Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Buckle Up

Thoughts about the Reign of Rahm.  Day 1.

Yesterday Chicago elected a new mayor.  Rahm Emmanuel. Advisor to Presidents Clinton and Obama.  Suburbanite turned big city mayor.  Known for expletive laced speech Obama once said that because Rahm's  middle finger had been accidentally cut off at the joint that he had been “rendered relatively mute”.  Perhaps, but he found other ways to express himself.

Chicago seems to like tough guy mayors.  It’s the city that works.  And it only seems to work when someone grabs it by the throat and hangs on.  That’s the theory anyway. Rahm Emmanuel knows how to grab throats.  He’s a force to be reckoned with.

I love watching the political process.  In this election old style African-American politicians tried to throw their weight behind a consensus candidate.  They threw it around but to no avail.  Old style got beat and beat bad.  In a town that loves the Irish the electorate chose a Jewish guy who some believe doesn’t really live in Chicago.  Got to love all the intrigue.

I don’t know what kind of mayor he will be.  Living in the burbs one could say it really doesn’t matter.  It does.  When Chicago catches a cold the suburbs sneeze.  And for me me, a good chunk of my life is in the city.  I work there. My son, daughter in law and grandson live there and I have lots of Chicago friends and colleagues. So, I want this guy to be a good mayor.  A really good mayor.

On the radio this morning the new mayor threw down the gauntlet.  He proclaimed that ‘change is coming’.  And it’s coming for everyone.  All will have to have skin in the game. That’s a tough message.  But it’s a good message.  I think it’s the truth.  Not just in Chicago but everywhere. Everyone knows things are mess.  Our fiscal houses are out of order.  Moral compasses seem to be out of synch.  Civility is at an all time low. If things are going to change ...we’re all going to have to change. I don’t know about you but I’m sure some people will be asking ...”why me?”

“Why me?”.  Because we’re in this together.  In some strange, symbiotic way if it’s happening to you it’s happening to me. We’ll either live together or die because of each other. Life is a better option I’m thinkin’.

Chicago is going to be interesting to watch.  If ever there was a place where special interests really believe they're special - Chi-town is that place.  Chicago is divided economically and racially.  Lots of important people are in the game for their own interests.  And now there’s a new cowboy in town who’s saying the old ways aren’t going to work anymore.  If he’s serious (and I hope he is) then buckle up.  It’s going to be a really interesting ride.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

About the Relationship

It’s all about relationship.

When the earthquake in Haiti happened I immediately thought of friends who had family in their homeland.

When the earthquake in New Zealand occurred last night I was instantly worried about those I knew in that country.  A few years ago we traveled in Uganda with a handful of Kiwis. We have continuing contact with three of them.

Our heart aches when bad things happen to people we care about.

In all honesty, I am touched when natural disasters occur in places where I know no one.  But when something bad happens in a country where friends live I’m all ears.  And my heart aches in deeper ways.

It’s about the relationship.

I think the reason so many people don’t care deeply about what happens in our inner cities, or in Uganda or Kenya, or Egypt, or India and Pakistan is because strangers are affected.  But when friends are in danger it all changes.  We care deeply.

I’m always amazed when people become dogmatic about this or that issue.  And then I connect the dots and I realize that it’s easy to draw a line in the sand when one isn’t personally invested in people and a place.

I know. I know.  There are those who would argue that it’s dangerous to make policy based on relationship.  I think making policy without relationship misses the point ...totally misses the point.  Any good thing we do has to link heart and mind.  Too much heart ...wisdom is lost.  Too much mind ...and we miss practicing compassion, rooted in the person and acts of Jesus.

One of my huge concerns is that so many people who are so cocky about how we should conduct both our personal lives and adjust our public policies just don’t seem to be ‘in relationship’ with anybody or anything that challenges their pre-set perceptions. It’s always easy to be ‘certain’ when you live in a bubble.

It’s about the relationship.

I ache tonight for my New Zealand friends.  I think often of the craziness and despair that still defines Haiti.  I worry for my Israeli contacts and I think and pray often with those I met in Africa. I care more because I know people who hurt and are worried. They are no longer statistics.  They are real people.

It’s about the relationship.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Doesn't Exist

Today one of the other pastors at our church talked about the Supremacy of Christ.  He talked from the book of Phillipians and wondered aloud whether or not the average Christian truly wanted to be like Christ or merely admire him from afar.

I think we only want a distant view and actually are wary of Christ like behavior in others. We don’t admire the servant.  We adore the powerful.  When our President apologizes for wrongs committed by our country the people rise up in protest.  “How dare we show weakness” we wonder?  And yet when we are weak ...God is strong.  Confession, it seems is good for our personal souls but not good four our national health. It’s as if God can’t do His work through the honesty of confession but needs the posturing of power do do His thing. We want Christ in risen splendor but don’t want to see Christ washing the feet of his disciples. We want to be like ‘Trump’ and wonder why someone might trade riches and treasure in for quiet obedience elsewhere.

Perhaps it’s true.  We don’t really serve the God who is.  Instead we serve a god who anoints our petty little decisions and trades kingdom meaning for today’s riches.

Counterfeit faith is all around us.  In the hands of conservatives we must bow to systems of thought that limit the work of a transcendent God.  In the hands of liberals nothing becomes ‘truth’ and we are at the whims of whatever is new and trendy.

I think many of us long for intimate relationship with the real God.  Many I know find comfort in their political philosophy and link it quite inadequately to their view of Scripture.  Christian media is becoming increasingly boorish, often veering radically to the right and playing to people who want to be told what to think instead of teaching them how to think.  And I can't decide if I want to vomit or laugh.

Other veer radically to the left.  And in that vacuum nothing is valued or treasured.  It’s a do good mentality that appears to reject any notion of personal devotion and allegiance and mocks any who hold substantial contrary points of view.  It’s a point of view marked by cynicism and sarcasm and is bereft of a true sincerity of conviction grounded in something bigger than we are. It's an increasingly tiring reality that accepts just about everything as 'truth'.  And that just doesn't pass the sniff test. Sorry, but it doesn't.

I want to look to Christ.  He is the pivotal moment and person of history. Either He is who He said He was or as C.S.Lewis told us He is a liar or lunatic.  And if He is the Lord as He claimed He was what does that mean for our lives?  I think it means we study His words and His ways and when we do so we realize that He is is not a Republican ideologue nor is He a spendthrift Democrat.  He is beyond those caricatures.

Do we know Jesus?

Most people I know don’t know the God who is.  They know something about Him but don’t know Him.  Perhaps I’m one of them.  We know ‘stuff’ about God but much of what we know is made in the image and likeness of our political and sociological perspective and has little to do with the God of the Scriptures.

I dare you.  Abandon your self assured points of view and attempt to look at the God of the Bible with fresh eyes and perspective.  Who is this Jesus that we talk about?  What does He stand for?  What does He talk about?  Who does He set free?  Who does He challenge?  What does He embrace?  What does He call us to? What and who will He die for?

He doesn’t call us to the Tea Party or to Sojourners.  He doesn’t call us to right or to the left.  He doesn’t call us to anger or sarcasm.  He calls us to Himself.  And there we find that this good God transcends what we hold onto and name as the holy grail.

In all honesty I’m convinced that the faith too many of us hold onto is a faith that allows us to remain right where we are.  And any faith that allows us to embrace our weaknesses and validate any and all lifestyles and points of view isn’t something worth hanging onto.

Let’s face it.  We don’t really want the God of the bible.  We want the god who validates whatever we decide to do and be.  Guess what?  That God doesn’t exist.  The God of the Bible is neither wishy-washy nor incoherent.  He stands for something.  He lifts up the weak and the oppressed.  He calls us to holiness through followership. Wealth has little meaning for Him.  A life of discipleship means everything.  He's beyond both Republican fiscal policy and Democratic social idealism.  He calls us to the 'kingdom of God'.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Dance?

Have you ever considered the danger of democracy?  Throughout the middle east we’re seeing people clamoring for freedom.  They might get what they dream of.  Then what?  A country like ours has a disciplined history of freedom and democratic process.  We vote rascals in, then out.  It’s fairly seamless and certainly bloodless.  We take it for granted but it’s become the habit of our republic.  We hold free elections at regular intervals.  The will of the people prevails.  And other than some sour dispositions and ugly innuendo we manage to move easily into ‘what’s next’.

Freedom is filled with rights but also responsibility.  A vote is either for a winner or loser.  We understand that.  What might happen in places where rights are being demanded but the requisite habits of political responsibility might not be yet acquired? It could get ugly.

Beyond that the will of the people in the middle east might easily conflict with the interests we have as a country.  Will that be OK with us?  If a majority of people in Country X want to vote in a repressive, Muslim government will we be happy that the will of the people has been honored? Probably not.  That’s part of the conundrum we’re faced with in today’s world.  Hurrah for freedom and democratic elections.  Thumbs down if the vote doesn’t go our way.  But thumbs up for caring about people living in humane environments.

What we’re  watching in the middle east is either the answer to our most fervent prayers or the unleashing of our worst nightmares.

Naively we think that freedom will result in some sort of dance of happiness between a middle east country and the USA.  Perhaps all we can reasonably hope for is that there will be a dance and we’ll be invited to watch.  It might very well be a dance that we aren’t prepared for and certainly don’t know the right steps or the proper rhythms.

The next few months will be interesting.  It’s the beginning, I think, of a huge learning curve for us in the west.  Voters, who don’t think very highly of us, might choose to send us a message while trying to reform their country.  We probably won’t like what we’re being told in many cases.

What an opportunity for us, huh?  We might learn some things about our collective selves that might lead to healthy reforms in our national consciousness.  We dare not think that our own house doesn’t need cleaning.  For as much good as we do around the world we are still thought of in some quarters as arrogant people who can be truly exasperating.

As others around the world move forward into uncharted waters we have a wonderful opportunity to do some personal and national soul searching.  Our own political waters are being churned.  It’s good for us to navigate some difficult currents.  Maybe God is trying to get the attention of all of us around the world. 

It's a good time to be alive.  Interesting chapters of history are being written.  We can choose to either be a willing or a reluctant character in this fascinating narrative.  Stay prayerful. Stay alert.  Get involved. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

May my will be done ...

God’s will. Do we really want it to be done? 

I think we’d all say yes. But what if that means your world gets rocked and your plans get derailed.  Still want it?

We’ve been preaching through the Lord’s prayer at our little worship service in the basement.  It’s been quite uncomfortable actually. "Thy will be done" stops me in my tracks. I’ve been wondering if I have what it takes to pray this prayer with any degree of sincerity and/or commitment.

In all honesty God’s will plays second fiddle all too often and the  truer prayer is …”May my will be done.”  I bet you know what I’m talking about.

God’s will is pretty clear on the macro level.  Cyprian and early Church Father says it pretty clearly: “The will of God ...means humility in behavior, constancy in faith, modesty in conversation, justice in deeds, mercy in judgments, discipline in morals. We should be incapable of doing wrong to anyone but able to bear patiently wrongs done to us. It requires that we live at peace with our brothers and sisters, loving God with our whole heart; loving Him as our Father.”

Who wouldn’t cheer for that definition?  But when the rubber hits the road living into God’s will isn’t quite that easy.

Here’s what gets in the way of ‘thy will be done”. We love the patterns of this world of ours.  We feel entitled.  We like going along with the crowd. We’re not particularly thoughtful or prayerful.  We can justify just about anything.  We conform too easily. And we really want God to be made into our image instead of being made into His. The decisions we make are made to make us feel good, to massage our ego, to mask our pain or to look good to others.  And if that’s the habit of our life then praying ‘thy will be done’ is really a stretch for us.  And basically it’s a lie.

All too often instead of seeking God’s will for my life I turn to what’s easy and convenient and shy away from commitments that might make my life inconvenient and sacrificial. 

The  will of God can get lost in the clutter of life.  But  even amidst the clutter God is still there, His will waiting to be discovered, searched for and discerned.

Discovering the will of God requires an understanding of Scripture, a willingness to distance ourselves from our ego, it requires dialogue with trusted friends, an awareness of the God driven commitments we already have in place ...and a willingness to take a leap of faith and fall into the arms of a loving God and taking our proper place in the story of faith.  And that’s the constant wrestling match in my own life. Am I willing to trust God even if appears that I’m out of step with the prevailing culture?

These are weighty things. And sometimes all I can do is muster up the courage to ‘do the next right thing’. I just don’t have the energy sometimes for digging deeper into scripture, or fight with my ego, or even converse with friends.  Sometimes all I can do is the next right thing and even that is a stretch.  But it always feels good to just take that little step of faith.  Sometimes it frees us.

In Busia, Uganda awhile back I met a woman who had taken in 26 boys who had been recruited by the Lord’s Republican Army. These boys (10, 11, 12 many of them) had watched their own parents die and some were forced to participate in those executions. They were then taught to be terrorists. Somehow these children were rescued. Their needs were great. The women we met needed help. She needed to feed these children who struggled to sleep at night because of the nightmares of their past.

And we were there. A handful of Americans and New Zealanders.  We were all being called to step into God’s will.  I think everyone stepped up to do something that night to help alleviate the pain.  It was the right thing to do.  But that right thing led to Anita and myself to rethink our giving patterns.  How best, we wondered, could we use what we have to reach the ‘least of these’? We live in a world where our comfort might very well be our prison cell and our generosity might be our release from captivity.  

I haven’t always believed that the little things are the big things.  I’m learning now that they are.  Stepping into God’s will is one little baby step at a time (thank you Bill Murray) for many of us.  And sometimes that’s all we can do.  But at least it’s a step with purpose.  And God can do something with that.

Friday, February 04, 2011


Fed up.  
Enough is enough.
No more. 
He’s got to go. 
We can’t wait for tomorrow anymore.

Out of the turmoil in Egypt comes the hope of people who can no longer stand to be oppressed.  These are people who are not being paid to riot or stand in disobedience.  (Although I’m sure there are some in the mix).  No, these are folks who dream of a better future and want a voice in developing that future.  They are tired of military and political oppression.  Tired of poverty. Tired of not having access to the best of things.  Tired of being in the back of the line.  Tired of a lack of opportunity. Tired of corruption.  Tired of dictatorship.

And I stand back, in the comfort of my reality, and shout ‘Bravo’.  Thank you for standing for what you think is right and good.

It’s hard  for us to understand what’s happening in Egypt and throughout the middle east.  It’s truly foreign to our recent experience. Perhaps the last time we witnessed it was during the Civil Rights Movement.  People are so fed up that they are willing to die for something better.  This isn’t some relatively miniscule difference between different forms of political expression.  This is a fight against tyranny and oppression. It transcends the skirmishes between Democrats and Republicans and Tea Party that sparks our national discussions.  Our issues are not life and death kind of things.  For the most part we are on the same page in the USA.  In Egypt people aren’t even using the same book.

And so, I stand in awe of those people who are standing up and standing strong against evil.  They could die for that.  And some will.  What am I willing to stand up to and for?

I don’t know what’s going to happen in Egypt.  This could end up badly for those wanting reform. They could be squashed literally and figuratively.  It could lead to free elections.  And a free people might choose someone we might not like very well here in the west.  But they could choose someone who will help usher in a new era of peace, honesty, and transparency.  It’s a bit of a crap shoot.

The world is changing in front of our eyes.  What was isn’t anymore  The locus of power and influence is changing from the west to the east.  Are we ready to adapt to the world that is instead of the world we hope will be?  Can the changes in places like Egypt be a catalyst for meaningful change here in the west?  What does power and influence look like in today’s global village?

Reform movements spark other reform movements.  For sure, some will be fueled by fundamentalists of every stripe.  And that scares me. It’s hard to reason with and make nice with crazy people.  But reform is inevitable and much of it should be welcomed. Of course if you’re on the receiving end of the the reformation then it gets  quite uncomfortable.  It’s always tough to look at the warts and malignancies you’ve introduced into a system.

Pray for Egypt.  Pray that the poor will be given a voice.  Pray that the religious minorities (that includes Christians) will not be persecuted.  Pray for wise voices to be heard.  Pray for justice to be done. Pray that wrongs will be righted and for human and civil rights to be honored.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Rules of Engagement

Rules of engagement when discussing important issues:

Don’t try to disguise opinions as fact.

Read enough to have a considered opinion.

Don’t parrot what you just heard on talk radio.

If you’re a person of faith root yourself in an understanding of the whole counsel of God. Don’t prooftext.

Understand that your reading of Scripture carries a cultural bias. Strive to understand that bias.

Understand history.

Please don’t try to pretend you’re objective.

Own your personal biases.

Please don’t generalize.

Seek first to understand.  Then to be understood.

Quit pretending you’re learned.  Adopt the posture of the learner.

Liberals are not the spawn of Satan.  Nor are conservatives.

Don’t try to reason with a crazy person.

Make sure you’re not crazy.

Admit when you’re wrong.

Look for points of agreement.

Apologize when you’ve overstepped your boundaries.

Compliment when appropriate.

Look for win/win agreements.

Don’t make it personal.

Be firm but kind. Stand strong but don't be a jerk about it.

Be willing to change your mind.

If you’re a law keeper practice grace.

If you think God doesn’t stand for anything look again.

All people matter to God.  All people.

When talking about cultural issues look to see what God might be saying or has already said.

Be a bridge builder.

Articulate your opinion in a way that makes people want to understand.

Walk away when things get too heated. Come back another time.

It’s always about ‘a long obedience in the same direction’.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


Eamon was born today.  Eamon Patrick Murphy.  My grandson.  My son Kevin is the father and Joanie, his wife, is mom.  Eamon is Celtic and and it means ‘Prosperous Protector’.  May it be so .  May he grow to be wealthy in the things of God, generous of spirit, and known to have a big heart and winsome personality.  May he protect those things worth protecting and go to battle against those things that oppress people and are inherently evil.  And may he be gifted with the discernment necessary to know the difference.

I remember when Kevin was born.  It was in the shadows of Circus Circus in Reno.  Jaundiced with a pointy head he came into the world and into our life. He’s made me laugh and cry.  I watched him grow to be a man and now a father. The love of his life is Joanie.  Both are treasures, two of God’s greatest creations.  They have what it takes to be good parents.  

Eamon will grow up in a different kind of world.  It is a world that will be filled with amazing challenges needing strong leaders.  Is it wrong to pray that my grandson will be one of those people who will make a significant difference? It doesn’t have to be in big ways but by confidence in the content of his character and the acquired habits of positive and effective  influence may he grow into the mission God has for him. 

It’s a good day.  I’ll always remember the Big Blizzard of 2011.  For Eamon arrived.  And my heart is glad.  Very glad.  

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Random Discoveries

I’m not afraid to ‘do’ theology.
Much of the Christian life is improv.  That’s hard for rule keepers to accept.
Experts are oftentimes just making their best guess guided both by both their scholarship and their bias.  Sometimes it’s more bias than scholarship.
Too many are afraid to interact with Scripture.  Really interact with it. 
I really like people who have a considered opinion and a listening ear.
Change is hard and inevitable.
Radical conservatives and radical liberals bore me. 
Thinking conservatives and thinking liberals make me smile.
All the stuff between Republicans, Democrats, and Tea Party is getting increasingly tedious.
I’m pretty stuck on this “Jesus” thing I’ve found.
Too many are afraid to think out loud.  They’ve been judged one too many times.
I think churches that don’t allow women into leadership have some explaining to do.
I still think God’s intention is one man, one woman ...for a lifetime. Realizing how complicated that all is in today’s world.
I can see some good things in the Illinois Civil Unions legislation.
Thanking God for a spiritual director.
I really do hate driving in the snow.
My wife is an absolutely incredible person.
Realizing I don’t care a whole lot about who wins the Super Bowl.
I’m falling in love with the “Lord’s Prayer”.
Had some people over for lunch on Sunday.  Really good conversationists are hard to find ...a group of them graced our great room.
If we don’t care about the poor we are walking away from God.
Sometimes when I give to my church I feel as if I’m giving to myself.
Regarding church music.  All of should be ‘contemporary’.  Lest that starts an argument ...doesn’t matter the style as long as it really is used to speak to real people living in real time.
The church is losing influence.  Lucky to be part of one that wants to figure it all out.
Without the influence of the church the world would be a much sorrier place.
When people my age disparage young people I want to introduce them to the staff at Breakthrough.
Regarding Christian radio.  Who decided that taped sermon after taped sermon communicates well to today’s world?  
TV news during a snow storm is about as entertaining as it gets.
The notion of grace sometimes stops me in my tracks.
Why do I think that I’m entering into the most interesting phase of my life?
I need a new knee.
Working with and being on a good team is a blast.
Maybe this won’t be the Cubs year.  Nah.  It will be.