Jimmy is joined by Rev. Haley Van Beaman to talk about marginalized women, children separated from parents, and the healing power of Christ’s love in the 5th chapter of Mark. Jimmy has an Unfiltered Wheat beer from Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing Company, and Haley Vay has Spartan White wine from the Burgdorf Winery in East Lansing, Michigan.
Jenn Fredette, LPC, joins Jimmy to talk about Adam and Eve being naked and afraid in Genesis 3. Jimmy has a Sweet & Spicy Old Fashioned (1.5 oz rye whiskey, 1 tsp dark maple syrup, 1/2 tsp orange bitters), and Jenn has a classic Gin & Tonic.
Jimmy and Rev. Katie Callaway discuss Nicodemus’ late night visit to see Jesus from John chapter 3. Jimmy has a tallboy of Founders’ Kentucky Breakfast Stout, and Katie has a Cigar City Jai Alai IPA.
Jimmy is joined by Caitie and Rev. Jessica Stokes to drink Kentucky Coffee* and discuss the story of Pentecost from Acts 2, with side discussions about AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” and Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” along the way.
* – Kentucky Coffee is coffee made from beans roasted by Daily Offerings Coffee Roastery in downtown Lexington, KY, with a shot each of Buffalo Trace Bourbon Whiskey and Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream Liqueur from the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY.
Friday, April 14th, 2017 – Good Friday
Central Christian Church, Lexington, KY
Scriptures: John 19:30, Luke 23:46
“Christus Victor” – a Good Friday meditation, from Central Christian Church & Crestwood Christian Church’s Seven Last Words of Christ presentation
The words came forth from the mouth of the man hanging upon the cross, weary, broken. No energy remained for loud cries of eloi, eloi, lama sabbachtani. Barely a whisper passed from his lips, parched as they were. His tongue was dry, swollen from hours hanging in the mid-day heat. His thirst remained unquenched by the sour wine that had been passed up to him a moment before. And so, as he spoke the words, those below him heard them as a sign of surrender, of yielding to the inevitable.
But this was no surrender. This was not a broken man giving up, a defeated man yielding. No, this was an utterance of victory.
The life of this man had upended norms and broken down societal structures in more ways than thought possible. He had been born into poverty, but entered Jerusalem just a few days earlier triumphant. He had been raised in Nazareth, of Galilee – and what good can come from Nazareth? – but had come to be respected and revered as a rabbi, a teacher of the people.
He had taken a ragtag collection of rough and tumble men and turned them into… well, they were still a ragtag collection of rough and tumble men, but now they were also men who were willing to stake their lives and their very beings on the message of love and hope that he had taught them from those first days on the shore of Lake Genessaret.
He had defied every cultural norm and consorted with the lowest level of society – the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the diseased. He had healed them, embraced them, called them his own. He had associated himself with women and Samaritans, children and Romans – none were below his station, none were too unimportant, none were societally inferior in his eyes. His defiance and non-conformity to cultural standards had confounded the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin.
Perhaps most importantly, though, he had changed the way his followers thought. He had shown them that it was not enough just to follow the law, not enough to simply DO good, they had to BE good. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he had told them. “Turn the other cheek. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Never once in his ministry in the region of Caesarea Philippi nor in his travels to Jerusalem had he ever threatened somebody. Never once had he had to resort to coercion. Indeed, in all his days, the only time he had ever lashed out in righteous anger had been the day he walked into the temple and discovered the powerful, the influential, and the corrupt, taking advantage of God’s children, extorting them and using God’s grace as a weapon against them, rather than passing it on to them as the free gift that it was meant to be.
And then, the night before, when he had gathered with his disciples in that upper room, he had upended nearly fifteen hundred years of tradition. As he celebrated the Passover meal, he took a meal that had first occurred on a night of death, of fear and of flight, and he told the disciples that the bread and cup were his body and blood, the bread of life and the cup of salvation.
And so now, in what many thought should have been his moment of defeat, he had experienced his greatest triumph. The religious authorities, in their positions not out of devotion to God but out of a narcissistic need for power and influence, their desire not to serve the Lord but to make themselves great, had found themselves impotent to stop him on their own. The people would hear his teachings regardless of their protests. He had discredited their authority as the intermediary between God and man, and had driven them to make a deal with the devil – they had to submit to Rome in order to get what they wanted, and they failed even in that, as Pilate had placed a sign above his head on the cross declaring him King of the Jews, his own people, his beloved.
And yet, there was a greater triumph yet to come, but the man on the cross, despite being the earthly incarnation of the divine, could not achieve that triumph on his own, for there was no man, none but God alone, who could bring life to triumph over the grave.
So it was that with his work on earth complete and his victory secure, Jesus, the Nazarene, the son of Mary and Joseph, the brother, teacher, and friend of countless women and men, Jews, Samaritans, Greeks, and Romans alike, looked to heaven and said, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”
And he breathed his last.
Thursday, April 13th, 2017 – Maundy Thursday
Central Christian Church, Lexington, KY
Scripture: John 13:1-15,31b-35
“The Monday Thursday” – a Maundy Thursday meditation
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.
Many, many years ago, in a strange and far away place known as Arizona, I had no idea what Maundy Thursday was all about. All I knew was that I accompanied my parents to church, where we sat through what seemed to be an interminably long service, often including a bunch of grown men re-enacting the Last Supper, and ending with communion. Indeed, as a child, I didn’t even quite say it properly. For years, I thought everybody was saying “Monday Thursday”, and because I’m a perfectionist who refuses to admit when I’m wrong, I just went about my business thinking that until I was eleven.
It wasn’t until fifth grade that I realized that everybody was saying “MAUNDY Thursday”, and then I felt like a bit foolish. I never did find out what it meant, though – after all, these were the days before the Internet. Throughout middle and high school, I knew what the word was, but I had no idea why the night that we commemorate each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper was called “Maundy Thursday”.
When I was in college and began spending time with more liturgically-minded folk, however, my understanding began to shift. You see, I spent four years worshiping with the Lutheran college ministry, which would in turn visit the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in downtown Flagstaff each year on Maundy Thursday. Paying rapt attention, I absorbed the elements of the service, right down to stripping and shrouding the altar at the end of the service. And it was my junior year of college, sitting in a pew of that church, that understanding finally came to me of the meaning of Maundy Thursday: “Mandatum novum,” the priest said, “a new commandment is given to us.”
When I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
On the night in which Jesus was betrayed, he did much, much more than institute the meal that we have handed down, generation to generation. When the disciples gathered in the upper room that night, the Gospel of John doesn’t tell us that he began the evening by offering a prayer, by greeting them, or with any particular liturgical ritual. Instead, he assumed the posture of a servant, kneeling before them and washing their feet, one by one. He washed the feet of John, the apostle who he loved. He washed the feet of Thomas, the apostle who would doubt him. He washed the feet of Judas, the apostle who would betray him. And then he came to Peter.
“You will not wash my feet, Lord.”
Oh, Peter. More like a rock than Chevrolet could ever hope to be. He was a rock in the sense that he provided the firm foundation upon which Christ built the church, but he was also like a rock in the sense that sometimes he just didn’t get it. Here, the Son of Man knelt before him, offering him a uniquely humble expression of servanthood, and Peter said, “You will not wash my feet, Lord.”
“If I do not wash your feet, Peter, you have no part with me.”
This was not just meant to cleanse the feet of the apostles, it was meant to be symbolic. Metaphor. Jesus showing them what he expected of them instead of just telling. And indeed, demonstrating what he expected was the entire point of what he would say later:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”
Jesus washing the feet of the apostles was his demonstration to them of love in humility, a love which he then expected them to carry out to those around them, so that all the world would know that they were his disciples. It is a call that carries down through the ages, as well: we are to love one another, just as Christ first loved us, so that all the world would know that we are his disciples.
And yet, so novel is it for us to carry out that commandment that it becomes newsworthy when Pope Francis humbles himself to wash the feet of prisoners, of refugees, of Muslims. So far have we separated the last supper from the rituals of the meal that we carry out the communion meal but then fail to go out and show love to one another as Christ has first loved us.
So it is that the mandatum novum, the new commandment that Christ gave us, is new again each day. Each time we partake of the communion meal, we must also remember the commandment that we are given, as though it were the first time.
And when you think about it that way, the child-like idea of “Monday Thursday” actually makes sense. Each Monday, we set forth from the weekend, renewed and refreshed, prepared to start a new week. So perhaps this Thursday each year should be like Monday for the year to come: the day on which we take forth the new commandment to love one another, and live that commandment to each of God’s children who we meet.
May our Maundy Thursday remind us of the love of Christ, and renew it within us, that we may go out and express his mandatum novum to all those who we meet.
Let all God’s people say, Amen.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016). Rated PG-13
A Lucasfilm/Disney Production. A Gareth Edwards Film.
Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, and Alan Tudyk, with Forrest Whitaker, and James Earl Jones as Darth Vader.
In the words of the Pointer Sisters at the beginning of their cover of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town: “Well, here we are, another year’s gone by!”
And thanks to our beneficent overlords at the House of Mouse, that means that, just like this weekend in 2015, we get a Star Wars movie!
This year, that movie is Rogue One, and its plot can be easily summarized as follows:
This is the story of the spy mission that immediately preceded 1977’s Star Wars. Let’s dive in.
ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO WISH THE PLOT NOT TO BE SPOILED.
So building a Death Star is a thankless task. A few years back, a group of students at Lehigh University calculated the monetary cost and necessary resources for building a Death Star, and they came up with $8.1 quadrillion dollars (13 times the GDP of every country on Earth), and 833,000 years’ worth of steel production.
That said, there’s apparently enough iron on Earth to build two billion Death Stars. That’s two BILLION armored space stations powerful enough to turn your planet into gravel.
At the end of Episode II, Attack of the Clones (a.k.a. the worst of all the Star Wars movies by a LOOOONG shot), you briefly see a projection of the plans for the Death Star on Geonosis, which are then pocketed by Count Dooku (R.I.P. Christopher Lee) as he bounces on up out of there. At the end of Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, three years later, construction on the Death Star has begun, as there is a shot at the end of Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader looking out a Star Destroyer window on its skeletal structure.
The director of the Death Star project is an Imperial science and technology officer by the name of Orson Krennic. And realistically, considering his boss is somebody who can CHOKE PEOPLE WITH HIS MIND (as Krennic finds out later, much to his discomfort), ol’ Orson has quite the mouth and attitude on him. He also has an ego the size of Mount Olympus, so there’s that.
At the end of the movie, Krennic dies.
Now, one of Krennic’s top scientists is a guy by the name of Galen Erso. Erso is one of the galaxy’s leading experts on the use of kyber crystals, which are found at the heart of every lightsaber. He decided that if a lightsaber can use one tiny refined kyber crystal to amplify energy to create a laser sword, then maybe a WHOLE LOT of refined kyber crystal could amplify energy in a way that would create a boundless supply and would make it possible to power countries or even entire planets without using finite resources.
When the Manhattan Project began, the goal was to create a functional nuclear reactor that would provide power from a fission reaction. We know where THAT ended up. As such, you can probably figure out that it took Krennic approximately two milliseconds to go from “kyber farm” to “DEATH RAY”.
Some scientists don’t so much like their inventions raining death from the sky, so Erso bounced. Krennic hunted him down, of course, because HE HAS THE EMPIRE. Erso’s wife got shot, his daughter ran off into hiding, and he went back to work.
At the mid-point of the movie, Galen dies.
Not for nothing, but this is the second Star Wars movie in a row where the focal character is a woman. Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy was asked about that recently, and she basically said that she had no patience for fragile, insecure men who had a problem with female heroes, and that they were welcome to not watch Star Wars.
Jyn is Galen’s daughter. Jyn turns to a life of scavenging and crime. Unlike other scavenging juvenile delinquents who have fronted Star Wars movies recently, Jyn gets caught by the authorities and locked up. Jyn gets busted out. Jyn REBELS.
At the end of the movie, Jyn dies.
This dude, though. Heart of ice. Shoots Jim Keats in the back. Busts out Jyn Erso. Treats her like crap. Only cares about a droid.
And again, not for nothing, this is the second Star Wars movie in a row with a Latino male lead. And the diversity doesn’t feel forced, it just feels like the right casting. The best casting. TREMENDOUS casting.
At the end of the movie, Cassian dies.
Speaking of the droid, here he is. K2-S0 is a droid with C-3P0’s inability to shut up combined with Han Solo’s sarcastic streak. In other words, he may be the best character in this movie.
Don’t get too attached, though. He’s voiced by Alan Tudyk, and as Tudyk’s characters are wont to do, he wound up super-dead with a big ol’ hole in his chest. I’m honestly surprised he didn’t whisper something about being a leaf on the wind while he was shooting Stormtroopers.
Oh yeah, in case you didn’t gather it from that paragraph, at the end of the movie, K2 dies.
Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus
Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus are on the planet Jedha, guarding the Kyber Temple in the holy city. This planet is where the Jedi Order began; the Kyber Temple was their first temple before they moved to Coruscant. It remains a holy site for the followers of the Church of the Force (remember Lor San Tekka from The Force Awakens?). They are the Guardians of the Whills; Chirrut, who is blind, is a legitimate practitioner of the religion (though not Force-sensitive), while Baze is his bodyguard and friend.
These two spend the movie opening up MANY cans to whup some Imperial tail.
And then, at the end of the movie, they die.
Rook is an Imperial pilot. Much like Finn, he defects from the Empire, although he has a specific purpose in mind: get a message from Galen Erso out to Jyn via the militant wing of the Rebellion, in which he tells her that he made himself indispensable to the Death Star project, so that he could build a weakness into it that nobody would notice:
A fault in the reactor that would start a chain reaction should something explode on top of it; this fault is found at the bottom of – say it with me now – a two meter exhaust port.
Oh, and at the end of the movie, Rook dies.
Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin
Oh, but we KNOW this dude, don’t we? Oh yes! This is the jackwagon who, nearly forty years ago, gave the order to do a full-scale test of the Death Star for the first time, picking the planet Alderaan as his target! Since the Death Star is still on its shakedown cruise here, his targets are a little smaller – he takes out the holy city on Jedha for funzies and then the Imperial data center on Scarif after it is compromised by the Rebels.
He also steals the Death Star out from under Orson Krennic’s nose, which sends Krennic off to cry about to Darth Vader.
Honestly, that seemed like a poor choice on Krennic’s part. “Tarkin stole my Death Star!” “Oh yeah? Obi-Wan Kenobi stole HALF MY FREAKIN’ BODY! Now choke for a minute.”
It takes Tarkin a little longer to die, but we all know quite well how he goes down.
Here’s the great thing about Tarkin. He was played originally by the late Sir Peter Cushing, OBE, who died in 1994. Rogue One‘s producers went to his family and got permission for his likeness to be recreated digitally and layered over another actor, and they did one HECK of a job. There’s a moment or two where CGI-Tarkin looks a little hinky, but overall, it was SUPER well done.
Anakin “Darth Vader” Skywalker
The Dark Lord of the Sith at his Darkest Lordest of the Sithiest. I mean, he’s onscreen for probably less than ten minutes in the entire movie, but there will never be anything in cinema again that’s anything like his final scene, chopping his way through Rebel troops onboard the Rebel flagship, but not getting through in time to stop the stolen plans from being passed off to the Tantive IV.
He doesn’t die for a while yet.
So, long story short, the aforementioned characters, with the assistance of a few familiar faces that pop up here and there, go raid the Imperial Data Center. Chirrut and Baze blow some stuff up, Bodhi sets up a Doc Brown-style radio link, K2-S0 kills a battalion of Stormtroopers, and Jyn and Cassian infiltrate the data center, steal the Death Star’s data tape, and upload it to the Rebel flagship, despite Orson Krennic’s best efforts to stop them. As the upload is finishing, Tarkin decides that it will be a hot day on Hoth before the Rebels get their hands on the entire Imperial Data Center, so he blows it up real good.
Literally all of the main characters die. But their deaths are glorious and honorable. Songs will be sung about them for many generations.
Finally, as mentioned above, the plans get passed off to the Tantive IV, it takes off into hyperspace, and then…
A character in white is asked what the data tape contains, and Princess Leia Organa turns around and declares, “Hope,” making this the second Star Wars movie in a row where she gets the final word.
Roll credits and/or start up A New Hope, whichever you prefer, because Rogue One‘s closing scene could literally wipe-cut directly into the Tantive IV popping out of hyperspace over Tatooine.
I have mixed feelings about this movie. That is not to say I didn’t like it. I really, REALLY liked this movie. I thought it was a very GOOD movie. It was an OUTSTANDING war movie. I definitely think it was a better made, written, acted, and directed movie than The Force Awakens was.
But here’s the thing: The Force Awakens was a better Star Wars movie. I think the reason I feel that way is because it’s a continuation of the original saga. And yes, multiple installments of that saga have been dumpster fires, but there’s something about it continuing the original story that makes it special.
Rogue One, on the other hand, tells a story that, while it exists in the Star Wars universe and is in fact an indispensable catalyst for the entire original trilogy, didn’t feel like a Star Wars movie. It felt like an action/war movie that happened to take place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
Strangely enough, though, I’m okay with that. It was a good movie, and I think that with time, as I see it again and again and it becomes more familiar to me, it will become part of the saga.
And so, unlike last year, when I closed by saying, “May the Force be with you,” I will invite you instead to say something new with me: Chirrut Imwe’s mantra.
“I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me.”
May the Force be with all of us. Merry Christmas.
Sunday, November 27th, 2016 – the first Sunday of Advent
Central Christian Church, Lexington, KY
Scripture: Matthew 24:36-44
Hymns: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, “One Candle Is Lit”, “When God Is a Child”, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”, “Come, O Long Expected Jesus”
Stranger Things the Eye Has Not Seen
Do you all remember Left Behind? Not the Nicolas Cage movie of questionable quality from a few years back, but the source material – the series of books that were written in the late ‘90s and early 2000s by theologian Tim LaHaye and author Jerry Jenkins. They were a nationwide phenomenon, selling millions upon millions of copies. Taking their primary conceit from today’s Gospel passage – that some would be taken, and some would be left – the two weaved a fantastical science fiction series that spanned well over a decade, using a very particular interpretation of texts from throughout the Bible, especially Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation. While there have been a great many questions about the theological soundness of the stories crafted by Dr. LaHaye and Mr. Jenkins, there is no question that Left Behind had a significant impact on American culture, with some elements of the story having become commonplace in our literary zeitgeist.
So too have they significantly impacted our popular culture, from the least religious to the most. In the twenty-one years since Left Behind was published in 1995, popular culture has grown a seeming obsession with what it refers to as apocalyptic stories. Movies like Independence Day, Deep Impact, Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012, as well as TV shows such as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, The X-Files, 24, Homeland, and especially HBO’s The Leftovers have focused on stories that could result in the end of America, the world, or even the universe. The Leftovers even borrowed the “rapture” conceit from Left Behind, with numerous people disappearing without warning or explanation.
The idea of being on the lookout for apocalyptic events is certainly one way to interpret this text from Matthew 24. After all, at its outset, it invokes the story of Noah – “In those days… they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away.” As far as the book of Genesis was concerned, Noah’s flood was not just a world-altering event, it was a world-ending event. To the writer of Genesis, that flood covered the entire known Earth, leaving just Noah, his family, and the various animals onboard to repopulate the Earth. So it seems that when the author of Matthew, writing to what scholars believe was a largely Jewish audience, invoked the legend of the great flood, he was telling this audience that would have grown up hearing this narrative that they needed to be on the lookout, because some serious stuff was about to go down.
And indeed, seeing the examples of two men working together, or two women working together, and one of them is taken and one of them left, would have certainly made the people sit up and take notice. After all, who would those people be? Would they be the righteous, taken to the Lord? The sinners, taken to damnation? Parents? Children? Siblings? And when was it going to occur? “No one knows the date and time,” the text intones ominously. “You must be ready, for the Son is coming at an unexpected hour.”
This text had a strong influence on people throughout history long before Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins first collaborated on a sci-fi novel. All throughout history, clergymen and scholars have found themselves interpreting this text to mean that there’s going to be some sort of world-changing event that results in the sudden disappearance of millions, even billions of people, as the trumpet sounds and the world as we know it comes to a screeching halt. Indeed, a year and a half into Richard Nixon’s presidency, at the very height of the Vietnam War, Hal Lindsey loosed The Late, Great Planet Earth upon the world, predicting the Rapture and subsequent Tribulation to come beginning in 1988, and to a people who saw civilization seemingly falling apart, it seemed like a legitimate possibility.
But before we get too far afield, we may want to stop and re-examine the text in a larger context. The entire Gospel of Christ is a message not of fear and condemnation, but of the hope of our eternal fulfillment in God’s kingdom. Jesus preached blessing and healing, his works were for the good of his followers, and even when he did demonstrate anger, it was when he saw the corrupt usurping the rightful place of people who had come to the temple to worship God. And so, if we re-think through this passage with a filter of hope rather than fear, what does that get us? And indeed, has that different way of looking at this text found its way into our culture?
Enter Stranger Things. A wildly popular eight-episode mini-series that Netflix released over the summer with no fanfare and little forewarning, Stranger Things focuses on the sudden and unexpected disappearances of several persons from around the town of Hawkins, Indiana – a scientist, a teenage girl, and a grade school boy. Framed within the 1980s middle-America, with all the high notes and low notes therein, the story’s prologue features the horror-movie style disappearance of a US Department of Energy scientist, snatched away by an unknown being. Not long thereafter, the true story begins, set from the point of view of a group of eleven year old boys obsessed with the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, as well as two of their teenaged siblings. In short order, one of the boys, Will Byers, disappears, and soon thereafter, one of the teenager’s best friend disappears as well – both vanished into the night with no apparent suspect whatsoever.
Now, this being a TV show with horror-style elements to it, there is a rather macabre moment wherein the taken teenager is revealed to be quite dead, consumed by a monster. However, the boys never give up hope on their friend, working with a ragtag cast of characters including an alcoholic police chief, Will Byers’ mother – herself something of an outcast in Hawkins – his older brother, another of the boys’ older sister, and a mysterious eleven year old girl who just shows up in town one night. Eventually, it is revealed that this monster dwells in a parallel universe known as the Upside Down, where Will is hiding from it and sending signals across to our universe.
Strangely enough, this is where the show, and our interpretation of the Gospel text, takes a turn for the hopeful rather than the apocalyptic. You see, twice in this text, Jesus refers to the “coming of the Son of Man”. It is crucial to note the active word he uses here – “coming” is the translation of the Greek word parousia, which translates literally to arrival or even presence. In the apocalyptic interpretations of this text, it is always assumed that Jesus is referring to the day that the Son of Man – himself – returns, but that is not what he said. He said parousia. He was speaking of the appearance of the Son of Man. And we know that that particular event has already happened. It’s what marks the culmination of the season of Advent upon which we are about to embark.
And think about it. Jesus’ audience for this text was the disciples, who, aside from Peter, took a really long time to recognize his being as the earthly incarnation of God. The audience for the Gospel of Matthew was the Jewish people, a people who Matthew was probably trying to persuade of the divinity of Christ. Jesus was talking to them about an event that has already occurred, but they may not understand that yet. He’s trying to get them to see the truth, that being prepared for the coming of the Son of Man is not something they need to do for the future, it’s something that they need to do for the right here, right now, because the Son of Man has ALREADY appeared in the world, and He’s just waiting for them to see and believe!
That idea, that the one who has been sent for our salvation is already here, is a driving force behind the climax of Stranger Things. I’m not going to spoil the ending for any of you, because it really is a fantastically made show that I would strongly recommend to anybody, but suffice it to say that at the climax, when the monster shows up to lay waste to Hawkins and particularly the group of boys, they are saved from the beast by one who is already in their midst, one who lays down their life that their friends might live.
There it is. The one who will save us is already in their midst. Jesus has already laid down His life that we might live. Sometimes we get so focused on the troubles of this world, looking anxiously toward a future that we fear might hold the end of all things, that we forget that the parousia of the Son of Man has already occurred, that He is here among us in this world.
This season of Advent is about reminding us of Christ’s presence among us. We spend these four weeks symbolically preparing for the birth of Emmanuel, God with us, and it is a time for us to step back and remind ourselves of the presence of Emmanuel with us now and for the last two millennia. On Christmas Day, we often sing the song “Joy to the World”, the last verse of which is as follows:
He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love.
We must keep watch for the Son of Man, indeed, but not because we will be left behind if we don’t, but because He’s already here among us. We sing for praise of the wonders of God’s love, because they have been revealed to us, things that we have seen but may not yet understand – the glory of God’s grace and the mystery of God’s mercy are wonderful things that we must view through the lens of the presence of Christ, lest they be nothing more than those stranger things the eye has not seen.
Let all God’s people say, Amen.
Well, the big day is here. With Election Day 2016 comes the end of a cycle that I think began some time in the Jurassic period…
Anyway, that’s not the point. I want to talk about a friend of mine today.
Joe and I have known each other for a very long time. We grew up together at Foothills Christian Church, going to Chi-Rho Camp and CYF Conference. We’ve stayed in pretty good touch throughout the years, every so often we find our ways to Las Vegas for a weekend of tomfoolery, and he has remained one of my best friends. He has never failed to be there for me when I was going through tough times in life, and indeed, he ponied up the cash to fly from Phoenix to North Carolina to be a groomsman in Caitie and my wedding. I know that I can count on him if I need a friend.
Later today, he and I will each go into our polling places – him in Phoenix, me in Lexington – and he will vote for Donald Trump, whereas I will vote for Hillary Clinton.
And you know what? That’s okay.
We each have our reasons why we’re voting for our candidates of choice, and why we’re not voting for the other. We’ve had some amount of argument about it, but at no point has it ever gotten out of hand, and at no point have I ever felt that our friendship was threatened by this election.
Now, granted, I realize that we’ve been friends since the early ’90s, but why on earth has so much of this country gone so sour over this election? This is the 57th time we’ve elected a President. There have been far more rancorous campaigns than this one (don’t believe me? Go look up Adams v. Jefferson, 1800). There have been elections that were far more likely to fracture the country (Lincoln v. Douglas, 1860), and which DID. The United States of America will still be here tomorrow, but it has turned into a really nasty place.
So, y’all, not to hold myself and my friends up too highly, but you need to take a page from our book. Recognize that your political opinions are not more important than years, decades, even centuries of shared history. We are a better country when we work together in spite of our differences. If you want to make America great, you must first be good. And to do that, we need to be kind to one another.
In closing, I would recommend two verses from the Gospel of Luke as a guide for today:
Luke 6:27b-28 – “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
Luke 10:27 – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Let’s make America kind again.
So I spent the last week back in Kansas City in the company of a group of the best dang ministers you will ever meet.
Yes, the best. There is no argument. If you try to argue with me, you will lose. I have spoken it.
Bethany Fellows is a clergy group that has been around since 1999 to provide mentoring and fellowship for new under-40 clergy. There are currently three groups – a dedicated group for clergy of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), an ecumenical clergy group, and a group for clergy on the West Coast. Each group meets twice per year, for a week each time. I’ve been part of the ecumenical group since April of 2015, having participated in four retreats, with four left to go.
Back in April, I attended our retreat in Orlando, three months into my unexpected sabbatical from ministry. At the time, I truthfully thought that I was in a relatively good mental and emotional space.
HOWEVER. Over the course of this last retreat, I had easily half a dozen of my colleagues tell me how much happier I seemed than back in April. No doubt, moving to Lexington and beginning my new ministry at Central helped; however, I think that the week in Orlando back in April helped steer me in the right direction.
You see, the people in the Bethany ecumenical group are among the greatest blessings I have ever encountered. My small group, which includes Alex, a Disciples minister from Michigan, Karakay, a Disciples minister from here in Kentucky, and Jason, a Baptist minister from San Jose, are a group of people who are just as quirky and weird as I am, which makes it that much easier to talk to them about all the issues I deal with in ministry.
Now, everybody else in the ecumenical clergy group is definitely a blessing to me, but there’s two other people who really stood out to me at this retreat: Arthur, who has no time for pretension (and is, in fact, one of the people who I think steered me onto the right path leaving the Orlando retreat back in April); and Jackie, who I never really talked with a whole lot during the first two retreats we were both at, but on this one really managed to establish a good connection with her and got to know her better (you know, just in time for her to graduate out of the program).
And above and beyond all of that, of course, is the fact that Caitie is in the ecumenical clergy group, but let’s be real – she’s a blessing to me every hour of every day.
I have four more retreats to go, the next one of which is in my home in the midst of the Sonoran Desert – Phoenix. I have no doubt that each of them will continue to be a blessing just as the four that have gone before have been.