Devotions from New Orleans: “Eyes Wide Open”

Well, today is our last day of the Gathering. We’re getting ready to receive our benediction back to our everyday lives — whether that’s school or work. The hard part about leaving a place like New Orleans and experiences like the Gathering is keeping the momentum going. I think it’s safe to say we’ve all had some considerable highs this week when it comes to our faith and our time together as friends and as children of God. So how do we keep that momentum going? Today’s song can hopefully help us with that.
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The line that continually sticks out to me in this song — and it’s the prayer I have for us as we come home — is this:

“God, bruise the heels we’ve dug in the ground, that we might move closer to love.” 

I think our everyday lives can be so polarized by who we are and who we want to be. We live in a very dualistic society. Democrat or Republican. Christian or non-Christian. Cool or uncool. Rich or poor. Gay or straight. The list goes on and on. But the prayer that keeps echoing for me as we prepare to leave this place and go home is that God would bruise the heels that we’ve dug in the ground against each other. Against our neighbors and against our friends.

Because the only thing worth moving toward is love.

What are the things that keep your heels dug in? What are those issues or those things that keep us from loving people? How can we loosen the grip our heels have and move closer to love?

These are the questions we’re pondering today. May it be so.

Cheers,
Eric

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Devotions from the Big Easy: “We Found Love in a Hopeless Place”

Today is our peacemaking day at Gathering. We get to spend some time in the interaction center and do a bunch of different activities. It’ll be a bit more low key than our previous couple days, but I’m sure it’ll be just as great of an experience. Our song for today might be a bit of an unusual choice, but I think the message is so significant for us as we explore more of New Orleans, as well as exploring more about the Biblical story. Check out today’s song.

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That refrain of “we found love in a hopeless place” is, I think, the ultimate Easter refrain. I think that if the gospel were re-made into a hip-hop musical (can we all just take a second to dwell on how awesome that would be?) this song should warrant strong consideration for what the two Marys sing as they run away from the empty tomb. We found love in a hopeless place is the ultimate proclamation of Easter morning.

It’s also a spotty proclamation of a place like New Orleans. For a period of time after Katrina, New Orleans, as almost any disaster area, was a relatively hopeless place. People were starving. Homes and lives were destroyed. But in the midst of this chaos and disaster, there are small glimpses of love in these disasters. We find stories of neighbors — strangers even — helping each other.

The proclamation of our time in New Orleans is the same as the entrance to the tomb.

We found love in a hopeless place.

Cheers,
Eric

Devotions from the Big Easy: “Excuse Me, Mr.”

Our first full day at the Youth Gathering was spent on “Justice Day”. One of the songs that really hits at my sense of justice is this older Ben Harper tune called “Excuse Me, Mister.” Before we go any further, listen to the song.

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One of the things we’re looking at down here on justice day is trying to pinpoint what is justice? Is what is just for someone, just for everyone? Last week in church we read about the beheading of John the Baptist. Where’s justice in that? Or when you think back to the fact that Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans 7 years ago — 7 years! — and this city is still reeling from that storm. There are people who are still trying to put their life back together. They’ve spent the last 7 years trying to get back to where they were in 2005. Where is our sense of justice in that?

I think the thing that sticks out with this song, is that it puts the responsibility back on us to help each other. There’s no single person that’s designated as the “Mr.” in the song. But it could be anyone. So many of us, myself included, did nothing in the face of that storm. And not even Katrina, but so often when bad things happen, we feel so detached from each other.

So I think “Excuse Me, Mr” is actually about getting reconnected to ourselves and our responsibility to do what we can to help our neighbor. In Micah 6, we hear about how the prophet is trying to find new ways of atoning for his sins, through different sacrifices and other things like that. The prophet gets a new command that lasts through to our time as well. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

So today we focus on justice.

Cheers,
Eric

Devotion from the Big Easy: “Oh My God”

Last night the Youth Gathering started down in New Orleans, which means we have the beginning of our devotions. One of the songs I’ve been thinking about a lot since we got down here is a song by Jars of Clay called “Oh My God”. You can listen to the song right here.

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The song is essentially divided up into 3 sections. The last one is the one that gets me. It’s the one that’s supposed to. The way it crescendoes and becomes increasingly intense and graphic leads us into a swelling of emotion. It’s heavy. Dan Haseltine, the lead singer of Jars of Clay writes about that last verse,

This is the rant.  This is why I, in that season, spoke those words.  I did not deliberate over these lyrics.  The song was only sung once in the studio.  These words were only written within seconds of singing.  This is a gut level grouping of words.  And it was a way of bringing the questions I had been storing up and forgetting about and remembering and fighting, to amplification.  And so it ends with questions, just as it started.

In the song is a grappling with the big questions that we ask as humans. Why am I here? How should I live? It’s the questions that keep us up at night. It’s the questions that make us call out to God in our distress.

In Psalm 18, we hear these words,

“In my distress I called upon
the Lord, I cried unto my
God. He heard my voice out
of His temple, and my cry
came before him…”

So when you are distressed and when you get cynical about this world… what are the things that you lament? What are the things that make you cry out to God? Is it homelessness? Is it hunger? Is it economic injustice? Is it issues of race?

Today, we don’t focus on answers. Just questions. Particularly, what makes you cry out to God? Feel free to comment and join our conversation.

Cheers,
Eric

Watch Nicki Minaj Take Down Sexism

You could be the king, but watch the queen conquer.” – Nicki Minaj from Kanye West’s “Monster”

Before starting… let me put out the disclaimer that in the clip below, Nicki Minaj echoes a lot of what many women in the hip-hop world have said before. Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliot, Queen Latifah, Jill Scott and many others have preceded her in pushing for rights and respect, but I thought this clip was really interesting. Check it out.
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I like parts of this video. I dislike others. The part about Donald Trump and other men in power being the “boss” vs. women in power being the “bitch”. Other people have written at length about this. This is the part where I’m the most with her in this video. I think she makes great points about how men and women are treated differently and how traits that are perceived as inherently “masculine” — like something as simple as being assertive — carry negative connotations when women exhibit them. When a woman’s assertive, she’s a bitch. When a man’s assertive, he’s a boss. This is such a common double standard in our culture that it’s ridiculous. If you don’t believe me, ask Hillary Clinton.

But where I cringe in this video is at the very end where she discredits herself and everything that she has just said! She shows that she buys into what culture says about women because when women speak out against this kind of thing, they can often be characterized as stupid, petty, or otherwise weak.

What did you think of the video? Do you think she made a good point? Shoot me a comment and let me know your thoughts.

Cheers,
Eric

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