Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Presence of a Monument Cannot Twart The Power of A Heritage

The presence of a monument can invite the power to make a statement. The photo presented below was taken in mid-1966 while my father was deployed in the Republic of Vietnam, serving with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. His deployment occurred in the midst of very volatile times at home and my mother's disposition reflected the tension of the times and the danger of Dad's duty assignment.

The occasion of the photo was a visit to the most prominent monument in the town of Port Gibson, Mississippi, during my father's deployment. This visit was not a minor issue and invited some controversy at the time, yet allowed us to make a statement - literally and figuratively - that my parents, raised at the height of Jim Crow in the very heart of Dixie, were now making sacrifices in freedom that obliterated the philosophy of slavery and servitude espoused by the system that erected that monument.

The presence of such monuments rightfully stir strong emotions, yet also provide us with powerful opportunities to reflect on the bad,  commit ourselves to the good and educate those who follow us regarding the costs of evil and the sacrifices required to overcome it and sustain truth and beauty in a free society.

I am concerned that the demolition of such monuments will eventually lead to the denial of transgressions and a sweeping cultural amnesia that will open the gates for evil's reemergence and render prior gains in vain.  I propose that we allow these monuments, in all of their offense, to provide us with opportunities to remember, teach and learn with bold intentionality.

Using these monuments as vivid reminders of our nation at its worst can provide us with powerful  reminders of how we should not live so that we might avoid revisiting the unrighteousness of our past and so that this great experiment called America might not perish from the earth.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The War Rages On – Confronting Torches and Hoods

The War Rages On – Confronting Torches and Hoods

In the modern era of warfare, there is much discussion of “winning the hearts and minds” of those we engage in combat.  This objective gets mixed reviews, and is sometimes met with annoyance by those who are more focused on the less ambiguous objective of “closing with and destroying the enemy.”  Nevertheless, as a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ who “no longer studies [the making of] war,” in the military sense at least, I find that the Bible has much to say about conflicts being resolved in those very places.  The Bible presents strong evidence that the seeds for conflicts are fertilized for germination in the hearts and minds of people.

Jesus declared that the act of murder incubates in a mind consumed with anger. A major Biblical theme argues that it is the ill-intentioned, misdirected, driving passions of humans that lead to conflict, quarrels and destructive pursuits.  This has been the human condition since The Garden.  Nevertheless, from the Beginning, God has invited humans to seek Him out and to embrace the Way that leads to a transformation of one’s life pursuits through the renewing of one’s mind.
Our nation’s struggle with this renewal manifests itself regularly in issues of race. This struggle flares up repeatedly to the point of producing violent clashes in the streets in every generation. The conflicts and challenges have not only multiplied, but intensified and grown in complexity.  The sweet tastes of victory we have celebrated with great joy, seem woefully na├»ve upon reflection in the present day.  The true source of these conflicts and challenges must be understood to be overcome on any meaningful level. 

In pursuit of such understanding, as the Apostle Paul addresses his Sisters and Brothers in Rome on how to conduct themselves issues of human interaction in Romans chapters 12 leading with two primary guiding commands: “Stop being conformed to the pattern of thinking utilized by everybody else in the world.”  Rather, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  One cannot carry out the New Commandment issued by Jesus with the Old Patterns of thinking dominating one’s mind.  The act of transformation Paul demands generally does not occur in rallies or marches but is forged in the kiln of committed friendships and nurtured in the solitude of prayerful contemplation.  As this transformation takes place, it is solidified by the casting of applied action in real life, real time.
The conflicts we are experiencing are not an accident and should not be a surprise.  

While U.S. culture celebrated unity in 60’s Coke commercials, 70’s Discos and 80’s appeals for peace – all “good things” on the surface, we laughed at racially charged jokes, used racial epithets behind closed doors and subtly nurtured stereotypes about friends and neighbors under the guises of “street smarts and reality.”  In the process, we fell into a self-made trap of complacency, relying heavily on symbolic gains while neglecting to secure, reinforce or protect those gains with lifestyles and out-of-sight behavior that reinforced the strides toward unity we believed we had made.  We failed to follow through with the gains achieved, because meaningful follow-through requires on-going risk-taking, unceasing work, and a willingness to be vulnerable over and over again.  As humans, we just don’t want to put in such a significant amount of effort and our laziness has produced a crop well integrated with weeds.

A dissuading aspect of the solution to the challenges of pursuing racial unity is, there is no easy way. Every generation will either contribute to unity and building understanding by laboring in the garden of loving one’s neighbor, or else abdicate the harvest to the unrelenting weeds of apathy, laziness or selfishness.  Marches and symposiums cannot replace conversations and meals.  Lawsuits, boycotts and shaming cannot replace dialog, forgiveness and reaching across the fence to truly seek to understand my close by, but very different neighbor.  Real life, unlike sitcoms and inspirational movies, doesn’t end with “happily ever after” but rather constantly reboots with, “so they kept on trying!” 

For that reason, I am not panicked by the events of the week, though I am troubled by them. While bothered by them and while shaking my head in sadness, I do not widen my eyes in surprise.  Since becoming fully engaged in the battle for truth and beauty after becoming a Jesus follower, I have never ceased to understand that we are at war!  It is a war for hearts and minds. It is a war for the souls of people.  It is a war that goes beyond what can be seen, invading the hidden trenches of thoughts, ideas and convictions.  Such a war must be fought perpetually, with spiritually powerful weapons, and physically manifested with real life, real time application day in and day out until our change has come.

For this reason, brothers and sisters, I call you not to protest or resist, but rather to fight with your face to all enemies of truth and beauty.  The Apostle Paul issues the “war cry” in this way,
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5.)
 The scope of the effort expected of those who follow Jesus is extensive – taking on every pretentious, ungodly lie, and disciplining ourselves by reigning in every thought and submitting it to the standards of Jesus.  Our application of efforts must be unwavering in intensity and consistency and untarnished in purity and commitment to goodness.  Such effort may cause us to be misunderstood and even vilified by those choosing an alternate path.  I humbly remind you that while other paths may appear at a glance to be more satisfying and offer easier solutions to the challenges we face, the Scripture warns, “There is a way that There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death” (Proverbs 14:12.)

A major point that must be clearly understood in waging the war for truth is enemy identification.  Those holding opposing views in the battle for truth are not the enemy!  The Scripture says, “… we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12.) We are warned rather to watch out “your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8.)  Jesus stated that part of His mission – and ours – is one of rescue:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come

For this reason, we should approach those in opposition to righteousness not as enemy combatants, but rather as brainwashed POW’s, suffering from spiritual “Stockholm Syndrome,” powerfully under the influence of the enemy, but desperately needing liberation from captivity.  Therefore, let us not seek to strike down those who are bound in ignorance, but rather attack the “speculations and lofty arguments” that originate from the enemy himself. Rather, let us steadfastly follow the new and living way Jesus has prepared for us, embracing the difficulty, looking past the ridicule that often accompanies righteous living and pressing on armed with love, perseverance and truth.  Let us not grow weary in doing good, being overcome by evil, but let us endure and press on, overcoming evil with good!  This is a war that will not soon end.  Therefore let us renew our resolve, focus our efforts and start knocking down the pretentious and speculations continuing to fight the good fight until our last breath or until our change has come.