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Friday, December 21, 2012

Hands


And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
    But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
    Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
-Matthew 2:8-14 (NIV)


Feeling violent today? If so, it might just be in your nature.
    A study published this week in The Journal of Experimental Biology suggests that the human hand evolved into its present shape because its form is the best combination of physical dexterity and - that’s right - punching power. David Carrier, a University of Utah evolutionary biologist and co-author of the study, says that the shape of the human hand and its ability to clench into a fist “turns this relatively delicate musculoskeletal system into an effective club” that’s able to deliver the force of a blow to a smaller surface area, without being injured.
    So, according to this study, the human hand evolved for fighting. Human beings evolved the ability to make a fist so that we could punch and brawl our way to biological superiority.
    I’m no biologist, but I’m not convinced. I just don’t think that this study adequately deals with all the data.
    I’m not really talking here about the whole “evolution vs. creation” debate. To be honest, I think that argument’s pretty non-productive, as both sides tend to make it into something it isn’t.* All I mean is that the study seems to take one possible use of the human hand and extrapolate from that the purpose for which it came into being.
    Couldn’t you just as readily say that the human hand is made for stroking a child’s head as she cries?
    Couldn’t you just as readily say that the human hand is made for helping someone who’s sick take a sip of water?
    Couldn’t you just as readily say that the human hand is made for placing a coat on the back of someone who’s cold, or offering food to someone who’s hungry, or holding the hand of someone who’s dying? Isn’t there just as much data to suggest that the human hand is ideally suited for gently caressing a husband or wife, or comforting a discouraged friend, or greeting a brother or sister in Christ? Building a house for someone trying to make a new start? Fixing a car for a widow?
    Isn’t just as likely that the human hand evolved, or was created, to do the will of its Creator?
    Or have we forgotten, at this time of year of all times, that the Creator clearly showed us the purpose of a human hand?
    A hand is for reaching from a bed of rough straw to clench the finger of a mother.
    A hand is for touching a leper and passing on love and grace and healing.
    A hand is for beckoning a sinner down from the place where he’s hiding and watching from a distance.
    A hand is for healing the blind. A hand might even be for raising the dead.
    A hand is for blessing children.
    A hand is for saving a friend who’s drowning in fear and faithlessness.
    A hand is for opening the Scriptures.
    A hand is for sharing bread and fish with a crowd of thousands, or bread and wine with twelve. A hand is for washing feet.
    A hand is for prayerful supplication, alone in a dark garden.
    And a hand is for offering, when necessary, to wood and nail.
    But a hand is also for pushing aside a stone. A hand, with its wound still open, is for convincing the doubting.
    A hand is not meant for the shackles of sin and death. It isn’t intended to be scarred and calloused in service to evil.
    A human hand is meant for life. It’s meant for service to God.
    This time of year, lots of us talk about peace. We sing songs and hear sermons and read scriptures that tell of it. But peace is never created by mouth, by lip, by tongue. Peace is created by hands.
    Peace is cobbled together out of the ruins of God’s creation by hands that don’t mind getting dirty, or calloused, or contaminated. Peace is rescued from the pit of death and sin and violence by hands that don’t mind touching the sick and dying. Peace is liberated by hands that aren’t discouraged by the thickness of the chains that have to be broken. Peace is offered as a gift to the world by hands that don’t hoard, but that share God’s grace generously.
    The angels announced peace to the shepherds, but Jesus made peace a reality. If we learn anything from that, it’s that peace is brought to the world in every generation by hands that are eager to do God’s will in the world. And that don’t flinch from cold iron and rough wood.
    So as we celebrate “peace on earth” this week, let’s remember that we will always do so, until Jesus comes, with a touch of irony. Our world, after all, is filled with people for whom promises of peace sounds like a cruel joke. They have no one willing to get their hands dirty to bring about peace for them. Their hands have long ago lost the will to create peace. So as we celebrate the coming of Jesus by exchanging gifts and singing songs and eating with family and friends, may we also celebrate by doing what Jesus did - by working with the hands God has given us to make peace a reality. In his name. For his glory.
    May God bless the work of our hands.

    

*On the one hand, evidence for evolution doesn’t disprove “the truth of the Bible.” On the other, expecting the Bible to offer a scientific account of human origins shouldn’t be a test of faith or orthodoxy.

Friday, December 14, 2012

When Rachel Weeps


When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
   “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
-Matthew 2:16-18 (NIV)


    Twenty Connecticut families sent children to school this morning.
    In those twenty homes, there will be empty beds tonight. Funerals to plan. Children to bury. There are holiday gifts that will go unopened.
    As I write this, those families don’t even know why.
    As I write this, my son is home sick from his school. He’ll have homework to catch up on. Classwork to make up. I’m glad he’s home, though. That means I don’t have to watch slyly out the window for him to come up the sidewalk this afternoon. It means I won’t be tempted to call him this afternoon, when his school lets out and he heads for the train.
    It means I can tell him I love him an extra time or two today.
    Twenty families in Connecticut won’t have that chance again.
    I guess you can tell what a generation of adults fears most by the drills we put our kids through in school. My parents had air raid drills. I had fire and tornado drills. (Apparently, tornadoes can’t get to you if you sit in an interior hallway with your back against the wall and your hands over the back of your head.) Now that we’re the adults, we drill our kids on what to do if there’s a terrorist attack. Or an intruder in the school with a gun.
    Makes more sense today, doesn’t it?
    It’s tempting to talk about how the world has changed, how our towns used to be safe and kids could go to school without fear, and parents didn’t have to worry that they might not come home again. And maybe it has changed, to some degree. Then again, there have always been people to whom nothing, not even the lives of children, meant more than their own agendas.
    That’s the world Jesus was born into, in fact.
    It’s the part of the Christmas story we never retell, it seems. For good reason. How many homes did Herod’s thugs invade? How many families were destroyed? How many parents spent the rest of their lives grieving ? Christmas is about peace and goodwill. It’s about a silent night, not a night split with the cries of Rachel weeping for her lost children. But Jesus came into such a world as that. Such a world as this, where parents can’t take for granted that their children will be OK.  
    He came “to save his people from their sins,” the angel told Mary.  
    Today, I’m sort of wondering why he didn’t save those eighteen kids in Connecticut, or those nine staff and faculty who died with them, from the sins of their murderer.
    Somehow, I think if the parents of those children who died in Bethlehem could have known why their kids were murdered, they wouldn’t have been comforted a great deal. Messiah? Well, maybe. But I imagine they would have preferred that their kids survived. “Why couldn’t the angel have
warned us?” they might have asked, understandably. “Why did he alone get the chance to escape? And where was  this Savior while our kids were dying? Hiding in Egypt?”


    At least, I think those are some of the questions I might have been asking.
    Historically, the church has used this time of year, as Christmas approaches, as a time to ask questions very much like that. In our largely secular approach to “the Holidays” in our time, even believers have lost sight of it. For us, it’s a time to shop, and cook, and decorate, and go to parties. But all that can distract us from seeing the difference between the world we inhabit and the world Jesus came to show us and bring about. It distracts us from seeing the distance between the people we are and the people God intends for us to be.
    You can hear it in the old holiday music, though, if you listen:

     O little town of Bethlehem

How still we see thee lie

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

The silent stars go by

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

The everlasting Light

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight


    And:

For lo! the days are hastening on,

By prophets seen of old,

When with the ever-circling years

Shall come the time foretold,

When the new heaven and earth shall own

The Prince of Peace, their King,

And the whole world send back the song

Which now the angels sing.


    Though Rachel wept, and Herod killed toddlers, the day came when God called his Son out of Egypt to come and save the world. And when he came, the worst the world could do - and even the power of death - couldn’t stand against  him.  And though today another generation of parents grieves lost children, the day will come when God will again call his Son to come and save the world. And when he comes on that day, “the new heaven and earth shall own the Prince of Peace, their King.” The hopes and fears of all the years will be met. The worst evil and sin in our world, and in ourselves, will be finally dealt with, and even death will be forced to give up those he’s taken.
    While that might not seem to be much comfort to parents grieving today, one day, it will be everything.
    May God comfort those who are mourning tonight, and may the hope and promise of Jesus be truly in their hearts.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Other Fiscal Cliff


    “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things,  but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
    “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them,  so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
    “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses  and the Prophets;  let them listen to them.’
-Luke 16:25-29 (NIV)


“Fiscal Cliff.” Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? A disaster looming ahead, waiting for a whole country to plunge headlong over like Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner.
    It’s supposed to sound ominous, of course. Politicians who choose to lead by fear lose their power unless there’s something for the people to be afraid of. Folks on both sides of the aisle use the specter of the fiscal cliff as a way to push for their pet projects and champion their agendas. Special interests, afraid of having their government funding cut, line up to court favor with their chosen leaders. But the cuts have to come from somewhere, and come they will.
    Whose concerns will be heard: Pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies depending on the government to protect their enormous profits, or senior citizens who have to decide which of their prescriptions they can afford to fill?
      Whose voice will be louder: Massive agribusinesses demanding government subsidies, or low-income families who depend on programs like SNAP to provide sufficient food for their families?
    Who will politicians listen to: oil companies, or students applying for financial aid for college? homeowners desperately in need of mortgage refinancing, or homeowners asking the government to retain tax credits for second and third vacation homes? veterans who come home with very real needs, or defense contractors pushing their projects through congress?
    By and large, you know the answers as well as I do.
    There’s a fiscal cliff looming, all right, but it’s not the one we think it is. It’s not even one we should necessarily expect politicians to even recognize. Back when politicians were answerable to prophets for their policies, the prophets’ consistent message was always that they should look after the most vulnerable - the widows, the orphans, the aliens. Justice and righteousness were to be the marks of those who ruled. And when the prophets looked forward to the ruler who would come to save their people, they saw him bringing justice and righteousness.
    It wasn’t that the needy never got overlooked in the day-to-day business of government. But it was always clear that when they were overlooked, God was not pleased. “By justice a king gives a country stability,” says the proverb. “But those who are greedy for bribes tear it down.”
     Now, our politicians are more answerable to profits than prophets.
    Those of us who are believers, who have some idea of what God expects from those who govern and some say in the way they govern, should speak with voices that match the voices of the prophets of old. We should say to our leaders, in no uncertain terms, that our votes for or against them will not be determined by party lines. They won’t be bought by tax cuts or tax credits for the wealthy or even the middle class. They will be determined by the important decisions those men and women make about how the marginalized and vulnerable in our society will be treated. We should say to them that we want to see some courage from them: courage to say no to those who have the clout to game the system, courage to say yes to those who have no clout and who have been failed by the system time and time again.
    Make no mistake; many politicians will promise nearly anything if it benefits them in some way. Don’t imagine that our well-being, financial or otherwise, depends on decisions they make in marble halls and back room committee meetings. But if we sell our souls in order to maintain or improve our standard of living by empowering leaders who ignore those who most need compassion and generosity, we are as responsible as they are.
     God forbid that we live more afraid of losing our standards of living than we are of him. God forbid that the widest radius of our concern extend no further than our own portfolios, bank accounts, and 401(k)’s. God forbid that we elect and support only the leaders who promise to give us, and ours, and the people like us, the prosperity that we’ve come to expect. God forbid that we fail to see the Lazaruses at our gates.
     The fiscal cliff followers of Jesus should be concerned about is the one that separates us from comfort and peace, but doesn’t prevent us from seeing those who we should have noticed and  comforted in this life being comforted in our stead in the next. It’s frightening how easy it can be, even for believers, to justify our lack of concern for the poor and marginalized. When our votes and our charitable giving seem more tied to our confidence in the economy than our concern for the biblical mandate for justice and righteousness, then I’m afraid we’re dancing right on the edge.
    But here’s the good news: that fiscal cliff isn’t one that we have to figure out with tax increases or spending cuts. Avoiding it doesn’t depend on politicians or accountants. Whether our leaders successfully avoid the economic mess they’re worried about or not, we know how to avoid the precipice the Lord was most concerned about. It has nothing to do with tax increases or spending cuts, balanced budgets or special interests. It has to do with opening our lives to people in need. It has to do with opening our hands and letting go of some of our stuff. It has to do with speaking up for people who have no voice themselves.
    The prophets say that righteousness is quantified by how a people treat the poorest and most vulnerable. Jesus said how we respond to “the least of these” is indicative of how we respond to him. I guess that’s because our treatment of the most poor and vulnerable among us most genuinely shows who we really are when we aren’t prevented by factors outside ourselves from taking what we want. History shows how quickly and easily human dignity can be compromised by economic and political powers. Protecting the most vulnerable is the only way to safeguard everyone.
    That’s the fiscal cliff that matters, and the one that will continue to matter long after the one in the news these days is just a minor footnote in history.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Chosen


Give thanks  to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Cry out, “Save us, God our Savior;
gather us and deliver us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name,
and glory in your praise.”
Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
     Then all the people said “Amen” and “Praise the LORD.”
    David left Asaph and his associates before the ark of the covenant of the LORD to minister there regularly....
    David left Zadok  the priest and his fellow priests before the tabernacle of the LORD at the high place in Gibeon to present burnt offerings to the LORD on the altar of burnt offering regularly, morning and evening, in accordance with everything written in the Law  of the LORD, which he had given Israel. With them were Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen and designated by name to give thanks to the LORD, “for his love endures forever.”
-1 Chronicles 16:34-41 (NIV)

“Chosen.” The word screams privilege. Pride of place.
    The Chosen are the winners, the last ones standing.
    The Chosen are the acclaimed, the preferred, the admired.
   The Chosen are nominated for office. They win the elections. The chosen are picked for the teams. They’re invited to lunch with the In Crowd. They’re the ones everyone wants to be.
    The Chosen receive the honors and awards. They address the largest crowds. Star in the leading roles. Their names are known and celebrated, their accomplishments recounted, rehashed, and renowned.
    Although I guess that kind of depends on what you’re chosen for.
    You probably wouldn’t have known the names of Heman (no, He-Man is a different guy) or Jeduthun, for instance. Not exactly household names. For all we know, though, in ancient Israel they may have been the Justin Biebers or Taylor Swifts of their day. They were apparently musicians and singers. And they were chosen. Hand-picked by King David himself.
    So why don’t we know much about them?
    Because they were chosen to “give thanks to the LORD.” Seriously, if you want to make a name for yourself, it seems that being chosen to give thanks to God is a dead-end career path.  
    When David brought the Ark of the Covenant into the royal city of Jerusalem, he relocated several of the worship leaders from the old Tabernacle in Gibeah to Jerusalem as well. But since there was still an altar at Gibeah, he wanted to make sure worship kept happening there, as well. And so he assigned Heman and Jeduthun the task of “giv[ing] thanks to the LORD” there at the old site. The text says he chose them “by name,” in fact. He knew them, or knew of them. He knew something about them. And he thought they would be the perfect guys to use their musical skills to lead God’s people in worship at Gibeah.    
    They didn’t get to go to Jerusalem with the Ark of the Covenant to lead worship at the new, exciting site. They were stuck at Gibeah, in the old Tabernacle that would soon be phased out in favor of the temple in David’s city. (Asaph and some others got that gig...) They were Chosen. But not to gain honor for themselves. They were chosen to give honor and praise and thanks to God.
    Thinking about Heman and Jeduthun, I’m sorry, but I have to think of worship in the church today - or, rather, what passes for worship. We seem unable to think of worship in any terms other than that of our own preferences in music and style. It’s a “good” worship service if it suits our musical sensibilities, or if the preacher is the right mixture of eloquent, down-to-earth, and brief. It’s a “good” worship service if it makes us feel the way we think we should feel after worship. And, if not...well, we “just didn’t get anything out of it this week.”
    As if the burning question is what we got out of it.
    Churches actually split today over what style of worship is “better” or “more biblical” or whatever adjective forms the basis of evaluation. As if the trendiest styles won’t be completely different in five years’ time. As if “Here I Am to Worship” won’t sound as dated to my son as “I’ll Be a Friend to Jesus” sounds to me.
    The fact is that you and I have been chosen and designated by name to give thanks to the LORD. Our musical preferences are secondary to that. What we get out of it is secondary to that. Our experience has conditioned us to treat most everything as a performance for our evaluation. But, in worship, if there are performers, then we’re among them. And if there’s an evaluation, then it’s God’s to give. Every bit as much as Heman and Jeduthun, you and I have been given the responsibility of praising God and encouraging others to do the same.
    That’s Paul’s point in his amazing opening to the book of Ephesians. In verses 11 and 12, he reminds us that we’ve been chosen in Jesus, and that we’ve been chosen for a purpose - “for the praise of his glory.” We aren’t chosen just so that we’ll feel a certain way. We aren’t chosen for our own individual benefit and blessing. We aren’t even chosen just because Jesus loves us and wants to be with us forever, as sometimes we like to say. We’re chosen to give God the glory and honor and gratitude that he is due.
    We’re chosen “for the praise of his glory,” so that the world can hear the name of God and the name of Jesus ringing with thanksgiving and honor and glory.
    Our worship services should encourage us, yes. But our preferences, our feelings, our self-expression aren’t the point. The point is that God is praised and thanked, that the name of Jesus is lifted up and glorified. If we don’t do it, who will? If the world doesn’t hear God’s name glorified and praised among us, where will they hear it?
    Of course, they won’t hear it if it only happens when we’re behind closed doors, in our own isolated communities. If God’s new tabernacle is Jesus, present in the lives of his people through the Holy Spirit, then our responsibility to give thanks to him and worship him doesn’t end with the last “Amen” as we head out to lunch on Sundays. It’s for every day of our lives, every part of our lives. We’re always on call as those chosen and designated by name - through Jesus Christ - to give thanks to the Lord.
    We are among the Chosen. May we be found faithful to our calling.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Red States, Blue States, and the Kingdom of God


    “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.”
-Daniel 2:44 (NIV)

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
-Jesus, Matthew 4:17 (NIV)


Early Wednesday morning, right about midnight in Chicago, Mitt Romney officially ended the 2012 Presidential election by (graciously) conceding to President Obama.
    It was, by my count, the twelfth time in my life that the United States has peacefully elected a President.
    I’m always amazed when it happens. Even a couple of elections ago, when it was weeks before we knew who won, there were no tanks in the streets. No civil war. Even when we elect a new President, the transfer of power is always orderly. In a world where peaceful transfers of power can’t be taken for granted, that’s something to appreciate, even if we sometimes forget to appreciate it.
    This was a hotly-contested election. Many commentators have talked about “two Americas,” and maybe they’re not far off. Those who disagree with the President are loud, and sometimes angry, and of course they have that right. As the President himself pointed out in his victory speech Wednesday morning, that’s not likely to change anytime soon:

    “Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.
   “ ….These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.”

    The words of a President who will have to build consensus to secure a legacy in history, yes. But they also happen to be true.
    The church, historically, has always had a tumultuous relationship with civil government. Sometimes, the church has tried to be the civil government - and that’s rarely been good for either the church or the state. Sometimes the church has lived in opposition to civil government. In many places, we still do.
    The American church has had a somewhat unique situation with regard to our representative government. We’re Christians, but also Americans. Voters, but primarily citizens of God’s kingdom. Like all Americans, we have concerns about the economy, or foreign policy, or jobs going overseas, or social issues. We have opinions, and our opinions translate into votes for this party or that, this politician or the other one. And yet we know that ultimately our hope is in Jesus, not in politics.
    Some Christians feel called to run for office. Others to work for particular parties or candidates. In most churches, in fact, Republicans and Democrats sit side by side. Some Christians, on the other hand, feel compelled to ignore the political process, to choose to not even exercise their right to vote lest they compromise their loyalty to God’s kingdom.
    The Christian Chronicle, a newspaper for Churches of Christ (the fellowship of churches of which I’m a part), included an entry in their blog this week entitled “Are Churches of Christ in the U.S. a Red State Movement?”. Three of four people in Churches of Christ, according to the blog, voted for Mitt Romney in this election, and roughly the same fraction live in a “red state”. So it would seem the answer might be “yes - Churches of Christ in the U.S. are a red state movement.”
    I wonder, though, as a resident of a “blue state”, if those numbers are an accurate representation of my Hispanic or African-American brothers and sisters? (My experience would suggest that they are not.) I wonder if they accurately represent the political leanings of many believers I know who live in urban communities, as opposed to suburban or rural. (Again, my experience would suggest that they do not.)
     All that’s to say that we’d best be careful - careful that we don’t assume that our opinions about “the issues,” our political leanings, are the Christian opinions or political leanings. Is someone more or less a Christian if she leans more “blue” or “red”? I would hope we wouldn’t think so, but I wonder.
    I wonder especially because of a post-election Facebook experience.  A “friend” of mine (I don’t really know him, we’re Facebook friends because of a mutual acquaintance), posted Wednesday morning that he would block anyone who posted something positive regarding the election. (Blocking is basically cutting off contact with the person you’ve blocked.) This is a Christian, a brother who’s willing to be quite vocal about both his faith and his politics - and yet he’s willing to cut off people who are vocal about their own different politics - or even positive about an election he’s not happy with.
    Here’s what I can’t help but wonder - when Jesus returns and all that’s left is God’s kingdom, will anyone still remember the election of 2012? Will “red” or “blue” matter in the least?
    And will my Facebook friend have his own little neighborhood where only people who once agreed with his politics live?
    If the answer to those questions is no - and I think it is - then let’s be careful not to confuse political parties with the kingdom of God, as though any party platform is wide enough or strong enough to support the gospel of Jesus. The political debates we might have are OK. It’s no problem to feel strongly about issues. As our President reminded us, those are the marks of our liberty. We should be thankful to our God for the freedom of political discourse.
    But don’t let that discourse alienate you from a brother or sister with whom you’ll share eternity in the kingdom of God. When your argument ends, shake their hand and kiss their cheek and remember that you share a higher citizenship than any earthly nation, a higher affiliation than any political party.
    Remember that there are no red states or blue states in the kingdom of God.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Voting for Good News


    He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me
         to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
         to set the oppressed free,
         to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
    Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
-Luke 4:16-21 (NIV)

A lot of long-time Chicagoans probably remember the name Dantrell Davis.
    It’s hard to believe that he’d be 27 years old today. If he had made it, that is, past 7.
    I had barely been in the city a year before Dantrell Davis died. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it only takes one idiot with a gun on a rooftop to kill one as he walks to school. That’s what happened to Dantrell on October 13th, 1992, one moment walking beside his mom on his way to school at Jenner Elementary, the next moment bleeding out on the sidewalk. He wasn’t the target, of course - kids that young rarely are in gang shootings. But bullets are stupid, and that day they went without objection where the shooter on the rooftop of one the buildings at the Cabrini-Green housing project sent them.
    Dantrell’s death made an impact, at least for a while, on the city of Chicago. For one thing, it brought the violence that had become part of life in the Cabrini-Green to the attention of Chicagoans whose kids didn’t have to walk between armed gangs to get to school. Someone finally decided that quarantining hundreds or thousands of people who had the same problems and struggles together into concrete towers served no purpose other than to make other folks feel better. Cabrini-Green, and the projects like them, were razed, replaced with mixed-income housing - though not as much as the city promised.
    Dantrell’s death even brought about a three-year truce between the gangs at Cabrini-Green. At the request of his mother.
    Today, most kids at Jenner don’t know the significance of the name on the honorary street sign outside their school. The school’s different now. Most of the teachers there weren’t there when Dantrell was killed. The neighborhood in which it’s located has gentrified in twenty years, and people with kids don’t send them to Jenner. Cabrini-Green is all but gone. Time marches on, and it has a way of erasing even the most painful memories. But it can also cause to forget the things we ought to remember.  
    In a few days, Americans get to exercise that unique privilege of democracy and choose those who will lead us for the next four years. Some pundits will tell us that this is the most important election in a generation, or even in history. Well, seems like they say that nearly every year. You’ll hear people say that the most important issues in this election are the economy, or national security, or foreign policy, or health care. Those are all important issues, of course, but they’re most important to those of us with the most to lose.
    Just because Cabrini-Green is gone, don’t imagine that there aren’t thousands of kids in Chicago who every day travel through gang-infested territory to learn. Don’t imagine that there aren’t schools in which the kids are just as familiar with what to do in the event of heavy gunfire as they are if a fire breaks out or a tornado is sighted. Don’t imagine that there aren’t families who house and educate their children in neighborhoods just like the one Dantrell Davis lived and died in twenty years ago. And don’t imagine they’re there because they want to be. They’re there because they go where the jobs are, and where they can afford a roof over their kids’ heads, and heat in the winter.
    I would argue that the upcoming election - all of them, really - are about those people. Because if “we, the people” fail folks like that, then I’m not sure we’re fit to govern ourselves.
    Jesus came into a world where poverty crushed human beings into the dirt and children died too young and faraway rulers did little to stop it. He came with the words of Isaiah on his lips - and the Spirit of God behind them - and announced good news. Good news to the poor. Freedom for the prisoners. Recovery of sight for the blind. Liberation for the oppressed. He came to announce that God had finally acted on his promises and had come to deliver his people from their poverty, bondage, blindness, and oppression. Isaiah intended those words as a glimpse of restoration in the promised land. Jesus appropriated them as a promise that God’s renewal and redemption of a broken creation had commenced in his coming.
    The fact that wealthy, comfortable Americans have sometimes appropriated Jesus’ promises to protect our own wealth and comfort - and legitimate our own self-interest - doesn’t change the fact that they’re promises especially for the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed. And we invite the Lord’s judgment when, through ignorance and selfishness, we align ourselves with those who perpetuate the status quo.  
    If you’re so inclined, vote on Tuesday. But vote like a citizen of the kingdom of God whose security is in Jesus and not in the things that politicians use to pander. Vote like someone who has no reason to be afraid of the horrors that politicians leverage to win votes. Vote like someone who follows the Lord in his desire to proclaim good news to neighborhoods - and cities - like the one that made Dantrell Davis’ death possible. But then don’t imagine that the proclamation of good news can be left to the politicians. As followers of Jesus, we still have to raise our voices. And we still have to act, and by our actions create a glimpse of the kingdom Jesus proclaimed among those most impoverished and imprisoned, blinded and oppressed, by the power brokers of our world.
    Maybe you’d rather not vote, rather not participate in a process so far removed from the kingdom Jesus proclaimed. That’s a valid choice too. But don’t imagine that the good news Jesus proclaimed is only about some heavenly place far away. He proclaimed it in the here and now, and his people are its incarnation.
    In a New York Times piece on Dantrell Davis’ death published the week he died, one of the kids at his school, 11-year-old Deon Crosby, eloquently summed up the issues that matter in this election. “I can't go to school without rolling under cars and dodging bullets,” he wrote in an essay. "I'm scared because it could be any of us.” And then he concluded, “I don't care about no Christmas presents. I thank God for waking up.”
     That’s a kid who needs good news. May we be equal to the task of sharing it.

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