What’s Wrong With Us? We Have Hope.

Star Wars Rebels is a wonderful animated television series bridging the gap between Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (where Anakin Skywalker completes his transformation into the evil Darth Vader), and Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (where Luke Skywalker rises up as a Jedi and leader of the Rebellion against the Empire). Star Wars Rebels tells the stories of a small band of rebels from the planet Lothal who resist the Empire with small scale vandalism and interference with imperial activity, but who at this point have not (yet) inspired or led a wider movement against the Empire.

Nonetheless, for their careful attacks and the presence of a Jedi among them, this band of rebels has garnered the attention of the Empire. Targeted several times for capture, they have skillfully eluded the Empire, but have also failed in their attempts to strike a bigger blow against the Empire.

In Vision of Hope, Ezra – a young boy among the rebels who is a padawan, or Jedi apprentice – rides a roller coaster of feelings. Early in the episode he has a vision that ignites in him hope that they can strike a significant blow against the Empire. Yet, the mission that forms from his vision – involving a senator the rebels thought was sympathetic to their cause, but who turned out to be working for the Empire all along – turned out to be a failure.

Screenshot from Vision of Hope: Ezra speaking with Hera

Screenshot from Star Wars Rebels episode, Vision of Hope. Ezra speaking with Hera on boarding platform of their ship, The Ghost.

At the end of the episode Ezra sits down with Hera, the pilot of the rebels’ ship. Reflecting not only the sense of failure from this mission, but from their several failed attempts to thwart the Empire, Ezra is dejected.

“What’s wrong with us?” Ezra asks.

“We have hope,” Hera responds. “Hope that things can get better. And they will.”

I love that Hera’s response to Ezra’s gloomy question – “What’s wrong with us?” – is not an answer about tactics, or manpower, or funding for their mission. And more, Hera doesn’t deny that something is wrong with them.

But instead, when asked, “What’s wrong with us?” Hera responds with a straightforward answer – “We have hope.” That’s what’s wrong with us. We have hope.

We have hope. That word hope looms large in the Star Wars canon, with echoes of Princess Leia calling out to Ben Kenobi in a holographic message in the original Star Wars movie, A New Hope. “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”

Hope. Hope looms large in the Christian faith. Christians have a hope that all will be made right in God’s promised future. Isaiah 25 looks forward in hope to when all will gather at the Lord’s holy mountain and feast on rich foods and drink well-aged wine. Revelation speaks of a new heaven and a new earth. Paul writes of Christians being made into new creations. Mary proclaims of her yet-in-utero son that he will lift the lowly up and fill the hungry with good things, while knocking the mighty off their thrones and sending the rich away empty. And Jesus himself gives a glimpse of his power by healing the sick and raising the dead, offering a hope that what they done in his miracles will be commonplace in the coming Kingdom of God.

Yet, having hope can feel like a liability. “What’s wrong with us?” “We have hope.” Yes, in a world saturated in cynicism and self-reliance, having hope in a God who promises a future where death is no more and tears are wiped from our eyes is a bit strange. Belief in a God who forgives sin, raises the dead, and grants grace freely and even recklessly – well, that’s just plain bizarre. Most of what we see around us could cause us to lose hope, yet as people of faith we are also people of hope.

What’s wrong with us? We have hope. We have hope because we refuse to believe that what we see is all that there is to see … and to know, and to believe. We have hope because we know that what we see is not all there is. We have hope because we know that sin and death and brokenness are not the end of the story, but that there is a resurrection on the other side of the grave. We have hope because we know that weeping lasts for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30).

We have hope. That’s what’s wrong with us. We have hope, in a world filled with despair.

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God Sharing Your Underwear Drawer

A Christmas Day sermon preached in 2011 at Grace Lutheran Church in Saint Paul, MN. The reading for the day was John 1:1-14.

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come. Amen.

In this sacred season we celebrate God’s presence among us,
and we become particularly enamored of the image of the baby Jesus
being held in his mother’s arms while surrounded by farm animals
and shepherds and angels and kings.
It is quite an image, and something that brings us comfort.
Yes, the angel proclaimed to Joseph that the child shall be called
“Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.”
In a world where we can feel distant from God and from each other,
where phones become a lifeline and friendships are virtual,
the news that God is with us is meant to comfort us,
to close the aching gap of distant relationships
and to surround us with love rather than loneliness.

But what if … but what if there is a side to the incarnation,
an aspect to God being with us that is less-than-comforting?
What if, like a teenager’s relationship with her parent,
we are comforted by knowing that God our parent is near to us,
we rely on the protection and care that God our parent gives to us,
we are grateful that God our parent is there for us when we need, but …
but we also like our distance,
we like to close our bedroom door to keep God our parent out,
so we can have our privacy, our own space,
some distance from God our parent.
What if we are like the teenager, who completely depends on her parent,
but isn’t entirely sure that she wants her parent around all the time?

In today’s Gospel, we read that the Word became flesh and lived among us.
Literally translated, this passage says that God’s Word took on flesh
and pitched a tent with us, took up camp alongside us, moved into our lives.
So, teenager, your heavenly parent is moving into your room.
Bringing in a pillow and taking over half the bed,
probably steeling the sheets in the process, and likely snoring at night.
All parents of teenagers snore, I think.
So uncool.

This heavenly parent of yours has moved into your room and is taking over your space,
putting totally uncool clothing in your jam-packed closet,
hanging up ABBA and BeeGees posters on your walls,
blasting cheesy disco music from your stereo,
and putting their underwear in your underwear drawer – gross!
“This is too close!” you protest. “Eww! Get out of my room. Don’t be so close.”
“You’re supposed to be a parent, like, over there, in your own room.
And do, you know, old people things, and well, stay away.
Go away. Keep your distance. I want my space.”

The Word of God, the heavenly Word, the divine presence,
the Word that spoke creation into being and which was spoken by holy prophets,
was always at some distance –
up in the heavens, or on the lips of a prophet easily ignored ….
But now this Word, this once-easy-to-keep-at-a-distance Word
has become flesh and lives among us,
has come really close, frighteningly close, in-your-face close,
sharing-your-underwear-drawer close.
Ultimately, this is Good News,
that God is so intimately close to us and with us
that we cannot get away from God’s saving, loving, and compassionate presence.
God has pitched a tent and moved into our rooms,
God has gotten in our face and isn’t going away.
It’s not all sweet and comforting, folks. At times it’s annoying as all get out.
We want our space.
But God’s not going to give it to us. Instead, God fills that space with love and grace,
a love and grace that is at times unnerving,
a love and grace that is at times overwhelming,
a love and grace that is at all times surrounding us and holding us,
leading us from death to life,
from sin to grace,
from darkness to light,
from despair to hope,
from weeping to joy,
from a manger to a cross to an empty grave …
to a new kingdom of everlasting life.

Amen.

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“Still”

“There are still problems (with racism and inequality) and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up.”
- President Obama, November 24, 2014

One of the most important words President Obama spoke on Monday night was the word “still.” “There are still problems,” he said.

Still.

The Civil Rights era might have seen the dismantling of a segregationist legal code, but changing laws is not enough. There are still problems.

racism is not over t-shirt

Yes, racism is still a thing. For a biting, sarcastic, yet terribly real video telling of the reality of racism, click on the picture.

There are still problems when the education, criminal justice, and economic systems don’t deliver on their promises – not just in individual cases, but for a whole subset of the American people. African Americans are disproportionately disadvantaged in our American system. Race bias, and racial injustice, are embedded in our society and its institutions. The laws have changed, and so have many attitudes and structures. Things are better. Progress has been made. But there are still problems.

Still.

We cannot turn a blind eye to the struggles of our sisters and brothers in Christ, our fellow Americans. We cannot congratulate ourselves for changing laws 50 years ago and just think, mistakenly, that our work there is done. No. There are still problems.

Still.

Can we believe it? Are we willing to face the facts that there are still problems, lingering from over 100 years of slavery, and another 100 years of Jim Crow, all legacies of an even longer history of imperialism that objectified and commodified the other? For most of our nation’s history, black people have been outlawed and branded as criminal, threatening, commodities, animals, as less-than. For 200+ years the freedom of black Americans was seen as un-American, as a threat to the American way.

200+ years of heinously racist and dehumanizing attitudes in our society don’t evaporate because of 50 years of better laws and some structural reform. 200+ years of racism are embedded in the very DNA of our society, in its economic structure, in its public policy, in its education system. And while some of racism’s impact has changed, it has not gone away. There are still problems.

Still. 

[On my blog on the church website, I have written about the need to listen to the cries from the prophets and from Ferguson. Click here to view that story: Listening to the Cries – Habakkuk and Ferguson]

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Oaths of Office

On Friday I received my commission as a Chaplain (First Lieutenant) in the US Army and in the Indiana Army National Guard. Here are the oaths I swore.

I, Christopher Thomas Duckworth, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Indiana against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and Governor of the State of Indiana, that I make this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the Office of First Lieutenant in the Army National Guard of the State of Indiana upon which I am about to enter, so help me God.

I, Christopher Thomas Duckworth, having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of First Lieutenant do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; SO HELP ME GOD.

April 25, 2014
Lawrence, Indiana

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From Race Prep to Building a Base

I just completed a rather dumb training cycle. With just a few sub-100 mile months under my belt after two months of near zero training due to injury and a cross country move, I decided last fall to run a spring marathon … and to use the Hansons Marathon Method Advanced Program to help me achieve that goal.

So I went from less than 100 miles combined over last June, July and August, Last 12 months mileageand September, October, and November each in the 80-ish mile range, to cranking out four consecutive 150+ mile months (two of those months over 200 miles) in my marathon training program.

It felt great at times. But it also hurt at times. On race day I met my goal of running a sub-3:30 marathon, but I wasn’t quite ready for it. I don’t recommend this kind of running. I needed more of a base, and a more gradual increase in my weekly and monthly mileage. (For the long boring race report/post-mortem of my race, visit my Running Ahead training log here).

So now I’m building a base. Runners with a strong base are stronger, better runners. I want to be a stronger, better runner. I’ve never built a base, but have mostly geared up for races, finished the races, and then – due to injury or life change – stopped running for a period. I’m done with that kind of running. Now is time to build the base.

Though I have some racing goals in mind, my primary goal now is to just keep running, with less intensity but with disciplined regularity, to build my mileage base, get stronger, and increase my endurance. From weeks in the high 50s and low 60s during my marathon training plan, I’m dialing back to 35-40 miles per week (150 miles per month). But unlike I’ve ever done, I hope to string together several months of regular running with consistent miles. Perhaps I’ll intersperse these miles with a few races, but the primary focus will be the disciplined, yet less exciting, goal of building a base.

It’s easy to get up early on a dark, rainy day when you’ve got a marathon on the calendar and a personal record to chase. This new stage of training – with no personal record or marathon on the immediate horizon – will be a new kind of challenge for me.

Still, I have a few race goals for the next few months. For one, I want to go sub-6:00 in the mile. When I was 16 years old I ran 4:23. Those days are LONG gone. However, last year I did surprise myself in an open mile in Minneapolis and ran a 6:03. With more training already this year than I had at that time last year, I am pretty confident I can go under 6:00 – perhaps even close to 5:50 … but we’ll see. I’ve signed up for the inaugural Monumental Mile on June 5 in downtown Indianapolis. Should be fun.

The other race goal I have for the short-term is to drop my half marathon time. In Saturday’s full marathon I hit my half marathon split at just 12 seconds off my half marathon personal record. If I ran a half marathon at just 12 seconds off my personal record, and then continued to run another 13.1 miles, I know I can drop a few minutes from that PR in an open half marathon. But the problem with reaching this goal is that I won’t be in respectable half marathon race condition until sometime in June … and after the end of May there are very few half marathons in the region until late September, when I will report to Ch-BOLC (Chaplain Basic Officer Leadership Course) to begin my training as a Chaplain in the Indiana Army National Guard.

So the goal for the moment is base-building. Get out there and run 5-6 miles three days/week (easy pace); 7-8 miles two days/week (with a moderate tempo and/or fartlek workout); and a 10ish mile long run. Though I’ve just trained like a madman with 3:50am alarms and 12-14 miles before sunrise some days, this shift to a different kind of training is likely to be my hardest challenge yet.

Wish me luck, please.

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The Bible’s “Marathon” Verses – 26:2

Bible 26:2

I am running my second-ever marathon this Saturday. A marathon is 26.2 miles. For no reason other than the novelty of it, I present here every chapter 26, verse 2, of the Bible – out of context, and perhaps quite odd to read in isolation from the broader story of the text.

The marathon distance is rather arbitrary, and the assignment of verse numbers to Scripture texts wasn’t exactly a precise science, either. I’m no believer in hidden codes in Scripture, nor that the chapter/verse numbers themselves have any intrinsic meaning. I just like marathons and I like the Bible.

That being said, I will certainly carry Job 26:2 with me during Saturday’s race: “How you have helped one who has no power! How you have assisted the arm that has no strength!” If I run this race correctly, I should be pretty much out of power and without strength at the end of the race (and hopefully have a new personal record). This Saturday I will certainly find comfort in the God who helps one who has no power.

I am grateful for the gifts and opportunities God has given to me to run and to train. Running truly gives me such joy, and is a great way for me to revel in the gift of life God has given me. I look forward to celebrating God’s gifts over a 26.2 mile course this Saturday.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Genesis 26:2
The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; settle in the land that I shall show you.”

Exodus 26:2
The length of each curtain shall be twenty-eight cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits; all the curtains shall be of the same size.

Leviticus 26:2
You shall keep my sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.

Numbers 26:2
“Take a census of the whole congregation of the Israelites, from twenty years old and upward, by their ancestral houses, everyone in Israel able to go to war.”

Deuteronomy 26:2
You shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.

1 Samuel 26:2
So Saul rose and went down to the Wilderness of Ziph, with three thousand chosen men of Israel, to seek David in the Wilderness of Ziph.

1 Chronicles 26:2
Meshelemiah had sons: Zechariah the firstborn, Jediael the second, Zebadiah the third, Jathniel the fourth.

2 Chronicles 26:2
He rebuilt Eloth and restored it to Judah, after the king slept with his ancestors.

Job 26:2
“How you have helped one who has no power! How you have assisted the arm that has no strength!”

Psalm 26:2
Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind.

Proverbs 26:2
Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, an undeserved curse goes nowhere.

Isaiah 26:2
Open the gates, so that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.

Jeremiah 26:2
Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord; speak to them all the words that I command you; do not hold back a word.

Ezekiel 26:2
Mortal, because Tyre said concerning Jerusalem, “Aha, broken is the gateway of the peoples; it has swung open to me; I shall be replenished, now that it is wasted.”

Sirach 26:2
A loyal wife brings joy to her husband,
and he will complete his years in peace.

Matthew 26:2
“You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”

Acts 26:2
“I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews.”

* all bible verses from the New Revised Standard Version

 

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Bible Verse in a Box with a Majestic Nature Scene

Have you ever noticed that so many of the inspirational Bible-verse-in-a-box images that get passed around on Facebook and Twitter superimpose the words of Scripture over a majestic nature scene?

A mountain peak reaching into the skies. “I will set my eyes to the hills – Psalm 121″

Ocean waves crashing on rocks as the sun rises. “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold – Psalm 18:2″

An endless plain blowing with amber waves of grain. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. – John 14:27″

The message from these images (and from their ancestors, the inspirational Bible verse poster sold at Christian bookstores) sends an indirect yet clear message – God is found in the far-off, in the majestic, in the distant nature scene.

This is terribly sad, of course, for a people who follow a Lord whose name is Emmanuel – God with us. God might be with us in our theology, but in our popular imagery we see God as far off, in nature, away from people.

To be sure, Scripture uses nature imagery to describe God, and even Jesus and Moses ascend mountains for moments of retreat and prayer. Yet, such imagery is neither the dominant nor the only metaphor or model found within Scripture to describe the community of faith and its relationship with God.

The preponderance of majestic nature scene images in our popular expression of faith reinforces an unhealthy sense that we must “get away” from human community in order to commune with God. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paul’s discussion of the Body of Christ and of the importance of the Christian community, in 1 Corinthians 12, attests to that.

Take a look at the next several inspirational Bible verse in a box images you find on Facebook or Twitter – how many of those images include people, include the “us” with whom our God is?

We are a people whose hope-filled imagery of God’s promised future is one of a holy city descending from heaven, and a bold declaration that “the home of God is among mortals” (Revelation 21). Jesus spent lots of time among crowds, and from the beginnings of the salvation story we see God choosing and acting within a community of people.

I think our popular imagery should reflect our theology.

I like beautiful images from nature, but our collections of faith-inspiring imagery should also include pictures of people, of urban and small town landscapes, of the communities that God so loved that he sent his only Son into them. I’m sure some such images exist, but in my experience they are few and far between. We can change that.

I’m not a very creative person when it comes to graphics, but I dabbled with some photos on Flickr to see what it could look like to superimpose words from Scripture on images of people. Here are two that I created.

Keep Watch

Light shine

What can you create? Find photos with people, or take your own photos of friends, family, neighbors, and join them with words of Scripture.

Tag the photos #photoverse and share on FB, Twitter, your blog, or wherever else you share photos. Let’s expand how we see, imagine, and share God among us.

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