Tag Archives: News

The Crowd

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
Matthew 27:20 (NIV)

I have read the story of Jesus’ trial and execution countless times along my journey. It is packed with so many fascinating and meaningful moments that it’s hard to focus on one thing for a blog post like this. As I read a chapter each day I try simply to have my heart and mind open to what resonates most deeply with me in this moment, and this morning what resonated with me was the crowd.

Perhaps it’s because of the preponderance of media that gets focused on crowd events and all that we’ve witnessed in recent months and years. I’m thinking of all the marches, riots, demonstrations, and protests I’ve seen reported on the news and in social media recently. Whenever a crowd gathers it gets attention. We seem to have a lot of crowds.

There is a entire branch of sociology and psychology dedicated to understanding crowd (or mob) mentality. Interestingly enough, consensus among scholars is as hard to come by. I was intrigued, however, by the theory of Gustave Le Bon who boiled it down to three things:

  • Submergence: In the anonymity of the crowd individuals lose their sense of individual self and personal responsibility.
  • Contagion: Having lost their sense of self, individuals unquestioningly follow the predominant ideas and emotions of the crowd.
  • Suggestion: Ideas and emotions of the crowd are primarily drawn from a shared racial unconscious, uncivilized in nature, and limited by the moral and cognitive abilities of its least capable members.

Three things came to mind as I thought about the crowd shouting for Jesus’ execution.

First is the fact that five days earlier the crowd was shouting “Hosanna” as praising Jesus as “king” as He entered Jerusalem. Now the crowd has been persuaded to shout for Jesus’ blood. Wow. That’s a major drop in approval rating in just five days. It’s amazing how fickle crowds can be.

Which leads me to remembering a passage from John’s biography of Jesus. In the second chapter we find that the crowd of people believing in Jesus and following Him was growing rapidly. Jesus was trending in all the major outlets. The crowds were growing and His popularity was skyrocketing, but John records that Jesus “would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all people.”

Which is why, perhaps, Jesus continued to remain silent as He stood by Pilate and witnessed the crowd that had turned on Him. Wednesday’s post about silence and spiritual authority comes back to mind. What a contrast we see in this picture. The lone figure of Jesus standing silent, bloodied, yet resolute in His mission against the submergence and contagion of the crowd whipped into a frenzy at the suggestion of Jesus’ enemies.

This morning I’m reminded of my desire to follow Jesus’ wisdom as it relates to crowds. I need to avoid entrusting my self to any crowd. This applies even to seemingly good crowds, for I’ve witnessed and been prey to crowd mentality even in nice neighborhoods, churches, social groups and communities.

I want my life, my beliefs, and my daily decisions to be guided by something more solid than the ever shifting mentality and emotion of a crowd. I want to be wise and discerning as I watch the crowd mentality emerge and “trend” in my social groups and in the media (including Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media outlets). I want my life to be focused on my mission, my role, and my responsibilities. That’s hard to do if I am unwittingly submerging my thoughts, emotions and actions to the crowd around me.

 

The Challenge in the Way We See the World

The earth will be completely laid waste
    and totally plundered.
The Lord has spoken this word.
Isaiah 24:3 (NIV)

Over the past week in the United States we have seen a clash of peoples with very different world views; People who see the world very differently. The presidential election has brought those stark differences into the spotlight, along with our continued struggle to to love those with whom we disagree and to let discourse rule over discord.

I don’t hear people talking much about world views any more. I had an entire class on it in college in which we defined many of the more popular world views, discussed them at length, and weighed their differences. My impression is that higher education has changed a lot in the past 20 years. At the liberal arts college I attended we were taught that the loss of an election to those who saw the world differently was reason for fascination, personal challenge and understanding rather than fear and loathing.

World view is the primary way we see the world. World view is the lens of our core religious, political, and socio-economic views. Our world view is the filter through which we see the world and process news and events. It is a very human thing to assume that our world view is right and others world views are wrong; to struggle with those who don’t share our own personal view of the world.

There is, however, value in understanding how I view the world and to have it challenged. This is where discourse is a worthwhile friend.

Today’s chapter highlights a piece of world view that has been challenged in recent years. I had a discussion about this with Wendy and one of my daughters this past week in light of the surprising results of our election. Many followers of Jesus hold to what is essentially a medieval world view as it relates to our view of the future. This world view holds that things are going to get progressively worse and worse until there is apocalypse, and then Jesus will return and redeem everything in a eucatastrophic climax to the Great Story.

There is another world view I’ve been reading from some modern day mystics which takes an opposite view. God is progressively redeeming things. Things are getting better all the time, though we can’t really see it. Despite our fears, worries and a media bent on showing us all that is sensationally wrong with the world things are actually getting better as God’s resurrection power spreads in an ever-expanding universe.

So which is it? Apocalypse and eucatastrophe or evolving redemption? Isaiah’s prophetic words today certainly lends itself to the former. The world laid waste in desolation, but in the end the Lord is reigning in Jerusalem.

This morning I’m mulling over these things in my  mind. I’m pondering how I see the world and weighing what I read in God’s Message. I’m watching the news of the day and trying to see them both in context of my personal world view while understanding how those same events are perceived by those who see the world differently than I.

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Truth, Trumpets and Cracked Pots

So the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars, holding in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow; and they cried, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” Every man stood in his place all around the camp, and all the men in camp ran; they cried out and fled.
Judges 7:20-21 (NRSV)

It’s amazing how our perceptions and perspectives affect us. God didn’t need 10,000 men to defeat the Midians. He needed 300 men with trumpets and jars to make the Midianites think there were 10,000 men. Once they were given to fear, they were easy to defeat.

The question I am asking myself this morning is this: How is the enemy trying to use this same tactic today against the people of God?

Wendy and I have begun to notice something each morning we sit down with the newspaper and every time we watch a news program on television. We hear the subtextual message “BE AFRAID! BE VERY, VERY AFRAID!” being trumpeted in the headlines and news stories until we feel surrounded by a giant unseen army in the cacophony of crack pot events and statistics misconstrued in the torchlight of political agendas. When headlines trumpet “God Isn’t Fixing This,” the spiritual assault has moved from subtle to frontal.

The resulting fear and anxiety gets absorbed by ourselves, our friends and loved ones. It seeps out on social media, in conversation, and in our behavior. We feel defeated, discouraged, pessimistic, fearful, defeated, and on the run. Which, I realized as I read the chapter this morning, is right where the enemy wants us. I perceive the prince of this world, who cannot make but only mar, using God’s playbook against us.

Today I am determined to find rest in knowing that “greater is He who is in me, than he who is in the world.” A spirit of timidity and fear does not come from God. That is a by-product of our enemy’s design preying on our own shame and doubt. God, however, provides power of which the enemy is ignorant, love that overcomes hatred, and self-discipline to perceive and believe Truth amidst the din.

 

(Don’t) Be Afraid, (Don’t) Be Very, Very, Afraid

The Lord is good,
     a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him…
Nahum 1:7 (NIV)

The prophet Nahum lived and wrote his prophecy in troubled times. The kingdom of Israel had been split in two, the northern kingdom called Israel, and the southern kingdom called Judah. When Nahum wrote his prophecy the northern kingdom had been attacked and decimated by the Assyrians.

The Assyrians were known for their brutality and cruelty. When they conquered a city, they would mercilessly hack the limbs off their victims and then leave the limbs and bodies stacked like a pyramid outside the city gates. It was their calling card, the sign that the Assyrians had been there. Now that the northern kingdom of Israel had experienced it, the southern kingdom of Judah feared a similar Assyrian attack.

Fear and anxiety are common emotions. Today I find it common for people to experience economic fear (When will the economy get moving again? Will we experience what happened in Greece? Is the stock market going to collapse?) and fear of terror-ism (When’s the next 9-11? Are ISIS terrorist cells on our soil just waiting to attack? ). There is anxiety about global politics (Will Iran get a bomb and attack Israel?) and climate change (Will global warming  create disastrous change in weather patterns?). When Wendy and I watch or read the news we will often observe to one another that there seems to be one major theme: “Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

Nahum also lived in a time of fear, and his prophetic message was to encourage his readers not to give into fear, but rather to trust in God. Nineveh (the capitol of the Assyrian empire), he prophesied, would be destroyed. His prophetic word was fulfilled. Assyria was destroyed by the Medes and Persians in 612 B.C.

It’s Monday morning as I write this post. The first Monday of a new month. For some of us, even the prospect of what the coming week holds brings anxiety. There is uncertainty about what we’re going to do in the coming month and how we’ll get through. Nahum’s message is a good one. Notice that he doesn’t promise freedom from trouble, but that we will find God a caring refuge in whatever comes our way.

Today, I’m choosing not to give into anxiety and fear, but to trust God to be a caring refuge for whatever comes my way.

 

Boxes and Briefs

Moving BoxesI realize that I have posted very little from our personal journey in recent weeks, and I admit that this has been largely by intent. The truth of the matter is that life for Wendy and me has fallen into a very monotonous pattern and there is very little interesting to tell. I’ll give you a brief summation.

We are less than four weeks from our moving date. We closed the sale of our house on Columbus Street in mid-January and are renting back from the new owners, a wonderful couple who are riding the deep of winter out in their RV down south somewhere. Our new house has taken far more time and energy than we ever imagined as we make a seemingly endless number of decisions about an infinite number of small details. I feel awful complaining about such a huge blessing, but I really am weary of it all.

Wendy has been packing like a mad woman. We’d put about half of our lives in storage when we put our house for sale last fall, now the majority of the other half is sitting in boxes as we pare down to only those essentials we need for the next few weeks. Life is in full transitional mode.

I have been teaching a class called The Language of God on Wednesday nights at our church. I am transitioning into a volunteer role of helping coach and mentor a team of men and women who will be teaching and preaching on a regular basis in our church auditorium. This has meant more regular opportunities for me to teach, as well.

Wendy has been absolutely amazing with all of the house and moving plans. It’s overwhelming for her as well, but she has done an incredible job managing all of the details and keeping me on task (which is a exhausting task in and of itself).

Suzanna was cast in the starring role of USP’s production of Anne of Green Gables and has been busy learning more lines than she’s ever had to memorize before. The production is scheduled for the weekend that we move. She is still working three part time jobs and saving money for college next fall.

Taylor is in her second semester at the University of Edinburgh and doing well. She got a part time job working at a coffee shop and is desperately looking for a “placement” with an art festival to fulfill her master’s requirements.

After taking some time off from college, Madison started back at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs this past month while continuing to work as a flight attendant for SkyWest Airlines. Flying the friendly skies has both its pros and cons, but she is grateful for the opportunity and the travel perks. We are too, as we get to see her a little more often!

I continue to recover from a hotel room robbery that stole my entire personal and vocational electronic lives. This has meant a lot of hours rebuilding, restoring, and reporting claims. Ugh.

Anyway, that’s the skinny.

Cheers.

Worthwhile Things Take Time

From thought to reality in less than a year.
From thought to reality in less than a year.

[Solomon] had spent seven years building [the temple]. 1 Kings 6:38b

Worthwhile things take time.

In the nearly 50 years of my lifetime I believe the greatest change in our culture has been the speed with which we live our lives. Our technological age has pushed the envelope of speed in nearly every area of life.

When I was a kid, I delivered the afternoon edition of the Des Moines newspaper on four square blocks up Madison Avenue from Lawnwoods Drive to Lower Beaver Road, south to Douglas Avenue and then back up Lawnwoods catching the side streets of Garden, Seneca, and Fleming Avenues in between. There were two papers printed each day back then to get more news out to the public faster. News traveled at the speed that my eleven year old feet could carry it in Chuck Taylor high-tops.

My "Paper Route"
My “Paper Route”

When I got home, I read the newspaper myself. I was always fascinated by the small “blurbs” that newspaper editors used to fill space on the page. “Blurbs” were small articles just a sentence or two long. Usually, it was a news story from the far reaches of the world that had little relevance to anyone in Des Moines such as a massive earthquake that struck a remote province in China.

Today, my phone would notify me of that same earthquake minutes after it happened with links to photos, videos and eyewitness reports. Suddenly, everything that happens is newsworthy and we are aware of everything that happens in an instant. Everything happens faster than before. Things get old quicker. Things are obsolete almost as quickly as you purchase them. Fads come and go in a day (remember the “Harlem Shake?”).

Today, I’m thinking about Solomon’s seven year effort to build the temple, and thinking about the house that Wendy and I are watching emerge from a vision in our heads to reality in less than a year. I’m thinking about some of the great building projects of history that spanned generations, and I wonder what it was like for a craftsman to dedicate his whole life to a building project that he knew he would never see completed.

I love all that that technology has afforded us. I love that I can have a coffee date with Taylor in Scotland via FaceTime. I love that Madison can text me from whichever airport she happens to be in at any moment and I can instantly communicate with her from anywhere. And yet, I am aware that having the world at our fingertips 24/7/365 has not made us better people, nor wiser, nor more satisfied.

Worthwhile things take time, but we increasingly steal time from our lives in search of worthwhile things.

 

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Truth Amidst the Noise

Sarah Ross Photography via Flickr
Sarah Ross Photography via Flickr

Your prophets have said
    so many foolish things, false to the core.
They did not save you from exile
    by pointing out your sins.
Instead, they painted false pictures,
    filling you with false hope.
Lamentations 2:14 (NLT)

When I read about the ancient prophets telling people what they wanted to hear, I can’t help but think of the talking heads I find on every news channel and Sunday morning political talk show. I have gone on record saying that I find myself watching less and less of the news channels and news programs these days. The spinning and distortion of facts to defend untenable political positions happens on every side of the political isle. Whether a socialist regime, a tyrant, a dictatorship, a monarchy, a commonwealth or a representative republic, politics is filled with people who are vying for and clinging to power and all the personal gain it creates.

It was no different in Jeremiah’s day. The story of Jeremiah is a story of Shakespearean proportions. Jeremiah went to great lengths to warn the people of Jerusalem, including the king, that Babylon was coming. He urged the king and people to wake up from their spiritual slumber and repent. Yet Jeremiah stood alone against a host of prophets who spun and distorted the facts to solidify their personal standing and to tell the king and the public what they wanted to hear: everything is okay. Jeremiah was hated, publicly humiliated, persecuted, tortured and imprisoned for speaking the truth. The book of Lamentations is one of the most tragic “I told you so”s in history.

As I progress in my journey I find myself caring more about and concerning myself more with what is really true, and less about political opinions and social rhetoric. Finding what is true amidst the noise of media blasting at us 24/7/365 can be a daunting task. I often feel like a spinning compass seeking true north. To find it, I try to identify nuggets of truth to guide my thoughts.

If you keep going deeper in debt spending money you don’t have, at some point you face financial ruin. That’s true.

Since the beginning of time evil people have done evil things, and when they gain power they do evil things on a grand scale. Evil is not going away. That’s true.

Jesus said there are just two commandments. Love God. Love people. That’s true.

 

I can make a difference, even a small one, in the lives of people with whom I interact today through simple acts of kindness, love, grace and forgiveness. That’s true.