Guilty Bystander: Confessing My Apathy

Lord, it’s me again. Tonight, I think I have to confess that I am a guilty bystander – not an innocent bystander – a guilty one. I’m the opposite of a Good Samaritan. I’m the cast of the final episode of Seinfeld, sitting in jail because I just, well, stood by.

I see the suffering of the world; I hear the cries of injustice and suffering; I smell the stink of decay and death; I feel the coldness of a world that lacks even common decency on my skin, in my heart. And yet, with my senses all alert, I more often than not, do little or nothing about any of it.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, author and survivor of the Nazi death camps Elie Wiesel has said, “The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference.” If he is right, then perhaps one of the greatest sins against the God of love is apathy.  Hate bothers to expend the energy to turn a child of God into an object of scorn. Apathy… well, it just refuses to give a rip. I confess that this analysis – this accusation – cuts me to the bone with its sharp edged truth.

I know well that there is no room for apathy in a life of faith. Apathy is condemned in the words of I John: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” (I John 3:17)  How does the rich man, who plainly sees Lazarus starving at his gate as plainly as he sees his own image in the mirror every morning, do nothing to love his neighbor? (Luke 16:19 ff) I understand the reality. But it about more than just understanding, isn’t it? How do I let things slide so easily?

I John calls – demands – “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” And yet, I am too often unmoved by this demand; this holy, Christ-like demand. Why?

To be honest, it seems to me an overwhelming demand. There is so much suffering in the broken and busted world and frankly God, I’m busy. I can’t fit it all in. How can I solve the problems of the world with my calendar already full of things you call me to do? Well, to be honest, maybe you don’t call me to do all those other things. Maybe I use that as a little bit of an excuse. Honestly, I guess, my schedule is often full not of things you call me to do, but the things this world expects me to do; things I think I must do. The loud voices of Madison Avenue, pundits, social media and my deep desire to be accepted call me to fill my calendar. I’m really bad about saying no and making you a priority. I have to confess that while I’m busy, it is not with things that may be on your list of priorities for my life.

And yes, before you say it, Lord, you don’t ask me to solve the problem of world hunger or poverty or human trafficking. I John just points me to the one in need who is standing right in front of me. You don’t call me to solve the problem, just to be part of the solution with what you have already given me.  My apathy Lord, I confess, is sometimes due to my own lack of priorities.

So, OK, it is not that I am too busy. But it is still hard. I love the life you have given me and I really need to be a good steward of what I have, don’t I? The problems of this world are always, it seems, interruptions in the order of my day. Acting differently today than I did yesterday is a disruption and it seems to me to risk losing track of other important things. OK, I’ll be honest – we both know how we humans feel about change. As your servant, Richard Rohr has said, “The human ego prefers anything, just about anything, to falling, or changing, or dying. The ego is that part of you that loves the status quo – even when it’s not working. It attaches to past and present and fears the future.” (Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life)

Acting is one thing. But acting differently is change, and I really prefer the status quo. Respectfully, God that is a problem I have with you. You are really not a God of the status quo are you? I mean, resurrection is an ultimate stand against what was for something totally new. So I get it, but I don’t like it. How can I see the person suffering before me and not be the agent of new life and hope for them if I believe in the resurrection? Because I’m comfortable – and that is a terrible reason. For my love of the past and satisfaction with the way things are; for my resistance to change and new life, I must confess.

Lord, is it that I just don’t care? I think I do. I hope I do. I care about the things that are wrong with this world; the people who suffer. I feel pain in my soul when I see what goes on. But I still don’t do anything. Maybe it is deeper than not caring. Dare I admit to you that I’m afraid? Afraid that if I do anything, that what I do, we do – even in your name – just doesn’t matter? There. I said it.

If doing what you call me to do doesn’t matter, then perhaps I must confess not my apathy, but my despair; my hopelessness. I must confess then that I have come to believe that the suffering and evil of the world is more powerful than you; that I believe in the rottenness of this world more than I believe in or trust your love. And if that is true, I’m in trouble, Lord. Because that means that what you did on the cross doesn’t matter either.

Mercy, Lord – to say that my actions don’t matter also means that I don’t matter. And that is what I fear the most – meaninglessness. I mean, you created me; you reside in the deepest part of me. How can I think I don’t matter? How can I not matter if you are part of me? And then the question comes back, How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” The truth is that when I do not act in your name I evict you and you cannot abide in me. Wow. For that sin I must confess.

You once told a parable about sowing seed on different kinds of ground that made it impossible for the good news, the new life, the reign of God to take root and thrive. (Mark 4) I love that parable. It has taught me to be aware of the ways that the concerns and cares of the world; the fears of my own heart; the noise of the voices of hate and sin can lead to desolation. As I stand before you tonight, I wonder if there is not another dimension of this parable that could be added. When the harvest does come; when the new life does finally produce bushels and bushels of your love, why then do I allow the crop to rot in the field while I sit idly by and wait for someone else to harvest? Or worse, why do I never leave my recliner to go into the field? God, help me.

For my apathy, despair, and hopelessness; for my refusal to let you in to my thoughts and my actions; for my excuses and for leaving the fruits of the kingdom rotting in the field, I confess, gracious Lord. Redeem me and take root in my life; take up residence in me so that I may love as you love. Amen.


 

Copyright © 2016 Timothy V. Olson. All rights reserved. Any use of this material must be attributed to Timothy V. Olson. To reproduce this material in published format, please contact Tim.

Why God is Sending Christians Straight to Hell

In my estimation Christians spend way too much time thinking and worrying about heaven and hell as final stops on our eternal journey. The result is too often a faith that fails to make a difference in the life of the Christian or of the world at large. This blog posting by a chaplain is a thoughtful, faithful, biblical look at a different point of view. – Pastor Tim

Why God is Sending Christians Straight to Hell.

Light in the Darkness

So, I was thinking about this passage from Isaiah, so central to the Christmas gospel:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2)   

This hopeful proclamation from the prophet Isaiah is part of the Christmas message. Light overcomes darkness.  To tell the truth, things have seemed pretty dark to me since Christmas preparations went into full swing weeks ago – around Halloween, I think.  On the surface, people are talking about looking forward to the holiday.  Underneath, however, I sense an all too frequent dread or stress.  I don’t think it has anything to do with the annual “war on Christmas.”  You know – Happy Holidays, instead of Merry Christmas (even though the English origin of the word “holiday” is holy-day”); kicking the crèche out of the town square; banning religious songs at the school choir concert.  I don’t really buy this kind of war on Christmas as a real issue.

That said, I do think something dark and destructive has been happening to Christmas.  Maybe it is a war of sorts.  It has shaped Christmas into a rather hideous creation.  It has involved us all in a systematic erasure of the meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ.  We still call it Christmas, but maybe it should be called “Consumerist-mas” – the “Feast of the great Consumption.”  There is little Christ left in its observance.  We go on a binge dedicated to dark excess instead of bowing before the Light of the World.  Jesus came bring us the light of freedom, yet the post-holiday credit card debt will shroud us in a kind of slavery for the next two Christmases. Jesus came to give us peace, but we end up doubling our antidepressants because our stress over the perfect holiday has plunged us deeper into a dark hole.  The real focus of the season is how much money was spent and made, not how light has entered our darkness.

I don’t mean to be a buzz-kill or the Grinch.  But, I’m afraid were missing Jesus in the midst of all the jingle bells. I fear we have lost our minds, our hearts and our souls.  We live in a world where benefits are cut to millions who are poor and will have no holiday. At the same time the TV encourages us all to buy diamonds and a Lexus for our loved ones so they know we love them.  We force the least powerful and poorest working folks to work all day on Thanksgiving so we can all get an early start on our excess. That just does not sound like it has anything to do with Jesus to me. You see, my fear is that the Grinch didn’t steal Christmas – consumerism did, and we all helped.  I fear that the true power of God’s incarnation is completely negated by wrapping the manger in foil paper and selling it for $39.95.

Advent is the first act of resistance against this dark progression of commercialism.  The holly jolly world of retail Christmas plays on our desire for instant gratification. Advent makes us wait, a spiritual discipline we may despise, but is essential to our maturation in faith.  Faith is about joy, but also about enduring the darkness as we await the real light.  The strings of bulbs on our houses only decorate the darkness and since they burn out, don’t bear the true light of Christ.

Amidst all our celebrating, spending, preparation and panic, Christ will come. Of this I have no doubt.  Notice however, that the only ones who noticed God breaking into our humanity were shepherds, who had nothing but the silent night.  Maybe if we get a grip on our holiday, Christ will get a grip on us. Christ came to a manger, not the mall.  May Christ come to you whether a new blender does or not.

Boston Bombings: What Do We Do?

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Grace and peace to you in the name of the blessed, Holy Trinity.

As you have likely heard, today the Boston Marathon was the target of two bombs that left two dead and quite a few injured.  While the story continues to unfold, there are few concrete details other than the knowledge that death and suffering have once again come as a result of the apparently intentional acts of humans bent on harming other humans.  Our first reactions are emotional, of course.  An event like this evokes fear, terror, grief and the memory of past events.  Certainly we all experience shock at yet another example of violence.

I would ask first and foremost that we all engage in prayer to the Lord of the Resurrection, the Prince of Peace. Pray for victims and their families; for first responders and ER nurses and doctors; for law enforcement officials and our government as they try to understand and discern what has happened. Pray also for your own sense of peace and for faith to drive out the fear that can grip us when we feel attacked. Our nation will likely show a lot of rage in the days ahead.  The “peace that passes all understanding” and comes through the power of the Holy Spirit will provide calm in the storm. Through the peace of Christ we will not feed the rage or the fear.  Also – and this is the hard part – pray for the people or person who set off the bombs. God calls us to pray for our enemies.  But, this is not an act of passive or pious works that gain us favor before God.  Praying for our enemies is the first, and very powerful act of bringing peace and redemption.  The judgement of those who do violence belongs to God.  We will not add to their violence with our own call for revenge or retribution. So, pray – please.

Perhaps you are wondering why God would let this happen. Know that God is not in the bombing business. When we look at God revealed to us in the Christ of the cross we see one who is suffering with us – with the victims and the dead and grieving. We also see one who overcomes evil, suffering and death not through violent response, but by redemptive suffering; by taking the evil on, unmasking it for what it is, and by overcoming it through new life and resurrection.  You don’t have to understand how that all works, just look to Jesus and see that it does!

Perhaps you feel fear because it seems like this could happen to any of us at anytime.  On the one hand, that may be true.  We are not as safe as we think each day.  However, it is also true that violence does not befall all of us.  Death however is real for each. In Christ we have nothing to fear of what he conquered by his resurrection.

Perhaps you don’t know what to tell you kids. Tell them the truth, answer their questions and witness to the hope and faith you know — even if you don’t have a good handle on it at the moment.

Remember what the angels say time and agin in scripture; remember what God tells Moses as the Egyptian Army closes on them; remember what Jesus tells the disciples when it seems the boat will sink -DO NOT BE AFRAID, I AM WITH YOU.  Perhaps the words of a song we used in Advent will be helpful. They are by David Haas, based on Isaiah 43 and used her with permission:

You Are Mine

I will come to you in the silence,
I will lift you from all your fear.
You will hear my voice,
I claim you as my choice.
Be still and know I am here.

I am hope for all who are hopeless
I am eyes for all who long to see.
In the shadows of the night,
I will be your light.
Come and rest in me. Refrain

Refrain
Do not be afraid, I am with you.
I have called you each by name.
Come and follow me,
I will bring you home;
I love you and you are mine.

I am the Word that leads all to freedom,
I am the peace the world cannot give.
I will call your name,
embracing all your pain.
Stand up, now walk and live!”  Refrain

Text: David Haas, b. 1957

Text 1991 GIA Publications, Inc., 7404 S. Mason Ave., Chicago, IL 60638. http://www.giamusic.com. 800.442.3358. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

In Memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

So, I was thinking that it is April 9. For many in the Church that means it is the day we commemorate Dietrich Bonhoeffer who died on this date in 1945 – martyred by his Nazi captors for his role in the plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. Bonhoeffer was 39 years old that day and had already established himself as a brilliant theologian, a dedicated and capable pastor, and ecumenical leader, and a voice that stood in opposition to the Führer from the very beginning.  His role in the plot was to reach out to Church leaders in Allied countries to seek support for the overthrow of Hitler from Allied leaders.

Bonhoeffer has been an influential figure in the Church since his death. It would be hard to estimate how deeply Bonhoeffer’s life and works have influenced my own faith journey. He left behind books that are still published, read and re-read to this day.  His story is a compelling vision of life as a disciple in our age. Books like The Cost of Discipleship, Life Together, Spiritual Care, Letters and Papers from Prison and Psalms: Prayerbook of the Bible are standard fare and absolute must reads for any Christian.  Amazon.com offers a page dedicated to his works. 

LivingLutheran.com has observed today by lifting up some key quotes that offer just a little taste of Bonhoeffer’s wisdom — check it out:  In commemoration: Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Seeds – LivingLutheran.com.

The story of Bonhoeffer’s life is told best in three works.  The newest is by Eric Metaxas in his Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy; Perhaps the oldest, and very intimate portrait is written by Bonhoeffer’s best friend, Eberhard Bethge – Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography;  A third offering is also new.  Martin Marty has written Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison: A Biography looks at this one, very influential and oft misunderstood collection of his writing while in prison.

So, on this day we remember one of the saints whose witness echoes into history.  Say a prayer in thanks for brother Dietrich today, if you don’t mind.

Pax Christi – Pastor Tim

Thanksgivings and Blessings

So, I was thinking my first order of business in this blog post is to say “Thank you!”  I asked for input about whether this was a helpful resource in your faith journey and your answers were gracious, affirming and informative.  Just what I needed to know as I think about what to think about in the days and weeks ahead!

Some of the feedback encouraged me to keep thinking as I have been.  So, I will continue to look around the headlines and the culture and see where faith seems to have something to say.  Some of you had some ideas for specific topics and I will work hard to come up with meaningful thought about these things.  A couple of you offered that you wanted to hear more about biblical insights, perhaps from the weekly lessons.  That makes me think that maybe a separate blog about the lessons might be helpful — weigh in on this if you think it an interesting project.

So, I was also thinking that this is Holy Week – the holiest time of the Christian year in many ways. It is a time like no other to ponder what Christ means to us in our daily lives.  It is a time to intensify our worship pattern as we gather on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and for the Vigil on Saturday at 7 PM to walk with our Lord as he loves us with every drop of life and beyond.

I am, each year, reminded of an ancient part of the observance of Good Friday called the “Solemn Reproaches.”        Each reproach begins with the voice of our Lord – “O my people, O my Church, what more could I have done for you? Answer me.”  Then the prayer proclaims some of the many ways God has blessed us and loved us.  And the people say, “Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal, have mercy on us.”  It is all we really can say in response to the question.  God blesses. We rebel.  God blesses, we forget. God blesses.

Let me leave you with two of the Solemn Reproaches that stick with me:

O my people, O my Church, what more could I have done for you? Answer me.  I opened the waters to lead you to the promised land, but you opened my side with a spear; I washed your feet as a sign of my love, but you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

O my people, O my Church, what more could I have done for you? Answer me.  I lifted you up to the heights, but you lifted me high on a cross; I raised you from death and prepared for you the tree of life, but you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal, have mercy on us.

May the God who loves you enough to do all these things bless you with grace and mercy this week, and all the days of your life.

Pax Christi,

Pastor Tim