Sunday, July 24, 2016

Aaron Burr, Sir

To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:...I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:14-16)

As we have seen before, one of my longtime fandoms is musical theater. Lately, I have been geeking out about the Tony-winning Broadway sensation, Hamilton, in which a racially diverse cast raps their way through a retelling of the early history of the United States with a specific focus on Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father who tends to be known today only as “that guy on the $10 bill” or “that guy who was killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr.”

Indeed, a major focus of the show is the development of the antagonistic relationship between Hamilton and his “frenemy” Aaron Burr, the narrator and self-proclaimed “damn fool who shot him.” We don’t have to wait long to find out the reason for Hamilton’s frustration, as the the show’s second song reveals Burr’s motto: “Talk less. Smile more. Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.”

Talk less, smile more. Well, that’s a piece of advice Hamilton, and indeed many of us, should heed more often. We spend so much time running our mouths when so many problems could be averted if we listened instead, and Biblical writers like James and the psalmists provide much evidence in support of this position. But what about the rest of Burr’s statement?

Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for. Now, that’s where Hamilton begs to differ, a complaint against Burr that he makes so often that, as the musical tells it, it ends up getting him killed. From the beginning, Hamilton recognizes the danger of what Burr is doing and calls him on it, using that old adage that I remember hearing countless times in youth Bible studies as a teenager: “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?”

It’s one thing to be reticent when deciding whether or not to openly support an uprising that will get you hanged for treason if it fails, but even later on, when Burr is campaigning for public office, his motto has not changed. He seems nice enough — “like you could have a beer with him” — and he’s popular with the ladies (“tell your husbands, vote for Burr”), but we still don’t know where he falls on the critical issues of the day. When it comes to decision time, as portrayed in the show, the thing that ends up swinging the presidential vote to Jefferson is the endorsement of his bitter political opponent Hamilton, who would rather support someone with whom he has “fought on like seventy-five different fronts” than someone who won’t come out and state his position on anything.

The moral of the story, then, is to stand up for what you believe in. We should definitely talk less and smile more — it’s hard to hear the voice of God when we’re constantly running our mouths. But we should never be afraid to let the world know clearly what we stand for, either. Our words, actions, and attitudes should clearly proclaim that what we are for is our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Strange Gifts from Odd Places

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:19-22)

For her first trip through time and space, the Doctor takes Rose Tyler five billion years into the future. They land on a space station called Platform One, where the richest beings in the universe are gathering to watch the death of planet Earth. As the dignitaries arrive, they are introduced and then they exchange gifts of peace with others. A tree-alien named Jabe gives the Doctor a cutting of her grandfather, and, in a comedic moment, the Doctor, with no gift to give in return, presents her with “the air from my lungs” and blows a gentle breath in her direction.

We’re supposed to laugh at what the Doctor comes up with when forced to think on his feet, and to wonder what is going to happen when he doesn’t get away with it. Instead of being expelled from the event for his cheekiness, however, Jabe takes the Doctor seriously, responding with gratitude and thanking him for such an intimate gift.

Jabe gets it, even when the Doctor does not. Breath is personal. To feel someone’s breath, you have to be physically located very close to that person. Jesus, too, gave a very personal gift, not to a stranger he had just met, but to his closest friends, when he breathed the Holy Spirit on them. Although he would soon leave them, he gave them the gift of himself, his life and presence to continue with them even after his human presence had gone.

To those of us who are willing to bring ourselves close enough, God will breathe the Spirit into our lives as well. “Breathe on me, breath of God, Fill me with life anew,” is what Edwin Hatch wrote in a 19th century hymn that is still familiar to many of us. If we are willing to bring ourselves close enough, that is exactly what God will do.