Saturday, April 30, 2016

To Helsinki and Back

If you’ve ever lost your wallet then you should appreciate this story.  Back in 2013 the Readers Digest magazine tried a fascinating experiment in honesty.  They went to 16 different cities around the world and in each city left 12 wallets lying around as if lost.  The wallets were dropped in parks, near shopping malls, on sidewalks, etc, and in each wallet was a name with a cell phone number, a family photo, coupons, business cards, and the equivalent of $50. 

Overall, 47% of the wallets were returned, (although some cities faired far better than others) and contrary to what some may expect, age, gender, or economic status seemed to matter little.  There were honest, and dishonest, people in every pigeonhole. 

The top six cities included the only American city (New York) to be tested.  They are: 

1. Helsinki, Finland (Wallets returned: 11 out of 12)
2. Mumbai, India (Wallets returned: 9 out of 12)
3. (TIE) Budapest, Hungary (Wallets returned: 8 out of 12)
3. (TIE) New York City, U.S.A. (Wallets returned: 8 out of 12)
4. (TIE) Moscow, Russia (Wallets returned: 7 out of 12)
4. (TIE) Amsterdam, the Netherlands (Wallets returned: 7 out of 12)

The bottom six are as follows:

7. (TIE) Bucharest, Romania (Wallets returned: 4 out of 12)
7. (TIE) Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Wallets returned: 4 out of 12)
7. (TIE) Zurich, Switzerland (Wallets returned: 4 out of 12)
8. Prague, Czech Republic (Wallets returned: 3 out of 12)
9. Madrid, Spain (Wallets returned: 2 out of 12)
10. Lisbon, Portugal (Wallets returned:1 out of 12)

I’d love to try this wallet experiment in Terre Haute, although I’m not particularly keen on putting $600 at risk.  But if I were to do it, I would expect the people here to rank among the top 6.  Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I think this is a good place, full of good people.

What I found especially interesting were the reasons the honest 47% gave for returning the wallets.  Most of them said things like this:

“Of course we returned the wallet. Honesty is an inner conviction."

“My conscience wouldn't let me do anything wrong. A wallet is a big thing with many important documents [in it]."

"I am convinced that people should help one another, and if I can make someone a little happier, I will."

“I saw the photo of the mother with her child. Whatever else is important, a photo like that means something to the owner."

"My parents taught me how important being honest is. Once I lost an entire bag, but I got everything back. So, I know what it feels like."

"If you find money, you can't assume it belongs to a rich man.   It might be the last bit of money a mother has to feed her family."[1]

Nobody said: “I returned the wallet so I can go to heaven when I die,” or “I had to do it because God was watching.”  Nobody said “I returned the wallet because the Bible told me to,” or “I wanted to impress my minister.”  In fact, while many of the honest folk were almost certainly Christians, they didn’t tend to refer to their faith at all when explaining their moral choices. They did the right thing because they wanted to do the right thing, and because they had feelings of empathy and concern for the person who had lost the wallet.

Christian morality is really about becoming that kind of person, one who sympathizes with others, and genuinely wants to make the world a kinder place.  I’ve always seen the heart of Christ-like morality to reside in two of Jesus’ core principles:  “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31 NRSV); and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  (Mark 12:31 NRSV).  These are really two ways of expressing one truth, which is basically “empathize with people and treat them nice.”  And in practicing these principles, it’s ironic that some non-Christians are more “Christian” than some Christians.

If you find a wallet, return it.  If a cashier gives you too much change, say something.  If you can prosper by harming another, resist the temptation.  And don’t do these things out of fear or selfish desire.  Do them because God, through Christ, has changed you into the kind of person who wants to do these things.

And in this way we people of Terre Haute can give Helsinki a run for the money.

Yours in Christ;



Friday, April 1, 2016

The Place Of The Resurrection

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.  (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NRSV)

One of the holiest sites in Christendom is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which is said to be built over the hill where Jesus was crucified (“Golgotha” in Greek or “Calvary” in Latin), and extends to the tomb where Jesus, according to tradition, was buried.  It is, in other words, thought to be the actual site of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!  Not surprisingly, there is a large influx of Christians from around the world visiting this church every Easter. 

Unfortunately, since this is prime real estate for many Christians, the location is in high demand.  There are six Christian faiths who lay claim to the location, (Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and Syriac Orthodox) and through the years they have clashed over its use.  During the Easter season when crowds swell, tempers tend to flare and fist-fights often erupt.  

During Easter prayers in 1970, Coptic monks momentarily left their post on the rooftop monastery, which allowed the Ethiopian monks to swoop in, change the locks, and take it for their own. So the Coptic’s placed a chair outside of the disputed area in protest, keeping watch for an opportunity to move back.  In 2002 this Coptic guard made the mistake of moving his chair into the shade, resulting in a fight that left 12 holy men injured.  In September 2004, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox clerics had a fistfight (with at least five injuries) after a Catholic left a door open during an Orthodox service. And as Easter approached in 2007, three of the groups responsible for the 10-stall rest room could not cooperate long enough to repair it, resulting in the stench of sewage filling the building.  In 2008 police were called to stop a fight over a Greek Orthodox priest being ejected from the premises by a rival faction.  And from later that same year you can see a video on YouTube of Armenian and Greek Orthodox worshipers violently clobbering each other during a celebration of the “Feast of the Holy Cross.”. 

All of this highlights the irony of Christians embracing the physical location of the resurrection without actually letting it happen in themselves.  It seems that for many people the resurrection of Christ is only an event that took place in Jerusalem, almost 2000 years ago, and that’s that.  In contrast, the New Testament tends to view the death and resurrection of Christ as an event that also happens to us, and changes us in very dramatic ways.  It takes place in our lives, and occurs whenever we let it happen.  In Christ our old life dies on the cross and we are raised to a new and better life.

Put another way, we’ve reduced the resurrection to an interesting doctrinal belief when it ought to be taking root in our hearts and completely overhauling our lives here and now. 

As you get this newsletter you’re probably thinking that Easter is over, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Easter has just begun.  And it is reflected in the new love and grace that flows from our lives.

Christ has risen, and he lives in you and me! That’s the real power, and glory, of Easter.  And if Christ hasn’t risen in your heart, here today, then you’re looking for Easter in all the wrong places.