Suffering, Disappointment, & Hope in 2016

Finally, all of you should agree and have concern and love for each other. You should also be kind and humble. Don’t be hateful and insult people just because they are hateful and insult you. Instead, treat everyone with kindness. You are God’s chosen ones, and he will bless you.
1 Peter 3:8-9

“In the subsequent years of ministry in England I have often been asked: ‘What is the greatest difficulty you face in moving from India to England?’ I have always answered: ‘The disappearance of hope.’ I believe that everyone who has made the same move will bear me out. Even in the most squalid slums of Madras there was always the belief that things could be improved. One could start a night school, or agitate for a water supply, or establish a ’Young Men’s Progressive Society’. In spite of all the disappointments since independence came in 1947, there was still the belief in a better future ahead.
“ In England, by contrast, it is hard to find any such hope. Apart from those whose lives are shaped by the Christian hope founded on the resurrection of Jesus as the pledge of a new creation, there is little sign among the citizens of this country of the sort of confidence in the future which was certainly present in the earlier years of this century.”
Lesslie Newbigin, The Other Side of 1984

A friend and mentor, Scott Sunquist, wrote an introductory text called Understanding Christian Mission: Participation in Suffering and Glory. Within the text, Sunquist the historian makes the missiological case that any form of Christian mission will involve suffering on the part of the missionary. After distribution to reviewers, Sunquist immediately noticed two distinct responses to the title and to the book itself. Missiologists from the west were largely affirming of the book, and suggested it could serve as a fine book in many seminaries. Missiologists from the Global South were overjoyed by the title and the text! They passionately informed Sunquist of the deep attraction they had to the book and expressed their gratitude for it. Why? Because he recovered their experience in mission: suffering and glory. No suffering, no mission. And most certainly, no glory.

Over the last several days and weeks, I’ve observed several versions of the same comment from friends and others on social media: “Let 2016 be over with.” Whether it is the deserving opprobrium toward injustice, or the grief from the loss of an artist and entertainer, there is a great deal of disappointment, grief, and in some cases, expressions of anger and frustration. Perhaps the lowest point came on the morning of November 9, when the world awoke only to discover that a supremely unqualified, reality TV entertainer would soon lead the world’s most important democracy.

Perhaps at the end of 2016, we might pause for a moment and consider our present experience in suffering. To be sure, much of what we endure contrasted with life in Syria or in Iraq rarely involves the kind of threats to our lives. But, as an African American pastor once told an audience white Christians, “If you are hurting: you are hurting!” Pain doesn’t stop or reduce because of the source of your pain wasn’t as “serious” as someone who fails to be fed because of famine. And, as a friend mentioned to me sometimes we’re so frustrated, that part of our release involves statement desiring a reset: Let 2016 be over.

And: for those believing you are a follower of Jesus: let’s not abandon the hope we have in Christ. I discovered, perhaps like many of you, that the announcement of the winner of the presidential election elicited a great deal of fear and anguish. And, the more I prayed to the Lord, I made a surprising discovery. Actually two.

First, one that I had and will continue to repent of: I had too much trust in the state. The election results evoked some serious fears about our democracy self-destructing. Like so many people, I assumed that the outcome we now live with could never happen. I began to seriously consider that the executive branch of the government would directly oppose my attempts at human flourishing.

That’s when I learned of the second discovery: most of my African American friends went on with their day on November 9. They’ve continued to live with the very threats to their existence from the executive branch most of their lives. Also true for some of my Latino American and Asian American friends: and family. What I considered new and astonishing, they had already learned to negotiate and learn to thrive. That’s not to say they were not disappointed with the election outcome. Or that they felt less safe than before. Rather, they had long since developed and shared strategies and knowledge for promoting safe engagement throughout the social world, and they intensified their learning for persevering through disappointment.

So, all of this pain and disappointment is new for me, right? Maybe for you, too. Hope gets much sustained treatment in the NT: it’s far more enduring that unexpected election results or the kind of frustration that makes us want to rage. Treating everyone with kindness requires some deep reservoirs of love and of a sense of belonging that come from Christ. Thriving is possible, because the produce of the resurrection has yet to cease bearing fruit of justice and peace: the new creation continues to be formed by Christ and those who join in his suffering as his chosen ones. But, let’s face it: it sure hurts.

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Happy 107th Birthday, Lesslie Newbigin!

Today is the 107th anniversary of the birth of Lesslie Newbigin. He went from life to life in 1998. What wonderful and prophetic Christian; so much could be said. Better for us to hear it from the man himself. Here’s an abridged selection from “The Other Side of 1984.”

“Many Christians feel themselves to be in a position analogous to that which was a ground of complaint at the time of the Reformation. At that time the complaint was the Bible had been taken out of the hands of the laity and become the property of the clergy. Now it has to be asked whether it has not become the property of the guild of scholars in such a way that the ordinary lay person feels unable to understand it without the help of a trained expert.

“But the lay person knows also that the results of modern critical scholarship are by their nature ephemeral…

“Yet it must be said plainly that there is no way by which the Bible can be restored to the laity by taking it out of the hands of the scholars… And the layman and woman are themselves part of modern culture and cannot with integrity divide their mental world into two parts, one controlled by that culture and the other by the Bible. A much more exciting and costly move is called for, namely a genuinely missionary encounter between a scriptural faith and modern culture. By this I mean an encounter which takes our culture seriously yet does not take it as the final truth by which scripture is evaluated, but rather holds up the modern world to the mirror of the Bible in order to understand how we, who are part of modern culture, are required to re-examine our assumptions and reorder our thinking and acting. This is, I believe, our present task.” (46-47, italics added)

“This is not normal”: A beginning

Watch out and don’t let anyone fool you!” —Jesus—

So, this phrase—”this is not normal”— has received abundant and frequent usage in the last three weeks. I won’t trouble you with all the citations you can find in Google.

But, I’ve reflected upon the circumstances and conversations of the last few weeks. I’ve participated in some of the above conversations; I’ve had some prayer. And the phrase captures our season in the USA.

Quite apart from my opinion of the election outcomes, or how people voted, or how people ascribe meaning to their votes: There are some realities now activated.

Expect me post here on more “not normal” realities that emerge each week.

Here’s one to get started: The President-Elect has selected Sen. Jeff Sessions to become the Attorney General. The racist history of Sessions is well documented.

Before you become animated—for whatever motivations—we should begin asking ourselves one question. Well, two, really.

(1) Re: racist. Instead treating the question—Is he a racist?—as a binary, we should aim for a different question:

What kind of racist is he?

(2) Why is this selection of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General not normal?

Roots of Rap: Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011)

I recall the first time I heard rap music: it wasn’t as good as I expected. Violent towards humanity, and laden with expectations of sexual freedom for men with multiple women, it seemed shallow but logically the outcome had its analog in heavy metal rock: unreflective lyrics, and unimaginative music.

But, my sense of expectation was already set much earlier in life from hearing Gil Scott-Heron. I discovered that he passed away last weekend, and regrettably, his life “was the embodiment of the black inner-city experience.” Scott-Heron had both a great voice, and was an excellent poet; his sense of musicality was unique and the rhythms he worked with were both basic and eclectic.

Of course, I first heard Scott-Heron when I was in…junior high…and I thought then as I do now: this guy is a sharp observer of humanity and knows what the political horizon will become. I was listening to “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” I link to the lyrics, and if you listen to the sample on iTunes, it will begin to get your imagination going of how persuasive and powerful an artist Scott-Heron was. Whatever I might have thought I knew about black people and their American experience- as well as the reference sources- that was completely demolished as an exclusive perspective after hearing “The Revolution.”

After graduating from high school, friends invited me to listen to “Johannesburg” and that broke open a fresh way of discovering the injustices taking place in South Africa. While joining the student marches at Berkeley demanding the UC Regents divest from companies doing business in South Africa, Scott-Heron’s chorus “What’s the word? Johannesburg!” was a frequent rallying cry throughout the crowd.

Scott-Heron’s poetry set to music really was the precursor to contemporary rap, and while there are some artists who are recovering the political bite to their art, all of them have to thank Scott-Heron for pioneering the art form.

Playoff Schedule: Sharks vs. Kings

Tomorrow, I’ll give my playoff predictions.

Here’s the schedule based upon Houston time:

Thursday, April 14 at San Jose, 9:00 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
Saturday, April 16 at San Jose, 9:00 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
Tuesday, April 19 at Los Angeles, 9:30 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
Thursday, April 21 at Los Angeles, 9:30 p.m. TSN
*Saturday, April 23 at San Jose, 9:30 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
*Monday, April 25 at Los Angeles, TBD TSN
*Wednesday, April 27 at San Jose, TBD TSN