Where have you gone, Atticus

Harper Lee, the author of the classic novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird” died a few weeks ago.  Many considered her a one hit wonder, writing a great novel and never writing anything, at least for publication, ever again.  Recently a second novel “Go Set a Watchman” a prequel of sorts was published.  But many close to Harper Lee said she never intended it to be made available to the public. It was an early work about the characters we would come to see in “To Kill a Mockingbird”

In some ways, to lable Lee a one hit wonder may be a bit unfair.  Rather than labeling her the literary version of The Knack and “My Sharonna”, it might be more accurate  to say she hit her masterpiece ealry. It’s easy to write, and write again when you keep getting better. But when you reach the summit with your first work, where do you go from there?

When I think about “Mockingbird” I am instantly transported back to the front porch of my Grandparents house when I first read the book sitting on their green porch swing one hot summer when I was 9.   I can still remember simultaneously being caught up in the story and fighting off the vertigo that comes from laying on a porch swing and reading for hours.

Of course, at nine I was too young to get all the nuances of the book. As an adult, though I’m amazed at the insight Lee pours into Atticus Finch, who I will always see as Gregory Peck. Am I the only who hears Peck when you read the book?

I’ve no idea where Lee’s faith was, although it is notable her funeral was in the local United Methodist church. But even if her personal faith isn’t strong (I’ve no idea) there is a firm Christian witness in the book in Finch and in how he deals with the issues at hand.

Finch teaches us that winning isn’t the reason we do something. We do things because they are right.  Finch has no hope of winning the case in the story. Even though the evidence is strong in the favor of his client, the racism and the salacious nature of the case of rape of a white girl are stronger still. Yet even though he knows he can’t win. He still defends the innocent.  How often do we hold ourselves back from doing the right thing, even in our own spiritual lives or in the world because we assume we won’t be successful? Rightness more than success ought to be the measuring stick of our endeavors.

Change comes in small moments, bit by bit.  Finch does lose the trial.  But notice what happens here:

Perhaps one of the most powerful moments in a film. The people know even if Finch didn’t win the case, the fact he took it fought for the accused was a small change. Enough small changes and the world itself becomes different. Change in the world doesn’t always come from big catastrophic moments. Sometimes it comes in small moments, even in moments of defeat.

We are called to be world changers. But we often fall into the trap that all change comes at once, and that it must come in big ways. We forget its when the people of faith are willing to make even small changes, even in defeat that God can use those moments to change the world.

Its true for our discipleship as well. We want, rightly , to become Christlike. And we’d love for it to happen all at once. But it often doesn’t. It sometimes comes in small ways. God often works to change our hearts in small ways. But in time, if we are faithful, we slowly, surely become more like Christ.  Even our defeats can bring us closer to Jesus, if we are willing to give them to us.

Where have the Atticus Finch’s of the world gone? They haven’t.  They are, in Pogo’s world, us. Let us begin to do what’s right when the world tells us it’s wrong . Let us measure our success not by our wins, but by the rightness of our cause. Let us in small ways every day become more like Jesus and change the world.  Then, just maybe we’ll see Atticus isn’t so far from us after all.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

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It Ain’t Easy

“Keep examining yourselves to see whether you are continuing in the faith. Test yourselves! You know, don’t you, that Jesus the Messiah lives in you? Could it be that you are failing the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Ok, Personal, pastoral confession time. I don’t particularly like Lent.  I understand it. I understand the whole preparation and the rhythm of the church year thing. I get it. But it’s simply never been my favorite time of the year.

I’ve never been big, personally on introspection.  I’m usually too busy to take the time to look “deep inside myself”.  And let’s face it, at some point during Lent somebody will suggest  we  look inward and examine our hearts, or take a long hard look at our spiritual life.

Advent doesn’t ask us that.  It just tells us to get ready for the coming of Jesus.  There’s no introspection, and certainly no self denial.  Epiphany doesn’t take any of the fun out of life, it adds to it. Easter and Christmas? Party and celebration time. Pentacost is full of fire and excitement.  Lent… Well Lent is different.

Self denial and introspection.  Does anyone really enjoy that?  I admit I may take it to a whole other level.  Have you seen the commercial that begins, “What if I told you one serving of kale would prevent diabetes?”  I saw that, turned to my wife and said, “Looks like someone is getting diabetes.”  Surely kale is the epitome of self denial.  Actually kale is probably the official leafy green of the Lenten season.  Want to experience self denial? Want to know what it means to carry your cross? Here have a kale smoothie.

But here is the thing. Each year I observe Lent, not in spite of the fact I’m not naturally wired to it, but because I’m not attuned to it. Life, especially our spiritual life isn’t supposed to be easy.  It’s not always pleasant. Lent reminds me of that.

Lent allows us to embrace the entire life of Jesus. We’re supposed to be His disciples aren’t we? That means following Jesus everywhere. Not just to the wedding at Cana,or the party at Lazerus’ house. But also to Gethsemene, to Golgotha, and to the grave. Observing Lent allows us to participate fully in the life of Jesus in ways we otherwise might not.

Lent gives us the opportunity to be obedient to God. Look again at our Scripture. Time and time again, the word  of God demands that we take time to examine ourselves. Why? For the same reason we go to the doctor, or do a self examination. Our health depends on it. A physical disease does not go away simply because we ignore it.  Or because we would rather not go through the pain or trauma of surgery and rehabilitation.  Healing is only possible when we are examined, and when we our treated.  So it is with our hearts. No, we don’t like looking at how diseased with sin our hearts have become. But it’s the only way God can begin to heal us.

Lent awakens our compassion toward others. It’s only when we have borne a cross for a while that we understand the burdens others carry. Lent, and a time of self denial, keeps our hearts from becoming calloused and hardened toward others. We experience a greater empathy toward others when we look at our own faults. And as God heals us, we stand as a witness to the  power of God to change someone.

So this year, like every year, I’m observing the season of Lent.  I can’t say it’s getting any easier. But of course that’s the point. I have learned, though, that my goal is not to have an easy Lent, but to have a Lent that in the end makes me more like Jesus. What’s Lent doing for your life?

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

Lent All Year Long

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” (Hebrews 13:15 NIV)

An online survey recently asked “What did you give up for Lent”  They posted the top 25 most popular things to give up for Lent. The results were fascinating, and at times pretty funny.  You can read the entire list at this link  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2014/03/07/the-25-most-popular-things-to-give-up-for-lent-online/

The number one most popular thing to give up for Lent? School (Pretty sure Mom and Dad, while they appreciate your devout spirit, won’t let that one slide) followed by chocolate, Twitter,  Swearing (You probably shouldn’t be doing that anyway) Alcohol, Soda, Social Networks, Sweets, fast food and at # 10 Homework (Nice try Billy. But if Mom and Dad won’t let you give up school, they’ll probably insist on you finishing your homework).

By the way, giving up Lent for Lent came in at #11.  I’ve never tried that.  I’m not sure what might happen if we did this. It might open up some strange eccelsastical wormhole in the church.

If you look at the entire list you’ll notice a couple of trends. They divide themselves, for the most part, between what we put into our bodies (fast food, sugar, soda, etc.) and social media, which says something both to how prominent social media has become in our lives and  a need to push back  agaisnt it.

Most of the items on the list have to do with self  improvement. I’m going to run the risk of sounding cynical, but I’m pretty sure a lot of what is given up for Lent has to do with us wanting to lose a few pounds before spring, and not so much with our spiritual journey.   Even stepping back from social media so that we can be more engaged with the real world has to do with self improvement.

Not that there is anything wrong with self improvement.  We can all use a little improvement.  And stepping away from food that’s bad for us, even for a season is one thing most of us in America should do.  If you don’t believe  me, go to any State Fair and look around (bacon cheeseburger on a grilled donut with a deep fried snicker anyone?)

And as much as I use social media, it can pull us away from our loved ones and  creates a false sense of intimacy. Curtailing that isn’t so bad either.

But having the self, even with the goal of self improvement, as the center of Lent is counterproductive to what the season is about. Lent is to be a time when we focus not on ourselves, but on God. We fast, or lay things aside, not out of a desire to look good, but to be able to lay even the good things of life aside and allow God to be first in our lives. It’s a way to say “We acknowledge all the good things in life, and they are good. But even good gifts  can get in the way of our intimacy with God.  And above all else we want you”

Taking this attitude doesn’t mean we change what it is we set aside. They could be the very same things. But the intention with which we do so changes everything.  Rather  than going into Lent reluctantly or giving up something out of duty, we find we enter this season with joy.  We should end it with  reluctance, knowing it means the world will again force  itself into our time and thoughts.

Lent shouldn’t be a season, but a way of life. It’s a time that teaches us how to live. It sets a pattern for our lives where God always comes first. As we enter into Lent this year, instead of seeing it as a church season to be endured, see it as a lifestyle where everything in your life is set before the throne of God. Allow it to change how you live and think, not just how you look. Lent. It’s not just for a season.

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

The Reluctant Journey

“My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave awaits me.” (job 17:10 NIV)

Well, it’s finished. The Super Bowl is done and Denver begins their reign as champions of the NFL. For all of its over hype, I have to admit I enjoy the Super Bowl.  I look forward to it even if my favorite teams aren’t playing.  Actually my favorite teams haven’t played in a Super Bowl in a long time.

But I enjoy the hype leading up to it. I enjoy all of the analysis. I enjoy watching the commercials , at least most of them. I remain more than a bit uncomfortable with the puppy/monkey/baby creature. Mascots should make you want to buy the product, not create an urge to grab a baseball bat and try to kill it while you mutter prayers to send it back to the Netherworld from which it came.

And this game, at least on paper had a lot going for it. The old pro versus the brash young gunslinging quarterback. One QB a physical Phenom, the other moving as if he is put together by bailing wire. A top offense versus a crippling defense. In some ways that’s what you want to see in a Super Bowl.

But what I enjoy the most is the after game interviews and press conferences.  Well, specifically the interviews with the losers.  Please don’t think I’m being particularly sadistic about that. But let’s face it, the interviews with the winners are pretty boring. They all pretty much say the same thing. They thank their teammates, family and owners. talk about giving 100%, its a team effort. And of course, giving God a shout out.  Or as Payton Manning said last night, “I thank the man upstairs.” Who is that, God? Jesus? Mr. Furley from 3’s Company?

Boring. But the interviews with those who lost? Now that’s interesting.  It’s in those interviews we really see the measure of someone. It’s there, we truly discover what they are like. Because anyone can say the right thing when you win.  That’s easy. It’s how one handles defeat and loss that makes the difference in life.

One of the things I’ve noticed is while God (or the Man Upstairs) is frequently mentioned and thanked during a win, we hardly ever hear about Him during a loss. I mean when was the last time you heard a player say, “I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for being with us during this devastating loss.” or “I want to give thanks to the Man upstairs even though I’m hearbroken’?  Ok maybe Tim Tebow, but anyone else?

The point is this. It’s easy to see the hand and blessing of God when everything goes your way. It’s something else to see and acknowledge Him when we lose or experience pain and disappointment. Can we, like Job claim both our pain and the goodness of God?

It’s an important question isn’t it? Not all of us will experience the joy of being a champion. But all of us will experience discomfort, loss and disappointment in life. Can we claim our pain and God’s goodness in one breath?

This Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Lent, like Advent is a journey we take to prepare ourselves . In Advent we prepare for Christmas. In Lent we prepare for Easter, yet know we must travel through loss, betrayal, denial, and the cross to get there. It is in many ways a reluctant Journey.

Ash Wednesday reminds us of our mortality and the weakness of life. From the beginning, we are called to remember our loss and impermanence in the world. Lent is a time for us to set things aside, in part to focus on God. But also to recognize our weaknesses and how hard self denial really is.

But to simply make lent about loss and how weak, we are is missing the point. The point of Lent is not to remind us that we lose, or are disappointed.  The purpose of Lent is to remind us that even in the midst of loss God, a good God is with us.  He is with us in illness.  With us during heartbreak. With us when we are disappointed.

Lent also reminds us that tears do not  last and that the cross is not the end of the story. Lent always, always leads us to Easter. So let us rise together and take this reluctant journey.  Let us seek God, even in our pain. And let us go to Easter.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

Round and Round We go..

“The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John” (Revelation 1:1 NIV)

 

A few weeks ago, my wife and I had a chance to see the new Star Wars movie “The Force Awakens”.  In order to not read any “spoliers” I stayed away from as many reviews as I possibly cloud, alnog with anything anyone may have posted on social media.  Even then, I understood most of the reviews were fairly positive, certainly in light of the prequel trilogy.

Of course, no matter how hard you try you’re bound to discover a few things.  One of the comments I came across was that some expressed a disappointment the movie seemed to be a simple remake of the first movie, except for some minor differences(female versus male protagonist for example).  That’s always discouraging to hear.  I thought to myself, why remake the first movie all over again?  Is Hollywood so bereft of talent and ideas that they produce nothing original and entertaining? (Don’t answer that).

For the world, we both thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Some interesting new ideas and characters. I’m Ok with everything not being tied up with a bow at the end.  After all it’s another trilogy, so they need to let the story fill itself out in it’s on due time.

But there is no getting around the fact on the surface it does appear to be a retread of the first. “Hey let’s take the hero from the first movie, a young man, orhpan (or is he)  on a desert planet dreaming of something bigger and replace him with a young woman on a desert planet, and orphan (or is she) dreaming of something bigger”. It’ll totally work.

But as I said, that’s only on the surface. I wonder if there isn’t something else going on.  Remember that the movies are steeped in Eastern religion and mysticism. Themes of balance between good and evil instead of the ultimate destruction of evil. It may be what we see in the film is not so much a lack of originality as it is a nod to the Eastern idea that not only history, but the world repeats itself.  Just like the seasons repeat themselves, so does the world with a history of war then peace etc. The world and the universe, why time itslef is simply set on reboot mode every so often.  Sort of a cosmic, karmic version of Bill Murray’s “Groundhod Day”.

 

Many of us seem to believe that’s how the universe operates. We say things like, “What goes around, comes around.” We accept ideas like Karma and talk about how history repeats itself.  I can understand the attraction. There’s something comforting about the notion that the guy who cuts me off in traffic will get his some day, I suppose.  Except, deep down, that never seems to happen. Karma seems to have some big gaps.

But while it’s comforting, it’s not really a Biblical understanding of time at all. The Scriptures, and through them our Christian faith, has a much better understanding of time and history.  In the end this concept proves to be far more satisfying than the Eastern idea of history repeating itself.

The book of Revelation helps us to understand that time is not repeating itself but moving forward.  It tells us that while we may experience certain events in history (War, times of peace, famine, times of plenty) that God has an ultimate plan for all of us.  Revelation, as hard as it may be to understand, at its core remind us that God sits on the throne even in times of chaos or persecution. It tells us that even in the darkest moments of life God has His hand on our lives and on the  universe. Most importantly, it tells us that  in the end, evil does not triumph.  Evil will end. There is a far greater plan for all of us when Jesus returns as the victor over all things.

This is how we as Christians have hope when it seems we may be stuck in the repeat cycle. Even on days when we feel as if we can’t get ahead, we know it will not always be like this. Our sorrow will end, the tear will be wiped from our eyes, our sins will lose their power and be cast far from us.  Better than “The Force” is the hope that awakens within all of us when we know Jesus will return and joy and peace will be eternal.

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><