Tag: World

Despite What We See, Humans Are Capable of Great Hospitality

Humans are capable of great good

Published Monday, January 10, 2011


The irony of American culture is that while we try to practice the art of hospitality, we are confronted by many stories of the opposite.

Murders, shootings, burglaries and other injustices are reported so that we are aware of what’s happening and can remain safe, but hearing about these occurrences also confirms something in our souls: Something isn’t right with us if there is always such bad news.

Then there are the stories that hit closer to home — that we don’t talk about in polite company, that are only whispered on the side. Our stomachs churn when we hear them, and our eyes squint because the mind and heart are not made to take these things in.

This is nothing new.

Do you can remember in Sunday school when you were shocked to find that the Bible doesn’t just record the good stories but also the ones that are terrible, if not horrifying?

I remember my friends asking our teacher about the stories of rape, murder, prostitution and incest in the Bible, wondering why they were in there because the Bible was supposed to be a tablet of morals like the Ten Commandments. We didn’t yet realize that even God’s people weren’t perfect, and that darkness and injustice in the hearts of people might be the biggest reason Christ’s sacrifice was seen as a game-changer.

In one event at the end of the regular life of Jesus, people saw that evil has consequences and that God cares more about justice than we realize.

This Christmas season, Bluffton felt the pains of inhospitality in our own community when a shooting in a local neighborhood left a father dead in the street on Christmas Eve. This story is now whispered among us, and increases the irony we feel — a family has lost someone they love, and at a time of celebration and a time to remember hope. Once again, we are forced to deal with the ugly side of humanity.

Collectively, it seems that we are losing the art of Gastfreundschaft, a concept first discussed by the brilliant writer Henry Nouwen as “friendship for the guest.” His words on hospitality echo in my mind: “Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.”

It is a positive philosophy of welcoming others, and it is a choice to let others in, and to experience them for who they are. But if we all close ourselves off, more and more atrocities will occur.

Reaching out and caring about those who are alien to us is a primary way to reclaim who we are as human beings. Believe it or not, we are made to do good, and can accomplish great things together.

Remember the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis? His brothers had sold him into slavery in Egypt, and when they later asked for forgiveness, realizing the slave had become a king, he responded, “‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.nesis 50:19)

While Joseph could have retaliated and continued the cycle of evil, he turned events around and made a hospitable space. That kind of justice puts a stop to cycles of evil and frustration. It is the way the irony we live within, with God’s help, could disappear.

Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him on Twitter @dannonhill.

Super Soaker Inventer Blows Minds! (Changing the World with Science)


I remember in 5th grade when our teacher Mr. N, told us that if we could truly harness all the energy that the sun sends to a square inch of earth, we would have oodles of energy and we would no longer need oil.  His charge to us (or observation) was that our generation would have to solve the issue of energy dependance on fossil fuels.  Since then I have been a wreck, sometimes forgetting the seriousness, but always being reminded by gas prices, that Mr. N was right.  We need to stop wrecking stuff (ala the gulf) in order to have cheap energy for the masses.

Today I read an article about Lonnie Johnson, homegrown inventer (made the SUPER SOAKER), and all around scientist from Mobile, AL.  This dude has an idea that truly will change the world.  By using Hydrogen and the heat from the sun, he has devised and begun testing a device that will use the splitting and recombining of Hydrogen atoms to collect and retreive electrons for charging your ipod (or your car, or your electric snuggie, whatever).

I’m not a scientist, and yet I have wondered why with the Billions of dollars pouring into energy companies, this didn’t come from one of their own researchers?  And I am so excited that there is even more hope that solutions are coming from individual thinkers out there.

Now, Lonnie, some personal advice: Do not go to meet with any oil connected energy researchers in a dark ally. I’m just saying.  Be safe.

Pastor’s Corner – Sometimes the world needs a reminder there’s good news

Sometimes the world needs a reminder there’s good news

Published Monday, October 18, 2010

Some countries get a lot of news coverage: Russia, China, England, Australia and Canada, to name a few of the major ones. But Chile? I hadn’t thought much about that nation until recently when news media began focusing on what seemed to be just another run-of-the-mill mining tragedy. A mine had collapsed and rescuers were frantically searching for survivors. It wasn’t until it was discovered that miners had, in fact, survived the collapse and were trapped deep below the surface that it became a different story.

For the weeks that followed this discovery, global audiences watched the news each night to see how the effort to save the men was progressing. The suspense gripped us because we know that people rarely survive these types of disasters. Was it possible the miners could go crazy, like in an episode of “X-Files”? How would their hope hold out? How could they be saved when they were so far below the surface? After seeing how quickly stories can go from bad to worse — such as the Gulf oil spill — one had to wonder what the future held for the trapped miners. We all hoped for the best, but there was a very real possibility this could turn to horror.

Then these men were saved.

A drill reached the miners and created a hole big enough to send down a container to save the crew, one man at a time. Chile celebrated, the families of the crew rejoiced, and the world watched as prayers from across the globe were answered. Who ever thought these hard-working men would have their faces in every home with a television? They’re now famous for remaining patient while waiting to be saved.

I remember someone once saying why the musical group The Carpenters was so well-received at their debut: “The world was ready for something good.” After so much angst, so many failures, so many disasters — from Hurricane Katrina, to the great loss of life in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the harm the spilled oil has done to the Gulf — we were all in need of good news.

All bitterness in the past is put aside for now, because the world has found goodness — a reminder of our beginnings, when God made man and woman and felt satisfied with what he had created.

We were made in God’s image and we need reminders that despite the threat of the walls collapsing, and darkness overwhelming us in our ordinary lives, there is something within us that helps us get through tough times. It is in our makeup, and though we have screwed up in the past and continue to make mistakes, we are also capable of great things.

Our faith in a good future is an important thing.

Jesus rocked the disciples, when he said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).

In commissioning them to do greater things, Jesus told them they would perform miracles; they would speak a new message of hope to the world, of a place where God’s goodness is shown, and people work together to end evil and destroy the darkness.

It is good to have heartwarming stories like the rescues in Chile because it gives us hope.

It is also a good reminder to the people of the church that the world is still looking for good things, and the love of Christ is the greatest thing of all.

Read more: http://www.islandpacket.com/2010/10/18/1412275/sometimes-the-world-needs-a-reminder.html#ixzz130VJ4yRq

Whether You Are a Churchgoer, or a Child, We Are All Theologians

Theology (from theologos), in bits and pieces, means “a word about God.” We talk about whether we believe or do not believe, and either way we decide, we are theologians.

I bet you never thought of yourself that way. At some point, unless you have somehow numbed yourself to conversation and shunned your community, you have probably talked about the “G” word.

You are not the first, and you will not be the last. When thoughts become words and words become actions, big changes become possible. It is no wonder that the first commandment to Israel was “Love the Lord your God.” It is when they thought about him that they could prepare a better way, and could conceive of life together in a land filled with milk and honey.

When someone brings up the word “theology,” what do you think? Some might think of debating professors with stacks of old books, or a television personality speaking about the latest religion statistics. Perhaps images of clergy in the pulpit are conjured from the past, with the patience of a long sermon following in memory. Or is it a conversation between friends, or with family, over a warm dinner, over coffee, on a cold rainy day? Do you remember the moments when you began thinking and talking about God?

Every human at some point becomes a theologian. It is natural for a being coming into existence (without any knowledge about the process of life) to begin asking questions of ultimate origin: “Where do I come from?” the little one asks. “Mommy and Daddy, of course,” someone answers.

Then, “Where do Mommy and Daddy come from?” and so on until the genesis of humanity is invoked. That is when we hear about our beginnings, and we begin to decide what we believe about our origin. Some may not have this conversation, but children are persistent, and answers are found in books, at the schoolyard from a friend, from grandparents, or from a movie with a good story. We are born theologians, and we begin searching in conversations that direct us toward our Creator.

In our worship, we are reminded of goodness and justice. Great men and women who change the world often start their conversations about changing imperfection, with the idea that someone more perfect than us is looking upon us and demanding that we change to better mirror the beauty of perfection. The Kingdom of God as a conception of order and justice is inspiration to the Martin Luther Kings and the Mother Teresas of our own age.

Our pondering on God breaks us from what is and brings us to what ought to be. And we are brought back to the image of a land flowing with milk and honey, a place where justice is supreme and what is good is placed on a pedestal to be seen and adored. When I think of Christ as King, and the hope that this invokes, I want to make my world a better place. And as theologians, we should talk more and more about these things.

Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-The-Sea United Methodist Church. He can be reached at danielgriswold@gmail.com and followed at twitter.com/dannonhill.

Article Originally Published on http://www.islandpacket.com, and in The Bluffton Packet.

On District 9 (Movie)



I saw the  movie District 9, and will be talking about it in this post so there will be SPOILERS, in this post.  If you don’t want the movie plot to be revealed before you see it, then do not read this post.

Spoilers starting now:

It took me some time to process District 9, because the movie itself was not what I expected it to be.  Yes, there were aliens, Yes, there was a giant spaceship, Yes, there was a colony that was misunderstood by humans.  I saw all that in the previews, and expected that.  What I didn’t expect, was that the aliens are not the main characters or antagonist (villains), they just are.  They are an assumed situation in the film, and you learn about it a bit, but there is a lot of mystery surrounding them.  The humans also, are not the main characters.  They just are, in Johannesburg South Africa, and they interact with the colony as any group of humans would to an unknown group of foreigners who have taken up refuge without choice outside an already inhabited area.  There is conflict.  No, the main character ends up being a bumbling, unintelligent, selfish, unassuming character who is hired as a mediator (or instigator) between a Large Corperation interested in exploiting Alien Weaponry under the guise of “helping” the foreigners.  He is not wise enough to know that he is hurting the aliens and amusing himself at their expense, as he goes through the camp and tries to get them to sign a legal document that “evicts” them from the shacks they inhabit and will allow the Corperation to move them to a Concentration Camp 10 miles further away (and without as much media accountability – basically, a Guantanamo Bay situation).

If you don’t understand anything I just said, watch the movie and return, because I’m going to make some observations about the movie that many will think are Too Deep, but that I feel are valid.  Feel free to discuss, tear me apart, or affirm my thoughts.  For your perspective, I am both a social justice advocate and theologian at the same time, and I think the two actually are intertwined and spring from one another.  Here are my observations:

(1) The perspective of this film is very current, in the sense that today, all the injustices that occurred at the beginning of mankind (though somewhat mediated through accountability and philanthropy/human morality), are still present in today’s world.  These evils occur most readily and areas that the developed world ignores in its media because the sight is too overpowering for the ordinary person, and would distract from the day to day functioning of the developed world itself.  Not only this, but in our developed world, small injustices occur every day as ordinary people do not care for one another.

(2) The perspective in this film is very biblical, in the sense that the Bible of Judaism and in addition, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, are both very interested in Social Justice due to the Image of God in every human being – humans have worth.  For the purpose of this film (and since we have not met any alien lifeforms yet), the alien creature serves as a metaphor for ANY alien presence in our midst, and so it has a dimension of learning for us that transcends the Sci Fi genre. The aliens are creatures, and so, are created, thus, are also part of the Imago Dei (In God’s Image) paradigm.  The thrust of the plot evokes very basic human problems, which have been evident in human society since the very first act of evil, from murder to human exploitation in slavery and forced ignorance.  So our current situation, the Bible, and District 9 are concerned with the same problems.

(3) The correlation between Our Time, The Biblical History, and District 9’s plot have a simlar rising tension that we need to recognize.   In the  movie, you see the problem in little bits at first.  The aliens are living in abject poverty, people don’t like them, and misinterpretations arise about them that create tension.  They become less than valuable as persons, and so eventually the larger society decides that whatever they wish to do to the aliens is alright.  Just maintain a semblance of civility in the media, and no one cares if secret facilities do horrifying experiments or use the aliens for their technology.  This is analogous to the story of the Hebrews, who in Egypt multiplied and prospered but lived off to the side in Goshen, away from the main population.  Eventually, a resentful Pharoah placed their labor under his thumb and before long, millions of people were in slavery.  That labor became a right of the Pharoah and his people, and the slavery became worse as the labor was expected and human worth became less than that of a machine.  They were only worth what they could do.  Eventually, after human arrogance became intolerable, God’s anger swept across Egypt under the face of Moses and his staff, and the Hebrews left to go to the promised land a generation later.  Egypt would never be as glorious as it once was after its decision to place other humans under its thumb like bugs.  Now look at today, as District 9 is pulling out – how many injustices are being performed in places the media is not recognizing?  How many millions are in sexual slavery, and being used for their services rather than being allowed to contribute to the world in their own way?  How many wars are fought to exterminate one tribe, or one ethnic group, or to take the resources (land, water, ports, people) from another in cold calculations that devalue human worth.  All these things are the same at the beginning, today, and in District 9.

(4) The main character, the bumbling human that accidentally takes on the DNA of the alien and begins a transformation process to the other side, becomes the Moses like Mediator for the Aliens.  He is an unwitting Christ figure, because he is one from the Human side that begins to incarnate into the form of the other species.  He takes on the oppression that the aliens face because he is the only mixed man/alien.  He is shot at, experimented on, beaten and crushed.  And slowly he realizes in his interactions with the alien species, that they have their own culture, and their vulgar living styles are merely reactions to a harsh and unfamiliar environment surrounded by people who don’t want to help.  The Man/Alien mediator walks among them, at first as a selfish man, but later sacrifices his own humanness to allow an alien to go back to his homeworld to get help for his impoverished and oppressed brothers (and sisters? – I think they are androgenous). That is the high point of the film.

(5) This movie is about how the tension breaks into a Holy Rage, as the mediator (unable to stop the evils of the perverted militia/army men), begins to cleanse District 9 through what can only be described as a slaughter.  This is reminiscent of the cleansing of the Holy Land under the Biblical figure of Joshua.  In District 9, we see a personal Holy War waged by a man/alien mediator that does not know of  any other option.  It is a fanatical option, but those who do evil are trapped in their decisions and love of destroying others.  They cannot see the worth of another being, and so the Man/Alien literally destroys their physical being.  They are judged physically for their evil.  At least that is what the movie presents visually.

In my final thought, I have to say, that the vulgarities of this movie rang true.  It was gritty, it was sarcastic, but it rang true in many ways.  The violence was intense, and I don’t recommend this for young viewers without an adult who has already screened it and decides whether a young person can handle it and process it afterwards.  But there is truth here that needs to be dealt with.  Should we let evils like what happened in District 9 (or in many corners of the world today) go so far in darkness that a judgment of force and violence becomes necessary.  If each human on earth made it their perogative to value human (or sentient life in District 9) as much as is valued in the Scriptures as Created Beings of God (see Genesis chapters 1-2), then such evils would be less frequent, and would not get to the level we see in this movie. These are my thoughts, and I will continue to process it as I learn to help and love others in my own life through social justice work around the world and in my own neighborhood.  Have I gone too far, or does this make sense?

On Multi-Cultural Ministry/Life

So it is a fact that we live in a growing Multi-Cultural environment.   The stats tell us that in 2050, the minorities will be the majority in America.  That might sound scary to some people, because that means change.  But I think it is a great thing.  Why?

Well, having multiple cultures in one area forces a few things to happen that might not otherwise happen.  In a mono-cultural society, people pretty much assume that they know everyone else and how “things work.”  Things happen because they do.  In a multi-cultural situation, things don’t happen in homogenized ways.  Flows aren’t standard, and even patterns of thought must be analyzed, because people are (don’t be scared) Different from each other.

I learned this while ministering as a Youth Ministry Assistant in Lexington, MA.  Though New England is much homogenous, it is not completely so.  There is a large Chinese and Korean presence, as well as a growing Hispanic and historic African-American populations.  Though people tend to be segregated into comfortable communities in urban areas (and perhaps less so now than in history past), the suburban areas and rural areas (Western MA and NH) are more mixed.  So at Grace Chapel, I ministered to families from some very different perspectives on the spectrum of cultures and needs associated with those cultures.

Remember when I said that this multi-culture situation causes things to happen?  One of those “things” is Personal and Communal Growth.  When I began reaching out to others, I was at first scared, but that went away after I found out that the “other” person is another human being.  We both drink water and breathe air and eat food (though in different ways – that’s cool).

Then, another “thing” was being Humbled.  Oh, was I humbled.  At first, I blindly walked into relationships, thinking that I would be able to help problems and solve stuff – I would Help others, and things would be great.  I didn’t realize that often, the Western notion of Doing things for “others” isn’t the primary thing that people in non-western traditions need.  In being Humbled, I learned how to really Listen in new ways.  I had to step out of my context, and put on the mask of humility and realize that I was the learner in this situation, and I needed to Learn the needs that I never knew existed.

This I also had to supplement with Research and Interviews with lots of people from the new cultures that I was ministering to.  I’ve come to realize that even as we learn the cultures of others, we are never really expert on them, because they change in new contexts.  In order to survive as a minority culture in a majority culture, new traits develop in response to the interactions with the people and ways around them.  As this changes, we have to continually reevaluate the needs of the people we are serving.

As a minister this is hard because we have a certain identity that is wrapped up in being a Western minister (though we don’t realize that the word “Western” is there).  Often, our logic and strategy doesn’t work when reaching out to people who don’t understand our systems, and simple education of those systems do not necessarily help those who may be simply seeking “belonging” and “community” rather than ESOL and Ethics lessons (though these are also some other needs).

So as you begin to minister in a Multi-Cultural situation – realize that you will be scared at first.  You will be humbled if you continue, and you will need to continue and reevaluate how and what you are doing according to the response and needs of those you serve.  I’ll tell you that it has been a blast serving those who are different from me, because I as learn about their needs and hopes, and loves and problems – I change too.  I am not the same person I was a second ago, and I’m not the same person I was last year.  I have learned, applied, and begun to live again – and hopefully surrounded by the myriad of different types of people God has given us to live with.

Do you have a multi-cultural experience you’d like to share?  Send me a message or leave a comment and I’ll share some of mine.

Good Stuff – The Philanthropist

My wife Amanda and I consume a lot of media.  We watch many movies, and many television shows on the basic networks.  Every once and a while I find something that is actually good.  As in, it gets me thinking and challenges me to act/move.  So I’ll drop a note in the blog when something like this comes along.

I’ve recently started watching “The Philanthropist” and have seen 3 episodes.  You can look it up on wikipedia to learn information about the suave main character (Teddy Rist, played by James Purefoy).  My worry was that this show would basically end up being a “Western Culture is superior and needs to help the poor helpless people of the world” kind of thing.  The first two episodes reinforced my worry, because it went to some less developed places of the world such as Nigeria and Myanmar (formerly Burma).  But this worry was shattered, when the character became shattered, and began realizing that all his western money means nothing in these other regions of the world.  Not only that, but this week, they targeted the “Sex Trade” in Paris (much like the Liam Neison film “Taken” but with a different slant), showing a messy world full of dehumanizing acts, no matter where people live and interact.  They are beginning to show that the world is in need of good people everywhere to challenge and destroy the cultures being built by those who do evil to their fellow human beings.

Without revealing too much, I want to let you know that the show is worthy of watching and interacting with.  The main character plays out the role of playboy, but his heart has changed, and he is leveraging his image to surprise people with the results of his true actions.  No one expects the rich brat character to be the most effective hero for change in the world.

If you would like to try it out, go to Hulu.com and catch up before you watch it next Wednesday.  Then come here and tell me what you think.  Personally, I am digging into it because it is more than entertainment (and God knows I am sick of meaningless entertainment).


Being Human, pt 4: On Identity and Community

In mathematics, an Identity is an equation that is valid for all its variables.  For a Human, the definition is similar; a quick lookup in Dictionary.com shows that most of the definitions of the word Identity tend to assume “Oneness”.  Here are two of the examples:  (1) “the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another” and (2) “the sense of self, providing sameness and continuity in personality over time.”

I first started thinking consciously about Identity when I was taking classes in Youth Ministry with Dean Borgman, and he asked us to read David Elkind’s book, “All Grown Up and No Place to Go: Teenagers in Crisis,” which describes a disease of Identity known as the Patchwork Self.  This is a condition that happens to teens, and any age group, when they are under great stress without guides and proper relationships (helping relationships) that encourage wholeness of self.  This wholeness is inclusive of one’s value system and how one acts in the world according to those values.  The Patchwork Self is one who never created one homogenous set of values, and thus, acts according to whatever is the norm in the group that they are in.  An example would be a businessman who extorts money from a company with fellow co-workers, then chastizes children for stealing at the grocery store, stands up straight and acts wholesome at church or when the preist/pastor is present, and then goes home and talks dirty with his neighborhood friends.  It does not have to be so stark, however, and one may simply take different stands on an issue.  It is somewhat well known that many who voted for McCain in the 2008 election would not admit it when in the company of the jubilant voters for Barak Obama.

So why is this a problem?  Why is it bad that people act differently with different groups?  Isn’t that just part of getting along?  Though I do feel that it is sometimes right to suppress your opinion sometimes for politeness or for the sake of timing on some less important issues.  I’m not talking about what brand of soda you like, or what type of frosting should be on the cake.  There are more important issues, dealing with war, abortion, governance, etc., that require us to dig deep into our value system, and make decisions appropriately.  Otherwise no action in our world would be possible, and we’d all be living in caves.

One image of this that really got my attention was in the movie Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise as a man who is charged by a secret party to assasinate Hitler.  To set the scene’s context, a plan was made, that when the assassination attempt occurred, a communications officer at the bunker where Hitler was governing from, would rip out the wires at that bunker’s communications hub.  Simultaneously, the opposition party would take power in Berlin, use reserve armies to arrest the SS under the guise that they attempted to kill Hitler and take over, and then notices would be sent out that there was a new government in charge, and ultimately peace would be negotiated with the allies and the war would end.  Unfortunately, there was a kink in the plan.  When the plan took effect there was a communications center, where women would type out messages, give them to an officer, who would review them and send them through another channel to their intended destination.  At first, they relayed the message (that was false) that Hitler was dead, and began relaying all the information for the new government.  Eventually, however, Hitler restored communications in his bunker, and begins sending messages that the new government is a coupe that needs to be arrested immediately.  Here – two simultaneous messages are given to the communications center, and the officer in charge decides at first to be neutral.  All messages for both sides are to be sent.  This sets the stage for the reserve army to receive to arrest warrants, for leaders of opposing sides.  The reserve army Officer in charge sets off to make the arrests, but is perplexed by the contradictions. The contradiction is broken when Hitler himself talks to the reserve officer on the phone, and the voice is recognized.

Then the communications hub, still has a decision to make because they were asked to relay that Hitler is not dead, and that the new government is to be arrested and brought alive to Hitler.  Here is the dilemma.  Orders are going out for arrests on both sides.  It is utter chaos.  At this point, if Hitler is really alive, there is a moral decision to be made.  Either you are devoted to Hitler and you are with the current government (that is killing people and perpetuating an unjust war), or you are the opposition’s node and a revolution is to be the communication’s master.  Here is the drama, the decision, and neutrality is no longer an option.  This is where having an identity is so important.  You cannot serve both sides and expect to be trusted when one of the sides wins out.    Either way, if you are neutral, you lose.  And how is one supposed to be trusted, if a simple decision cannot be made?  Leadership wanes, and action becomes impossible in such confusion.  It causes stress until the moment that a decision is made.  According to the values that are within you (or lack thereof) you must make a decision.  What decision would you have made?

Unfortunately, Hitler’s brand was too strong, and the communications Officer decided to support Hitler.  Extremely unfortunate, because they were the turning point in the struggle.  Once messages for the Opposition had been stopped, they had no control.  The brain was disconnected from the body.  Had the communications officer chosen the resistance, Hitler’s message could not have gotten out as quickly, and the Opposition would have had a good chance of wresting control.  WWII Germany’s legacy may have been different and fewer men and women would have died in the long run (at least according to the movie).

Having a unified identity is critical, especially in moments when decision is necessary.  Those who have not made their mind up about an ideal for themselves, and how the world should work, are not capable of doing anything above and beyond.  Greatness for the greater good is not possible without those who are willing to stand on principles of Human Dignity, which are given by our Creator.  But a whole generation of people do not want to take a stand on who they are and what makes them tick!  Perhaps we’ve domesticated our lives so greatly that many of us never have to make a stand, and nominal statements without any salt are sufficient for conversations at the water coolers.  But what kind of life is that?  Can we be allowed to ruffle each others feathers a bit to get our friends thinking from time to time?  And how will that play out, when real times of hardship hit?  Despite our opulence, in America and in the rest of the world, there are still great injustices being performed.  Some people have made up their identities on Racist and Classist ideologies.  Sexual slavery persists and women around the globe are paying a huge price.  They are not allowed to have their own identities.  Genocidal pushes in parts of Africa have sent hundreds of thousands to the grave before their time, and all across the globe, education is denied as a form of control.  What makes us immune from these problems?  And with the plague of suicide in our modern world, what is going on?  If the next generation of people are unable to decide what a “Good Society” is, warfare in our own culture is possible.  Bitterness, and an inability to lead others in worthwhile pursuits will become chronic.  Already, we see in the school, church, and workplace shootings, that somehow people are rotting from the inside out and unable to determine what is good from what is evil.  If we are a culture are not able to determine what is good about ourselves (self-worth), and understand a common set of ideals that all people can live by, then we will see the dark side of pluralism made up by society dismantling individuals (those who love Anarchy do not truly understand its logical consequences).

So what is a good identity?  One worth systematizing individual, which can manifest itself in society growth, rather than decay when compiled in community?  There are bound to be some cultural variances on what that would be, and how it would be communicated, but there are some precepts that all human societies must live out in order to grow with health and vigor.  The first five books of the Old Testament are foundational, and the interpretation and revelation of Jesus Christ in the Gospels bring alive the rights humans have as Children of God bearing God’s Image in the world – Stewards of God’s creation.  There is set an ideal, that we often don’t live up to, and that many have tried to put aside because practically, being like God seems like an impossible pursuit (and it is).  But the pursuit of perfection itself, and holding up the ideal despite our imperfections is not hypocrisy if we acknowledge our faults and continue to keep getting back up.  Let us look to perfection to match ourselves up to it.  In the Psalms, Asaph wrote, “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone forth.”  There is a standard that is the embodiment of what is good.  If our identity is sound in a high standard, rather than our own practical pleasure, we become more disciplined, and in the direction of good, we become more good.  Never quite there, but getting closer.  That is the best building block for a good society.

The problem is, that so many have not decided who they are, or have decided that their identity involves running away from perfection and taking whatever they can while this life lasts.  That is a formula for defeat, maybe not now, but certainly at some point in time.  Paul in his letter to the Romans encourages us to get beyond our failures as people and as cultures:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect,”

And soon in the scriptures he gives us an ethical code to live by forged out of his own life:

“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him drink; for in so doing you will heap coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

(from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 12)

Whatever background you are coming from, these words are good.  Meditate on them for some time, and begin to think through the question, “Who am I?” and “What makes me who I am?”  If chaos ensues, begin to work it through – take some time.  Sometimes there are patches on us that we didn’t know were there.  The point is to discover, and find the Oneness that the definition of Identity entails.  And when you’re well along that trail, perhaps you can help a few others start that road.  And have fun doing it.

Iran’s Bloody Monday

“Angry men showed their bloody palms after cradling the dead and wounded who had been part of a crowd that stretched more than five miles (nearly 10 kilometers) supporting reform leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.” -AP News in Brief

My heart goes out to Iran as they struggle to find an acceptable outcome after the election results which reelected President Ahmadinejad and which were rejected by the opposition as fraudulent.  As the crowds protesting are shot at and chaos ensues, I wonder if Ahmadinejad feels that holding onto power is worth all this turmoil.  If the opposition is right, and the election votes were purposely miscounted, I wonder what the resolution will be.  Whatever it is, lives have already been lost to find it, and so it is far too costly.  The bloody palms of the people are living testimony against suppressing truth.  If the elections were fraudulent, Shame on the Ahmadinejad.  If they were not, and the Mir Hossein Mousavi is playing a game to destabilize Iran further, then Shame on him.  I hope that the Guardian Council of Iran acts with wisdom and does not bow and suppress the truth.  Meanwhile, Iran’s president is not commenting on the crowds as he visits Russia.  Another country that has a love hate relationship with Pravda/Truth.

A protester holds up a bloody hand during an opposition rally in Tehran, 15 June 2009.http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8102224.stm