote this to a cluster of small churches in Asia Minor: “You were called to be free…so become servants to one another in love.” This is the idea of neighborliness. We are free; free to be good neighbors, free to look out for each other, free to give a helping hand to one another.
Freedom is not about doing whatever I want whenever I want, while ignoring the consequences. Freedom asks that we be respectful and responsible toward our neighbors, our descendants and our planet. Without that responsibility, too many will get hurt and freedom will be lost.
Where’s your hope?
I recently took the girls out for donuts. Grandma had given them each a coupon for a free donut, and they were eager to redeem that piece of paper for all sorts of sweet goodness.
The problem was, the coupons had expired the day before, so there was some trepidation as we made our way down the highway. “I hope they still take the coupon,”the younger one said about 18 times.
“Don’t worry,”I replied. “I think they’ll honor your coupon. They want our business.”
Being savvy business people, the donut shop did, indeed, honor the coupons, and I proved their wisdom by purchasing another half-dozen to go along with the free donuts. As we went on our merry way, the youngest, her hope realized, sat in the back licking all that sugary goodness off her fingers, feeling content.
I’ve been thinking about hope lately.
Last week I had a rich conversation with a friend about hope. Our church leadership team is reading a book about grounding our identity in hope. Another friend lives near Hope, British Columbia. He has an acquaintance who works on the other side of town. “He likes to say,”quipped my friend, “that his office is beyond Hope.”
Sometimes our hopes are mundane, like hoping for donuts or a sports victory. Sometimes our hopes are achingly deep, like hoping for a healthy diagnosis after a medical test, or hoping our children make it home safely through a long, dark night.
There are some, however, who have lost hope. Sometimes they sit in my office and share heartbreaking stories of betrayal, loss and tragedy, events that leave them feeling hopeless. Surviving day to day, they don’t have the energy left to think about tomorrow, much less hope for better days to come. It’s a tragic place to find oneself.
This first Sunday in April, millions of Christians will rise up early in the morning to declare once again the ground of their hope: that the grave isn’t final, that death doesn’t win, that life and love have the final say. “Christ is risen”is the shout heard round the world. Hope is firmly grounded in the return of light after darkness.
This is our hope, the future we long for and the reality in which we live: life goes on even after our final breath here. Despots and tyrants are overthrown. The hungry are fed and the poor are lifted up. Healing comes to those who hurt, and judgment comes upon those who bring sorrow and pain, preying upon the weak and the downtrodden.
What do you hope for? As we celebrate this Easter weekend, I hope that you all are walking in hope –– hope for our present reality, and hope for the ages to come. Look ahead and see better days coming. Offer a word of hope to those around you. Even in the darkest hour, believe me: our hope is not in vain. We live in the light of an ever-dawning sun.
On behalf of the Key Peninsula Ministerial Association, I wish you a blessed and happy Easter Season.