“An Unexpected Moment”

Yesterday I flew to California for the retirement ceremony of a friend and Navy Captain who was bringing to a close almost four decades as a SEAL. After arriving I took the airport shuttle to the rental car center and since they were out of “normal” cars (as usual for Southern California) they offered me a free upgrade to either a BMW or an Audi. Now I really hate Beemer drivers, 99% of whom desperately need their licenses permanently revoked. (I know, I need to repent of this prejudice) ;so I reluctantly took the Audi.

I say reluctantly because car thieves seem to love the Audi brand.

OK. I’m weird. I get it. But this morning out of concern that my car had vanished, I went down to check and at least make sure I’d locked it.

As I walked to the car (which had of course not vanished) I passed a young woman standing by her car and talking on her mobile phone.

Now this hotel is across from a beautiful marina and very close to the airport. And as I finished checking the car, a jetliner passed almost overhead. And you know how the sound of the engines drown out every other sound for a minute or two.

But as the jets roar ebbed, I picked up the most unexpected sound in its place. It was the strains of the National Anthem, clear and soft. The unmistakable chords came out of nowhere as if performed by an orchestra – booming bass, lilting woodwinds and clarion brass. The sound wafted across the marina.

I had no idea where it was coming from, but as I considered the mystery, I thought “it must be 0800”. “It’s Morning Colors”. So I knew what to do. I turned toward the music and stood at attention. I did what I had done for decades in the military- I offered my respect to my flag and to my one nation under God, indivisible with Liberty and justice for all.

In that unexpected moment, I paused in remembrance. I was briefly caught up again in the memories of the blood I’ve seen spilled in defense of this land. Images of combat I cannot forget, nor try to forget. I paused to remember the ideals which we have seemingly abandoned in angry frustration over the pervasive oppression and injustice that plague us.

And as The strains of the Star Spangled Banner drifted away like the mist on the marina, I had another unexpected moment. I saw out of the corner of my eye the young woman who had been talking on her phone a few cars down from mine. She had done the same thing.

In that unexpected yet needed moment, two strangers in a hotel parking lot in San Diego on Thursday morning April 28th took pause to respect the National ideals that we dearly hold, that we tragically fall from, (if indeed we have ever attained them) and that we hopefully will pick ourselves up from the mire to try again. Whoever played the National Anthem for all to hear this morning, thank you.

As much as we fail to attain One nation under God indivisible with Liberty and Justice for All, may the God who established our country give us also the grace to never, never quit trying.

When Church Leaders Fall

“If anyone thinks he stands…take heed”
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.”
First Corinthians 10:12-14 NIVUK

I have been thinking about the countless people we trust to lead us in the life of the body of Christ. In the world there must be millions of such leaders, serving both small and large numbers of believers.

We appreciate them. We attend their classes or services. We recommend them. We learn from them. We may financially support them. If they rise in popularity, it feels affirming to us. And if they attain some high level of recognition, we share the accolades by proxy because now everyone knows what we have known; they are “the real deal”. They can be trusted to have the limelight. And we’re glad we stand with them under the banner of the Gospel.

But for far too many of us, the day comes when our confidence is shattered by the news that our faithful and true leader was not true or faithful at all. And it breaks our hearts. The list of Christ’s servants whose lives and ministries were destroyed by their sin is long. And the length of that list is a witness to how short the steps can be from integrity to corruption.

The truth is that none of us are more than a few errant decisions away from bringing death to our ministry, or marriage or any dimension of life and service to God. Temptation to sin is a reality of the human condition. Someone said, “we aren’t sinners because we sin. We sin because we’re sinners.” A famous comic (George Burns) once quipped; “I can resist anything but temptation.”
And as sinners, our default spiritual condition is separation from God; “dead in trespasses and sins”. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

In 1 Corinthians 10 the apostle Paul reminds us of temptation’s commonality. And James in his epistle explains temptation’s process, “…each person is tempted when by their own desire they are being drawn away and enticed. Then the desire, having conceived, gives birth to sin. And the sin, having been fully formed, brings forth death. Do not be deceived!” (James 1:14-16)
However, when we come to faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the grace of God that made that faith possible begins a new and re-creative work in us. The Spirit of Christ starts forming the Image of Christ in us. The temptations still exist, but now we have decisive power to say “no”. We don’t have to yield to sin.

But in order to be successfully and consistently unyielding, we need each other. It’s true that sanctification is a deeply individual quest. If I have Christ in me, I have a personal hunger for holiness. But the church isn’t called to be a population of ironclad individuals under Christ. We’re called to be a community. And as a community of faith in Jesus Christ, our safeguards against temptation to sin are communal and Christ-like. They are;

  • Love for one another
  • Truth in speech and action
  • Accountability to scriptural authority
  • Humility in our hearts
  • Transparency in our living
  • Confession to each other when we sin
  • Restoration in a spirit of humility
  • Prayer for each other for wholeness
  • Compassion in bearing others burdens

The church is by nature a “body” and as such we are called to actively share these qualities among ourselves for our corporate health because together they consist of a “way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13) from the temptations that seize and overtake us.

So may we all take heed unless, in our pride of “standing”, we fall. When Christian leaders fail, it’s appropriate that we are shocked, dismayed and heartbroken. But it’s completely wrong to point our finger and say, ‘Whew, I’m glad I am not like that. I am far more in tune with The Spirit than to do those horrible things.’ Instead, let’s search our hearts, our thoughts, motives and actions. Let’s do all we can to establish the boundaries and safeguards we all need to protect against sin. And let’s all pray:
“Lord, save us from our pride, our arrogance, our high mindedness, our self-righteousness, and the deceptions of our own hearts.
Lord save me, a sinner saved by Your Grace. Search me, and shed Your Light on every wicked way in me, that I may repent and be open to the Spirit who is conforming me to the image of Your Son. Through Christ my Lord, Amen.

Something about Mary

Mary Did You Know (what the church would turn you into?)
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.””Luke‬ ‭1:46-55‬ ‭NIV‬‬

One of the many quotes from contemporary author Michael Bassey Johnson reads; “You can believe in whatsoever you like, but the truth remains the truth, no matter how sweet the lie may taste.”

During this season of Advent, in preparation to celebrate the incredible, miraculous truth of the incarnation, I’ve been surprised to come across a few strange understandings about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Apparently there are some in the church who find these ideas very sweet, however false to the scriptures they are.

First there’s the idea that Mary was God. This view has been propagated by a few clergy within the Roman Catholic Church. They declare that The Blessed Virgin is the “soul of the Holy Spirit” and Co-creator with God. The Vatican was swift to condemn this heresy.
It is true that Mary was a virgin who conceived Jesus by supernatural means. (Matthew 1:18) She was the mother of our Lord (Luke 1:43) and every (Christian) generation since has affirmed her as a unique and supremely blessed person.(Luke 1:48)
According to the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, (1) Mary was not divine. Neither is Mary to be worshipped. Rather, as one of “the offspring of Adam”, she was in need of Salvation by Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:23)

Then there’s the notion that Mary was really a first century June Cleaver. Evangelicals seem to prefer this view of Mary as a woman whose only (and temporary) importance was in being a human incubator for God but otherwise assumed her proper place as a mother and obedient wife to her husband Joseph.
However, from the gospel accounts, it’s Mary, not Joseph who is the more assertive parent. Joseph is a faithful, good man, and caring husband. (Matthew 1:18-24). I think it’s safe to assume he was also a good dad. But in relation to Jesus, any scriptural evidence of him in an active fatherly role is absent. And in the very few scriptural instances in which we see something of Jesus’ family dynamics, it’s Mary who takes the lead. (Luke 2:48, Mark 3:20-35) Mary was also a high-order spiritual contemplative. The gospel writer Luke takes note of her remarkable quality to ponder and meditate on the mystery of her life and place in relationship to the divine action unfolding before her. (Luke 2:19) She takes in and treasures the angelic revelation, the shepherd’s testimony and the prophetic voices of Simeon and Anna. (Luke 2:51)
At Cana she responds to an embarrassing social situation (John 2:1-11) by dropping a hint to her son as if she knew this as an opportunity to reveal his glory (which he does).
And if you’re looking for where the redemptive action is, Mary is there. She was at the crucifixion (John 19:25-26). She was among the original group of post-resurrection followers (Acts 1:14) which implies she was there to experience the Baptism of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:1-4) Clearly the scriptures show her not as just a humble rent-a-womb for the Word made flesh, but a remarkable, main stage character.

Finally there’s the fantasy that Mary was the church’s original Socialist revolutionary. This distortion may be best represented by artist Ben Wildflower’s image of a scowling Mary with fist raised and her boots (yes, boots) trampling a serpent. (She apparently left her AK-47 at home, otherwise she could just shoot it). She is surrounded by slogans; “Cast Down the Mighty” “Fill the Hungry” “Lift up the Lowly” and “Send the Rich Away”. She is depicted as an angry champion for social justice.
Of course, the faithful recognize that these slogans are adapted from the “Magnificat” or “Song of Mary”, found in the Gospel of Luke chapter 1:46-55. And the faithful also recognize that these words are not her own demands for social justice, but Mary’s celebration of the reality of the truth of divine justice.
In her song, Mary identifies with and vividly expresses God’s heart for the poor and oppressed. Convinced of God’s refusal to condone and sure judgment upon human exploitation, greed, and pride, she rejoices in anticipation of God’s now and future salvation. She sees God’s favor upon her as a milestone in the fulfillment of His historic promises.
In “The Magnificat”, the angry Social Justice Warrior is not Mary. The SJW is God. And as the late great music artist Curtis Mayfield reminded us, “…have pity on those whose chances grow thinner; for there’s no hiding place against the Kingdom’s Throne”. (2)

In pursuit of truth, I need to be careful not to recruit the Bible into the ranks of my own favorite cause. The scriptures say what they say. The only way they can be made to say what I want them to say is by adding the sweetness of my own exaggeration to one part and my suppression to another. (3)

Indeed, we may believe whatsoever we like. But the plain texts of scripture are our written rule and reference for truth; not the honeyed deceptions of our own constructs. When it comes to the mother of Jesus, or any biblical figure, the truth remains the truth, however sweet the lies may taste.

  1. Lumen Gentium 53 of the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church.
  2. From “People Get Ready” by Curtis Mayfield 
  3. Adapted from C.S. Lewis 


Mike, pilot Tammy Jo shults, Dean Shults Navy SEAL fundraiserPraying at SEAL fund raiser dinner

“Therefore…, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” Amos 4:12 AMP


“God…now directs everyone everywhere to change their hearts and lives…because God has set a day when he intends to judge the world justly by the man he has appointed.” Acts 17:30-31 CEB


Sometimes in the course of serving a good cause, God in his grace will drop an inspiring gift right in front of you. I hope that has happened to you as it did to me recently.


It began in the lobby of the Hyatt West Palm Beach where we waited for the shuttle taking us to the Mar a Lago Club. I had been invited to take part in a fundraiser to benefit the Navy SEAL Foundation and the Trident House Charities program of the National Navy UDT/SEAL Museum.


The lobby was crowded with all the players; a demonstration team made of active and retired SEAL Operators, dog handlers, parachute guys, along with Museum staff and special guests. As the chaplain, my task was to kick off the dinner program with prayer.


Looking around for familiar faces, I spotted the shaven head of a man I thought I recognized but whom I hadn’t seen in years. But no sooner had I said “hello” that I realized he wasn’t the guy. While fumbling through my apology, the gentleman held out his hand and introduced himself. “Dean Shults” he said smiling. He turned toward the lady beside him. “And my wife Tammy. You may have seen her on TV a year ago.”


Now I admit it takes a while for me to put two and two together. But after that introduction (and a quick Google search later) I found out who I had just met. Tammy is one of the Navy’s first female F-18 pilots and one very gutsy person. At the end of her service she became a pilot for Southwest Airlines. And on April 17, 2018 she averted a major air disaster by bringing her severely damaged Boeing 737 down safely. If you Google her name and add “Southwest Flight 1380” you will know just how amazing and courageous she is.


Soon we all boarded the fancy shuttle bus and 10 minutes later rolled through the club gate. The outdoor demonstration went flawlessly. Afterward the main ballroom filled up with over 700 dinner guests and $1.6 million was raised for the welfare and support of Navy SEAL families. After the dinner I got a picture (above) with Tammy and her husband. Overall it was a fabulous evening.


But the highlight for me was the 10:15 shuttle ride back to the hotel. Everyone else was still celebrating so it was just me, Dean and Tammy Jo. In the quiet of that bus ride I asked her about her faith.


Faith in God is not at all foreign to high-risk takers such as SEALS and combat pilots.


Consider the F-18 pilot approaching the heaving deck of an aircraft carrier at night in bad weather. With a titanium hook attached to the tail of the aircraft, the pilot is attempting to land by grabbing a steel cable suspended a few inches above the carrier deck (Navy pilots call this a controlled crash).


A shower of sparks erupts as the tail hook strikes and drags the deck. The pilot has an instant to know if the hook has found the cable. A miss means the plane will fall into the sea, so the pilot engages full acceleration at the last moment so the jet will have enough speed to stay in the air. Consider that all of this takes place in about 2 seconds across a deck space less than 500 feet long at 140 mph. In the dark.


Things like that aren’t done by people who have never wrestled with their mortality. Many such men and women who routinely face a high probability of death have found faith in God to be a very present help in time of trouble.


Tammy Jo Shults’ faith was in charge when at an altitude of 32,000 feet the left engine of her 737 exploded in flames and sent shrapnel into the fuselage, decompressing the cabin. Faith was the calm in her voice as she flew the diving, pitching, shuddering plane and reassured the flight attendants, directing them to tell the panicked passengers, “Tell them we are not going down. We’re going to (land in) Philly.”


Her faith was in charge when a reporter asked if she had felt ready to meet her Maker during the emergency. She answered, “I know who my Maker is.” And as we finished our conversation on the bus, faith in God radiated from her as she added, “I’m always ready to meet my Maker. I meet with Him every day.”


I hope we all do that. No matter who we are or what we do, let’s take care to meet with God every day. Because sooner or later, life will throw us into unexpected chaos. And if we meet with Him every day, we will be ready on that day. And we will also be prepared to meet when we, the mortal, come face to face with God our Maker on That Day.



Mike Shockley


Past due bills

Love of neighbor has a more compelling motive than we might imagine.

“Finally, cults represent the unpaid bills of the church”, said my college professor. She was finishing up her overview of Christian cultism. It was an unsettling thought. We, the Church, owed something to groups that break with orthodoxy to form contra orthodox beliefs and practices. Something we owe but have not paid. What did we owe?

That lecture was presented over 40 years ago and sadly I’ve forgotten all of it but that statement, especially that uncomfortable phrase, “unpaid bills of the church”.

Most good, honest people try hard to pay their bills. An unpaid bill is an indictment of their character (and bad for their credit rating). During my 33 years as an itinerant minister, I never saw a bill to the church that went unpaid. Christians try to be debt free.

Financially, that’s good. But we also like being free in other ways. Deep in the American spirit is a distaste for being, to use an archaic term, “beholdin’” to someone. An increasingly offensive word in our culture is the word “charity”. Some non-profit organizations are trying to distance themselves from that description. And no person likes being called a “charity case”; someone dependent on another’s generosity.

But the scriptures reveal that in relation to God, we are all “charity cases”. We owe God. Believers understand this. We owe God simply because he is God. And we owe him not only for who God is but because of what God has done and will do. We owe God everything.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “What are (God’s people) without God?  Whatever you are, you have nothing to make you proud… The more you have the more you are in debt to God.”

But not only are we always in our Makers debt. We also owe others. Paul writes; “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another… The commandments…are summed up in this one command; ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor…” Romans 13:8-10a

So, we are to live debt free lives, except for a life-long debt of love to our neighbor. And we are to pay this debt continually. For me, that’s quite daunting.

I can humbly confess my eternal debt to God. I owe him my all because all I have is from God. Also, God is not like me. He is Creator. I am his creation. My debt to God is quite obvious to me.

But it’s hard to accept that I owe my neighbor. Neighbors are complicated. Some I like. Others not so much. Some are warm and fuzzy. Others are cranky porcupines. Like me, they are complex co-creations. So, instead of owing them love, I’d rather believe I am “free” to love them. I give help, lend a hand and offer good neighborliness. I will happily answer the door ready to hand over the proverbial cup of sugar.

All they have to do is ask. Or, if I perceive a need, I will help even if they don’t ask. Either way it feels good because I am free to do so.

But the notion of owing love to a neighbor doesn’t feel so good. It smacks of being responsible, being “beholdin’ ” to them. It puts the relationship on a different footing. I can’t just wait for my door bell to ring. I have to go and ring theirs. I must seek their well-being. My will must be directed toward my neighbors good; the warm fuzzy ones and the cranky porcupines. After all, I owe them.

It’s a very important distinction. Because if I say, “I’m free to love but have no obligation to love”; or if I say “I’m free to love good neighbors and avoid the bad ones”, then sooner or later the unpaid bills will come.

And they will keep coming. They will be marked “Second Notice” and “Final Notice”. And if we still refuse, they will come in ways we cannot ignore. And we will pay.

We will pay in pain. We will pay in misunderstandings and ignorance. We’ll pay in the currency of isolation and suspicion. We’ll pay in self-righteousness and callousness. We’ll pay in strife and divisions.

Show me a church where these plagues are prevalent and I will show you a church with a pile of unpaid bills.

The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, “I am a debtor to both Jews and Greeks…” Those two people groups describe virtually Paul’s entire world. What did he owe? He owed them the good news of Christ. He owed them the love of God revealed in Jesus.

He had found full freedom in Christ but not freedom from this debt of love. Instead he exclaimed, “Woe to me if I don’t preach the gospel!”.

Isn’t it true that this attitude of “woe” can be glaringly absent in the church? What a difference it would make if we declared, “Woe to us if we don’t serve! Woe to us if we’re not generous! Woe to us if we are not seeking others, showing them love, and sharing our experience of God’s grace!” But too often we believe we’re free from the debt of love.

In Christ, we are truly set free. But the Spirit warns us about misspent freedom. Paul writes, “For you have been called to freedom… But do not use your freedom… to gratify your sinful nature, but use it to serve one another in love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word; “Love your neighbor as yourself”. But if you (use your freedom) to bite and devour one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” (Galatians 5:13-15)

No one of good character who incurs a financial bill believes they are free to pay or not pay. If you are a follower of Jesus, let’s pay our bills. Not just the ones payable with money, but the ones payable with God’s love. Let’s not leave what God says we owe, unpaid.

Grace and Peace

Mike Shockley



“World Peace”


While the world lived in the midst of a peace built by power, God manifested his plan to build world peace by his personal presence.


“…and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them until it came and stood over where the young child was…and coming into the house they saw the young child…and fell down and worshiped Him…”  Gospel of Matthew Ch.2


On the church calendar, the celebration of Christmas has now given way to the season of Epiphany. The infant Christ announced to shepherds by angels has become the young Christ manifested to the nations by the star. Epiphany means “manifestation”.


And just who is being made manifest? The one whom the prophets foretold. The one who will be called Wonderful; Counselor; the mighty God, the everlasting Father; the Prince of Peace. The one whose government and reign of peace will have no end.


When this Prince was born, the gospel writer Luke tells us that Caesar Augustus was the emperor of Rome. He was arguably the greatest ruler Rome would ever see. His leadership ushered in the period known as Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome. One historian referred to him as Savior of the world. In so much as his power extended across western civilization, Augustus achieved, at least for the time he reigned, the most elusive of human hopes; world peace.


“World Peace”. Can the world today achieve it? Is it possible to bring that phrase from the most cliché of beauty pageant answers to a fully realized possession of the human race? The message of the Bible is a resounding yes. God’s Peace is here. And in God’s time, his peace will become the default state of a world made new. But unlike Augustus, the peace God brings will not be achieved by might or by power, but by His Spirit.


On US Navy aircraft carriers, a tradition going back many decades is the flight deck formation. The photo above shows sailors aboard the USS Independence forming the words “Power for Peace”.


For me the photo captures the essence of the world’s strategy for peace. It says that it takes power for peace to come. It takes the exercise of military, political, economic power and the rule of law. That was Caesar Augustus’ strategy.


Some say world peace may come when all around the world, people become empowered by better education, motivated by the better angels of an enlightened nature. Some say it will take the power of a near-perfect system of global justice. Some place hope in the power of evolution, eventually producing a human race less violent, less grasping, more generous, more kind. Among those few who think world peace is possible, those are the cards to be played.


Or we may be people who haven’t given world peace much thought because we’re just trying to gain some peace inside our own homes or even in our own minds. But ironically, we employ the same worldly strategy. We think we’ll have peace when we have the power to make more money or have more authority. Peace will come as we are empowered with better knowledge and improved attitudes. We think we will have peace when we have the power to change our circumstances. In some way, we hope to be like Caesar Augustus.


But the bible reveals a wholly different plan. In the arrival of Christ, God manifests his peace through a Person. And his peace comes to us not through worldly power, but through that Person’s presence in our hearts. Through Jesus’ perfect life, his atoning death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave, God has built his strategy for world peace. And it will succeed. All over the world right now, millions of hearts have the indwelling presence of the Prince of Peace. They know the peace that comes through faith in Jesus. And from that bedrock of peace, they offer peace to others.


Jesus told his disciples, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” If you have peace with God through faith in Christ, you are just such a child. Let me invite you live from that peace and seek it. Pursue peaceful ways. Pray for God to show you the different ways you can manifest the Prince of Peace in your life, at your work, and in your family and relationships. God’s peace can come to your world.



Mike Shockley

Perfect Mission

Perfect Mission


It was a clear, freezing winter night at a small counterterrorism base in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. Like the night before, and the night before that and weeks of nights before that, the team geared up and readied for another C/K (short for Capture/Kill) mission. As a Chaplain deployed with a Special Operations Task Force, I provided spiritual and religious support for over 150 such missions.

The target objective was a particularly bad guy with a history of weapons transfers and IED (improvised explosive device) placements. He had also coordinated a number of indirect fire (rocket, mortar) attacks on coalition forces, as well as a string of local kidnappings and assassinations. This man had a lot of blood on his hands.

Intelligence had figured out his location, and realized that unless the team could get him that night, he would escape the next day, fading like a ghost into Pakistan until he reappeared and returned to kill again. So, after the moon was down, the team boarded the helicopters. They lifted into the darkness.

Seven hours later it was over. It was what I called a perfect mission. Target captured. Team returned to base with no one killed. No one wounded. No shots were fired. There was no damage to property or livestock. None of the nearly 100 men, women and children living on the target site were injured.

Terrorist leaders often blend into village populations and use women and children as human shields. At extreme risk the team carefully picked their way through groups of people, house to house, room by room. This man was actually found hiding below the floor under a trapdoor, on which a woman feigning illness was sitting.

I remember that mission because the outcome was such a complete answer to the prayer I regularly prayed for the teams just before departure; “…arm your servants with strength, make their way perfect and their mission a complete success. Give the enemy nowhere to run, no place to hide and no will to fight. Fulfill your purpose in the sword of this team for the punishment of evil, the protection of the defenseless, and the preservation of what is good…”

Some nights later the team returned to base from yet another mission. And as the sun was beginning to light up the icy cold eastern sky, we gathered for worship. It was Christmas morning.

One of the SEAL’s wives had sent her husband a carton of small aromatherapy candles. He gave them up for the candlelight service. We heard the gospel writer Luke tell us the story of the holy Nativity. We read from John, “…the true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world…” We prayed. And together we passed the light of Christ from candle to candle. And I must admit that you haven’t lived until you hear bearded, burly Navy SEALs and Army Rangers (attempt to) sing “Silent Night” together.

Why do we celebrate Christmas? There are many good answers to that question. But among them for me is that Christmas is a joyful remembrance of God’s perfect mission. In the birth of Christ, God gave the perfect answer to our desperate need.

Armed with the perfect strength of his love, God gave the perfect gift of his Son. The Word who created all things entered his creation in the perfect way so that the rescue and renewal of all things might succeed … perfectly.

Now the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Now sin has nowhere to run and no place to hide. Now death has no will to fight because it is impossible for it to prevail in the world where the Author of Life has now entered.

Now evil will be perfectly punished. Now justice will be perfectly carried out. Now salvation and strength and the Kingdom of our God and the power of his Anointed has come. Perfectly.

Bubbles from a Deeper World

3A8D12C1-906F-4DB2-A471-FE3E924B67CAIn his 2013 book “The Art of Thinking Clearly” Rolf Dobelli says that (news media) items “are bubbles that pop on the surface of a deeper world.” If so, a profound one popped from the lips of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a press conference August 6, 2018 following a deadly weekend of shootings in the city that left at least 12 killed and 66 wounded. 

“There is a shortage of values about what is right and wrong”, he said, clearly frustrated over a public all too willing to hold the city accountable while holding themselves unwilling to offer helpful information to police.

The mayor spoke as if those values are self-evident to all. Perhaps in times past we might have assumed so. But the meaning and force of right/wrong as categories of moral behavior lost their clarity long ago.

So as news outlets continue to foam up the daily body count around the nation, I believe it’s worth thinking seriously about the source of that little bubble about which the former Mayor of Chicago spoke.

What about the deeper world from which it rose? What is stirring the deadly violence that continues to rise in our nation?

I’m not trying to point a finger. I’m just attempting to think seriously about the mix of ideas, moods and mindsets which increasingly erupt in fatal violence and release those media-bubbles that emerge and pop on the surface of our viewing screens again and again and again.

Obviously elements like the pandemic, social media, mental/emotional health, handguns and environmental stress are all involved. But what other, less obvious elements are part of this deadly, deeper world?

For example, I wonder about the role of Postmodern thought. One of the features of postmodernism is a disbelief of the “meta-narrative”. This philosophy doubts the real existence of any connected totality. There is no one worldview in which all things properly fit. Instead, the real world is better seen in terms of small stories or local narratives which do not have to connect. And as such, they cannot be truly evaluated or accurately assessed from the outside since, according to postmodern thought, language itself is a compromised form of communication. So people are grouped into tribes whose histories can be incommensurate and whose values are incommunicable. In short, if I belong to one tribe and you to another, it’s futile to even understand each other, much less agree on moral standards to which we can both agree and submit.

And I wonder about the influence of Secularism; specifically the crowding out of a real, transcendent hope by the urgencies of the Now. Contemporary spirituality is becoming a less corporate, more private refuge. Visions of a Paradise as held by the religious are figments of their imaginations. Prayer as a corporate response to crisis is seen as useless, even offensive. A present, powerful and material force of change is required. Secularism says that the tools for forging a better world are anthro- ideological hammers, blowtorches and stopwatches because time is short and this present age is the only workspace there is.

And finally I think about the divorce of morals from education. This idea has institutional roots going back at least 60 years. It was once referred to as “ values free” education and continues along many vectors, such as the efforts of some universities to meet academic requirements without imposing moral views. You can know enough to get an A in ethics class yet never learn or feel the need to behave ethically. The big lesson learned is that cleverness trumps character. Every time.

2021 saw the biggest rise of deadly road rage incidents ever. Since the Columbine High School incident in 1999, mass shootings have increased steadily in frequency. A week hardly goes by without a new report of some disproportionate and lethal response sparked by the most trivial offense.

So, what is stirring the deadly violence that continues to rise in our nation? As I said, I’m not trying to pin the blame on any particular thing. That being said, I cannot believe that we are being helped by post-modern thinking that moves us more into an isolating tribalism, a growing sense that this present world is all there is, and a spreading personal conviction that doing what’s right for its own sake is for losers who just aren’t smart enough.

If indeed, the constant rise of lethal violence in today’s news are like Dobelli says, “bubbles that pop on the surface of a deeper world”, then can we change the chemistry of the abyss that is creating the bubbles? I hope so. Because, like most of us, I don’t want the evening news to be the herald of my demise. Or yours either.