Change happens

Change is normal. It is natural. It is a part of life. Change even happens in death.

Not changing is abnormal. Not changing is an attempt to stop time, growth, death, progress, etc.

Change is easy if we just stay out of they way.

So why is it that change is so hard for humans? Is it because we associate change with fear? Is it because we equate change with being out of control? Do we fear that we will lose something, and not gain something in its place?

Going beyond this – why is change so difficult for cultures? Maybe this is a better question. Humans, on their own, have an easier time changing and adapting than cultures and organizations that are established. It’s a part of our individual lives. Our bodies age and change, and so we adapt to these changes because we have no choice. But cultures, it seems, do have a choice. They can change and adapt, or they can choose to remain the same. The problem though is that this is a false choice. Choosing to remain the same is really a death sentence.

So how does change really happen – especially for a culture or established institution? It depends. It depends on the culture and the people within the organization. It depends on willingness and acceptance of reality. It depends on vision. It depends on how forward thinking the group that makes up the culture really is.

Here’s what I know – for organizations and cultures that are resistant to change, there is only way that change has a chance to occur. That is to make the status quo more painful than change. When the status quo is more painful than changing, self-preservation usually kicks in. Change isn’t seen as something to resist. It’s seen as something necessary to survive.

However, if a culture has turned in on itself to the point that people are only interested in making the culture or institution survive long enough until they die, that culture will not change in a significant way. It will adapt enough to make the organization last long enough to bury the last person.

 

The Truth

Do people really want the truth? I’m not so sure.

On some things, I’d say yes. These would be things that we know have a direct impact on our daily lives. We want to know that the gas gauge on our vehicle is accurate. If it isn’t, there is a good chance we’ll be walking when we run out of fuel. We want to know how much money is actually in our bank accounts so we don’t draw on it so far that it goes negative and incurs a fee for us.

Are we interested in the truth for other things? Probably not.

I saw a meme recently that captured this very nicely. It stated, “People don’t want the truth. They just want constant reassurance that what they believe is the truth.” Wow.

What might some of these things be? Off the top of my head, I think the things that we don’t really want the truth have to do with what we think is linked to our identity. Instead, we’d rather have what we believe to be true about our identity. It allows us to paint a more positive picture about ourselves to ourselves and others.

And so, I think most people aren’t interested in the truth when it comes to money (the reality of how it impacts our decision making and the power it has over us), politics, entertainment, sports, work, and more. All of these things have a religious undertone to them. They come with a set of beliefs about the world. They have high priests which declare the doctrines that are “true.” They have sacraments. They include an offering. They have holy places where people gather. They all have their own gospel narratives and messages of how these things save us.

But I wonder what would happen if we were willing to look at the reality of each of these – especially the reality of how they impact us, and maybe even control us. Are we willing to examine something like that? Or would we rather be reassured that we are somehow in control of these things?

At what cost?

Many people are posting things in favor of or in opposition to Impeachment as if impeachment is an event that can be contained in a box. They are making their arguments about the current situation – changing arguments as information comes out, adjusting reasons for this or that action, maybe even making excuses for what was said or done from different politicians and/or officials and non-governmental types.

The deeper question that no one is considering is this – at what cost? What is the price we are paying given our own rhetoric and what we accept from our government and elected officials? What changes to our system of government are we willingly imposing on future generations who will have to live with the consequences of our rhetoric and actions at this time in history?

What is the cost for Christianity when both sides claim to have God, and truth, and justice on their side? What is the cost of equating the will of elected officials with the will of God? What is the cost of hypocrisy? Are we willing to jettison Christ in order to gain some kind of short term political power? Are we willing to pay the price and argue that Jesus believed that the ends justify the means?

Christians claim that Jesus is Lord and that no one else is. Christians claim that Jesus is the only one who offers salvation – it comes from nothing else. There is a cost in making an elected official(s) and/or political parties equal to the divine will. There is a cost of equating political or national loyalty to salvation. Let us remember that the cost is symbolized in the crucifixion. I fear that if Jesus walked among us today, we would crucify him again because his politics didn’t match up with our own. We would enthusiastically shout “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

How do I know this? Because that is what we are doing to those who we label as an “other.” And they are made in God’s image and likeness no matter how much we may not like that fact. They have Christ in them by the mere fact that they are Christians. This is not an excuse to be silent in the face of injustice. This is not an excuse to avoid conflict. This is not an excuse to maintain a false peace. It is to say, that there is another way. Christ’s way.

The other evening, I facilitated a discussion on safety and the church. At one point the conversation started turning into political rhetoric with predictable partisan lines about guns. I interrupted this to bring us back and focus on faith. What happened was truly amazing. People shared what their fears were. They were vulnerable. We shared faith. We encountered Christ in our midst. We experienced transformation. This salvation didn’t come through political rhetoric. It didn’t come by putting up defenses. It didn’t come by trying to destroy an opponent. It came because Christ was the focus. We acknowledged the truth of our own weakness, the injustices and fear that exist in the world and in our own lives, and how we participate in broken systems. We didn’t avoid conflict – we faced it head on. Not to determine winners and losers, but rather, to be in community. We didn’t maintain a false peace. We faced the lack of peace that exists in the world head on. We encountered Christ and were transformed. That is what we are called to. That is what our world needs. This is a costly way to live. But it is a much better price to pay. It is worth it.

Pharaoh

Last week I wrote the first installment in our focus on kings of the bible. For part 1, I focused on Nimrod.

Today I turn our attention to Pharaoh.

There are several Pharaohs in the bible. They show up in Genesis, Exodus, 1 & 2 Kings, and Isaiah. It would be impossible for us to examine all of these Pharaohs in one blog post. So instead I’m going to focus on one Pharaoh – the unnamed Pharaoh of Exodus.

This Pharaoh appears throughout Exodus 1-14. And he ends up being the key Pharaoh figure for Scripture. It is this Pharaoh that most people think about. He is the Pharaoh that can arguably be said to be the most important Pharaoh figure in Scripture.

Which Pharaoh is it though? All we are told come from Exodus 1:8 – “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”

Wikipedia (not always the most reliable of sources) has a nice summary of potential actual Pharaohs this could be:

“In the Book of Exodus, the Israelites, the descendants of Jacob’s sons, are living in the Land of Goshen, under a new pharaoh. This pharaoh has forgotten all of Joseph’s contributions and seeks to oppress the Hebrews, forcing them to work long hours without break and killing their children to reduce their numbers. Moses, a Levite, is saved by the Pharaoh’s daughter, and raised in the Pharaoh’s house. Throughout Moses’ life, he is aware of his Israelite status, as is the Pharaoh, who still permits Moses to remain in his house.

“Possible suggestions for a historical counterpart to Pharaoh include:

  • Dedumose II (died c. 1690 BC): David Rohl’s 1995 A Test of Time revised Egyptian history by shortening the Third Intermediate Period of Egypt by almost 300 years. As a by-result the synchronisms with the biblical narrative have changed, making the Second Intermediate Period king Dedumose II the pharaoh of the Exodus. Rohl’s theory has failed to find support among scholars in his field.
  • Ahmose I (1550–1525 BC): Most ancient writers considered Ahmose I to be the pharaoh of the Exodus.
  • Akhenaten (1353–1349 BC). In his book Moses and Monotheism Sigmund Freud argued that Moses had been an Atenist priest forced to leave Egypt with his followers after Akhenaten’s death.
  • Ramesses II (c. 1279–1213 BC): Also known as Ramesses the Great, he is the most commonly imagined figure in popular culture (most widely via the 1956 film The Ten Commandments), being one of the most long standing rulers at the height of Egyptian power, but, as with all other Pharaohs, there is no documentary or archaeological evidence that he chased any slaves fleeing Egypt. Ramesses II’s late 13th century BC stela in Beth Shan mentions two conquered peoples who came to “make obeisance to him” in his city of Raameses or Pi-Ramesses but mentions neither the building of the city nor, as some have written, the Israelites or Hapiru. Additionally, the historical Pithom was built in the 7th century BC, during the Saite period.
  • Merneptah (c. 1213–1203 BC): Isaac Asimov in his Guide to the Bible makes a case for him to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
  • Setnakhte (c. 1189–1186 BC): Igor P. Lipovsky makes a case for him to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
  • Senusret III”

(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pharaohs_in_the_Bible)

As with the blog post on Nimrod, my focus is not on the historic accuracy of the kings beyond sharing a little bit of history, but rather to look at the theological impact of these kings on the people, governing, and relationship with God.

Regardless of who the Pharaoh of Exodus 1-14 was, we know this much – he was a complicated character.

We get a first glimpse into his character and treatment of other people in Exodus 1:9-11 – “He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh.”

This short introduction tells us a great deal about this Pharaoh. First, Egypt is an empire. As I’ve said before – all empires have four things in common. They exploit, oppress, kill, and destroy. Just in this introductory paragraph alone, we hear about Pharoah’s efforts to exploit and oppress the people. Later in Exodus 14 we read about Pharoah’s attempt to chase after the Israelites through the Red Sea to kill them.

Second, this Pharaoh sees himself as an emperor. He sees himself as the savior of his people. He uses fear of the other to rally his people and subjugate the scapegoated Israelites. In this sense, this Pharaoh doesn’t need a name. He represents all emperors or would be emperors who desire to do the same thing – use fear to oppress a group of people, exploit them for their labor and value, and destroy their identity and heritage, and ultimately his desire is to kill them.

Exodus 1:13-14 states: “The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.”

Exodus 1:22 states: “Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.'”

Chapter one of Exodus sets the stage well – Israel, and Israel’s God Yahweh, are up against an empire and emperor in the form of Egypt and Pharaoh. This becomes a recurring theme of Scripture that will carry through to the New Testament. Which is why it doesn’t matter which Pharaoh this is. In essence, Scripture is arguing that all Pharaohs are alike – whether they are literally the Pharaohs of Egypt, or any other would-be emperor anywhere. They all act the same way and have the same character traits. And they all lose eventually.

Throughout the narrative of Exodus 1-14 we certainly hear about the character of Pharaoh, but more importantly we learn some things about God. We learn first hand how God is a God of liberation – setting the captives free. When the Israelites finally make it to the wilderness and are starving, we hear how God is a God who feeds the hungry and provides water for the thirsty. We hear stories in Genesis and elsewhere where God provides clothing for those that are naked. We hear stories throughout Genesis about how God is a God who welcomes the stranger. We hear stories about how God cares for the sick. Sounds an awful lot like Matthew 25, doesn’t it?

Pharaoh, on the other hand, represents the opposite of God. He forces work, offers no rest, takes away supplies and resources, oppresses people, and more. The plagues against Egypt and Pharaoh are judgements on the Egyptian gods and what they represent. The plagues are judgements against empire also and what it represents – itself being a false god. Empires promise peace and salvation for its people. But it is a false peace and salvation brought about at the price of blood and violence.

Because Scripture doesn’t give the Pharaoh of Exodus 1-14 a name, what it does it shows us that the evil perpetuated by Pharaoh wasn’t tied to a specific individual, but rather to a system of government, to an ideology of empire, to an idolatry of empire. Pharaoh is the personification of this. And he faces the harshest judgement and loss. Multiple times we read about God hardening the heard of Pharaoh. This shows that Pharaoh may be in charge of the empire and what it represents, but all that power is nothing when it comes to God who changes Pharaoh like a play thing.

In the end, Pharaoh loses much. Empire has been judged and found to be lacking of godliness, righteousness, and justice. And so it suffers the consequences and is written off, left with ruin.

Questions to ponder:

How does Pharaoh rear his head in our world today? Where do we encounter Pharaoh’s empire in our lives, in our churches, in our communities, in our nation, in our world? Empires don’t have to be military in nature. There can be empires of culture, institutions, and beliefs. How do we see God acting against these empires today?

Nimrod

Yesterday I began a series on kings of the bible. Today I turn to our first king – Nimrod.

Encyclopedia Britannica has a nice short summary entry on Nimrod that I share with you here to get us started:

Nimrod, also spelled Nemrod, legendary biblical figure of the book of Genesis. Nimrod is described in Genesis 10:8–12 as “the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord.” The only other references to Nimrod in the Bible are Micah 5:6, where Assyria is called the land of Nimrod, and I Chronicles 1:10, which reiterates his might. The beginning of his kingdom is said in the Genesis passage to be Babel, Erech, and Akkad in the land of Shinar. Nimrod is said to have then built Nineveh, Calah (modern Nimrūd), Rehoboth-Ir, and Resen.

“There is some consensus among biblical scholars that the mention of Nimrod in Genesis is a reference not to an individual but to an ancient people in Mesopotamia. The description of Nimrod as a “mighty hunter before the Lord” is an intrusion in this context, but probably, like the historical notices, derived from some old Babylonian saga. However, no equivalent of the name has yet been found in the Babylonian or other cuneiform records. In character there is a certain resemblance between Nimrod and the Mesopotamian epic hero Gilgamesh.”

(Source: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Nimrod)

If all you are looking for is history, we could stop right there – that’s a pretty good summary. But that’s not the point of this series. It isn’t just about history. It’s about more than that – it’s about the idea of kingship of humanity versus kingship of God.

Nimrod doesn’t get a whole lot of lines in Scripture. We don’t hear any dialogue from him either. It would be easy to just bypass him and move on. But I think there are some interesting things about Nimrod that reveal important points about kingship in relation to God.

Nimrod, although not specifically named a king here in Scripture, was kinglike. We’re told from Scripture that “he was the first on earth to become a mighty warrior.” (Genesis 10:8, NRSV)

Humanity has been stuck on the idea that kings are warriors – that they fight. Kings are supposed to fight for their people and kill off any threats that exist. It is a human ideal for kings that goes back eons. I just find it interesting that the first king mentioned in Scripture is a warrior. He sets the stage as an example for all future kings. And we are only in Genesis 10, not long after the flood. Remember the flood. It was done by God because of the evil of humanity.

We’re told that Nimrod was the son of Cush, who was the son of Ham, who was the son of Noah. Here we are, four generations after the flood, and humanity is more worried about killing enemies than about anything else. Nimrod is elevated because he was a warrior – not because of his intellect, or wisdom, or kindness, or generosity, or anything else. He could kill and conquer.

Scripture also tells us the following about Nimrod:

“The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria, and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.” (Genesis 10:10-12, NRSV)

We hear that he had a kingdom. And it expanded. And he built cities, some of them became great. This will become a regular feature of many later kings and rulers who will likewise conquer and expand their kingdoms and build great cities.

After we hear the full family lineage of Noah, which includes Nimrod, we hear about the story of the Tower of Babel, which begins this way:

“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.” (Genesis 11:1-2, NRSV)

This is the same region used to describe the land that Nimrod ruled. It’s possible that the writer of Genesis assumed that Nimrod was in charge during the building of the Tower of Babel. Considering that we are talking about the same region, that Nimrod was a builder of great cities, and that the story comes immediately after the lineage of Noah, it is possible for us to associate Nimrod with the Tower of Babel.

It’s also important to remember that Genesis 1-11 are considered pre-history, which means they are stories designed to explain how humanity got to where it was and other deep existential questions like – why did creation happen, why do we have multiple languages, how are we connected with the past, etc.

In the story of the Tower of Babel, we hear about the people of the earth and their desires:

“Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’” (Genesis 11:4, NRSV)

They wanted to make a name for themselves. They essentially wanted to be like Nimrod – made famous.

Reflection questions to consider:

Do we seek out fame or power like Nimrod? What greatness do we seek? How do these things rule over each one of us, our communities, our churches, and our nation? How does Nimrod as king contrast with Jesus, the king of kings?

Kings

Scripture is full of kings. Sometimes Scripture names kings directly and other times it does so through symbols. And for the most part, kings are not viewed favorably – even the ones that were supposedly men after God’s own heart.

Often that is because the power kings hold corrupts them and causes them to sin.

Scripture itself has a description of what to expect from a king:

“[Samuel] said, ‘These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plough his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.’”

(Source: 1 Samuel 8:11-18, NRSV)

And how did people respond to this warning? About as well as should be expected:

“But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, ‘No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.’ When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Listen to their voice and set a king over them.’”

(Source: 1 Samuel 8:19-22a, NRSV)

What is it about humanity that it desires to have other humans rule over it? Kings rarely ever work out well. They often turn out exactly how God says in 1 Samuel. Yet for some reason, humanity goes right back.

Maybe you’re sitting there and saying – “But we live in a democracy, we don’t have a king!” Are you sure about that? Are there people, institutions, or things that have some kind of rule over your life in a kingly manner? Especially ones that are self imposed?

What are the kings in our life, in our community, in our churches, in our nation, and in our world?

In the coming days, I plan on writing blog posts about some of the kings listed in Scripture and what Scripture tells us about them.

In the midst of all of this, I challenge you to do some self-reflection. Ask yourself – in what ways am I like this king? How am I different? What is the king’s relationship with God? What is this king really king over? What’s God up to in relation to the king highlighted?

Anti-Christ

The word anti-Christ probably conjures up some images and thoughts. You might start to think of the book of Revelation – full of other imagery including beasts, dragons, horses, and a host of other creatures.

Maybe you think of specific people of history. Nero was often referred to as an anti-Christ figure. But he wasn’t the only one.

Some of this gets confusing when we start to throw “the” at the beginning of anti-Christ. All of a sudden we go from thinking about an array of figures to a specific figure at some point in the future. And the debate about this flows.

But what is an anti-Christ? Simply put, an anti-Christ is someone or something that is in opposition to Christ – the opposite of Christ. While the term may cause us to think of sneaky individuals who are fooling many people, the reality is that anti-Christ figures often aren’t hidden. They aren’t sly. They aren’t even sneaky. They are pretty obvious actually.

I don’t think it’s all that controversial to say that an anti-Christ figure will be obvious to anyone who is truly faithful and really knows Jesus, what he is about, and what he’s up to in the world.

An anti-Christ quite simply takes what Jesus says and does the opposite. When Jesus talks about loving your enemies, an anti-Christ tells us to hate and kill our enemies. When Jesus talks about praying for those who persecute the faithful, an anti-Christ tells us to hit back on those who persecute. When Jesus talks about feeding the hungry, an anti-Christ withholds food. When Jesus talks about welcoming the stranger, an anti-Christ talks about pushing the stranger away. When Jesus talks about caring for the sick, an anti-Christ talks about only the strong surviving and the weak and sick dying off. When Jesus talks about setting the captive free, an anti-Christ talks about imprisoning more people. When Jesus talks about knowing the truth and the truth setting us free, an anti-Christ asks what truth even is. And the list goes on.

Our concern, as followers of Jesus, shouldn’t be about “the” anti-Christ. We should be on the look out for anti-Christs – both big and small. We should pay attention to those things and people who attempt to pull us away from Jesus. Not through trickery, but rather blatantly.

And most important – do not fear! Jesus says this phrase over an over again. While Jesus brings peace, an anti-Christ brings fear. Let those who have eyes see.

What to do…

We are in an age where there are great and deep divisions in our society. Politics, or rather partisanship, is one of those divides. People in different parties see the people in the other party as an existential threat to the nation. And that’s not an exaggeration. Loyalty to party has taken a key place – above many other things. At least that’s the perception.

Religious divides are treated in a similar way – especially within Christianity. The divide can be classified as Evangelical/Fundamentalist vs. Progressive. And in many cases one’s faith is tied directly to one’s political ideology or party loyalty.

I have heard many say that they don’t recognize the Christianity of others who see the world so differently from themselves.

Some question if they should try to continue to convince those that are so very different. Some express frustration that their fellow Christians don’t seem to be open to hearing a different way of seeing things – they seem to be firmly entrenched in their beliefs with no room to budge.

I understand this mentality and thought.

The question is this – can reconciliation actually happen with those who are intent on division, fear, and a heavy concern for being right – regardless of what the topic is? Reconciliation requires both parties (people) to desire to come together, to offer forgiveness where it is needed, and to seek a new start. What do you do when someone has no intention of that? What do you do with someone who is only interested in defeating you and your way of thinking?

You wipe the dust off your shoes and move on. There is no sense in wasting energy and effort on someone who has no intention of developing or mending a relationship. That doesn’t mean you bad mouth someone. You just move on and move forward with the building up of the kingdom of God with those who are willing to building and mend a relationship with.

Trying to convince someone of something they have no openness to is a waste. Sometimes the best way to love someone, which is what we are called to do, is to let them go and move on without them.

Having said all of this, the invitation is always there for renewal in relationship. The invitation must remain open for reconciliation. The invitation for mending should remain. And we continue to pray for healing. We continue to pray. We continue to move forward.

Encounters with Jesus

Need to hear about some encounters with Jesus? Want to see how encountering Jesus transforms lives? Are you fleeing something/someone and need refuge in God?

Take a look at our fall magazine and read stories of hope, of refuge, of encounter and transformation.

And when you are done, please pass it on to someone else who needs to hear these stories.

The idolatry of personal piety

Maybe you don’t think the words idolatry and piety belong together. Afterall, one of the ways Merriam-Webster defines piety is:

“The quality or state of being pious: such as dutifulness in religion: Devoutness.”

(Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/piety)

The word pious is interesting. Here’s a screen shot with definitions of that word:

(Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pious)

Pious can mean two opposing ideas. It can mean serious reverence towards God. It can be legitimate worship and practice. In this piety can be a good thing.

As the definition also states, pious can be “marked by sham or hypocriscy.” One only need think of Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees from time to time. How many times did he call the pious acting Pharisees “hypocrites” or worse – “You snakes” or “you brood of vipers!”

Piety can be a double-edged sword – it can be good and it can be a idolatry. Idolatry, according to Dictionary.com can mean: “extreme admiration, love, or reverence for something or someone.” (Source: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/idolatry?s=t)

When piety is idolatrous, it is dangerous. This kind of piety is about acting as if salvation and faith are only matters of how we act individually and what we do personally, without any consideration of how it impacts others. There is no consideration of others in fact. And this goes against the great commandments – to love God and to love neighbor.

This kind of piety becomes focused on our works and what we do. It sets us up to judge others in relation to us and what we are doing to determine rank – who is better? Or who is more faithful based on what they are doing? It focuses us on being respectable.

This individual faith, or personal piety, is nothing more than the idea that salvation is only about a personal relationship with God.

There are many problems with this.

For example, we can say that we are for welcoming the stranger – Jesus told us to do so and we would if we ever came across a stranger. Yet, if we support policies that exclude and push away strangers so that we never have an opportunity to encounter a stranger, are we really living into welcoming the stranger?

Personal piety is not enough. Faith is more than just personal. It has a public impact. And it is in the communal and public impact that we are then impacted personally.

We can claim to follow Jesus’ command to love our enemies, but never really have to because we have pushed away anyone who disagrees with us or that we see as a threat. In this, we are personally valuing loving our enemies – at least in word. But our actions actually negate the value of loving our enemies. Instead, we actually value maintaining the status quo and doing everything we can to not upset the apple cart – our comfort becomes more important that being engaged in relationship with enemies. If we never interact with enemies, we don’t have to worry about not loving our enemies.

We can dehumanize enemies because we don’t have contact with them. They are no longer actual people to us with names and lives and loved ones and stories of their own. They are abstract. And so we have no need to love the abstract.

Our personal piety should not create a divide that separates us away from others around us, but instead should move us to be more loving towards others and ultimately towards God. Our piety should point us towards the life example of Jesus. Our piety should not be about rules, purity, and judgement.