Jon Hevelone's blog
Every so often there’s a surge of interest in UFO’s and the possibility of alien life. There is a hardcore group of true believers who are sure that aliens exist, and there are others who find the idea worth considering, or at least entertaining. Even Hillary Clinton has gotten into the act, with comments promising that as president she is going to get to the bottom of the UFO stories.
What do you think? Are there aliens? Run through this quick test to find out your interest:
What was the TV series set in outer space mainly on the Starship Enterprise? (Star Trek)
What town in New Mexico do some believe aliens have already landed? (Roswell)
What is the secret storage area where some think proof of aliens is held? (Area 51)
What did E.T. need to do in the movie? (Phone home.)
What was Spock’s catchphrase, accompanied with spread fingers? (Live long and prosper.)
I thought so. From your answers it looks like the First Baptist family has an interest in aliens.
Actually, every one of us knows what it’s like to be an alien. An outsider. We have each had times when we were the only woman in a room of men, the only conservative Republican in a group of liberal Democrats, the only white person in a crowd of black people. Sometimes being an alien is only a passing thing, sometimes it’s something to endure. I recently received an invitation to my high school reunion (“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”) and it brought back memories of feeling rejected and alone during my adolescence. We’ve all been there, one way or another. A stranger in a strange land.
Sometimes these experiences are easy to get through. Invited to join a new group of acquaintances to watch a Red Sox game at Fenway? Don’t wear your Detroit Tigers gear, and keep your mouth shut. Nobody will know you’re really an alien. In other cases, the experiences of being an outsider can scar for life. Ever wonder what it does to someone born and raised in America who finds themselves shunned and feared because they share the same racial heritage as the bad guys in the middle east? Ever wonder what it’s like to be a passionate evangelical Christian who also happens to be gay? There are a lot of aliens around us all the time.
Jesus himself was an alien. I’m not talking about the pointy-eared, red-eyed kind of alien of monster movies, but the kind of person who would not accept the corrupt standards of a world that was broken by sin. Jesus loved his neighbor. He healed the broken-hearted. He said the first will be last, and the last will finally be at the head of the line. Jesus lived as an outsider in the very world he himself had created.
As Christians, we too, are aliens. We are outsiders just like the One we follow. The Apostle Paul put it directly: “Your citizenship is in heaven.” As citizens of the kingdom of God we are to represent the personal standards of our Lord and Savior. Violence, hatred, and prejudice are simply not welcomed in our way of life, because they are are being replaced with peace, love and acceptance. We are on mission, to bring the alien ways of Jesus to a world desperately in need of a new way of living.
Live long and prosper.
Contemporary Christian music is not one of my favorite forms of worship. Oh, there are exceptions. My idea of real contemporary Christian music is those songs I lustily sang way back when as a younger adult I renewed my faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, my favorite contemporary music is stuck in a time-warp decades ago. The stuff now just doesn’t move me. Too much noise, too much ego, too much froth. Not enough of the biblical God.
This made it interesting when I found I had an unexpected ally in my distaste for such baptized drivel. Bono, the rock band U2’s lead singer, has recently made a video with Eugene Peterson, the biblical translator whose work, The Message, is a version of the Bible I read. In the video Bono has unexpected suggestions for Christian musicians trying to make music. “I find in Christian art a lot of dishonesty, and I think it’s a shame.”
Bono speaks from the perspective of one who’s ministry calling is outside the church, but in Christ. “I would love if this conversation would inspire people who are writing these beautiful… gospel songs, write a song about their bad marriage. Write a song about how they’re pissed off at the government. Because that’s what God wants from you,” Bono said. “Why I am suspicious of Christians is because of this lack of realism.”
Dishonesty? Lack of realism? Do these things exist in Christian music? Do they exist in the broader Christian church? Do they exist in me? Yes, they are there, and sometimes they become a huge stumbling bock not only to other people, but impediments to our own spiritual growth. The attitude: “I used to be a terrible sinner, but I’ve come to Jesus, and now everything is ok,” not only wears thin, but it keeps us from allowing those things which are definitely not “ok” to be brought before the cleansing ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The Psalms hold a fascinating appeal for Bono in their brutal honesty. He says the psalms may be great poetry but it’s the authentic reflection of the human spirit wrestling with God that rivets him. Often the psalmist opens his soul before God as he works out his salvation with fear and trembling. “…for the word to live, for it to leap from the page and into our lives, the only time is now, the only place is here.”
Bono, who suffers from an eye problem, almost never in seen without sunglasses on. He admits that it’s not only a help for his vision, but also a pride thing. The sunglasses serve as a guard between him and the world. In his usual fresh, direct way of looking at life, he says: “Coolness might help in your negotiation with people through the world, maybe, but it is impossible to meet God with sunglasses on.”
Can we hear the words of a prophet pleading with us? Can we in the church, we who are open to the transforming love of God take our sunglasses off? May we aim for honesty in our lives, in our Christian witness, in our relationship with others and with God? Let this be our goal not only in the music that leads us into worship, be it “contemporary Christian” or classic Bach, but in our relationships with others, with ourselves, and with God. Such a way of living won’t make us a rock star, but it will bring us closer to the Rock.
One of the things I really like about being a Baptist is that our churches are a jumbled mix of very different people. We usually have folks come together from lifestyles that would never cross paths with one another other than in church, have bank accounts that range from terrible to terrific, and hold theological ideas that go from carefully thought out orthodoxy to “Gee! I never thought about that!” The one common denominator is we are all drawn to Jesus because Baptists truly lift him up as the one to worship and follow. Simply, he is Lord.
Our curious mix of widely different people makes it rather hard when we find ourselves discussing politics. Some Christians take the safe road of believing that religion and politics don’t mix. Others jump on a particular band wagon and “baptize” a certain candidate or a particular talking point and indicate that if you are really a Christian you must support and vote a certain way or else.
As a pastor I try to remember that my calling is to follow Paul and “be all things to all people.” That’s a goal that would drastically fall on its face if I suddenly began beating the drum for one viewpoint or one candidate. People who saw their political salvation differently would stop listening to me, and my ability to be their pastor would be harmed. It’s hard enough for the good folks at First Baptist Arlington to accept the fact that my first love is really Kansas State Wildcat football rather than the Patriots!
The problem is that both Christian faith and politics ask basic questions about the nature of human beings and the world, what we see as ultimately important, and how we should act. Because faith and politics seek answers to these intertwined concerns, it is impossible for a follower of Jesus not to be politically involved. I frankly believe this is especially true today, where I see the current fray has moved from being mainly political to being primarily moral and ethical.
I am not going to tell you to vote Democratic or Republican or Rainbow Green or anything else that might pop up in the mess. I am going to tell you to be a Christian! Let your faith, your Christian values, and Jesus’ direction to seek first the kingdom of God guide you. If your faith doesn’t shape you, then it’s quite likely you will be guided by your discontent, anger, greed and fear, since these seem to be the human emotions being preyed upon to get votes. As a Christian, I believe the vision of the kingdom of God is a whole lot better than what we are being offered.
So let me tell you what I am going to do. I am going to remember first of all that I have a leader far better than all the current presidential candidates put together. I am going to join his campaign, and tell everyone who will listen that he is our hope and salvation. And I am going to try to evaluate everything I do, and everything I hear with the rule of thumb Jesus has taught me: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:37-39)
Palm Sunday at First Baptist Arlington is a happy Sunday. We lose a little of our New England reserve and cautiously wave palm branches as we sing out “Hosanna!” Some of us even manage to shout out “Alleluia to Jesus!” Our children happily think of Jesus riding along on a donkey. The promise of spring is in the air, even if that air will soon be filled with falling snow from a last minute nor’easter. We anticipate the beauty of our lily and tulip filled sanctuary next Sunday as we celebrate the joy of Easter.
If you’re not in church again until next Sunday you are going to miss the heart of the drama. Next Sunday will be filled with the best our choir, organ pipes and grand piano can offer. We will add our joyful cries of “Alleluias!” But where will you be when the going gets rough?
Between the hosannas of Palm Sunday and the alleluias of Easter there is so much more. What we we do on Monday? On Tuesday, the day the vote is taken in Pilate’s judgement hall? When the roar of the crowd comes back, “Barabbas! Barabbas! Release Barabbas!” What about when Pilate, ever the politician asks: “And what of the one called the Christ?”
“Crucify him! Crucify him!” The shouts came from many of the same people who had been cheering in the Palm Sunday parade. What about us? Where will we be?
Church, let us decide to be with Jesus, no matter what. Let us decide to open our lives each day to the empowering, transforming, loving touch of Jesus. We will know the wholeness of life when we let the Savior be welcomed into our center, our core, our heart.
Then, if we are to really follow him, we will live like Jesus. That means connecting with people whose lives we do not necessarily understand, but joining and walking with them as together we follow our Savior. There is no other way to read the Book - Jesus calls his people to be on the side of the poor, the rejected, the broken and the marginalized. Jesus expects this of us. After all, he sees you and me as being so worth while that he gave everything for us.
Now he holds out a cross to us. We are to take it, and to live his way. We are to climb paths even when they are steep and hard. We are to make peace where there is conflict, whether it is in our world or in our homes. We are to feed the hungry. Give a cup of cold water in his name. We are to remember the sick and the lonely. We are to seek the ways that make for peace, justice and even reconciliation in a culture where these are not the primary values.
We then can come to church Easter Sunday truly rejoicing, knowing the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings and the power of his resurrection. We will worship God with alleluias coming not only from our lips but also from our lives.