A Plea for Healing and Tending to the Garden in the Middle

The political and social atmosphere in America is playing into the hands of the radical fringe.

The events unfolding, the things going on in the world right now, are troubling from many angles. Racial injustice, polarization, the centrifugal force of political fringes, rhetoric over substance, political violence, conspiracy theories, fake news, the increasing control of popular speech by private monopolies of information, the abandonment of all semblance of non-bias by most media, the ability to choose our own tailored news, the hatred people are developing for others who don’t think like them, the unwillingness to show respect, listen and engage in real dialogue – these are things that are deeply troubling in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.

The political, cultural, sociological, and philosophical winds are swirling chaotically and mixing at all levels into a tornadic gale that is bordering on dangerous. These forces are not coming from outside us but from within. Even if our present chaos is influenced by outside sources, they are merely putting pressure on elements already within us. “We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.”

For four years, people have been blaming Donald Trump for every evil under the sun. (Pardon the hyperbole.) People have been lumping all Trump supporters into one group and condemning them (or so the rhetoric often goes). People have had good reason to be critical. (No hyperbole or rhetoric there.) But let’s take a step back (it may need to be a giant step) and attempt a look at the bigger picture.

Trump gained support over more than a dozen career Republican politicians in 2016 and was elected president over a person, in Hillary Clinton, who, perhaps more than anyone else, represented the entrenched political machine in America. Bernie Sanders mounted a credible offense with broad support against that machine but could not prevail.

I believe people gravitated to Trump and Sanders for the same reasons: they are tired of politics as usual. They feel that our political system has broken down. It has become big business designed to perpetuate power and control, rather than serve the people. Congress would rather do nothing and let presidents wield executive orders on issues that need their attention and a compromise solution (like immigration, for instance) because they don’t want to jeopardize offending their bases.

They are seemingly more motivated by a desire to remain in office, maintain control and serve themselves than the people who elect them. There is no give and take (in the good and appropriate sense) anymore. At least, not on anything that hits the hot buttons of political platforms.

We only have two choices. Those two choices are becoming increasingly unpalatable for people on both sides of the aisle, but practical wisdom suggests that voting third party candidates means taking a knee as the real game plays on without you.

Polarization is a serious issue that can’t be ignored. It is exasperated by social media that is designed for quick, shallow and knee-jerk reactions that cater to our worst instincts. Almost 100% of political campaigning involves demonizing opponents and “the other party”. We have become a nation that accepts rhetoric over substance.

The extreme polarization has given rise to the voices of the radical fringes who threaten to pull us apart. In a “normal” world, those voices would seem like largely inconsequential and impotent shrills in the distance. Today, they sound like megaphones on the Capitol lawn, infiltrating into the very House of the People.

The Democratic party has always been more diverse (in my lifetime) and has always had its diverse, radical fringes. The conservative fringes have largely operated outside the fold until recently.

I dare say the conservative fringes are more dangerous, ultimately, than the liberal ones, perhaps because they are more unified by common principles. They also bear arms like political badges.

The fringes are pulling good people from the center because the center has largely been abandoned today. It’s a no-man’s land where no grass grows, and nothing happens. People in the center are labeled “other” by the people on either side and ignored by both.

We need a “radical” change. By radical, I don’t mean extreme or fanatical. I mean a different approach to politics and dialogue with each other. We need common sense and a commitment to a bigger picture than political partisanship. We need someone who can bridge the gaps that divide us. We need a voice that brings people together on the common ground that unites us, rather than forcing all conversations to the battle lines.

Continue reading “A Plea for Healing and Tending to the Garden in the Middle”

Ten Reflections on 2020 and Three Things to do in 2021

If God isn’t our first love, we are putting other things first.

The writer of Ecclesiastes asserted boldly many thousands of years ago that “there is nothing new under the sun”. The ancient date of that statement has always been a poignant reminder to me that we aren’t as wise as we think we are for all our modern sensibilities. We struggle with the same basic issues that are common to humanity, despite our scientific and technological advances.

God stands enthroned over all of His creation. From His vantage point outside of space/time, He watches as His purposes unfold, including the groaning of creation as some of His crowning creation “seek Him, feel their way toward Him and find him”. (Acts 17:27)

We fit into His purposes by doing just that – to know God and to grow in the knowledge of God is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s purpose for us.

We easily get mired in the mundane concerns of daily life. Our future planning is often limited to the benefits we can obtain in our years in these jars of clay we call our bodies. We often fail to give full room for the eternity God set in our hearts. (Ecc. 3:11) We fail to allow the Holy spirit to have full sway in our hearts and our lives.

We are easily distracted and easily preoccupied by lesser things than our relationship with God the Father and His purposes.

I am forever grateful for the grace He has shown to us in the sacrifice He made for us that He has made a way for us to come to Him despite our frailties and sinful tendencies, and to continue coming to Him who receives us in Christ. I am more indebted to His mercy and grace now than ever before. His lovingkindness is truly new every morning.

As we watch the time closing out on 2020, looking backward, and straining forward, I am borrowing from another writer for my own ten reflections on 2020:

Continue reading “Ten Reflections on 2020 and Three Things to do in 2021”

When the Smoke of Battle Clears, Where is God?

God is bigger than the battles in history and the lives of all the men who fought them, but He is with each one of us.

My great, great grandfather, Enoch Jones, and his brother, Silas Jones, fought in the Civil War for the north. They were members of the 40th Illinois Infantry, Company F. They mustered in August 10, 1961, at Springfield.

In March 1862, the 40th Illinois, 46th Ohio and Morton’s Battery was organized into a Brigade commanded by Colonel Hicks under General Sherman, and they boarded transport ships that carried them up the Tennessee River. They re-combined with the 6th Iowa under Colonel McDowall and entered the Battle of Shiloh. It would be their first armed conflict.

The north took a beating at Shiloh. The 40th Illinois was commended for standing ground under heavy enemy fire even after their cartridge boxes were empty. A total of 196 men of the 40th Illinois were killed or injured in the one battle, including Colonel Hicks.

Silas suffered mortal injuries. He mustered out of this life two weeks later. Enoch mustered out of the 40th Illinois Infantry on May 15, 1865, two days after Jefferson Davis was captured and one month after President Lincoln was assassinated. The north was victorious, but at great cost.

Enoch saw action at the Battle of Shiloh, Siege of Vicksburg, Battle of Missionary Ridge, Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and Siege of Atlanta, and other places before he returned to a humble life in central Illinois. Enoch didn’t participate in the famous “March to the Sea”, because he took a bullet in Atlanta. The bullet drove a button into his chest, but that button saved his life. It earned him the Purple Heart my parents have to this day.

I was fortunate at a Civil War memorabilia show years ago to find a tattered and yellowed dairy written by another volunteer in the 40th Illinois Infantry. He was in a different company, but his periodic reports of the movements and activities of the Brigade gave me a ground level view of the experiences of my ancestors as Union Civil War infantrymen.

When the diary opens, the author anticipates with patriotic and religious confidence the mission they are about to partake. The 40th Illinois was a completely voluntary unit. The diary expresses a kind of righteous hope and abandon to the cause of fighting for God and for country.

I could not help but think of the horrendous carnage of human and equine life they would encounter. Sinew, flesh and bone left exposed to the gaping air as the smoke slowly drifted off future battle scenes. The groans of shattered men lying in their own blood would be the only sound remaining as infantrymen regrouped to count their ranks. Trees splintered by the shrapnel of canons and muskets would stand starkly against the acrid stench of gunpowder lingering still that gaping air.

Did they know what they were in for?

I recalled seeing Civil War physicians’ bags. They carried saws, and picks, and hammers and other objects of painful reminders of the brutality of war without modern anesthetic or antiseptic. Saws saved what was left of the living by cutting off limbs susceptible of gangrene. Many, like Silas Jones, survived the battle with injuries only to die later of infection.

Knowing these things, I was intrigued to read the thoughts and expressions of resilient faithfulness to the duty fight for God and country continue on the pages of that diary after the Battle of Shiloh, and all the way past the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. Then the diary ended – abruptly. No resolution. No postscript. No clue as to why it simply ended.

I can only imagine the writer mustered out early – maybe in Atlanta. I assume he wasn’t as lucky as my great, great grandfather. But I am not writing merely to tell a story of my ancestor. There is a bigger picture.

Continue reading “When the Smoke of Battle Clears, Where is God?”

On the Delusion of Plausible Arguments, I Hold to Christ in Me

As I read through Scripture, I am always looking to understand it better. At the same time, I am listening for God to speak to me. In the process, I notice things. Like today. I noticed Paul’s statement to the Colossians:

I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.

Colossians 2:4 ESV

Hmmm… the delusion of plausible arguments. That’s an interesting phrase…

Paul is writing to the people in Colossae, a very Greek city. He had already been to Athens where the Athenians and foreigners who visited the city spent their time telling and listening to the latest ideas. (Acts 17:21)

In our modern view, we might imagine an ancient think tank in which new ideas are explored and developed toward some greater ends. We might be tempted to see Athens as an incubator of ideas for the benefit of mankind.

Luke, the writer of Acts, was not being complimentary, however, when he made this observation. The context suggests a contrast between a desire for novel ideas and a desire for truth. Ideas for the sake of ideas and novelty for the sake of novelty may be an erudite pastime for the bored elite who enjoy comfort and privilege, but they are not noble pursuits in themselves.

Unless one has a desire to know truth, entertaining new ideas is only an exercise in futility, diversion and delusion. The ancient writer of Ecclesiastes, writing about a millennia before Paul set foot in Athens, recognized “there is nothing new under the sun” – even back then. (Ecc. 1:9) Chasing after ideas that are new for the sake of novelty is just a distraction from the truth. It is meaningless!

Paul views the sharing of ideas for the novelty of them in the same way modern people might play video games or read a book – entertainment to pass time. He had no time for such things.  

Truth had been revealed to Paul in the form of the risen Jesus, whom his people had crucified, and Paul had persecuted. Paul’s whole life was interrupted and set off on another course one day as he traveled with the intention of arresting and imprisoning Christ followers in Damascus.

Paul’s life would never be the same. By the time Paul wrote the letter to the Colossians, his motto had become “to live is Christ and to die is gain”. (Phil. 1:21)

If we can tell anything about the biographical and autobiographical sketches of Paul in Acts and his letters, we can see that Paul was fiercely and uncompromisingly concerned about truth. That attitude led him to persecute the followers of Christ with zeal when he thought the truth lay in that direction.

It was Paul’s commitment to truth that prompted him to turn in the opposite direction and accept Jesus whom Paul had persecuted as his Lord and Savior. Paul gave himself completely to be a servant of the risen Lord to the point of sharing in his own body the sufferings of Christ, as he described to the Colossians. (Col. 1:24)

Paul’s turn of phrase, perhaps, is what caught my eye as I read through Colossians this morning: the delusion of plausible arguments.

Continue reading “On the Delusion of Plausible Arguments, I Hold to Christ in Me”

The 2020 Election: Daylight Had Spoken

I woke yesterday to these words:

Daylight had spoken 
So clear and so plain 
I’m the keeper of nothing 
But an old flame 
Consuming the shadows 
Caught in the light 
Blinded by hunger 
And fed to the night 

I went to bed with the presidential election in the balance, teetering on the brink of madness – madness that we are so divided as a country over, perhaps, the two most unpopular candidates in our country’s long history.

We have gotten used to the “lesser of two evils’ voting mantra. Not that each candidate doesn’t have their crazy fans. And, that’s part of the madness too.

But daylight broke once again. Like Groundhog’s Day the movie, its constancy is inimitable. So, it is fitting that the Book of Lamentations states thus (3:22-23):

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

In my daily Scripture reading, the passages were no less apropos:

As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Matthew 27:57-60

So, it was the night Jesus was crucified.

The passages for the day also included the description of a small entourage of women waking in the morning to bring spices to the tomb. When they got there they found the tomb empty. (Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1-3)

Finally, the passages for the day included the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom he had cast out seven demons. (Mark 16:9) Mary was the first person to whom Jesus appeared. That significance can not be understated.

The men back were still hunkered down where they had been since darkness draped over the world the night Jesus died. They didn’t believe her when she told them she saw Jesus. (Mark 16:11)

So it is that we arrive quickly at assumptions and hold on to them. Jesus died before them and the onlooking world. Jesus was dead. Who would believe otherwise?

Of course, he had been telling them since they met him that his body would be destroyed, and he would raise it up three days later, but they never quite got what he was saying.

I left for the office pondering these things.

The votes are still being counted today. The outcome is less than certain. There is talk of fraud, injunctions and refusing to step down, and I can’t bear to think of four years of Biden… or Trump.

But the new day has dawned. God’s mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness. Jesus defied sin and death, rose again and ascended into heaven. He sits, now, at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead – so the creed goes that was canonized over three centuries after Jesus died.

Pontius Pilate, the leader who presided over the death of Jesus, is nothing but a footnote to the world’s greatest event – the death of God at the hands of His creation, for the sins of His creation, to provide His creation a real hope that cannot not be eliminated by an election, injunction or even crucifixion – and the resurrection!

So, Donald Trump or Joe Biden will become their own footnotes in history as the purposes of God unfold. The world may seem to be teetering out of control at every turn, but the only thing teetering is our illusion that we are in control. God’s word goes out, and it does not come back void. Jesus is still on the throne.

The song that woke me yesterday morning ends like this:

My search was unending 
And my soul was bare 
And Darling, you came to me like a midnight flare 
Out of the ocean 
The stars had all gone 
My heart was broken 
Lost and alone 

[Outro] 
Darling, you came to me like a beacon, leading me home

Substitute Jesus, for Darling, and it’s just about perfect.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Job poetically says of God that He gives orders to the morning and shows the dawn its place. (Job 38:12) Because of the tender mercy of God, the “Dayspring” [Dawn/Jesus] came to us from heaven to shine on us who live in darkness – in the shadow of death – to guide our path into peace. (Luke 1:78-80)