Saturday, September 22, 2012

An Olive Branch to the Left

[The second of two editorials I wrote in the summer of 2010, the first being "Giving to Caesar". Hope you like it! A special thanks to Liz Albright for her encouragement and advice as I wrote this.]

 I am a Christian at a private, secular college. Needless to say, my fellow Christians and I face an uphill battle to be known as the loving bearers of the Gospel instead of the angry and divisive Christians displayed in the popular media. Thus the question is how to connect with fellow students while holding to the truth.

One political issue I’ve seen conservative Christians generally drop the ball on is the environment. Many have sided with the Republican/capitalist view that more important than endangered species, global warming, and ecological damage is the preservation of a strong American economy. They fearfully point to the “Climategate” scandal or extremists who call for a massive decrease in the human population (such as the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement) as reasons to reject environmentalism.

But while the environmental movement does have its extremists (like any movement), I think conservative Christians are misguided and shortsighted to ignore the merits of its arguments. Putting aside all questions of whether global warming is primarily caused by humans or not, it is obvious that severe environmental harm has been inflicted on the Earth by humans—one need look no further than the Gulf of Mexico. Damage to the environment, justified by conservatives in the name of “energy” or “jobs”, harms people in the form of less arable land, polluted food, and sickness. And we must ask if the few cents saved on gas or food is worth destroying entire species of plants and animals that God specifically designed to endure for his glory? Humanity’s first task was to be stewards of the earth, and there is no reason that we should ignore that now.

Moreover, by working with environmentalists to protect the earth, we have a huge opportunity to talk about the Christian view of Fallen man. For decades, Humanism has trumpeted the false claim that humans are born good but corrupted by their environment. Now we can show the Biblical truth that the exact opposite is true: humans are bad and corrupt their environment. Over and over in Scripture we see the literal and metaphorical connections between sin and environmental degradation (Genesis 3:17-19; Hosea 4:1-3; 1 Kings 8:35; Jeremiah 23:10). Likewise, the sins of insatiable greed and selfish overconsumption by modern Americans harm the Earth. Christians, by joining in with calls to protect wildlife, will earn the right to share the God who can fix the root cause of the greed and overconsumption.


Working to protect the earth can also complement and foster the development of other Christian values. Environmentalism stresses the importance of caring for the community rather than one’s personal interests. And the environmentally friendly practices of living simply, buying less, sharing, and frugalness could start to uproot the thorns of materialism that too often choke out faith. As the prophet Ezekiel wrote, the problem with the people of Sodom, perhaps like that of America, was that they “were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49).

We can limit abuse of the poor and needy in other nations by making sure that when companies extract resources they pay fairly, mine safely and do not wreck ecosystems beyond repair. Perhaps it is makes sense that Jesus sent the disciples out into the world with nothing but the clothes on their backs, a staff and a tunic (Mark 6:8); he did not want them hindered or distracted from their mission by the things of this world. The added benefit of following their model, besides aiding the spread of the Gospel, is that a simple lifestyle will help to save the environment.

Some Christians hold that the earth’s resources are infinite, and that the American lifestyle can and should become the norm. But is it really so hard to believe that God only gave humans as much as we need, not as much as we want? The American way of life is unparalleled in human history. Every average “Joe the Plumber” enjoys luxuries like clean water, plumbing, technology, healthcare, education, and entertainment that in the past were only available to the top 1% of societies. This lifestyle is not seen as the enormous blessing it is—instead it is fought bitterly for as an American “right”. That would be fine if we lived on an infinite planet. However, unsustainable practices wreck forests, pollute ecosystems, and create poverty all around the globe. According to a recent UN environmental report, if everyone on the earth lived as extravagantly as Americans do, we would need five earths just to supply the resources.

It is a Christian obligation to defend the good of everyone else above our own. Limiting our economic and personal interests which damage the world may cost us some money or personal comfort. But it will gain us friendship and perhaps a chance to witness with this rising generation of environmentalists as well as the “least of these” who we hurt with endless consumption. The aftermath of the Gulf oil spill offers Christians a unique opportunity to show humility, apologize where needed to environmentalists, and start working to preserve our planet.

Giving to Caesar

[One of two editorials I submitted to WORLD Magazine in the Summer of 2010, although unfortunately they were turned down. Let me know what you think! Special thanks to Rob Zambito for his helpful edits on this one.]

One political movement that is almost universally derided by both students and faculty at my college is the so-called “Tea Party” movement. Even if some of my conservative Christian friends are sympathetic with the Tea Party’s concerns about universal healthcare, they are extremely hesitant to associate themselves with the group itself. And I think that, in general, they are correct to do so. Any political movement that puts Christians’ rights and wallets above all else threatens our opportunity to witness and, more seriously, disobeys Jesus’ radical message. Christians are called by him to be meek and ready to give more than they are asked—a call that stands at odds with the focus on individual rights in the Republican Party.

First, let’s remember the historical situation Jesus was in when he preached a Gospel of selfless love. The Jews were under the military rule of the Romans, an idol-worshiping pagan empire whose ruler believed he was God. The rulers were appointed, not elected; taxes were heavy, and any soldier could demand help carrying his pack (note that compared to this, even the most radical leftist proposals sound tame).

Despite all this, Jesus commanded acquiescence to the Romans. Implying that money and finances were ultimately to be considered of the world, he told his disciples to “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Mark 12:13-17). Even if those taxes to Caesar supported an idolatrous, aggressive, and evil empire? Yes. Walk twice as far to help an enemy soldier carry his heavy backpack (Matthew 5:41)? You bet. Material comfort and possessions are fleeting, lacking real worth, and must be let go the moment they conflict with the command to love.

It seems that Jesus’ methods of fighting a government he disagreed with are totally different than those that humans would normally think of. Instead of insisting on liberty and freedom, he asked his followers to give up their rights. This upside-down Gospel is completely counter-intuitive to human understanding…but it’s God’s way. And Christians run the risk of being spit out like lukewarm water if we do not follow it completely. 
Theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer, discussing the Beatitudes, wrote that true Christians “possess no inherent right of its own to protect its members in the world, nor do they claim such rights, for they are meek, they renounce every right of their own and live for the sake of Jesus…they will not go to law to defend their rights, or make a scene when they suffer injustice, nor do they insist on their legal rights. They are determined to leave their rights to God alone…they show by every word and gesture that they do not belong to this earth” (The Cost of Discipleship). 

In contrast to those Bonheoffer wrote about, when we look at the current political incarnation of conservative Christianity, we mostly see people who do nothing but insist on their own rights. Rather than accept persecution and remember that the meek and poor in spirit are blessed, Christians act as if God’s people depend on tax breaks, legal support, and lawsuits to protect themselves. 

Perhaps this flaw lies deeper within American history than we are ready to admit. The American Revolution was a war fought against taxes. Taxes! Tens of thousands of the individuals with same language, culture, and God killed each other in a dispute over money.
Now, I’m not saying that America has not also done good for this world. But let’s face it, as far as living up to Jesus’ commands in the area of loving our enemies (Matthew 5:38-39, 44-48) is concerned, the Hindu Mahatma Gandhi is a better example for us than the Christian George Washington. Gandhi’s nonviolent protests also brought about social and political revolution, but claimed the moral high ground in a way our Founding Fathers never could. 

Now, getting back to the Tea Party movement, besides the disobedience of Jesus’ commands, I think that the excess of emotion is misplaced. If even a fraction of the vitriol involved in it was instead expressed against human trafficking, starvation, or any other human rights issue, I think we would see much more real, positive change than is currently being achieved. Large-scale, nonviolent protests can be used for good, but mostly this occurs when they demand the rights of others (such as the abolitionist movement did) instead of their own rights.

The best alternative may be for the Tea Party to give liberals what they want, but on God’s terms: Christians should (and some already do) give up large portions of their income to support those who are without health insurance, as well as those who are poor, imprisoned, immigrants, or unable to afford an education. Doing this would create truly meaningful relationships, opportunities to witness, and fulfill God’s perennial command to take care of the hurting. Such love would bring “Change” better than any social program ever could.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Moral Confusion and the Role of the "Chosen One" in the Star Wars: Episode III Universe

[Originally written October 17, 2010. For a follow-up blog, see "Anakin Skywalker: Tatooine's Messiah"]. 

Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith upends the moral compass of the traditional Star Wars universe as the millennia-old tension between Jedi and Sith comes to a head. From the very opening scrawl, a moral impossibility is thrust upon the audience. “War! The Republic is crumbling under attacks by the ruthless Sith Lord, Count Dooku. There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere.” This seems impossible. How can there be heroes on the vile side of the Separatists’ droid armies AND on the side of the Republic’s clone troopers and Jedi? How can evil and good exist on both sides?

     This highlights the moral proposition that Lucas gives us in Revenge of the Sith: that the same moral “flaws” that are thought to lie solely on the Dark Side exist just as much on the Light Side. Lucas’ criticisms here show exactly why Anakin, the Chosen One, was needed to bring balance to the Force—a role that he does not fully accomplish until Episode VI.

     The institution of the Jedi Order, like any institutionalized religion, is not immune to the vices and weaknesses of beings. While called ‘defenders of the peace’ by Mace Windu in Episode II, by Episode III their role has grown into one of exerting force through the military. Jedi are now ranked as “Generals” and lead battalions of clone troopers on a myriad of worlds across the entire galaxy. Spread thin, they are far from the community of each other and have their consciences worn down as they watch their campaigns kill millions. In a strange twist, many Jedi grow closer to their clone troopers than they do to each other: long-term fighting has shifted their mindset to be like clones that have been specifically bred to fight and kill.

     Moreover, the special insight the Jedi have from the Force has been disappearing. Even in Episode II, the Jedi know that their ability to sense the future has diminished. By now, it is completely gone, so far gone that they cannot discover the Sith Lord right beneath their noses. Thus the Jedi have turned into super-soldiers with special abilities, but they have no ability to be moral prophets, blinded by the growing power of the Dark Side (Or are they blinded by their own faults? Does Jedi militarism detract from their focus and thus keep them from being able to grasp what is truly happening in the galaxy?)

     The Separatists, while certainly rebels, only desire more freedom from the over-centralized, corrupt Senate on Coruscant. In particular, they want more freedom of trade and commerce—hence the support of the Commerce Guild, the Banking Clan, the Trade Federation, and Techno Union. As the war drags on and claims billions of lives, some start to wonder if the war is worth fighting. This is another element of Lucas’ critique: the Jedi are blindly serving the Republic, when they cannot be sure they are actually fighting for the best side. Padme wonders aloud, “Have we become the evil we sought to destroy?” Yet this is a question the Jedi never stop to ask. Like America in the Vietnam War, they continue to fight without really knowing why. Later on, the remnants of the Separatists form the nascent Rebel Alliance, and the ‘enemy’ becomes the good guy.

     Additionally, the Jedi are over-dogmatic. Anakin Skywalker is the classic foil to the Jedi. He is special, the “Chosen One” with greater Force potential than any Jedi, and yet is nearly refused from the Jedi Temple because Yoda deems him too old and too afraid. Anakin is the Jedi who breaks the rules, who knew his family, who gets married. Anakin, despite his mastery of the Jedi way, finds himself an outcast, a reject, from the inner circle of the Jedi. Partly that is his own fault because of the secrets he hides even from Obi-Wan (Padme, the Tusken Raiders), but the Jedi Order is at fault as well. Mace Windu especially harbors deep, obvious disdain and mistrust of Anakin. When he is appointed to the Jedi Council, Mace pointedly shuts him down and makes sure Anakin knows he is only accepted provisionally, without the ranking of Jedi Master. This is especially hurtful to Anakin in particular because he needed the Master ranking to access secret Jedi Holocrons in hopes of finding a way to save Padme.

     Jedi dogmatism alienates Anakin and provides leverage for Palpatine. “Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise?” he asks Anakin. “I thought not. It’s not a story the Jedi would tell you.” Palpatine has done two things here: painted the Jedi as withholding of vital information, and shown himself to be the Provider of this information to Anakin. Jedi dogmatism forbids the teaching of Sith legends and practices, not realizing that they would soon pay for their ignorance. After all, prior to Darth Maul’s appearance in Episode I, the Jedi Council had claimed that the Sith had been extinct for millennia— a serious miscalculation.

     Another realm of Jedi dogmatism lies in the area of the passions. Episode II highlights this tension perfectly: Anakin struggles to explain to Padme how the Jedi can be forbidden to love, and yet also are called to take care of the galaxy. Can one care for another being without loving them in some way? Perhaps, but the deeper problem is what to do with passions when inevitably arise. Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan had had their own flames when they were younger, but they had been with fellow Jedi and only after more extensive training. Anakin, on the other hand, had been taken in at ten years old, after many of his passions had been allowed to grow (“I sense much fear in you” Yoda says in Episode I).

     Anakin’s forbidden marriage to Padme flies in the face of Jedi laws against attachment. These laws had served the Jedi well for centuries, as attachment did not mix with the semi-nomadic, risky, and servant role the Jedi had in the galaxy. Attachment could breed greed, jealousy, and favoritism. The danger was that a Jedi would threaten the greater good in order to save the one they cared about. As Yoda tells Anakin, “You must learn to let go of everything you fear to lose.” But can one blame Anakin that he has emotions, when these come so naturally to humans?

     Thus when Anakin states that the Sith rely on their passion for their strength, the viewer wonders if perhaps that is what Anakin is doing as well. In the fight against Dooku aboard Grievous’ ship, it is only when the Count goads Anakin on that Anakin truly starts fighting fiercely. It seems that Anakin does use his emotions to defeat Dooku: his fear for the wounded Obi-Wan’s life, his anger against the evil Dooku, and his pride (“My abilities have doubled since the last time we met”). As they battled right in front of the captive Supreme Chancellor, Palpatine could hardly have missed what was happening to Anakin… and had been happening: “Remember what you told me about your mother and the Sand People?” he reminds Anakin of his massacre.

Two blue lightsabers. Who's the bad guy? Who's the good guy? Maybe it's not so simple...

     Another contradiction on the side of the Jedi is that while they emphasize cool, dispassionate thinking, they also rely heavily on “feelings”. In the beginning of Episode III, both Obi-Wan and Yoda separately advise Anakin to “search [his] feelings”. This is essentially a euphemism for “listen to the Force”, and we’ve heard that before. But Palpatine gives Anakin the same advice, to search his feelings about the true intentions of the Jedi. And it works—Anakin dwells upon his growing doubts about the Jedi, and those doubts are reconfirmed upon reflection. This is not manipulation by Palpatine. The Force truly is telling Anakin about the flaws in the Jedi. After all, they asked him to spy on Palpatine, and Mace Windu refuses to trust in Anakin. Lucas therefore uses the Jedi’s own mantra against them. Thus when Palpatine states that the Jedi are planning to take over the Republic, Anakin senses enough truth in that statement to not reject it on face.

     Lucas’ critique of the Jedi dwells especially on their veiled moral relativism. Obi-Wan screams at the end of Episode III, “Anakin, the Sith are evil!” Anakin replies, “Well from my point of view the Jedi are evil!” “Then you truly are lost,” Obi-Wan states with finality. Yet this is highly ironic, for only twenty minutes earlier Obi-Wan had told Anakin: “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” Thus Obi-Wan’s own position is to be relativist when it suits him and absolutist when it suits him. This is true elsewhere in the movie as well. Jedi dogmatism says never to execute prisoners, and doing so to Dooku does give Anakin a guilty conscience. Yet Mace Windu is perfectly willing to execute Palpatine. The moral relativism of the Jedi is deadly to their case, because it is only in being morally superior that they can claim any kind of authority. Once Anakin sees that they operate according to their own interests, like any cause, he feels much less obligated to side with them.

     The fight between Mace Windu and Palpatine is the tipping point of the whole movie. Anakin, knowing Mace is morally wrong to want to execute the unarmed Palpatine, tries to dissuade him. He is also conflicted with many emotions: He is in a forbidden romance with Padme and has promised to save her. The Jedi show disdain for the Chancellor and have asked that Anakin betray him. The Jedi have passed over him, the Chosen One, to lead the mission against Grievous, even though he is a more capable Jedi than Obi-Wan at this point.

    Palpatine, on the other hand, offers him respect, influence, freedom to feel emotions, and new powers to save anyone he loves from dying. Anakin probably did not intend to kill Mace Windu, but he did choose to stop him. This betrayal could not be undone, and now Anakin knows he has lost all his friends and allies. Except, perhaps, for Padme. And thus with his new identity (Darth Vader), he was willing to do anything, including invade the Jedi Temple, to save her.

     Anakin did not turn to the Dark Side because he was evil. He reveals his true intentions when he tells Padme that they could overthrow Emperor Palpatine, rule the galaxy and make things the way they should be. He just wanted the freedom to love Padme and the ability to right all the wrongs he saw. The Jedi had shown themselves to be selfish and rigid, while the path of the Sith allowed him to keep his power and emotions. Anakin turned to Palpatine because he faced rejection everywhere else.

     And in the end, Palpatine was the only thing keeping him alive. After his injuries in the fight against Obi-Wan, Darth Vader was bound by Palpatine’s power to manipulate midiclorians to keep him from dying (just like Darth Plagueis could do). Thus in Episode VI when Vader throws Palpatine into the Second Death Star’s reactor shaft, he knows he is dying not because of injuries (which only involved a severed artificial hand and some electrical shocks), but rather because he had just killed the source of his life. In a final act of defiance, Anakin takes off his helmet to look at Luke in his own power, no longer dependent on the Emperor.

      So was Anakin the Chosen One? Did he bring balance to the Force? I believe that despite his fall to the Dark Side, Anakin did bring balance. I have argued that the Jedi were corrupt and misguided, listening only to their narrow view of the Force instead of what the Force actually demanded of them. The Sith, in turn, were too selfish, using the Force solely for personal power. Anakin provides a bridge between this gap. He uses the Force and obeys its moral code, but also allows himself to feel emotions and to have attachments to people important to him. While he is forced to choose the Dark Side for a while, there is still good in him. And it is not the moral code or regulations of the Jedi that bring him back to the Light. As we see in Episode VI, it is love for his son that finally causes Vader to turn against Palpatine, freeing him at last. Like God towards us humans, it is Love that redeems.

     The New Jedi Order, which Luke starts after the events of Episode VI, has fixed the problems of the Old. Jedi are now allowed to love, marry, and have children. They are accepted into training despite being “too old”, and there is a greater knowledge of the dangers of the Dark Side. Anakin truly did bring balance to the Force at last, in a role that radically changed the Jedi Order forever.

The Living Water vs. the Lukewarm: A Letter to Myself

[Letter to myself from March 6th, 2010. Pretty cool to see how I've grown since then.]

Dear Andrew,

I am pleased to have seen how you have grown recently. It is as if you are starting to finally run (or attempt to run) in the race for the prize. 
But I want to write this letter to beg you, cajole you, and frighten you to go deeper in faith. And that has to go so much deeper than just your mind.

You have a solid, discerning mind. That has helped you in your recent times of change—you have been able to understand that several of your deeply held beliefs are in fact inconsistent with the teachings of the Person you claim as your God. You have sought to reconcile the contradictions, and have not hesitated to throw out any pretension that sets itself against the Messiah.
For example, you have discarded the “power-over-others” model of power and domination that the world relies on to affect change (but that your slaughtered God refused). You have discovered an empathy for the oppressed that had formerly been covered up by a “laissez-faire” capitalistic mindset. You have learned the value of community. 
You have not ignored God’s correction in these areas of your intellect, and for that I am glad. 

But I have some things to say as God grows you.

First, you must remember that nothing you have been given, no change in yourself, is the result of you. It is God who has changed you. God has placed you with people who have changed you—some in ways you may never even imagine. Never ever forget that you would not be where you are today if it were not for their obedience to God in lovingly speaking the truth to you.
In addition, there have been omens directly from God, “Black Swan Events” that are impossible, that shouldn’t have happened, but that speak to you in an unimaginable way. Sometimes they’ve been as small as a significant phrase, other times as amazing as a prophecy or vision. If you have ears to hear, then hear. If you can remember, then remember. Like Mary, treasure these things in your heart.
So never forget that it is God that molds your heart and mind, not yourself. Never ever let a hint of pride enter in. “Someone who is conscious that he is capable of nothing has every day and every moment the precious opportunity to experience that God lives.”

A second thought I have for you is something that you have been coming across a lot. And that is to refuse the lukewarm objectivity of the formal Christian religion. Instead, choose, surrender, and bind yourself in the passionate, messy, subjectivity of a relationship with God.

Andrew, too often your faith is intellectual. Kierkegaard warns against this in practically every one of his writings. He says that to possess Christianity as a worldview is to have it precisely backwards. Faith is not about “understanding and articulating what we believe”. Faith is about an existence—to live completely as Christ. 
My twin brother in Christ, it would be far worse if you have grown intellectually but don’t live it. As Kierkegaard warns: “Most systematizers stand in the same relation to their systems as the man who builds a great castle and lives in an adjoining shack; they do not live in their great systematic structure.” Or as Paul writes, “If I have all knowledge and can fathom all mysteries…but have not love, I am nothing.” 

So Andrew, you need to make a choice. Actually, many, many choices. You need to make the decision each and every moment to be like Jesus. Many people admire Jesus; few are willing to follow him. Each decision to follow him shatters through time and reaches into eternity—there is no moment but now; there is no “later” to follow God. The time of redemption is now—don’t put it off! “Venture to give all your possessions to the poor and you will certainly experience the truth of Christ’s teaching. Venture once to make yourself completely vulnerable for the sake of the truth, and you will certainly experience the truth of Christ’s word.” 

You need to make sure that truth exists for you. It is only true for you insofar as it leads you to action. It must permeate all your being and you must accept all of its consequences. Anything less is to be lukewarm. And to be lukewarm is to be spit out in utter disgust by the God of the Universe. Hear that Andrew? You would be better off as a wicked pagan than as a half-hearted Christian. Anything less than complete and total surrender to Jesus is betrayal. If you believe in love but do not love, you are nothing.

This is not easy, and I think especially for you. In the Enlightened West, it is countercultural to think of truth as needing to be subjective. We in the West are “rational”; we have highly developed theologies, philosophies, and worldviews. They are logically impeccable. They are objectively true and can be proven through proofs. But all these proofs do is turn Christ into a system of logic that we can choose whether or not to believe in. 
But Christ isn’t a system, and he isn’t a part of this system. He’s a person and you have to choose him. I ask you Andrew, choose to be in a relationship with him more intimate than family or a lover. A relationship that actually affects what you do! In the West, we believe in our ideologies but we don’t act on them. Such a belief, such a faith, is dead! Reject this mindset and live like those in the East, who have this going for them—at least they practice what they believe (such as we see with family piety and honor in Asia). 

And as you go forward, Andrew, you must also have faith. Faith is so scary, and I know that. Abraham had faith that God was telling him to kill his son. To thrust a knife into the heart of his son. Isn’t that crazy? But Abraham had faith that even if he killed Isaac, that God could resurrect him. Abraham’s trust was so deep, so passionate.
Or take Elijah. He was a man “just like us.” But “he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years” (James 5:17). How awesome! He trusted God, but not with a trust born from logic, evidence, and arguments. He trusted him in faith, blind, crazy, audacious faith.
And you’re going to need faith. Really badly. Because you’re going to screw up, and you’re going to need to have faith that God still loves you and that you are forgiven in Jesus’ Name, Blood, and Power. Remember that nothing can separate you from the love of God. 
And beyond that, if you are taking risks for God, your life won’t have a safety net. You will be forced to depend on God. And that takes faith; especially in a rich, Western society that places security and safety above all else. Instead, embrace danger, trusting that God will catch you. You could be a missionary called to Yemen, or called to sell everything you own and give it to the poor. You have no idea yet (or perhaps you do! Inquire of God). But you need to be willing to go wherever he needs you to go.

Finally Andrew, you must discover what your deepest passion is. “A saint is the person who can will the one thing”: the one thing that is his or her destiny. Andrew, beware of drowning in the many ‘good’ things that can distract you from your destiny. It is so easy to be busy, busy feeding the poor, busy leading Bible studies, busy going to church. But if those things “squander and dissipate” your life, you will feel like butter spread over too much bread and miss the point of your existence. You have a divine purpose, and it’s probably not to just be “nice” or “courteous”—it’s to commit yourself completely to that end that God put you here for. So you need to seek with all your heart, strength, and mind to find and discover that end. And then live it out. Do not be like Esau, who for a bowl of soup sold his inheritance. Be like Jesus, who would often choose to leave the multitudes of people (knowing he could miraculously have healed thousands of them) to go be alone with his Father. He knew what his mission was, and even the prospect of healing thousands would not distract him from that.
And remember that your mission may not even bear fruit in your lifetime. You “cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results…we are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own” (Archbishop Oscar Romero). 

In closing, Andrew, I know that omens and metaphors from nature speak deeply into you, so allow me to use one. 
You must be baptized into the Living water, and reject the Lukewarm water. You want to be one who has “been buried with [Christ] in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12). 

Andrew, Living water is moving, it is fresh, healthy. Lukewarm water is stagnant; it is dead. Likewise, Living Christians keep moving, are not bound to one tradition, and are unafraid of trying new things. You must allow the Spirit to move in unexpected and fresh ways. Lukewarm Christians stick to what they know, to old traditions that have lost all their relevance and life. They are not free, and don’t have joy. 

Secondly, Living water flows down from the Mountain of God, rushing to the seas (Zechariah 8:3; 14:8-9); it is focused on the end goal. Lukewarm water focuses on where it is, plays it safe, and stands still. In this metaphor, Living Christians are focused on eternity (the sea). You must learn that nothing that happens now matters except pleasing God. Sacrifice fame, money, safety, family: all of these are incomparable to the glory that awaits you in the Kingdom of God (You will gain bread from heaven, safety in God’s hands, and an eternal, innumerable family of believers). 
Lukewarm Christians, on the other hand, claim to care about God, but they do not choose to cut the chains that bind them to this world. They stand still in their dead-end jobs and lifeless churches because they do not want to change or feel uncomfortable (and then they wonder why God seems distant!). American Christians are particularly entrapped in this mindset. Lukewarm people -who I believe are the majority of modern Christians- have never taken a risk for Christ, and certainly not one that would place them in a precarious situation where they are wholly outside of their safety net. 
What a tragedy! What sadness! Oh, I wish that God would bring extreme persecution upon modern Christians, so that we would be made to have faith like those in the early church! “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Tertullian, 2nd Century). I wish we were forced to either choose God or choose the world once and for all, rather than trying to have it both ways! I pray for an environment that separates true followers from the Lukewarm! 

In the marathon that is the Christian life, Lukewarm Christians say “I am going to take a break and rest, at least I’ve been in the race up to now, right? That’s better than some people…and anyway, God cannot expect everything from me. I do not have enough energy to go on.”
But I call on you, Andrew, to say, “No, I will run every step as fast as I can, though I am blind and exhausted. I have a trust in a God who will help me. He will daily renew my strength to go on.”

And Andrew, if you trust in Jesus, you will find that He is carrying you as you run. You won’t strike your foot against a stone; no, your feet won't even touch the ground.

In Christ, 
Andrew Berg

God Grief

Recently, my sister Lauren and I have been commiserating about the death of our debate coach, Michael Bacon. He died about 5 years ago, a suicide. It took me years to wrestle through the feelings of guilt that weaved their way into my grief.

Mourning is so weird, the way it hits you in the strangest places and times. I’ll never again eat beef jerky or drink Doctor Pepper without thinking of Michael. I have certain Bic pens that even remind me of him. Now, as I am once again in a tough inner-city school for the first time since Newburgh Free Academy, that old vague sadness or nostalgia comes trickling back.

Grief is weird.

But recently I was reading the Bible, and a certain passage struck me. It’s in Ezekiel 28, and I’d recommend you read it.

In this part of Ezekiel, God announces judgment and wrath upon many nations, including Israel. They had continually rejected his offer of love and graciousness, choosing instead to worship fertility goddesses, warrior gods, and material pleasures. At the start of Ezekiel 28, God prophesies against the “prince [nagid] of Tyre,” in other words, the rich ruler of the wealthy, arrogant trading city in modern-day Lebanon.

“‘Because you think you are wise,’” God says,
    ’As wise as a god,
7 I am going to bring foreigners against you,
    the most ruthless of nations;
they will draw their swords against your beauty and wisdom
    and pierce your shining splendor.’”

Pretty standard stuff, as far as the Old Testament is concerned. God is always humbling the proud while lifting up the humble. I repeat, the rhetoric of judgment and wrath here is very typical stuff.

But later in Ezekiel 28, God makes a sudden, uncharacteristic shift in tone. In verse 11, God now tells Ezekiel to “take up a lament concerning the king [melek] of Tyre.” Why is God taking up a lament, an ancient song of mourning? And why is God now talking about the King [melek] of Tyre, not the prince/ruler/nagid of earlier in the chapter?

Let’s look to the text:

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
You were the seal of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden,
the garden of God;
every precious stone adorned you:
carnelian, chrysolite and emerald,
topaz, onyx and jasper,
lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.
Your settings and mountings were made of gold;
on the day you were created they were prepared.
14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
you walked among the fiery stones.
15 You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you….
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
and I expelled you, guardian cherub,
from among the fiery stones.
17 Your heart became proud
on account of your beauty,
and you corrupted your wisdom
because of your splendor.
So I threw you to the earth;
I made a spectacle of you before kings.
18 By your many sins and dishonest trade
you have desecrated your sanctuaries.
So I made a fire come out from you,
and it consumed you,
and I reduced you to ashes on the ground
in the sight of all who were watching.’”

To me (and many scholars), it’s clear. While before God was talking to a human ruler, now God is talking to Lucifer, the archangel who turned to the Dark Side and became Satan. Lucifer was ‘perfect,’ on the ‘Mount of God,’ a ‘guardian cherub,’ ‘beautiful and blameless,’ in ‘Eden, the garden of God’… metaphorically covered with precious gems just like everything in Heaven is. But then he ‘became proud’ and ‘corrupted,’ and was thrown down from heaven. Now a fire comes out from within Satan and consumes him. He who had once been the morning star, is now only ashes…

But why does God start out proclaiming judgment against an earthly ruler, and then start a lament for Satan?

The fall of Lucifer...
I think that God is reminiscing. God misses his incredible, beautiful friend, and in the middle of prophesying against a self-absorbed human God remembers a certain archangel who was similarly self-absorbed. ‘I am a god...I am a godI am a god…’

To return to my original thought: as humans, we are made in the likeness of God. If we mourn our friends who have passed on, we can know it’s ok. As we see here, God mourns too. ‘For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses…’ God knows our weaknesses and our pain. He knows the bitterness of betrayal. He knows the agony of letting go of the ones we love, of knowing that they’re never, ever coming back.

But because he loves us so much, he chose to change that. He chose to take all the suffering, all the betrayals, all the consequences of sin upon himself, so that we could be freed from the cycle. So that we can return, so that we can come back to the ones we love. By enduring the ultimate betrayal from his second-in-command, Judas, Jesus willingly entered into the same pain that God had already suffered with Satan.

Jesus took the blame on his shoulders, and was separated from God, just like Satan had been. This time, it was Jesus who was ‘driven in disgrace from the Mount of God.’

Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
A cry that ripped the Temple curtain in two
most likely tore God’s heart too.
But this time, it was obedience that suffered,
obedience that suffered
so that the human betrayers
might have a chance to peel off layers
of the sin that so easily entangled
ever since human nature was mangled.
By the fruit we were seduced,
so God tried to work through the Jews,
but they (and we) ran off to other lovers,
so the Word chose to become flesh like his brothers,
and now we have a choice to decide,
of where we’re going to choose our side:
‘Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in heaven?”
Well hell, it’s better to serve on earth, than to ever
choose separation from God forever.

Jesus was betrayed and died; God’s heart was pierced a second time. But out of despair: a miracle. Resurrection. The legend of the dying God, brought back to life, was no longer legend. It was reality. And through this death and resurrection, humans can now enter God’s presence.

God will still grieve those who turn against him. True, he grieves knowing that he made every attempt to reach out to them. But I wonder how often those words rise up from arrogant humans on earth, the words that carry him back to the time before time, to the same words first spoken by Lucifer: 

I am a god…..”