Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Lacrosse Thoughts

One night a few weeks back I could not sleep because thoughts were racing through my head, so I decided to just get up and write them down. With all that has happened last week at Virgina Tech, the article that I wrote now seems outdated, but some of the ideas in it are not, so I thought I would post it here.

April 14, 2007

For the past year, a story that has dominated American media is the Duke Lacrosse scandal. On the one hand, I found myself in the middle of that story. I went to school and now work at Duke, so I was a firsthand witness to the media monsoon that erupted on campus. I followed the story through the student newspaper and had conversations about the case with colleagues and co-workers. On the other hand, I always felt detached from the whole ordeal. I never had strong opinions about any part of the drama and the story did not captivate my attention like it did for so many.

Coming from this perspective, one aspect of the whole ordeal has really got me thinking now that the story appears to be coming to a close. When the story first broke, it was shocking and scandalous. A black single mother who was a student at the small, mainly African-American college was gang raped by three white males from the elitist institution in the town where racial tensions have always been high. People reacted to this news with emotions that were powerful and raw. For most people, the situation was very clear: the accuser was “good” and the accused were “bad.” However, as time progressed and the evidence kept coming out, the tide of public opinion slowly began to reverse, culminating this past Wednesday when the North Carolina Attorney General declared the accused “innocent” of the charges brought against them. Amazingly, most people now see the same set of characters in a completely different light: the accusers, specifically the District Attorney, are now “bad” and the accused are now “good.” The accuser is a deeply troubled woman with a tumultuous past who should have never been taken seriously from the beginning. The District Attorney is a power-hungry politician who exploited and manipulated a turbulent situation for his own personal gain. And the lacrosse players are ordinary college students whose lives were destroyed by a series of horrible circumstances.

I believe that this complete reversal of public opinion illuminates a major problem created by sinful humanity: labeling. We have this insatiable desire to place people into specific categories so that we will know how we are supposed to act toward them. When we think of other people, we often do not think of them by their name, but by the label we have given them – selfish, nice, homosexual, married, slut, atheist, Christian, rich, poor, black, white, etc.

The other day I was riding a bus after work that would take me to the parking lot where my car was located. An acquaintance got on the bus and inquired about the book I was holding in my hand. I told him it was “Rich Christians In An Age Hunger,” a book that explores the distressing situation of poverty in the world. Without missing a beat he said to me: “The reason why people are poor is that they are lazy.” I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. Thinking about that conversation got me wondering if this is what a lot of people do: rather than getting to know poor people and understanding the complexities of poverty, they simply label them as “lazy” and consequentially release themselves from any sort of responsibility.

Jesus understood the sinfulness of labeling and seemed to always resist it. The Bible tells one story where some religious leaders brought to Jesus a woman who was clearly caught sleeping with someone who was not her husband. They had a label for her and they knew exactly how they were supposed to treat her. They even had some Scripture that verified her label and what they were supposed to do with people who had her label. However, when Jesus looked at her, he did not see an “adulterer.” Instead, he saw a broken and hurting woman with a long history and a complex set of circumstances.

One of the things I have realized in my few short years on this earth is that people always surprise you. Time and again I have applied labels to people, either on my own or on the reference from another, only to watch those labels crumble as I take the time to learn their stories. And no matter how many times I discover someone is nothing like what I originally thought they were, I still always catch myself pulling out the label maker when it comes to forging new relationships. After all, it is easy to think of someone as simply a helpless victim or a lying prostitute. It is easy to label my friend on the bus as “ignorant.”

I think part of what it means to follow Jesus is to consciously and intentionally avoid applying labels to other people. I think Jesus calls us to the difficult and often painful task of really getting to know our neighbors and learning their complex story. I think we are supposed to be quick to listen and slow to speak and judge. I think we are supposed to focus on the potential of others and not their faults. I think Jesus demonstrated and now asks us to identify with all people, especially those that others have labeled “outcasts.” Doing so just might be the way to love.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Life Changing Moment

Today I had one of those moments where you are hit really hard with the realization that you are growing up and that the cycle of life is continuing to spin. It came during a conversation I had with my best friend Tony Metz. Tony and his wife Angie are expecting their first child in a few months. Tony and I have been best friends since we roomed together our freshman year of college and I have known Angie since we were in middle school, so it is strange enough that my friends are in the midst of the very adult process of procreating. I was not all that blown away when Tony told me Angie was pregnant. It seemed very natural and I was simply elated that they were making me into an uncle. However, nothing could have prepared me for Tony’s announcement to me today: he had traded the sedan in for a minivan. That’s right, my best friend owns a minivan and he got one because it was simply the most practical vehicle he could own. Here is how the conversation took place:

Tony: “Remember a few weeks back when I told you Angie and I were planning to keep the [sedan] for at least ten more years.”

Todd: Laughing

Tony: “What?”

Todd: “I am just laughing because that sentence foreshadows that you are going to tell me something really funny. So what happened to the car?”

Tony: “Well, Angie and I traded it in for a minivan.”

[Long pause of silence]

Todd: “Seriously???”

From that point on Tony explained to me the circumstances behind how he ended up the proud owner of a Ford Freestar and how he honestly believed it was a rational decision. While he was talking, I could not help but think that I had crossed a threshold and my life would never be the same.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Holy Week Reflections

The dust is just beginning to settle on a full Holy Week. This year I was fortunate to be a part of the life of Duke Chapel for their Holy Week services. I helped serve in some capacity in all of them - Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday. For me the highlight was the Good Friday service. Duke Chapel does a Service of Tenebrae for their Good Friday services. Near the end, several passages from the last moments of Christ's life were read, and after each reading the chapel gradually got darker and darker. I had the privilege of reading one of the Scriptures. After my reading, the chapel was completely dark, and then the chapel bell was rung 33 times to signify the 33 years of Christ's life. It was a wild feeling all around. First of all, to have your voice fill the space of Duke Chapel was pretty neat, and then to sit in complete darkness with 1200 people in that huge space was incredible. It is not something I will soon forget. You can watch a webcast of the Good Friday, and all Duke Chapel services, here.

One of the things I am learning is that different churches minister in different ways. Duke Chapel is a church that ministers in a number of ways, but the main way is simply through the building. Being in the beauty of that space definitely has the sense of holy ground, and it is not difficult to imagine the majesty and splendor of God while worshiping in that place. I will miss it when I am no longer a part of the Congregation at Duke Chapel.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Reflections & Reading List

I am always amazed at how God tears down our preconceived notions and humbles us along the way. I decided to read through the Bible this year with thoughts of padding my knowledge of the Bible. I assumed that I would have all sorts of fresh and wonderful insights now that I have completed seven years of formal theological education. Instead, I have found myself confused and struggling to reconcile my understanding of God and what is presented in the Bible. I have been tempted to quit reading, but lately I have been thinking that perhaps I am supposed to be learning something other than what I originally thought. I feel like I am learning more about the "how" than the "what or why" of reading Scripture. Here are a few things that I have been learning this past month:

1. I think that maybe Scripture should not be read alone. Remember, this whole concept of silently reading to yourself is relatively new. The printing press did not come around until the 1600, so for the majority of Christian history, people have not had private access to Scripture. Traditionally, Scripture has been read in community. I think that this is really important. The Bible is a huge book and has a lot of crazy stuff in it. It would be very easy for an individual to get some wild ideas based on a private reading of Scripture. As history has shown, it is also very possible for a community to get some wild ideas from Scripture, but I am willing to bet it is more difficult.

2. I think that Scripture must be read slowly. In order to meet my goal of reading the Bible in one year, I have set a break-neck speed of 4 chapters per day. Very rarely do I have the time (or rather take the time) to meditate and savor the text. Instead, I typically read anywhere from 8 to 20 chapters (because I have skipped days), quickly skimming over the passsages. No wonder I am confused by what is going on!

Well, call me a glutton for punishment, but I am pushing forward because I am determined to see where reading through Scripture in 1 year will take me. Here is my reading list for April:

April 1: Joshua 1-4
2: 5-8
3: 9-12
4: 13-16
5: 17-20
6: 21-24
7: Judges 1-4
8: 5-8
9: 9-12
10: 13-16
11: 17-21
12: Ruth 1-4
13: 1 Samuel 1-4
14: 5-8
15: 9-12
16: 13-16
17: 17-20
18: 21-24
19: 25-28
20: 29-31
21: 2 Samuel 1-4
22: 5-8
23: 9-12
24: 13-16
25: 17-20
26: 21-24
27: 1 Kings 1-5
28: 6-10
29: 11-15
30: 16-22