Monday, January 19, 2009

All Men Are Created Equal

I am writing this on Monday, January 19th, the day before a major milestone is planted firmly along the path of U.S. history. When Barack Obama takes the oath of office, it will in the minds of many be the beginning of a new era for our country. It will strengthen our resolve around a truth formed by God, affirmed by the Declaration of Independence, inspired the passion of a man like Abraham Lincoln, and served as a foundation for a major movement in our country. That truth is "all men are created equal."

It is interesting that the phrase is credited to Thomas Jefferson. The phrase, lifted out of the beginning sentence in our Declaration of Independence was written to respond to the concept of the "Divine Right of Kings" wherein the King of England claimed to be God's representative on earth and what he said and did was to be seen as a directed by God himself. In other words, questioning the king would be considered the same as questioning God and that would not be tolerated. It is easy to see why a leader of a nation on the brink of rebellion against such authority would begin his document by saying in essence, "the king is just a man like the rest of us." How ironic is it to think that he might have penned these words while a black slave swept the floor around his feet and another brought him tea, while another lit the fire over which she would cook his dinner?

History is full of irony but now we see and attach an additional meaning to that phrase. We no longer have a despotic king breathing threats of military occupation for our non-compliance. Now we are mourning a grievous contempt for human rights that once existed among us. We are healing from wounds inflicted by a culture addicted to conquest and greed that was by no means unique to a pre-Revolutionary America but had been in existence in some form for millennia prior to the first slaves arriving in the "New World." These wounds have been further infected by attitudes of racism, and hatred of those whose only offense is a few shades of difference in skin color.

While I may not agree with many of Barack Obama's political positions on the issues, I can hope that with his administration comes continued healing. I hope that his presidency will provide a balm for memories of black children looking through the fences of "whites only" playgrounds. I hope that his presidency will heal the injuries inflicted by phrases like, "we don't serve your kind here" and "you need to sit in the back of the bus."

I pray that those attitudes become more and more a bad memory from our past and that all races comprising these United States will go forth from this inauguration with a renewed sense of unity and purpose. I pray that we will take to heart the God given truth that "all men are created equal" and that this phrase will form within each of us a passion for working together to make our communities our churches, our workplaces and our nation the united around that truth.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The National Championship

This bowl season was altogether disappointing to me. Being a fan of THE Ohio State Buckeyes it was tough to watch their struggles and their loss in the Fiesta Bowl v. Texas. I was disappointed that Utah beat Alabama. I was disappointed that Va. Tech beat U.C. and I was disappointed that Florida beat Oklahoma. I was also disappointed that the Big Ten won only one of seven bowl games in which they played. I hope that those in control of the Big Ten Conference will stop ignoring the fact that we are on a downward skid and do something about it. We need another team in the conference (West Virginia, Notre Dame?) and we need a Big Ten Championship game. While we are making changes, lets go ahead and change the name cuz we are neither big (for the last few years especially) nor are we 10. There are 3 teams in the conference that perinnially have a shot at making the big dance. A few of the others might have a shot once every 5 years or so and the rest might be a top 10 finisher once every 25 years or so. While every conference has their weak spots, I can't think of another major conference with so little competition for the top teams (PAC 10 perhaps). Is it any wonder that the SEC and Big 12 do so well? They have quality opponents week in and week out. By the time bowl season rolls around they have played in several tough games and had to make big plays to win. Neither one will have a 60 plus day waiting period between their last regular season game and their bowl game. I don't care if it means another loss or two for my team in struggling years if it also means that we can be ready to play quality oponents when the time comes.

All of this is fairly moot of course until we get a national college football tournament. This year could have seen Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, Utah, USC, Penn State and one other (U of Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, Texas Tech, TCU, Ohio State?). Could Utah have been the David among giants? Might U.C. have had a surprise win? Could Alabama have redeemed themselves for the SEC Championship loss if they were actually playing for something? My guess is that USC would have been the champion this year and not Florida. We will never know. And that is sad.

The one good thing I take from this year is the satisfaction that Michigan really does stink. Although for the sake of the Big Ten they can stop playing like Jr. High girls any time now. O.K. that felt good.

Compassion for the Needy

There are so many endearing qualities that draw us to the person Jesus was while here on earth but one quality you can’t miss about him as you read through the gospels is his compassion.

I sometimes imagine Jesus as he walked through a town. People were excited to have him in their midst. They were awed at his miracles and deeply impressed with his teaching. People were clamoring to be around him. The city officials and the influential no doubt often approached him to rub elbows with the popular rabbi. They invited him to dinners and came to talk with him because they could. How frustrated they must have been when the attention they sought from him and possibly felt they deserved was interrupted by the pleas of the poor, the sinful, the sick or the handicapped of the town. It is so interesting that the attention of God in the flesh was so easily distracted from the powerful and influential by the cries of the hurting.

A perfect illustration of this is found in Luke 8:40-56. Jesus had been summoned by Jairus, a powerful Jew in town; a ruler of the synagogue with the authority to say who can or can’t worship at the synagogue (see: Jn. 9:22). As he is hurrying to save this man’s dying daughter, a woman with serious and personal health problems approaches trying to stay below the radar and touches the edge of his garment. Jesus stops with the synagogue ruler’s daughter hanging in the balance, and engages this woman in conversation praising her faith for making her whole. You get the sense that Jesus’ disciples are caught up in the urgency of Jairus’ crisis and are surprised and even frustrated with his taking time for this seemingly insignificant woman.

The message is clear and repeated time and again. Zaccheus in the tree, Bartimeus’s appeal from the alley, lepers shouting from afar, a weeping sinful woman, and a poor woman with two small coins capture the fascination of the creator of the universe and incite him to action.

If we are to be Jesus to our world there is no way that opportunities to help the downtrodden can be ignored. As we work to have his eyes we will find them fixed on the needy with a heart to help.

At Northeast, we are preparing to undertake an effort to help the needy in a way that we have never done before. We will join a local effort to reach out to the homeless in our community so that we can be the healing hands of Jesus to some grateful people. We will never be Jesus to the world until they see his compassion living in us.