Friday, May 27, 2011

Love's Language . . . Lost

The April 13, 2011 online edition of the Guardian newspaper carried a story which tweaked my interest. It was a story filed from Mexico concerning two men who are the last known speakers of Ayapaneco – which they call Nuumte Oote. This ancient language is hundreds of years old having survived the Spanish invasion, wars, famines, floods and the death of the tribes for whom it was their native tongue. Now, Manuel Segovia, 75, and Isidro Velazquez, 69, are the sole and final resting place of the language.

There is just one problem.

They don’t speak to each other – and haven’t for years, even though they live just a quarter mile apart.

Turns out, they don’t like each other very much. Nobody knows why – probably some long forgotten conflict solidified into mutual, prideful paralysis of soul. Whatever the reason, the result is the likely disappearance of the language of a once powerful, noble nation. The last trace of who they were, gone because two men have decided the other is not worth speaking to. A language unspoken, dies.

It got me to thinking. Might this be part of the reason Jesus, Paul, Peter, John – to name just a few – spend so much time saying over and over again, and in multiple ways, that the disciples of Jesus are to love one another? What happens if we don’t? What language dies if we no longer speak to one another? And what other words die because that word has died? Love never dies alone – it takes life along with it.

Nuumte Oote means “true voice”. The unnamed and unresolved conflict between the two neighbors will result in the death of the “true voice”.

When love is no longer spoken, truth is silenced as well. Paul said as much, reminding us that love makes way for truth – not the other way around. When love no longer makes way, truth has nowhere to go. It sits at home becoming distorted and twisted into a weapon of subjugation. But love makes truth flexible, supple – able to be inserted into the tiny spaces of terror where it sets free those sitting all alone in the dark.

The challenge is to live and speak love loud – often – and in living conversation. That language will never die, even when faith and hope have lost their voice.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

At the Ends of Time

Well… if you are reading this, apparently the world didn’t end as predicted.

To be honest, it has only been within the last couple of weeks that I became aware of the furor surrounding Harold Camping’s careful calculations. In fact, it was a billboard in Long Beach that alerted me to the fact that the world would end on May 21, 2011 at 6 pm. The billboard did not specify a time zone, so I assumed it was a rolling end, beginning in New Zealand and moving west an hour at a time. Further exploration revealed that May 21 was not to be the end, but was the beginning of end.

Candidly, it would be easy to ridicule Camping and his followers – numbering into the hundreds of thousands. The deep longing to know the future, to know the ends of time, sets people up for deception by those who claim, sincerely or otherwise, to possess knowledge of those ends. Any certainty, even false, in such uncertain times is sure to attract followers.

The problem with these kinds of things – and there have been many over the past two thousand years – is that they are a distraction. Like a clever magician pulling a willing audience off focus so that he can create the illusion of magic, we get drawn off balance and miss the point. The fact is, Harold Camping and others like him notwithstanding, Jesus really is coming back. As He Himself made it clear, however, no one knows the time. Instead of being distracted by those who claim to know more than anyone has the ability to know, that simple fact ought to challenge and encourage us to a lifestyle of readiness.

I was brought up a bit short over the past few days reading about the enthusiasm generated by the possible return of Jesus and the results that enthusiasm produced. One man, it was reported in an English newspaper, drew down his retirement account to the tune of more than $150,000 in order to help fund billboards, radio spots, and newspaper ads to get the word out and to encourage repentance. He was not the only one. And what is even more poignant, he did not believe that he was likely to be one of the select ones for whom Jesus was coming back! He was willing to make great personal sacrifice for someone else – complete strangers, for the most part.

It got me to thinking. What if we, who know that Jesus is going to return and who have a clear understanding that we are to be making friends and disciples for Him until that moment, had the same passion and heart for those who had not yet heard, or seen lived out, the good news of God’s Kingdom come and coming? Fortunately, there are more effective – and less costly – ways of doing what we know to do at the ends of time, as long as we don’t get distracted. In the meantime, we have nothing better to do.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Long Walk

There are days
     when all that 
     can be done is
     put one foot
          in front of the other
          it all begins again.

There are days
     when it is all
     we can do
          to keep picking them 
          up and putting them
          down as fast as we can
          just to keep from falling
          forward onto our faces.

There are days
     when the steps 
     are lonely
          the journey
     the fog

There are days
     when the steps
     are light
     the company 
     the journey
          nothing but 
          fantastic dance.

Oh Lord
     in all these days
     these long walks
          short runs
               mad dances
let me
     with You.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Everything New?

It must have been frustrating for Jesus, having raised from the dead, to come back to the same old disciples. After all they had seen and heard, the glimpses we get of them in the days following the resurrection are none to encouraging. Just before Jesus authorized them to extend His kingdom throughout all the world, Matthew lets us know that some of them were doubtful. Doubtful! Here they were, looking fully at Jesus whom only days before they had watched die and who now appeared more alive than they did - and some were doubtful!

John tells us that the first instinct for at least a few of them in the days following the resurrection was to go back to home and start fishing again. He makes it clear that it was not recreational fishing - not hobby fishing - not drop a line in the lake and wait fishing. This was deliberate, commercial, drag the nets the way we used to, fishing. Of course, it was not too successful until Jesus appeared on the lake shore and advised them to try the other side of the boat - as if twenty feet more or less would make any difference.

Luke gives us the most baffling portrait. In the opening moments of the book of Acts he records the disciples’ concerns as being exactly the same as they were in the days leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection. It is as if they are thinking to themselves, “Well, I don’t know what that foolishness in Jerusalem was all about, but I’m glad he got it out of his system so that we can get back to the real business at hand.” Jesus might have been excused had he allowed himself at least one exasperated sigh - before moving to ascension. Do you get the feeling that he was glad to be heading home?

It is easy to pick on the disciples until we see them peering back at us from the mirror - for here we are, a couple of weeks out from the wonder of Easter, and discover that our concerns, our attitudes, our behaviors, are pretty much what they were before Life triumphed over Death! Apparently we need help getting our heads, hearts, and lives around the new reality to the extent that it effects the way we actually live in the world. Learning to live new is very hard work. I suppose that is why Jesus promised us help. And so . . . on to Pentecost!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On The Death of an Enemy

I have been thinking about the momentous events of this past weekend – the assassination of Osama bin Laden, the architect of 9/11 and of various embassy bombings, the ostensible head of Al Qaida who has eluded capture or even substantial detection for decades, stretching back to the Clinton administration. He has been a pot-stirrer for radicalized sentiments in parts of the Muslim world, a catalyzing force behind untold numbers of acts of violence resulting in the deaths of who knows how many innocents throughout both the Muslim and western world. A formidable foe, conducting global operations of terror from behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy. And now, he is dead, executed by an elite team of highly trained and courageous Navy Seals in the compound that had become his hiding place, a few miles from the capital of Pakistan.

So what are we to think on the occasion of the death of a self-declared enemy who had exacted such a cost in his enmity? At one level, rejoicing is in order – whether revenge or justice or punishment, the universe feels like it has tilted a bit closer to center after having been knocked off-kilter by the atrocities of his terrorism. We certainly have warrant and precedent. Those who suffered the loss of loved ones as a result of his planning are more than justified in celebration – even though, according to one such celebrant, it is an empty reminder of loss deeper than can be filled by the death of one or hundred.

At another level, it is na├»ve to think that his death is the end of anything but a symbol – a powerful symbol, but probably not a tide-turning symbol. Al Qaida has long since fragmented into cells scattered all over the world, untraceable, it seems, except in the trails of terror. Injustice has been co-opted by multiple other groups and individuals who now traffic in terror on local, regional, and global scales. The principalities and powers who are our real enemy continue to wreak their special brand of destruction in systems of evil world-wide – most of whom have no need of the elaborate secrecy, so confident are they in the brute strength of their unconscionable acts of violence against their own people.

As one struggling disciple of Jesus, I find myself ambivalent. Frankly, I am glad the principalities have one less soldier in the battle. If any man deserved to die, he did. My ambivalence comes not from the general principle as much as from the specific death. He, too, was a man. Now, lost to redemption. And the degree to which I wish any man damnation, is the degree to which I don’t comprehend the horror that is hell.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Nearly Missed

They must have talked afterwards about how they just about missed it. At family reunions they would tell the story and end up laughing every time at the jaw dropping possibility. It was one “what if” that they did not have to live with. All it took to send them into peals of laughter was for one of them to glance at the other with the meaning that only a long marriage can produce. It was one of those shared moments that defined the rest of their lives. And to think, they almost missed it.
Leaving Jerusalem after the longest weekend of their lives, they journeyed back home to Emmaus. The familiar stranger joined them just outside the city gates and, overhearing their grief and shock at the events of the last week - and especially of the last few hours - asked them what was going on. Surprised that anyone could not know, they proceeded to fill him in. They were more than a little shocked when the stranger began to explain the meaning of their story. He seemed surprised that they didn’t understand. The more he talked, the more they saw the connections, the faster their hearts beat, the higher their spirits soared!
It was one of those journeys that seemed to end too quickly. They got to the turn in the road that would take them home, but their new friend bid them farewell and began to stride confidently away. A quick glance at one another confirmed their mutual desire and they began to urge him to come and spend the evening with them, especially now that the light of day was fading toward dark. Sitting down to dinner later he took the honored place as guest and offered up thanks for the bread, which he then broke and gave to them. It was at that moment that they saw clearly what they had been straining to see all day. The familiar stranger suddenly was recognized to be their risen Lord! And in that split second of recognition, he vanished. They rushed over to the place where he had reclined to eat and looked at each other with eyes filled with tears and laughter - and immediately headed back in the night to Jerusalem.
Of all the questions circling through their minds and hearts, one kept rising to the surface. “What if we hadn’t asked Him in to dinner!?” But they had. And that made all the difference! Life is filled with coincidences that suddenly open up a whole universe of possibility.