Thursday, March 22, 2018

Predatory Violence

March 22, 2018

The recent school shootings have headlined the news and captured the angst of the nation. Editorials praising the students who are inundating their representatives’ offices and others who have walked out of classes fill the papers and the talk shows. The NRA is vilified as a terrorist organization, and calls for more gun control echo through state houses and Congress. The NRA fires back, reminding us of the myriad of gun control laws already on the books that are ignored by criminals and unenforced by our courts. 

I have yet to hear anyone question the inherent racism in all the rhetoric. Minority children are being killed daily in our cities, with no one paying much attention. But when it’s a suburban white community, all of a sudden we sit up and take notice. And all the while, we guard what we value with armed guards at banks, and put up gun free zone signs in schools. 

I invested today in a seminar hosted by our county sheriff’s department which dealt with security and safety in churches, including dealing with active shooter situations. The presenter, nationally known and respected for her expertise in this area, related how parents have told her how afraid they are to send their children to school. “Your child is 500 times more likely to be killed in a car accident than in a shooting incident,” was her reply. These stories make the news, but they are far eclipsed by other dangers we accept without even a whimper. This is not to minimize the issue, but to put some balance into the discussion. The seminar went on to show us some of the indicators of predatory violence, and the steps we can take to minimize the risk. 

It was a good reality check, and a reminder that while we live in an unpredictable world, there is much we can do to minimize the risk of such incidents, most of which can be summarized in the words we’ve heard dozens of times: “See something, Say something.” The Parkland shootings was a tragedy that was preventable. Those who in response, push for more gun control have recently been ridiculing those who offer their prayers, but prayers and preparedness can do more than another layer of laws, unless those laws help us deal more effectively with mental illness. 

I am grateful tonight that while the world remains an often evil place, it is for most of us not nearly as frightening as the media would have us believe, and that there is much that we as ordinary people can do to prevent these kinds of incidents in the future.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


“If nominated, I will not run, and if elected, I will not serve.” So said William Tecumseh Sherman when approached about mounting a presidential campaign following the Civil War. That quote came to mind last night when I received a message from a friend asking if I had heard about Sinclairville’s election.

“No,” I replied; then asked why he asked.

“Rumor has it James Bailey was elected trustee with 3 votes.”

“You’re pulling my leg.”

“Totally serious. I should ask you on the record, ‘Will you accept?’” Not knowing what all it involved, I wasn’t sure, and replied that I’d have to check with a few people. I did, and will. 

God works in strange ways. I retired, and last summer was asked to “fill in” pulpit supply.  It started out as a couple Sundays, and here I am, still at it. Now this. Not too many people can say they won an election they didn’t even know they were in. Not sure whether that’s good or bad; I guess I’ll find out soon enough. In the meantime, I have a lot to learn, and am thankful for an opportunity to serve my community in a new way. Give it a few months; we’ll see if anyone else is thankful.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Mocking the Powers

March 20, 2018

Christians around the world are approaching Holy Week, commemorating the last week of Jesus’ earthly life, beginning with the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, and culminating in the crucifixion and resurrection on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Those of other faiths and those of no faith at all don’t understand all the fuss and bother, but there is ample reason to observe this week with special services and celebrations.

For years, the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem didn’t make a lot of sense to me.  Why celebrate a rag-tag parade where the cheers would turn to jeers inside of a week? At first glance, it seems a lot like the runner who celebrates crossing the finish line prematurely, only to find to his chagrin that he was passed by the second place athlete.

If we examine the texts carefully, we see Jesus running what looks like a clandestine operation, sending his disciples out two-by-two with special passwords and detailed instructions on what they are to do and not to do. Luke 10 details much of this. And now in the 19th chapter of Luke, he sends them ahead into the city to look for a specific donkey, and again, with a password that releases the animal for his use. Nothing was left to chance; this was a carefully planned mission, for he was finally coming out in the open. It was time to act, and act, he did.

This parade was a deliberate lampooning of Rome’s power. The rulers of the various provinces would parade into conquered territory on war horses, often riding over the bodies of vanquished prisoners as their banners and standards fluttered in the wind. Jesus is mocking this show of power, riding instead on a donkey over the cloaks of his followers who wave the symbol of Jewish independence—palm branches while chanting “God save!” (Hosanna). The authorities watching from a distance would have understood exactly what he was doing; symbolically mocking their power and might. They would have their revenge on Friday, but Jesus had the last laugh. 

Confronting the powers of this world is always dangerous business. The powers don’t like to be challenged, much less mocked. They will have their revenge, but the last word always is with Jesus. Whatever power we confront today, whether addiction, lust, greed, pride, education, politics, or religion—they will fight back, but in the darkest night we can take courage because Jesus always has the last word. That makes me thankful tonight.

Monday, March 19, 2018


March 20, 2018

Little girls often imagine themselves as royalty, beautiful princesses living in castles, clothed in gowns and crowns. Even adults are mesmerized by the glamour of royal life. We don’t have a monarch, but the stars of Hollywood and the high offices of state come with the splendor and pageantry that once were the sole provenance of royal courts. 

Linda and I have been watching “The Crown,” a Netflix series portraying the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The settings and costumes are impeccable, portraying a magnificence and opulence most of us can only imagine. In the back of our minds we are saying, “I could get used to that!”

Until reality sets in. The duties of monarchy, the roles that tradition had forced upon the Queen and her husband Philip made their marriage unlike any other, with stresses and challenges we never have to think about. The Queen’s responsibilities as head of state and head of the Anglican Church meant that she had to make decisions that would tear at the very core of her family. If the series even approaches accuracy, royal constraints would in the end, affect everyone in the immediate family, either with limitations that would force them to toe a line most of us would find oppressive, or that served as a challenge to break barriers at will. 

The vanity and sterility of royal life is not anything I would choose. And yet, one doesn’t have to be royalty to be trapped in rigid tradition or wild abandon. There is much to be said for simplicity, purity, and integrity. Linda slumbers beside me. We are at peace, and have not the cares and responsibilities of royalty, even though in Christ, we are a royal priesthood, according to St. Peter. I’ll take that kind of royalty any day. It is a much happier life.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

God’s Got It

March 18, 2018

The English is old, but the message is as up to date as tomorrow’s news. It’s from the daily devotional Linda and I use:

“I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep. — The foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, “The Lord knows them that are his.” And, “Let every one that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”
The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knows them that trust in him...

After you believed, you were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance. — Now he who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, is God; who has also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.”

Life has a way of cutting us down to size. Disappointment, difficulties, catastrophes of all sorts are sure to come our way. Being a child of God offers no exemption from heartache, no “Get Out of Jail Free” card as we navigate the board of life. At times, it’s hard to avoid wondering what God is up to, or if for some reason he has abandoned us. 

One of the most difficult life lessons is that our feelings lie to us. Feeling abandoned is very different from actually being abandoned. Feeling defeated doesn’t mean we are defeated. One of the most important lessons is that our experience of God is not the same as the God of our experience. My experience of God is always somewhat less than all he is. And the Bible tells us that he holds us securely—no one can pluck us out of his hand. 

In the Scripture quoted above, God does four things: he establishes us in Christ, anoints us, sealed us, and given us the earnest, or downpayment of the Holy Spirit. If I establish a business or ministry, I own it; it’s my dream child; it belongs to me. In Bible times, anointing was the sign of being specially chosen for divine purposes. In Bible times, the seal was a sign of ownership and authority. The earnest, or downpayment is just what a downpayment is today—a commitment to greater things to come.

All of this God has given us in Jesus Christ. No matter what I may or may not feel, God has acted on our behalf, and continues to do so. We may not always understand or like what life brings, but we can trust the One who brings it to us. For that, I am grateful tonight.

Saturday, March 17, 2018


March 17, 2018

Today is the day for corned beef and cabbage, and if you’re so inclined, green beer. St. Patrick Day’s parades used to be a big deal in cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, and Buffalo. I didn’t hear any mention of parades this year; perhaps their politicization last year when the LGBTQ community was granted permission to march has soured people. What I have observed is that politics poisons almost everything it touches, and it insists on touching everything.

That’s too much complaining for today, so I’ll stick to my point. St. Patrick was just that—a saint. But he wasn’t Irish. He was British (or Welsh, if you want to be a stickler), born around 390 AD, captured by pirates when he was sixteen, and taken to Ireland where he was enslaved till his mid-twenties. While there, he was converted. He finally managed to escape and made his way back home, where he subsequently had a dream in which he saw the Irish coming to him asking him to return. He did, never to return to his homeland. In his own words, he “came to the people of Ireland to preach the Gospel, and to suffer insult from the unbelievers, bearing the reproach of my going abroad and many persecutions even unto bonds, and to give my free birth for the benefit of others.”

Patrick faced such opposition that he wrote, “Daily I expect murder, fraud, or captivity.” He was undaunted by the difficulties, insisting that, “I cannot be silent about the great benefits and the great grace which the Lord has deigned to bestow upon me in the land of my captivity; for this we can give to God in return after having been chastened by him, to exalt and praise his wonders before every nation that is anywhere under heaven.” 

The celebrations we expect to see on this day are a far cry from the character of the man in whose honor the day is named, a man whose faithful devotion to Christ literally changed the course of a nation. Whenever I begin to feel overworked, overwhelmed, or just plain sorry for myself, I am glad to be able to claim the heritage of men like Patrick who challenge me to be better and do more than otherwise I might.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Incomprehensible Love

March 16, 2018

In Deuteronomy 31-34, God directs Moses to give a farewell speech to Israel, in which God peels off a list of all the ways Israel will betray and abandon the One True God. It is stated matter-of-factly; God knows these people and knows what they will do. He has already decided how he will respond by refusing to hear their prayers, by sending drought and pestilence, and by giving them up into the hands of their enemies. 

And yet, he refuses to abandon them completely. These are four amazing chapters in which God declares his faithfulness in spite of Israel’s faithlessness. Most of us have at one time or another had someone or multiple someone’s in our lives who started out well, declaring their loyalty, only to have them simply walk out of our lives at the least sign of trouble. Someone described a friend as someone who walks in when everyone else walks out. I’ve had both, and have had those who walked in later be the very ones who walked out. On one occasion, the man who had been my prayer partner listened to a trouble maker while we were on vacation. When I came back, he told me he couldn’t pray with me anymore. No explanation; just abandonment. Had I known at the beginning that he would turn on me, I would have been much more cautious in my friendship. In fact, I probably would have steered away right from the start.

God knew! And he knows every sin I will ever commit. Not only what I’ve already done, but he already knows when I will fall short, step aside, pursue my own desires. He sees it all, and it must cause him great pain. He knows this about every one of his children. Still, he chooses to claim us. There are times when he disciplines us, but he values our love so greatly that rather than orchestrate complete and unquestioned obedience, he gives us the freedom to choose whether or not we will follow him. And even when we don’t, he loves and remains faithful to us. It is incomprehensible, and I am eternally and humbly grateful for such prodigal love.