Monday, August 17, 2009
Anyone who knows me knows that I am an increasingly avid sports fan. I have changed my cable provider so that I can watch the Phillies almost daily. I frequently wear team gear for the Phillies and Yankees. And although I am more of a baseball fan than football these days, in the winter you can observe me in my Eagles gear. But even if I weren't following sports so closely, I would have been hard-pressed to miss all of the hullabaloo engendered by the recent signing of Michael Vick to the Philadelphia Eagles football team.
For those of you who have been in a cave, Michael Vick, formerly a ProBowl caliber quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, just completed an 18-month sentence for charges related to a dog-fighting operation he ran out of his home in Virginia. A couple weeks ago he was reinstated to the NFL, although he remains suspended for an as yet undetermined number of games. He was available. The Eagles signed him. Animal rights activists and dog-loving fans, especially in Philadelphia, had a fit.
This brings me to the question that prompts this blog: What do they want? Michael Vick served time for heinous cruelty and has seen his life and fortune dismantled. Is he never supposed to work again? Is he forever to be shunned from all polite company? Was he simply supposed to die in prison? Or is it okay from him to be released and to work, but just not to make a lot of money or to be truly successful and potentially celebrated as a great quarterback? I want to say to the detractors, I know you don't want him to do this, but what's the alternative? I know, I know: Throw him to the dogs.
Now hear me, I'm not one of those sanctimonious types who judgmentally declares that we should not judge others. Clearly, Michael Vick has some restitution to make, but he can never make such restitution if we don't acknowledge that redemption and righting wrongs are possible.
To make a larger and perhaps more important point, as individuals and as a society we have to figure out how to reintegrate people who have messed up in a way that both acknowledges their wrongs and their potential. We can neither fail to punish wrongs, nor continue to punish forever.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
The Family Table
In the hustle and bustle of contemporary life, many of us hurry through everything, including our meals. We “grab” something and “wolf” it down in the midst of or while in transit to something else. More and more, this unhealthy behavior characterizes the eating habits of children as well as those of busy adults. Yet within the past several years, research has emerged that links positive outcomes socially, emotionally, and physically with the experience of regularly dining at the family table. Not only do children eat a more balanced diet, with more fruit and vegetables, but there is evidence that they are also less likely to engage in delinquent social behaviors when they sit down with their parents for bonding time at meals. The article continues, "Just the act of eating together is on some level beneficial." (Click here for complete NY Times Article.)
The scenes of this entire chapter take place was by the Sea of Galilee, the site where Jesus had originally called some of his disciples and where he had attracted great crowds because of the miraculous signs that he performed on behalf of the sick.
The time was near the Passover feast, itself the family meal that commemorated God’s rescue of the Israelites from slavery. Spending time with his disciples, Jesus notices the crowds coming from the distance. The ever observant Jesus perceived the condition of the approaching masses and in it a teachable moment for his disciples. “Where shall we buy bread for the crowd that's on its way?” he asked his crew.
What followed was yet another demonstration of human limitation overcome by divine providence. Philip the questioning disciple focused on their limitations. Andrew looked at the situation with a different eye. He had taken account of the boy with a lunch. "I don't know what we can do with it, but there is a boy who has a lunch," Andrew said. By the end of the story, there was enough and more than enough to feed all who took a portion until they had all that they wanted and were satisfied.
What is striking about Jesus’ distribution of the resources is that he gave away nothing before the people sat down. Before he gave thanks, broke the bread, or distributed the fish, Jesus commanded that the great crowds come to rest. The lesson, of course, is one of obedience. The disciples cannot be used if they will not obey. In fact, they are not even disciples at all if they won’t FOLLOW. The crowds cannot be fed unless they accede to the command to sit down. We have but little distance to walk to discover that the satisfaction of the Christian life is elusive if we do not take heed to Christ’s voice.
But there is significance in the content of the command to be seated. In bringing order and quiet to those who would dine through his miraculous provision, Jesus instituted and presided over the family table, prefiguring the table he prepared at the Passover with his own broken body and shed blood.
Not long ago, President Obama invited two men who were having a very public, acrimonious dispute,Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Sergeant James Crowley, over to the White House for a beer. Let’s come together on common ground the president said. Let’s sit down at the table. Let’s look at one another and have conversation. Coming from different backgrounds and experiences, encountering on another first in the contentious context of mistaken identity - now let’s come together in table fellowship. The beer? Just a little something for attitude adjustment, a drink in common to bring us to a compatible level. Now you have to know that Gates and Crowley would likely never have come together for a beer or anything else on their own. But because the President called and invited them to the White House, they responded to the specialness of the President's invitation.
I hear the Savior say “I am the bread of life.” And while I wouldn’t mind an invitation to the White House to sit down to the table either inside the house or on the White House lawn. While I wouldn’t mind having a tomato plucked from the white house vegetable garden. While I would mind dining off the fine china from which presidents and heads of state have eaten, I recognize the greater privilege and the more nourishing meal is the one I share with my brothers and sisters every 2nd Sunday morning at St. Paul’s Baptist Church.
I hear the Savior say, Anyone who comes to me will never be hungry. Anyone who believes in me will never be thirsty. I am the living bread who comes down from heaven. My flesh is real food. My blood is real drink.
Jesus knows even better than we do how different we are: ages, status, gender, nature, tastes, desires : This is my body which is for YOU (pl.) Do this and think about me. This is my blood shed for YOU for the forgiveness of sins. Do this and think about me. Just as the passover was celebrated with a family meal, so also our deliverance is celebrated with a meal. And if a beer between enemies can lead to common ground, how much more can the bread of life shared among sisters and brothers?