Tag Archives: James

Memorial Day: Yes, John Fogerty and James, the rich are still exploiting us.

Memorial Day weekend just came to a close. I spent most of it with my delightful family, in a delightful place with delightful weather. The other part was spent with the delightful people at Circle of Hope Broad and Washington. Nice.

Even though I was having the perfectly-divertive, potentially-numbing weekend (like everyone else was trying to have), the reason behind the holiday kept running through the back of my mind. I was reminded on Sunday that Memorial Day is for putting flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers. What’s more, as Jerome said in our meeting, it is for mourning the meaninglessness of war and the tragic loss of lives in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then, on the way home tonight, I was listening to Sound Opinion on NPR. They included a section called Memorial Day: Songs from the Front Lines. It gave my mind a chance to get free of my commitment not to think so much for a while as the music critics collected their most-respected war songs in honor of the holiday. They re-minded me and took me back to some places I need to stay.

The rich send the poor to fight for them

Wars always elicit songs. In my lifetime, American wars have increasingly spawned protest songs. One of the songs from the show took me back to the Vietnam War (when I was fifteen). Creedence Clearwater Revival sang a protest song that Jon Fogerty has been singing ever since called: Fortunate Son. It is about how the rich send the poor to fight battles to maintain their wealth. That’s a truth that has only become more true since the sixties. What’s worse, is that today’s young, unlike Fogerty, have much less hope that a song will change anything. They seem to be sure that the “powers that be” will just reduce their passion to a ring tone or a jingle and sell it back to them. They act like their only hope is to sell their soul for a lot of money, not just a little, since they’ll be selling it one way or another.

fogerty

Fogerty was not the son of a Senator or millionaire. So as a young man he felt very afraid that he would be drafted into the secretive, fruitless, and divisive war in Southeast Asia. Because he was not rich, there was no way out. Because he was not connected to the oligarchy that ran the country, he had no power but his song. So he sang it hard:

Some folks are born made to wave the flag
Ooh, they’re red, white and blue
And when the band plays “Hail to the Chief”
Oh, they point the cannon at you, Lord

It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no Senator’s son, no
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one.

Some folks are born silver spoon in hand
Lord, don’t they help themselves, y’all
But when the tax men come to the door
The house looks like a rummage sale, Lord

It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no millionaire’s son, no, no
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one, no

Yeah, some folks inherit star spangled eyes
Ooh, they send you down to war.
And when you ask them, “How much should we give?”
Oh, they only answer, more, more, more.

It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no military son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one

When Bruce Springsteen covers it, we fellow-locals need to sing along. There are still prophets out there! We grow them ourselves — Raleigh Booze will give it a go for you, too — just ask him (or ask  him to sing)! We can at least sing, “It ain’t me” hard — even if we are only going to sing.

share of total income

We Christians  should be singing along with Fogerty and Springsteen, but that’s hardly the best we can do. We don’t have to thumb through the Bible very far to be reminded that they are singing our song. We could, for instance, “sing” along with James and plan some fearless resistance with him. For one thing, he’ll remind us that we are all poor in the eyes of the Lord, whether we write hit songs and fill arenas or not. And he’ll remind us to forgive our exploiters for the sin of their corruption even as God has forgiven all our sins — but not by overlooking them. Our faith unleashes radical forgiveness but also releases  prophetic love-anger over what needs forgiving that the world so desperately needs:

“ Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?  Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?” James 2:5-7.

Yes, James, they are exploiting us and we elect more millionaires to do it.  They dishonor the poor and we wring our hands. They blaspheme Jesus and we are afraid to tell them the truth. Forgive us. Sing us the old song again. Help us to sing along and at least make the right kind of noises.

Do we need simplicity skills?

Jonny Rashid often calls me a monk, which is more than a little bit true. It is very true that I admire the Christian radicals who created intentional communities in reaction to fellow-believers getting swallowed by the empire, and I admire how they multiplied monasteries when the Roman Empire fell apart. Believers gathered around Jesus and formed an amazingly creative response to the utter chaos and violence around them. They responded to their challenges with radical simplicity. As a result, their network of intentional communities preserved the truth about Jesus, provided a social safety net, and formed centers of creativity and charity that were rare points of light in Europe for hundreds of years. I think they flowered with Francis of Assisi. All the values that held the communities together: poverty, chastity, and obedience are extremely unpopular today. So people often ask the question, “Do we need to think about simplicity?”

Yes.

You might like to start with my favorite movie: Brother Sun, Sister Moon. In this clip [link], Francis and his newly-minted band of monks are working in the fields outside Assisi and dealing with the new poverty they have chosen. I like the heart of what they are doing, especially the way Francis receives the bread he’s begged with radical gratitude. His single-minded focus turns the hot, impoverished day into worship.

I don’t know what you think of these monk people: scary maybe, from another planet, embarrassing, quaint. Regardless of how you feel about them, they are successfully working on being simple. God did not give it to me to be a monk, but it was given to me to be simple, same as the rest of us.

The heart of simplicity

To get started on disciplining ourselves for simplicity, we will one main thing. That is, we focus on Jesus and let everything else follow who we follow. Jesus said,

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy (or single), your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (see Matthew 6:19-24).

That is probably the key teaching on simplicity. Simplicity is about being basic, unclouded, whole. Simplicity is about being radically centered, not just frugal or generous. Simplicity is not mainly an economic matter. The pure in heart, the simple, the single-minded, will what they do from one reality: faithfulness to Jesus, no matter what their circumstance. That willingness is the character trait upon which simplicity skills are founded. Eternity is centered in our hearts so that reality gives our hands their focus.

We usually think of simplicity in terms of money. We are living in the United States, after all — and those people care about money! Not that everyone in the world isn’t pretty much obsessed with it, too, but Americans are schooled to see themselves as part of an “economy” and to see their consumer choice as an expression of their “freedom.” No matter how many times we are instructed that the president can’t really do all that much about the economy, the presidential election is going to be about jobs, when it should probably be about drones.

We need simplicity skills because our relationship with money (and with most everything else about us) is not so simple. We are at the center of a schedule that cannot be juggled properly; we are at the center of a communication system that overwhelms us — we can’t even figure out how to use the machines we have to use to run it; we are expected to be the center of an enterprise that sells our time, our communications, and our future — in terms of debt. The decisions we have to make are weighty.

Here are two ideas that I find important as part of my own simplicity skills for dealing with money. I wouldn’t say they are easy, but they are basic skills for using the tool of money in a radical way.

Be frugal. Budget with a vision. James 4:13-17

We should not construct our budgets as if our lives came from ourselves and as if the future were in our hands. This is basic Christianity. We say things like: “If I live, I live to the Lord. Whatever is at the heart of God, that is what I want in my heart.” I don’t think anyone writing the New Testament is sitting around waiting to find the perfect choice to make so they don’t mess up eternity. God can be trusted for the future. They are moving with the Spirit and focused on that one thing.

I have had the distinct pleasure of walking with people who are getting married this year. Some of them have already talked a lot about their finances and others almost not at all. Some are easy-going about how to organize their budget and assets and naturally want to share. Others are quite nervous about how sharing is going to work out and are naturally protective. Maybe that reflects how they first attached to mom and felt she was generous or withholding. Who knows? But how we handle our money as partners and as a community is important.

A basic simplicity skill is budgeting our money. We should know what we have, what we usually spend, what our goals are. We should not have to go to the ATM to find out what we have before we buy a snorkel for our vacation. We should not put it on the credit card and fix things up later. We should have a radical strategy for how we spend so our money is used for eternal purposes.

Be focused. Know when to kill the fatted calf. Luke 15:29-30

Throwing a lot of cash at an over-generous party might seem like the opposite of having a disciplined budget and being aware of how one is spending down one’s assets. If we did not live in eternity, scarcity would, indeed, be a huge  problem. If you kill the fatted calf too often, there isn’t another calf to eat! You know about the calf, right? If you are a subsistence farmer/cow raiser, the succulent meat of the cow you fed a special diet to plump it into shape is a very rare treat. You don’t eat it until you are celebrating the Eagles winning the Super Bowl, or your sister finally gets her BA.

Simplicity is also about knowing when it is time to kill the calf and celebrate. Simplicity is not all sweating in the field being poor. It is sharing our bread and praising God. Of course, some of us kill calves we don’t even own yet, hoping we will get some joy out of it — that is a little backward. The skill is to have the joy of eternity in our hearts and to celebrate it, not to celebrate in order to get some joy. We might see some joy looking backwards, but we get it by living forwards.

Maybe we should all have a “fatted calf fund” as part of our budgets.  Some of us may be living under our means already, so we always have money with which to bless others. But some of us have not mastered money-making and spending yet, so we might need to deliberately put some money away for the time when we need to buy the piece of jewelry, or send someone on a trip, or take a friend to dinner, or buy a forty dollar piece of meat or  a wonderful carrot at Vedge. That’s radical budgeting, too.

I hope my two suggestions spur your imagination for how you can be simple in practical ways, in that you discipline your money, and other things, to move with Jesus in this wild world. One person told me, “Wow! Being simple is complex!” Well, I guess so. But the heart of all that disciplined living is simple. The main thing is being faithful to the Lord who is so single-mindedly devoted to us.

Competing desires: Those spiritual clogs

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.  James 1:13-18

Image result for competing desires
Competing Desires by Naomi White

This may be a bit too much information for a few of you, but one of my grandchildren really has to work on getting the poop out. They are easily clogged up! I don’t know if you have watched a typical baby soil their diaper lately. If you had, you would know that this one baby is working pretty hard! It might take a couple of days to get to poop-stage and then a couple of hours for the great accomplishment to be completed!

The baby’s bowel movements made me think about our spiritual digestion, of course, and James. I have regularly felt spiritually clogged by some indigestible thought or feeling. I have often pondered what it might take too feel less backed up. You might relate to what I am talking about. The classic things that clog us up are the usual dissipations we use to distract us from what bothers us or to temporarily release us from what is. James calls this the practice of our “evil desires.” We drink too much, maybe insult someone when we are unreserved, get a headache and don’t go to the PM, then feel mildly irritated that we are the way we are and that irritation becomes a clog. We get in a relationship that started with sex and then ventured into intimacy, we end  up connected but not committed, we have arguments we don’t know why we are having, we dread the next moment of awkwardness looking for closeness and then that dread becomes a clog. When we go to pray we end up rehearsing our irritations and dreads rather than relating to God. Sometimes we can end up with a real spiritual logjam because we stop praying altogether, it is so unsatisfying – at least the way we do
it!

In just a few sentences, James has good wisdom for how to get things flowing again.

Note the desire.

If this were easy, we’d all be spiritually regular. We need to identify the diet that gives us spiritual indigestion or requires a laxative. With a baby, a parent needs to find out, through experimentation, what is best for this particular being to eat then feed it to them. Our Father has good food for us, too, but we need to cooperate and experiment with what is good for us. This starts, most of the time, with noting what is bad for us. Contrary to popular belief, some of our desires need to be sublimated. Some of them are downright evil. Note that. Employ a great friend or a good therapist to help you.

The other night after “happy mic” we ran into the NA group coming in for their birthday party. Those good people have noted their desire for chemical self-destruction and are very disciplined in their response.

Don’t be deceived.

A lot of people are feeding us crap. My friend and I swore off Burger King again the other day because we noted how we always get sick after we eat there, even though we also always think it is a delicious experience. People are feeding us 24/7 spiritual crap on every communication device they can lay hands on. With the new, popular  worldview that every thought deserves its freedom of speech in the democracy of ideas, we have a tendency to take in everything and pretend we are not affected by any of it.  Our perpetual seat at the intellectual smorgasbord clogs us up.

Two of my friends said on two days that they are overdue for their regular overnight spiritual retreat. I am getting one in the schedule, too. Concentrated time with God clears out the mind and refocuses our desires. Get up every day and pray. Stop  sometime from 11:45-12:02 and pray with the network pastors and staff as they exercise that discipline.

Live the gift.

James can sound like he is just saying, “You are full of evil desires. Stop it!” That is not all there is to it. He starts us noticing what is happening and meditating on the causes. He wants us to wake up and see the evil. But the whole point is becoming new and doing new. This newness does not come from nowhere, it is coming from God all the time. We have the capacity to eat what is good, we just need to eat it. We have been offered the gift, we need live it. James has often been the cause of people suspecting every one of their desires as evil, so they restrict their sense of righteousness down to  following only the proven principles of goodness. But I think the process is a lot deeper than that. Desire, in itself, is not good or bad. We have desires that can come to good fruit. When I move with God’s desires, I am moving with my own best interests and deepest good. I am unclogged.  [70’s visual interpretation for your enjoyment]

I have to admit, that even as I am thinking and writing about these things, I can list all the desires that well up in me to compete with my deepest desires to be among the first-fruits of God’s new creation in Jesus. My life is littered with tablefuls of spiritual  gumdrops and Doritos, and there are plenty of good-looking foods that are sure to mess up my spiritual digestive system,  which doesn’t work that well anyway! I have choices to make. It may take a long time to get unclogged sometimes! But now that I have eaten some decent spiritual food this morning, this particular day may not feel so constipated.

Let’s live the gift. In Jesus, God gave birth to newness is us, too. No matter how difficult the process feels to you today, eat what’s good. Good is coming to you and meeting good desires in you. Let it work right through you.

Patient Impatience

patient impatience

We are saturating ourselves with 1 Thessalonians and I am fixated with one phrase of verse 5:14: “Be patient with everyone.”

I think many people are called and are good at being patient in a “passive” way. They can really wait! They are good at being quiet and receptive. So they can wait for what God is going to bring to them.

I am becoming better at that, but I am still more of an “active” patience kind of guy. I have to be patient in my impatience. That’s why I was so glad to see that the word translated patience in 5:14 has the sense of letting your feelings embrace others, being “far feeling” — “Don’t keep your heart closed off; be patient.” It is an active kind of patience that trusts God to be present in a difficult relationship or circumstance. Patience is like a corral one builds for unbroken relational broncos; it is the best atmosphere for spiritual domestication.

Far feeling is hope-filled

I happened to run across James talking about patience today, as well, and he encouraged the idea I had about patient impatience. In his chapter five, James ponders what it feels like to wait for the Lord’s return to set things right in the midst of difficulties: “Be patient, then, beloved, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”

A farmer does not just sit around doing nothing while the Lord plants and tills the field. He can’t make it rain, but he can’t resist looking at the sky to see if there is going to be enough rain to bring in a reasonable harvest. He can’t resist digging ditches and cisterns in expectation. He is impatient, but patient. Being a spiritual farmer, a church planter and cell tiller, I relate. When the crop needs rain, I want it to fall. When we’re dry, I feel desperate. I’ve got to trust God, but crying out to God to get on with it and getting on with it myself is part of the process. If we don’t have any impatience with what is and what could be, I’m not sure we’re paying attention.

But of course we are all paying attention. We’re feeling anxious right now about how messed up we are, about how our relationships are not working, about how the world at large seems hell-bent. Today is probably full of stuff that could push us right to the edge.

The edge of untrusting anxiety

I know that this week, apart from my own personal development lag, I am impatient for reconciliation. Pen was enlightening me about further reasons Christian church buildings are attacked in Malaysia last night. Harry Reid is on the hot seat for saying stupid things about President Obama’s electability and highlighting how we can’t talk about race in this country. The very idea of “race” imposed on us bothers me. The domestication of Martin Luther King bothers me. There is a lot to be downright, properly angry about!

I don’t think I am going to get passive and quiet about all that very soon. Some things don’t deserve that kind of patience. What to do? I won’t be perfectly patient, any time soon. I will have to trust God to be who God is, coming to me in Jesus as a demonstration of his own great far-feeling, walking with me in my small turmoil and settling me down in him. My breath prayer for today is: patient impatience yes, untrusting anxiety, no.