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There is a Season, Turn, Turn, Turn…

September 30, 2011

The season is turning again. You can feel it in the air, and you can see it in the leaves. You can feel it in the chill each morning and in every evening when the sun goes down just a little sooner each night.

Turn, turn, turn. The season is turning, not only with the weather, but for me as well. I have spent the past season living and working on the family plot on Roper Rd. just north of Cumming, GA. The farm house has seen a lot of changes in just the past couple of weeks, not to mention the last three months. This is only a part of the reason I haven’t updated the blog in so long; I’ve had my days full and in the evenings I have been loathe to spend the hour or more up at the Kroger at Greens Corners that it takes to come up with something to type about and then actually type it.

But tomorrow: turn, turn, turn; there is a season, turn, turn, turn; and a time for every purpose under heaven.

In the morning I’ll be driving down through Americus to the Koinonia Partners farm, where folks of all stripes have been farming and discussing the Kingdom of God together for well-nigh 70 years. I’ll be spending this next season on “that hippie commune” (as some have lovingly called it) helping in the farm chores, discussing christian discipleship, and learning just about everything there is to know about pecans (correctly pronounced PEE-cans, as I’ve been told).

For those readers of mine who don’t know, the Koinonia Partners farm has been in THE premiere mail-order pecan farming outfit coming out of Americus, GA, ever since some time in the 50’s, when they essentially invented this market, by necessity, after the local community banded together to boycott their unseemly regard for the equal treatment of African Americans. See, Koinonia was founded as a “demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God,” and what that meant to its founders (and to its inhabitants today, for that matter) was treating people as people, with equal dignity  as children of God, and without regard for the color of their skin. Well, in rural south Georgia, under the genteel southern sensibilities of Jim Crow segregation, treating niggers like people just wasn’t something that most folks were ready and willing to do. You must understand.

So they organized this here boycott. Nobody in Americus was to buy, sell, or trade with the Koinonia Partners, so long as they persisted in their backwards, communist, integrationist agenda. It was for the good of the wider community, after all. Well, the folks at Koinonia weren’t about to compromise in their historically victorious–though contemporarily controversial–interpretation of the Good News that God revealed through Jesus Christ. They decided that the only solution to this impasse was to “ship the nuts out of Georgia.” So that’s just what they did. They started a mail-order business, reaching across the nation, that has thrived ever since. Times do seem to change however, as just a year or so ago, the Koinonia farm was recognized as a business pioneer by the Americus Chamber of Commerce, the very same body which organized the afore-mentioned boycott some 60 years prior. Indeed: turn, turn, turn.

Koinonia also happens to be the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity, believe it or not. Habitat’s founder, Millard Fuller, lived at Koininia with his wife, Linda, and kids for a few years in the 60’s, leaving behind a lucrative but hollow career as a lawyer to live in christian community and work together with two of Koinonia’s founders, Clarence and Florence Jordan. During this time, Millard and Clarence saw the poverty in Sumter County and realized that they and their fellow Koinonians could serve God in their neighbors by building them better housing with the resources they had available to them. It was from these humble beginnings that Millard was eventually sent out from Koinonia to establish the international mission that has helped so many millions into the present day. So no, Jimmy Carter didn’t found Habitat for Humanity. Common misconception. He is much more famous than Millard, and he’s from the same area. Plains, GA is only about 7 miles from Americus. But Jimmy only started volunteering with and advocating for Habitat after his presidency. Habitat had been around a few years already by that time.

Anyway, for the next three months or so, I’ll be focusing my blogging efforts toward the daily/weekly goings on at the Koinonia farm, and on the personal, spiritual, and agricultural lessons I’ll be learning while I’m there. I hope you’ll check back here with some frequency. I’ll try to be good about posting at least one blog a week, maybe more if I’m able.

Should you wish to learn more about the Koinonia Partners farm and what they are currently doing, or if you feel like visiting, you can go to their website, at www.koinoniapartners.org. It’s definitely worth the trip, though you’ll need to give them a couple weeks’ notice, so that they can arrange the proper hospitality for someone like you.

And of course, you are more than welcome to send me a care package. Just mail it to:

Mitch Roper
c/o Koinonia Partners
1324 GA Hwy 49 S.
Americus, GA  31719

Disclaimer: by no means whatsoever should you feel obligated to do so. Anything I get will be a complete surprise and will be greatly appreciated. Mainly I just wanted to make sure that anyone needing to reach me has my new address. But if you do feel like sending me something, far be it for me to deter you from doing so.

Lastly–you know I couldn’t leave this out–you can watch an early performance of The Byrds’ hit song, from which the title of this post was derived, below.

So, until next time, may the peace of Christ (and a little discomfort) be with you!

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Are you ready for combat?

September 2, 2011

This oversized tractor-trailer dominated my view on the morning of Friday, April 15, 2011 as I stepped outside of the Presbyterian Student Center to check the mailbox. I know now that this is a reference to the new Nike “Pro Combat” uniforms that the Bulldogs will be playing in tomorrow in their season opener against Boise State at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. But back in April, I had no idea. Just what is this all about? I wondered, more distracted by the vehicle’s size and its location–directly in front of the PSC’s driveway, blocking the entrance for anyone who might be turning left into the parking lot as they traveled north on Lumpkin Street–to notice at first glance what was written in size 5,000 font across the side.

NIKE FOOTBALL: PREPARE FOR COMBAT.

Interesting.

Y’know, College Football season officially starts tomorrow. Prepare for combat, indeed.

For some time now, I’ve had my own thoughts about the social class categories that American society shares with the caste system in India. For a quick and dirty (though by no means scholarly) explanation of that system, you can go here. Just what do I mean by that? I mean that, here in America, we have certain social classes that everyone knows about, which in their own ways could roughly compare to the castes of Indian society. I’m not trying to say that class/caste sociology in America is anywhere similar to that in India–I’ve never been there, so I wouldn’t know–but that we have certain classes which could be seen as lining up with those of India’s castes. Let me demonstrate.

 At the top, we have Brahmins, the religious leaders. True, not everyone in America is religious, but among those who are, and even those who aren’t many religious leaders in our society are held at a distance, revered even, as being somehow different than the rest of us. Below that, you have the Kshatriya caste, which is composed of the rulers and the warriors. I’m going to  skip over my American comparison to this one for a moment, because this will actually constitute the majority of the discussion, as you’ll see. Below the Kshatriya caste we have the Viasya–the business owners, the bankers, the local politicians. Those in this social stratum in America enjoy some of the “preferred” status afforded to the higher levels in society, but are close enough to the “average Joe” that they aren’t held at an arm’s length. You might even invite them to your Labor Day cookout, or you’d feel good about being invited to theirs. This level really constitutes the Middle Class, or perhaps what the Middle Class is supposed to be. It’s sad to say that these days the true “Middle Class” worker seems to be a vanishing breed. Which brings me to the Sudras, the unskilled workers. While the origins of the caste might have reserved this status for field hands and servants, I’d venture to say that for the purposes of this comparison, this class includes just about anyone who works in a cubicle for a company whose owner they’ve never met. I’m not trying to say that folks with computer skills are “unskilled;” in fact, what I’m saying has more to do with how we view these skilled workers than anything else. In our technologically-immersed (read: technology-dependent) society, being a “skilled” worker gets you less mileage than it used to. This is also an area where the analogy breaks down a bit. There are truly “unskilled’ workers in our society, and then there are those with education and skills, who still find that their options are more limited than perhaps they should be. Take my friend Chris, who has years of experience as an IT and a knack for graphic design:  he works in a restaurant, like so many others. Finally, below everyone, are the pariahs of society, the untouchables. While In India this caste may be reserved for only the most hapless folks–lepers, for example–in America the untouchables are the homeless, the addicted, and those we suspect of being “illegals.” I find it fitting that this caste, of any, was labeled in the above diagram as “Children of God.” But that discussion is for another time. I’ll now return to the Kshatriya class, the rulers and the warriors.

Our highest government officials, our celebrities (those who rule our cultural lives), and even the heads of certain financial institutions (those who rule our fiscal lives) are in many ways held upon a pedestal in our society. So too, are our warriors. Our men and women in uniform, from those in the Armed Forces to our policemen and firemen, are often shown in various situations on TV in slow motion, or on billboards with some inspiring words off to the side. These warriors of ours, who defend our way of life from intruders, are honored for their service, and well they should be, for their duty is tremendous.

In recent years however–I’m thinking, oh, about a decade or so–I’ve noticed a heightened cultural sensitivity to the jobs these men and women have. It can be seen in the ubiquitous yellow ribbons adorning vehicles up and down the freeway, or in the special attention our servicemen and women receive in television advertisements and when boarding commercial airliners (“Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to take the opportunity to ask you to show your appreciation for all of our men and women in uniform who will be flying with us today,” followed by sometimes raucous applause).

While I do not begrudge this special treatment, or hope to suggest in any way that these servicemen and women are not to be thanked or honored for their sacrifices, I find it telling that in the years since 2001, when our impenetrable sense of American privilege was shattered on that bright September morning, we have taken it as a matter of course to elevate and even exalt  only the role of the warrior class in our society. So let me ask you this, in full recognition of the sacrifices and service that our military and law enforcement personnel give us all: when was the last time you saw someone stop in public to thank someone wearing a pair of scrubs? I wonder what sort of national catastrophe it might take for us to embark upon so fierce a campaign to honor our schoolteachers and hospital workers, for all the sacrifices and service they give us, as we have for the last decade to honor our military men and women.

This is the big question I wanted to challenge you with today, the big question I’ve been ruminating over for about two weeks, when it first came up over diner with my parents.

But what does any of this have to do with Nike Football, Mitch?

I also wanted to challenge you in this way: what if the exaltation of the military mindset is so prevalent in our society that we don’t even realize we are turning our athletes into warriors? Not literally, of course, but culturally–subtly–and in so doing we are reinforcing the very militant mindset that has given rise to anti-muslim, anti-immigrant, and generally anti-foreign sentiment that now pervades our American social psyche?

NIKE FOOTBALL: PREPARE FOR COMBAT.

“Football strategy is like war-time strategy,” I once heard a moderately drunken gentlemen in his late 50’s slur to his buddy behind me in the stands of Sanford Stadium. Inside the sporting arena, even refined gentlemen are allowed to hate, despise, and wish death upon the enemy members of the opposing team. I’m sorry, did I say ‘allowed?’ I meant to say ‘encouraged.’  And perhaps this discussion is the long-foregone conclusion of the irony I noted at the old man’s remarks on that September day some seven years ago. The sports rivalry is perhaps the last bastion of “us/them” hatred left disguised in our civil society, and I only want to unmask it, and call it what it is. This, so as to approach it more cautiously, more intentionally, and not get carried away with the reckless abandon that I used to, especially on Georgia Football Gamedays.

That being said, Go Dawgs. Sic ’em.

Until next time, may the Peace of Christ (and a little discomfort) be with you!

Jesus was a day laborer

August 31, 2011

That’s right. Jesus wasn’t a carpenter. He was a day laborer.

I searched Google Images for "Hispanic Jesus," but this was the best I could find.

Don’t believe me?  I remember hearing once that the Greek word τέκτων (pronounced tek-ton), which was translated in the King James Bible (and ever since) as ‘carpenter,’ could also mean, among other things, ‘someone who works with their hands.’ Not to leave things to hearsay, I’ve just done an exhaustive Google web search that took me all of about two minutes, and two different bible lexicon websites I found (which you can check here and here) confirm that τέκτων has multiple meanings other than ‘carpenter.’ Though the exact definition I’d heard, ‘someone who works with their hands,’ is not among these, I’d say that it’s reasonable to assume that a ‘craftsman’ or ‘workman’ is someone who works with their hands.

Not only was Jesus a day laborer, he was also homeless (Matthew 8:20 & Luke 9:58)

It’s interesting to learn that the alleged occupation of both Jesus and his adopted daddy Joseph (see Matthew 13:55 & Mark 6:3) could be translated from Greek as something other than carpenter. It’s also interesting to re-cast Jesus as a ‘workman,’ instead of a carpenter, especially given the many and varied references in his parables to ‘workmen,’ people who might be more readily identified in our time as field hands, or day laborers. I say this because it occurs to me that if you were to travel around, spending basically all of your time teaching and preaching to people about things they may well have never considered before, you’d inevitably draw on your own experience, explaining things in terms that you are familiar with, as well as things that your audience is familiar with. Given Jesus’ many parables–using not only day laborers and workmen, but also various images of farming and field work–to explain the Kingdom of God, I can’t help but think that Jesus had some experience with a few of these things. Taken in tandem with a Greek word whose definition has a certain malleability in its definition that King James never intended us to know about, and we have a strengthening case for a Day Laborer Messiah.

Perhaps that’s the other reason this idea appeals to me so much. It seems so perfectly in line with everything else the Gospels teach, that the Messiah should come from such a lowly occupation. It’s almost offensive, isn’t it? Pairing our Lord n’ Savior with the  second-class status of a day laborer. But perhaps what’s most offensive about that connection is the unspoken implication that comes with it: if Jesus was a day laborer, then somehow this occupation (rather than carpentry) should be elevated and respected. Never mind the fact that most day laborers are often underpaid to do work that no one else is willing to do; if Jesus was a day laborer, then day laborers are somehow special, even important, just by virtue of the fact that they share an occupation with the Big Boss man. Next you’ll try to tell me that immigrants shouldn’t be called illegal, or that they’re full-fledged people; you might even try to convince me that the Jewish Messiah opened up God’s blessings to a bunch of dirty Gentiles. Please.

I’m thinking about all this to begin with because early this morning I drove into town and picked up a couple guys to help me crawl around under a house in some of the tightest, dirtiest spots you’ll ever try to squeeze through outside of a caving expedition, and put down a layer of plastic lining which will act as a moisture barrier. For those who don’t know, I’m currently living in Cumming, GA and I’m working with my dad to renovate and remodel a house that’s been in our family for over a hundred years, back to when my great grandfather built it in 1898.

I spent the better part of the morning getting down and dirty–literally–with these two hermanos, Gabriel and Victor, who came to Georgia from Mexico City as early as nine years ago to seek better economic opportunities. My dad paid them $75 for the three-and-a-half-hour job, which we thought would take the better part of 6 hours, and we bought them lunch before I dropped them off again. It’s not the first time we’ve worked with them either; I first met Gabriel a couple weeks ago when we picked him and two other guys up and paid them to remove the vinyl siding from the house.

It seems natural (or typical, anyway) that this should segue into a political discussion about immigration policy, economics and human rights. However, I feel that if you want that discussion, you could find it, more comprehensive and better-informed, by turning elsewhere. I think the news of Georgia farm worker shortages earlier this summer says enough about the economic impact of HB 87, and I don’t intend to rehash all of that again right here.

But I know what you’re thinking–not all of you, of course, but surely one or two–are Gabriel and Victor here illegally? Honestly, I don’t know; nor do I care. But ask yourself this: was Jesus?

Until next time, may the Peace of Christ (and a little discomfort) be with you!

Some thoughts about the end times

August 25, 2011

I wanna talk a bit about the end times, since we’re in them.

I want to start off by discussing a bit about what I understand of dispensational theology, since this is by and large the school of thought that Americans, christian and non, associate with the phrase. You may be surprised that I am not even going to mention the term ‘rapture’ at all in this post (save that one). I’ll save that idea for another time, since this discussion will be long enough without it. What I want to address, however, are a couple fundamental problems that I believe this theological school of thought holds in relation to the mission that christians have in the world. To these ends, dispensational theology errs in its (mis)understandings that (a) God initiated two separate covenants with humanity, and (b) that the modern secular state of Israel is to be conflated with the ancient biblical nation (people group) of Israel.

Addressing my first point, the idea that God initiated two separate covenants for humanity–one through Abraham, for the Jewish people, and one through Jesus for all who believe in him–is predicated upon a compartmentalized interpretation of scripture, and it waters down the power of the Gospel of Christ. The Gospel truth is that there is only one covenant, the covenant that was begun with Abraham and renewed through Jesus. True, Jesus said, “this is the cup of the new covenant, sealed in my blood,” but I believe that this “new covenant” is simply a RE-newing, and a broadening and opening up, of the original covenant with Abraham.

If we follow the line of dispensational theology, then there are two separate covenants: one which promises a physical kingdom to the Jewish people, and one which promises a spiritual kingdom to followers of Jesus Christ. Both are interpreted to be eternal, since God’s Word endures forever. That first, physical kingdom was demolished and has not been (fully) restored to its grandest borders, according to dispensationalist thinkers. That second, spiritual Kingdom is, of course, The Kingdom of God, which dispensationalists interpret in the modern context to mean Christendom, or the nominally christian powers of the world.

According to this end-times theology, the modern secular state of Israel, which is the modern iteration of that first kingdom, must first be restored to the boundaries of the ancient kingdom at its height, and then the fullness of the Second Covenant can be enacted, when Jews by and large will convert to Christianity–when, presumably, they’ll finally have a collective “a-ha!” moment and realize that Jesus was and is the long-awaited Savior. Following this, I believe the line of thinking goes that there must be some monumental global upheaval, so that a literal reading of “the tribulation” in the Revelation of John can be satisfied, and then Jesus can come back to lead the climactic battle of Armageddon–finally!–which no doubt will involve this new united covenantal army of christian believers on one side, and some large, demonically-controlled force, (maybe Islam?) on the other. These two will battle it out, the good guys will win, the bad guys who don’t believe in Jesus will be defeated and thrown into hell, and then, as the inspiring music comes in and the credits begin to roll, God’s vision of communion with humanity (or those left of it who believe the right stuff) can, at long last, ensue. Forever.

It’s worth noting that, though I haven’t actually read the best-selling Left Behind religious fiction series, I’m pretty sure that a lot of the general outline for this end times timeline, which is widely accepted among American evangelicals, comes from the pages of the very same.

It’s also worth quoting Jesus right now, to hear his take on the end-times:

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:36-39, TNIV)

Let’s also remember that even Paul, that pre-eminent evangelizing apostle and theologian who had a close personal encounter with the Lord, had the end-times forecast wrong. He thought Jesus would return within his lifetime; it seems that christians ever since have been making the same mistaken conclusion.

Now, in the logical conclusion of the preceding dispensationalist scenario, Jewish people who do not come to believe in Jesus Christ serve no other cosmic or historical purpose than to rebuild an ancient kingdom (so God can’t be called a liar) and then die and burn in hell. This is anti-semitism at its worst, because it even purports to support the Jewish people (through support of the modern secular state of Israel) while still relegating them to hell unless they change who they are.

This gets into my second point. Support for Israel as a proxy for support for Jewish people the world over is a woeful misdirection of intention and energy. Support for Israel doesn’t seek, necessarily, the well-being of Jewish people individually in their particular contexts, but rather, the well-being the secular state that claims to have in mind the best interests of all Jews everywhere. Dispensationalist support for Israel, especially, disregards the hopes and aspirations of many Jews who have legitimate criticisms with what the secular state of Israel does in their names. Dispensationalist support for Israel tries to conform Jews to a particular role within a specific end times scenario, and has no regard for those who don’t eventually fit that mold. It substitutes a governmental institution for millions of actual people, and serves only to pursue the interests of the political group in power in Israel, which happens to be continuing an agenda of illegal land and resource annexation at the expense of many Palestinians, Christian and Muslim alike. This may come as a shock to many American evangelicals and supporters of Israel, but the agenda of this modern state–founded by secularist Jewish nationalists (and socialists at that!)–is not God’s agenda. Dispensationalist theology would have you disagree with that statement. However, if we are open to the idea that God, through Jesus Christ, renews that original covenant with Abraham, rather than setting up a separate covenant, then a very different world is possible.

Interestingly, this was the first google images result for "end times."

Let me take a very brief (read: long) tangent, in order to come around to the point. I believe that in all Jesus accomplishes throughout scriptural accounts of his life, death, and resurrection, he is reinterpreting mistaken views of the original covenant between God and Abraham. In this way, he is very much like the prophets who came before him. Throughout the centuries before Jesus, Israel strayed again and again from God’s vision for his Covenant people: they worshipped golden images, which was a sin of materialism/idolatry; they built a temple like the other nations, so as to keep the untamable God attached to a particular place, (see 1 Samuel 8 ) and this was a sin of not following one’s own unique vocation, as well as a sin of idolatry, if you think about it; they abused their neighbors and those in society whom they could exert power over instead of acting in charity, which was a sin of fear/greed/inhospitality; as well as many other things. For these reasons, the initial prophets came in the first place, to remind Israel of its original calling to be a peculiar, loving, nomadic people through which God could bless the whole world by their example. I believe Jesus came to do likewise, but he wanted to start from the ground up. He came usher in the full vision of that covenant with Abraham, a vision that he called the Kingdom of God. He came to establish God’s Kingdom on earth NOW (in his time, 2000 years ago) and for evermore. that is to say that God’s ultimate end times plan starts with Jesus 2000 years ago, not with the supposed re-establishment of the historical Kingdom of Israel sometime in the future.

Jesus, I believe, took upon himself the role of Israel as it should have been, and began to bless the whole world, Jews and unclean Gentiles alike. It’s almost as if Jesus, in establishing his “New” covenant, now says, “Since we’re obviously having a hard time keeping this covenant in tact, I’m going to assume the place of Israel, and I’ll make a new covenant with you, all of you: follow me, take my teachings to heart and do like I do, and it will be like you’re keeping to the old covenant (because if you do like I do then you will be).” And of course, Jesus opens this offer up to any and all who might take it (and take it seriously, at that.) Paul, in his letter to the Romans (Chapter 4), rightly interprets the covenant relationship with Abraham and his descendants to be contingent upon their faith relationship with God, not their exact keeping of the letter of the Law, nor by their blood relation with Abraham, and John the Baptizer says as much in pre-Jesus ministry (Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8). Jesus also made these words manifest throughout his ministry (with Gentiles!) in the region. Furthermore, he did the work, through establishing his (re)new(ed) covenant, of making sure the whole world is blessed and able to participate. We, as his disciples, ought to go and do likewise, “for students are not above their teacher, nor servants above their master” (Matthew 10:24, TNIV). Our goal shouldn’t be to “convert non-believers to christianity” (note that formalized christian religion didn’t exist until some 300 years after Jesus!) but to spread the love, teachings, and example of Jesus with all whom we meet, and in THIS way, to make true followers (disciples) of all people groups (nations), regardless of their given religious labels (christian, muslim, hindu, buddhist, jew). I believe that this is what Jesus really meant in his Great Commission. In this way, we aren’t merely converting their religion (exchanging it like you might exchange currency in a foreign country), but rather TRANSFORMING PEOPLE’S LIVES, as Jesus and his earliest disciples did.

The vision given in John’s revelation is often misunderstood, and still mysterious, even though there is a scholarly consensus that it was a coded message to contemporary christians regarding an end to Roman persecution.

It is not, however, the script for some Left Behind style Armageddon. If it were, then there is still room for both good guys and bad guys; in short, people are allowed to remain enemies. But this is the one thing in the whole world that the Kingdom  of God doesn’t have room for!

God sent Jesus to proclaim that the Kingdom started 2000 years ago, and it’s still here, even today. The Kingdom of God is present wherever you encounter genuine love that crosses socio-economic and cultural divisions. For this reason, the Kingdom is first established in the hearts of those who accept it, and then it becomes manifest in the world through deliberate action on the part of the one who believes in it. “It’s like a tiny bit of leaven that works its way through the entire loaf.” I think a really wise man said that once. But someone has to knead the dough; someone has to get to work to make it happen. 

The Kingdom is here; it’s right inside of you, like a seed waiting for the perfect conditions so it can germinate and grow. Sadly, most folks in the world, including many christians, are either too proud or too afraid to let God establish the Kingdom in their hearts. For this reason, we say that it is here, and yet it is not here. But with enough nutrients, moisture and sunlight, any and every seed is capable of growing into the plant God made it to be. So may we let that Kingdom grow inside, until it bursts forth and we truly do become salt and light for those around us. May we encourage each other, in word and in deed, to build the kingdom, with all due haste and joy (and patience). May the Kingdom be built here, on earth as it is in heaven, brick by loving brick, into its fullness, and may we each be ready to build it with our own hands, because those are the hands with which God has seen fit to have it built.

So what about the end-times, Mitch?

Jesus of the Rohirrim!

Well, we’re in them, and though we may yet be waiting for Christ to return–bodily (I’ll confess that I don’t know if or when!)–the truth is also that Christ is here on earth now, and the church is his body. So if the ministry of Christ is failing, it’s because we are not living into our true collective identity as the Body of Christ. Truth is, I don’t have much of a thought for when the end is coming, nor do I think it is healthy for christians to obsess/worry/ponder this possibility. Rather, I think it is our job to get busy doing the work of Christ: loving everyone, giving direction to the lost, mending what’s broken, freeing captives of all kind, proclaiming and showing hope to the hopeless, making homes for the homeless, and generally building that Kingdom we keep hearing about. Is that a decent answer? I hope so, because I don’t know much else.

Until next time, may the Peace of Christ (and a little discomfort) be with you!

“In Christ’s Name”

August 9, 2011

Let me start by apologizing for the fact that I haven’t updated this blog in well over a year. Truth is, I was really bad at updating it in the first place, and after a prolonged hiatus, I forgot the URL (wow, really?) and resigned that it would be lost in cyber-obscurity forever. As providence would have it, however, I the link was conveniently on my Facebook info page (go figure) and I just found out! So, in the tradition of those Lost/Found Parables that Jesus told: “Rejoice with me! For I have found my lost blog!”

I got to looking in the first place because I had my heart set on starting over–starting a new blog, and keeping it up with it this time. I suppose I’ll start over by picking up where I left off, and keeping up with it this time! I promise, I’ll be good!

I started this blog to begin with as an outlet for the overflow of musings, spiritual and otherwise, that usher from my mind. See, more often than not, in my solitary time I find myself engaged in hypothetical conversations over a variety of issues ranging touching on matters cultural, political, ecological and theological. Frequently, as may come to see, these themes overlap. I’m not sure if I am unique in this solitary habit of conversation and debate; consider it a way to process the daily flow of new information and insight that passes in and out of my consciousness. So this is one reason to get back on the horse, so to speak. But you and I both know that’s not the only reason to start (or continue) blogging. Any blogger knows the innate potential that the medium affords to captivate and influence untold masses.  The mere existence of this open-sourced, virtual soapbox could enable a nobody, a Joe Six-pack, if you will, to rise to cyber-stardom, even if only for the typical fifteen minutes. This is the very reason why many bloggers blog at all:  in order to make a name for themselves. I confess that this too, is part of my motivation.

For precisely this reason, I’ve chosen to establish this blog “In Christ’s name.” It’s a two-fold purpose, really:  first, it seems fitting to (re)initiate any endeavor through which matters of spiritual importance will be discussed in the name of Jesus, to whom I publicly confess my spiritual and political allegiance. It is “in Christ’s name,” after all, that we christians should strive to do all of our lives’ work. Secondly, in deciding to get back on the blog, I found the irony too much:  I do this thing, hoping to build a bit of a name for myself, while publicly confessing to live and labor for the name of Christ.  So that is the ironic, honest tension that I hope to at least recognize and introduce in this first post.

We 21st-century Americans find ourselves in a culture so inundated by self-promotion and celebrity idolization that it can sometimes almost disappear to our conscious minds.  We can become desensitized to this ethos, so dominant in our daily realities, in much the same way a person can slowly grow desensitized to the unsavory odor of pet urine after spending enough time in a house that reeks with it. This is what the cult of celebrity worship and shameless self-promotion does to us; we eventually grow so accustomed to it that it becomes the norm. We may even mistake the customized, virtual versions of the people we know for our actual friends, or worse; I may become blind to the ways that I intentionally customize the virtual version of myself to mask the real me, with all of my unique blemishes and brokenness.

I simply want to say here, at the outset, that I recognize and acknowledge my own capacity to distort the image of God within myself, and to mistake the images on Facebook, in the movies, and on TV, for the image of God in my friends and neighbors. I am guilty of this, and so I will own it. It is in the light of this observation, having been given sight in an area where I have been blind, that I give praise where praise is due, and elevate the name of Jesus above any name that I might hope to make for myself.

Honestly, I sound so pious I almost make myself sick; nevertheless, the sentiment is true.

Christ’s Peace (and some discomfort) be with you until next time!

Lenten Reflections, Pt. 1

February 24, 2010

Thanks for tuning in to Mitch Roper’s Lenten Discipline: bearing the burden of his material waste.

What that symbolic phrase translates to in practical terms is that, for the duration of Lent, I am carrying with me the accumulation of trash I produce that cannot be recycled or composted.  In other words, if it is headed for the landfill, and I have “consumed” it, then it is staying with me for 40+ days before it goes off to the landfill for only God knows how many years.

So far I have managed to keep my burden light, although this past weekend presented me with some major snags and tough decisions.  I was staying at the Rock Eagle 4-H Camp and Conference Center with a bunch of my EpiscoPals for the Vocare #19 weekend, a retreat for young adults focusing on discerning God’s calling in our lives.  Well, not only did we have a variety of candy and snacks for our pilgrims and staff (each one individually wrapped for easy, on-the-go use and disposal), but the Dining Hall there also employed the use of individually-packaged servings of butter, jelly, mustard, ketchup, and other condiments of this  kind.  I found myself eating an ascetic’s breakfast when the thought of carrying around an empty single-serving jelly container for the next month and a half caused me to put it back in the basket instead of enjoying it on my toast one morning.  Similar situation with a baked potato I had for lunch one day; luckily the sour cream was in a big serving bowl on the line and I was able to enjoy a big spoonful without worry over the packaging I might have to keep with me.  I chose to turn down ice cream at lunch too, because it came in one of those “convenient” styrofoam containers with the little peel-off lid.

An especially idiotic moment on Saturday evening found me chowing down on some delicious Doritos in one of those fun-sized bags, only to realize halfway through the single-serving that I really had better savor them, since I would be toting that little bag with me until I am able to shout “The Lord is risen in indeed, Alleluia!”

What I am already coming to realize, in a much more visceral, ever-present-with-me sort of way than I’ve ever had before, is just how geared-toward-wastefulness our on-the-go society is.  Take those fun-sized snacks for example, or the single-serving containers of condiments we use and dispose of so thoughtlessly at restaurants and dining halls.  All of this packaging is going straight to the landfill. I’ve never thought of getting a regular ketchup bottle as “buying in bulk” until this very moment.  I am thankful, too, that I am already used to a mostly vegetarian diet, because I don’t think there is a single recyclable piece of packaging that comes from Chick-Fil-A, and that being the case, there will be no “Jesus-chicken” (or even “Jesus-milkshakes” for that matter) for me this Lenten season.

As I write this, I have just discovered that the modestly-sized bag in which I am carrying all of my trash has a couple of small holes.  I was hoping that I could keep my waste confined to this small bag to use as little extra waste (in the form of the trash bag) as I could, but it appears that even if I can I will at least need to use another trash bag–another piece of plastic–to keep it from opening up and spilling out.  Ah well, c’est la vie.

I am leaving tomorrow to fly to Colorado where I will help my best buddy Dan pack his car and move his life back to Atlanta.  There is a lot that I am looking forward to about this trip; what I am definitely not looking forward to are the temptations and sacrifices I will be pulled between, both on the plane and across the country as we drive, to not eat this or to carry that around with me for the next several weeks.  It will be hard, but my will and my wisdom are both slowly growing.

I will say a prayer of thanksgiving to God for revealing these truths to me in this Lenten season, and simply ask for more wisdom as I bear this burden of penitence.

Remember you are trash, and to the landfill you shall return.

February 18, 2010

Ash Wednesday has come and with it the liturgical/spiritual season of Lent, during which Christians are encouraged either to give something up or to take something on, a spiritual discipline leading to contemplation and penitence of heart in preparation for the celebration of Easter.  This year for Lent, I have decided to take on the challenge of carrying all of my personally-produced trash with me wherever I go for the next 46 days; sounds CRAZY, I know.  The significance of this symbolic act is to give me a veritable physical burden of my own material waste; whatever I cannot recycle or compost will remain with me for the next 46 days before I thoughtlessly send it to the landfill for only God knows how many years.

It is my hope, as a by-product perhaps, since surely my endeavor will draw questions and even criticism from some, that in bearing this burden I might challenge that misinformed paradigm in the minds of others that their trash just disappears when the garbage man comes to collect each week, but to be sure, my goal is simply my own edification in this reality, since that is the only result of which I can perhaps be assured.  And to give credit where credit is due, this idea came to me from without; I first heard of a blogger over a year ago who did this for a month, unconnected with Lent, and this was also undertaken by a Canadian family for a period of three months in a documentary called “Garbage! the Movie,” during which they kept their accumulated garbage and recyclables (separated) in their garage for the duration of the time.

I will be updating my journey toward Easter perhaps as frequently as once a week, so check back in from time to time, if you are so inclined. May God bless you in the meantime, and may Her Spirit rest with you and give you peace, love and understanding during this season of contemplation.

Thoughts on Morality

January 28, 2010

In our culture, morality is an issue regarding codes of social behavior.  This is pretty much limited exclusively to the manner of our interactions with our neighbors, and this makes sense to us.  One thing we neglect, however, is the manner of our interactions with our descendents.

Think about this: if something we do would adversely affect out children, we wouldn’t do it, right?  This is basic to us.  Of course, we would necessarily have to be in some sort of personal interaction with our children, if we even have them, right? Same with our grandchildren, and if we are lucky enough to see them, our great-grandchildren as well.  But what we consider as “interaction” with these descendents is purely a product of direct inter-personal interchange.  We only think about how our living habits might affect our children, grandchildren, and so on in a direct, tangible way.   You wouldn’t just quit your job because you hated it, for example, not without some sort of contingency plan.  I mean, you’ve got kids to feed. Right? But what we don’t do is this:  we don’t necessarily consider how our living habits would indirectly affect those descendants that we may never even hope to see.   Let’s take your great-great-great-great grandkids.  That’s six whopping generations of separation.  Your great-grandkids are only three generations removed.  Double that.  Hard to think of what the world will be like when my great-great-great-great grandkids are my age. Shoot, I just found out the other day that my great-great grandmother (my grandfather’s grandmother) told my granddad first-hand accounts from the civil war!  What must the world have been like for her grandmother?

That was six generations behind me.  I shudder to think of the world in six more generations.  For one thing, the way that people—not to mention entire nations—communicate with one another has been fundamentally revolutionized at least twice since my grandparents’ parents were my age.  First the telephone, and even within my lifetime, the internet.  Not to mention radio and television, or the many other ways our world has irreversibly changed with the invention of automobiles, aeroplanes, jet-propulsion, the advent of the Age of Oil, and atomic energy… all in the last one hundred years.

And yet, how much have our ideas changed about the way that we interact with the planet, even as those interactions have become progressively more and more consumptive?  Add to that the rate at which the human population is mushrooming all over the planet—I start to wonder if we are not headed for some sort of invisible brick wall as a civilization.

If that is the case—even if it is a remote possibility—I think we need to drastically reconsider our priorities.  If the ways in which we now interact with our planet would adversely affect our children, would we change them?  What about our children’s children, or theirs, or the two succeeding generations?  Have we even thought about the possible condition of our planet in their time?

I have been considering our impact on the world we will leave for our descendents six generations away.  This is admittedly a staggering consideration, given our inherited half-life of technological advancement.  But what of a further generation?

Many native cultures in the Americas (yes, there were many—hundreds of different and very distinct native cultures existed here before the coming of the White Man, as distinct from one another as Americans from Germans, Greeks, or Russians are from one another) felt that, with consideration to the seventh generation down the line, if any decision they made would adversely—that is, negatively—affect those descendents, it was an immoral choice. Such a choice was not just inadvisable, unwise, or foolish, it was fundamentally wrong.  One thing I take away from this is that youth and future generations were extremely important to native cultures.  We could learn a lesson from this.

Today we see morality as a code dealing almost exclusively with sexual conduct.   Don’t have sex before marriage, don’t have sex with people who you couldn’t hypothetically procreate with, try not to enjoy it too much, and for heaven’s sake, don’t talk about it in front of your kids! It’s a reprehensible thing that we should hide from them until unavoidable, but at the same time it’s sacred and it shouldn’t be “perverted” by non-traditional forms or practices like homosexuality.  To talk about it is scandalous, and—hold the phone.  All the while, it’s the one thing that is on everyone’s mind, and it’s the key to the future of the species… and it has all this baggage attached to it?  God forgive us for dressing a blessing up as a sin.

Morality should not be so narrowly defined.  For one thing, as a Christian who is critically considering the teachings of Jesus, it’s important to consider that Jesus didn’t talk about sexuality nearly as much as he talked about economics (it’s true, read for yourself!) and if he could have imagined how distorted our modern perceptions of sex and sexuality could have become, I wonder that he wouldn’t have said more to clear the air.   Perhaps he didn’t think it was so bloody important in the grand scheme of things.  After all, it’s what consenting people do in the privacy of their own homes, isn’t it? And aren’t there more pressing issues of morality to talk about, like poverty, greed, incivility and the militaristic oppression of people for the sake of political power?

Perhaps Jesus thought that there were just more important things to consider as the pinnacle of moral consideration than sexuality.  But we moderns, we “children of the Enlightenment,” have become so wrapped up in issues of the “right” way and the “wrong” way to love one another, that we no longer love one another as much as we could, should, and would if these wedge topics didn’t exist to divide us.

And let’s not forget about our darling dear descendents.  We were talking about them, remember?  If what we are doing on this planet right now is important enough to merit the inheritance of our descendents six—no, seven—generations from now, then we ought to start thinking about the way we are going to leave it for them.  Our current trends (that is, those of humanity in general, but specifically those of America) of consumption, pollution, and violence in the ever-shrinking international community seem to me to be a death-knell for our great-grandchildren’s great-great grandchildren.  As I have heard it said eloquently before, we are stealing from our future in order to make a quick profit in the present.  If the legality of abortion is as big a human rights issue as some make it out to be (and I’m not saying that abortion isn’t an issue, y’all) think about this: How many millions, how many billions of unborn babies might we unknowingly murder in this way, if we neglect to consider the way we will leave the planet for our descendents?

When I really stop to think, hard, about what morality means to me, it seems as if the entire basis of the way we live our lives—that is, the foundational set of assumptions that we base our lifestyles upon—has been corrupted and immoral for centuries, and is in dire need of repentance.  That is, we are in dire need of an awakening to the wrong that has been done—and that we continue to do out of ignorance or indifference—and we are in dire need of a transformational change in behavior which arises out of that awakening; this is what I mean when I say the word “repentance.”  Not “oh, God, please forgive me so that I can feel better now, and go on to do exactly the same thing again tomorrow and the next day,” but rather, “Wow. This stuff needs changing; God, help me to change it as You would have me change it, so as to make this world a more perfect reflection the world You want for us all.”  It’s funny, but the phrasing I used there captures the meaning of the Lord’s prayer so much better than the King James translation we are all so used to:  “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”  But that’s what Jesus is saying: “Repent, be forgiven, and sin no more;” Recognize the problem and how you fit into it, realize what you can do to change it, do that to the best of your ability, and feel no guilt at the ill you committed unknowingly.

I think that we can start by considering the way in which we, as a species, are continuously, powerfully, and irreversibly changing the condition of the world that we will hand down to our children, and our children’s children, and their children, and theirs, and so on, ad infinitum, if you feel like it.  And then we can work, honestly and with determined persistence, to change it for the better.  They are our children, even thought we will never even see them.  And that’s the moral thing to do.

Merry Christmas

December 24, 2009

This Christmas I wanted to focus on the real reason we celebrate Christmas; not commercialism, not frolicking through a winter wonderland, not gift-giving for the sheer sake of giving gifts (although that is nice), not even teh joy of being with family who we love.  No, none of these is the real reason for Christmas.  The real reason for Christmas is Christ, a man named Jesus who came to tell everyone, for the first time ever, through his words, his life, his death, and his resurrection, that God is here. No more waiting, no more yearning in vain to achieve what we cannot do by ourselves, but the truth that God is with us, healing, forgiving, and loving us in the midst of this confusing world, and–what’s more–inviting us to do likewise.

Allelujah!

It is with this in mind that I wish you, whoever you may be, reading this right now, a very merry Christmas.

May the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, the Christ, bless you with peace and a joy in the realization of healing and redemption, not through your own hard work or achievement, but through the redeeming Love poured out in so very many ways by that very self-same God.  May God also give you eyes to see those many ways in which that Love is poured forth, and ears to hear the whisper of Her Spirit, today and always, forevermore. Amen.

A Meditation on Creation and our Modern Situation

November 23, 2009

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
– Genesis 1:31a (NIV)

If, as it says in Genesis, God was satisfied with the world as He had made it, and this was “very good,” why then did humanity feel the need (and still does) to change the creation so drastically from the way God made it?  God did not create this world with parking lots and highways, stadiums and strip malls, sky-scrapers and secret underground bunkers.  God made the world as it was before all of these so-called innovations, the very same natural world that man, for millennia now, has tried to “tame” and “master.”  We’ve been fed a cultural narrative of mankind “taming the jungle” as matters relate to development.  However, long before we had ever even thought to do so, God called this creation “very good.”  The jungle was a paradise.

So what went wrong?

“But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die.”
– Genesis 2:16-17 (NIV)

According to the story of Genesis, God forbid mankind from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but, as we all know, that same account says that man ate that forbidden fruit and was thrust out of paradise.

Could it be that, when man ate that fruit, he did not actually gain a knowledge of good and evil, but thought that he did?  After all, God Himself had not had any problem leaving the man and woman naked, and you would assume that God, in all of His wisdom, would not neglect to cover them if their nakedness was shameful.  But when they ate of the fruit, thinking they were knowledgeable, they said, “let us cover ourselves.”  As Daniel Quinn points out in his novel Ishmael, the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil must surely have been sustenance for God, and as such, it cannot be expected that such Godly food could be made for people, and so this food would have passed through their bodies, undigested.  That is to say, mankind did not digest the knowledge of good and evil, and that knowledge remained mysterious to them.

However, having eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and not having immediately died, man was  now convinced that he could discern between good and evil, saying “whatever is beneficial for me must surely be good, and whatever is not must surely be evil.”

And so man undertook a sacred campaign to change the world to suit his desires.  Not having perfect knowledge of good and evil, however, man did not know that in his quest to make the world a better place for himself, he would be doing evil to other members of the community of life by ruining their habitats through his varied means of resource exploitation.  In doing so, man began disrupting the natural balances that God, in his perfect knowledge of good and evil, had created, and so man was breaking apart the natural order that made his world livable, even if it was at times inconvenient or even hostile.  In making the world unlivable, man was  undertaking a suicidal mission, a mission that would end in his death, which was why God forbade him from eating that fruit in the first place.

However, God has also given us the Holy Spirit, which, when we listen, will happily share with us Her knowledgeable thoughts on good and evil.  We therefore have the ability to recognize our arrogance, our mistakes, and out sin, and we have the opportunity to repent, to turn around, not only with our heart and minds, but with our hands.  We have the opportunity to turn around and leave our unsustainable habits, as temporarily pleasurable as they might be, and seek once again that sustainable pattern of living, that humble pattern of living, which reflects a belief in the account of Genesis 1:31, which tells us that God made this earth without all of our modern amenities, and that God called this creation “very good.”

I pray that God’s Holy Spirit will also grant us all the courage and grace to truly repent, and leave these unjust and unsustainable habits behind, in favor of the way that God favors. Amen.