Race – Something we’d rather not talk about

Race is a subject that is difficult to talk about.  At least it is for white people – that’s my observation.  Most white people, like me, don’t think about race until a major incident happens that involves race.  And only when talking about race can’t be avoided.  And when that happens it is usually something pretty negative and it forces us to talk about something we’d rather not deal with.  Often times, we end up expressing fixed notions about race, rather than learning anything that would cause us to question our beliefs. And we have the privilege of not having to deal with it or talking about it most of time, and think this is normal for everyone.  Except it’s not.

Most of the time we would rather not talk about race.  It’s much more convenient to just talk about people of other races rather than talk with them.  People make assumptions.  Emotions flair.  Identity is wrapped in race.  Biases come out when we talk about race.  Fear comes out when we talk about race.  Blindness and closed ears and hearts show up when we talk about race.  Those are the obvious things.

The less obvious things are the reality that we don’t really understand the experience of people with other skin colors.  We really don’t.  And if we are honest, most of the time we don’t want to understand.  It’s inconvenient and it a lot of work.  It makes us uncomfortable.  A great example is the hoopla around the conflict that arose in DC last weekend with the Black Hebrew Israelites, the white MAGA hat wearing boys from Covington Catholic high school in Kentucky, and a Native American.

I have not seen any of the videos.  Not one.  It doesn’t matter if I see any of the videos.  Which also means I haven’t said a single thing about the incident.  Instead, I have been watching the reactions.  I have seen articles that are in direct conflict with other articles – all in the name of making sure we don’t have to actually talk about race – we can use race as a weapon to bludgeon our opponents and enemies.  We can go on worshiping a golden calf that we have constructed in our nation – being right.  Comfort and convenience are also golden calves that rear their head for situations like this.  We don’t want to be uncomfortable, so clearly we don’t have to hear anyone who expresses different ideas from ourselves.  We don’t have to try to understand where people are coming from.  We don’t have to try to see where our own reactions may be off or missing parts.  Instead, we can just point out how right we were.  We can point out how the “facts” show that we, and those like us, are the real victims, and “our” people have no responsibility for the conflict.

Race is a difficult subject, especially for the church in America.  I’m part of the ELCA.  It is one of the whitest denominations in the country.  Something like 97% of the membership is white.  That’s even with emphasis on diversity and openness.  That hasn’t worked.  Resolutions about race haven’t worked.  10 year initiatives to move the denomination towards greater diversity haven’t worked.  And the question is why?

That’s the question that was asked in an ELCA clergy Facebook group recently.  I took a crack at exploring why the ELCA is one of the whitest denominations in the country. Here’s what I wrote:

Why is the ELCA overwhelmingly white? Because the vast majority of the people in the pews don’t know anyone who is not white. They have no relationships with people of different colors/nationalities/etc. Their entire life and world is with people who are white. How do people who have no relationship with someone different from them invite someone who is different? That’s the real question. Until the people in the pews start to build relationships with people who are different from them, “those” people will not come into an ELCA church. Until people in the pew invest time to get to know and build relationships and actually care about others who look different, without an agenda of getting butts in the seats, “those” people will not come into an ELCA church. Until “those” people are just people, they won’t come to an ELCA church.

We can have all the right words, but without actual relationships with people, the words are empty.  We can have all the right initiatives, but without actual relationships with people, the initiatives are empty.

Our denomination is suffering from being comfortable.  Building relationships with people who are different from ourselves takes work and it is uncomfortable.  Too often our congregations would rather just cut a check instead of go out into the community, meet people eye-to-eye, and get to know people who are different.  Too often our congregations would rather serve food to someone else and see that person as poor and needy – thus keeping them at arm’s length – rather than eating with these same people, learning their names, listening to their stories, and actually caring about them like they would with someone who looks like us.  We’d rather have acquaintances who are a different race, rather than seeing these people as family, friends, and more – Our salvation and theirs are directly tied together, our well-being is directly tied to them.  Their humanity is our humanity.  How we treat people who are different than us is the answer to the question of “Who is my neighbor?”

Do we really want to be more diverse?  That’s the first question.  I’m not convinced that we, as a denomination, really want to.  We voice the words that we do, but we haven’t followed up those words with actions.  We seem to be more concerned with getting butts in the seats – in this case, different colored butts.  Butts in the seats is about saving an institution – it’s not about discipleship and following Jesus.  So what is our real goal with this – being more diverse as a denomination?  And what are we committing to actually do?

Want to be more diverse?  Here’s a way to start – find people different from you and get to know them.  Know their name, listen to their story.  Come with no other agenda than to build relationship with that person.  Show love, mercy, compassion, and find ways to make peace.  Eat with people.  Spend time with people who are different than you.  Care for them and allow yourself to be cared for.  And have no agenda, except to build a relationship.  If anything else is more important, it will come through – people aren’t stupid.  They see through fakeness.  They know when they are being used.  They also see authenticity.  And people are starving for authentically lived out Christianity.

Here’s why I think it would be good for our denomination to be more diverse.  Because it would be living out the invitation from God to participate in the unfolding of God’s reign.  It would be the embodiment of Good News.  It would be authentic Christian community.  It would open us to being more empathetic, to listening more, to empowering more, to healing more, to feeding more (materially and spiritually), to being disciples more, to doing ministry more.  That’s not a one way street where we are the ones doing this to someone else – we aren’t the saviors.  We need salvation.  We would be on the receiving end of all of this too.  We would be changed just as much, if not more.

Diversity would be a way for us to experience an encounter with Jesus.  And in so doing, to be changed so that we can be a change in the world.  We would experience mercy, grace, forgiveness, peace, love.  We would come to better understand what Jesus was talking about when talked about the poor, the outcast, the stranger.  We would identity with these children of God.  And we could more fully go and be disciples of Jesus.

Dear fellow white person, the world calls on us to bow down to the golden calves it has set up – comfort, convenience, being right.  As Christians, we are called to reject these false gods, their false promises, and false gospels.  Instead, we are to follow Jesus – a dark-skinned Jew from the Levant…If we can worship and follow Jesus, who doesn’t look like us (Despite the white Jesus images we surround ourselves with)…If we can answer Jesus’ call to pick up our cross and follow him…If we can answer Jesus’ call to love our neighbors and enemies, and welcome the stranger…then we can certainly do this.  Why?

Because as much privilege as we have, we are broken and sinful.  We don’t have the power to do any of this on our own.  We are scared.  We are afraid of what the new normal between races will look like and mean for us.  We are afraid of what we will lose.  We are afraid to be uncomfortable.  We are afraid to not know.  We are afraid to not be in control.  We are afraid to not have all the power or most of the power.  We are afraid.

And it is that brokenness that God sends the Spirit to us to guide us and move us forward. To take the next step.  To be uncomfortable.  To be inconvenienced.  To love.  To empower.  To be changed.  To encounter Jesus and experience God’s reign and salvation.

What it says about us…

What we say and do to others says more about ourselves and about our relationship with God, than it does about the other person.

How we treat the stranger says more about us and what we really think about Jesus than it does about the stranger.

How we treat the hungry, the poor, the defenseless, the outcast says more about us and what we really think about God than it does any of these people.

There are numerous Bible passages that tell us to welcome the stranger, to feed the hungry, to care for the poor, to embrace the outcast, to love our enemies.  When we ignore these passages and instead dehumanize and degrade “others” we are willfully rejecting God.

When will we realize that our salvation and well-being is directly tied to these people?  This is what loving our neighbor, loving our enemies, and loving God is all about.  We are not islands.

 

Who are we really disciples of?

Who are we really disciples of?  That’s the question that shouts at me as I read the news, scroll through social media, Hear comments from politicians, religious figures, celebrities, and more.  It’s the question that shouts loudly as I observe how people treat others when they drive, when we come across someone who is different, when we encounter the poor, the homeless, the outcast.

Who am I a disciple of?  That’s the question that gets in my face each day.  Sometimes I fail in answering this question because I am sinful and broken and sometimes follow the ways of the world.  Other days are better and I listen to Jesus and follow him.

Who are you a disciple of?  Jesus?  How would anyone know?  Does it show in how you talk and in what you do?  Does your discipleship come through in how you talk about people who are different from you?  Does it come through in how you treat the poor?  Does it comes through in what you say about your enemies?  Does it come through in what values you embrace?

Who are you a disciple of?

What I observe is a supposedly Christian nation that is comfortable with the label of being Christian, but in practice is anything but following Jesus.  And it pains me to say that.  This isn’t true of everyone, of course.  There are many who are doing what they can to follow Jesus.

Who are we disciples of?  Based on what I observe and hear, the answer I must conclude is that some, or possibly many, in our nation are disciples of the Republican or Democrat parties.  Some in the nation are disciples of Donald Trump or Nancy Pelosi.  Or pick any other political leader that comes to mind.  Considering we have started another presidential campaign and many people are jumping in, there will be plenty more people for us to become disciples of.  Of course, that’s not to limit discipleship to politics.  There are others who are disciples of sports teams or figures, celebrities, work, addictions, entertainment, etc.  Anything that can be an idol can also be a master that we can follow.

I don’t say any of that lightly.  Discipleship is a serious matter.

What is a disciple?  Someone who listens to their teacher, takes in what they say, and follows them.  To follow means to you speak the words that you hear your teacher speak.  You emulate your teacher.  You adopt the beliefs of your teacher.  You follow the actions your teacher tells you to do.  To follow means to take on the attitude of your teacher.

Often to be a disciple is to see your salvation wrapped up in and personified in the person you are following. Disciples and followers of Jesus are supposed to do this.  We are supposed to speak words that Jesus speaks – it’s called the Good News.  We are supposed to follow the actions that Jesus calls on us to do.  We are called to treat people – even enemies – in certain ways.  It’s what makes a Christian, Christian.

If we are really disciples of Jesus, we would think, act, speak, and behave far different from we do as a nation.

Disciples of Jesus come to the aid of people who are distressed or oppressed.  Disciples of Jesus show mercy.  Disciples of Jesus offer forgiveness willingly.  They recognize their own brokenness when they interact with others.  They see the log in their own eye when they see the speck in the other person’s.

Disciples of Jesus look through the lens of Jesus when they interact with other.  They look through the lens of Jesus when they are considering other groups, different religions, people from other countries, people of different sexuality.

Disciples of Jesus hear Jesus’ words and do them – feed the hungry, clothe those who need clothing, welcome the stranger, care for the sick, visit those in prison.

Disciples of Jesus do the things they would rather not do, but do them anyway because Jesus tells them to do it.  Things like love your enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you.  Turn the other cheek.

Disciples of Jesus love their neighbors and understand that a neighbor is more than just someone you like, it goes way beyond that.  Disciples of Jesus understand that loving our neighbors and enemies is how we show that we love God.

Disciples of Jesus show who they are by their actions, by their love, by their selflessness.

America, and the world, would be far different if Christians actually lived out what they claim to believe about Jesus and what he teaches and calls on Christians to live.  Not because we would have instituted some kind of theocracy – far from it.  The world would be better because Christians would actually be living out the teaching of Jesus – willingly.  They would be living the faith, rather than arguing about who is right, pointing out why we should fear “others,” and putting our hope and salvation in any person or ideology.

Let us pray, Lord forgive me when I turn my back on following you in favor of my way of living.  Radically reorient me towards you so that I may hear your words and follow them in joy.  You have the words of eternal life.  Amen.

Victims

Merriam-Webster.com defines victim as:

“One that is acted on and usually adversely affected by a force or agent:  Such as…one that is injured, destroyed, or sacrificed under any of the various conditions…one that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment.”

When I scroll through social media, go to various news outlets (both left and right leaning sources), hear politicians (again from both the left and the right), and hear complaints from various people, what I hear and see if that there are many people who think they are victims.

Maybe we should just admit that we love being offended and seeking out ways to be offended over any number of things.  All so we can proudly were a label – “victim.”

Our inconvenience, or our being uncomfortable, makes us a victim.  Or so many seem to think.

Never mind that there are real victims in the world.  People who actually fit into the definition.  People whose actual rights and livelihood are taken away from them or they are actually harmed for a variety of reasons.  If we are honest, we’ll admit that we don’t like actual victims, as a society.  Actual victims require a response, and it may cause an inconvenience to us.  Or cost us money.  So we try to push them away or silence them – deepening the hurt that these people have already suffered.  Not always, but often.

There are people who think that holding the label of victim means they can be treated as being special – that roadblocks will be removed for them.  That they will be privileged.  But here’s the thing – privilege and being a victim don’t mix.  Usually someone is a victim because of someone else’s privilege.  Not always, but often.

Related to this is the idea that there are people who love finding fault with others – especially those they see as enemies or “others,” people who are different from themselves politically, religiously, nationality, language, sexuality, skin color, etc.

Jesus had a suggestion about this:

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.

(Matthew 7:5, NRSV)

There are real victims in this world.  People who actually suffer.  If you are going around figuring out how you are supposedly a victim, it’s a good sign that you are not.

When people spend a great deal of time looking for the faults in others, it says more about ourselves than about the other person or group.  It says we don’t trust the person or group.  It says we are threatened by the person or group.  And that we are looking for some advantage – we are looking to show how we are victimized by this person or group.  And if someone or a group is victimizing others, then their morality is in question.  Their humanity is questionable.  And if their humanity is questionable, then we can respond by dehumanizing those that make us supposed victims.

All of this is sad, very sad.  There are many people who prefer to tear people apart, separate, divide, label, take away a person’s humanity.  For what?  This isn’t what following Christ is about.

Jesus’ message is about bringing people together, being in community, building each other up, finding what makes us alike.  It is also putting a mirror up to our faces and showing us how sinful and broken we are – the mirror shows us how we treat others.  Yet Jesus remains.  We are shown the mirror – the ugliness that exists within us.  And we are called to repent, to stop.  To see how broken we are.  To see how we can’t stop any of this on our own.  Which is why we need Jesus.  No matter how hard we try, humanity is broken – we are broken.  Nothing we do will fix that.  Only Jesus can.  And he does.  The question is how do we respond?  Do we continue in our brokenness and sinfulness – finding ways to put others down?  Or do start to see people through a Jesus lens?

We see what the first option gets us – nothing pleasant.  The second option is far better.  The dark pit within us is shown light.  And it lightens us so that we can be light in the world – so that we can show the world the true light.

Why do we exist?

It’s the existential question of humanity.  But I’m not going for that here.  I’m asking a different question – why do we exist as a nation?  Why do we exist as a church?  It’s the organizational existential question.  It’s the core of any group.  If you can’t answer this question then at some point you shouldn’t be surprised when the organization collapses completely.

Why do we exist as a nation?  Good question.  Not an easy answer.  And actually, there have been several answers to this question throughout our history.  The answer to that question changes as circumstances change.  I would posit what since the Berlin Wall came down, we have lacked an answer to this fundamental question as a nation.  From WWII until the end of the Cold War, we existed as an alternative to Communism as lived out in the Soviet Union.  We became a super power to counteract the other super power.  We represented political freedom and democracy and capitalism.  They represented other things.

And then the wall came down.  And the Soviet Union collapsed.  Our reason for being a super power collapsed with it.  Our reason, the core foundation of why we exist as a country ceased to exist.  And we have been struggling with this question for approximately three decades now.  In the place of a solid core foundation to the question of why we exist – a shared answer and belief held by the majority of the country – there is a vacuum.

There have always been factions and ideas that draw people.  These attempt to give people a sense of identity and purpose.  The core foundation of the nation offered that as well.  The beauty of that was that it crossed over and through other loyalties and beliefs.  It was the core foundation of the nation – all other political identities and beliefs sat on top of this foundation.  But when there is a vacuum and nothing to sit as the foundation, then these sub-identities attempt to fill the void.  Only they aren’t big enough.  They aren’t expansive enough.  They aren’t big enough visions.

In the void of a common solid foundation, we end up with sub identities that compete.  We end up with identities that speak different languages.  We end up with identities that see nothing in common with others of different identities.  We end up with two political parties which share no common foundation or values.  It’s not a matter of disagreeing over the means of how we fulfill our common core foundation – instead it is now a fight over the ends and what they are.  The means aren’t important if you can’t agree to the ends at all.  The way you get somewhere is not important if you can’t agree on where you are going.

Until we, as a nation, agree what our core foundation is, we will continue to diverge, to divide.  We will continue to see those that disagree with us as “others” to be defeated.

What is the role of the church in such a society?  Good question.  The same core question exists for the church as it does for the nation – why does the church exist?  Each denomination believes it has an answer to that question.  Some answers are clearer than others.  Some individual congregations can answer that better than their denomination can.  And the same fate awaits churches and denominations that can’t answer the question of why it exists.

A church that doesn’t know why it exists in a nation that doesn’t know why it exists is not a pleasant thing.  It offers no moral compass.  It offers no vision of the future.  It offers no hope.  Is only offers lip service to God, but is void of any action to live out what it claims to believe.

The church exists in this age to proclaim the Good News, to make disciples of Jesus.  To share how encounters with Jesus change people’s lives.  To share the vision of the kingdom of God as it unfolds in our midst.  If it doesn’t exist for that, then it is pointless.

Why do we exist?  To love and serve God and our neighbors is the more direct answer.  It is only in being this that the church should exist.  It is in living this out that the world changes for the better.

The poor will suffer

The government shutdown drags on.  Some 800,000 government employees are either working without pay or are furloughed.  800,000 people are having their lives changed through no fault of their own.  Actually the number is bigger when you consider spouses and children of these employees.  The number gets bigger when you take into account the financial impact 800,000 people not receiving a pay check has beyond their own bank accounts.

I heard a story on the radio about the numerous private companies that contract with the government to do work – they aren’t getting paid either, but their situation is worse – there will be no back pay for these folks.

And when the ripple effect if fully felt, the businesses that the employees of contractors and government employees go to and spend money at are hurting also.

The ripple effect goes far beyond that though.

The people who suffer the most are the poor.  They usually are the ones who end up getting the shaft when there is a debate about money and how it is spent.  Their voices are often silenced or ignored.

That’s what happens when the operating theology and philosophy is defined as the ends justify the means.  When the ends justify the means is the guiding principle of decision-making, then people become commodities and collateral – pawns to be used to get to the end desired.  When the ends justify the means is the belief system for making decisions – whether pertaining to government, religion, business, sports, or anything else – then people are transformed into a statistic or a weapon to be used to obtain the desired end.

The ends justify the means dehumanizes people.  It looks to Social Darwinism as a model. It believes in might makes right and that the strong survive.  It silences democratic means of making decisions in favor of winning at all costs.

The ends justify the means is antithetical to Christ and Christianity.  The ends justify the means isn’t an official heresy of the church, but it should be considered as heresy.  It is not compatible with Christ – it is in direct opposition to Christ.

Christ didn’t directly reject this theology – he didn’t say the words.  But everything about Christ rejects the idea of the ends justifying the means.  Christ rejects the theology of the ends justifying the means when he went to the cross.  He rejected this heresy in his parables.  He rejected this heresy in his call to discipleship.  He rejected this theology in every aspect of his life and being.

In Matthew 25:31-46 we hear what Jesus values – feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick and imprisoned.  These are not the strong.  These are not the mighty.  These are the poor and outcast, those without power.  These are the people who are a drain to those who care about the ends justifying the means.  These are the people who are in the way to those who embrace the ends justifying the means.  These are the people who suffer when there is an impasse to economic decisions.

If we were to re-write Matthew 25:31-46 to capture the theology of the ends justifying the means, it might sound something like this:

Jesus said: “I was hungry and you told me to lose weight.  I was thirsty and you told me go buy water.  I was naked and you told me there were clothing rooms around and to stop being lazy – get a job.  I was a stranger and you told me to get out of your country.  I was sick and you told me I should only get the health care I could afford.  I was in prison and you told me I deserved to be there.”

As long as the ends justify the means is our operating theology and foundation, our nation will become poorer, the poor will suffer, we will continue to reject Christ and suffer the consequences of that rejection.  The ends justify the means is ultimately a belief that we can save ourselves, and that we will do whatever it takes to earn that salvation for ourselves.  It is selfish.  It is heartless.  It is sinful.  It will fail.  My only hope is that it doesn’t take too many people down with it who are innocent victims of this sinful theology.  God have mercy on us.

 

What I would do with $5.7 Billion

The current debate around the partial government shutdown is centered on one thing – The President’s “request” for $5.7 billion for border security with includes money for construction of a wall along the southern border of the US – or at least several hundred miles of some kind of wall/fence/barrier.

As I’ve said before, I can’t speak to what is in America’s best interest when it comes to border security.  It is not a subject that I have any expertise in.  On the face of it, I don’t see how a wall would be effective given the amount of money that is being proposed for it.  But this really isn’t a post about a the merits or criticisms about the wall on the border.

Instead, this a post on what I would do with $5.7 billion if I were in charge of how it could be spent.

I would use the money to carry out Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:35-36:

…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.

That’s right, I’d use $5.7 billion dollars to feed people.  You can feed a whole lot of people for a long time with that much money.

I would use it to welcome strangers.  I would hire more immigration judges and lawyers, build welcome centers, have people at ports of entry that would walk people through the processes for immigration.

I would use it to clothe the naked.  And I would use it to provide a lot of laundry for the poor who are challenged with cleanliness.

I would use it for health care.  To assist people in paying for needed medication and procedures.  To provide insurance that is needed so people don’t lose their homes due to a health bill.

I would use it for prison reform.  To change us from punishing people to rehabilitating people so that when they come out of prison they are ready to be a contributing member of society, that the stigma of serving time would be done.

I would extend beyond the strict confines of Jesus’ statement also.  I would use the money to provide housing for people.  $5.7 billion pays for a great deal of shelters, tiny homes, converted malls and stores, etc.  I would follow a housing first approach.

I would use it to pay off student loan debts for many students who are saddled with crippling debt.

In short, I would use $5.7 billion to improve the lives of the people in direct and meaningful ways.

How would you use $5.7 billion?

Idols

You shall make for yourselves no idols and erect no carved images or pillars, and you shall not place figured stones in your land, to worship at them; for I am the Lord your God.

(Leviticus 26:1, NRSV)

The Bible is pretty clear that God doesn’t like idols.  Leviticus is just one citation.  Ezekiel is chock full of Scripture verses condemning idols.  You can also find Scripture about idols in Exodus, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Daniel, 2 Kings, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Acts, and Revelation.  And that’s just the short list.  There are other books of the Bible that talk about idolatry.  The list is pretty extensive.

What is an idol?

One definition states that an idol is an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship.

Why doesn’t God like idols?  Because idols are things we place above or equal to God in importance.

Idols demand unquestioning loyalty and devotion from us.  Idols offer us false promises.  Idols lie to us.  Idols demand human sacrifice.  Idols have high priests who speak on their behalf.  Idols demand our attention.  Idols demand money and resources.  Idols don’t like to be exposed for what they are.

Idols lead to death and destruction.

The question is this:  What are the idols we worship?  Do we dare name them?  Do we dare expose them for what they are?  Do we dare admit that we each have idols that we worship and set above God?

What are the idols of our nation?  Of our culture?  Do we dare examine the nation and culture?  Are we willing to admit that we are obsessed with idols?

You are probably alright with this article to this point. You may be even naming idols that you recognize in society. Talking about idols in general is safe. But what happens when we name our own idols? Now it’s personal. We don’t like it. Do we dare name our own idols? Do we dare read on when our own idols are exposed for what they truly are?

Here are some idols that I observe in our nation and culture – some of which I am guilty of worshiping also.  Before you blast off an angry message to me because I touched your idol, let what I am saying sink in.

  • Being right.  This idol demands so much from us and promises us greatly.  Except the promise is empty.  The sacrifice is relationships we have that are destroyed as we seek to please this idol.
  • Intelligence.  This idol gives us the hope that it can solve all of our problems and can make us better than other people who aren’t as smart.  The sacrifice is the dehumanizing effect on other people.
  • Production.  This idol attempts to dictate our value and worth based on what we do.  Those that produce more are worth more according to this idol.  The sacrifice we offer this idol is those in poverty who can’t produce more.
  • Political Party.  This idol promises us answers to all our challenges and salvation if only we give our loyalty to it.  The sacrifice is our attention, our money, and our energy that the party demands.  The sacrifice is a mind that is no longer free to think, but only accept whatever the party says is true.  Truth is sacrificed.
  • Guns.  This idol touches many nerves for so many.  It offers us a promise of safety and security in a dangerous world.  The sacrifice that is demanded is paid in the death of so many.
  • Big Government.  This idol promises to take care of us.  The sacrifice is freedom.  The sacrifice is resources.
  • Security.  This idol takes on many forms – a wall, military, etc.  It offers us control over our lives by removing unpleasant and dangerous individuals and groups.  The sacrifice is freedom, diversity, environmental cost, and more.
  • Abortion.  This idol promises liberty for the body and solving a problem.  The sacrifice is paid in human lives.
  • Money.  This idol tells us the lie that we can’t live without it.  That it has to make the decisions.  That we never have enough of it.  The sacrifice is our health and relationships in order to get more of it.  It one of the pervasive idols throughout history.

This list could go on and on.  I’m sure you don’t like that I have named some things as idols.  I’m sure that you think I’m wrong in some cases or that my reasoning is far off.  I’m sure you can come up arguments to show how very wrong I am. I’m certainly open to that possibility.  But I’m curious – are you upset that I have named something important to you as an idol?  Facing idols, especially the idols that we worship, that we place above God, is not easy to look at.  It is not easy to look in the mirror and say that I am sinful and have made an idol more important than God.  There isn’t a person who as has been alive who is innocent of this.  Including me.  Including you.

Idols demand our worship and attention. Idols are equal opportunity false gods.  They don’t care what your politics are or your beliefs.  Idols strike left and right equally.  And demand just as much sacrifice.

What would you add to this list?  What are the lies and the sacrifice that are paid for these idols?

As Christians, we are called to reject idols.  But more importantly, to turn our attention and devotion to God.  It is God who makes promises that are kept.   It is God who speaks truth to us.  It is God who tells us the truth that there will be difficulties in life.  It is God who promises to walk with us in these dark valleys.  Idols can never fulfill these promises.  God does.  Every day.  In so many ways.  When idols are put aside, our eyes have clearer vision to see God.  When idols are put aside, our ears are open to hear God.  When idols are put aside, our heart is softened to recognize God in our midst.

 

 

What is Love?

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

(Source: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, NRSV)

Love is so much.  It is much more than what our culture thinks it is.  Our culture has reduced love to a fleeting emotion tied to sex.  But love goes way beyond that.

Love doesn’t impose itself on others.  It doesn’t use force or seek power.

When we do ministry, we are supposed to approach people with love.  And that can be difficult, especially when people choose a different path – a path in which they attempt or are able to force something on someone else.  A path in which they try to exert control on their life or the lives of others.  This never ends well.

Live is patient because love waits.  Love is invitational.  And the invitation is sent out.  And when the invitation is sent out, love waits patiently for the response.  This is the nature of God and who we are called to be and how we are to follow God.  We are to follow love and with love.

Instead…

Name calling.  Profanity.  Labeling.  Pointing fingers.  Hunkering down and digging in.  Doubling down.  Saving face.

These are all too common occurrences that describe our political environment.  They are the methods of our belief that the ends justify the means, that the strong survive, and that might makes right.  They are the hallmarks of empire theology – a theology that lays claim to its adherents, tells its followers lies and false promises, and demands sacrifice from them.  Empire theology shows up in many different forms.  For some it is through politics.  But empires go beyond country borders.  Empires can be religious institutions and work.  They can be beliefs we have about others and the world.  They can be things – like wealth, or guns, or education.  Empires demand and control people.

And they tear down anyone who opposes them and throws believers under the bus when they are inconvenient.

Empire theology is just one way of living though.  And it’s not even a good way of living.  Empires always end the same way – death and destruction.

Instead…

Instead of empire, Christians are called to kingdom theology.  Or Reign of God theology to put it a better way.

Instead of tearing people and ideas down…Instead of tearing down churches and organizations…Instead of tearing down politicians and policies…Instead of tearing down groups of people…Instead of tearing down and opposing…Instead of pointing out what is wrong and who is wrong…Let us do something else.

Let’s build something.

Instead of just being opposed to the wall, or immigrants…tax cuts or universal health care…left or right…Let’s do something else.

If you oppose something, ask yourself why.  Go beyond the sound bites that you hear that just feed your current belief system and stroke your ego that you are right.  Instead, ask why you believe the proposed idea is not needed or why it is detrimental.

And then do something productive that shows why the thing you oppose is not needed.  Do something that matters.  Do something that impacts people’s lives for the better.  That builds people up.  That impacts people in ways that would stun those you oppose.  Do something small.  Do something.

If you oppose the wall, then the question is, what can you do to improve the lives of immigrants who are seeking a better life?  How about just one immigrant.  It doesn’t have to be a perfect solution.  You can’t save the world.  But you can impact the life of one person for the better and build them up.

If you oppose universal health care, then the question is, what can you do to improve the lives of those without health insurance?  How about just one person who is struggling.  It doesn’t have to be a perfect solution.  You can’ save the world.  But you can impact the life of one person for the better and build them up.

What’s the issue that gets to you?  Guns?  Taxes?  Education?  Jobs?  Immigration?  Abortion?  Safety?  Security?  Freedom?  What is it?

Go beyond the sound bites, the tweets, the memes.  Go beyond the talking points that are thrown up on our culture.  Go beyond the talking heads and the politicians.  Go beyond Facebook.  And think.  Think deeply about the issue.  Why does this issue have control over you, consume you?  Why does it anger you and cause you to fear?  Why does it eat at you?

And once you’re clear about that – then ask what you can and should do about it.  And just start doing something.  And invite others in to participate.  Participating in the building up of something that will build up people rather than tear people down.

This is how things change.  Not by complaining.  Not by tweeting or posting memes.  Not by fighting about an issue in the comment section of a Facebook post or article.  Not by yelling at others who disagree.  Not by waiting for some politician or celebrity to make a claim that they are doing something.  But by you and I actually doing something – regardless of the critics.  Moving forward anyway.

If the idea is worth anything, there will be critics.  Go forward anyway.  If the idea is worth anything, then there will be obstacles.  Go forward anyway.  If the idea is worth anything, then it will last.  The money for it will come.  The people will come.  The idea will become a movement and movements change lives.

Complaining and blaming never changed anything.  Instead, start doing.  Start building.  Start moving.

For me, the issue that gets to me is homelessness in our area.  I’m not satisfied with just waiting for it to resolve itself, or to listen to false claims of people being lazy.  I’m not satisfied with people being on wait lists for housing.  I’m not satisfied with a lack of affordable housing.  I’m not satisfied that people who live in motels and pay $250-$400 a week for a crappy room are trapped in a vicious cycle and can never escape.  I’m not satisfied that there are individuals and families living in their cars, especially when many have jobs.  I’m not satisfied that the poor and homeless are viewed as less than human.  I’m not satisfied that Christians make excuses for not doing something with the poor and homeless as opposed to following what Jesus tells us to do.

I could sit and complain about it.  I could post a meme or have an argument with someone on Facebook about it.  Instead, I decided to do something.  A bunch of somethings.  Will they work?  I have no idea.  But I have hope.  I know sitting and complaining and arguing isn’t going to change one person’s life.

What gets to you?  What are you unsatisfied with?  What’s your instead?

Now go and do it.

You are not alone.  I’m rooting for you.  I’m here to support you, to pray with you, to listen to you.  Reach out to me.  Let’s do “instead” together.