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The Table, Civility, and Privilege

June 26, 2018

This week, our culture has engaged folks around the idea of civility and how we talk to one another.

This all started when people who work within the Trump Administration started being confronted in public spaces. Most notably, Senior Advisor Stephen Miller, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders were all either heckled by patrons in a restaurant or asked to leave. After these actions, Congresswoman Maxine Waters called for normal people to continue confronting Trump officials when they see them in public.

After this, moderates and conservatives alike called all of these actions and statements reprehensible and an end to civility. There were even times when moderates said times during the Civil Rights and Vietnam War protests were more civil. Which, of course, is absolutely untrue. If you think they were, feel free to ask Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Medgar Evers, Jeffrey Glenn Miller, Allison B. Krause, William Knox Schroeder, or Sandra Lee Scheuer what they think of the civility. In case you missed the point of that sentence, John Lewis is the only one alive in that list. He has scars to show you regarding the civility of the era, though.

I have two main points to make here:

First, the right is trying to redefine and claim, “civility,” for their own. Despite President Trump calling for protestors to incite violence and the rest of the right ignoring it, they believe these actions of protestors and Waters are dangerous. This recent use of the word, “civility,” is an attempt to dominate a narrative they do not own. It is an attempt to silence and erase legitimate protests and demands. It is another straw-man argument put forward by those who are seeking to dominate the oppressed. The right does not own the term and should not be allowed to dominate the language around it now.

Secondly, in the Bible, Christ gives us direction in how to engage in arguments and confront one another. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus tells us to talk to others first, then to bring in witnesses and then the church council(s). If all of those fail, Christ tells the audience to, “… treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector,” (v17, CEB). If the steps do not work, we are given permission to end the relationship. After all, if the other will not listen, how can a healthy relationship be obtained? Christ goes on to say, “I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. And whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven,” (v. 18, CEB). In other words, Christ tells us to engage in all the steps earnestly and faithfully before giving up and exiling the other from a relationship.

We are charged to engage. We are charged to try. What we need to realize is oppressed people have been trying all of the steps for decades, centuries, and millennia. In almost every instance, people of color, LGBTQ+ persons, and all other marginalized communities have invited others to the table over and over again. And every time, it is the oppressors who ignore all the steps and leave the table. After going through the steps over and over again, sometimes, these marginalized communities have permission to leave the table themselves. They also have permission to not invite the oppressor to the table, after thousands and millions of attempts have failed in the past. As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

However, Maxine Waters was not calling for disengagement. And the protestors in the restaurants were not disengaging Miller or Nielsen. As a matter of fact, they were engaging, albeit loudly. As far as the Red Hen goes, the owner of the restaurant asked the staff, composed of LGBTQ+ persons, immigrants, and black persons, whether or not they wanted Sarah Huckabee Sanders there. The staff responded they did not feel safe with her there. In other words, they did not feel they could engage her any more, after so many failed attempts. It was painfully clear our president’s Press Secretary has no intention of listening to the oppressed anymore.

Yes, we are called to engage people at the table. Yes, we are called, as Christians, to focus on loving our neighbors, in both easy and difficult times. We are called to be kingdom seekers and engagers. It is our call and duty.

At the same time, we must recognize our privilege. We (white and/or privileged persons) cannot blame someone, who is oppressed or on the side of the oppressed, when they choose to disengage. It is their right, after so many attempts at communication, to disengage in order to keep themselves safe and healthy. We need to keep that in mind when reacting to how the oppressed persons in our society react to their oppressors. We have no right to silence them or call them, “uncivil.”

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Thomas… Again?!

April 10, 2018

John 20:19-31

The disciples are in hiding. They are afraid they will be found out and persecuted by the authorities. We do not know how many of the disciples were behind this locked door. Maybe it was all of them, except Thomas. Maybe only a few of them gathered. The Gospel of John never clearly states how many of the disciples are gathered behind this locked door. We only know Thomas is not with them when Jesus appears to them, in a locked room.

Jesus does appear to the gathered disciples and says, “Peace be with you.” He then shows them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed. Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me I am sending you.” Then, he breathes on them – should we wonder what “three-days-in-the-tomb-breath” smelled like? And he says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.” Essentially, Jesus comes to the disciples after he is resurrected to give them some comfort. He tells them, first and foremost, “Peace be with you.” It is easy to see the disciples are not comforted. They are behind a lock door, hiding. Jesus also comes to give them instruction once again. “As the Father sent me I am sending you… If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.” Jesus is encouraging the disciples, telling them to, “Get on out there! You have work to do.”

This leaves us with some follow-up questions: Why were the disciples behind a locked door in this story? It is one thing to be in a house. It is another to be behind a locked door. We need to remember the disciples still lived in first-century Palestine. This is a culture where hospitality is a priority. People were expected to have their doors open, in case a neighbor – or anyone else for that matter – came to the door. Anyone would be invited in, should they come knocking. Furthermore, did they ever leave the house after Jesus came the first time? Once again, the details are missing from the Gospel of John – imagine that – so we do not know if they are in the same spot or if they left to do ministry in the in between. They might have gone out into the world the first time, after Jesus came. They could have come under more persecution once they went out as commanded by Jesus and retreated back behind the locked door. They could have stayed put because they were not fully ready yet. We simply do not know.

Whatever the reason was for the disciples to be locked behind the door, it sure seems unfair Thomas should be the one to catch grief for “not believing.” If we look at this story, the rest of the disciples had the opportunity to see Jesus in the flesh before believing in the Resurrection. He entered this room with the locked door and showed the other disciples his hands and side before any of them had the opportunity to believe or not. They were not filled with joy until he did this. And remember, he did say, “Peace be with you,” before showing his wounds to them. In the same way Jesus gives grief to Thomas for not believing, he does not give grief to the others.

What if we had a moment with the other disciples where Jesus came into the room and said, “Peace be with you,” and the disciples stood around looking puzzled? What if Jesus had said, “What is wrong with you all? You do not believe after hearing my words? What do you need? To see my hands and side?” Instead, Jesus instinctively shows the disciples his hands and sides, no questions asked. And should we wonder if Jesus knew the disciples needed to see the hands and sides to believe? If that is the case, then Thomas certainly got the short end of the stick. And for all this time, he has been stuck with the name, “Doubting Thomas.” This phrase has even penetrated our everyday, secular language. Notice how we never hear the phrases, “Denying Peter,” or “The Young Man Who Ran Away Naked.” It seems only Thomas and Judas got stuck with the negative monikers.

This past Wednesday, the world commemorated the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Is commemorated the correct word to use here? It is such a weird thing to remember the death of an icon, particularly one such as MLK. This guy – this icon of a man – was assassinated on April 4, 1968. He was assassinated for holding a mirror up to the face of America. And on Wednesday, we commemorated it? That is the word used on the National Civil Rights Museum’s website, just down the road in Memphis. Commemoration seems like a strange term for the day. Maybe it works because it is more than a remembrance. Commemoration leans towards continuance of action instead of only looking backwards.

All the same, it has been fifty years since Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed on that balcony in Memphis. And we commemorate this man as a world changer. We look back at his actions and legacy with a great deal of admiration. There is nary a politician alive today who would speak poorly of this Civil Rights leader. All of the major politicians across the spectrum made a public statement of some kind acknowledging MLK’s death – and rightly so! Without Martin Luther King, Jr.’s action and inspiration, Black people in this country still would not be able to vote. Without King’s theology and philosophy, we would not understand what oppression means and looks like as much as we do now.

Still, in this day and age, we should wonder about what King would say to us. After all, oppressed people are calling out from all over the globe, trying to be heard. In Sacramento, people are crowding into the streets, blocking freeways, and in front of their state government’s buildings, demanding the police are held accountable for Stephon Clark’s murder. We saw the same actions in Ferguson, Missouri. We saw the same struggle in Trayvon Martin’s hometown of Miami. The struggle continues today in New York City where Saheed Vassell was killed. We are told daily of instances where the African American population cries out to the greater world about their oppression. And we do not hear them. We complain about professional athletes kneeling during the National Anthem and how a protest produces a delay in our commute. How many times did Martin Luther King, Jr. and his peers tell the world of police brutality? Did we not see it with our own eyes when they marched in Selma?

For the past few months, teachers have been walking out of schools across the nation to protest their working conditions as well as the learning conditions of their students. In West Virginia, the teachers walked out of their classrooms for an extended period of time and won a 5% pay increase. In Kentucky, the state legislature developed and passed a surprise bill that would strip teachers of pension, pay increases, and other benefits. The teachers walked out of their classrooms. In Oklahoma, not only are the teachers walking out because of their low pay, but also because they are teaching from outdated textbooks and using dilapidated supplies. Some of these textbooks are twenty years old! They do not even have the last three presidents! Do not think things are that different in the great state of Arkansas! These teachers are fighting for their right – and their students’ rights – to be counted as important and essential members of society. And when King had his life taken from him in Memphis, he was there to fight for living wages, pensions, and benefits of sanitation workers. King believed everyone should have a living wage with benefits in our society.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. says to us, “A riot is the language of the unheard,” do we hear him? When he marched for principles of justice for the sanitation workers in Memphis, did we understand what he was saying to all of us? Do we need Martin Luther King, Jr. to come back, say to us, “This is what I fought for,” and show us the bullet wounds in order to understand how the march for justice should go forth? Do we need to see this gigantic figure come back to life and explain to us what justice means? Do we need Dr. King to find us behind our locked doors and say to us, “Happy are those who never met me and continue my struggle?” When we bemoan African American protests and turn a blind eye to the situations in our classrooms, are we not saying, “I will not believe until I hear King himself say it?” Are we not Thomas?

Here we are in 2018. We doubt the Word when we hear it. We pass up our chances to make this world better when they come about. There is something else about this story, though. Multiple times today, we have noted how the disciples were behind a locked door both times Jesus appeared to them in the Gospel of John, chapter twenty. The disciples were behind the locked door the first time. They stayed behind the locked door the second time. What happens after Jesus appears and has the conversation with Thomas? What happens after today’s text?

The first sentence of John, chapter twenty-one says, “Later, Jesus himself appeared again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberius.” After Jesus appeared to Thomas, and all of the crew believed, the disciples left the house. After Thomas saw and said, “My Lord and my God!” the disciples went out into the world. They were no longer hidden behind that locked door. They all believed. All of the gathered community finally understood the need to do as commanded. So they unlocked the door. The disciples went into the world to be the Word. Even if Thomas did not believe the first time, the disciples needed his redemption in order to unlock the door. Thomas got another chance.

We have this same chance, too. If we have failed to hear the Word before today, we know we will fail to hear it again. We are human, after all. Even after failing to hear and act in the world, though, we are redeemed. We will still have the chance to believe. We will still have the chance to be God’s ministers in this world. Every time we fail to hear what we should, Christ will come back to us – locked doors be damned.

The Word reaches out to us.

The Word calls us into the world.

The Word will reach us no matter where we are.

Even if we ignore the Word, it will keep coming back.

The Word redeems us.

The Word will never abandon us.

Thanks be to God and Amen to that.

 

The Palm Before the Storm

March 26, 2018

 

Mark 11:1-11

 

All right, we need to be fair here. There are no palms in the Mark text, at least not explicitly. Sure, they appear in Matthew, Luke, and John. However, the mention of palm leaves or fronds is noticeably absent from the Mark text. Therefore, my sermon title is not an accurate one. It is incredibly difficult to pass up a pun of that measure, though! “The Palm Before the Storm!” Come on! What a great pun! And it fits, too, because there is this great celebration of Jesus as he rides this colt into Jerusalem. The people are out in the streets shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” They are celebrating Jesus’ ministry in the name of God! In these verses of Mark, Jesus is at the absolute peak of his earthly ministry! This is a triumphant moment for him as well as for the disciples! In just a few short chapters, though, everything will change for the worse. Jesus will face trial before the Sanhedrin and Pilate. The disciples will abandon him. Jesus will be crucified and buried. There is a storm brewing.

The swiftness in the change of opinion about Jesus is startling. Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem, the historic capital of Judaism and he is praised. Mark stops short of ever calling Jesus the Messiah in this narrative, though. In fact, Mark never outright labels Jesus the Messiah. Instead, the people are praising Jesus as, “the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” They do not call this Nazarene the savior or expect him to overthrow the Roman occupiers. Instead, they seem to be calling Jesus a prophet. The word about him has spread, despite his attempt at trying to keep everything secretive in Mark. The people know of his ability to heal and teach. Jesus, the one riding into Jerusalem on a colt, is being celebrated as a messenger of God. The people laying their clothes and plants on the ground, show no indication they think Jesus is God.

This is a major moment in the Gospel narratives – this is one of the few stories that shows up in all four Gospels. This march into Jerusalem, to the people celebrating in the streets, is a political statement. The people are yelling, “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Both of these statements contradict the Roman system of rule. To the Romans, Caesar was Lord. To the Roman occupiers, Caesar existed in the highest. Likewise, Jesus stood against the people running the temple. He came to reinvent the way to worship God. The leaders of the temple saw Jesus as a threat because he was disrupting their established interpretation of the law. This major moment – this triumphant entry into Jerusalem – is only the beginning of Holy Week. After this march into town, a storm is coming. This is the Palm Before the Storm.

The people of Jerusalem were looking for a change. And why would they not be? The entire history of Israel has been one of occupation, decimation, and annihilation. Time and time again, the world came in and ran over the Israelites. Even when they got their country and lands back, they seemed destined to lose them again. They escaped from Egypt under the guidance of Moses and Aaron and reclaimed their territory. Only a short time later – on the great scale of things – the Babylonians conquered them. Then came the Persians. Then there were the Greeks. In Jesus’ time, it was the Romans. The temples of Israel had been destroyed and rebuilt. For most of their history, the Israelites had been told what to do by someone else. For these people, it must have been an endless cycle. “Yay! We’re free!” followed by an, “Oh. We’re conquered again.” No wonder the people were celebrating the idea of liberation from a ruling force. If Jesus was the one to lead in the kingdom of God and David – whether or not the people actually believed he was the Messiah – then it was worth being out in the streets, calling out to Jesus. “Hosanna” is literally translated as, “save us!” Hosanna indeed.

And today, we see people crying out in the same vain. “Save us!” is a resounding and repeating cry we hear from young people all across the country. Yesterday, millions of people came together to demand something be done regarding violence in this country. The idea that young people are not safe in schools has been a dominating and repetitious idea in our society. Time and time again, students have been subjugated to and conquered by the violence of people using firearms in what should be a safe place. And the youth are tired of it. For years, for decades, there has been a conversation about what should be done in regards to firearms and their place in our society. Some people believe it is a right to own a gun. Others believe guns are not necessary nor a right in our modern society. Still more people – most people, in fact – think there is a healthy middle ground to be had. Whatever the case may be, there has been little, substantial conversation or action taken to ensure the safety of young people in schools across the country. The people who gathered in major cities across the country yesterday are crying out to be heard. They are crying out to the rest of the country and world, “Hosanna!” Save us!

These youth find themselves in the same place as people in first-century Jerusalem when Jesus rode the colt into town. The young people of today are in a place where they feel oppressed. No one will listen to them. No one will hear what they want. No one will keep them safe. The Romans and temple priests certainly did not care for the commoner in the streets of Jerusalem around 30 AD. All they cared about was whether or not the commoners were being obedient to their respective law. As long as people were not making a big hullabaloo about their rights, society could continue to benefit those at the top. And it is the same with the students today. Because when they stand up themselves and ask for something to be done to ensure they are safe, the response is one of either hateful comments or deafening silence. And despite the Roman occupation or the rest of society turning a blind eye to a systemic problem, the Jewish people and the students gathered in the street and yelled, “Hosanna! Save us!”

In both instances, the people were asking for something to be done. At the very least, the people who were in the streets of Jerusalem and in the streets of our modern cities wanted a conversation to happen. “Can we at least talk about this?” would be an apt minimal statement for both groups. “Can we talk about how we do not seem to have rights under the Roman and temple law?” “Can we talk about how easy it is to get a gun in our society?” And for both groups, who existed almost two millennia apart from each other, the answer has been a resounding, “No!” The Romans and priests were not going to give up their beneficial system. This is how empire is maintained. And, the people who exist on one spectrum of the plane of gun rights are not going to have the conversation, either. They do not want to listen nor do they want to have a remote chance of something changing. “Can we please just start a conversation about this?”

“No.”

Hosanna. Save us.

Both of these marches sure seemed chaotic in the beginning. Imagine being a Roman soldier or one of the priests of the temple on watch when the common people gathered in the street. Imagine hearing the people yelling Jesus would be the one to usher in the kingdom. This would be chaos to those in control. This march would be utterly terrifying to anyone in charge. The same goes for the marches yesterday. Over half a million people gathered in the nation’s capitol alone. To the people who do not want to have conversations around things they do not want to see change, the March For Our Lives should be terrifying. Yet, in both instances, it can be argued that these are calm moments before something big. We do not know what will be the result – if there will be one – of the marches held around the country yesterday. But we do know what happened after Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem on the back of a colt.

Jesus went to the temple after his march into Jerusalem. He looked around and saw that it was late. There were no people there. So he left, taking his disciples back to the suburb of Bethany. The next day, Jesus came back into the city and back to the temple. On the way in, he cursed a fig tree. When Jesus and the disciples came back into town, he went to the temple. When he entered the temple, “He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves. He didn’t allow anyone carrying anything through the temple. He taught them, ‘Hasn’t it been written, My house will be called house of prayer for all nations? But you’ve turned it into a hideout for crooks?’” At this moment, after the march into town and his reclaiming the temple for God, the chief priests and legal experts tried to find a way to destroy him. The culmination of Jesus coming into Jerusalem and usurping the oppressive ways of the temple operating under the Roman Empire started the storm. The march, as chaotic as it may have seemed, was simply the beginning. It was the calm before the real storm.

The procession of Palm Sunday was the calm before Christ’s storm. Jesus took the disciples back out to Bethany. The disciples had witnessed this triumphant procession into the city and now they waited. There was nothing to do. We are in the same moment the day after the March For Our Lives. It is done now. And we cannot be sure, in the coming days, whether or not there will be consequences stemming from this massive movement. We have to sit in the uncertainty now. Like the disciples, we will have the memories of the march with us. We will sit with it and discern its meaning. For the disciples, this opportunity to sit with the march and what it meant did not last long. Christ was crucified a short time later. For us, we will likely have a longer wait to see what yesterday’s march means.

The people cried out to Christ for him to save them. “Hosanna!” After his ride into the city, he continued with his ministry. He worked to show the people of Jerusalem – those he knew and those he did not – the lives they needed to lead. Yesterday, we heard the same cries from large groups of people. “Save us!” And this morning, as we move into the future of our world, we sit with the question of what to do next. How do we save the voices of the future? How do we save ourselves? How do we move from this moment of nationwide gathering into our collective future?

Will we hear the cries calling out? Hosanna! Save us!

Come Out

February 19, 2018

Here’s my sermon from February 18, 2018. If you want to listen to it, you can find the audio here.

John 11:1-45

Jesus was hanging out with his disciples in the place where John the Baptist first baptized people, somewhere across the River Jordan. There, people continued to believe in Christ. “’John didn’t do any miraculous signs,’ they said, ‘but everything John said about this man was true.’” This is where Christ and his disciples were when they received word of Lazarus’s illness. Jesus received word from Mary and Martha, Lazarus’s two sisters, whom Jesus also loved, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.” An important word to receive, it would seem to us. And, to this word, Christ has a threefold reaction. At first, he says, “This illness isn’t fatal. It’s for the glory of God so that God’s Son can be glorified through it.” And with this quote, Christ stays put, on the other side of Jordan, days away from Judea, days away from his beloved Martha and Mary, days away from his beloved Lazarus, who lay dying.

His second reaction comes days later, after he travels back to Judea. He goes back to meet Martha and Mary, fully aware of Lazarus’s passing. He goes with the disciples in tow, who are under the impression a mob will be waiting for him, ready to kill him. Why would they think otherwise? They had just been in Jerusalem, in the temple that had a covered porch named for Solomon. There, people had confronted Jesus about his divinity. They picked up stones, ready to throw them at his head until he was dead. He talked them out of it. Then, he talked more, in his usual riddles, which only made the mob angrier. So he left before they could arrest him. Jesus wants to go back. To see this beloved family. To see his friend Lazarus’s tomb. Jesus wants to go back to prove, “Whoever walks in the day doesn’t stumble because they see the light of the world. But whoever walks in the night does stumble because the light isn’t in them.” So Thomas says – and if this is the same doubting Thomas found later in the Gospel of John he probably says it with more of a sigh – “Let us go too so that we may die with Jesus.” So the crew treks off towards Judea to engage in Jesus’ second reaction and third reactions. Though, in order to get to these reactions, Christ has to face his humanity.

This past Wednesday (February 18th, 2018) we saw our 18th school shooting of the year. Well, 18th is the higher number presented in news reports across the country. Some say there have only been 12. Some say as few as 8. Some people go so far to say it does not count as a school shooting if there were not mass casualties involved. So the shooting where only one child was killed last year at Freeman High School in Washington would not be considered a school shooting. Nor would the one earlier this year where a child brought a gun to a school in Los Angeles – thinking it was fake – resulting in three people being shot, with no one killed. Neither of those incidents would be considered a school shooting, according to some peoples’ metrics. Never mind the fact they both included shootings at schools. The number 18, in reality, comes from the metric where a firearm was discharged either in a school or somewhere within the proximity of a school. There may not have been intention behind the discharge of the firearm. Still, there was a firearm discharged, within the vicinity of a school.

Back to the main point: 17 people were killed in Florida on Wednesday. Most of them were students, of course, because students are defenseless. One was an assistant football coach who threw himself in front of students. He sacrificed himself to save the people for whom he cared and worked. Aaron Feis should be celebrated, without a question. He should also not be dead. Neither should the school’s athletic director and wrestling coach, Chris Hixon. Geography teacher and cross-country coach Scott Beigel also should not be dead. He opened his classroom door to let students in for safety and was killed because of that action. Student Nick Dworet should not be dead. Nick had just accepted a scholarship to swim for the University of Indianapolis. Student Alyssa Alhadef, who played for the junior varsity soccer team, should still be playing soccer. Her parents should not be planning her funeral.

Martin Anguiano was a freshman. Fourteen years old. At a vigil Wednesday night, Fred Guttenberg spoke of Jamie Guttenberg, his 14-year-old daughter, in a moving tribute: “I sent her to school yesterday, and she was supposed to be safe,” he said choking back tears. “My job is to protect my children, and I sent my kid to school.” Luke Hoyer was 15 and loved the NBA. He was quiet. He was happy. Cara Loughran was also fourteen. The New York Times was told she loved the beach. Because she was 14. Gina Montalto – like many others – was fourteen. She was in the marching band. Joaquin Oliver was 17. He played basketball in a city rec league and loved to write poetry. Alaina Petty was 14 and in the JROTC. She helped her local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints with cleanup after Hurricane Irma. Meadow Pollack was 18 and planned to attend Lynn University in Boca Raton. Helena Ramsay was 17. That is literally all NPR knows about her right now. She was 17. Alex Schachter was 14 and played the trombone in the marching band. Carmen Schentrup was named a National Merit Scholarship Finalist. She was 16 when she died. Peter Wang was 15. He was also in the JROTC. According to his brother, he died while holding a classroom door open so others could escape during study hall.

Some of these children we knew some information about. Many we know little to nothing. We do not know much about them because they were only teenagers. We are not supposed to know our full selves when we are in our freshman year of high school, how can anyone else give a proper obituary?

“What did she like?”

“I don’t know. She liked the beach.” She was fourteen! We should not have to ask that question in the past tense! Nick and Alyssa and Martin and Jamie and Luke and Cara and Gina and Joaquin and Alaina and Meadow and Helena and Alex and Carmen and Peter and all the others who have ever had their lives taken from them at far too young of an age should be able to answer those questions in a future tense! “What do you like Helena?”

“Well, I’m starting to develop an interest in biology. But I don’t really know yet. I’m only 17.”

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

There is a picture of a woman reacting to the shooting on Wednesday. She is in tears, clutching another woman to her chest, with her right arm draped around the other woman’s shoulder. Her other arm is lowered, off camera, and also seems to be supporting the woman leaning into her. She is dressed like any other day, in a white blouse with roses on it. She has a large, silver heart necklace hanging from her neck. Her blond hair is askew from the wind and powerful, physical reaction to emotion. On her forehead, she has an ashen cross. “From dust you were created and to dust you shall return.”

It is easy to imagine her falling to the feet of Christ. Her tears cry out, “Lord, if you had been there, these children would not have died.” It is easy to imagine Christ breaking down into tears, along side her, clutching both her and the other woman in his arms, falling into their humanity with them. This is the second act of Christ’s reaction to death.

“When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled. He asked, ‘Where have you laid him?’

“They replied, ‘Lord, come and see.’

“Jesus began to cry. The Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?’”

Jesus came to the tomb too late. He could have been there to keep Lazarus from dying. He knew this when Martha confronted him outside of town. He knew this when Mary fell at his feet. Christ came to Lazarus’s tomb and bore the brunt of the emotions thrown at him. He took their pain anger and crawled into the hole with them. Christ loved Lazarus. Christ loves the 17 people who were killed on Wednesday. Christ wept for Lazarus. Christ weeps for the lives lost in Florida.

Christ weeping for Lazarus is an incredibly important piece of scripture. In this moment, Jesus understands his humanity. He has lost one whom he loved. His friend is dead and buried, lying in a tomb. He bares the pain of Martha, Mary, and the ones in their community who weep for their dead friend and family member. In this moment, in this recognition of the pain humanity can entail, Christ empathizes with those around him. In this moment, Jesus exists fully in his human side. The pain of loss is unbearable. He does not comfort Martha and Mary in the beginning. He weeps with them. Jesus of Nazareth is a human who has lost one of his best friends.

This deeply human side of Jesus teaches us how to react when we read the names of those killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Jesus’ tears remind us of the all-too-real situation that is called humanity. We cry when we read these names, just as Jesus did when Lazarus died. We become deeply disturbed when we hear the moans of pain from the parents of dead students, just as Jesus did when Mary fell at his feet. We feel moved to do something, just as Jesus did when the Jews who accompanied Mary let loose their wails of pain.

We are not Jesus. We cannot bring back Aaron and Chris and Scott. We are not able to stand at the graves of Nick, Alyssa, and Martin and tell them to come out. Jamie and Luke and Cara will not be brought back to life by Christ or us for them to finish school. Gina, Joaquin, and Alaina will not be greeted by their friends and family after they are told to come back. Meadow and Helena and Alex will remain dead and buried. Carmen and Peter will not have another birthday on this earth. We cannot change that because we are not Christ.

Instead, Christ’s third reaction, the call to Lazarus to come out of the tomb is a call to us to continue in our ministry. Lazarus’s time was not done and neither is ours. We are called to come out and go forward, even if the world makes it hard to do so. Lazarus died. With every tragic shooting in this country, we die. And with every death, Christ calls for us to come out of the tomb.

“Come out!” Christ yells to us!

“Argenta, come out!”

“North Little Rock, come out!”

“Pulaski County, come out!”

“Arkansas, come out!”

“Christians! Come. Out!”

We must come out of this tomb. We must go forward in our ministry. We must do our best to make sure this never happens again!

We are called to it by our humanity!

We are called to it by our faith!

We are called to it by the One who created us all!

Come out! Come out! Come out!

Ollie’s Obituary

February 15, 2018

Ollie escaped this mortal cat-carrier on the evening Thursday, February 8th, 2018. He left this world as comfortably as possible, surrounded by his humans, Cameron and Heather.

Ollie led a good life in this world, albeit a short one. He was adopted by his (later to be #1) human’s sister, Sheena and forced to live in a dormitory for a short time. Ollie did not like dormitories.

Ollie went to live with his (human) grandparents, Sandra and John, after the discovery of his hatred of dormitories. It is here he met the human who would soon be his #1, Cameron.

Ollie and Sheena tried living together again in Maumelle. Everything went fine until Sheena met Tyler. Ollie did not like Tyler.

It was soon after this discovery of his dislike of Tyler that Ollie came to live with Cameron. Ollie loved Cameron.

Ollie Obit 2

From that moment on, no matter what, Cameron was Ollie’s #1 human. They lived happily for almost two years in downtown Little Rock. Cameron discovered Ollie’s penchant for playing with tinsel balls and snuggling on the couch. Ollie loved playing with tinsel balls.

Soon afterwards, Ollie and Cameron moved to California, where Cameron attended seminary. They lived for a year in an “apartment” that can best be described as a dormitory. Ollie hated dormitories.

Ollie was displeased, moving from an apartment with 10-foot ceilings and a wide-open floor plan, so he moved back to Arkansas to be with Cameron’s #1 and his soon-to-be #2, Heather.

Heather already had her #1 cat, Daphne. Ollie noticed this fact quickly and soon began chasing her throughout the house. Ollie hated Daphne. (Though, they would grow to tolerate each other. At times.)

Every time Cameron came home from California, Ollie would be mad at for a few minutes, then warm right back up to his #1. Ollie loved his #1.

In fact, after Cameron moved back to Little Rock, he and Heather were married, and the full family moved to Houston, it was as if the three years with Heather had never happened. Ollie was with his #1 again and that’s all that mattered.

Ollie Obit 1

In Houston, Ollie discovered his love of the outdoors. He loved to chase wildlife, like squirrels. Even after outside was no longer available, he loved to watch the birds. Ollie loved to chase things. Ollie was never very good at catching them.

Ollie left this world far too soon. 11 years is too short of a time for an indoor cat. But cancer takes the best of us when it will. Ollie’s #1 and #2, as well as his original #1 and his (human) grandparents loved him very much. And they will always hold a place for him in their hearts, no matter how much time passes. Ollie was a good cat. Ollie was a wonderful cat. Ollie was the best cat Cameron has ever known.

Wherever Ollie is at this time, he is chasing all of the tinsel balls, playing in the sheets of a freshly made bed, or unsuccessfully running after birds and squirrels. Most importantly, Ollie no longer feels the pain of this cat-carrier world.

Ollie 3

 

Ollie is Dying

November 17, 2017
For the past few months, Ollie’d been really sick. He’d been throwing up blood quite often. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes a little. One morning, he really started freaking out. Running around and acting erratic. So, we took him to the vet.
 
That day, the vet found a UTI and some blockage in his digestive track. Ollie underwent treatments for those things and appeared to be getting better. But, after a short while, he started throwing up blood again.
 
At this point, our veterinarian told us we should bring him in for an appointment with an internist/intensivist. This past Monday, Heather took him in for the appointment. The vet team ran an ultrasound and found a mass in his stomach. They told us it didn’t look good. In fact, they told us it looked bleak. Today, we got results back from a biopsy they took, confirming that Ollie has lymphoma in his stomach.
Ollie 1
 
There is a chemo regiment, but given Ollie’s cage aggression and his disdain for veterinarian appointments, it looks like we will not be pursuing this option. His quality of life would be horrific and the chance of full recovery is not good enough.
 
We’ve decided to let him spend his time left with us at home, where we’ll do our best to control his symptoms and pain. When the time comes, in the next 7-8 months, we hope to say goodbye to him here.
Ollie 2
 
If you’ve been friends with me for long on here, followed me on Twitter for some time, or seen me interact with my cat, you know this really sucks for me. He’s been with me for 9 years (OK! OK! 3 of those years were with Heather here in Little Rock while I was in seminary. But he stayed mine! Just ask her about it!). And he will turn 11years old in February. That’s way too young for a cat to die.
This is painful. And it sucks. I’m really, really going to miss this furry goofball.
Ollie 3

Cats on Couches

May 19, 2017

Another addition to the #CatsonCouches seriesDSC_0740DSC_0740