Would Jesus Panic-Buy?

Seems like a ridiculous question doesn’t it? Yet, when we pull out Jesus’ name, and insert our own, all of sudden it seems like a legitimate question. Why?

Is it because we know Jesus wouldn’t panic-buy, or panic anything for that matter?

Is panic-buying in alignment with what it means to follow Jesus? I don’t think the two match up. They can’t.

Panic-buying because of a virus, or war, or economic downturn, or natural disaster that is coming is not Christ-like. It is turning in on oneself – believing that we are islands unto ourselves. Panic-buying is all about saving me. And maybe those closest to me. But really, it’s about me.

Panic-buying ignores several important facts. It’s not just me that needs to keep my hands clean. It’s everyone. If I’m hoarding everything, how is everyone keeping their hands clean. How is this working to prevent further spread of a contagious disease? It isn’t. But that’s because panic-buying is based on fear. And fear is irrational.

Fear tells us to look inward on ourselves – to take care of ourselves. Fear lies to us and tells us that we are separate from everyone else, and they they have no impact on me and I have no impact on them. This is ridiculous. Our survival is intimately linked to other people – even people we don’t know. And to people that we consider as enemies. Let that sink in for a moment. Our survival is linked to the survival of our enemies. Hmm.

Instead of panic-buying, I offer this alternative – seeing the Image of God in all around us. I challenge you to adopt the belief of Shalom – wholeness in community. Shalom means that our fates are tied together. There is no us and them. There is only us. Instead of panic-buying, try loving your neighbor and your enemy because it is in loving the other that we are fulfilling the greatest command – to love God.

Anti-Christs aren’t difficult to spot

Some people make a big deal out of “The” Anti-Christ as talked about in the book of Revelation. Of course, there is debate about this figure. The more Evangelical and Fundamentalist argument is that the Anti-Christ is some future powerful figure that will wreck havoc and fool many people.

Those of us who follow more mainline theology typically argue that “The” Anti-Christ figure of Revelation is referring to Nero, the Roman tyrant (“Ceasar”). This comes from the idea that Revelation was written to an oppressed and exploited people as a way to encourage them and tell them that in the end God wins. It’s not a prediction of some distant future, but the obvious conclusion of how empires die and fall, like they have in the past. Regardless, Revelation is Good News.

Regardless of your view of “The” Anti-Christ, I argue that there are anti-christs. An anti-christ is anyone who is in opposition to the ways of God. It is someone who actively opposes the ways of Christ. I don’t see the idea of anti-christ focusing on one person so much as lived belief system that is opposed to God and God’s ways.

So this means that anyone who actively opposes and does the opposite of what Christ calls on us to do is an anti-christ, by definition.

Here’s how this works. Take a look at what Christ calls on followers to do. Take Matthew 25 for example. In this passage Jesus is talking about how the nations will be judged – mostly by how they treat the poor. In Matthew 25, Jesus calls on his followers to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned.

So this means that an anti-christ would not just not do these things. Instead, an anti-christ actively opposes these things, makes doing these things more difficult, finds ways to do the opposite, etc. So in other words an anti-Christ would not just oppose policies and measures meant to make sure the hungry received food, but would actively promote other policies and measures that keeps food away from the hungry. See how that works?

An anti-christ not only opposes policies and measures that allow the thirsty to get water, but actively promotes efforts to either block water to the thirsty, or worse, pollutes waters that are then unusable.

An anti-christ not only opposes policies and measures that clothe the naked, but actively promotes efforts to keep people naked, or lacking clothing.

An anti-christ not only opposes policies and measures that welcome strangers, but works to dehumanize strangers and keeps them away.

An anti-christ not only opposes policies and measures that care for the sick, but also works to make people sick or sicker.

An anti-christ not only opposes policies and measure that encourage visiting the imprisoned, but actively promotes keeping people locked up and keeping visitors away.

The point of this is not to identify “The” Anti-Christ. The point of all of this is that there isn’t one Anti-Christ we should be focused on. There are many. And sometimes we are an anti-christ – an active hindrance to the ways of God.

Interested in a class on faith and politics?

I’ve been invited to teach an online class entitled “‘Doing’ Politics through the Lens of Faith.” If you know me at all, you know I have been thinking about, writing, and exploring this topic for decades now.

It will be a five week online course that covers a variety of topics and includes real life examples, videos, readings, etc. At the end, participants will have their own “platform” that can act like a guide. This is more than just about voting, but really how we live out our faith.

Week 1 – We’ll take a look at what politics is and isn’t. (Sneak peek – politics is far more than just partisanship. The two are not the same thing.)

Week 2 – We’ll explore the Old Testament and politics.

Week 3 – We’ll turn our attention to the New Testament and politics.

Week 4 – We’ll look at faith and politics a bit closer. How do they relate to one another?

Week 5 – We’ll finish up by answering the question of how we “do” politics in a faith-filled way.

The course is run through the Stevenson School for Ministry run through the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. There is a cap of 20 students for this round.

You can find registration information by visiting the website – https://diocesecpa.org/shaped-by-faith-courses/#1578679766389-f8f6e935-777f.

I’m happy to answer any questions you may have about the course.

Seeing…

Here’s a thought I had the other day:

If we can’t see the Imago Dei in others, it says more about how we can’t see it in ourselves than it says about the other person/group.

If we can’t see the Image of God is others, then it probably means we are having trouble seeing that image in ourselves.

Our vision is skewed. We are somehow blinded to seeing the Image of God within ourselves. And when we can’t see it, or won’t see it, in ourselves, then we won’t see it in others. We won’t see the holiness within someone else. We won’t see similarities in others. We won’t see the fuller picture of creation in others. We won’t see how God expresses Godself in other parts of creation.

We won’t see God at all, in fact. We will see a threat. We will see an other. We will see not us. We will see them.

And when others become “them,” we also are admitting how fragile we are – not how tough we are. When we see a them, we are admitting how weak we are. We are admitting how broken we are. We are admitting how blind we are. We are admitting how closed off our minds and hearts have become.

Criticism of others, hatred of others, fear of others – most of the time all these things really are is a mirror that we are holding up. These things expose more about ourselves than about anyone else.

What’s your precious?

If you have ever watched any of the Lord of the Rings movies, you are familiar with Gollum. He was a hobbit who was corrupted by the Ring. It changed him. Because of this corruption, it changed his name and who he was. He became a split personality. He was hunched over. All for the power of the Ring – his precious.

What is your precious?

What is the thing that has corrupted you? What is the thing that has changed you? What has had an impact on you and changed you? What hunches you over?

Maybe it’s an actual thing. Maybe it’s a belief you have. Maybe it’s some kind of loyalty or identity you have. Maybe it’s a label you are attached to. Maybe it’s a person you are in relationship with or follow. Maybe it’s a habit or addiction.

Do you dare name you’re precious?

Is it money? a food? sex? a drug? the internet? social media? work? a political party? a politician? an ideology? a privilege? a sport? TV? what?

Lent is an opportunity for self-reflection. An opportunity to see the Gollum ourselves. To see an ugly part of ourselves that is disfigured and corrupt. To see that which we try to push away – out of sight and out of mind. Except our Gollum doesn’t go away quietly. The Precious is too powerful for Gollum to just slink away.

Instead, we have to deal with our own Gollums. To confront them. To acknowledge they exist. To know that we can’t deal with them on our own. We need help. And the only redemption there is, is God. God is the only one who can transform our Gollums back into the image of God. To free us from whatever our Precious is.

What’s your precious? More importantly, how is Jesus freeing you from your precious?

People don’t like change…

Or so we are told. Over and over again. To the point that it is believed to be true without any proof, or minimal proof at best. It’s more of an assumption at best.

How do I know?

Because I have watched people who claim to not like change go through major changes in order to avoid small changes.

I have watched people leave long term commitments because of a change. People have left jobs they have been at for a long time to go work somewhere else. People have left long term relationships. People have left churches over worship times changing. People have left organizations they have been a part of. People leave things all the time. Think about that for a minute.

Which is a greater change – staying in an institution you have a long term relationship with but adapting to a small change, or leaving that long term relationship and starting fresh somewhere else because you didn’t like the other change? It’s not change that people don’t like. If change was what people didn’t like, they wouldn’t leave long term relationships, long term jobs, churches, or institutions and organizations they have been a part of.

I think people leave these for a lot of reasons. Two of the main reasons is usually unspoken – loss of control and loss of privilege. Some people will leave when they no long feel they are in control when they used to be before. Some people will leave when their privilege is no longer accommodated – when their way of doing things is no longer seen as the norm of how things are done.

This happens when others are empowered – maybe people who had no power before. No power to make decisions – especially decisions that impact other people. When power dynamics change, it impacts many things – culture, money, focus, vision, relationships, decision making, and the future. When power dynamics change, it impacts the expectations, values, roles, and more. Systems change when power dynamics change. Often none of this is talked about in the open. But regardless, we know these things change. It’s what causes some people to leave.

And the other side of that is also true – it’s what will cause some others to come. To join in. When power dynamics change, new people are empowered. The key is creating a system that empowers people to empower others. So that power is never hoarded. So that power continues to be spread out and shared with more and more people. So that responsibility is shared. It’s how trust is built. It’s how community is developed and grows. It’s how healthy systems take root. It’s how people stay. Not because they are concerned about retaining their power, control, and privilege. But because they are excited to see how the relationships they have grow and deepen and how more people are added into their world in new and fascinating ways.

This is what Jesus did, over and over again. He was constantly tearing down established power structures and systems and empowering more and more people. It’s what his call to discipleship was all about. People didn’t reject his call to follow him because they feared change. No, rather, they rejected Jesus because it meant they would no longer be in control. They would no longer have privilege. It would change. The world would change. Their lives would change.

And that is too much for some. But for others, that change is about bringing life to them – sometimes literally. It’s what Jesus offers each one of us.

What is Lent?

There are many answers to this question. It’s a season of the church year of course. It’s a time in which people give up something they like, or sometimes things they know they shouldn’t be doing anyway. Some think of Lent as a time in which there are added things – added spiritual practices, almsgiving, service, worship, etc.

But at it’s core, Lent is really about this – preparation for Easter. It’s a time in which we prepare space in our lives for the risen Christ on Easter.

And to get to the risen Christ, we must go through death. Yes, Lent is an intentional time of facing death. It is fitting that we start Lent with Ash Wednesday. It is on Ash Wednesday that death gets right in our face – actually on our face – in the form of ashes on our forehead. We hear the words “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” There is no escaping death. We are reminded that we are mortal. We are reminded that we can not save ourselves. Rather, there is a Savior for us.

Lent and Easter give us ample opportunity to explore the fullness of the Christian promise – life, death, and resurrection. And to know that we cannot experience resurrection until we go through death. There is no other way.

Resurrection offers us a better life. A renewed life. A life of new possibilities in which the old ways are put aside in favor of something better – even beyond our imagination. The old ways die, but are resurrected as something a bit different. The core of what the old ways were is still there, but the goodness in them is brought out far beyond our wildest imagination.

So what needs to die in your life? What needs to die so that resurrection can take place?

Try letting some or all of the following things die this season: partisan identity and loyalty, addiction to being right, consumeristic tendencies, us versus them beliefs, redemptive violence, scapegoating, blaming, fear, anger, privilege, allowing money to make decisions in your life, brokenness, sin, abuse, participating in unjust systems, putting your salvation in anything or anyone other than God, selectively choosing what to follow of Jesus’ commands, comfort, the wall around your life that protects you from the injustices that others face daily. 

When these die, something will be resurrected. In their place will resurrect the ability to see the Image of God in others. In their place will resurrect the wholeness of Shalom. In their place will resurrect creation stewardship. In their place will resurrect forgiveness, love, grace, and peace. In their place will resurrect discipleship and service. In their place will resurrect an empowerment to more fully live into what it means to love God and our neighbor.

Resurrected life is better life. It is transformed life. Why in the world would we want to hold onto the things that prevent us from experiencing resurrected life? The only answer I can come up with is that we are afraid of how resurrected life will change us and that we will no longer be in control. Here’s the reality – we’ve never been in control. Stop fooling yourself. Let that idea die too.

It’s time for resurrected life. Lent is a season of intentionally facing death and letting things die. To make room for Jesus. To allow Jesus to take over. To be conquered by Jesus. So that new life can begin. So that the Kingdom of God can unfold in our lives. So that we can see how it is already unfolding. So we can participate in the unfolding of the Kingdom in our midst.

I pray you have a blessed Lent.

Why I do ministry

A question that I’m asked from time to time is why I do ministry with those experiencing homelessness. The only answer that matters is this – I do it because doing ministry with those experiencing homelessness is what it means to be church, to live out the faith that has been given to us.

Last evening at our truck stop ministry I met someone who had an impact on me – Sandy. I don’t know Sandy’s whole story, or much of her story really. I don’t need to. I could see it her eyes.

Sandy has a slew of challenges – that I know. I can only imagine what is in her past and how it has impacted her.

But Sandy was there. I had the privilege of sitting next to Sandy at dinner. And I listened to her. She talked. She needed to. She needed someone to just listen to her and not think she was crazy. And so I listened. And my heart broke for her.

We got her set up with some sleeping bags, scarves, blankets, sock warmers, gloves, hats, and a number of other supplies. And when the evening was over, myself and another person from the church prayed with Sandy for her safety.

And then we left knowing that Sandy was going to be sleeping outside at some point and we were going home.

Sandy isn’t unique. There’s a ton of Sandys out there. Waiting to be heard. Waiting for someone to see the humanity in them. Waiting for someone to just listen to them and not think they are crazy. Waiting for someone to see the Image of God in them. Waiting to pray with someone. Waiting to know that they are not alone.

That’s what ministry is all about. That’s what keeps me going – especially when I come across people like Sandy. Sandy impacted me last night.

She impacted me because of her generosity. She took what we gave her, and she shared it with those around her. She gave in a caring manner. She gave in a loving way. She had nothing, and she gave anyway.

Sandy impacted me last night. I think that’s what is supposed to happen when Jesus shows up. Last night Jesus was in our midst. And for part of the time Jesus showed up as Sandy – giving, loving, caring. She didn’t just give blankets and a hat to others. She gave me hope. She gave me humility. She gave me kindness. She gave me generosity. She gave me grace.

Sandy will remain in my prayers and in my memory. I hope she is able to get where she was trying to go. I hope she is safe. I know that she is not alone and I hope that there are others who will listen to her and see the image of God in her. It’s there. And it shows itself in the most beautiful way.

Same old sins

Humanity doesn’t change much over time. That should be comforting and disturbing at the same time.

I’m leading a study on the Augsburg Confession. The Augsburg Confession is one of the foundational documents for Lutherans. It dates back to the early 1530’s. It covers a variety of subjects. There are themes that run through it. That’s the part that I want to focus on.

Throughout the document, the signers of the document talk about the abuses that the Catholic Church of their day were doing. In many cases, these abuses could just as easily be written for today, just with a different target.

A theme that runs through the document is the abuse that the Church was engaged in – what I call transactional theology, or a holy quid pro quo. This is the idea that God has something of value to offer you, but in order to receive it, you must offer something in return. And in this case, it wasn’t just what God had to offer, but really, what the Church had to offer on God’s behalf. And for the most part, what the Church wanted in return was money.

This led to many abuses. It created an abusive system actually. Abusive systems abuse people, create abusers, and victims of abuse. Abusive systems conduct their abuse through means of culture, policies, and expectations. These are neutral things that be used for good or evil purposes.

And when an institution is involved, we can add one more element – efforts made to protect the institution at all costs create more abuse. This was true for the Catholic Church in the 1500’s. As we have learned in recent years, a different abusive system emerged for the Church in the 20th century. The same occurred for the Boy Scouts in the past – they are paying the price now for a past abusive system. And there have been plenty of Protestant church denominations which have had similar abuses. Government at every level has fallen prey to abusive systems throughout our history. The Grant and Harding administrations were two of the most corrupt administrations we have endured. Businesses have done this too. Enron and Deutsche Bank come to mind. Abuses around money have been a long standing tradition of humanity. Abuse and abusive systems are the sin that keeps going strong for humans.

Let me be clear though – Institutions, themselves are not abusive. It is the people who do the abuse and the ones who defend and protect the abusers that are the problem. It is the systems that people create in institutions that are the problem. This is why some institutions can and have recovered after abuse had been outed – the systems and people in charge of those systems were removed and good people and systems were put in place.

Abusive systems show up at various points in history in a variety of places – religion for sure. Abusive systems have been prevalent in government and politics too. These systems show up in education, business, sports, the military, and so much more. Abuse and abusive systems are often related to power and money. Power and money are key ingredients in abusive systems. Scripture tells us plenty of stories about evil systems tied to money and power. Paul encounters this everywhere he goes spreading the Gospel of Jesus. It’s what causes him to be beaten and jailed so many times.

If you want to identify an abusive system – look to see what is being defended and protected. Abusive systems do what they can to maintain the status quo – to keep the power and the money where they are: in the hands of the powerful.

The story of the Passion of Jesus is a prime example of this. Jesus was up against a couple of abusive systems – the temple and the empire. The temple and the empire worked together. The leadership of the temple and the leadership of the empire both benefited financially and with power over people. Both were abusive of people and exploited people. And both did what they had to in order to maintain the status quo. In the case of Jesus, it means killing him off, so that the status quo would continue.

Abusive systems refuse to see the Imago Dei – the Image of God – in the other. Abusive systems refuse to move towards Shalom – wholeness of creation. Abusive systems refuse to live into the Beatitudes. Abusive systems refuse to embrace peace. Abusive systems refuse to rest or observe Sabbath. Abusive systems refuse to love God, one’s neighbor, or one’s enemies. Abusive systems refuse to do justice and instead thrive on injustice in the most inhuman and exploitive ways possible. Abusive systems are the antithesis of what it means to follow Jesus. They are evil.

And they are as old as creation itself. But that doesn’t mean we throw our hands up in the air and give into them. No, we refuse to participate in abusive systems to the best of our abilities. We refuse to adopt the values of abusive systems. We refuse to protect abusive systems. We refuse to accommodate abusive systems. We look forward with hope for the day when abusive systems die so that different systems can take their place – Kingdom systems. God’s systems. Holy systems.

Walking in the ways of God

What is more important – an issue or a person?

What is more important – being right or living rightly?

What has more value?

If we care about an issue, about being right, rather than a person, or a group of people, then we are missing something important. If an issue, idea, a thing, or any other non-living thing is more important than a person or group of people, then our priorities are in the wrong the order.

This doesn’t mean being at someone’s beck and call or just giving in to someone else and their ideas. That’s the same idea, only coming from someone else’s standpoint.

When I talk about this, I’m talking about the Imago Dei – the Image of God. Which is more important – being right, or seeing the Image of God in someone else? That might mean losing a debate to someone who has no intention of seeing another way. Sometimes the most compassionate thing to do is to let the other person win a debate. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. It’s recognizing where you are and where the other person is and allowing that to exist, while hoping for something better. But there isn’t much point in trying to ram down your points if the other person won’t consider them. That just leaves everyone unhappy and upset.

Over the last few weeks, our Hebrew Scripture readings have talked about walking in the ways of God. That’s a bit of a tall order. What does it mean to walk in the ways of God?

I think it means a few things. It means to show grace and mercy – to give the other person what they don’t deserve and to keep away what they do deserve. Besides, who are we to really know what someone really deserves. We do this because it is what God has done for us – given us what we don’t deserve and kept away what we do deserve.

It means being forgiving. It means being a peacemaker – not a peace keeper or a conflict avoider. Peacemaking is hard work and is it vulnerable and often dangerous. Peacemaking is risky. Yet, God blesses peacemakers.

It means seeking justice for all. It means serving the poor and outcast. It means seeing the Image of God in others. It means loving our enemies. It means spending time with God in prayer and Scripture.

What others will do is out of our control and really, out of our concern too. We are called to walk in the ways of God, not force others into those ways. Should we invite others to walk with us? Of course. But some will refuse. They will remain stubbornly blind – they will have no desire to see the Imago Dei in the other. Maybe they fear change. Maybe they fear not being in control. Maybe they have been abused in the past and fear that it will happen again. We don’t know. But what we do know is that we are called to go forward, to walk in the ways of God.