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Archive for April, 2010

Right now, I am teaching my U.S. History students about the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, when Lincoln freed all the Confederate slaves. While I was teaching this, I came across a very strange cartoon-which is very relevant to today. In the cartoon, Lincoln is seen stepping on the Constitution and being influenced by the Devil himself to issue the document ensuring the freedom of the slaves. Today the cartoon shocks us. How can someone doing something as sacred as freeing human beings from bondage be seen as the worker of Satan? How can religion get so warped that what is positive and representative of the spirit of their faith is twisted in such a way to make it look evil?

Perhaps, the same can be said today in the latest health care debates. While everyone is free to have their own opinions about the issue and all of its ramifications. Those who are trying to paint Obama as some type of evil for trying to ensure that more Americans have healthcare will be shown by history to be just as wrong as those who painted Lincoln in this light. Those who made the important changes in the country whether it was Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, or King were all accused of being some type of evil. However, just they have been vindicated by history, history will surely vindicate the fight for health care reform that our president has fought for.

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Last week the newly elected Republican Governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, made a declaration to celebrate Confederate History Month in his state. This doesn’t greatly surprise me. I was born in South Carolina. However, it seems like we could have evolved beyond this by the year 2010.

Since I am a history teacher, I know that the reason the South left the United States was not only because of slavery. There were the issues of state’s rights, the tariff issue, and other sectional conflicts. However, it is clear that slavery was the underlying force that drove the South to secede. How can we celebrate the Confederacy when it was based on slavery, racism, rebellion? Maybe the Republican Party should realize from this why very few African-Americans are in their party, or minorities overall for that matter when they have governors making decisions like this. We must look to the past, but cannot celebrate it blindly. The past of the U.S. and every other country is filled with positive aspects and negative aspects. The confederate rebellion was a shameful part of our history, not one to be celebrated from the state house. How do we celebrate when thousands and thousands of men and supposed followers of Christ slaughtered each other for no purpose.

The biggest problem with this declaration is that it prevents progress in the future. We are still in the process of racial and social reconciliation in the country. I could see this loud and clear when I was teaching at a school in South Carolina and saw the racial issues that still seem to be underlying and plaguing us. Acts like celebrating the Confederacy, which is deeply offensive to most African Americans, drives a wedge which is unneeded and serves absolutely no purpose. It is 2010, let’s not let the celebration of an oppressive, violent, sad, and backwards time in our country still define us and divide us further.

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Many people like to say that Martin Luther King was one of their heroes. However, I think many people forget what he really stood for. Ironically, Glenn Beck the other day talked about the greatness of Martin Luther King. Really?? If he was alive today, he would be attacked as a socialist, “evil” progressive, and rabble-rouser. If Beck thinks of Obama as a communist or “Nazi”, I can’t imagine the words he would have had for King in the 60’s. We so easily forget don’t we? We have to remember that Dr. King’s message and the Civil Rights Movement was much more than just racial justice, it also a great deal to do with economic justice and a reduction in militarism. Dr. King was not only hated because he spoke up for the rights of African-Americans in the South, but also because he spoke out against the Vietnam War and restrictions on the capitalistic system, which seemed to be making it impossible for the poor to have any chance.

Just as today we honor King for his legacy of racial justice, history will one day vindicate this President and his change on health care. Sometimes it takes a few years to look back and actually see the impact and the truth. Let’s not forgot the fight, anger, and hatred about the Civil Rights Movement, which today is almost unanimously embraced. Also, let’s not forgot the full message of the Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King. If we simply leave his legacy as a man for racial justice, we miss a huge part of what is whole aim and purpose was. Let’s not water him down and make him a hero, while at the same attacking most of what he stood for. The reality is that if he were alive today he would be confronted with more hatred and anger than Obama could ever hope to experience. However, if he were still alive today, I believe he would also still be holding forth the voice of social, economic, and racial justice. Fortunately, we have others that have followed in his path and continued to carry his message. I believe that with the passing of this new legislation, Dr. King is smiling down on the progress we are trying to make.

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2000 years ago, the resurrection changed everything about the way Christians see God, death, life, and redemption. It also changed the world; it changed the course and direction of the world-from death to life. Somehow, it also changed the way that we interact with humanity and the world-through the lens of the kingdom of God.

In a mystical and supernatural way, the resurrection brings us back into the arms of the father. It takes our death, self-destruction, and evil and turns it into forgiveness, grace, and love. Choosing to live in the life of Jesus fills us with light and helps us to leave the darkness all around us. In the resurrection of Christ, we find forgiveness, hope, and strength.

The resurrection also symbolizes the rejuvenation of the world. The Bible states it as all creation groaning for their day of redemption. Though there is certainly still death and destruction around us, because of the resurrection there is also a river of life which is healing the nations, in sometimes obvious and in sometimes very subtle ways. In Christianity, it is called the Kingdom of God- and it is around us and growing everyday. We often miss this reality, not because it doesn’t exist, but because we have not opened our eyes to it.

Finally, the resurrection brings us back together with the human family. The desire of Jesus for to become peace makers, the salt of the earth, and individuals who love are enemies was granted to us by his resurrected life. In the resurrection, there is no distinction between class, race, nationality, or culture. We have been called to a new experience of love and laying down our lives for all, even those outside our religious beliefs and ideas. Many seem scared of the world coming together- I think it is beautiful. It is simply a glimpse of the day that is dawning when heaven and are earth are made one. This resurrection time, let us become one with our creator, one with the world that he has redeemed, and one with all humanity in which reconciliation, peace, and life are now possible.

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I have never quite understood the celebration of Palm Sunday. After all, weren’t many of the people worshipping Jesus on Palm Sunday the same ones calling for his death a week later? Wasn’t the whole premise of their worship based on a distorted view of the message of Jesus?

In my Ancient Civilizations class, we have been studying about the Roman Empire and their oppression of the different territories. It seems we have abused words like tyranny and dictator so greatly(which nowadays seems to be applied to whatever political position you don’t agree with) that we forget the real tyranny these people were facing. The Jewish people hated Rome, and we should have no problem seeing why. It is easy for us to stand and back and say that they should have learned to make peace with their captors; however, it seems as if we start wars and rebellions for things far less today (the British in the American Revolution looked pretty mild compared to the Romans). It was during this time that the Jewish people were looking for a Messiah. Again, in the context of Christianity we have so much meaning and connotation with the word Messiah that we may forget how the Jewish people thought about this word during the time of the Romans. They thought of it as the deliverer of their people, not only in some spiritual way, but in a very political and military sense, to overthrow the very oppressive regime of the Roman Empire-which maintained their power by bloodshed, terror, and injustice.

All of a sudden Jesus comes into the picture? He is healing the sick and raising the dead. Perhaps, he is the one; he is the leader to free the Jewish people from the hands of their oppressors. They worship him as their political liberator, when he has actually come for something universal- to take away the sins of the world. He has come to set up a kingdom, but it is not a kingdom to be won by bloodshed, war, and rebellion- but by becoming peacemakers, forgiving one’s enemies, and trying to show love to all. This is not what the people wanted- they wanted revenge, vengeance, and justice. Perhaps, we forget the irony of Jesus coming in on a donkey. This is not the animal to ride for a powerful military leader; it was the animal that best symbolized the message of the Prince of Peace.

I think Palm Sunday should be a time for us to reflect on that peace. We should not only raise palm branches and sing hallelujah, but reflect on the political and military power that Jesus refused to take up- and which led many to turn away from him and eventually call for his death. Palm Sunday emphasizes the message and the path that Jesus chose, and which he asked his follower to choose. This Holy Week let’s remember the scandalous, and at times, uncomfortable, message and picture of our Prince of Peace riding on a donkey, forgoing political and military prestige, to lay down his life for the sins of the world- who asked his followers to carry on this same peaceful and transformative way of living. If we truly grasped this new way of living, not only would our lives be changed, but the entire society, culture, and eventually-the world

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Anyone who has spent any time in the church is familiar with the Eucharist or communion. In Christianity, we take the bread and wine because of the deep, powerful significance Christ put on it right before his death and resurrection. As we take in the bread and body of the Lord, we become one with him in his life and one with him in his death. We remember the body that was sacrificed for us and the blood that was poured out for the sins of the world. We take the communion or Eucharist to remember and to enter into the divine space where we in a special way become one with the Savior.

However, the Eucharist also should compel us to join in that sacrifice. The followers of Jesus are called the body of Christ and as Jesus body was torn and broken for us, we are to give our lives for others. Frankly, this sounds great, but in the end it is much more difficult. It requires giving up our rights, our “freedom”, and our liberty to love our neighbor and lay down our lives for them. On an instinctual level, this sounds horrible to me. I want to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. However, the cross of Jesus not only calls us to become one with God and live in his forgiveness, it also calls us to take that same example of sacrificial and undeserving love and bless the world with it. In the end, Jesus was much more about love than power, sacrifice than gain, and peace than individualistic concerns. If the church was like this, how would it change the world? The Church in the west is in decline, much of it due to our wrong perspective on the message of Jesus-using it as a tool for power and not as a tool for blessing and peace. What would happen if we actually became the Eucharist this Easter season? How would the world be transformed? How would the message of Jesus be expanded unto all the earth?

I love how the Minister Rob Bell puts it,

“The way of Jesus is the path of descent. It’s about our death. It’s our willingness to join the world in its suffering, it’s our participation in the new humanity, it’s our weakness calling out to others in their weakness…
The Eucharist is what happens when the question is asked, What does it look like for us to be a Eucharist for these people, here and now? What does it look like for us to break ourselves open and pour ourselves out for the healing of these people in this time in this place?

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We love focusing on life and resurrection, but it is naturally painful for us to focus on death, agony, and seeming defeat. This time of year, whatever term you may call it by, was made for that purpose though. It is a time for us to go into the deep places, the sorrowful places, and in the process find life, and find it more abundantly. One of the ways we learn to go this place is emerging ourselves in the death of Jesus, simply allowing ourselves to live and breathe from there for a time. We as a culture love to seek happiness, but only going through death and pain can we really find redemption and life. To see Jesus on the cross wipes out all are pride, vanity, and selfish illusions. As we focus on the death of the Savior, we die to ourselves inside. We die to our individual wants and desires and just as Jesus, are filled with a love and compassion for our neighbor and our fellow man. I’m afraid sometimes we have made salvation solely an individual experience. However, as we see Jesus laying down his life for the sins of the world, we also rise and give our lives for the redemption and restoration of the world. This time of year, let the heaviness overwrap you for a time. Though we know that sorrow only lasts for the night, it is important for us to not merely sleep through that night, but to experience in it in all its rawness, pain, and agony. Accept the dying Christ into your being, and you will not only find redemption and freedom, but a renewed vision where we begin laying down our lives for our friends, neighbors, enemies, and in our own unique way-the world

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