First Impressions (1.28.2017)

Scripture Readings

In today’s Gospel passage the disciples ask, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”  It is a good question.  It is also a little bit of a strange question.  Who is this is something you ask someone on the phone or you might ask a stranger who they are.  However in this instance, Jesus’ disciples are asking, “Who then is this”?

We really only do this when we realize we got something seriously wrong about someone.  It might become evident to us that we missed a part of someone’s personality or that we grossly underestimated this person.

Asking “Who is this?” after we’ve known someone for a little while seems like a good indicator that our first impression was wrong.  For the disciples this happened too.  As they stood in awe they likely realized that their first impressions of Jesus missed the mark.

To many, Jesus appeared to be a teacher, and healer whose prayer had real power.  The apostles even wake him from his sleep with the title ‘teacher.’  But he shows himself to be far more than a teacher.

In the calming of the storm, it is telling that Jesus does not pray for the storm to be calm, but merely orders it to happen.  This seems to wreak the apostles’ first impression of Jesus.  Hence the wonder and awe they experienced.

What about us?  Do we remember our first impression of Jesus?  Should we hang on to this first impression or do we need let it go as we get to know him better?  Have we grossly underestimated Jesus?

– Spencer Hargadon

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We Mean Well… (01.21.2017)

Scripture Readings

Today’s Gospel is one of the shorter readings upon which we reflect.  It is a mere two verses.  Though these two verses contain a fascinating scene.  Jesus’ relatives deem him insane and seek to seize him.  Whoa, what is going on here?  I think it is a case of meaning well but having no idea.

Seizing a family member that you have collectively diagnosed as unstable might not sound like the definition of ‘meaning well’ but we should consider the circumstances.  Jesus is a Jew in Roman occupied Palestine.  He is contending with the Sadducees.  He is parrying the Pharisees.  And from the Roman’s perspective, He is amassing large followings with all of His “kingdom” talk.  He hasn’t gone out of his way to ensure that He has a stamp of approval from the establishment.  Then He shows up near home and His crowd is so massive that the people in the house can’t even eat.  To His relatives this might look like the work of a man who is trying to get Himself killed.  In turn, seizing Him might just be a way to keep Him safe.

However, I don’t think they get it.  They don’t get that He is doing ministry with the cross in mind.  He is radically available and so attractive to those in need because He is coming to them with one eye on His own hour of abject need.  All of His ministry is done under the shadow of the cross.  Not in the sense that His ministry has some defeatist attitude to it.  Rather, it is done in the freedom of His complete self-emptying.

The catch for us, the difficult catch, is that He calls us to that as well.  He calls us to live from the cross.  St. Paul in his letter to the Romans reminds us that in our baptism we were baptized into His death.  That we may rise with Him, yes, but we are already dead.  Jesus calls us to something similar with His words, “Whoever saves His life will lose it and whoever loses His life will save it.”  Christ has called us all to live under the freedom that flows from His cross.  The freedom that “cleanse[s] our consciences from dead works to worship the living God” as the author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us.

However sometimes we don’t get it.  Sometimes, we think Jesus might be going just a little too far.  And we seize Him and put Him away for a little while.  I think we mean well.  It’s just what He is suggesting sounds ludicrous.  He must be insane, right?

Today, be open to letting go of Jesus in an area of your life where you thought He was just a little too insane for what you were ready for.  Don’t seize Him.  Instead, let Him seize you.

Sick Days

Hosanna, our 16 month old daughter, had her first run in with a ‘stomach bug’ yesterday.  The poor little girl was bewildered that we wouldn’t let her drink more milk, that she took two baths in one day, and that she kept getting put in new clothes.  Conversely, I think she was pleasantly surprised by how much cuddle time and attention she got from Bess and me.  Isn’t that how it is supposed to be when you are sick?  Experience and today’s readings would seem to suggest, yes.

First, we hear Christ liken sinfulness to sickness in today’s Gospel.  He defends the special attention he gives to the tax collectors and sinners the same way that Bess and I would defend how we treated Hosanna yesterday.

Second, we lavish care and concern on Hosanna because we know what it is like to be sick.  With her 16 month vocabulary she can’t tell us exactly how she is feeling but we’ve been there and so we respond with greater compassion.  In the book of Hebrews we are reminded that this is similar to our relationship with Jesus.  It reads, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.”  Christ’s special affection for tax collectors and sinners comes from this sympathy.  I’m sure this sympathy was crafted all throughout Jesus’ human life but I imagine it is no mere coincidence that His ministry began with his trial in the desert.  There he truly faced the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  That time prepared Him for His ministry with the tax collectors and sinner but also for the Pharisees.

We best not forget the Pharisees.  They are similar to how my son (2 ¾ yrs) was feeling at the end of the day.  We did special things with him, but the poor little guy watched us care for Hosanna with a special affection.  It showed through little behaviors and then was captured when I was putting him to bed.  I was trying to explain why Hosanna was getting special treatment.  As I did I told him, “Mommy and Daddy love you.”
He said, “Why?”
I responded, “You’re our little Iggy-man.”
He then said, “No.”
“No, you’re not Iggy?  Then who are you?”
“I Hosanna.”  Then he laughed.
Joking or not, I think he captured that when we witness someone receiving a particular affection that we aren’t getting then something nags at us.  I think that is what nagged at the Pharisees in today’s gospel.

Jesus’s sympathy for our weakness extends to the offended Pharisee.  He is the all-holy God of the universe who has watched people time and again turn from his faithfulness.  The Old Testament likened Israel’s infidelity in religion to that of infidelity in a marriage.  However, it was that sympathy that I think lessened His patience with them.  Here they were standing aghast at who he ate with because they were offended on His behalf.  Instead of approaching the sick with concern they remained offended on God’s behalf, and thus show a misunderstanding of God.

As Jesus reveals God as Father and likens sinners and tax collectors to the sick, He makes it clear that God comes to us.  No parent would neglect their child out of disgust for vomit.  The Pharisees were right that God hated the sins like I hate throw-up.  But they were wrong to think that He hated the sinners, as if I could love Hosanna less for being sick.  Instead, He shows them a special affection that scandalizes and bewilders, but also pleasantly surprises those with eyes to see.

Eyes on the Prize

Scripture Readings

My son and I watched a little video yesterday about Christmas today.  He loved it and I did my best to enjoy a film made for a 3-year-old.  Due to my heroic efforts I caught some interesting tidbits.  They talked about Christmas encouraging us to be generous, the challenge of Jesus’ humble birth, and Christ’s mission to lead us to heaven.  It was that third topic that came to mind again as I read the first reading, particularly, “[Jesus Christ] is the true God and eternal life.”  For John to call Jesus ‘eternal life’ seemed strange to me but I believe that is a failing on my part, not a peculiarity of John.

John’s language would be immensely appreciated by a friend of mine who likes to say, “Heaven isn’t Iowa, people.”  Meaning, Heaven is not this place I can’t wait to vacation to over there.  Heaven isn’t the happiest place, it is the participation in the pure joy that is the life of the Trinity.  In the same sense, eternal life is not a thing that I have or don’t have.  Having eternal life isn’t like owning a pair of shoes.  It isn’t even about being immortal.  We all possess immortal souls.  Instead, John challenges us to break our normal perception of eternal life so that it shifts from a thing to a person.

Eternal life is God, the eternal wellspring of all life.  Therefore, to have eternal life is to have God dwelling within us.  It means that we partake in the divine nature. Thus, in turn, heaven is not some place over there but the fullest participation in that communion with eternal life.  Heaven is not us finishing the race and God rewarding us with something other than Himself.  It is not about finally eating without getting fat, or watching the best movies without getting bored, or always doing our favorite things forever.  No, the reward of heaven, rather the gift of heaven, is God Himself.

This perspective change is healthy for us.  Sometimes we try to walk in God’s grace as disciples with this second guessing in the back of our minds.  We question whether we are seeking to please the Lord because we love Him or because we want eternal life.  That is only a dilemma when we forget that the Lord we love and serve is eternal life.  Instead, to remember that God is the eternal life He promises opens me to pursue His heart and will with single-minded obedience.

There is no dilemma between keeping our eyes on God and on the prize when we remember that the prize is God Himself.

Like the Dawn

Scripture Readings

I love canticles.  I ‘can’t’ get enough of them.  Seriously though, I think the great canticles of the scripture capture the greatness and beauty of God, but also serve a secondary purpose.  They encourage us to let the joy of our hearts burst forth from our lips in a song of praise.  Each and every one of us has a canticle in our heart.  I’m such a firm believer of this that I once took a canticle I wrote to our parish council as the opening prayer, though I quickly learned that asking people to pray something with your name on it in size 28 font is a little awkward.  Anyway, my love of canticles has drawn me to today’s gospel, the Canticle of Zechariah.

In particular I was drawn to the last words of the gospel.  I think the final words expressing what God is doing through the incarnation are powerful words for us to reflect on before Christmas tomorrow morning.

In the tender compassion of our God…

This compassion is important.  The scandal of God’s love came to a culmination on the cross, but began at his birth.  A distant God with good intentions, or even a severe God with a sense of duty, would save us with a distant decree.  But it is our truly loving God that saves us by coming to our level.  Pope Francis words it like this, “God saves us not with a decree, but a caress.”  The scandal of the incarnation, of the manger turned crib, is the affirmation of the tender compassion of God.

the dawn from on high shall break upon us,…

This love is not something I earn any more than I earn the sunlight in the morning.  That will break upon me regardless.  Receiving that sunlight can change the way I live, but I cannot thwart the rising of the sun and nor can I compel the Lord to stop loving.

to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

And what does this love do.  It saves us.  It reaches those dwelling in darkness.  It saves us from something.  But it also guides us toward peace.  It saves us for something.  Or rather he does.  Jesus not only saves us from darkness but guides us into peace.

So as we prepare for Christmas tomorrow, let us offer great thanksgiving for what we have been saved from and ask for guidance toward what we are being saved for.

– Spencer Hargadon

The Generator of New Beginnings

Scripture Readings

Today’s readings include the genealogy from Matthew.  A few years ago I would have likely skipped it entirely.  Maybe, just maybe, I would have skimmed it.  My assumption would have been something like this, “Here are some Old Testament greats to help set up why Jesus is so great.”  In those few years I’ve become more familiar with Scripture and have realized how wrong that assumption would be. Continue reading “The Generator of New Beginnings”

Jesus Delivers (12.3.2016)

Scripture Readings

This is hard to admit but here it is.  The second most common lie I tell (the most common is the “I have read and understand the terms and conditions” box) is “I’ll pray for you” or some variation of that sentence.  I make the promise and then something hinders me.  Maybe it is my own forgetfulness or my time for prayer gets rushed, etc. Why I fail to follow through is irrelevant.  The reality is, my follow through in this regard does not match that of Jesus’ in today’s gospel. Continue reading “Jesus Delivers (12.3.2016)”

Seasons

book_of_eli_posterBess and I just watched The Book of Eli.  It was a re-watching for both of us but it was the first time we watched it together.  For me, I was also watching it in a very different season of life.

It is so interesting the impact that can have on us.  When I first saw the movie, shortly out of college, I was interested in how the movie used the Bible to construct a post-apocalyptic action movie.

When watched it recently, as an active Christian, I was so interested in what they had to say about the Bible and how they treated it.  As the credits rolled I really wanted to know if the Hughes brothers and Gary Whitta (who, btw, IMDB credits as a writer for Star Wars: Rogue One) have a deeper level to the story or was the Bible just a convenient storytelling device familiar to most western audiences.

Anyway, it has just been interesting to reflect on how drastically our different seasons of life change how we process the same information.

Questions & Answers

Scripture Readings

Today’s gospel passage is a good one.  Jesus deftly outmaneuvers the wily Sadducees, juking at the last second to deliver a slam dunk answer.  Jesus’ answer was so good that “they no longer dared to ask him anything”… wait, what?

Is that the point?  To scare people into silence.  Was Jesus in the business of shutting down silly questions so people would just leave him alone and give him a moment of peace?  I don’t think so.  I think there is another layer to this story that we can peel back that issues a challenge for us regarding questions & answers.

I never saw this additional layer until a read a book on the Deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament (the books recognized as scripture by Catholics but not Protestants.)  The book offers an interesting thought regarding this scene that I wish to paraphrase.  It goes something like this.

This passage in Luke can make the Sadducees look a little silly.  They’ve been planning and conniving the ultimate ‘Jesus stumper,’ so they cook up some ridiculous story of 7 male relatives marrying the same woman and all dying without having kids.  This hardly seems like the best option.  Isn’t there a chance that Jesus would just look at them, disregard the whole scenario as ridiculous and say, “Bring me something more realistic next time.”

At this point the author argues that we should give the Sadducees a little more credit.  He proposes that they didn’t make up this scenario but are lifting it straight from the pages of Tobit; a book recognized as scripture by some Jews but not the Sadducees.  Luke only tells us they were trying to trap Jesus regarding the resurrection from the dead, but they were trying to corner him by ensuring that he couldn’t just dismiss the scenario.  They thought they had Jesus in a catch – 22.  If Jesus said the whole scenario was ridiculous they would ask him if He was rejecting Tobit, but if He didn’t dismiss the scenario they thought he would get stuck talking in circles about who would be married to whom, leaving them ample holes to exploit.  Instead he answered so well that, “they no longer dared to ask him anything.”

Why?

Because they weren’t asking to learn, grow, or be challenged but to fight, win, and be right.  They were not asking questions from a position of humility but pride.  Their questions weren’t truly questions at all.  They did not wish to dialogue with Jesus but have him follow their diatribe’s script.

We still struggle with that temptation.  We don’t dialogue well.  We want to tell people why the things that are important to us should be the only things that matter to them.  I want to prove my point not open my conclusion to review.  We have seen this in its full blown reality in the recent election and its aftermath.  There have been so many diatribes, but so few dialogues.

Does this mean that we become conversational doormats?  No.  Jesus in today’s gospel did not shy away from offering the Sadducees a great defense.  We need to have the wisdom to answer questions honestly and without fear of saying what we believe.  But how does Jesus do that?  By quoting the Torah, the portion of the Bible that the Sadducees viewed as Scripture.  He spoke their language.

Jesus invited the Sadducees to dialogue about Eternal Life (and what is Scripture), but they were so diatribe driven that they shut the dialogue down.

As disciples, we strive to talk like Jesus.  We are not afraid to express what we believe, but we try and do it in a language others will understand, for our goal is always an invitation for dialogue.  A dialogue in which we hope the Word of God speaks far louder than any of our own words.

– Spencer Hargadon

A Man Without Ghosts: My Review of Hacksaw Ridge

Remember, remember the 5th of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and plot.
I can think of no reason,
The Gunpowder Treason,
Should ever be forgot.

hacksaw_ridge_posterI realize that is an unusual way to start a review of Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge.  However, it was on November 5th that my father-in-law, mother-in-law, wife and I went and saw the film.  For many years my movie memories for November 5th all came from V for Vendetta.  Now, a new movie has been burned into my brain.  I want to share a few thoughts reviewing and revisiting this movie that left a tremendous impact on me.  I warn you, there will likely be spoilers, but it can’t be worse than NPR’s strange headline from the movie’s release date: “The Real ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Soldier Saved 75 Souls Without Ever Carrying A Gun.”

Narrative, not Documentary

dossmeIf you are unfamiliar with this film it tells the incredible story of WWII medic and conscientious objector, Desmond Doss, whose actions on Okinawa won him the Medal of Honor.  He truly was an incredible man of courage, strength, resolve, and conscience.  The movie captures that about him.  It doesn’t do that by nailing every fact, but by presenting his story in a comprehensible narrative.  Some facts get streamlined, or tweaked so that they can communicate the essence of what happened without the film needing a narrator.  Unfortunately, this actually, meant leaving out some of his remarkable courage, not adding to it (if you see the movie, just compare it to his Medal of Honor citation).   So if you are a nit-picky fact checker, be warned, this is a narrative retelling of this inspiring man’s service, not a documentary.

Violence not Action

6th-marine-divisionIn this narrative retelling, Gibson uses many tools.  One of the hardest tools to watch is the violence.  And I mean violence, not action.  At one point in the movie, Bess leaned over and whispered “I don’t like this part…I want it to be over.”  I said nothing, but in my head I responded with, “I don’t think you are supposed to like it.”  That part was the middle of an extended battle scene that was brutal.  It was different from a gory action movie though.  Most of the violence that evoked a response of “Jesus,” from the viewer behind me was inflicted on American soldiers.  You saw hard to watch violence inflicted on Japanese soldiers, but most of the time you saw Americans dying.  This did not come off as an attempt to dehumanize the Japanese.  Instead, this took what could have become a bloody action scene and turned it into a gut wrenching window into the hell these men lived through.  It was terrible, and you were supposed to feel that way.

Manifesting Magnitude

It is the violence that I warn people about before they go see the movie, but I also clarify that I don’t think Gibson was wrong to include it.  In interviews, I have heard Gibson speak about wanting the audience to be stirred to respond to the needs of returning veterans.  In someways he made audiences squirm through those horrific scenes as a way of calling us out when we judge a veteran on a street corner.  That reason alone would be enough for me, but there is a second reason the violence seemed, dare I say, appropriate.  It truly was a narrative tool.

hacksaw-ridge-mel-gibsonSee for anyone who has never heard how brutal the Pacific theater was in World War II, or how terrible Okinawa was, or how horrendous the fight on Hacksaw Ridge was, then the immensity of Desmond Doss’ decision is lost.  To even begin to understand the magnitude of what this man did.  To understand the courage and strength he found in his faith as he responded again and again to the call of “medic.”  You need to understand the hell-on-earth that Hacksaw Ridge was.  I think that is truly achieved in this film.

A Peaceful Alternative

mv5bmtg3njiymdcwn15bml5banbnxkftztcwmda2mjqxmw-_v1_uy268_cr20182268_al_Fortunately, if you can’t, or don’t want to, put yourself through that experience you can still witness Doss’ story.  There is a documentary called the Conscientious Objector.  It is not flashy.  Nor is it super cinematic or fast moving.  However, it is good.  Doss’ story alone will keep you engaged, but even more than that, Desmond himself will intrigue you.

A Clean Conscience – A Man without Ghosts

moh-dossAll throughout the documentary, and even at the end of Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, you are confronted by a striking reality.  Doss seems like a man with a clear conscience.  He was a man that witnessed some of the most horrendous wounds war can produce in a theater of battle where medics were intentionally targeted and lured to their deaths.  Yet, in all his interviews, his joy and peace are visible.  This is a man who suffered through the long battle of following his conscience and finished his days with the joy of that victory.  I think this is what fascinated Mel Gibson.  In so many of his movies, Gibson presents us with haunted men.  Men who did too much, like Benjamin Martin in The Patriot, or men who did too little too late, like William Wallace in Braveheart.  In Desmond Doss, Gibson found a man without ghosts.

As I walked away from Hacksaw Ridge I felt haunted.  I realized that what Gibson’s movie achieved was two-fold.  I was convicted by this paradoxical man who was a conscientious objector who won the Medal of Honor.  I was convicted that I have unjustly ignored the struggles of veterans in my struggles with how I view war.  And I was convicted by how easily I silence my conscience when it will require a sacrifice on my part.  I think that is how we breed ghosts.  Because instead of dying to ourselves we ask someone else to die for us.  Instead of responding to Christ’s call to carry my cross daily, I lay it upon another’s shoulders.

Desmond’s story reminds me that to live without ghosts means modeling Christ’s own entry into our mess.  When I reach those times that I have to choose between my own comfort and ease or responding to whatever that cry of medic sounds like.  I hope I remember Desmond’s simple prayer, “Lord, let me get one more.”

Hacksaw Ridge is a great movie.  It is hard to watch.  But then again, to live without ghosts is harder still.