Sanctuary, Part 2

In yesterday’s post, I talked about how sanctuary was a part of our worship found in the confession and forgiveness. Today I turn to something else.

For those American Lutherans who are having a difficult time (or just outright oppose) the recent ELCA designation voted on at the recent Churchwide Assembly this month (August, 2019) to designate the ELCA as a “Sanctuary” denomination, it may help to remember a bit of history.

Lutheranism itself would not exist if it were not for Frederick the Wise providing sanctuary for Martin Luther.

“At a crucial period for the early Reformation, Frederick protected Luther from the Pope and the emperor, and took him into custody at the Wartburg castle after the Diet of Worms (1521), which put Luther under the imperial ban. His repertoire of diplomatic stalling tactics stood their test; the opponents never finding a weak point. He saw Luther as unjustly persecuted because Luther could not be found guilty of any real crime.”

(Source: https://www.pbs.org/empires/martinluther/char_frederick.html)

Had Frederick not provided sanctuary for Luther, Luther would have been caught and executed, just like every previous reformer before him. His writings after that point would never have happened. The theology he developed would not have happened. And there would never have been a Lutheran denomination. Sanctuary saved his life – literally.

Fast forward to the early life of the United States. Southern states inserted a Fugitive Slave Clause in the US “Constitution (Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3) that stated that, ‘no person held to service or labor’ would be released from bondage in the event they escaped to a free state.”

(Source: https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/fugitive-slave-acts)

Combine that with the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850, “which added more provisions regarding runaways and levied even harsher punishments for interfering in their capture.”

(Source: https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/fugitive-slave-acts)

Thankfully the Underground Railroad made escape easier for slaves. The Railroad was “a network of individuals and safe houses that evolved over many years to help fugitive slaves on their journeys north.”

(Source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/fugitive-slave)

Guides, also called conductors, lead runaway slaves to these safe houses which provided sanctuary to these slaves. If it were not for the Underground Railroad and it’s places of sanctuary for runaway slaves, the 40,000-100,000 slaves who escaped to freedom and the sanctuary of Canada and the North, would not have happened.

Fast forward to 1979, Iran. On November 4, 1979 the US embassy in Iran was taken over by Iranian student protestors. 66 Americans were held hostage and would be held for 444 days. Six escaped though, taking refuge in the Canadian embassy. The Canadians provided sanctuary to these six Americans until they could escape Iran on January 27, 1980.

So my question is this – was it wrong for Frederick the Wise to provide sanctuary to Martin Luther? Was it wrong for the Underground Railroad to provide sanctuary to runaway slaves? Was it wrong for the Canadians to provide sanctuary for the six Americans in Iran?

Sanctuary…

Recently, it was reported that the ELCA became the first “Sanctuary” denomination in the country.

The reaction has been interesting. There are those who are opposed to this and those that support this designation. The humorous part of all of this is the reality that we really don’t know what it means to be a “Sanctuary” denomination – yet you could assume that this designation came with concrete steps if you only listened to the reactions. In reality, we’re in unchartered territory. The denomination, bishops, and pastors are putting out plenty of letters telling everyone what the designation means and doesn’t mean. (I.e. – it doesn’t mean the denomination is encouraging anyone to do anything illegal.)

But reactions have been swift and immediate. There have been people who are leaving the denomination and there are people who are discovering that they are Lutherans and didn’t know it.

Sanctuary. Ah, a word that causes an emotional reaction for so many.

Yet the word has actual meaning. If you go to Merriam-Webster’s website, you’ll find some interesting things.

So what does sanctuary mean? Well, here’s a screen shot from the website:

(Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com)

Lost in the debate about “Sanctuary” denomination is the fact that where we worship is called a Sanctuary. It’s considered a consecrated or holy place because it is a place that we believe we encounter God through worship.

For Lutherans, we have an established Ordo of worship – or order of worship. At the very beginning of most worship services includes the Confession and Forgiveness.

During this time, there are a few options of what the congregation says together. One of them is this:

“Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.” (Source: ELW, pg. 117)

In response, the pastor declares the following:

“In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins. As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” (Source: ELW, pg. 118)

Did you catch what happens during the confession and forgiveness that is done in the sanctuary? We seek sanctuary with God in a sanctuary. We seek the forgiveness of sins. And what is sin? Well, for one thing, it is a violation of the laws of God. So during a regular Lutheran worship service, the people gathered come to a sanctuary, to seek sanctuary from God for violating God’s laws. And the good news is that God grants this sanctuary to those present.

According to Merriam-Webster.com a sanctuary is a place of refuge and protection. It is a place that shelters people. It is a place that offers immunity from the law.

This isn’t new. In fact, there is a great deal of history for churches being sanctuary places. If you read further on Merriam-Webster’s site, you would find this entry:

(Source: Merriam-Webster.com)

Which leads me to wonder – why do some object to a church being designated as a “Sanctuary” denomination when we have sanctuaries and offers sanctuary to sinners before the law of God? Why is sanctuary good for those of us in worship, but not for others?

The Bible is a book of…

This past week I saw a quote from someone (I don’t know who to attribute it to, sorry) who said the following about the Bible:

“The Bible isn’t a book of answers. It’s a book of wisdom.”

There is a distinct difference between the Bible being a book of answers and a book of wisdom – an important distinction and difference.

If the Bible is a book of answers first and foremost, then I think we have some serious issues to deal with. The Bible doesn’t have all the answers. Often it raises more questions than it answers. To claim that the Bible is a book of answers is to simplify the Bible into something that it is not. The Bible isn’t a Google search engine where you just want to find something in it, pull up what you want, and go on from there. If the Bible is first and foremost an answer book, then it contradicts the very nature of God. Yes, you read that correctly.

God is relational by nature. The Trinity is a prime example of that. Tell me what relationship you have that is first and foremost a question and answer relationship and I’ll show you a relationship that is not relational, that is distant, that is driven by fear, compliance, and order as the foundation. Loving relationships don’t work in that way. Hear what I am saying though – this is not an all or none statement. I’m arguing that the foundation of the Bible is not to be an answer book.

Instead, I would argue that the Bible is a book of wisdom. Wisdom is not the same as data or factoids. We are a society that is obsessed with data and information, but lack wisdom in so many regards.

Edwin Friedman, in his excellent book “A Failure of Nerve,” addresses the challenges of being addicted to data and information. This book was first published in 1999. And oh how timely it is still today.

Friedman talked about characteristics of gridlocked systems. Here are his three points:

  1. “The treadmill of trying harder is driven by the assumption that failure is due to the fact that one did not try hard enough, use the right technique, or get enough information.” (pg. 35)
  2. “The second attribute of imaginatively gridlocked relationship systems is a continual search for new answers to old questions rather than an effort to reframe the questions themselves. In the search for the solutions to any problem, questions are always more important than answers because the way one frames the question, or the problem, already predetermines the range of answers one can conceive in response.” (pg. 37)
  3. “The third characteristic of gridlocked relationship systems is either/or, black-or-white, all-or-nothing ways of thinking that eventually restrict the options of the mind.” (pg. 39).

Apply what Friedman wrote to how we too often approach the Bible – as an answer bank that is designed to provide us with the answers to questions we are asking. Guess who’s in the driver seat in that relationship? We are. We have determined what the appropriate questions are. And because we have done that, we are setting the frame of what the possible answers can be. And in doing so, we limit God, what God says, how God acts, and what God is up to. We make God align to us. We selectively decide which Scripture answers our questions while conveniently ignoring Scripture that contradicts what we are looking for or doesn’t sound like proof-text to be used as a weapon in whatever argument we are having.

Peter Enns, in his great book “The Sin of Certainty” stated the following about wisdom and the Bible:

“Wise words hurt – like a shepherd’s goad, a long staff with a nail at the end used to prod the sheep.” (Pg. 78)

This is in relation to what Enns is writing concerning the book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is considered a book of wisdom, like Proverbs. It is not a book of answers. It has answers in it, no doubt, but it is far more concerned with wisdom than answers.

Or as Enns states: “Ecclesiastes is one of the true gems of the Bible. It paints for us a picture of what faith looks like when all you thought you knew about God and how the world works is ripped from you, when certainty vanishes like vapor.” (pg. 80).

If the Bible is primarily a book of answers, then we should think of ourselves merely as robots who need constant direction, who are incapable of growing and maturing. We are essentially forever children who have to be told to not play in the street.

But if the Bible is more a book of wisdom, then the situation changes. We can be seen as having the ability to grow in faith and understanding. Discernment has a role. We have the ability to grow in relationship with God and with others. Does this mean we will be perfect? By no means. But it does mean that we worship a God that isn’t interested in being a traffic cop ready to give us a citation every time we break the law. Instead, we worship a God who is like an ideal parent – our relationship with that parent grows and changes over time.

We see this in Jesus. Throughout the Gospels Jesus uses a specific teaching technique – parables. Parables are stories designed to teach the hearer something or many things. But a parable is an inefficient way of conveying answers to questions. Parables require thinking, examining, reflection – in a word, parables are wisdom stories.

Lastly, to see the Bible as a book of wisdom opens us to hear what the Bible at it’s core is really about – a saving message. Salvation not because we are trying to avoid breaking the rules, but rather salvation because we are embraced by God and given something so incredible – love, mercy, grace, forgiveness. We’re going to screw it up for sure. But God keeps coming after us anyway. When it comes down to it, the Bible is a message of hope that tells us that it’s not about us. It’s about God and God’s relationship with us and the rest of creation and how God is continually coming to us and restoring and transforming life to be in right relationship with God.

Homelessness

Yesterday evening I was waiting for an order of dessert with my daughter. The restaurant we had stopped at had a TV on in the corner. I couldn’t hear the conversation, but I could see what the story was about – homelessness. More specifically, it was a story about how some businesses in California were moving due to the increase in the number of homeless around their business.

I don’t know what exactly was said. I have no idea what was being reported. No sooner was I able to see what the story was about and then our desserts were ready. And off we went.

But just seeing the story brought a few thoughts to my head. Homelessness is one of the issues that is much more complicated than most people actually know. It’s easy to say that homeless people should try harder, they are lazy, or anything else like that. It’s easy because it doesn’t take reality into account. It’s easy because it treats homelessness as an abstract issue.

Abstract issues are easy – just take your pick of issues. Doesn’t matter if you are talking about homelessness, immigration, abortion, sexuality, etc. What do I mean by abstract? Simple. That’s what I mean. We can simplify these issues down to something simple with simple solutions. The problem with keeping an issue abstract is that life doesn’t work in nice simple ways. If the solution to homelessness, or any of the other abstract issues for that matter, were simple, we would have already solved them. The problems exist though because people are complicated and messy.

Homelessness is a complicated matter for which there are rarely nice easy answers. There are personal issues to deal with. There are many homeless who work full time. That should raise questions. The definition of homelessness changes based on which agency you are dealing with. That should raise questions too. There are many homeless who follow the rules, reach out for help, do all they can to get out of homelessness, and are still trapped. That should raise questions. Considering we are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, why does homelessness exist at all? Is it because everyone who is homeless is lazy? Really? Do you really believe that and have proof to back that up?

I think that for the most part, we don’t really know what to do with the homeless. Their presence makes us uncomfortable and so the easy thing to so is explain them away and dismiss them easily. But it’s different when you get to know people who are experiencing homelessness – when you know their names and their stories. You hear about their efforts and how they still can’t get out. And you celebrate with people who are able to somehow. And you keep them all in your prayers hoping that they will all be able to have a home in the near future and keep it and that aren’t sucked back into the black hole of homelessness and poverty.

Homelessness is easy to talk about in a short news segment when it is abstract. But it’s not the whole story. Not even close.

Where your treasure is…

Luke 12:34 has Jesus saying the following: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (NRSV).

This is part of a larger discourse that Jesus is delivering on worry and where we put our trust. It’s also a fine example of Jesus talking about money.

Too often we read this verse in the reverse – where your heart is, there your treasure will be also. But that’s not what Jesus said. What we do with what we have is an outward expression of what we truly believe and value, not what we claim to believe and value.

In other words, my words are empty and meaningless if my actions display something else. Our words and our actions should be congruent, or in alignment.

Don’t bother to tell me what you believe about anything – show me with your money, your time, your possessions. They will display exactly what you actually believe.

This is true for individuals, families, communities, organizations, businesses, institutions, congregations, and governments. If you really want to know what someone or some group actually believes, look at their budget. Where their money goes, tells you what they actually value.

Recently I read “Romans Disarmed” by Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh. Here’s what their take on the whole idea of money and the heart:

“Our attitudes are always embodied in specific practices in daily life. In the biblical story one’s economic practices are where these attitudes most often find expression.” (Pg. 166)

And here’s another passage from a couple of pages earlier:

“…whom or what you worship shapes your whole life. It determines how you conduct your economic affairs, how you relate to the poor, and how you treat the land. Our worship is indicative of our deepest trust.” (Pg. 164)

So, the uncomfortable question is this – How do my economic transactions show who I worship? How does my interactions with the poor show who I worship? How does how I treat the land show who I worship?

Even more uncomfortable is to ask these same questions of our elected officials, our churches, our institutions, and more.

Romans 13:1-2

Romans 13:1-2 states: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement.” (Source: NRSV)

This passage of Scripture has been pulled out recently by certain pastors to defend the policies of the current administration. These same pastors wouldn’t have been caught dead citing this same passage of Scripture four years ago when another administration was in office and implementing policies that they don’t like or agree with.

Romans 13:1-2 isn’t a biblical excuse for government to do whatever it wants to do. Romans 13:1-2 isn’t a kind of godly blank check or a get out of free jail card. When Romans 13:1-2 is used in this way, it turns from the Word of God into a weapon that is used to attempt to destroy or silence people. It is nothing more than a proof-text designed to support one’s beliefs, instead of God’s Word designed to change us and bring about the Kingdom of God. When Scripture is abused in this way, it becomes a tool for humans in an attempt to control God and what God is allowed to talk about, rather than God’s Word designed to bring us into alignment with the unfolding of God’s kingdom.

Romans 13:1-2 only makes sense when it is read in context with Romans 12 and with the entirety of what Paul is writing to Christians in Rome. Here’s the context – Paul is writing this letter to Christians who live at the very heart of the Roman empire – the capitol. It is dangerous for these Christians to openly practice their faith in the heart of an empire that doesn’t welcome the Christian God (to put it mildly). Following Jesus in the heart of the empire meant rejecting the Roman gods and the Roman culture. It meant declaring that Jesus was Lord and Caesar was not – right in the heart of the empire none the less. This would have very real consequences for followers of Jesus. It would impact what work they could do, if they could obtain food and/or housing, how they were seen in society and who they interacted with.

It was most likely that Nero was the Roman emperor when Paul writes this letter. (The other possibility was Claudius, who was not much better – he forced Jews to leave Rome around 50 CE). If you know anything about Nero, it should be this – he was an anti-Christ figure, as most caesars were. He lived his life in complete opposition to everything that the Gospel of Jesus stood for and what Paul wrote about in his letter to the Roman church. Nero was selfish (most likely a narcissist), sexually abusive and exploitive, greedy, and violent (Historians agree that he killed his mother and his first wife. Historians are split on whether he killed his second wife) and more. The Christians of Rome would feel Nero’s wrath in the 60’s when Nero would blame Christians for the burning of Rome, and a year later he would have Paul executed.

When we look at Romans 12:9-21, we read Paul’s words that come immediately before Romans 13:1-2. Romans 12:9-21 sets the stage for the meaning of Romans 13:1-2. Here’s what he wrote:

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

(Source: NRSV)

When you read these passages you start to understand the context of Romans 13:1-2 differently. Paul isn’t arguing that we have unquestioning allegiance and loyalty to the government. Instead, Paul has just written a couple of paragraphs on how we are to live as Christians. Paul isn’t arguing that the Roman government is worthy of being obeyed because everything they do is godly. Rather he is arguing that the way of Christ is not to fight so that one side wins and one side loses, but rather to live differently so that all sides may be freed from the bondage of violence and death and sin. Paul is arguing to live a Christian life, in defiance to the Roman way of living, and to accept whatever punishment they deal out for living as a disciple of Jesus. Paul would embody this himself in his imprisonments and ultimately his own death.

Connect what Paul writes “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all,” in Romans 12:17, to what he writes just a few sentences later in Romans 13:1-2, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement.”

Romans 13:1-2 has been used and abused as a weapon for governmental abuses and injustice for centuries. The problem with the argument that we are to obey the government no matter what is that this argument falls apart rather quickly when it is applied to specific situations of history.

I have a specific question to pastors who use Romans 13:1-2 in this way – Using your line of reasoning, should the US have been at war with Nazi Germany? Everything the Nazi’s did was legal, they passed laws. Would you argue that the Nazis and Hitler were ordained by God? They were the legal authorities of Germany. Should we have gotten in their way on their quest to dominate the world, and kill those who were impure?

Was Martin Luther King, Jr. wrong when he did illegal activities (was arrested for breaking the law) in his effort to have civil rights laws changed? After all, he did things that resisted authorities that had been instituted by God, supposedly.

Was it wrong for people to assist slaves in going to freedom from the South prior to and during the Civil War (before the Emancipation Proclamation)? There were laws that stated that anyone who assisted a slave, instead of turning them in, was breaking the law.

In short, using Romans 13:1-2 as a weapon to silence dissent over unjust policies is irresponsible for a pastor, is poor exegetical analysis, and is a misuse of Scripture.

Encounters with God

There’s a lot of people who are searching for something. They try to fill that hole in their soul with lots of other things. But none of them really satisfy. Want to encounter God? Take a couple of minutes to read a story or two from Anastasis. In this, you’ll find several stories of encounters with God, prayers, encouragement, and more. Be Blessed. And please share this others who you know want to encounter God. Thank you.

I dread reading the headlines

I’m going to share something very personal with you. As a pastor I dread getting up each morning and seeing what the latest headlines are. Just skip them, you suggest? Just say silent? Why ruffle feathers? Oh how I wish I could.

As a pastor, I am called to be a public witness – it is part of my ordination vows. Each day I see statements and acts that go against the Gospel and are antithetical to what it means to be a follower of Christ. My dilemma – do I speak out on these or stay silent? Silence implies agreement. Speaking out is considered “partisan.” The measure of what I speak about is this – how does it match up with Jesus? How others see these statements is out of my control.

My calling is to be a public witness of Jesus. I am compelled to make public statements – it is a part of my calling. A sermon is a public witness of the Gospel. Wearing a collar is a public witness. My prayers that I post online are public witnesses. I am compensated for studying the Scriptures and proclaiming what God has to say.

Prophets of old were compelled to speak God’s word to kings and peoples – often words that the kings and the people didn’t like. Preachers proclaimed publicly that slavery was a sin and evil from their pulpits – often facing great opposition from the people in the pews and in the nation. Pastors marched the streets in favor of civil rights – often in opposition to the popular opinion of the day.

Jesus calls pastors to certain things that we’d really rather not do many times. Jesus calls us to comfort the afflicted (that’s not the problem), and afflict the comfortable. Jesus calls us to proclaim inconvenient truths. Jesus calls us to call out sin. Jesus calls us to pick up our cross and follow him. Jesus calls us to declare that God’s kingdom, not any earthly kingdom or nation, is where our salvation lies. Jesus calls us to declare that to follow Jesus means to love our enemies, to welcome strangers. Jesus calls us to say things that are not popular and often are not welcome by others.

Martin Luther defined sin as the turning inward towards oneself. Sin is the breaking of relationship with God, with oneself, with others, and the rest of creation. Sin has consequences. People don’t like to hear about sin. Yet, as a called an ordained minister, I have a responsibility to talk about it.

So, while I’d rather not talk about these things, I’m going to – I’m compelled to by Jesus. Racism isn’t just wrong. It’s a sin. It is antithetical to what it means to be a follower of Christ. It runs counter to the Christian belief in the Imago Dei – that all humans are made in the image of God. Comparing a group of people, individuals, or an entire city to rats, or other disease carrying animals isn’t just wrong. It is a sin. It is antithetical to what it means to be a follower of Christ. It runs counter to the Christian belief in the Imago Dei. Having a politician or a group of people chanting “send them home” is not just wrong. It is a sin. It is in defiance to what Christ said when he called on his disciples to love your enemies and to welcome the stranger. Again, it is refusing to see the Imago Dei in another person. These aren’t statements that I make on my own – many other religious leaders, pastors, bishops, etc are saying the same things because of our faith in Jesus.

If you believe that these are partisan statements, then I would suggest that you stop looking through the lens of political party loyalty and start looking through a Jesus lens, or at the very least a human lens. Racism has always been wrong and a sin. It’s not just wrong and a sin based on who occupies any political office. Racism was sinful when Federalist and Democrat-Republican presidents occupied the Oval Office in the time before the Civil War.  Comparing people to rats is always wrong and a sin. It’s not just wrong and a sin based on who occupies a political office. It was sinful when Republican and Democrats occupied the Oval Office as other nations did this exact same thing. Stating that people should go back where they came from has always been wrong and a sin. Don’t take my word for it, read the history of this statement. It’s not just wrong and a sin based on who occupies a political office.  It was also sinful when Democrats and Republicans throughout our nation’s history have either used this or similar language or been silent as supporters have used it.  It was sinful when the Know Nothing Party made this a central theme of their campaigns in the 1800’s.  None of these sins are new or fresh.  They are old and refuse to die.  They just take on new adherents that adopt and update who the targets are.  And they are still sinful. 

The lens through which I see the world is the Gospel. You can believe that or not. You can like or dislike my public statements. That is your decision. You can think I am just some hack for a political party, even though I am not registered in a political party and have absolutely no faith in political parties to bring about the kingdom of God. Political parties, all of them, exist to obtain power from others. My duty, my calling, my vocation is centered on and focuses on the unfolding of the Kingdom of God. And I take that calling seriously.

We are called to a higher standard when we claim the mantle of being a follower of Jesus. All of us. Racism, telling people to go back where they came from, equating people to rodents, etc., is not living into what it means to be a follower of Jesus. There are no exceptions, no rational arguments, no excuses when it comes to these things. They simply are not in alignment with God or what God values.

What color is it?

Have we become a society that is so torn apart that we can’t agree on anything anymore? Or was this always the case and I just fooled myself into believing that there was some time in the not too distant past when people who believed differently could still agree on some basic things.

Like what color the sky is on a clear sunny day.

I’m not sure we are capable of agreeing on anything anymore. We take our cues on what to answer from the high priests of politics as if they have divine inspiration and are not to be questioned. Have we become lemmings that will follow these high priests right off the cliff? I’m becoming more convinced that the sad truth to that answer is yes.

I didn’t watch the Mueller testimony. I didn’t read the report either. I had work to do and the thought of sitting and watching hours upon hours of a Congressional hearing as polarized as this one was not high on my list of things to do. I’ve worked for a Member of Congress in the past, so I know what these hearings are like.

But I was fascinated by the responses to the hearing. It appears that people didn’t watch the same testimony. How could they? The reactions to the testimony were starkly different. Nothing Republicans said about what happened had any relation to what Democrats said happened and vice versa. Not a single thing.

Republicans were claiming the sky was grey. Democrats were claiming the sky was pink.

All I can assume is that people went into the testimony with their minds already made up. They watched to see what they wanted to see and hear and ignored anything that didn’t fit their preconceived notions.

Which leads me to some important questions. What is the point of a hearing when no one is hearing anything?

What is the point of a conversation when no one really wants to converse. Instead, we would rather get our points in and show how right we are and how wrong the other person is. Reminds me of how toddlers have conversations.

What I observe is that a large segment of society (if we can still call it that) has shut down it’s ability and desire to discern and seek out the truth, all while claiming they have the truth.

Our society is so divided that we have stopped listening to anyone who doesn’t parrot the same rhetoric and message that we are parroting. Are we even thinking through what it is we are speaking or typing anymore? I see too many statements from people who argue one thing and then in the next sentence make another argument that requires them to hold the exact opposite position of what they just argued about. Why? What purpose does this serve? Are we so blinded by the idolatry of being right that we can’t take just a moment to see how inconsistent we are?

I wonder if we have become incapable to considering the possibility that we could be wrong and someone else could be right about something. Most of what I hear is a passionate, mostly irrational, defense of one’s own side – regardless of what is said or done. Why? To what end?

What color is the sky? Depending on who you ask, you will get a different answer – a passionate answer. Yet these answers all too often don’t have any relation to reality.

The blind allegiance to a political ideology, to politicians, to party, is not healthy. It is destructive. It is costly. The cost of such blind loyalty will be great, that I know. We all lose when blind allegiance runs rampant through society.

The cost of blind irrational loyalty is trust. But that’s just the first thing to fall victim to this blind loyalty. The other costs are intelligence, empathy, mercy, seeing people as made in the image of God. This blind irrational loyalty to party, politician, and ideology also costs us our faith. We can’t serve two masters and so our faith in God becomes subject to our faith in the gods we elect and swear loyalty to. After all, we are fond of painting politicians as saving messiahs who will save the country from the evil ones. Republicans and Democrats have been and are guilty of this idolatry.

While we are busy as a nation making enemies of fellow citizens, the world is watching and waiting to see how this will end. It isn’t going to end well if we continue on this path.

What color is the sky? I weep when we can’t even answer such a simple question because agreeing with someone else will look weak, or cost political points, or give some kind of credit to an opponent.

We can be better than this if we choose. But we must start using our brains again. If we choose not to, then the path we are heading on will not be pleasant. And it will not end well for any of us. But will those who are blinded by irrational loyalty even see it when it hits? Or will they spin it away because their high priest said it was someone else’s fault?

Tiny House

I’m part of a project that is interested in building tiny homes for those experiencing homelessness. Tiny homes seem to be quite the rage right now. Although the idea has been around for some time. You can find tiny home villages throughout the nation – many devoted to specific groups of people. Some devoted to helping homeless veterans, others more general in nature.

I’m passionate about finding ways to end homelessness. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that homelessness exists in the wealthiest country in history. It makes no sense. So I’m part of a project with several other people who are trying to find a way to do something about homelessness in our community.

As passionate as I am about this, something was lacking. I had never stayed in a tiny home. How was I supposed to speak with any authority, or even have any idea of what living in a tiny home was like, and if it was the right solution, if I had not at least stayed in a tiny home?

And so, recently, my wife and I stayed in a tiny home. The home was 103 square feet total. Small and large are flexible terms. To give you some perspective, here’s a few other things that are about 100 square feet – many good sized cars and SUVs are about 100 square feet. A can of paint will cover about 100 square feet. If you mashed 50 people together, they would cover about 100 square feet.

So the question is this – is 100 square feet a livable situation? Yes and no.

Understand, my wife and I were staying for a night. And we have four children. And a dog. And guinea pigs. And a fish. So, no, a tiny home of 100 square feet is not livable for our household. And that’s ok. But that doesn’t mean it’s not livable for an individual.

What we found in the tiny house was this – everything we needed. There was a table, a refrigerator, running water, a bathroom, a bed, and a little bit of storage That’s the material things.

Here’s the immaterial – we found a great deal of creativity and ingenuity. We found that there wasn’t a lot of clutter, but space. We found closeness too. We found there were many things missing that were unnecessary. We found books and learning. We found conversation.

If homelessness is an issue you care about – I encourage you to stay in a tiny home. If you are thinking about how tiny homes might be part of the solution to homelessness, I encourage you to stay in a tiny home. My hope is that it raises questions and it inspires creativity. Staying in tiny home offers the opportunity to get out of your world and into a different world.