What are we mad about this week? [Curated]

HandsAngryPencil-300x200[Curated from the Ed Cyzewski blog.]

By Ed Cyzewski

I have been taking the weekends off from Facebook, and something strange has been happening on Monday morning. Feeling like Rip Van Winkle, I open up Facebook and review the news from the weekend. I catch myself wondering what people are angry about this week.

It’s strange to feel so detached from the passionate debates of the past two days.

Of course there are many things that we can legitimately become angry about. The world is rife with injustice. I’m not doubting these things or suggesting that we embrace complacency.

Rage can become a lifestyle, a habit that we cultivate by constantly feeding it tidbits of injustice and fear from our circles and from the news cycle.

Rather, I’ve been noticing that the daily use of Facebook can lead my mind into a kind of ongoing angst and anger, if not a sense of anxiety. In light of the injustices and problems in our world, I’m concerned that despite the benefits of awareness that comes through Facebook, it’s also creating a mindset of anger and anxiety that leaves me unable to thoughtfully engage the problems of our world in a constructive manner, let alone the people who disagree with my perspective… [Read more here].

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We Want to Believe in Ghosts

ghost_stairsBy Joe LaGuardia

In a rare one-season return, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully (played by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) are back to their old shananigans in The X Files.  The show presents audiences with mysteries old (the cigarette man is back) and new (technology has caught up with the times), all while affirming the show’s foundational mantra that the truth is out there.

X Files, with episodes entirely fictional but largely based on conspiracy theories, makes us want to believe– not necessarily the truth about monsters, but in that which is unseen, namely ghosts.

Ghosts have…er…haunted us for as long as humanity could write.  Every era has its own version of ghosts, whether fictional — Hamlet’s father in the opening Shakespearean play Hamlet comes to mind — to supposed fact, like those many spirits that haunt Georgia’s historic cities from Savannah to St. Simon’s Island.  As of 2013, more people believe in ghosts–roughly 45%–than regularly attend church.

A ghost or two even makes an appearance in the Bible: In 1 Samuel 28, an anxious and dispirited (pun intended) King Saul breaks his own laws by seeking a necromancer–the “witch of Endor”–in order to seek Samuel’s ghost for advice.

Calling Samuel from the dead, the witch raises the prophet from the below the earth and provides an omen to the king: “The Lord has turned from you and…has torn the kingdom from your hand” (v. 16, 17).

This story, as a part of scripture and taken literally for years, presents a conundrum for Christians who tell their children that ghosts are not real and that eternal life is something that results only from believing in Christ (Jesus was born 1,000 years after Saul’s reign).

As a pastor, I have to keep an open mind.  When someone tells me of a personal experience that includes the Holy Spirit–say a suspicion or a inkling–I admit that the Bible (Jesus, in fact) tells us very clearly that the Spirit “blows where it pleases” and empowers God’s people to be on mission.

Yet, there are many times when I ask questions of people who wonder whether they’ve seen or heard ghosts: If an experience has nothing to do with God’s mission or godly motives, I wonder if the person is correct in their interpretation of something they experienced, saw, or heard.  I still don’t know what to do about Saul’s run-in with Samuel’s ghost.

Science is close to unlocking the neurology and psychology that explains ghost sightings and the effects of apparitions.  Researchers in Switzerland, for instance, devised a lab experiment creating the effects of ghost phenomena.  Subjects claim to have sensed none other than a “ghost” as a result of the experiment.

Other scientists have concluded that people’s experiences are due to mechanical or biological factors, such as infrasound or sleep deprivation.

Unfortunately, science has yet to explain many other things, like miracles, religious and spiritual experiences, and, in our community, the power and presence of the “Holy Ghost.”  Exorcisms are still a norm in countries where science is not as prevalent.

It stands to reason that if science cannot unlock these secrets, people still have grounds to believe in other mysteries as well.

When my children were young, I told them ghost stories so they can learn how to discern fact from fiction and objectify their fears.  “Ghosts” are everywhere!  Flip-Flop-Flappy Jack is an old pirate who lives in our backyard and haunts us when he’s in the mood for pizza, and ghosts in our church sanctuary always provide a good scare every now and then.

My children know full well, however, that these apparitions are but fictitious “games” that help us get in touch with our deepest fears.  The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is someone very real–and they’ve learned to tell the difference between the two.  No matter how much fun they have, my kids, like the rest of us, will always want to believe.

Ghosts will always haunt us with questions about their existence in this world and in the next, so if you want to play it safe: Believe in the Holy Ghost, and be suspicious of all others.

“Fear and Trembling” at the coming of the Lord

fear-of-god

By Joe LaGuardia

What is it like for you to experience God when God draws near?

Some say that experiencing God is like being a first-time father in a labor and delivery room as his wife is pushing and breathing and crying and hoping.  New life is about to erupt on the scene, and its the most beautiful thing in the world, but also the most terrifying.

Others may say that meeting God is like visiting the tiger at the zoo.  One is enthralled with the beauty and hypnotized by its deep-set eyes.  There is awe at the beast’s power and majesty, but no one wants to jump in the enclosure and give it a hug.

Yet others might compare their experience of God by referring to a movie or parable.  The “Life of Pi” comes to mind–a story about a boy and his animals stranded on a life-boat in the middle of the ocean.  There, tragedies and storms, as well as serenity and enlightenment all provide opportunities to meet the Divine.

Psalm 114, which recalls God’s liberation of Israel from Egypt and God’s decision to call Israel home, communicates one author’s profound experience of God.  It is a short psalm, but its poetry is rich in its use of creation metaphors to describe God’s homecoming for them…and for us.

“Judah became God’s sanctuary,” the psalter recalls, “And the sea looked and fled…the mountains skipped like rams” (v. 2, 3, 4).

God’s power and majesty was on full display when God saved Israel from Egypt.  Israel: A small, tribal people enslaved by one of the most powerful and technologically advanced empires in the ancient world.  God: Creator of all life, one who chose Israel to call home.

It was a heart-shattering,  empire shattering, creation disturbing notion: God and Israel, together.

What else is there to do but ask questions?

“Why do you flee, O sea?  Why do you skip, O mountains?”

And pose a challenge: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord” (v. 7).

Such questions accompanied by a command make it seem that the psalm gives mixed messages.  How is it that, in one breath, the psalter wonders why creation flees in fear from the coming of the Lord; but, in the next breath, commands the earth to, well, fear God in trembling repose?

Perhaps the secret lies in the word, “tremble.”

First, it is hard to tremble in God’s presence when you’re too busy running from Him.

Second, if you read the Bible cover to cover, you would note that those who tremble are the very same people who come into contact with God and are changed forever.

In the Old Testament, the people of Israel trembled when God gave them the Law.  Moses trembled when he met God face to face.

In the New Testament, people and demons alike trembled in Jesus’ presence.  The woman who was hemorrhaging for years, upon being healed by Jesus, bowed down in worship to him, “trembling” (Mark 5:33).

Mary and her friends “trembled” after meeting the Risen Christ at the empty tomb (Mark 16:8).

Crowds trembled at God’s power when the disciples performed miracles; Peter mentioned that unrepentant sinners are unrepentant precisely because they “tremble not” (2 Peter 2:10); and Paul encouraged the Philippians to “work out your salvation in fear and trembling.”

If you experience God with mixed feelings of awe and majesty, as well as fear and trembling, then you are in good company.

And who can blame you?  God is so amazing, so much larger than we can imagine; how else can we respond?

Psalm 114 gives us two choices: We can either run away and keep God at arm’s length, or we can come into God’s presence and be utterly transformed into something new.  It is awesome, but it can also be frightening.

Sometimes God comes to us in a still, small voice.  Other times, God comes to us and scares the dickens–and the demons–out of us as we tremble in His presence.  But let Psalm 114 encourage you today: flee not; God is present.