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  • karen horst cobb: February 2007

    Friday, February 23, 2007

    meditation:Bright Sadness Shining in Darkness

    Then Jesus was lead up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Matt 4:1

    (The term “bright sadness” is used in Eastern Orthodox Christianity to describe the characteristics of Lent.)

    The bright sadness of lent has a fresh meaning this year. Many of us are leaving the distractions of the crowd and have been led into the wilderness. Our faith has been questioned by ourselves and others. Darkness continues to seduce believers into meeting our physical needs, challenging our identity and possessing the whole world in exchange for our loyalty. The temptations and strategies of dark forces have remained the same.

    The first temptation of Christ in the wilderness came at the end of forty days of fasting. We can almost hear the salesman of darkness argue the case. He would explain that it is “only natural” to want bread after so long a time with out any. It would seem to be what the father would want for his son and a great way to demonstrate magical spiritual powers. The response of Jesus was simply, “Man can not live by bread a lone but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God.”

    Scripture informs us that all of creation is the result of the Word of God. Jesus confessed that both stones and bread (and every thing else) exists because of God’s word and we exist because of it all. Every element of creation sustains us. The temptation was physical and emotional, the response was spiritual and practical. The voice of darkness was saying be comfortable and “put your money where your mouth is” Prove you have power. The voice of light demonstrated there was no need to.

    Christ was not motivated by the physical and emotional temptations so the next challenge concerned the nature of his identity. He was chided to prove he is the son of God by throwing himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple. He was being tempted to use power to protect himself from traumatic injury and death and to engage in risky behavior. Jesus simply responded again with the word of God which spoke all things into existence, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” Afterall God established even the laws of physics, such as gravity. Again Jesus referred to the all encompassing Word of creation. There was not need for more than this.

    Neither Christ’s bodily desires, emotions nor the source of his identity caused him to fall to temptation. Darkness issued the one last enticement, the one which continues to seduce many-Political power. The voice of Darkness promised him possession of the whole world in exchange for praise and honor. Jesus was asked to compromise dependency on God’s love in exchange for a chance to rule the world. Jesus again responded with the powerful Word of God, …”you shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.”

    The bright sadness of our day presents us with these same challenges. Many are seduced by physical comforts, demonstrations of spiritual powers and the chance to rule the world. The church has been called away by threats of being left behind and promises of governing an emerging empire. We are told all we have to do is compromise on one little part of Jesus' teaching. All we have to do is embrace millitary force. Many Christians have have decided to name it and claim it, demonstrate signs and wonders, and fight for a new world after a nuclear war.

    In this time of bright sadness we can rely on the love of the Living Word which spoke everything into existence.

    Prayer: With love and light we seek to shine in this time of bright sadness. We remember you’re example of confident suffering and uncompromising love. Infuse us with every element of the creative Word.

    Action: Meditate on the various temptations of
    Comfort… Reputation….Identity……..Power.
    Make your responses audibly and publicly in this time of bright Sadness.

    Saturday, February 17, 2007

    Meditation: Pro-test-ants and Con-test-ants

    Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God. Matthew 5:9

    An old Anabaptist once counseled me that “Mennonites do not protest.” I could not help mentioning that even the word “protestant ”came from the radicals of the reformation and some of those were followers of Menno Simons. They became defined by their “protests” over infant baptism rather than baptism with mature understanding. But, they were killed for “protesting” the act of taking up arms against others of God’s creation. They protested the demands of the Roman Catholic Church and the conquests of Empire.

    “Pro” means “for” and test means “voice.“ The early Pro-test-ants were a positive voice for Jesus and his teachings. In our time the word “Christianity “ has come to represent patriotic, military, oppressive religion which conquers lands and people. The word “protest” has come to mean crazed fringe fanatics. Good, decent, Christian people have remained silent while the false teachings of empire take hold. Jesus’ name is taken in vain and his reputation is destroyed. This is what happened in Germany while Hitler was rising to power. This is what is happening now.

    We do not have a “Hitler” but we do have one who identifies himself as “ the decider“, a “war President“, and one who has shown that killing is easily explained away. His father envisioned a “ New World Order” and the current president surrounds himself with others who have the same vision. During the debate he said that Jesus Christ is his favorite philosopher and he professes to the world that he is “born again.” He is the most prominent face of Christianity to the world.

    Mega church pastors such as Rod Parsley, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Jerry Fallwell and about four hundred other evangelical leaders have joined Christians United for Israel (CUFI). They represent 30 million people from every state and every congressional district. These are many of the same people who belong to the secretive group known as the Council on National Policy (CNP) in past decades. John Hagee founded CUFI and wants to have a “rapid response” to lobby congress to go to war against those who are deemed to be “enemies of Israel.”

    The prosperity gospel, moral elitism and glorification of military strength appeal to the masses. They are taught that they will rule the world following the final, earthly, nuclear battle of Armageddon. Leaders entice their audiences with the same incentives Satan used when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness; You deserve comfort, you can have it all, prove your special by demonstrating your powers, you will one day rule the world.

    In the past no nation has had the power to “create” Armageddon and set up a New World Order. However, the nuclear arsenal of the United States could create it many times over. The "New World Order" will have the power of unregulated global markets and international corporations which can dole out the earth’s natural resources. All that is needed is a “war president” with an apocalyptic eschatology. That is exactly what we have.

    The “fundamentalists” take literally all obscure scriptures with destructive violent imagery but disregard the fundamental teachings of Jesus kindness, generosity, grace, forgiveness, and love of enemies as well as friends. His words and example are dismissed. I think of these mega-church leaders not as Pro-test-ants but as Con-test-ants because they seek to win money and power. They know how to work a crowd and then use them to manipulate elected officials.

    When I look back on this time in history I want to know that I took a stand for Jesus and his teachings of love and compassion. I want to know that I did not go along with the mega-crowd. I want to know that I had the courage of my convictions and took risk. If we remain silent while the mega-church lobbyists are in place to massively lobby congress, “the Decider” will be emboldened to again unleash “shock and awe.” More little children and their families will be blown to bits and burned bythe decisions of people who say they are “Christians.“In our hearts each of us will know the answer to the question. Did I pro-test?

    Prayer: Thank you for the witness of your life as you stood for truth during the rise of an empire and before oppressive religious leaders. Help us to go and do likewise. Amen

    Action: Make your plans now to join us in Washington on March 16 for the Christian Peace Witness. Invite as many as you can to join us. Lend your positive voice as we pro-test and reclaim the meaning of Jesus.

    Thursday, February 08, 2007

    Meditation: We are the Body of Christ

    For in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Acts 17:28

    We are the living, moving, breathing, body of Christ. We are the Church. As children we sang “ the church is not the building, the church is not the steeple, the church is the people.” But, simple things confound the wise. A lot of things in the Bible are taken literally but the Church being the embodiment of Christ is not one of them. Many believe that Jesus is away. When Jesus’ body was crucified those who remained, and all of those who have followed after him, became the embodiment of his spirit on earth. We are the spirit of the Messiah, the great hope for humanity, embodies “the church“. He is us.

    “Christ’s body” in the first century was a diverse group of people. The beliefs varied widely concerning Jewish law and Pagan rituals. One thing they both agreed upon was that there is a power higher than the government and religious institutions. That is why true Christians are always seen as a threat to powers and principalities. The early Christians were pacifists. They were not religious. They were reborn.

    Australian Theologian William Loader suggests that transforming faith removes barriers constructed by religion. “The whole world is God’s creation, the playground of the Spirit. The whole world is the object of God’s love, the love incarnate in Jesus Christ. Every attempt by human beings to capture God in images, in a book, in a temple, in a people or culture, in a religious experience or in an institution, is a denial of the Spirit. It is a re-erection of Babel’s tower, another futile assault on God’s power in the name of human power, another desperate bid borne of fear, to define out the unknown, the unpredictable, the unmanageable future God promises us. The serpent’s vision still entices us: we want to be like God.”

    Our Babel continually merges the church with the state. St Augustine facilitated this when he developed the concept of “just war theory.” Some might say he saved the Christian religion. The theory was developed in desperation because Christians in Carthage refused to fight when the Visigoths invaded. They were following Jesus, they were pacifists. This merging of Jesus’ teachings with political power has strengthen the religion but has destroyed the faith and brought us to our present condition. The religion has survived but the true Church has been gobbled up by religion.

    The Roman Catholic Church was amassing great wealth by exacting outrageous indulgences from the poor in 1517. The crusades sought to further the power of the religion and increase the empire. Martin Luther was compelled to nail his 95 theses to the door. The Church and state were pulled apart and the message of Jesus was more freely available to all. As a result of reading Jesus’ words, pacifism was reclaimed and grew quickly. It seems true Christianity historically is followed by martyrdom.

    “Christians” committing violence is the dominant religious force of empires, even the emerging United States empire. Once again fear of an apocalypse and evading Moslem fighters fuel the cry for a “righteous” military force. Many of those who confess Christ help build the United States version of the tower of Babel and fuel the crusading army headed for the Middle East. It is time again for reform. The body of Christ within the churches will emerge. We will rise up, return to the truth of Jesus and his teachings. We will nail our theses to the door for all to see.

    Kindness and generosity are the characteristics of Christ

    One can not kill for Jesus

    The new Jerusalem is not real estate

    Jesus did not teach capitalism

    The free market is not the good news

    Punishment does not save

    The word of God is not a book

    One honest person can impact more than a multitude

    Comfort is not our birthright

    Prayer: Living God who embodies us and whom we embody restore your teachings of love, compassion and non-violence to our world. We rejoice that in you we live and move and have our being and as your church we welcome you to live and move and be in us. Amen

    Action: Read about the history of the Church and notice the patterns of political power, wealth and corruption. Rent the movie Luther and reflect on the similarities to today. In silence listen to the still small voice and discern how we can better embody the spirit of the Christ in the world. Nail your thesis to the door.

    Friday, February 02, 2007

    We Are Being Framed

    Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. Eph 4:29

    But let your
    communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. Matthew 5:37

    When we look at a photograph we often focus on one area. we might even crop it, frame it and discard the rest. This is a good way to think about religious, political and advertising communication. The big picture is often obscured or misrepresented by framing. False impressions and double speak are standard fare on talk radio and television news casts. The public mind is continually being manipulated and shaped. The scriptures remind us of the importance of honest communication and admonish us to be wise and alert to false witness and deceptions.

    There are positive uses of reframing as a tool to heal or prevent psychological pathology but many who have ideas or products to sell use the technique to their advantage while obscuring the truth. Words create mental images and emotions which can change perceptions and behaviors without the subject even noticing. By saying, “don’t think about an elephant” you are made to do exactly that. From current headlines we have a great example of carefully chosen words. The use of the word “surge” to describe the President’s plans to send more soldiers to Iraq creates a positive emotion of a fast and powerful fluid force. Those opposed to the plan have reframed the issue and refer to it as the president’s “escalation” which implies that even more will die.

    This technique is used when talk show hosts say something like “Most people think that anti-war activists are crazed fanatics.” Even if the commentator goes on to explain that this is not a view the host shares the message was conveyed to the listener that “most people” do think this. The listener considers that they are ordinary too so they join in that opinion rather than be an outcast. A person who is not using critical thinking skills checks for facts will gradually begin to believe and repeat things which are false.

    Nearly all of the major talk radio hosts receive “talking points” each morning which lay out the framing of the issues. The result has been that a huge amount of the population has come to accept the framing and sees the issues in the same way. Before long it is not even questioned. Along with the framing comes memorable antidotes such as the “welfare queen” who is driving a fancy car and living in luxury as hard working people pay taxes. No reporter was ever able to find such a person and welfare statistics and demographics tell a very different story. Another example is the urban ledged of war protesters spitting on those in uniform. There has yet to be one documented case of this occurring. The stories are powerful and endure decades on end and manipulate public opinion.

    The religious right coined the term “Pro-life” knowing that the implied opposite of that is “pro-death.” (good vs. evil) This was reframed by many as “pro-choice” which implies that those who disagree with them are “pro-force.” (free vs. slave) Another example is the framing “tax-relief” which can be reframed as “tax responsibility.” The term “death-tax” implies that there are “grave robbers “ rather than a larger frame of living people who are receiving income they have not earned. The term “free market” implies that businesses have been imprisoned. Those who want to challenge this idea have reframed the issue as a “fair market” (implying that some are being taken advantage of. No matter where one stands on these issues it is clear that framing is going on.

    A reporter or talk show host often asks a guest, “how can you support “retreat ” when many say that the violence against Iraqis will increase if we leave?” The guest is caught in a frame which is not honest and they are trapped in dilemma. Often on programs like these there isn’t enough time to establish an new frame. Usually the best they can do is say “I don’t agree with your assumptions.”

    As the calls for “security” of the “homeland” increase and fear of “Muslim extremists”, and “weapon’s grade” everything abound we will again be told not to think of a “mushroom cloud.” The media spin and the pentagon’s framing of those who stand for peace and against the use of weapons will be terms such as “subversives“ , “anti-American“ , “paid outside agitators.” , and “extremists.” Emotionally loaded words and images will be used to discourage people from speaking out. We do not need to be intimidated. These same tactics framed Jesus and lead to his crucifixion. Again in our time he is being framed.

    Recently a “conservative theologian” stated this week on Fox, “ You know , Jesus wasn't a bearded lady. He fashioned a whip, threw out the money changers, stood for truth, led in difficult time periods. I think, given the war on terrorism and the aggressive secularism that's trying to ramrod traditional American values out of our nation, I think, we need men to be men nowadays and there is a systematic hatred of males that's going on in our culture." (Notice the subtext and word choices, clearly this is a man with something to sell.)

    Many feel overwhelmed by the amount of framing, spin and lies thrust upon us by all of those in power. The tendency for many is to become apathetic but we do not need to give way to despair. Behind all of the framing, spin and manipulations there are facts which tell the truth. As followers of Christ we can speak truth. We are compelled to speak truth about who Jesus is and what he teaches. We can be strong and let our communication be, Yea Yea; Nay, nay: for anything more than this is a lie.

    Prayer: May our communion with you bring clarity to our communications with others. Give us wisdom and understanding as we learn to speak in righteousness. Amen

    Action: As you listen to and read the media this week listen deeply and identify the framing and sub-text. Consider ways in which you can make honest and clear statements of truth.