Out of Place

I saw a couple hot air balloons this morning on the way to work. Couldn’t get a pic of them, sorry. But I wasn’t the only one who was drawn to them as the line of cars waited at the only busy stop light that I encounter on the way to work. They had some message on the side, but from our angle, we couldn’t make it out.

It got me thinking… We are drawn to things that are “out of place”. Sometimes in a movie or a book, a character will emerge out of nowhere or a totally unexpected situation will develop. Sometimes we are in a store and we run into someone we haven’t seen there before, and perhaps haven’t seen in a very long time. We get an email from an old old friend who just found us on the internet.

Jesus was the master of “out of place”. People wanted him to pick up stones to throw, but he offered forgiveness and mercy. They wanted him to lead a violent revolution and he died on a cross. They expected that all hope was gone when he did die on that cross… until Sunday morning and all hope broke loose.

I wonder how I can be “out of place” today. How can I offer grace where none is expected, or favor where none is anticipated, or even just a kind word where there seems to only be disappointment… or despair…?

How can we be out of place today?

The Death Knell of a Symbol of Hatred

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The Confederate Flag will, before you know it, be relegated to museum status only.

It’s about time.

Yes, I’ve heard all the arguments that it’s a symbol of far more than slavery and racism. I’ve heard the arguments that southern (and northern) blacks were sometimes slaveowners and not only slaves. I’ve heard that it represents southern pride. I’ve heard that somewhere, somehow, you can find an African American or two who are not offended by it (I know a lot of African Americans, none of those are part of that group I promise you). I’ve heard all those discussions.

Gimme a break. Seriously… We all know how this symbol is perceived by people, and after Germany lost WWII I don’t think there was much of any tolerance for the “former symbol of good luck” swastika that had a great and rich history… but needed to go away.

But now even the mayor of Charleston, and the Governor of the state agree with those of us who want it gone, as both have called for its removal (which requires a 2/3 vote in the state legislature). So have the U.S. senators from South Carolina.

This is a town where the historic church that suffered last week’s atrocity is forced to list “Calhoun Street” as their address. You may not know it, but John C. Calhoun, the Vice President of the US under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, was a staunch defender of slavery. Not only did he argue it wasn’t a “necessary evil”, he argued that it was a good and right thing.

It’s time to take the flag down and put it in a museum. Perhaps we can display it next to the swastika in the hall of shame.

But more than that.

It’s time to work hard to root out the hatred from our hearts and replace it with love.

It’s time to learn to know, appreciate and love those who aren’t like us.

On purpose.

It is time.

Farewell, Confederate Flag. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. We will not miss you.

Stop the Hatred Now

(oversimplification alert)

It starts innocently enough.

A friend posts a story that makes up details and marginalizes one group of people at the expense of another and I repost it…

Or… I share my prejudices with my child in an angry fashion, so that they pick it up and believe the same thing… even though the story that I read and reposted and then read aloud to my son was innacurate in the first place. I might even say that I don’t think a particular kind of person deserves to live.

Now my son sees the world through a lens that is tainted by lies, fear, prejudice and a sense that the world is against him and he sets his teeth on edge and then seethes quietly, raging inside against a world that actually doesn’t exist, but I made real enough in my hate and anger and fear and prejudice that it is now the only world that exists for him.

So then he sits at the back of a church for an hour waiting to open fire.

And I caused it.

I warned you I was going to oversimplify. I don’t know a thing about the man who actually killed those great saints of God in a church last night, or his father. I do know about the hate-mongering, fear-mongering, prejudice-mongering and general antisocial dysfunction that litters the media, social and otherwise, every day.

No, I have no idea how this young man came to the conclusion that killing was an answer, and I don’t mean to say that the above scenario caused what happened last night. I am saying that whether a young man chooses love or hate can be heavily influenced by something outside himself, that he allows and causes to fester and grow inside him into a sickness (which doesn’t mean this man shouldn’t spend the rest of his life in a locked room).

I am saying that when we continue in this misguided notion that there is a “them” and “us” based on skin color, religion, gender or sexuality, economic status, ethnicity, or any other external distinction, we forget that we are all one race, human. I suspect this young man didn’t realize that anymore, even if he knows it deep down.

When we foster hate and allow it to be the determining factor in the decisions we make about the actions we take, we are destroying ourselves, our race, our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers.

Sometimes literally.

So… here’s a suggestion for you.

Love.

Intentionally.

Love someone who is different from you. Do this on purpose. Foster love. Allow it to control your actions. Give it free reign.

Or, as Saint Paul said in Colossians 3…

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Bill Mallonee • “Lands and Peoples” Album Review

You can buy “Lands and Peoples” here… and you should…

I want to get the musical part of this out of the way first so that I can review this album in a way that seems more “organic” to me. So… first off, Bill Mallonee has been crafting songs and recording albums for decades, but that’s not what strikes you. In his just over 60 years he has recorded nearly 60 albums worth of material, whether with the Vigilantes of Love (the group I first heard of him in connection with) or with various studio bands he’s assembled over the years, or, as is the case with this CD, virtually on his own (in this case assisted by the very talented Muriah Rose).

When someone is a “popular” songwriter they often manage to hone and craft their music to the point where several songs’ worth of great material might come together to create a really catchy hook-laden pop anthem that plays through the speakers of every pair of “beats” headphones and makes everybody in the world walk around changing “Don’t believe me just watch!” They create music that is impossible not to listen this year, and impossible to stand listening to next year. That’s one way to go. Just not Bill’s way. Bill doesn’t edit much I reckon. He just puts it all out there. It just happens to all be good. And there aren’t the “pop hooks” that so many value so highly, and as a result, instead of wearing on you, “Lands and Peoples” grows with each listen, and improves.

Filled with every conceivable “Americana-esque” stringed instrument imaginable (not to mention keyboards, accordions and organs), Mallonee litters his songs with rolling arpeggios and old-school American rhythms, different instruments that give each other plenty of space in the mix but don’t sound processed, a bass and drum sound that is entirely organic and very un-radio-friendly (I mean this as a compliment, I assure you) and a voice that whispers and sometimes rasps (musically, though) pretty much every thought that makes its way through his head at one time or another. Again, Bill isn’t an editor. He’s a storyteller and a pundit with a vast number of anecdotes to bless you with, musically. I’m hesitant to describe the songs and themes, because I hope, like me, you let this CD take you on a tour through Bill’s mind and heart and life, without even reading the title of the next song first. Suffice to say there’s equal parts longing, regret, melancholia and a little joy to round things out.

Bill’s influences, many from before your time, shine through this release strongly. There’s some Neil Young and Bob Dylan of course, but there’s an old-school country vibe that would never get within a mile of the stuff they’ve played on the radio for the past 30 or 40 years, and even though Bill plays nearly all the instruments here, he succeeds in creating a great “band sound” that would be very much at home in an old country bar or even perhaps a really big front porch miles from anywhere.

So, here’s my word-picture review. But first… If you are the kind of person who likes slick pop anthems and heavily produced ear candy, you might not be ready for Bill’s music, but if you’re tired of that, here’s what listening to Lands and Peoples (or any of his other recent work for that matter) is like.

You’re driving, probably through the southwest in late fall, in an old Ford truck that still runs great but the door is tricky so you have to open it just so. You are heading on a 1 hour drive where you don’t see much except the occasional old house or abandoned business. The A/C doesn’t work, but it’s a cool day anyway. You can’t fuel up or stop to eat until the end of the trip, ’cause there’s nothing on the road, and you pick up a hitchhiker. He proceeds to tell you all about his life, smokes about 2 packs of cigarettes* on the journey, and even though you can’t get a word in edgewise, you can’t stop listening. He tells stories you aren’t sure really happened, and he tells stories that make you make mental notes about things you want to look up later perhaps (who is this Diego fellow? for instance –full disclosure, because of my upbringing, I already knew the answer to that). When you get to the end of your journey, you wish he could stay, but he has to go his way, and you have to go yours. He flashes a winsome smile, adjusts his hat, and goes on his way…

So you hope you’ll make this trip again soon…

and you hope the same hitchhiker appears…

*I have no idea of Bill smokes. It doesn’t matter, it’s just a word-picture, right?

“Good Riddance”

There are a number of articles floating around about the recent Pew Research study that supposedly shows that Christianity is declining. It’s not a surprise to those of us who work in the church, but here’s some interesting thoughts from this article.

You’d think this news would concern those who care about the American church. But some denominational officials have actually been feverishly trying to put a happy face on the Pew report. Take a look at some of the quotes from these writers over the past week:

  • “It is good news for the church.”

  • “Christianity isn’t normal anymore, and that’s good news.”

  • “Christianity isn’t collapsing; it’s being clarified.”

  • “Americans whose Christianity was nominal—in name only—are casting aside the name. They are now aligning publicly with what they’ve actually not believed all along.”

  • “The numerical decline . . . is more of a purifying bloodletting.”

  • “Fakers who don’t go to church are just giving up the pretense.”

  • “Good riddance to them.”

Why is it always “good news” when people who are “nominally” Christian admit they aren’t and then leave the church. That’s horrible news. I want a church filled of those people so that they can hear the Gospel (again) and maybe respond.

“Good Riddance”? I don’t think Jesus even thought that about Judas.

When the rich young man turned his back on the faith, Jesus was sad. When people leave our churches because they can’t commit or won’t believe, we are happy?

Shame.

You don’t like your church and can’t connect to God? May I suggest you try another before giving up.

Easy Answers

I think they’re the bane of humanity sometimes.

I recently “unfollowed” a facebook friend who took a current new story and managed to twist it directly into a political attack on a political group… a group that had absolutely nothing to do with the news story whatsoever.

But Christians, especially, love easy answers. Even at a funeral for a young life that ends tragically, Christians will say that “well, it was his time” or “well, God needed another angel in heaven”, basically telling a grieving parent “Well, God doesn’t care how you feel, his plan was to do something horrible to you and your child.”

When does it end?

Jesus didn’t give easy answers. Not at all.

For all my Christian life I’ve been mystified by the way that people recommend a brand new Christian start their Bible reading with the Gospel of John. Seriously? I’ve read it dozens (maybe even hundreds) of times. It freaks me out more every time. If you can get one chapter in and say that you truly and honestly understand what is being communicated by this “logos” (word) that is described… you must be makin’ stuff up.

I’ve read, in just the past few years, books that explained the Sermon on the Mount totally differently, and all of them were compelling.

People asked Jesus why bad things happen to “good people” and he gave this really confusing answer (look up the Tower of Siloam), and it seems like half the time he’s asked a question he responds with a question that totally turns the original question on its head.

The God who did that does not offer easy answers. God offers love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, acceptance… God offers to include us all in the only family that will stand the test beyond time, the test of eternity.

Methodism and Discrimination (TLDR version: NO!)

We despise it. It’s that simple. As certain events have unfolded in the past few days, my social media feed has blown up with rhetoric from both sides of an issue that, in the 21st century in USAmerica, shouldn’t even exist. I admit that in the midst of it all, I’m rather proud to be a Methodist (not Pride in the evil biblical seven-deadly-sins sense, btw…).

I continue to be a little mortified by my association with other people of the Christian faith who think that Jesus would applaud the act of discriminating against people you misunderstand or fear or just don’t want to understand. And I struggle with what I’m supposed to do about it. More than I am, I suspect…

Our Book of Discipline says it better than I ever could. I would say that, at least as far as Methodists are concerned, there should be no question that we can not support, and must actively oppose, any kind of discrimination that is somehow “justified” by religious freedom. There is more on other kinds of equal rights and discrimination issues in the Book of Discipline. If you are interested, you can read it all here.

Equal Rights Regardless of Sexual Orientation

Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.

We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting the rightful claims where people have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney, and other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships that involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law.

Moreover, we support efforts to stop violence and other forms of coercion against all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.

Light – Part 10: Holy Mystery

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This is a continuation of my exploration of songs from LIGHT.

Communion… The Lord’s Supper… Eucharist… The Lord’s Table… so many names, such a mysterious event. All wrapped up in one song, “Holy Mystery“.

For me, God does an amazing thing here, regardless of whether you feel it’s an ordinance or a sacrament (I go with sacrament), or whether you feel the elements are really and truly changed, like Roman Catholics do, or in a “Real Presence” or a mere symbol. I have strong feelings on all that, but I’ll save them for another day.

In any case, God takes the most ordinary everyday items in our life, our food and drink, and transforms them into a remembrance of the sacrifice of the Cross. He changes the celebration of Passover into something totally new, totally final, totally accomplished, and totally mysterious.

My wording here is directly from the United Methodist Church’s liturgy for Communion, so this is a communion song.

What a mystery…

Holy Mystery

Holy mystery
You poured out your life for us all
Holy mystery
You poured out your life for us all
God of eternity
We pour out our hearts in thanks.

Let’s go into the world
In the strength of your Spirit
Let’s go into the world
Giving ourselves in your name
Jesus Christ our Lord

©2015 Peter J. Hamm, All rights reserved. You can buy and download LIGHT pretty cheap right here.

Light – Part 9: You Are the Way

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This is a continuation of my exploration of songs from LIGHT.

When Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life, I think (and I’m not the only one) that he meant something beyond “I am the way to get to heaven” and such. A handful of people have pointed out that when he says “I am the way”, he might mean that his method of life is the best way to live.

I like that, so I wrote a song about it. This past weekend, when our church’s pastor was preaching on imitating Christ, it seemed only fitting to share this song, “You Are the Way“, since that’s exactly what it’s about. (But no, I didn’t just write it. It was written years ago.)

This song is a promise and a prayer all wrapped into one. I want Christ to live in me so that I can do a better job of loving my neighbor the way that He would like me to, and it’s a promise to do that, as well, to “lift my neighbor up off the ground”.

When you really mean that, I suppose it’s a hard song to sing, but I think it’s fun to do it anyway.

You Are the Way

I want to do the things you do
I want to pray the things you’d pray
I want to love whoever You love
I want your truth, your life, your way

You are the way I want to follow
You are the truth I want to believe
You are the life I need inside me
Jesus, won’t you put your love in me

I want to know forgiveness
I want to spread it all around
I want my heart to be just like yours
I want my life to make a joyful sound
The same melody they heard when you were around
I want to lift my neighbor up off the ground
I want to show all the lost that they are finally found

©2015 Peter J. Hamm, All rights reserved. You can buy and download LIGHT pretty cheap right here.

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