Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Advent and Encouragement

I love Advent.  I love telling the Gospel story from Creation to Christ.  I  love the read and meditate on Gods interaction with his people Israel and their responses (both the good and the bad) to Gods Gospel story.  I love to hear about the promises of God that remind me that he is intimately involved and refuses to leave us to our own devices.

I love that one candle a week is lit.  The slowly lit wreath keeps me focused because like many of you I want what I want, when I want it, and that usually means now.  Advent is such a different pace from the Christmas culture around us, that if you actually follow Advent people will wonder what is going on with you.  To slowly, deeply, and contemplatively ponder the hope of God in Christ is an exercise that cannot be rushed.

This year I will actually spend a portion of the Advent season in Israel and more specifically a day in Bethlehem.  I am especially looking forward to that moment.  I realize there is nothing similar about modern Bethlehem to Mary and Josephs visit but it will be neat to think about Micah 5:2-5 while there.  I plan on blogging a little of my travels even if they are only a few simple sentences.  So if you interested check back often the second week of Advent to follow the journey with me.

There is something different about this year that a friend pointed out to me.  This will be the first time in a decade when I am not on a church staff walking with a congregation through Advent.  This season is filled with special events, musicals, and celebrations in the life of a church.  My new role allows me to engage it differently for the first time in a while. He encourage me to engage in renewing activities with family and friends.  I plan on doing my best to apply his advice for there are few "down times" in the ministry setting I am now in.

If you are looking for some Advent advice or would like to learn what it is all about use some of the links below.  Blessings.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Plus One Justice

In a few weeks I am scheduled to go to Israel for the first time.  While there I will travel to meet with humanitarian aid type workers, a member of the Knesset (Israel's Parliament), Baptist Churches in Israel, a college, the World Council of Churches, and various touristy type sites.I will be traveling with a delegation from my denomination and with a delegation from a Minninite tradition.  Our goal is to learn more about the geopolitical situation in Israel/Palestine, understand better how Christianity impacts these groups and situations, and for my part put actual experience to places and people I have only ever read about or seen on the news.  It will be a very full trip to say the least.

As part of my preparation I was asked to read a series of books and articles about the Israeli and Palestinian struggles.  To put it mildly it has been like drinking from a fire hose.  Even after reading several books and articles and trying to catch up on the past 100 years in that region I am not sure I fully understand every detail.  I am not sure anybody does.  Please don't read or hear the following as any sort of expertise on the subject but simply an observation from a small sampling of history in a place I don't live, involving people I don't know, and faiths I don't practice.  But one thing that has stood out to me in my reading is a concept of justice I don't understand.  I call it 'plus one justice.'

Case in point. After WWII many European Jews traveled to Israel to relocate.  After suffering the horrors of 1940's Europe who could begrudge them.  Israel achieved official statehood in 1948.  However, they almost immediately began to remove the locals to make room for the new arrivals.  The Arabs and Palestinians who lived in present day Israel had their homes taken, farms stolen, and land given to others.  From an Israeli perspective it is simply taking back what belongs to them, from a Palestinian perspective it is theft.  This is justice plus one. Not just let us live here in peace with you but rather, let us live here and you go away.

This plus one type of justice has plagued the region.  In the movie "The Untouchables" Sean Conery plays an old cop named Malone who explains to Elliot Ness played by Kevin Costner how to catch Capone.
Malone: You said you wanted to get Capone. Do you really wanna get him? You see what I'm saying is, what are you prepared to do? 
Ness: Anything within the law. 
Malone: And *then* what are you prepared to do? If you open the can on these worms you must be prepared to go all the way. Because they're not gonna give up the fight, until one of you is dead. 
Ness: I want to get Capone! I don't know how to do it. 
Malone: You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. *That's* the *Chicago* way! And that's how you get Capone. Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that? I'm offering you a deal. Do you want this deal? 
Ness: I have sworn to capture this man with all legal powers at my disposal and I will do so. 
Malone: Well, the Lord hates a coward. 
[jabs Ness with his hand, and Ness shakes it
Malone: Do you know what a blood oath is, Mr. Ness? 
Ness: Yes. 
Malone: Good, 'cause you just took one. 

This is plus one justice.

I am afraid this type of justice is not confined to present day. As a Christian I have found the Old Testament prophets both heroic and disturbing. Especially the minor prophets.  They proclaim God has punished Israel for idolatry, treating the poor badly, and/or not obeying some portion of the Law.  God often uses other nations of this.  The people are deported or enslaved.  They learn their lesson and are sent home to rebuild and praise God.  Depending on which prophet you read is where in that narrative you find them speaking.  But there is a plus one mentality in the "going home" portion.  They return home and exclude others from practicing at the new Temple thus the birth of the Samaritans.  Or there is an oracle that states in some fashion, 'the nation that enslaved you will now be punished and wiped out from existence.'  This makes no sense to me.  If God sent this outside nation be it Babylon, the Chaldeons, or Assyria to punish Israel, then he turns around and punishes those nations for exercising that punishment that is a plus one.  It would be like me placing my children on a couch for a 10 minute timeout as punishment for a misdeed, then after that ten minutes was up setting the couch on fire as revenge for my children.  Or it is like when they both want the same toy.  If one takes a toy from the other and tell them to give it back plus one of your favorite toys. That is a plus one.  This plot is especially apparent in Habakkuk, Joel, Obadiah, and Zephaniah.

I struggle with these prophets in my own understanding of God. Is God's justice a plus one? I think not because I am forced to balance these types of images with others minor prophets like Amos, Micah, Hosea, and Nahum that has God restoring Israel to right relationship and a return to their land without it requiring some very violent image of destruction.  Does that mean prophets like Habakkuk got God wrong, that they didn't fully understand God like Micah?  Or does it mean that plus one justice is part of God's plans and "the lord hates a coward"?

This plus one justice seems to be the culture I am finding in my reading.  It is disturbing because those involved in the conflict call it 'Justice.'  I want what you took and I want more.  If you send a rocket, we will send an airplane.  If you send a car bomb, we will send a tank.  If you send some of ours to the hospital, we will send more of yours to the morgue and then take your land and send your civilians packing.

That is why Jesus Christ is so revolutionary in my opinion.  He challenged this plus one mentality.  He taught to turn the other cheek, to share with all people equally, to forgive and seek forgiveness.  He teaches that plus one justice is unacceptable and unsustainable.  I hope and pray for peace in Israel and the rest of the middle east.  I fear I don't fully understand the cultural elements involved in the conflict but I think this plus one mentality is a small piece that will keep them from ever reaching true justice and true peace.