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Suffering

Can Anything Good Come from Buffalo?

Can Anything Good Come from Buffalo?

This reflection on one of the newest in the 30 for 30 catalog, comes from Mockingfriend Paul Harris.

It is needless to say that ESPN’s 30 for 30 series has repeatedly brought to screen some glorious glimpses into the human heart.  The Four Falls of Buffalo, now streaming on Netflix, is no exception. Place this movie on the top of your must see list!

You may remember the Buffalo Bills losing streak of four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990-1993. Sadly, The Bills, especially the 1990-96 rosters were and often remain synonymous with failure. Players like quarterback Jim Kelly, star running back Thurman…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Genesis Chapter Thirty Three Verses Twenty Four Through Twenty Eight

This morning’s devotion comes to us from the Rev. David Browder. 

Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. And when he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” And he said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:24-28, NRSV)

Although swooning on my part is a rarity, U2 is a band I like very much. In their song “Bullet the Blue Sky,” Bono sings, “Jacob wrestled the angel; and the angel was overcome.” Bono then folds the famous story of Jacob wrestling the angel into the midst of a song about unjust violence and hypocrisy. Military force in El Salvador is mentioned, as is 1980s televangelism.

R-1311927-1253218044.jpegWith all the flux and panic of humanity, what does it mean for Bono that Jacob overcomes the mysterious man with whom he is wrestling? As dour as Bono’s prognosis is, Jacob’s is no better. Jacob is sure that his sly chicanery has brought him a just and violent death, courtesy of his brother Esau. As you might remember, Jacob had stolen Esau’s birthright by a despicable deception, and Esau is now on the way to meet him face-to-face. Jacob is backed into a corner, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata playing in the background, with no one to blame but himself.

It is at this moment that God comes to Jacob. He does not come as a sweet and gentle person but as an adversary. As an adversary He breaks the remaining vestiges of Jacob’s faith in himself. Wrestling with God, Jacob actually believes that he is prevailing, but all the mysterious “man of God” had to do was reach out and touch Jacob’s leg to dislocate it. As dawn breaks, Jacob asks for God’s blessing, and what a beautiful metaphor: Jacob’s faith is transferred from himself to God as a new day dawns.

All the political and social unrest of the world adds to personal strife. Troubled relationships, broken dreams, and unexpected tragedies can be like a powerful Esau racing toward you with fires to start. “Bullet the Blue Sky” plays as belief in your own ability to master your domain diminishes. It is then that God visits “under the guise of His opposite.” A new day dawns as your faith is placed in One who does have control and dominion. It turns out that the One you have been fighting all night is totally in your corner.

From the Archives: MLK’s Eulogy for Martyred Children

From the Archives: MLK’s Eulogy for Martyred Children

The following speech/sermon was given by Martin Luther King, Jr after the bombing at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963, just three weeks after the March on Washington.

This afternoon we gather in the quiet of this sanctuary to pay our last tribute of respect to these beautiful children of God. They entered the stage of history just a few years ago, and in the brief years that they were privileged to act on this mortal stage, they played their parts exceedingly well. Now the curtain falls; they move through the exit; the drama of their earthly life comes…

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Critical Thoughts on the Evangelical Embrace of Thomas Kinkade’s Art

Critical Thoughts on the Evangelical Embrace of Thomas Kinkade’s Art

A year and a half ago I wrote a post on Mockingbird about Thomas Kinkade, the prosperous “Painter of Light,” mostly responding to a then recent article highlighting his death due to a drug and alcohol overdose. I attempted to offer a thoughtful interpretation of Kinkade, his art, his unfortunate demise, and the Evangelical embrace of his work—how I see all of these things as interrelated. Some people disagreed, and others even regarded me as being arrogant about art and taste.

Admittedly, what I wrote was tongue-in-cheek at points. I’ve never respected Kinkade’s art, so I poked some fun at his expense, which in retrospect may have been…

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No Wholeness Outside Our Reciprocal Humanity

No Wholeness Outside Our Reciprocal Humanity

The American justice and penal systems may be hot topics today, but it isn’t the only reason that Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy became a New York Times bestseller in 2014. As the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative he’s certainly earned his room to speak about oppressive justice and the death penalty and mass incarceration. But he is also compelling as a storyteller—he is not simply interested in the facts and figures justifying prison reform. He is also intertwined in individual lives of prisoners; their stories play a huge role in his own coming-of-age.

If you’re unfamiliar with the book, Just…

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Our Suffering Advent

Our Suffering Advent

This one comes to us from Matt Kroelinger.

Turn on the news station of your choice, and you will encounter a barrage of sickness, tragedy, and heartache. Over the past few weeks we’ve seen hundreds of people killed: those in Paris, those in the mass shootings in the US, those public beheadings by ISIS. Every now and then, the rarity of these “bumps” in our collective public opinion feel like we’re running over small pebbles–lately, though, it feels like we’re driving over large speed bumps at 35 miles per hour. I don’t know about you, but my suspension feels more like a ’93 Toyota…

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Surviving the Albatross of a Disgustingly Perfect Christmas

Surviving the Albatross of a Disgustingly Perfect Christmas

Billboard’s Top 100 Holiday Songs for the week of December 26, 2015 is an interesting piece to ponder. On the surface, it’s a mere summary of what’s happening around the holidays at a radio station nearest you, a glimpse into the pop culture of a standard American holiday. Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” takes number one: a song about romance in the winter and all the cheeriness that comes along with it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the other 99 are not overtly religious either; they are about relationships, family, food, warm fires, happiness, joy,…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Second Corinthians Chapter Twelve Verses Eight through Ten

This morning’s Hopelessly comes from our friend Joseph McDaniels.

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that [this thorn in my flesh] would leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10, ESV).

Coming away from these verses with a sense of despair might not be that unusual. Who among us wants to plead with the Lord day and night to take away our suffering, only for Him to answer gently, but firmly, “No”? And more than that, for Him to say, “In fact, I will uphold your weakness so that my power can be displayed.” Couldn’t the Lord take away our suffering and still be glorified? Isn’t it possible that he could somehow display his power in my talents and strengths, rather than in my suffering? Why does it have to be this way?

undefeated_posterNone of us likes to suffer, although there is a kind of suffering that we’re proud of. It’s that suffering that gets you back on your bike after a crash; the suffering of sleepless nights spent preparing tomorrow’s reports and lectures and speeches; it’s the suffering that comes with one more rep, one more mile, one more lap, one more shot. These are the sufferings of determination and grit—sufferings we choose. These are the sufferings which validate our will and our integrity and our character. We endure this kind of suffering proudly because we know it makes us strong.

But this isn’t the kind of suffering that Paul is talking about. Jesus says, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” No one is proud of being weak. No one brags about being cut from the varsity team, or about being passed over for a promotion. No one boasts of needing pills to keep themselves even, or of the late night binges of a pornography addiction. No one is proud of not knowing how to handle conflict between their parents, or what to do when their kids just won’t listen. Paul is talking about the embarrassing kind of suffering, the suffering of being helpless and feeling weak. This is just where Christ left Paul, just where Christ called him to remain.

That’s because it is only in our weakness that the gospel has real power. In Romans 1, Paul says that the gospel is the power of God for salvation. Jesus said that he did not come to tend to the healthy but to the sick and to the lost. Salvation necessarily means admitting you’re weak, admitting that you can’t find your way, that you can’t fix the problem. It means admitting that you just can’t stop, and that the situation is out of control. Salvation is for those who need saving.

This salvation, too, is not a one-time event. Yes, we are united to Christ once for all time—our final acquittal cannot be revoked. But salvation is also a moment-by-moment, existential dependence upon the grace of God in Christ. We are never free of our need of him. This is why all are equal in Christ, and why there is no room for boasting.

The irony of Paul’s boasting in weakness leads us to see that he is really not boasting in himself at all. Rather, he is boasting in the magnitude of God’s salvation in him. Paul is living out of a place of helplessness because there his weakness becomes the occasion for God’s grace and power to work in and through him. If Paul’s weakness is great, greater still is God’s salvation. The Christian life, then, is one of waiting in existential weakness, a place from which we constantly admit our helplessness and look for the power of God.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

WILD, Reese Witherspoon, 2014./ph: Anne Marie Fox/TM and Copyright ©Fox Searchlight. All rights reserved./Courtesy Everett Collection

A Voice of One Calling In The Wilderness: The Source of Power in Wild

In the film adaptation of Wild, Cheryl Strayed (played by Reese Witherspoon) reads the final stanza of “Power,” a poem by Adrienne Rich, on her first night hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

She died a famous woman denying
her wounds
denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power

These words, referring to scientist Marie Curie, strike a chord with Strayed when she reads them, and they stayed with me as well. They became the lens through which I found myself making sense of this remarkable story.

Unfortunately, I can only discuss Wild from the perspective of the film, which is based closely on…

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From the Magazine: Mixed Messages

From the Magazine: Mixed Messages

As a short glimpse into the Technology Issue, here’s The Sermon, which came to us this time from the Rev. Aaron Zimmerman. 

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day (Jn 6:35, 44)

Do you ever feel like you’re getting mixed messages? The classic ones are around gender roles: men are supposed to be tough…yet tender. Women should wear makeup…but…

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The Power of Grief and the Gift of the Present

The Power of Grief and the Gift of the Present

The proper definition of “grief” is (according to dictionary.com):

Keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret. 2. a cause or occasion of keen distress or sorrow

While I wish it were otherwise, grief is something that most of us have felt at one time or another. Grief is one of those classic human experiences symptomatic of brokenness—ours and the world’s around us. Grief overwhelms the entire body; you can feel grief course through your veins, move through your joints, sound from your vocal chords, bear down on your mind, and burden your back.

The grief I’ve experienced…

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Three Hard to Absorb Letters

Three Hard to Absorb Letters

Here’s one from our podcasting guru, Scott Jones:

This week Charlie Sheen revealed to the world he is HIV positive. In an interview with Matt Lauer, Sheen describes the moment he received the diagnosis:

… it started with what I thought based on a series of cluster headaches and insane migraines and sweating the bed, completely drenched two, three nights in a row, that I was emergency hospitalized. I thought I had a brain tumor. I thought it was over. Um… after a battery of tests and spinal taps, all that crap, it uh… they walked in the room and said, ‘Boom….

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