What’s Coming?

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A brilliantly prophetic article by David Brooks helped explain how some evangelical Christians have been able to deny so many long-held Biblical values to support Donald Trump and Roy Moore. But it also defined one of the factors that is driving so much of the animosity and polarization that plagues our current culture. I encourage you to read it here.

Reading Brooks this week spoke to me about why we need to pay attention to Advent before rushing headlong into Christmas.

The Siege Mentality

Brooks diagnosed a “siege mentality” that grows out of “a sense of collective victimhood.” It’s a feeling that “the whole world is irredeemably hostile” resulting in a pervasive pessimism. He concluded that “the siege mentality floats on apocalyptic fear.”

Don’t miss the adjective “apocalyptic.” The biblical word means “uncover.” It reveals what we believe the future will be. The “siege mentality” assumes that everything is going from bad to worse and results in a self-righteous confidence that “we are the holy remnant.”

“The siege mentality also excuses the leader’s bad behavior. When our very existence is on the line we can’t be worrying about things like humility, sexual morality, honesty and basic decency. In times of war all is permissible. Even molesting teenagers can be overlooked because our group’s survival is at stake.”

The Siege Mentality in Scripture 

When we bypass Advent to leap directly to Christmas, we miss reading scriptures that reflect the very real fears and frustrations of our time. You can hear the “siege mentality” in the lectionary Psalm for the 1st Sunday in Advent.

Shepherd of Israel, listen!
    You, the one who leads Joseph as if he were a sheep.
    You, who are enthroned upon the winged heavenly creatures.
Show yourself!
    Wake up your power!
    Come to save us!
 Restore us, God!
    Make your face shine so that we can be saved! (Psalm 80:1-3)

It’s in the background of the Old Testament reading from Isaiah:

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence… to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! (Isaiah 64:1-2)

Bypassing Advent to rush on to Bethlehem, we miss Jesus’ apocalyptic vision: “They will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.”  And we fail to hear his challenge:

Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mark 13:35-37)

What’s Coming?

Everything depends on what we believe is coming. What’s our apocalyptic vision? What do we most deeply believe, not only about what the world is coming to, but about what is coming to the world?

The Advent scriptures lift our eyes beyond the present moment to the promise of the day when God’s salvation revealed in Jesus will be fulfilled for the whole creation.

The message of Advent counters our fear of the future with confident hope. It invites us to prepare not only to remember Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, but to live in anticipation of his final victory over every power of injustice, violence, suffering, sin and death.  It challenges us to live now in ways that are consistent with the way the world will be when “the kingdoms of this earth become the Kingdom of our God and his Christ and he shall reign forever and ever.”

With that hope, we face all the very real challenges of our time not as victims, but as victors; not on the basis of our fears but our faith; not as a “holy remnant” that is under siege from the powers of evil, but as ordinary people who participate with God in the extraordinary work that God is doing to redeem, save, heal and restore this broken, bruised, conflict-ridden creation. In that confidence, we can relate to other people not out of the scars of our hurts, but in the strength of our healing.

The Advent vision is picked up in many of traditional carols, including “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring:
O hush the noise, you men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

For lo! the days are hast’ning on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling, 
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Christmas is coming, sure enough. And just as sure is the promise of the coming of God’s reign of love, justice and peace.  We live in hope!

May an Advent of hope lead us to a joyful Christmas!

Jim

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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More Than Enough!

Have mercy on us, Lord! Have mercy
    because we’ve had more than enough shame.
We’ve had more than enough mockery from the self-confident,
    more than enough shame from the proud.
(
Psalm 123:3-4) 

Enough of Men Behaving Badly 

Harvey Weinstein…Kevin Spacey…Bill Cosby…Bill Clinton…Al Franken…Bill O’Reilly…Roger Ailes…Roy Moore…Charlie Rose…and, of course, our self-confessed sexual-assaulter-in-Chief, Donald Trump.

In fairness, each case is different. Some accusations are far more significant than others. Any of us can be tempted to or accused of bad behavior.  But all the stories have one thing in common, namely, the way men in positions of power abuse, assault, or sexually harass women and girls (and sometimes boys or younger men).

The difference at this moment in time is that the crack in the dike has broken open and women who were expected to put up with bad behavior in the past are now telling their stories in ways they’ve not been empowered to do it before.

Another difference is the way different men have responded to the accusations, from the arrogant denial of Roy Moore to the confession and apology of Al Franken or Charlie Rose.  There are also different reactions, from immediate dismissal by the news and entertainment industry in New York and Hollywood to the protective defense by supposedly Christian pastors in Alabama. Talk about irony!

What’s a Pastor to Do? 

So, what’s a Christian pastor supposed to say or do?  While the image of Christian clergy is being severely damaged by folks like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell,  a host of otherwise unknown pastors in out of the way places are leading lives of faithful witness, moral character and humble service.  So, a few random responses that have been working their way through my mind and heart.

    • I’m grateful for the United Methodist Church.  
      In the ’70’s our denomination’s Commission on the Status and Role of Women began training clergy about sexual assault or abuse.  United Methodist clergy are not immune to temptation or moral failure, but our denomination has done all it can to train us and to provide a just process for dealing with accusations. (You can learn more here.)
    • Believe the women.  
      I realize that an accusation can be as damaging as a conviction and that there is the possibility of being falsely accused.  It happened to one of my friends.  But an attorney friend who deals with these issues continues to point out that the women are usually correct, particularly when they are courageous enough to confront a man who holds power over them.
    • Focus on Christian character.  
      The Road to Character  by David Brook is one of the most important books of our era. UnknownHe diagnoses the “Big Me” that has led to “the rise in narcissism and self-aggrandizement…our basic problem is that we are self-centered.”  (I’d say Trump is the not the cause of our problems, but the ultimate expression of the narcissism of our culture.)

Brooks sounds like a Methodist preacher when he describes what he calls “the Humility Code.” (p. 261-267)

“We don’t live for happiness, we live for holiness.”
The best life is oriented around the increasing excellence of the soul and is nourished by moral joy, the quiet sense of gratitude and tranquility that comes as a byproduct of successful moral struggle.”

“Humility is the greatest virtue.”
“Humility reminds you that you are not the center of the universe, but you serve a larger order.”

“The things that lead us astray are short term–lust, fear, vanity, gluttony.  The things we call character endure over the long term–courage, honest, humility.”

“No person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own.”
“Everybody needs redemptive assistance from outside–from God, family, ancestors, rules, traditions, institutions and exemplars…You have to draw on something outside yourself to cope with the forces inside yourself.”

“We are all ultimately saved by grace.”
“Grace floods in…Gratitude fills your soul, and with it the desire to serve and give back.”

“The person who successfully struggles against weakness and sin may or may not become rich and famous, but that person will become mature.”
“The mature person has moved from fragmentation to centeredness…because the mature person has steady criteria to determine what is right.  That person has said a multitude of noes for the sake of a few overwhelming yeses.”

Men Behaving Well

I give thanks for the men I know who demonstrate that a life of Christian character is not only possible, but is more than worth the effort.  I give thanks for the men who continue to show me what it look like to love, honor and respect the women with whom we live, work and serve. I give thanks for men who have walked with me in the past and for those who will continue walk with me in the future. I give thanks for the women who continue to hold me accountable for my behavior.  I give thanks for the sons-in-law who treat my daughters with respect and for the grandsons they are raising.  And most of all, I give thanks for the woman who chose to share life with me, and for the daughters and granddaughters who see in her life what it looks like to be a woman of Christian character.

Have mercy on us, Lord!  We’ve had more than enough of men behaving badly. As the old hymn says:

Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of kings. 

Grace and peace,

Jim