Thursday, May 26, 2011

Musings on Memorial Day

So I was doing some research this week on the origins of Memorial Day using the infallible source of all knowledge, Wikipedia.  From there I gleaned two fascinating bits of knowledge that I wanted to spend a little time musing over.

1) According to my source, you are supposed to start the day by raising your flag and then lowering it to half staff as a salute to the dead.  At noon however you then raise it again as a sign that we are lifting up their memory and are rising up to not let their fight be in vain but instead are carrying it on ourselves.

2) Memorial Day was originally a day to remember those who has died in the Civil War and was later expanded to include those who had fallen in other wars.

The second point works well for me because it is easier to gloss over all the other reasons that people go to war and remember the Civil War as this "fight to set other men free."  Obviously that is a very pro-North viewpoint and simplifies the war only to an issue of freeing the slaves.  But freeing those in slavery is a cause most people can get behind, so it is a great place to start.

So if Memorial Day really is about honoring those who have died in the cause of freedom and justice for all, what does it mean for those of us doing the honoring?  How are we picking up the cause and advancing it forward?  Slavery was abolished in the United States legally years ago, but it still exists in other countries, as well as perhaps in covert ways here (and even the NFL and college football according to some).  Sex-trafficking is a prime example of this but certainly not the only one.  Where is our outrage about this?  What are we doing to shame those who engage in it, to bring them to justice, to fight to set these people free.  Are there other forms of slavery (economic, political, social) we should be fighting against?  What other threats to freedom and justice exist.  I am not advocating yet another war for our soldier to be involved in, but maybe something that each of us can work to end.

Memorial Day does not have to simply be a salute to those who died in bloody wars and by extension glorify those sorts of conflicts.  Instead it can be a lament of those who have died that others can be free, and a dedication that we will work as hard as possible to make sure that more do not have to die in this struggle.  What are we memorializing this weekend?  Is it war?  Is it freedom?  Is it a fight against evil?  I am sure our answers are all different, but I love the reminder we have in the raising of the flag.  We remember those who have gone before us and are called to make sure that in our lives we make their deaths not be in vain

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas

Last night I attended a bachelor party for a friend of mine.  While the group of us were hanging out there was talks of taking embarrassing pictures of the bachelor throughout the night and posting them to Facebook.  To my knowledge this was never done (though I did leave early since I had a 2 hour drive to get home).  Still the thought of sharing what goes on at a bachelor party seems almost antithetical to the event.  Bachelor parties are one of those "sacred" events that seems to have an aura of secrecy around them.  What happens at the party stays at the party.  Just like what happens in Vegas, or on the mission trip, or whatever, stays with that group of people

On the other end of the spectrum is the "over-sharing" that occurs through things like Facebook.  Suddenly the whole world can know what we had for breakfast, how much we drank last night, or that we are off in the Bahamas.  Some of the information is mundane and some can be potentially damaging, giving people a view into a part of your life you might want to keep private (like your drinking habits) or letting people know when you are not around ... which is valuable information for burglars.

All of this raises the question to me ... do we keep too much secret or not enough.  Secrets are great, they give us a feeling of power, control, and of being in the know.  We have something that others do not.  The flip side of that same idea is that it creates separations between in the in group and the out group.  Between the haves and the have-nots.  All of this leads me to wonder what the best course to follow is.  I worry what it says that there are parts of our lives we hide from other parts of our lives. 

As a pastor I am constantly confronted with the merging of the public and the private, those things that I share with my parishioners and those things that I keep separate.  While perhaps harder than other jobs it is not necessarily any different.  An NBA team executive recently came out about his sexuality, something he had kept private from his work life for years.  We all probably have those things we worry about the people who write our paychecks knowing about.  In the end however I worry the secrets are bad.  That we encourage a notion that somethings are just for a select group of people and in doing so we create barriers between ourselves and the world.  The barriers may keep us safe, but they also keep people away.  If I don't share things about my life with my parishioners, is it fair to expect them to do the same?

Maybe the real question to ponder is whether or not we have reasonable expectations for secrets.  Do our expectations meet the categorical imperative ... that we would want others to live by the same things as us.  So do we want to know about others the things we keep secret about ourselves OR are we comfortable with others keeping from us the same information we keep from them?  That might be a question for another day

Thursday, May 12, 2011

I Like Winning!

So this may not be a shock to people who know me, but I like winning.  I like games and competitions and chances to test myself, to prove myself.  And while the trill of the competition itself is nice, in the end I like to win.  For that reason I find it much more enjoyable to play games I think I can win and especially nice to feel like I have some "ace in the hole" solution to pull out when things get tough.  Almost like a parent running gamely alongside their kid, knowing that if they wanted to they could put on the extra burst of speed and make it to the finish line first.  Or the tortoise, plodding along but knowing in the end that slow and steady will win the race, no matter how fast the hare goes at first.

On Saturday I ran in the Lake Minnewaska Half Marathon.  Having run the Twin Cities Marathon twice, the mere 13.1 miles seemed like a nice obtainable goal and a great way to get involved in something in my new community.  I did most the suggested training for it and entered the race feel at least somewhat confident in my ability to run and finish the race.  I started towards the back of the pack, figuring that like in the Twin Cities Marathon I would have a chance to slow pass a number of people through the race.  Instead I watched as the main pack of races continued to move further and further a head, and while there were always a few races behind me, there was not much chance of moving up at the pace I was going.  As the miles went by it became more and more clear that this was not going to change.  At one point I began to wonder if I would be able to finish at all.  I did not have an "ace in the hole" ... there was not some trick I could do.  Not only was I not going to really beat anyone in the race, I was also not sure I would finish at all.  In the end I did finish, I "dug deep" and kept plodding along, finishing 55th out of 77 and 11th out of 12 in the 18-30 male division.  Not terrible but certainly not great either.

We have lots of great expressions like "winning isn't everything" that certainly apply here.  I did a get a sense of satisfaction for finishing the race.  And despite the rain and the pain in my legs, it was mostly an enjoyable experience while I did it.  But during the race there was a nagging temptation to not make it about winning.  "I am just doing it for fun" or "I am just a casual runner."  Both of those were true, I had no illusions about winning or placing well, and I am certainly a casual runner.  At the same time it bugged me I could not do better.  At the same time I really did want to succeed.  Is it helpful to try and turn off our competitive drive when we think we cannot win?  Is it helpful to try and move the goal posts so no matter what we can make them?  What do we lose in the process?  What do we give up on when we are not trying our best?  What do we lose when we do just focus on winning instead?

I do want a spend a moment connecting this to the church, cause that is part of why I blog ... but I hope the thoughts above stand on their own and so if you stopped reading now it would be fine ...

I think we are at a time in the church when we do not know what winning looks like (though we are probably sure we are not doing it) and we are at a time where it is tempting to look quickly for some goal posts we can make it to, we can succeed at.  Certainly the desire to win is dangerous, especially if it starts to be our raison d'etre instead of serving God.  On the other hand, not competing, not trying to "win" seems antithetical to our call as well, especially if we defining winning in terms of the great commission and bringing about the Kingdom of God ... do we really have a choice but to seek after these things, to run this race that is before us.  The nice thing about a race is that the goal is defined by someone else ... you will run 13.1 miles or 5k or 26.2 or whatever the distance is.  We need to find a similar goal for the church, so that those of us who want to dig deep and compete have something to aim for, something to push us forward and hopefully move us all in the same direction.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Tragedy of Death

Like many others I have been listening, watching and reading all the coverage there has been of the recent death of Bin Laden.  I have been overcome with a wave of different emotions as I contemplate all that has occurred and what it means.  In the end I am left with sorrow.  I remember 9/11 and what that day was like.  What I remember most about 9/11 was one of the professors at Beloit College, sitting on the steps, crying, weeping that this would undo all the work that had been for peace, for tolerance, for justice.  Now, almost 10 years later can we really say that things are over?  Did the death of Bin Laden really change things, or is it just the next domino in the tragic chain that has been rippling through our lives since those towers came down, since those airplanes were transformed from methods of transportation into methods of destruction and death?

On April 30th, Hitler committed suicide rather than risk capture by the oncoming forces, on May 1st, Bin Laden is killed by US forces and if we enter the realm of fantasy, on May 2nd, Lord Voldemort dies in the Battle of Hogwarts.  Three people who would often be attributed with evil.  Three people who ordered the deaths of hundreds and even thousands.  And yet today as I prepare for Mother's Day on Sunday I came upon these words, written to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  "We shall not commit injustice in the name of justice done ... we shall not seek honor in the death of any mother's son ... Christ's peace shall reign on earth"

All three of these individuals, terrible though their actions may be are someone's son.  If we forget that, we become like them, able to see death as nothing more than a means to achieve our ends.  If we are to recover from 9/11 we must find a way to reverse this, to undo this cycle of violence that only spirals onwards.  Now we live in fear of reprisals for our actions, counterattacks by followers of Bin Laden seeking to avenge his death which will only cause us to need to avenge more deaths.  Is death totally avoidable?  Can we truly live nonviolently?  I would like to believe so, but whether or not it is possible, I know this, even in the death of someone like Bid Laden, there is cause for sorrow, here is someone's son ... here is a child of God ... what can we do to make sure that other sons and daughters do to not end up the same.