Saturday, February 27, 2016

They talk about DiCaprio "finally" getting an Oscar tomorrow night...

...But this guy has been nominated thirteen times and still has no statue. His attitude about it is wonderful, I think:
How you can judge not only people’s work, but how you can judge films that are so diverse and say one is better than another? I’ve never thought that made sense to me. And besides, the film directors that probably inspired me most over the years and the cinematographers that inspired me most when I was young — and still — they were never nominated anyway, so what’s it matter? Do you know what I mean? You just have to be realistic. It’s [the Academy Awards ceremony is] a celebration of movies. And that’s great.
As usual, I haven't seen any of this year's nominated movies. I love movies, but rarely go to a theater these days.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Is Ryan Mendoza's 'The White House' a tribute to family connectedness and home...

...or an example of "blight porn"?

Ryan Mendoza, a US artist living in Europe, has moved an entire repossessed and blighted home from Detroit, whitewashed it, and filled it with soft lighting and a projection of pictures of the family that once occupied the home and of his own family of origin. It's now on display as a piece of art in Europe.

[Ryan Mendoza's The White House on display in Rotterdam.]

According to Mendoza, the purpose of the piece wasn't to make a work of art that trivializes Detroit's struggles. An article from USA Today says: "[Mendoza] hit on the idea of reclaiming a house, a symbol of familial legacy and protection, as a way of embracing his past rather than running away from it."

But some people feel that glossy photographs or exhibitions like Mendoza's are exploitative:
In a story appearing on the the website of the British newspaper the Guardian, Brian Doucet and Drew Philp wrote of the dangers of reducing Detroit to the single image of an abandoned or gutted home, implying that the city is empty and turning the ruins into objets d'art: "Collectively, the glossy photo books, websites and art projects all serve to produce and reinforce a simplistic narrative of Detroit as a blank slate, in need of white, middle-class saviors."
That doesn't appear to be part of Mendoza's motivation, but I understand the point.

The more basic question for some people might be, "Is this art?" But that's a question that people have been asking ever since the dadaists put things like bicycle wheels on display and called it art.

The thing that intrigues me about this piece, called The White House, is the way Mendoza has woven the sense of home he remembers from his childhood with the life of the Thomases, an African-American family who once owned the house.

Home can be a powerful anchor for us, especially in our growing-up years. One day when my son was in his twenties, he and I took a walk with my father through my childhood neighborhood, the neighborhood where my family and my grandparents both lived. It was a sunny day, a gentle breeze trembling the branches of the trees all along the street, the leaves making that hissing sound, rustling as I remembered them doing so often when I was a boy. I told my father and my son, "When I was coming home from school in the afternoon, walking down this street, I used to think to myself, 'This is the most perfect place on earth.'"

That sense of home, family, and safety, says Mendoza, is what he wanted to evoke, a universal yearning--if not a universal experience--that he surfaces by linking his own family's pictures with those of another clan he never previously knew.

Vincent Thomas, who grew up in the house, for one, doesn't seem to view Mendoza's work of art as an example of "blight porn:
"Truthfully, I wanted to repair [the house], but there was black mold and I couldn't afford to do it," he said. "I'm glad that somebody is doing something with it. But I hope something positive comes out of it for the city. That still needs to happen."
Amen! Detroit needs help and prayers. A once-great city still should have a shot at a great future.

[The way the Thomas house looked before it was dismantled in Detroit and sent to Europe.]

Mendoza claims to be committed to that:
Mendoza hopes to have additional fa├žades of Detroit houses sent to Europe, where he wants to auction them off and send the money back to Detroit for reinvestment in neighborhoods, helping city residents buy or upgrade homes.
That would be one wonderful way for Ryan Mendoza to reassure those skeptical about The White House. I hope that he can follow through on his plan.

"Hillary, Bernie, Donald, and Me"

That's the title of this amazing piece by John Piper.

I don't always agree with Piper's theology and I have little quibbles with things here. But this piece, a call to those who have retired from their regular work to not, if not hemmed in by physical issues or poverty, retire from God's mission for their lives.

I would cite quotes from the piece, but, whatever your age, you'll want to read every word for yourself.

Prayer (Part 2, Reaching Up, Reaching In, Reaching Out)

[This was shared earlier this evening during midweek Lenten worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

Hebrews 4:16
Matthew 7:7-8

During these midweek Lenten services, we’re considering what it means to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

You and I are called to be disciples of Christ in His Church, not members of a club that confers membership privileges, as though the Church were some religious version of Sam’s Club or the Rotary.

The term disciple is the English translation of a word used in the Greek of the New Testament to describe people who are followers of Jesus. That Greek word is mathetes, which translated at its most literal means student.

In first century Judea, when Jesus walked the earth, it was the custom for rabbis, teachers, to collect groups of students, or disciples, who would follow the rabbi as he taught and interacted with people from place to place.

This method is what Jesus used with His disciples to help them to grow into active participants in the Kingdom of God, which is ultimately what we’re called to be Christ’s disciples.

Remember how Jesus taught the disciples?

First, Jesus allowed them to observe Him as He preached, taught, brought healing, and cast out demons.

Second, Jesus would send the disciples out in groups of two, providing the disciples with mutual support and accountability, empowering them to duplicate His ministry in His name.

Third, Jesus brought His students--His disciples--back to reflect together on what they had learned from doing what they had previously observed Jesus doing.

At the end of His ministry on earth, after He had died and risen, as He was ascending to heaven, Jesus gave His disciples one last directive, a command we call the Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:19-20: “...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…”

The disciples were to replicate Jesus’ ministry repeatedly and empower others to do the same. The students were to become teachers. The disciples were to make more disciples.

And Christian disciples--right up to us today here at Living Water--have the same commission, to make disciples one life at a time time, person to person.

The fortunate thing is that we don’t do this in our own power! Jesus promises us in Matthew 28:20: “...I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

And at Pentecost, Jesus would send the Holy Spirit to His Church. The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of God, is the One by Whom Jesus uses disciples like us to make disciples.

I bring all of this up by way of background for tonight’s topic: prayer.

Jesus taught the disciples to pray after they observed how regularly He Himself prayed. They knew that prayer was important to Jesus. So, they asked Jesus to teach them to pray.

Now, Jesus’ disciples were religious people. I’m sure they had prayed before. But maybe in observing Jesus, they saw that prayer is more than what they’d previously thought it was.

So, Jesus gave them a pattern for prayer, what we call the Lord’s Prayer.

He also taught them: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7-8). This wasn’t a blank for self-centered prayer; Jesus elsewhere speaks of prayer needing to be offered in His name, meaning praying in ways that are consistent with the will and the character of God.

But what Jesus was saying to His disciples, including us, is that whatever is of concern to us is a concern to our Father in heaven.

And we should humbly and honestly lay our whole lives before God when we pray.

Personally, I usually spend time in the mornings praying to God. But I also pray to God all day long, in what some people call the "chink" in my schedule: between appointments or events, while preparing to do something, or when thoughts cross my mind.

I often pray things like: “Lord, grant that I will do nothing to dishonor You, but only glorify You by what I say, who I am, and what I do.”

Or, “Lord, give me the right words and the right silences in this meeting, in this visit, in this counseling session.”

Or, “God, protect my family and me from all danger and harm. Protect our characters and our reputations.”

Or, “Lord, help the MSM students or the First Communion students to know and love You more each day.”

Or, “Lord, give me the words You want me to speak in this message.”

“Jesus,” I prayed Sunday before last, when I was reeling from sinusitis, strep throat, and meds, “get me through the morning so that I call attention to You and not to myself.”

Paul says that disciples are to “pray without ceasing.”

Hebrews 4:16 tells Christ’s disciples: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Here at Living Water, we summarize the life of discipleship and the mission of our church in three components:

  • Reaching up to God; 
  • Reaching in to our sisters and brothers in Christ through mutual care, study, and accountability; and
  • Reaching out to make new disciples of Christ through our witness and service in Christ’s name. 

But in truth, prayer is involved in all three of these elements of Christian discipleship.

In prayer, we reach up to God in surrender, worship, praise, and supplication.

In prayer, we reach in to pray for the needs of our congregation as a whole, for the entire Christian Church, and for our fellow disciples.

And no effort at reaching out to others to make disciples will have any impact unless we pray before, during, and after every encounter we have with those outside of Christ’s Church, who need the salvation and new life that only comes from Jesus. (My favorite place to witness for Christ these days is the deli counter at Kroger. Boar's Head meats are very popular, so there's lots of time for conversation.)

How we pray and what we say when we pray is not nearly important as that we pray and that when we pray, we come with both humility about ourselves and confidence in the grace and mercy of the One to Whom we pray.

And even when our confidence in God is battered or shaky, as happens to all of us, those who pray in Christ’s name will nonetheless find an utterly dependable God Who loves them passionately and totally.

We take comfort and power from God’s promises voiced through the apostle Paul in Romans 8:26-27, another great passage in what I think is the greatest chapter of the whole Bible: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

Jesus has taught we who are His disciples to pray. The prayer He has taught us shows us how to pray, with intimacy, confidence, concern for others, and repentant hearts.

But even when we find prayer difficult, whenever we lay ourselves before God’s throne of grace in Jesus’ name, our Teacher, our Lord, prays for us and with us. That’s a very comforting thought for me!

And at our most confused moments, the Holy Spirit takes our jumbled thoughts and emotions brought to God in the name of Jesus, and turns them into prayers that will eventually, inevitably, and eternally, work for the good of all who love Him.

Pray...about everything and for everyone!

That’s our privilege and our duty as disciples of Jesus Christ.

More on reaching up, reaching in, and reaching out next week.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Love this!

"That energy, man!"

Great Lincoln Quote

"...If I did not laugh I should die."

Going bananas in space...and a modest proposal

Looks like a fun break from their work. Couldn't there be a Pastor in Space program? If I were selected, I would reflect theologically on the experience...and sometimes put on a gorilla suit.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Free to Live!

[This was shared during worship with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, earlier today.]

Luke 13:31-35
A prominent New Testament scholar tells about a discovery made after a barnyard fire. The fire had swept through the chicken coop. But beneath the burnt bodies of several hens were found living baby chicks. The hens had saved the lives of their little ones, who may never have realized the danger they faced.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus is warned that He should avoid going to Jerusalem. There, it’s said that the king, Herod Antipas, was planning to kill Jesus.

The threat is plausible. Herod was one of several sons of Herod the Great. That Herod, called Herod the Great, was king when Jesus was born. It was Herod the Great who ordered the murder of the baby boys in Bethlehem after the magi told him that the Messiah had been born in David’s city.

The son, Herod Antipas, was the one who had murdered John the Baptist. He also, according to the ancient Jewish historian Josephus, generally liked to silence troublemakers through murder.

Whether the Pharisees who warn Jesus away from Jerusalem speak for Herod Antipas or not, Jesus tells them to carry a message back to him. Calling Herod “that fox,” Jesus says that He’s coming to Jerusalem at a time appointed by God and nothing that Herod may threaten, say, or do will prevent Him from going there.

Our passage comes at about the midpoint of a long section of Luke’s gospel called the great interpolation or the travel narrative. It runs from Luke 9:51 to Luke 18:14. The theme of this section is given at its beginning, which says that “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” [Luke 9:51].

Jesus tells us why He is going to Jerusalem in today’s lesson: “I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” [Luke 13:33] Jesus has a mission, which Herod in this week’s Gospel, every bit as much as the devil in last week’s lesson, wants to keep Jesus from fulfilling.

It’s in Jerusalem that Jesus will fulfill it. God’s will—God’s plans—will triumph not only over the devil, but over the plans of puny human rulers and other wielders of power. In Jerusalem, at a time set by God the Father, Jesus is intent on sacrificing Himself on the cross, taking our punishment for sin, so that all who trust in Him will live forever with God.

Jesus says that Jerusalem is the only place He could possibly do this. Jerusalem, of course, was the holy city of the ancient Jews and their nation’s political capital.

In Jesus’ day, Jerusalem was also the place which the Romans, who had conquered what had once been known as Israel, used as their base of operations. Every sin you can think of was accepted in Jerusalem. Every injustice. Every dirty deal.

And the leaders of what we would today call “church and state”: the priests at the temple, supposed guardians of true faith in God, as well as the Jewish puppet kings and their advisers who wielded power by submitting to Rome instead of God, went along with the sin.

More than that, they got involved with it. It lined their pockets. It gave them nice homes and servants. It gave them influence and power. Jerusalem, like our world today, had become a corrupted, dark place that closed its ears to God, to God’s Word, to God's will.

It was only by going into this heart of darkness that Jesus could do what He set out to do. He would do something very similar to what the mother hens did in the face of that barnyard fire.

In fact, Jesus speaks of what He will do in Jerusalem in those very terms. ““Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” Jesus laments in verse 34 of our lesson, “you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Jesus’ desire is to gather not only Jerusalem, but you and me, all our neighbors, all our family members, and our whole world under the protection of His wings, gathered in and by His grace. He will give His very life in order to gather us in, to save from death, and give us eternal life with God. 

The most critical question each and every human being faces—the question of our lives—is whether we will let Jesus gather us in or go our own ways?

Will we live in what Psalm 17:8 describes as “the shadow of [God’s] wings” or will we choose to live in the shadow of sin and death?

We may find that, as was true of Herod and even of the religious Pharisees, a lot within us and around us keeps us from taking shelter with Christ.

The main reason for that is that doing so means swallowing our pride. This is hard. The sin within us resists. Like Adam and Eve, we want to “be like God.”

We don’t want to acknowledge that we’re not in control of our lives.

We don’t want to admit that we’re involuntary sinners who need a Savior to set us on the right path.

We don’t want to deal with the fact that, absent the help of God, we are incapable of becoming the people we sense we could be.

So, we try blocking out the truth about ourselves and our need for God with lots of habits—many not bad in and of themselves, but destructive when taken to excess—from mindless TV channel-surfing to overeating, from overwork to gossiping in order to indulge in a pretense of being superior to others, from harboring resentments of those who have more than we do to a lazy indifference to difficulties faced by neighbors, from frenzied activity and achievement designed to prove to the world—and to ourselves—that our lives are worth something to letting bigotry or the abuse endured by others go unchallenged.

Jesus wants to free us from all that.

He wants us to walk free and forgiven, free and filled with hope, free and full of life, free and without worry, free and certain of our eternal destinies.

Under Jesus’ protective wings, we aren’t given lives devoid of risk, or challenge, or even the possibility of adversity, pain, or tragedy. After all, if the prophets of Old Testament times suffered, why should we be exempt? If Jesus Himself suffered in this world, why should we expect that we on't do so as well?

But when we let Jesus cover us with His grace, we are freed from the weight of our past.

We are freed to begin becoming the people God made us to be.

We are freed to live each day in the awareness that God loves us and will stand with us forever

When we dare to throw away all the props we use to shelter ourselves from the unpleasantness of life and the reality of our need for God and the salvation He offers through Jesus, God gives us life, an incredible gift that only the Creator of life could possibly give!

The story’s told of a man who always lived a safe life. He tried to shelter himself from difficulties the way the Pharisees were ostensibly trying to shelter Jesus from Herod’s wrath and shelter themselves the trouble Jesus was bound to bring to Jerusalem. This man decided not to love too much because love cost too much. He decided not to dream too much because dreaming brought disappointment. He decided not to serve too much because in serving, we encounter other people’s problems and you can get into trouble. When he died, he presented his life to God--undiminished, unmarred, unsoiled by the messiness of life. He proudly said, “God, here is my life!” And God asked him, “What life?”

Jesus could have played it safe. He could have skipped out on going to Jerusalem. But He knew that without His death and resurrection, our lives would be meaningless pilgrimages to eternal separation from God, death marches.

Jesus chose instead to spread out His arms on the cross and welcome all who will receive Him as their Lord and King into the shelter of His grace.

No matter what life brings our ways, what Jesus accomplished in Jerusalem makes true and everlasting life possible for all with faith in Him.

And Jesus didn’t go to Jerusalem, face down the evil of the devil and the world, suffer agony on the cross, and rise from the dead so that you and I could play it safe.

Jesus did all of that so that, like the chicks saved by their mother hens, we could live!

He calls us to join Him in the risky business of facing the evil of the world with love, confronting sin with the gospel, filling the needs of the hungry, the jobless, the victims of natural disasters, and others with Christian service, praying even for our enemies, and not only reading God’s Word but praying for God’s help in living that Word.

Christian living isn’t always safe living. But it is living!

And it’s made possible when we dare to take shelter under the wings of just one God, just one King, just one way, one truth, one life. It happens only under the wings of Jesus. May that be the way we all live each day! Amen