Saturday, January 27, 2018

Who Sorts The Fish

In Mark 1:16-20 we find the short, pithy story of the calling of four disciples.  Peter, Andrew, James and John are called away from their livelihood as fishermen with Jesus' famous words, "follow me and I will make you fish for people."

This phrase: "Fishers of Men," or "Fishers for People," may well be the second best known image in the New Testament...right after that of the Good Shepherd.  And they have some things in common.  The shepherd who goes out after the lost sheep may have to travel into the dangerous wilderness; often alone.  The work is hard, the way is hard, the land is dangerous; and even when the sheep is found it may have to be carried back to the sheep fold because it is paralyzed with fear.

The image of the sea, where fishermen like Peter and company made their living, was seen as a terrifying place.  It was a symbol for chaos and demons lived beneath the surface. 
The notion of fishing for humans was common in both Greek in Jewish culture. To be caught in the net of the Gods was a symbol of Salvation. Since evil spirits were also believed to be fishing for people, it was important to put oneself in a position to be caught by the benevolence spiritual powers.
This picture of "fishing for people on God's behalf"  is also a counterpoint to the Psalm 10:9 that speaks of the wicked who "seize the poor and drag them off in their net." This is the image of the village raid casting a net over a fleeing enemy and dragging them off to be sold into slavery.
Any of us who know anything about addiction, payday loans, or the sub prime mortgage crisis know that this process is alive and well in our day.  There are all kinds of forces out there "fishing for people."

One of the points I want to make here, though, is that when while we are called to "fish for people," we ARE NOT CALLED to sort the fish.  On a regular fishing boat, when the nets are pulled up, the fish are sorted and those that are "good catch" go down into the hold while the others are thrown back or cut up to use as chum.  But this is God's "boat," and we don't get to sort the fish.  That's God's job.

One biblical character who wanted to argue that with God was Jonah.  That was the whole crux of the matter with ordering him to go to Nineveh.  This was the capital of Assyria.  A nation that had romped and stomped it's way across the known world with a reputation for cruelty unmatched in it's day.  Jonah wanted know part in delivering a message of judgement to this people.  He admitted that he knew that God was "a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love." (a quote, by the way, from Psalm 103).  He knew, said Jonah, that God would be looking for a way to give Nineveh a second chance; and that's why he had run away in the first place.

When I look at these two stories, I see myself in them both.  I am the disciples-ready to drop everything to follow this Jesus who I have come to love.  But, if I am honest, I am also Jonah, wanting to define the terms of Grace.  To say who is in and who is out.  Jonah's nationalistic faith had him excluding the possibilities of Grace for Nineveh.  I have to ask myself who would it offend me so badly to be called to share the Gospel with that I would want to run in the opposite direction?

Jonah's story also reminds me that when we sign on with God, God will sometimes let us sit in the belly of the beast until we're willing to obey; then dump us back where we originally ran from to start over.

We are called to the edges of what we know.  To engage the evil and the chaos in Jesus name.  To seek to rescue the drowning, perishing world-catching them up in the net of the Gospel.  But we don't get to sort the fish.

And why not?  Well God actually answered that question too.  God asks Jonah, "should I not pity Nineveh.....where there are 120,000 who do not know their right hand from their left?"  Jonah was willing to let these folks, who were unable to make informed decisions, who were, many of them, children, to be chalked up as "collateral damage" when judgement rained down on Nineveh.  God was not.

What happens when we apply the truth of these stories to our national discussions about Dreamers, or recipients of Temporary Protected Status.  To medical care for children and the elderly.  To decisions about electricity in Puerto Rico or clean water in Flint, Michigan.  Or when we bring it closer to home and are making decisions about who our church benevolence budget should assist.

I don't know the answers to all of this.  I do know that we're called to fish for people.  I do know that Jonah is right and that God is looking for the opportunity to give people a second chance.  And I am sure (as much as I fight against it in my own heart) that we don't get to sort the fish.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

I Asked Jesus

I asked Jesus to come closer
I thought that it would bring me peace.
Apparently Jesus' peace
really is different than the world's peace
Cause I'm in almost constant turmoil.

I asked Jesus to give me a community
and He dumped me in the middle
of a rag tag bunch of folks
who were just as confused as I was
And told us to love each other.

I asked Jesus to open God's Word to me
And suddenly I'm real uncomfortable
with what I'm reading;
To let me see myself reflected
in the stories of the Bible...
And Jesus told me to read Jonah.

I don't know if it's safe
To ask Jesus things like this anymore;
I'm afraid to ask Him
What He wants me to do next.

Friday, January 12, 2018

When Silence Is Betrayal, When To Downplay Is To Collude

Donald Trump yesterday, in a statement that can only be called racist, referred to the countries (particularly) of Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations as "shitholes."

Yet, many commentators avoid the word "racist" like it was the plague.  The will use other phrases to describe the words as socially inappropriate, but they will not name the words, or Trump, for what they are.  So let me do it:

Racism IS a plague on humanity.  Donald Trump's reference to the home country of people of color who seek to immigrate to the US as "shitholes" is racist language and a sign that Trump is carrying that plague.

When we fail to call out racism for what it is we collude with it.  As great an evil (or perhaps more so) than the evil of collusion with a foreign government is to collude with the Evil that sets apart other humans whom we are taught are created in the Image of God and who Jesus has called us to respond to as though we are responding to Jesus Himself set them apart as "less than" we are.

A milder form of this racism occurred later in the day when Trump asked someone not to refer to people as "Dreamers," but to use the term "DACA," maintaining that there is a difference.  The major difference is that "DACA" is easier to separate from being about real people.  When I call someone a "Dreamer" I am acknowledging that they are someone like me-with hopes and dreams and aspirations.  They are human beings.

The language of racism always seeks to use terms that dehumanize and diminish.  It is easier to ignore, hurt, abandon, enslave, kill, torture...creatures that aren't quiet human.

One additional way of diminishing shows up this time every year.  It is the airbrushing of the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights icons (in my thoughts today I'm thinking specifically of Rosa Parks).  When we paint these people as "simply" somewhat passive workers for equality, we miss both who they were as well as the magnitude of what they were fighting against the magnitude of what we continue to be called to combat.

We forget that MLK's famous "I Have A Dream" speech begins with the (correct) accusation that the promises made to people of color in this country has been returned as a check marked "insufficient funds."  That King was calling out the nation for it's failure to make good on it's promises.  We forget that when he spoke at Riverside Church and came out against the war in Vietnam; lining out the ways in which poverty, war, and racism were tied together, and that the children of the poor and blacks were being sent to war in unfair representation,  people who had supported him (both black and white) dropped him like a hot rock.

Oprah Winfrey reminded us of the story of Recy Taylor, gang raped by a group of white men in Abbeville, Alabama in 1944.  Such sexual brutality was systematically used against black woman in the south just as surely as ethnic cleansing was a weapon in Bosnia.  We forget that the "go to woman" for people to talk to about their sexual victimization was Rosa Parks.  Long before there was a "Me Too" movement there was Rosa Parks carrying cases of sexual violence against black women to the Alabama courts for the NAACP...not because they expected to win, but because they were going to insist that the stories be told.  I recommend to you Danielle L. McGuire's book At The Dark End Of The Street.  

When we downplay the prophetic voices of such people, it is as though we said, "the prophet Amos was very kind to the poor and asked powerful people to be kind to them too."  Really?!

And when we try to quiet the prophetic nature of these voices, we play into the hands of racism that seeks to portray it's Evil as somehow "really not that bad."

To paraphrase MLK a bit, it is not the hateful language of the enemies of God that we need to worry is the silence of those who claim to be friends of Jesus.  Those who claim to believe that ALL of us are children of God; that ALL of us are created in God's Image; that ALL of us are invited to be part of the Kingdom.  Scripture does not paint a picture of a "White Heaven," a "Black Heaven," a "Korean Heaven," a "Hispanic Heaven."  The Kingdom is described as the whole world, "from North and South, East and West" streaming to the Mountain of God.

The language of Donald Trump yesterday and the moves being made by the Trump Administration are racist.  They are sinful.  God is not pleased.  We, individually and as a nation, will be judged by how we treat Jesus when He comes to us in the person of those that racism seeks to marginalize.

This is not the time to collude, this is not the time to betray.  This is the time to stand up, speak the truth and let God's word to our nation ring out: "As you do to the least of these, you do it also to Me."