Sunday, September 28, 2014

Question Authority?

The people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:2-3)

It’s a hazard of leadership - no matter what you do, someone is going to be unhappy. And quite often, one very vocal somebody can turn an entire crowd against a leader who often has just been doing his or her best in a tough situation. Case in point: Tom Mason, the main character on the sci fi TV series Falling Skies. Before the alien attack he was a college history professor. In the aftermath, he finds himself in a leadership role, even being elected President of a remnant of the United States at one point. He works very hard to make decisions for the good of the entire group, but just as often as people look to him to get them through the continuing alien nightmare there are those who are constantly stirring up negative sentiment against him.

I don’t completely blame the alien attack survivors for not always trusting Mason’s leadership, nor do I completely blame the Israelites for lashing out against Moses. Both scenarios are extremely stressful, and stressful situations are not always known for bringing out the best in people, especially the longer the hardship goes on. When all hope seems to be gone and our faith and trust starts to wane because no good results seem to be forthcoming, we begin to take out our frustrations on the closest thing, whether that happens to be a former professor, a fellow Hebrew and former prince of Egypt, or even God himself.

So what do we do? How do we keep from becoming the grumblers and complainers and whiners? Maybe these stories remind us that instead of continuing to look through dirty, smudged glasses, we need to put on fresh “perspectacles” (my new favorite word, thanks to Glennon Melton) and look for all the good that has happened despite the stresses and hardships. How much sooner might the Israelites have reached the promised land if they had been grateful for the manna, for the quail, for the release from slavery, instead of constantly whinging about what they perceived to be lacking?

To be sure, it is easier said than done. But isn't it a goal worth striving towards?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Red Five Standing By

But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:13-15)

My new favorite podcast is the Star Wars Minute, a show where the two hosts and a guest spend 15-20 minutes or so discussing one minute of the movie Star Wars. During one of the episodes for the section of the film where the rebels attack the Death Star, they brought up something that, as many times as I have seen the movie, has never before crossed my mind: what do the other X-wing pilots of Red Squadron think of Luke? After all, he just arrived with Princess Leia, having known little about the Rebellion until very, very recently. And what qualifies him to fly a space fighter in this crucial Death Star run, besides his ability to bullseye womp rats in his T-16 back home? Did he ace the X-wing simulator test or something?

More importantly, what do the other members of Red Squadron think of this hick kid from some backwater planet who just fell off the turnip truck and ended up in the fifth X-wing? Was he replacing someone who was killed, or did they pull the former Red Five and give his fighter to Luke? Is Jek Porkins jealous because the squadron positions are based on skill rankings and this new recruit has just bumped him down a spot in the listings?

They’re legitimate questions. It’s human nature to say, “But that’s not fair!” A newcomer makes the crucial shot and gets a medal, while the original rebels must stand at attention and watch and pretend to congratulate him.

Or maybe they don't. Maybe they are grateful that this kid showed up and was able to contribute, able to fill in a spot where they sorely needed someone, able to inject new blood and new enthusiasm into an organization in danger of becoming jaded and ineffectual. I’d like to think that I fall into this camp, knowing that the reward is not mine to bestow, grateful to get what I have earned and grateful for the help in accomplishing the mission, no matter how late in the day it comes, but I’m only human. God forgive me when I forget that we’re all in this Christian walk together, and give me the grace to change my attitude and be grateful no matter how late in the day others show up to join the work crew.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Good Dalek is Hard to Find

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

I am stepping away from the lectionary this week because none of the passages are speaking to me nearly as much as something from a recent new episode of Doctor Who has been. In "Into the Dalek," The Doctor and Clara end up on a spaceship surrounded by a whole Dalek fleet where they discover an unusual prisoner of war: a “good” Dalek. Instead of running around yelling “EX-TER-MIN-ATE” and zapping everything in sight, this one wants to help them defeat the rest of his kind.

A “good” Dalek is too good to be true, of course - it turns out that it has been damaged, and as soon as the Doctor repairs this damage, it reverts back to its normal, angry pepperpot self. The next time the idea of a “good” Dalek comes up, the adjective has a much different connotation. “I am not a good Dalek,” the creature in question tells the Doctor, “You are a good Dalek.” It forgot its hatred for a while, it was able to appreciate beauty and looked down on the rest of the Daleks for wanting to destroy everything - it did not live up to the Dalek ideal. The Doctor, on the other hand, is full of hatred towards the Dalek race and has, in fact, destroyed untold numbers of them over the fifty years of the show, acting towards them in the same manner as they act towards the rest of the universe.

What is a “Good” Christian? Is it someone who follows the letter of God’s law, warning others of the consequences of their sins at all costs and with no regard for their feelings? Is is the person who is in church every time the doors are open, wins the “Perfect Attendance” badge in Sunday School, and sings in the choir, but gives little thought to God the rest of the week? Is it the person who cares for others regardless of background or situation, loving them the way Christ loved, warts and all? I think there are many non-Christians in the world whom an outsider looking in might say are better Christians than many of us who claim the title.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Remember, Remember!

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. (Exodus 12:14)

From the beginning of human history, celebrations have served at least two important purposes. Some mark the passage of time - from harvest, through the darkest, shortest nights of winter, and back to rebirth and growing - while others help us remember: people, battles, accomplishments, and important events like the time God sent the angel to kill the firstborn of all of Egypt, but spared the Hebrews and allowed their escape.

Verse goes hand in hand with celebrations:

Remember, remember! The fifth of November, The Gunpowder Treason and Plot...

O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light…

Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King…

But what happens when the verses lose their meaning? What happens when the events we celebrate happened so far in the past that we’re enjoying the party but we’re not exactly sure anymore why we’re having it in the first place?

What happens when the songs are a warning and a call to vigilance instead of celebration? What happens when the warnings fall on deaf ears because the events they warn of happened so far back in the collective memory that no one thinks the danger is actually real? At the beginning of Anne McCaffrey’s book Dragonflight, generations have gone by on Pern since the last Threadfall, the holds have forgotten to follow the ancient laws meant to mitigate the effects of this deadly menace from the sky, and the dragon weyrs that defend the planet are dwindling and unsupported. Even the Harper, the one entrusted with the verses of memory, must dig deep into the archives to find more than just the few snatches that anyone remembers. When another Threadfall is imminent, vague memories are all that stand between those who wish to keep Pern safe and the masses who don’t believe the old tales were ever true in the first place, much less likely to happen again.

Celebrate, but think about what you are celebrating. Sing, but look for the deep truths in the verses. Most importantly, remember, like the Jews still do, even after thousands of years. When we ignore the ancient verses as just a bunch of old words, we do so at our own peril.