Liturgics for Tragedy

I wrote the post “Mass Shootings and Bad Disciples” back in Feb 2018 after a mass shooting, and its words feel like exactly what this patient needs in the wake of the tragedies at Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton.  But if I believe that worship is the center of life… if I believe the Triune God draws closest to his redeemed people in the gathered worship on the Lord’s Day, what can we do in that context to help shape our lives outside of that?  I’m still asking myself that question.  But I thought starting imperfectly is better than not starting until the perfect way reveals itself.  So here is our congregation’s confession of sin and call for God to act that we will be using this coming Sunday.  May it drive us all to both prayer and action.

Confession of Sin and Plea for God’s Action[1]

Leader: O God of battles, we see the seeds of hate and malice that are native to our own hearts.

People: O LORD of hosts have mercy on us.  Forgive us for the murder in our hearts and protect us from our desire for revenge, when vengeance belongs to You.

Leader: We see how evil suspicions and hateful speech pour out from our mouths, our computers, and our phones.

People: O LORD of hosts have mercy on us.  Forgive us for harming the name of our neighbor, using our words in hurtful and untimely ways, and calling it “speaking the truth”.

Leader: We are grieved by our indifference toward injustice, oppression, and lack of concern for our neighbor’s good.

People: O LORD of hosts have mercy on us.  Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil, to make no peace with oppression, and to use our freedoms in the maintenance of justice among men and nations.

Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted.

Leader: Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

People: But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands;

Leader: to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless.

People: Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.

[1] Sources used – 1) A New Directory for the Public Worship of God (Free Church of Scotland, 1898); 2) Westminster Larger Catechism #145; 3) Book of Common Prayer (Oxford Univ Press, New York: 1928); 4) Psalm 10.12-15 (ESV).

 

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Imagination as an Antidote to Insanity

My wife and I had the privilege of participating in our oldest son’s homeschool graduation ceremony this past weekend.  Each of the six graduates and their parents had 8 minutes each to show their video montage of photos and make any remarks.  So our son chose the song “Into the West” by Annie Lennox [choking back tears… proud father of LotR fan] and my wife and I chose enough photos to fill up about 3 minutes.  That left us with about 5 minutes to make our remarks as his parents.  So I wanted to say something more than the standard “we’re so proud of you and love you.”  SinWhat can you see on the horizonce we give people charges when they enter into a new office in life, I thought it’d be appropriate to give him a charge at this boundary between boyhood and the “office” of manhood.  I hope this manuscript of my charge to my son may challenge you young Christian men out there as you begin to carve your path forward, a path of loyalty to the King of kings.

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Review of “The Gospel Comes with a House Key”

Do I “…see strangers as neighbors and neighbors as family of God“?

Do I “…recoil at reducing a person to a category or a label“?

Do I “…see God’s image reflected in the eyes of every human being on earth“?

Do I know that I am “…like meth addicts and sex-trade workers…,” …taking my “…own sin seriously – including the sin of selfishness and pride“?

Once I’m done asking myself these jack-hammer questions, I can move on to the second paragraph in the preface to Rosaria Butterfield’s most recent book The Gospel Comes with a a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World.  Whew.  But for a person that’s being honest with their heart’s default mode and their daily practices, that’s about the pace of the book from launch to landing.

In a sense, Dr. Butterfield’s book is a little like Aslan, good but not safe.  But that’s kind of her point.  If a life motivated by the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is safe and comfortable, then it is a life unfamiliar, in some very practical ways, with the God who entered the un-safe-ness of life under the sun in order to love and rescue the unwashed and the unworthy.  So in her very narratival fashion, Dr. Butterfield walks her readers along the smooth and jagged edges of what it looks like to regularly open one’s home to neighbors, dogs (hers and the neighbors’), strangers, church members, grad students, at least one black snake, and a seemingly constant stream of children (the source of the aforementioned reptile).  She draws the reader along with story after story of how regularly having people in the home opens up an expectation that no topic is off-limits.  As she says, “We were – as we almost always are around here – a politically mixed group.  Unbelieving neighbors and church members all together (p.120).”  But this is all what we might expect if the people seated around our dinner tables reflected our neighborhood as often as it it did our hand-picked group of friends.  As she says a little earlier, “The gospel creates community that welcomes others in… It isn’t always easy.  It begins with recognizing people as your kin (p.86).”

Dr. Butterfield’s book excels in amazing ways at setting a vision for radically, ordinary hospitality and its transformative power for our post-Christian culture.  Her closing list of “Imagine a world where…” is pure gold and worth typing up and putting on the refrigerator or bathroom mirrorWhile she does get down to the practical and the nitty-gritty of what it looks like to practice radically ordinary hospitality (see her “The Nuts and Bolts and Beans and Rice” in the concluding chapter), this reviewer’s fear is that this vision of hospitality is so far from where most people live right now that folks won’t know where to start and, in turn, fail to do so.  We all know that feeling well.  You get up on Saturday morning determined to clean out the cluttered garage only to raise the door, see the mountain of undifferentiated stuff that has to be tackled, and then close the door in favor doing some other task your familiar with.  So if I had to recommend a starting place, I would simply offer Dr. Butterfield’s wise words from her conclusion:

In married households it is vital that both husband and wife share a calling for hospitality and work together to establish a budget for time and food and people.  Wives, let your husbands lead. Husbands, be sensitive to your wife’s energy level… the pace is set by the one who feels the most frail… [Hospitality] should make us stronger in Christ.  If hospitality becomes a point of contention, something is wrong.  Stop and reevaluate.  Pray.  Map out goals and values.  Be a team.

Of course the ministry of hospitality isn’t simply practiced by married couples (something Dr. Butterfield says as well), nor will it look the same for all households.  For instance, I have a single friend whose hospitality ministry looks like foster-parenting two children taken from a home due to the current opiate epidemic.  I have another set of friends who are hosting an international exchange student; another set of friends who gave a lady a home during a period of time when her marriage was crumbling; and another set of friends who are slowly working their way through the church membership rolls and inviting a different family over each Lord’s Day.  At the end of the day, Dr. Butterfield’s vision for practicing radically ordinary hospitality is as bold and bracing as it is alluring and refreshing.  If Christ’s redeemed people began practicing and coordinating this kind of hospitality, then walls would crumble as our doors opened, and we would be able to “…put the hand of the hurting into the hand of the Savior (p.207).”

Mass Shootings and Bad Disciples

In the wake the recent mass shooting, I find myself silently judging all the jeremiads hammered out on keyboards and then slung out into the middle of the information superhighway.  This silent judgment is then swiftly followed by my own internal chastisement, “Oh yeah, Mr. Judgy-Judge McJudge-Pants?  And how are you contributing to a solution, sitting there sipping your re-heated coffee in the comforts of your first-world surroundings?”  And I think of all the suggestions people of both high and low positions have made and they all seem somewhat reasonable but ultimately not satisfying for a variety of reasons.

No more AR-15’sPeriod.

Better mental health screenings for gun-purchasers.”

Get the right judges on SCOTUS.”

Since all mass shooters are male, no more guns for male civilians.”

Ok… I made up that last one.  But a couple days have gone by and I think I have an action item we could all implement.  Pray for God to put bad disciples in your life.  Like one of my seminary profs said, “We all want good disciples.  We all want someone who hangs on all of our words and immediately puts our advice into practice.  We all love someone who thinks we are right about almost everything and tries to convince others that we are right.  But no one wants someone who listens to our advice and pretty much does the opposite.”  Boy oh boy, he was right.  I don’t want a disciple who bores me with inane babble about stuff that only three people in the world care about.  I don’t want someone as a disciple who ignores my advice, is lazy, is stubbornly foolish, who chews with their mouth open, or has bad body odor.outcast-katelynn-johnston

But if I only pursue the good disciples, it’s more about my comfort and my satisfaction, not love for my fellow human.  But if we learn to love bad disciples, then we might have to sacrifice something that we would get no return on.  Learning to love bad disciples might require us to change.  Learning to love bad disciples might help us know the mind of Christ better.

Maybe learning to love a bad disciple is how we get upstream with the next mass-shooter and save the next 17 victims.  Maybe it isn’t.  But getting credit for changing a life and preventing a future mass shooting isn’t the point either.  There will be no metrics attached to this action-item that some statistician somewhere can track.  No political body could ever point to something on the books and take credit for it.  This kind of action won’t make it into your newsfeed on Facebook.  But it’s what’s best for the outcast who feels alone.  It’s what’s best for the family who doesn’t know what to do with their brooding child.  It’s what is best for our communities where all sorts of people feel alienated with no real friends.

So let’s learn to pursue that awkward high-schooler we notice at church.  Ask them to lunch on a regular basis.  Ask that 18 year-old sitting by themselves on their phone if they could come over to help you change the oil in your car or help you rake your leaves.  Ask them questions and listen.  Wade through the awkward silences.  Endure the extensive talk about the latest thing they’re into.  Resist the urge to correct them right out of the gate.  Our first job is to listen and know them.  Pray for them (and their parent(s)!).  At the end of the day, we might not make a long-term friend or get much gratitude for our time and effort, but we will become an embodiment of our Lord who “…sets the lonely in families…” (Ps. 68.6).