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Looking Back to Move Forward

back_to_the_future_06

Where are we, the (2)1st century or the 21st century?

“That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 1:9 

In Christ, the passage of time doesn’t have the same relevance it has apart from Him.  Whether we’re in the 1st century or the 21st century, Christ is unchanging.

I want to live, always being ready to give a reason for the hope I  have within, and doing so with gentleness and respect.  (1 Peter 3:15)

Join me if you like.

  My Highest Aspiration: To have no life but Christ’s….for Him to be in me and I in Him… for He is in the Father.

BLH 2

 

 

Bright Hope for Tomorrow

“… the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

Tonight, I’m scheduled to be on a Zoom call with fellow alums from my elementary school class.  It was arranged by a friend I’ve known since kindergarten.  It’s always been his habit to keep tabs on everyone throughout the years.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he has a file on each one of us tracing our school and career progress all the way to retirement age.  Over the years I, like the others, have gotten phone calls, cards, emails and text and FB messages from him, checking-in on us and bringing us up to date with his life.  Once, I came home to find that he actually drove 60 or so miles to leave a mix CD of music from our teen and college days in my mailbox.  I still have it and play it from time to time.

I saw some of the folks slated to be on tonight’s call a year ago this month at our 50 year high school reunion.  Most I could recognize; a few I couldn’t.  I expect tonight will be different in that, despite not being in the same room physically, we’ll have more time to really catch-up than in a crowded and noisy banquet facility.  At least, I hope that’s the case.

Thinking about this has brought to mind memories of our elementary school.  I knew every room in that building, even the janitor’s closets.  Even today, I can form a mental picture of its layout, the entrance ways, the staircases, which teachers were assigned to different rooms upstairs and downstairs, and the dreaded Principal’s office.  I still have some sense memory of the building’s smell and that of chalk dust in the air.  I can picture the playground just outside of the west entrance and the candy store across the street from the east side entrance (If you had a dime, you could treat all your friends to penny candy or you could buy two candy bars.).  You passed a baseball field and a large open grassy area adjacent to where the teachers parked their cars as you walked onto the property from the southside, which I did countless times in my childhood.  So much of my childhood play, in school and out of school, was spent on that property.

When I was home for the reunion last year, I drove by and saw that my school had been demolished and replaced with office buildings as a part of a township redevelopment plan.  I hadn’t been back in years and wasn’t expecting to see this.  I experienced a melancholy moment or two.  It shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise; the building was old but a part of me was still emotionally attached to it.

That was the second of two of the schools I attended that have been demolished and replaced, the first one being my middle school which was already ancient when I was in the 7th and 8th grade.  That thing was eventually going fall under its own weight if the township didn’t do something.  They did.  The only remaining school from my youth is the high school which still has a lot of life in it since it was built in 1961 and has gone through one or two refurbishments since I graduated.

I’m sure someone will bring this stuff up on the call tonight.  It might be me.  It’s all a reminder that all things, even the things to which we are attached, eventually grow old and pass away.  That is the way of the world, for newness and growth can’t be experienced unless room is made for it.

I’m not a particular fan of office buildings nor am I resistant to them.  They serve a purpose, hopefully useful.  And the children who now live in the communities once served by that school certainly must enjoy the newer facility they have (the challenges of Covid-19 notwithstanding) despite my melancholy over the old and cherished one.

While I’m thankful for the past (at least most of it) because of the smiles and good thoughts those memories bring, I am blessed in and very much enjoying the present and am hopeful for the future.  I want to be a harbinger and facilitator of newness and growth, and I know there are others who want to be the same.  I may mourn for a minute over what was loved and now is gone, but I rejoice over the new and the beautiful that has come in its place.  I plan to enjoy it all for as long as I can.

As I said, this pattern has repeated itself over and over again throughout the millennia.  No thing and no one is immune to it.  And yeah, I believe the pattern will continue until the eternally new order of GOD, through Jesus Christ, is firmly established and the newness He brings remains new forever.  Most of all, this is what I want to be a harbinger of and one of its facilitators.  May it be so.

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!*

 

* From Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Lyrics © Clumsy Fly Music, So Essential Tunes, Hill

  And Range Songs, Inc.

 

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.

 

 

The Core of Things

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. (Hebrews 4:12) 

I’ve reached the age where I find myself reminiscing more than I did in the past.  Among my thoughts this time of year are of childhood visits to my grandparents who lived in   western North Carolina in a valley of the Smokey Mountains.  In July and August, the days would be hot like they are here, but the evenings after sunset would be comfortably cool, sometimes with a slight breeze.  We could sleep all night with the windows open.  No one had air conditioning in those days, and no one needed it.

My grandmother was a domestic day worker before she retired, and she was very adept at preparing food in great variety and great quantities.  My grandfather was a meat cutter who regularly brought home different cuts of meat.  That was one of his fringe benefits.  They weren’t rich by any means but there was always good food in their house.   My grandmother liked to bake, and her specialty was pies and cobblers.  Not a day went by went by when she didn’t have two to three pies baking.  This might provide context for those who know about my love for fruit pies over any other kind of dessert.  It was a staple food during my summer visits south and when she would visit us after my grandfather died.

It was also common for them to have lots of melon in the house.  We ate it at breakfast, in the afternoon, and at night.  Cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon could always be found in the refrigerator.  According to my mother, my grandmother would even put melon juice in my bottle when I was an infant.  So, between the pies, the melons and the enablement of my grandmother, I have a well-developed sweet tooth.

Now, unlike other fruits, such as apples, pears and oranges which have hard, seed-filled cores or fibrous stems which are not particularly edible, the core of any type of melon is not only edible, it also the sweetest part of the fruit.  Eating that part of the melon is worth the wait to experience that sublime goodness.

We humans have cores as well.  Our core is who we really are and what other people experience in us when everything else is stripped away, including well-intention façades and pretenses. What’s in our core is a little comparable to that credit card commercial that asks, “What’s in your wallet?”  In other words, what’s really there at the root of you and me.

Thirty-five years ago this month, I went on my first leadership retreat.  It was a four and half day experience at a retreat center facilitated by an organizational development consultant and a clinical psychologist.  Unbeknownst to me and the rest of us (with the exception of our company president who was planning on reorganizing his leadership structure), our purpose in being there was to have our cores exposed.  This was done through long morning meetings, video-taped afternoon breakout sessions involving role plays with little preparation time (the videos were later replayed to the entire group of twenty-five so that I and presumably everyone else felt very exposed), individual feedback in small group settings so that, again, you felt very exposed, and evening meetings that lasted to near midnight.  The meetings were  followed by group homework assignments which were due first thing the next morning.  This pretty much prevented any of us from getting more than a couple of hours of sleep each night.

By  the third day, all of us were too tired and emotionally challenged to present a corporate face.  Who we were, what was at our cores began to be show and show clearly.  Whatever emotional shields we were using fell.  We didn’t have the energy to keep them up.  My aim was to survive the experience.  Some didn’t, at least figuratively…a few jobs were lost as a result of some things that came out of those four and half days.  The second half of day four and the half day following was devoted to building us back up.

In a subsequent meeting with the facilitators a week later to which I was invited, they said that when people are physically tired and placed in stressful situations over an extended period of time, “what’s in their wallet,” so to speak, begins to show itself for others to see.  That was the principal goal of the entire exercise.  I doubt I would ever condone putting anyone through such an exercise, but this was what happened back then.

Up to this point in history, the vast majority of us are never been put in situations like what we now find ourselves in.  The ability to keep our emotional shields up and maintain our preferred façades and pretenses before others hasn’t often been challenged or severely tested by others in our sphere.  There are times, however, when the Holy Spirit, directly or through the Word of GOD has challenged us, and always rightly.   What have those responses looked like?

Right now, much of what we are experiencing is bigger and more complex than anything known to most of us.  The strain of emotional exhaustion and unrelenting stress is beginning to have its effects.  The continuation of this kind of intensity or its possible increase is forcing to the surface much of what has been hidden up to this point.   Some real core stuff is starting to show.

I’m pretty sure the aim of GOD is that the central part of us, our cores, be as sweet and good as those of the melons in my grandparents’ refrigerator rather than like the rough, inedible, indigestible cores of apples and pears, regardless of whether the times we live in are good or bad.  I think its pretty good news that what’s in our cores is transformable, not fixed and unchangeable.   GOD provides the means to experience this transformation  if we will  submit to the work.  That’s always been the the big question…if we will submit or whether we are going to go it alone in our own strength.   As for me, my spiritual sweet tooth wants a lot more than a rough, seedy core.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to original text content.

Unanticipated Self-Reflection

“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye?” (Luke 6:42) 

Years ago, a friend said to me that he thought most people are more apt to forgive themselves of their own faults than they are to be forgiving of the same faults seen in others.  I have an opinion on this but will leave it to you to decide if you think he was right.  That said, Jesus seemed to have a point of view about human readiness to be critical of others and the way to respond to this correctly.  Honest self-reflection is a part of the antidote.

I wasn’t thinking about this when I found myself in a casual, poolside conversation with someone who happens to be a therapist.  In the course of a long discussion, they shared three questions I wrote down as soon as I could:

  1. What part of me is over-functioning (what do I over-rely on in response to emotional stress)?
  2. What is this over-functioning protecting me from?
  3. What are my fallback stances (behaviors; attitudes) that I depend on to feel good about myself?

I found the questions intriguing and viscerally challenging…which is why I wrote them down.  I wanted to think more about it.

The next morning as I opened my prayer journal in my daily ritual, I rewrote the three questions and asked GOD to reveal to me whatever He wanted about them or anything else.  In less than a minute, I began to write freely about interior things I don’t think I’ve ever put into words, either verbally or written.  It was surprisingly liberating and was as if GOD was showing me things about me that He’s known all along.

Then I had a thought (or the Holy Spirit spoke to me): the answers to these questions represent “false armor” in that they are creations of the self.  They are false because they are forged in human fallibility and weakness.  They are false because we often use them against others (see Luke 6:42 above) or to protect ourselves from others, both of which obscures and negates the call of Jesus to unity of spirit and purpose as image bearers of GOD (John 17).  A reminder of what it says in Ephesians 6:11 as the better alternative, (“Put on the whole armor of GOD…”) quickly followed (again, I had a thought or the Holy Spirit spoke to me).  Now, when I compare any part of my answers to the three questions above to what it says in Ephesians 6:10-18, my stuff comes up pretty lame…and pretty human.

I didn’t expect this and didn’t go looking for it, but now that I’ve had the exchange, I don’t want to rush through the questions and why, despite my understanding of GOD’s Word, I am so often tempted to rely on these tactics that don’t work.  I think processing this deserves time, thought and prayer.  And who knows, I may decide to talk to someone about all of this.

Grace and Peace,

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content.

True Religion

This past week I ventured over to North Philadelphia to meet with two pastors (a married couple) who have led and personally underwritten a compassionate ministry for many years.  Their ministry has focused primarily on feeding the hungry, often people on the streets who frequently have no permanent residence.  This couple has a small congregation consisting mostly of the people who volunteer with them and some folks whom they help.  They have no budget to speak of, their office space is small and cramped, and most of their records are kept in spiral notebooks and on scraps of paper. They pray fervently, they network like crazy, and they lean heavily on GOD.

Last week, my friends fed 2200 people…not snacks or sandwiches but full meals.  This has been the pattern since the pandemic hit Philadelphia.  This is what they are doing each week. Whereas before, the numbers were in the hundreds, the degree of food insecurity in the area has caused those in need to grow by 10s…and the supply has kept pace.  GOD has been moving people and organizations to supply this ministry with food…every day, every week.  It just keeps coming, and they just keep giving it away to people who need it.

I met with them to discuss their plans for reopening their church to in-person meetings and their annual celebration event planned for September.  Two delivery trucks came while I was there: a van and a cargo truck with eight pallets of boxed food stacked nearly to the ceiling of the truck.  With four of us working, it only took minutes to unload the van, but even with two pallet jacks, it took more than an hour to unload and restack the contents in the cargo truck.  It was a hot day, and the sweat was pouring.

There was well over a ton of food sitting in the hallway by the time we were done.  The delivery truck driver asked one of the pastors how long it would take to distribute it all.  Her answer was, “It’ll all be gone by the end of the day.”  He and his 15-year old helper prayed with us before they left.

Weeks ago, I heard someone’s comment regarding the lack of trust they had in someone else (not surprising in these days): “I don’t believe what you say because I watch what you do.”

I think for anyone who spends time around my friends, who are both very clear and vocal in their proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ, if you watch what they do, day-in and day-out, year after year, you can have confidence in what they say.  They are for real.  By the way, both of them would be considered elderly by today’s standards, and like the energizer bunny, they just keep going and going and going doing the work of GOD’s kingdom for His sake.  I think this is a big piece of what the Bible calls “true religion.”

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content.

My Habitus

“…We constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His calling, and that by His power He may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.” (2 Thessalonians 1:11)

A challenge of writing is to feel like you have something you believe is worthwhile sharing with others.  As Toni Morrison has said, the issue isn’t whether your audience agrees with you about the value of your writing; it’s about your inner conviction about that value.  In other words, you write for yourself before you write for others.

To be frank, I’m feeling blocked about what to write despite having an active thought life and the recent experience of engaging in some rich conversations.  So, rather than force it, I’m going to spend the next week (maybe more) focusing on my “habitus.”  This is a word I’ve learned recently from my reading.  It is a Latin term that refers to the characteristics, physical or spiritual, that constitute an individual.  Morally and spiritually, it consists of those routine practices and traits that are the foundation of character formation.

Not that I ever forgot, but the last three months have been particularly challenging emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.  The thoughts I think, the words I speak, and the actions I take all reflect my habitus.  I want my habitus to reflect the calling of GOD in an unambiguous way.  Weighed against eternity, that’s what matters most.

When I have more to say, I will certainly say it, even if it’s just for me.  Blessings.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content.

Love’s In Need of Love

I don’t normally repost things, but this is never more timely.

 

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. – Lao Tzu

Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving.  It is loyalty through good and bad times.  It settles for less than perfection and makes allowance for human weaknesses. – Ann Landers

They do not love who do not show their love. – William Shakespeare

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive. – Dalia Lama

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:29-31

Several years ago, I facilitated a group discussion on Living Biblically in Contemporary Society.  My intent was to create opportunities for dialog among a diverse group of Christians in our church on issues common in society then, and just as much today: immigration, gun control, sexual identity, climate change, race, and other topics on the societal radar.  Our discussions were lively, and by no means did everyone agree on everything, which I expected.  The underlying consideration was wrestling with how we could demonstrate a Christ-like ethos at every turn, not on reaching agreement about the rightness or wrongness of any given position.

 The core of that ethos, as I see it, is found in John 3:16, one of the most referenced passages in the Bible: For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  This one statement leads me to this conclusion: Those who place their faith in GOD through Jesus Christ are to love what He loved and still loves, irrespective of whether we agree with the moral appropriateness of a social position, political stance, or behavior that is an outgrowth of an issue.  Love does not equate to condoning everything that happens around us.  If it did, any and all moral stances rooted in a desire to obey the GOD of the Bible would be meaningless.                                 

I suspect that it would take the Library of Congress (or perhaps more) to house all of the quotes from notable people about our need for giving and receiving giving love. The kind of love the Apostle Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13 comes immediately to my mind because of John 3:16, but not to the exclusion of romantic love or love of family members and friends.  Paul’s description is special because it is all-encompassing and without condition, which makes it also rare.  I view it as a key mile marker in “the race to win the prize for which GOD has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” that Paul speaks of Philippians 3:14.

 To recap, here’s what Paul says this kind of love does and doesn’t do:

  • It has a lot of patience and puts up with an awful lot
  • It is kind
  • It is not driven by ego
  • It doesn’t act out
  • It is not self-seeking
  • It is hard to provoke
  • It thinks the best of others, not the worst
  • It takes no joy in wrongdoing
  • It finds the truth to be a source of joy
  • In the face of problems caused by others, it is never cynical
  • It is always hopeful even when confronted with difficulty

 Whenever I read the passage, I’m reminded that this is the love that GOD has for me, revealed in the life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. I’m also reminded that I’m called to have the same goal as the Apostle Paul, including loving GOD and my neighbor in this way, which is only possible through the ministry of GOD’s Holy Spirit working in me.  If you’re unclear as to whom your neighbor is, review Luke 10:25-37 (Hint: GOD’s definition is pretty broad).

Because I live in the 21st century rather than the 1st, my natural tendency is to think that the possibility of loving like this is a distinctly and ridiculously naïve notion, i.e. it is impossible to give or to receive love this way because of the climate of competition between tribes, boundary protection (personal and group), the hoarding of resources for the sake of having a sense of security, and the gaining of power and influence (or, at least, aligning ourselves to the powerful and influential).

A friend once said our social climate today is really no different than what we see in street gang behavior, with each gang having its membership requirements, territories, identifiers, code words and signs. Although it seems to be increasingly amplified today, I think human history, since Adam’s sin in Eden, reveals that it has been this way since Cain’s jealousy of and subsequent destruction of Abel.  If humanity has always been this way and continues to be this way, then the Lord’s admonition to love is the only counter force that can demonstrate another way…you might say The Way.  Ironically, this is what Christianity was called before it was called Christianity.

This issue has been percolating in me for several months, prompted by a fresh hearing of Stevie Wonder’s, “Love’s In Need of Love Today.”  Recorded in 1974 as one entry on his masterful Songs in the Key of Life double album, it speaks in a soul touching way, of the very serious, negative impacts on all of life occurring because of serious deficits of love.  Stevie asks us to consider that love itself feels unloved, the very thing that some of the greatest thinkers in history, including the Greatest, say is essential to our being.  Love feels unloved! How messed-up is that?

To choose not to love is downward devolution from what humanity is supposed to be. To choose not to love is to deny the need for godliness. To reject love by not loving is to reject GOD Himself, for He is love (1 John 4:8).  This is not Hallmark sentimentality; this is the Word of GOD in all of its weight and glory.

If, as Stevie Wonder sings, love is need of love today, perhaps we who carry the name “Christian” need to submit ourselves to the examination light of GOD’s Word and Spirit, and the example of His only begotten Son.  We need to make sure that we are not in the way of what He wants to accomplish in us and through us, but in The Way.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2018. All rights reserved for textual content.

 

If you’ve never heard Stevie’s song before, here’s a clip:

https://www.google.com/search?q=love%27s+in+need+of+love+today&source=lnms&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiY1ZaB5qTcAhWmiOAKHYWlDYMQ_AUICSgA&biw=1051&bih=461&dpr=1.3

 

For Dad

In a few months, I will be the age my father was when he passed away.  That was 28 years ago.  Like in many homes, we have pictures of family members here and there including one of my Dad.  The picture is in sepia tone and he’s a young man in his early 30s.

Whenever I glance at it, memories of him flow through my head: me as a young boy trying to walk in his shoes; him pushing me on my bike and then letting it go after having taken the training wheels off; going with him on Saturday mornings to his part-time job as the transmission engineer for WJLK radio; sobbing at 7-years old as he was leaving for three months to work in Alaska; going to the beach in Belmar on weekends and then to Carvel Ice Cream on the way home; fishing with him at the Shark River Inlet and off the jetties in Asbury Park; him tutoring me in geometry and being confused about why I didn’t get it because it was so easy for him; the time I tried to get between him and my mother while they were arguing and him staring me down (and me backing up); he being really, really p-o’d when I stayed out all night for my senior prom; him dropping me off at college for the first time; the times I didn’t show him the respect he was due because I foolishly thought I was smarter than him; his help during some  difficult times as a young working adult; watching him let my wife hug him when showing affection which was something he just didn’t do; him trying to feed my kids foods he liked that they didn’t want to eat and having to intervene; having spiritual conversations with him; visiting him when he was recovering from a stroke; being told by a friend that he had expressed pride in me; watching him come to grips with his terminal cancer; closing his eyes on the morning he passed.

I still miss him, and although I’m glad he’s not around to see how far the world hasn’t come, given some of the hard places and situations he and his siblings had to survive, there’s a part of me that would love to hear his commentary on the state of things.  Just thinking about it makes me smile because I know it would be deep, provocative, and funny all at the same time.

I received so much from my father that I never thanked him for, but I have tried to pay it forward with my own children.  He gave me a rich legacy, some of which I’m still discovering as I deepen my relationship with his youngest sister who is now in her mid-80s.  She has told me a number of things about my Dad I never knew.

For my friends who have recently lost a father or who experienced that loss as a child or who never knew your father, I suspect Fathers’ Day is a particularly tender time for you.  Even with your loss, I’m sure there is something of him in you that those who know you best can spot.  I pray you are able to celebrate that this Fathers’ Day.

To all of my fellow Dads, Granddads, Fathers-in-Law and father figures including uncles, much older brothers, teachers, pastors, mentors and coaches, I pray you are able to receive the blessings of honor this day especially.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved totext content.

Reconciliation

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…” (2 Corinthians 5:18) 

On the same day this is posted, I’m sharing a related, though much briefer devotional reading with folks in my denominational context based on this passage from 2 Corinthians.  Some of that devotional will be included here, but I want to use this platform to expand on my thoughts in light of conversations I’ve been a part of over the last two weeks, in particular, but also from time to time over the course of my adult life.

The term “reconciliation” denotes the existence of something broken.  Though I know there are some who are still in denial, it’s hard to deny with any integrity that the broad existence of racism, ethnocentrism (belief in the superiority of one’s ethnic group), and xenophobia (fear, hatred and/or distrust of that which is foreign) in our world indicates a fundamental brokenness in the ability of human beings to be in healthy relationship outside of one’s preferred group.  Even within groups, culturally rooted sexism, which so often undercuts women’s legally equal status, points to real brokenness and explains the discouragement many women experience regardless of their economic status.

From the very first post on this blog, I’ve been clear about my beliefs and my commitment to what I believe is the objective voice of GOD as expressed in His word, what we commonly call the Bible.  I start here because of things that I have heard and have had said to me from some, including a few who claim the same faith as I.

We cannot square manifestations of relational brokenness with, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Genesis 1:26-27). 

We cannot square manifestations of relational brokenness with “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

We cannot square manifestations of relational brokenness with: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22: 37-40; see also Leviticus 19:18)

We cannot square manifestations of relational brokenness with “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21).

We cannot square manifestations of relational brokenness with “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28; see also Colossians 3:11).

The marginalization and minimalization of any created being, whether an individual or a member of a nation, tribe or tongue is irreconcilable to the purposes and will of GOD for humanity.  And yet, here we are!

One of the reasons for our being here, at least for those in the USA I believe, is the attitude of “I didn’t do it so I’m not responsible.”  This alone is an explicit rejection of biblical oneness. Our Senate Majority Leader used this argument recently when asked about an issue related to slavery and its continuing impact on American civil life, “None of us currently living are responsible.”1

Personal and collective responsibility to earnestly attempt to right wrongs is rejected.  The hyper-individualism built into the fabric of this nation enables people to effectively push back on pleas to do something.  We see this, unfortunately, in much of evangelicalism where righteousness and justice have been separated as twin principles of goodness and replaced by a heavy emphasis on personal piety as the sole standard bearer of what is good.  This combined with the refusal of responsibility easily leads to a “not my problem” attitude.  The net result is a state of national sin (We may have a problem…) and its legacy which no one wants to own (but it’s not my problem).

This is understandable, again in light of the highly influential American ideal of individualism, but as an excuse, it is historically invalid.  Here are three examples I point to as highlights:

  1. The Ancient Israelites. The sins of the generation of formerly enslaved Israelites following 400 years of Egyptian slavery were so broad and continuous, despite the blessings of GOD (presence, provision, and protection) that He caused them to wander in the desserts of Sinai and Arabia for 40 years.  They were not allowed to enter the promised land.  The entire culture was judged and held accountable.  It was only after this generation died that entry was possible.  And the same faith and obedience required but not demonstrated by their parents was required of this new generation.  They were raised in the midst of consistently disobedient and spiritually derelict people.  This was a major component of their legacy.  And while the new generation were given opportunity and help in not repeating the mistakes of the past, and even despite their pledges to be faithful, their track record was inconsistent, and it degraded over time in ways that modeled the previous generation.  The result: once again, the entire culture was judged and held accountable.  Who among them were able to say, “I didn’t do it so it’s not my problem.”  It was everyone’s problem.

 

  1. The Shoah (Holocaust of the Jews during World War II). The genocide of 6 million Jews by the German Nazi regime and their proxies (along with 5 million Poles, Russians, Roma, and homosexuals) was inarguably among the most horrible set of events in human history.  In the last 70 years, however, in the old West Germany and now in the consolidated country, reconciliation efforts have been extensive, continuous and genuine.  One result is Germany’s ascendant international popularity within the international community..2  What is more astounding are the number of Jews who are opting to move to Germany as a place where they feel safe and comfortable.3  This remarkable outcome could not have happened without the collective support and engagement of a majority of the German population.

3.  Japan and Korea. To this day, tensions remain between Japan and South Korea expressed in political and trade disputes.  The roots go back 100 years and was vividly evidenced during WWII.  During the war, Japan conquered and occupied Korea and made many Koreans forced laborers (slaves).  Additionally, many Korean women were forced into sexual slavery through a system referred to as “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers.  The demands for Japan to repair the damage caused by their atrocities have not been sufficiently met according to the South Korean government.  The Japanese, however, have staked out a position that all matters are settled,4 e. they are no longer responsible for what happened in the past.   This unresolved tension is a sensitive issue for the Japanese, one for which it is not politically correct to openly discuss.  Many young South Korean adults, on the other hand and born decades after the war, have taken this on as their own issue of current political protest.  It remains a problem.

Each generation’s failure to confront and address the sins of prior generations perpetuates participation in the sin, not because we necessarily overtly commit them (although we can) but because we omit acknowledging and confronting their existence and impact (James 4:17).  If we truly are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, not being the cause of something does not mitigate against responsibility for wrongs against our siblings because. long after those who have caused the problem have passed into eternity, the impact of the wrong remains.  A society that depends on the “I’m not responsible” argument is one that is not supported by history.  The sins and failures of each generation have this way of following succeeding generations.  The argument ignores the corporate nature of the human body…and most certainly the GOD-defined nature of the body of Christ.

The opportunity is to either correct the past or to ignore the past, wishfully thinking that the past will resolve itself.  Perhaps, like the ancient Israelites, it will take direct action by GOD to address the wrongs of both the far and near past.  The Germans took it upon themselves to look themselves in the mirror and courageously face their past.  The result is that something wondrous is happening.  For the South Koreans and the Japanese, the situation remains to be seen, although it seems both sides have the feet dug-in.

Like any unresolved conflict, the result of ignoring the past or suppressing it just forces conflict to bubble over (or explode) at another time and perhaps in other ways.  Not sure about that?  Ask Dr. Phil or any competent psychological counselor.  That’s what I believe we are seeing in the USA today, the reemergence of long-simmering conflict repeatedly ignored and suppressed by the denial of its existence and the refusal to acknowledge any responsibility, individual or collective.

Another reason we’re here is because whenever an individual or group experiences injustice, someone else benefits, materially and/or psychologically.  When these benefits accrue to one (or to some), are the beneficiaries not complicit in the injustice if they accept the benefits?  If the answer is ‘yes,’ then these beneficiaries bear a responsibility to correct the injustice.  Refusal to move toward correction is a tacit approval of the cancerous condition of injustice where it produces privileges for some and penalties for others.  A ‘no’ answer to any complicity is a validation of the injustice and a commitment to the status quo.

Whenever restrictive and discriminatory housing practices, predatory mortgages, prejudicial treatment toward retail customers, inequitable treatment by police, inequities in educational access and delivery for children, use of urban settings for environmental dumping, neighbors who harass those who are exercising their inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (e.g. walking, jogging, backyard barbecuing, enjoying public parks, birdwatching), and a list of other examples that are common negative experiences of some folks, there is an opposite positive experience for others.  Something limited or denied to some is made readily available to others.  This is a corrosive reality which has had and continues to have important negative side effects across a broad spectrum of the American population.5

Finally, I return to the word “reconciliation” which I mentioned early in this post and a word I’ve heard lot lately, to hardly anyone’s surprise.  Societal clashes of various sorts tend to raise the profile of that particular need.  Reconciliation was a significant theme in the Promise Keepers movement in the 1990s.  I went to several of those stadium conferences and one or more of the speakers were designated to speak on the topic.  All of them did I great job, I thought…although we’re still talking about it.

In March 1992, I was at a conference held at a Youth for Christ camp outside of Johannesburg, South Africa during the S. A. referendum on ending apartheid.  Only white citizens were able to vote in that referendum, and all of us in the conference (members of my denomination from the African countries south of the equator along with a handful of Americans and Europeans) waited in great anticipation at the outcome.  Even while various people were speaking, a small box radio (remember those?) was tuned in the back of the room so that we could track the voting returns.  That historical vote opened the door to a powerful and deeply needed work of reconciliation in that country that had known so much strife and bitterness rooted in racial separation and domination.

Four decades ago, the first description of reconciliation I heard in my local church was this: Reconciliation is when something broken, like a dinner plate, is carefully pieced and glued back together.  The cracks from the brokenness will still be visible, but the plate is whole once again and fit to be used for its intended purpose.”  I recall this illustration every time I hear the word “reconciliation.”

A question I’ve asked often over the years (usually to myself) is, if Christ was able to reconcile the entire world to the GOD the Father, why can’t we be reconciled to one another, person to person, group to group?  I believe we can, but I think the cost is big, perhaps too big for some.6  It requires of each person a decision to be the reconciliation just as Jesus was.  It means having a broad vision of and for the world.  It means following in Christ’s footsteps in the deeds of reconciliation as well as its words.

Reconciliation flows from the inside out and reflects the desire of the heart to be one with other hearts.  While it may be motivated by an external influence, the movement toward reconciliation cannot flow from anything outside of us.  It won’t come from some source other than the spirit of reconciliation at work within us.  As 2 Corinthians 5:18 says, reconciliation is a ministry given to the Church.  This means those of us who are the Church:  everyone who counts themselves as a member of the family of GOD who loves the world.

How wonderful it would be for us to be the glue that binds the broken pieces together.  This is extremely hard and self-sacrificial work, and for too long many have pushed it away and that’s why we’re still here.  My prayer is that GOD’s way will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

“Every time in history that men and women have been able to respond to the events of their world as an occasion to change their hearts, an inexhaustible source of generosity and new life has been opened, offering hope far beyond the limits of human prediction.” – Henri Nouwen

1 – Corky Siemaszko, NBC News digital, July 8, 2019.

2 – Greg Rienzi, “Other Nations Could Learn from Germany’s Efforts to Reconcile After WWII,” John Hopkins Magazine, Summer 2015.

3 –  Daniel Estrin, “Thousands of Israelis Make Berlin Their Home and Make Their Cultural Mark,” NPR, March 7, 2019 and Isabel Vincent, “Why American Jews Are Moving to Germany,” New York Post, January 5, 2019.

4 – South Korea and Japan’s Feud Explained, BBC News, December 2, 2019.

5 – Karina Bland, “Blue eyes, brown eyes: What Jane Elliott’s famous experiment says about race 50 years on,” The Republic, AZCentral.com, November 17, 2017 and 2015 Stress in America:The Impact of Discrimination, The American Psychological Association, January 2015.

6 – See Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, New York: Touchstone (originallypublished by Macmillan), 1959.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.

 

Crisis in the Church

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’” (Mark 12:17)  

In 313 AD, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which effectively legalized Christianity.  A decade later, Christianity had become the “official” religion of the Roman Empire.  Reading these words as I write them brings to mind those TV commercials citing various consumer and financial products as being the “official” product of sporting events like the Super Bowl and the Olympics.

Prior to the pandemic, I often had reason to drive on I-95 in South Philadelphia and couldn’t help but to see Lincoln Financial Field, the Wells Fargo Center, and Citizens Bank Park, all where Philadelphia professional sports teams play and all with their corporate names largely emblazoned on the exteriors of these facilities.  By various acts that led to the mainstreaming of the faith, creating within it structures and hierarchies along Roman lines, and giving it preferred status, the Church was positioned to be a partner with civil government…and, I fear, sometimes its enabler.

Christianity, the Official Religion of the Roman Empire!

As a result, maintaining its core character as the exclusive creation of Jesus Christ, being His prophetic voice in the world, and performing the priestly function for the blind, the captive, the prisoner, the oppressed, i.e. everyone He loves and seeks, has often been mixed with serving as an instrument of power to pacify populations and sustain the status quo.

The political terms “right wing” and “left wing” had their origins in the French Revolution of the 18th century.  In the French National Assembly, as delegates were debating and attempting to draft a constitution, those aligned with the king and his efforts to minimize reform and retain power and privilege, including the wealthy aristocratic class, would sit to the right of the person presiding over the debate.  Those seeking a republican form of government with less power for the king and more rights for the king’s subjects sat to the left of the person presiding.  It was then typical of the clergy to sit on the right.

The king and his kingdom were eventually overthrown violently. Among the repercussions in France to this day is a chilly attitude toward the Church.  That attitude has not always been warranted, but it can be difficult to overcome the collective memories and biases of a people.

There are plenty of other examples of state/church partnerships such as the various “religious” crusades to retake the Holy Land, forced (sometimes brutal) conversions of Jews and indigenous populations around the world, its role in justifying and sustaining slavery and the ideal of Euro-based ethnic and racial supremacy, and church-endorsed antisemitism by both the western and eastern Church.

Quite frankly, I don’t believe empires need an official religion…they tend to worship themselves.  They seek their own ends which typically don’t align well with the vision of GOD for His world as expressed in His Holy Word.  History has proven that when the Church of Jesus Christ aligns itself closely to the politics and economics of empire, the power of its witness suffers.  It gives to Caesar that which is GOD’s, and the blind, the captive, the prisoner, and the oppressed, i.e. everyone He loves and seeks for His kingdom are at risk of being confused by the Church’s voice or worse, turned-off by it.

I accept that some will naturally be turned-off by the message of the gospel which I believe is good in every way.  Jesus said to expect this.  The hearts of many are hard and the enemy of souls works hard to keep them hard.  I doubt though that those whose hearts are open and seeking the authentic GOD will be confused by the agapē of His servants.  If the Church is confusing or turning people off for other reasons, it is a true crisis for the Church.

Monk and mystic, Carlo Carretto (1910-1988) said that “when there is a crisis in the Church, it is always here: a crisis of contemplation.”1  By “contemplation,” he means the intentional practice of being awake to GOD and whatever He may be saying or doing at a point in time.  Contemplation is an quiet, patient openness, awaiting and listening in order to become aware and to discern rather than a reacting and a doing.2 Contemplation is a way of being and a type of prayer that was heavily deemphasized and discarded by those who led the Protestant Reformation.  It has only been in relatively recent times that contemplation as a spiritual discipline has regained some acceptance in the Protestant Church.

Carretto goes on to describe the crisis: “The Church wants to feel able to explain about her [Lord] even when she has lost sight of him; even when…she no longer know his embrace, because curiosity has gotten the better of her and she has gone searching for other people and other things.”3

I believe “the other people and other things” has often been the alignment with worldly power and the perceived perks that come with that.  The Church, in its history, has demonstrated a belief that such alignments can help it advance its cause which it genuinely believes to be spiritually and morally sound and, therefore, beneficial for all.  But I raise the question as to whether expedience (doing things because they are advantageous) has ever been a legitimate spiritual value.  Subscribing to this indicates a belief in “the ends justifying the means.”  It is utilitarian philosophy (that which achieves a desired end for the perceived benefit of the majority is justified).

Clearly, some believe in this.  I don’t.  It too easily leads to taking what belongs to GOD and giving it to Caesar.  It may work for the benefit human systems; I don’t think it works for the kingdom.  Perhaps that was the point Jesus was making.

1 – Carlo Carretto, The God Who Comes. Orbis Books, 1974.

2 – Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. InterVarsity Press, 2005.

3 – Carretto.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise indicated.

For Such A Time As This

“…You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Today is Pentecost Sunday.  In Judaism, Pentecost (referring to the 50th) was a harvest celebration held seven weeks and one day following the Passover.  In Christianity, Pentecost marks the birth of the Church when, 50 days after the resurrection of the Christ, His promised Holy Spirit fell on the 120 Jewish believers huddled together, praying in a room.  From that small beginning, the harvest of souls worldwide began.  It continues even now in the midst of deep unsettledness.

Pentecost is personally significant to me as it was the day 41 years ago when I offered myself to Jesus Christ, in faith, as a believer and became an adopted son of GOD.  In time, that believer status transitioned to servant.  I am an adopted son of GOD by the work of Jesus Christ, possessed by His Holy Spirit, and I choose to serve Him because He is worthy.  To borrow from a friend, “I believe Jesus is exactly who He says He is,” and on that my life is based…not that it hasn’t been a difficult struggle at times.

Today, in a pandemic filled world, pastors and priests have or will be proclaiming the Pentecost from their pulpits, home offices, and dining rooms to listeners near and far, in small, masked huddles in church sanctuaries and over various technology platforms.  They will be talking about the historical act of that initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the current relevance and need to experience both a personal and corporate outpouring because it is the will of GOD for all to be saved and baptized with and filled with the Holy Spirit, enlivening the image of GOD within us, the perfect model of whom is Jesus Christ.  Scriptures were or will be referenced and impassioned arguments made.  And as truth is earnestly proclaimed, the Holy Spirit will search the hearts of every listening person, preveniently leading them to make a decision.  At its core, that decision has to do with our own spiritual status quo and whether we will cling to it or relinquish it to GOD.

Our world is very troubled.  That trouble is within our borders and beyond it.  We euphemistically choose words like “pandemic” over “plague” because “pandemic” doesn’t sound quite as threatening.  Nevertheless, people are dying in large numbers even as some clamor and even insist on a return to “normal,” sometimes denying the utter seriousness of our collective situation or choosing to take the risk in what they believe to be a Catch-22 reality.

Beyond this, we find ourselves witnessing scenes reminiscent of those of the late 1960s and early 1970s when frustration, pain, and anger at systemic and isolated injustice spilled over into the streets, often in acts of violence.  I remember what happened in Detroit, in Newark and elsewhere.  As a college sophomore in 1970, I stood with a few others at the head of Springwood Avenue in Asbury Park as buildings I had walked past countless times in my youth burned.  I remember the sounds of gunfire and seeing a WABC news reporter from NY beaten and arrested within 50 yards of where I stood.  I recall the tanks and other military vehicles stationed in the parking lot of the Asbury Park train station.  I witnessed and experienced other things as did virtually all of my contemporaries.  It was hard then and it is hard now.  The Teacher was right, What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)…and here we are.

Beyond our borders we find other tumult.  It’s not exactly what we’re experiencing, but it is disturbing, nonetheless.  We don’t have to look hard to find it if we are interested in knowing.  What is going on in Hong Kong is just one example, but there are many others.   It is as the chorus of a famous song of my youth, says, “That’s the way of the world.”1

Much of what we see, expressed in anger and protest, is a reaction to and rejection of the social political and economic status quo.  It is a rocking of very large boats that strongly resist being rocked.  It is a challenge to those who want to think that all is well or would be if those who are so vocal would stop being so vocal.  Theologian Walter Brueggemann commented on this, “Empires are never built or maintained on the basis of compassion.  The norms of…social control are never accommodated to persons, but persons are accommodated to the norms [status quo].  Otherwise the norms would collapse and with them the whole power arrangement.  Thus the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as a public criticism in which he dares to act upon his concern against the numbness of his social context.”2

Just by being who He was, Jesus critiqued the “numbness” (i.e., not feeling or caring) of the society blind and unconcerned about the legitimate needs and complaints of those among them.  He offended those who were committed to maintaining the status quo, including the religious establishment.  He is still offending today.  He was concerned with righteousness and justice.  When we listen to what He said, we find both, not just one to the exclusion of the other.  He is still making people uncomfortable.  He said that this would be one of the purposes of the Holy Spirit in order to produce transformation in the spirits of those He seeks.  Conformity to the ways of the world [including its dependence on power-based systems of control] is a rejection of His Spirit-led transformation (Romans 12:1).

When people throw up their hands because they are frustrated, maybe they need to be listened to rather than dismissed or be told, “If you don’t like it, leave!”  Leave?  To go where?   For one out of every eight people in this country, nearly everything once possessed by ancestors was stolen: family names, ancestry, countries of origin, language, culture, dignity, and freedom.  These were continuous, large-scale, systematic, grossly violent acts against human beings who were stolen people, not immigrants.  We live in that legacy today and it is manifest in multiple ways, both subtle and not so subtle.

When folks decline to salute the flag because they, like James Baldwin have concluded, “…the flag to which you have pledged allegiance…has no allegiance to you,”3 consider them worthy of pursuit rather than indignation and condemnation. When people say they’ve had enough, maybe their views should be explored rather than being explained away and ultimately ignored.  When people say, “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore,”4 maybe it’s time (or past time) to honestly examine what is behind such deep emotion particularly when, apart from that emotion, we call them “brother” or “sister.”

But there’s this other side, too.  As I process my own feelings and listen to how others have expressed theirs, I recognize that I cannot be a part-time Christian, a part-time servant.  As a bond servant of Jesus Christ, I have made a choice to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh because I have been enabled to do so and I am convinced that is the choice to make.  Quite frankly, right now, it would be so much easier to walk in my flesh and allow the anger, hurt and frustration that has accompanied a life bumping up against 70 years to bubble over in rage…and there is a voice that seeks to convince me that I have every right to do that.

But I have relinquished my rights.  I choose to have no life but Christ’s.  He is in me and I am in Him and He is in the Father.  This doesn’t mean that I am not feeling, I am and more deeply than I might show.  It doesn’t mean I can’t be constructive; I just won’t be destructive.  I won’t return evil for evil.  What I will do is go as He leads me and I’ll say and do what I believe He wants me to say and do.  Both now and in the end, I choose to follow Jesus and let Him be my consequence.  That is my Pentecost choice.  I own it.

What is yours?  Own it!.

  1. Verdine White, Maurice White, Charles Stepney. “That’s the Way of the World.” Recorded by Earth, Wind and Fire. Released in 1975 by Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
  2. Walter Brueggemann. The Prophetic Imagination, excerpted in A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Church Leaders, 1983.
  3. James Baldwin. “The American Dream and the American Negro.” The New York Times on the Web, March 7, 1965.
  4. A paraphrase of a statement made by the Howard Beale character in the movie Network, directed by Sidney Lumet. Released in 1976.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.