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July 19, 2016, 12:00 AM

Lying at the Speed of Light


There is an adage attributed to Mark Twain that goes, ‘A lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

But, Mark Twain never said it.  We’re not  sure who first did, although the satirist Jonathon Swift who wrote “Gulliver’s Travels” did write, “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it.”

The adage is true enough.  But, the fact that it is usually incorrectly attributed to Twain, is an example of how truth, error, and outright falsehood can be so easily intertwined and rapidly spread.

We live in an era in which falsehoods, errors, and innuendos can literally spread at the speed of light.  And, way too often, we Christians are complicit in this.

The events of the past week, in which there were two controversial instances of police using deadly force, and then a maniacal mass shooting targeting police, all sorts of claims and counter-claims have been made concerning the facts of these cases.

In the initial confusion and panic in Dallas, a picture of a man carrying an assault rifle was spread across the internet.  He was a “person of interest” whom many people instantly assumed was the shooter.  He turned out not to be the guilty party, or involved in any way in the attack.  In fact, when the shooting began, he turned over his weapon to a police officer and fled the scene…precisely because he didn’t want to be confused with the sniper.   It was the smart move to make.  Even though he has been completely exonerated, he has received hundreds of death threats.

Lies have a curious way of persisting, when they trigger our fears.  For decades, Christians sent thousands  of petitions  to the Federal Communication Commission, because they were told the FCC was about to ban all religious broadcasting, due to a petition from the atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hair.  But, O’Hair had never launched such a drive.  Religious broadcasting had never been under any serious threat.  But, the outrage cost the taxpayers untold thousands of dollars because the FCC had to respond to all the angry Christians who never stopped to check the truth of the story.

Ms. O’Hair thought it was hilarious and said that it just proved how gullible Christians are.  The petitions persisted long after she was murdered by a follower.

I wrote an article for our Conference newspaper,  nearly twenty years after first seeing one of these petitions, in which I explained that the whole things was an urban myth. I also said that Christians would do well to worry about real problems, rather than mythical ones.  For my trouble, I got an angry letter from a woman who was just furious at me for sharing the truth about this myth!  I guess she had been distributing petitions to stop the non-existence threat and she really resented me pointing out that it was bogus!  It was a story that fed her particular fears/angers/biases and she resented losing it.

We are in a highly partisan time in which half-truths and outright lies are spread, literally at the speed of light, by people who simply assume they are true, because they agree with their opinions..

I have a dear friend  who lives in another part of the state, who frequently posts stuff on Facebook on a variety of political and religious issues that is factually wrong.  But, they seem to back this person’s  personal opinions, so my friend posts them without checking their veracity.   As the late Sen. Daniel Moynihan said (and yes, he really said it, I checked), “You are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts.”

I will post something showing that the information my friend is sharing is demonstrably wrong.  My friend will then say something to the effect of, “LOL You got me again.  I really should check this stuff, first.”  But, within a few days or weeks…there will be another post filled with bad information that can be easily disproven with a quick check.

I will readily confess that I have posted stuff on occasion that proved to be either just plain false, or not entirely accurate.  But, I try to correct my errors when I do.

I have also adopted a rule of thumb, which I will recommend to you…

First…If you’re tempted to share something, because it  fits your worst opinions of someone or something,  for God’s sake, take the time to check it out, first.  I mean it when I say, “for God’s sake.”  As Christians, we are commanded not to bear false witness or engage in malicious gossip.  Spreading  false rumors  is doing just that. It is quite literally, “bearing false witness.”  (Check out that Ninth Commandment)

We too often spread misinformation and outright lies, simply because we feel they justify our opinions.  And usually those are negative opinions about someone with whom we disagree.  Our acts of false witness usually involve trash talking people we don’t like.

PLEASE…Before posting something trashing a politician or public figure, take a few moments to verify the story you’re spreading.  A few excellent sites for doing so are Snopes.com, Politifact, and Hoax Slayer.

Second…Seeing is NOT believing.  We live in the era of Photoshop and I frequently see doctored pictures of public figures.  Just because there is a picture,  doesn’t  mean it’s true.  A helpful way to check is to use a site called TinEye, which tracks down the first time the picture appeared on the internet.  I first used it to check a photo that claimed to show the American ambassador who was killed in Benghazi being tortured by Libyans.  A quick check with TinEye revealed that the photo first appeared on the internet two years before the attack.  It was apparently from a movie.

In a few months, we will be making decisions about who will occupy this nation’s highest offices.  Such decisions should be based on truthful, accurate information.  Not rumors, innuendo, and outright lies spread on the internet.

In the Letter of James, the writer denounces gossip and writes, The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”  He probably would have said something similar about the keyboard, today.

We would do well to remember that Jesus was crucified, based on false and distorted testimony.  We do the same, when we share dark untruths  at the speed of light.




July 1, 2016, 10:04 AM

Having Fun with Big Questions


Having Fun with Big Questions

   I’m having fun with the Re:form Class, our new intergenerational class which is open to people who are age twelve through infinity.  We meet at 10:30 in the Fellowship Class Room.  The class has been growing, but there’s certainly room for more folks, and I would especially be glad to see more young people, younger adults, and families.  It is important for parents and children to work on forming their faith together.

   The class begins with a video which is clever…even a bit goofy.  But then, you realize it’s making seriously profound point.  Here’s an example.  A video dealing with the question of how Jesus could be God… https://vimeo.com/57008939

   We are about to complete a few weeks of reflection on the Bible…how it came to be, why it contradicts itself at times,  how we are to view its authority, etc.  You know, easy stuff!  Beginning in July, we will look at doctrinal questions… What we believe and why.  The first question is a biggie…

Can we prove God exists?

   It may surprise you to learn that the  Bible never actually  tries to prove God’s existence, but treats it simply as a given.    However, there are many people who doubt or deny the existence of God, which pretty much gets in the way of accepting the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  So, how do we respond to those doubts?   (And let’s be honest, we have ALL had them at some point.)

   There are some useful things to keep in mind when wrestling with this issue, and we will discuss them in the Re:form Class.  If you haven’t been part of a Sunday School class, or if you have wrestled with your faith, you are welcome!

 




May 3, 2016, 8:55 PM

Of Grace and a Bum Pancreas


   For the last few months, I have been dealing with a medical condition that can range in effect from occasional discomfort, to chronic pain, to  a disorder so serious that it can lead to hospitalization, and in extreme cases…death.

   No, I’m not terminally ill (at least no more than anyone else).  But, to be honest, I did worry that I might have cancer.  I was experiencing pain in my abdominal area, and back, which caused me growing concern as it steadily worsened.  As this mysterious condition intensified,  it struck me that the pain began after I started using an injectable diabetes drug (Victoza).  One weekend, the pain became so bad that I decided to discontinue the shots and go back to my old medicine.  The pain did not disappear, but it did seem to abate a little bit, and I called my doctor who had me tested for pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, the organ which naturally produces insulin.

   As a Type-2 diabetic, my pancreas still functions, but not adequately.  Type-1 diabetes (the most serious form) occurs when the pancreas fails completely.  If that happens, I will have to go on insulin for the rest of my life.

   The tests confirmed I have pancreatitis.  In reading about the disorder, I noted that there doesn’t seem to be a cure.  While my condition has improved since changing medicines, I don’t know if it will ever get entirely better.   I still feel discomfort, and sometimes  outright pain, and it seems to be impossible to know when those moments will strike.  I am feeling discomfort, even as I write this, but earlier today, I felt fine.

   It seems possible that I will have to contend with this condition to some degree for a long time.  Maybe for the rest of my life.

   That makes two chronic, currently uncurable, and even potentially life-threatening conditions, with which I must deal.  It was treating the first, that caused the second.

   I know many of you have had similar experiences.

   The human body is an astonishingly complex organism that functions through a series of incredibly delicate balances.  If one thing goes out of whack, it can easily knock others off-track.  Even the act of trying to fix a problem can lead to more problems.  Sometimes, worse problems.

   When confronted with situations like this, one can choose to rail against the unfairness of it all.  And, I don’t mind telling you I am a bit ticked-off to have to deal with all this.  But then, I remember how many other astounding processes continue to go smoothly…even in my ageing body.  Actually, the amazing thing isn’t that some of them have gone somewhat painfully and dangerously awry, but that so many continue to work with such reliability and resilience.

   Years ago, a colleague of mine attended a symposium on medicine and religion.  During a panel discussion, an immunologist was asked, “Why do we get sick?” 

   The doctor laughed and said, “Sick?!?  We don’t know why we are ever well!  There’s stuff floating in every one of our systems right now, that ought to kill us, and yet our bodies silently and efficiently hold them at bay without us even noticing!”

   I’ve always thought that was a pretty good example of grace.  And, it provides needed perspective.

   The day may come when my injured and faltering pancreas fails completely.  I will not be happy about that.  But, it need not be a death sentence, as it was in this country, not so long ago, and as it is in so many others, even today.

   It frustrates me that I can’t eat any more  S’Mores.  In fact,  I am currently struggling with a low-carb diet that is dreadfully dull, and which can cause my blood sugar to plummet so that I go weak in the knees.  (That happened just an hour before I wrote this.)

   I’m peeved that a medicine we hoped would make me better has actually made me worse.  But, I also understand that no medicine is without risks, and I’m not planning on suing anybody because I got the short-end of the stick on this one.

   All in all, I would rather be lying in a hammock in Tahiti eating Krispy Kremes.  But that’s not gonna happen. If I choose to just resent my status and gripe about it, I will not get either physically or spiritually better.  I can guarantee I will only worsen.

   But, if I use this experience to better understand the difficulties of others and to better appreciate what DOES work in my life and my body, then I can draw something positive from this.  The process of redemption is the application of grace to suffering in such a way that it eases the pain of the world.

   God’s grace was able to transform the cross…an instrument of oppression, terror, cruelty, and suffering, and turn it to a symbol of hope for forgiveness, mercy, and new life.  Jesus did not enjoy every aspect of this process, and I’m not so narcissistic as to believe God owes me a comfortable ride just because I’m a Christian.

   After Job has his life basically blown to smithereens, his exasperated and grieving wife tells him he should just curse God and die.  Job responds, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"

   Some people like to believe that God only sends us happiness and comfort.  But, often what is good for us, tastes like Castor Oil, and what God needs us to do for the larger world is seriously inconvenient and downright painful.  What we do with that pain is what can give hope to the world and purpose to our existence.

   I don’t believe God gave me diabetes or pancreatitis to make some point.  But, I think my situation can be used for good, if I am open to the possibility that grace can work in difficult and painful circumstances.  With that faith, I can bring something good out of my situation, and that is redemptive.

   That is my hope.

  




March 3, 2016, 1:17 PM

A Taste of Spring


As I write this on Leap Day, the weather outside is absolutely Spring-like.  A  day like this one helps to remind and reassure us that Spring is coming.

That’s also what Easter does for a world that knows too much “winter.”

The world is a mess, today.  There is terrible violence, from lunatics randomly killing people in American streets, to religious fanatics committing atrocities in the “Holy Land.”.   A tiny handful of people control more wealth than all the 3.5 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world’s population, and the imbalance is worsening.  Just when we got Ebola under control, Zika has gone epidemic.  And don’t get me started about the embarrassingly petty, mean, and increasingly crass circus of our state and national politics…

It is easy to give in to a cold, winter-like despair.

But then, we remember what God did with Jesus.  He was tortured to death by the civil and religious authorities.  Even people who had once cheered him, ended up screaming for his blood.  Hanging naked, humiliated, battered, and rejected on the cross…he literally died of a broken heart.  A friend had to provide a place for him to be buried, or his corpse might have been dumped next to a smoldering garbage pit called Gehenna…a name sometimes used for Hell.

Yet despite his utterly ignominious death, God raised him to new and invincible life.  His demoralized followers, suddenly found the hope and the courage to proclaim that Jesus had defeated death and sin.  Many of them would go to their own deaths insisting that their fantastic claim was the Gospel Truth.

No, it didn’t immediately fix everything.  Jesus didn’t come storming out of the tomb, trounce all the bad guys and right all the world’s wrongs.  To do so would have violated the freedom God has given us.  Ultimately, the messy world we have to live in, is largely the one we have chosen.

But, his resurrection is proof that God does not give up on us, even when all seems have sunk into evil and despair…the relentless grace of God is still at work.  There IS cause for hope!  God is determined to bring the Spring of new life to us.

Yes, it is a long winter.  But, when we take the Good News of Jesus Christ to heart, we find new courage, comfort, and a deepened capacity for compassion.  When we dare to grasp the hope of Easter, we can find the inspiration to live new lives that shine with the light of his grace.  In such moments, the winter is pushed back, and Spring blossoms.

Do not forget that God has not given up on you…or us.  Even in the winter, the promise of Spring is present.

He is Risen!




January 30, 2016, 4:43 PM

Dangerous Jesus and Spiritual Ghettos


The church, like most human institutions, has a tendency to become a ghetto.

I'm not just referring to our tendency to divide up along color lines, though what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr said about 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning being the most segregated hour in America is still true, fifty years later.  But, ghettos form along all sorts of lines...class, age, religious persuasion, etc.

Churches make great ghettos​.  They easily become made up of people who hold similar views, are of similar class ​and race, and are even of a similar age.  The people within them grow comfortable and familiar with one another.

As long as life in the ghetto is good, it's easy to neglect and even avoid people who are different.  Why mess up a good thing?  Why change?

So, we slide into comfortable state of stasis, which gradually becomes paralysis.

As time passes, that comfortable klatch of folks who are so much like each other begin to wonder why the world has passed them by?

Way too many churches find themselves in that situation, because they focused...often unconsciously...upon their comfort, rather than the call of Christ, which has always been to seek out the people who are not "churchy."  His focus was on the people who were ignored, rejected, lost, and lonely.  They are often the kind of people who generally distrust, avoid, and disrupt institutions.  As a consequence, they don't tend to just walk into a church, join a committee and start tithing.  (Many don't even know what that word means.)

Years ago, I heard a Christian scholar declare that all institutions, including the church, have an inherently "demonic" aspect, because the first priority of every institution is self-preservation. This makes them risk-averse.  They don't want to change.  They don't want to sacrifice.  They want to hold on to the life they have, even if that means becoming closed-off and irrelevant to the rest of the world.  The self-preservation strategy becomes the path to gradual self-destruction.

Jesus addressed this mindset when he said, "Those who seek to save their lives, shall lose them." 

He then declared, "Those who lose their lives for the sake of the Gospel, shall gain them."

He wasn't talking about martyrdom.  He was talking about giving up old ways, for the sake of gaining new life in Christ.

A church, or an individual Christian, who seeks salvation by keeping things the same has lost sight of the radically transformative nature of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  We remain inside a gradually dwindling spiritual ghetto.

This makes Jesus dangerous to a lot of churches, and to a lot of comfortable Christians.

He has always been dangerous.

But, ironically, that danger is what saves us.  He calls individuals and institutions to continual transformation.  He calls us to die to old ways and dare something new...to reach beyond the ghetto and into a tumultuous, changing, and hurting world.

We are called to follow a dangerous Christ. Because he is the one who also calls us into life. Answering any other call is what is truly life-threatening

Choose life.  Choose to follow the Dangerous Christ.

 

 


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