Friday, March 30, 2012

Easy to Hate

Have you ever thought about what Jesus's command to love enemies and pray for persecutors is all about? It's a tough passage of scripture. (Matthew 5: 38-48) It's almost counterintuitive or at least countercultural.

It's easy to hate. Just look at the world around us. Go to the middle east and witness what centuries old patterns of hate and an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth have wrought. Read the the stories of the violence recently in Chicago. Over what? A corner. A grudge that had to be avenged. A misspoken word. Turn on a talk radio show and listen to the unreasonable ranting and raving and you wonder if there's any sanity left in this world. Watch the political ads and if you don’t cringe when you hear the attack dogs barking …well, something is wrong. There is an appalling lack of impulse control these days.

And often, we as Christians are right in the mix.

I once worked at a bible church and received a call from someone who knew I had grown up Roman Catholic. "Hey, Mike, we're staring a group for ex Catholics and wanted to see if you'd like to attend?" I said, "Sure, but you need to know something. I'm not angry. I thank God for my upbringing and for the men and women who helped shape me." "Oh," the person said. "Well maybe this group wouldn't be for you."

We like to pick sides, choose teams, argue and debate. And much of that is so healthy. But I'm convinced that the rapid demise of civility is the result of us not desiring to love in the radical way of Jesus. And so what we do instead is marginalize those who are different and/or difficult and label them our enemy.

This loving our enemy stuff doesn't mean that we don't have disagreement and even vigorous debate around culture and moral issues. It doesn't mean we become a doormat. It does means that in the midst of the heat of the battle we are to bear in mind that Jesus calls us to a higher standard and that's to love our enemy and to pray for those who persecute us. To see all people as having worth because they are made in the image and likeness of God.

Jesus, in scripture, tells the Jews to suffer the humiliation of being forced by a Roman to carry his gear for one mile (a law by the way) and to offer to take the gear another mile yet.Why? One commentator says that by "offering to go a second mile you'd be saying that you can't insult me because my life is secure in the beautiful kingdom of God. And so, let me give you a taste of God 's amazing grace. Let me carry your burden one more mile."

And therein lies the secret. We can love our enemies and pray for our persecutors only as a response to what God is doing in our lives. And even then, I do admit, it can be a difficult road to travel.

We live in a world desperately in need of extravagant love. Martin Luther King Jr. once said "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. "

This is an important word for us at this time in our history. We've got to quit hating and we've got to stand up to the haters. We gotta quite believing that our hate will solve problems. Perhaps we should follow the advice of a British pundit who said ..."Perhaps the only people we should try to get even with are the ones who have done us good."

Love builds the bridge. Nothing else. Love. Period. Love is a process and always a decision. It's a decision to look long and hard enough to see the image of God in a person. It's a decision to move towards them, often starting with prayer.

Hate locks us a prison of bitterness and revenge. Love frees us. To often we can find ourselves in ugly battles with people …always analyzing who’s up and who’s down, always seeking the upper hand, analyzing every slight …that’s no way to live. And Jesus offers a way out of that …love. And then he makes a striking promise …When you love even your enemies …then you will be known as my sons and daughters.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Thinking about Technology

I was reading in Leadership Journal and this statement was made by 29 year old Jonathan Merritt in an article entitle ‘Outlooks on Outreach’: “… racism was a blind spot for my dad's generation. But at least now they do see it, and people like my dad have confessed it as a sin. I'm not sure my generation even sees our blind spots yet. For instance, my generation is addicted to our technology, but we don't have a clue how this is affecting our spiritual lives.”

I don’t think it’s just a younger generation that is addicted to technology and I believe that most of us haven’t figured out whether or not technology is good or bad for our soul. And for those who believe soul care care benefits from technology I wonder if some thinking has to be done as to when enough is enough.

My own experience with technology lends me to believe that it has the ability to consume me.  I am hugely wired compared to many.  I have four email accounts, I tweet occasionally, and  I blog, Facebook is a must see every day (often every day). I have a Kindle, an ipod, iphone and an ipad. I love my Apple TV.  And I don’t like to check into a hotel that doesn’t have internet access.  So, is all this good for my soul or not?

My admission. At first blush  technology takes me further from God and doesn’t bring me closer to Him. It has often kept me from eye to eye contact with people I care about.  The time I spend randomly accessing random things could be better spent in some rather old-fashioned things like prayer, reading Scripture, helping others, and face to face conversation.

So, am I ready to go back to a rotary phone, an abacus, and a typewriter?  Hardly.   A second look at my technology habit makes me realize that all too often it controls me instead of my controlling it.  When I control it, technology is a great tool.  A really great tool.  When it controls me then it becomes my priority instead of  being the means to a greater end.

Dallas Willard talks about having a Vision, Intention, and Means for our life (VIM).  My vision for my spiritual and relational life is not to have it consumed by technology.  Instead, it is to cultivate the habits necessary to grow my soul and my friendships. I want to expand my potential in each area and not limit it..  Deciding how to use technology wisely and in appropriate time constraints can help me in my soul cultivation and relational connectivity.

If I don’t have the proper intentionality I will be guided by the tyranny of the urgent.  And one thing technology is adept at delivering is the notion that everything is urgent and important.  It’s not.  Much of what I do with technology has no importance whatsoever.

Could I live without technology? Certainly.  But I do love some of the simple pleasures it brings to my life.  I love carrying a huge library of books and music in a tiny package.  I don’t miss pay phones.  And typing on a laptop beats that old typewriter any day of the year. So, getting rid of technology is not something I’m yearning to do.

But hear me.  Technology is problematic for me.  Maybe for you too.  It’s not just some kind of neutral force.  It has an ability to snatch our time and energy.  It’s use gives the appearance of productivity. It becomes, all too often, the means and the end.  It defines our vision instead of serving it.  It can become a god of sorts. That should concern us.