raise a glass… to Tax Day

There are few things more ubiquitously complained about than taxes. Many of us think of taxes as the government swiping our hard earned money with little benefit to us. In life we tend to feel very aware of how others benefit from our hard work and less aware of when we benefit from others. It is often the same with taxes. We feel the cost of taxes on us, but the benefits taxes pay for can go rather unnoticed.

Let me give a few examples… after prefacing that of course none of these services work perfectly. Taxes are spent imperfectly because governments are run by people and people spend imperfectly. Sometimes tax dollars are even used unjustly, because they are spent by people and again, people aren’t always just. But instead of zeroing in on that, I want think for a bit about what life might be like with none of these public services.

Your tax dollars pay for our defense. They pay the salaries of our soldiers, the benefits of our vets, and for weapons and technology that we use to keep ourselves safe in case of attack.

Your tax dollars fund disease control, medical research, and food safety.

Your tax dollars pay for public education. This means that the great majority of the population was able to go to school and learn to read and write and do math. We all benefit from an educated population.

You tax dollars fund our court, providing a pathway for justice (well, hopefully) for people who have been wronged.

Your tax dollars pay for a social safety net- welfare. Yes, I said it. Your taxes pay for things like medicaid, food stamps, and other assistance for people with low income. Yes, welfare is a complicated thing and we need to think more systemically to address the reasons for poverty. That said, I am glad to live in a society with a safety net where we’ve collectively determined that it is simply not ok for people to die on the street because they don’t have their own money to pay.

Your tax dollars fund the roads we drive on to get to work, to ship our products, to go to church, and to travel.

Your tax dollars help provide free and fair elections.

Your tax dollars pay for police, firefighters, and other safety and emergency services.

On election day I have a unique opportunity to vote in a way that says what I want our tax priorities to be. I can speak to the just and good use of taxes, voting for candidates I believe will do the most good with our collective pot o money.

Every day I’m free to share my opinion on taxes with my elected representatives and the public through phone calls, protests, facebook posts, and whatever else suits.

But this Tax Day when we write our check to Uncle Sam, I’m going to count my tax funded blessings and raise a glass to living in a society that makes provision for many of our collective needs.

Drawing A Bridge

my meds are kicking in!

“I told my congregation that I was feeling happier because my meds were starting to kick in…”

I quickly turn up the radio so I can hear better. A preacher telling his congregation he is taking meds? The type of meds that make you happier? Maybe he was going to speak of how medicine can be a gift from God to help correct problems in our brains. Maybe he was working to de-stigmatize the use of such medicine…

“My congregation looked concerned. So I continued, ‘yes, I’ve been meditating on the Word of God and it’s good medicine for my soul!'”

I could have slammed my head into the steering wheel. Not only did he not do what I was hoping, but he actually used the stigma about such medicine for dramatic effect to catch his church’s ear.

This happened in May. Right around that time, my therapist and I started talking about how it might be a good time for me to try some medicine for my OCD.

I’ve had OCD for many years. My first significant episode began when I was 12. It was related to my faith- namely, fear that I didn’t have enough of it. “What if I don’t really believe? What if I don’t have enough faith? What if I’m not really saved?” I naturally sought help from my parents and pastor, who counseled me on the spiritual side of it, addressing the actual questions I was raising. These faith questions and fears are common among religious kids. My particular struggle was ever realized to be OCD and I didn’t get psychological counseling. Eventually that episode subsided. Another similar recurred a few years later, and then subsided. Over the next few years I had other little struggles with OCD, but never really identified it for what it was. To me it was just stuff that bothered me deeply. I sought reassurance from those close to me, felt better, and was sort of able to move on.

Fast forward to just after I got married. I woke up from a really weird dream that involved sex. I was immediately terrified it meant I was a bad person; some kind of pervert. This fear gripped me and would not let go. No amount of assurance or self talk made it better. The fears snowballed. Intrusive thoughts. Hyper body awareness. Then came another fear- that somehow I’d snap and become a violent person. The presence of knives and an axe in our house scared me. I had constant and specific fears that somehow I was very ‘messed up’.

I think it was over a year before I went to counseling. I wish I had gone sooner.

I went to a therapist who had been recommended and after several weeks of listening to me unload she diagnosed me with OCD. I was relieved. You see, my biggest fear was that she was going to tell me I really WAS “messed up”. That I was a pervert or at risk of becoming violent at any moment. So when she confirmed it was OCD, a diagnosis I’d been suspecting, I was relieved.

Our first line of treatment was a type of Cognitive-Behavioral therapy called ‘Exposure with Response Prevention’ (ERP) where you confront your fears. This is fairly straightforward if your fear is of something like germs: for example, you might expose your self to progressively more germy environments without immediately washing your hands. First you might touch a door knob with your bare hand and wait 5 minutes to wash… and by the time therapy is complete you may touch a toilet seat and then eat a meal without washing your hands. Sounds gross, but the risk from possible germs is very much outweighed by the benefit of overcoming a crippling anxiety condition. The level of anxiety slowly comes down as you progressively confront your fears with out doing the compulsion (in this case hand washing).

For thought based OCD like mine (mine has very few visible compulsions), ERP is more imagination based, but still doable. It worked quite well and in a few months I felt significantly better and equipped with tools to handle future obsessions.

Unfortunately I didn’t do a spectacular job of staying on top of new obsessions and fears that latched on to this weakness in my brain. Every new fear felt real and legitimate, and so instead of immediately calling it an OCD thought and treating it accordingly, I treated these new fears like possible legitimate threats. My OCD went up and down in severity. I kept thinking about going back to therapy, but also kept thinking it was about to get better. “If I can just make sure this one thing is certainly ok, then I’ll be fine”, I kept telling myself. “It’s about to get better.” It actually has some similarities to an addiction or an abusive relationship in how it keeps you hooked.

Eventually I went back to counseling. I worked with my counselor through more ERP but found we needed to try some other strategies for training my brain. I started some mindfulness practices and other strategies. I made a decent amount of progress. I’m taking better care of my brain and my whole mental/emotional/spiritual being than I had been. One of my most powerful strategies is simply deciding that if I think this fear is probably OCD (at any given moment the specific concern is different), then I make it wait while I continue with what I was doing. Make it wait. Make it wait. I’m not always successful. Even when I am it drains some real energy…


Which is why my therapist and I decided I should go on medicine now.

I’m not real quick to go for medicine. I have a preference for natural and holistic treatments. My therapist isn’t quick to recommend medicine either, at least not for OCD. The cognitive/behavioral side is more foundational in treating OCD. She didn’t want me using medicine to the exclusion of giving the other therapies my full effort. But now that I’ve made those efforts in as full a way as I could, and now that my progress flat lined, it was time to see what else might also help.

And here I am, hoping these meds kick in! If they do, I will have no problem seeing them as a gift from God, a form of correction for my broken brain. It’s like a brace would be for a faulty knee- it stabilizes it so the knee can heal, or at least stop being constantly re-injured. It aids mobility and overall wellness. That’s the goal with my brain meds. If it can help my brain work in a more functional and life giving way, if I can have my internal energy more freed up, I’m calling it a win and will say for real, MY MEDS ARE KICKING IN!

I’m told my OCD is severe. The faulty ruts in my brain are deep, partly from years of unfortunate reinforcing. The OCD is unlikely to ever fully disappear until God makes this body all new. Even with medicine it will likely continue to be an irritation, like a little thorn in my side, until I die. God could do a miracle. If He would, that would be great. I’ve asked, trust me. I did some inner healing and prayer counseling too. I’m glad I did. But my OCD is still here. On one hand, I know God is a healer. He is the giver of life. OCD wasn’t His doing. He is setting and will fully set these problems right. On another hand, in my situation, I can’t help but see the potential for good fruit to come out of this struggle. I’m someone who likes to be strong. I feel empowered and gratified when I can handle tough things. OCD is a constant reminder that my value isn’t found in my strength and that I can be empowered in the more important ways if I will acknowledge where I am weak and helpless. I’ve also grown in other ways that I may not have without my broken brain. I’ve grown in my ability to trust the judgment of people around me, and I’ve become more aware of the mental and emotional realities of others. I expect more good fruit down the road. To quasi quote Greg Boyd, as I often do, “God didn’t plan my OCD, but He brought a plan to my OCD.”

I wrote this in September 2016 when I first started my medicine. I decided to leave it unpublished for awhile. Well it’s now February 2017. The medicine has been moderately effective in helping the OCD symptoms; taking some of that urgent edge off, making it easier for me to ‘make it wait’. Specific OCD thoughts don’t follow me as much from one day to the next. It’s had other effects as well: My girls have told me numerous times I’m getting sillier (though the bar here started very low). I do a better job at making other things wait too, like dishes- I can more easily let them sit and not feel compelled to clean up right away. I enjoy sleep more, and seem to need sleep more. I probably also cry a bit less than I used to. I felt a bit spacey at first but feel pretty clear now and am as analytical as ever. The most negative effect is that my ability to manage verbal chaos (ie; everyone talking to mom at once 😉 ) is lower for some reason.

I’m very grateful for this one more tool in my pursuit of health and am rather ok with the fact that it comes in the form of a medicine. All in all it’s been a win- my meds are kicking in!

Woman on the Beach

Am I still an evangelical? No, I suppose not.

I’ve been pondering a number of things the past few days. One of the biggest is whether I ought to keep referring to myself as an ‘evangelical’.

In the past I’ve assumed that since my theology is still basically within evangelical bounds (Bebbington quadrilateral, Lausanne Covenant) and since my background is dyed in the wool Evangelical and since most of my Christian friends, family, and aquaintences are evangelical, then I’m still more or less an evangelical.

But the reality at least here in America is that evangelical isn’t just a theological identity. It’s also a cultural and political one. Evangelicalism seems fairly synonymous with ‘conservative’. They are reliable republican voters. They are on a specific side of the ‘culture wars’.

Evangelical also has some distinctive ways of approaching faith. Their MO with tough faith issues is often ‘the Bible says it, I believe it, That settles it’. They tend to like certainty. They like clean definitions of things, including who is in and who is out.

If that is what we mean by ‘Evangelical’, I’m obviously not there. I’m left leaning politically and find the evangelical way of doing faith and dealing with questions ill fitting to me. It’s not because the meaning of evangelical has recently shifted. It’s because I have shifted.

In my cultural background ‘evangelical’ was synonymous with ‘true Christian’. This was often an implicit idea, but at times was more explicitly communicated.  The evangelicals are the people who take the bible seriously, who are conservative, they are the Christians who call themselves born again, who actually are saved.

And maybe that’s one reason I’ve kept calling myself an evangelical. If I totally leave behind that identity, I’m leaving behind the identity of what I believed was ‘true Christian’. Even though my definition of ‘true’ Christian has expanded, there is still something painful in this. Perhaps it makes me feel more distanced from my conservative Christian friends and family because I’m recognizing that to some of them I’m really not a ‘true Christian’. Perhaps it’s just weird to realize how much I’ve changed.

Another reason I’ve failed to ditch the evangelical label is because I’ve assumed it’s better to challenge from within than from without. I thought “We need to do better” sounds better than “You need to do better”. BUT, if I’m seen as an outsider and talk with the directness of an insider, that really can cause unnecessary frustration, which is quite understandable. (Of course whether you think I should be challenging at all is another question… for another post for another time.)

So I’ll call a spade a spade. I’m not an Evangelical. I don’t know how much resolving this in my own mind will help my communication with conservative Christians, but it won’t hurt it because it’s really more authentic.  If I’m specifically challenging something in conservative Christian culture,  I’ll avoid talking like I’m an insider, because I’m not. I’ll have to consider if I would challenge my progressive or catholic Christian friends with such bluntness.

So if I’m not an evangelical, what am I?
I’m a Jesus follower.
I’m a member of a wonderful local church.
I’m a part of the universal Church.
And I’m firmly committed to all three.

But I’m not an evangelical. I also don’t fit the labels ‘catholic’, ‘main liner’, or ‘progressive’. I don’t even fit the cultural definitions of ‘anabaptist’ or ‘charismatic’ despite many agreements and similarities. I guess that’s ok. I think there are many out there like me. We aren’t out of the Church, we just don’t fit nicely into a polling category. However, I am FOR all these particular expressions of the church… I love my brothers and sister in them… I root for their health and vibrancy.

So here I am, tied into the rock called Christ, not being an evangelical.
Love to you all.

Photographer before Ararat mountain

‘Do you thinking voting Trump was a sin?’ and other FAQs.

Since the election I’ve had some real push back on a few of my beliefs and opinions about the Church and the election. I’ve been challenged on these themes before before, but because my response to Donald Trumps’s election has been quite passionate, the push back at me is more intense as well, which is only fair.

So I’m going address a few of the things I’m most frequently challenged on from fellow believers.

Why are you so tough on the Church? 
Well I’m specifically tough on the white Evangelical/Charismatic church. There are a few reasons for this. One is that this is that is the crowd I come from. Just like you don’t worry as much about what the other families are doing and focus on your own family, I feel it is more appropriate to focus on how I believe my group should act than focusing on all the other groups.

Also, white Christians are the historically privileged group in this country. That means reconciliation and justice should start with us.  Some many reject that idea, wanting to say that we are all just individuals and that the white church has no special responsibility to step up to the plate on our social divisions, but I reject that idea. I believe we ought to embrace the role of brother’s keeper and be the first to listen and be willing to change.

Lastly, because we Christians believe we are the body of Christ on earth, made alive and  empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry out the mission of Christ, taking His message of reconciliation and hope to the world. I believe it’s appropriate to call us to live that reality. 

Are you saying it was a sin to vote for Trump?
No, I really can’t say that. Some people voted for Trump with a clean conscience. I try to reserve the word sin for times when people know the right thing to do and chose the wrong thing instead.

BUT I still think the Church collectively needs to repent for where we are and how we got here.

Let me unpack that. This election is a symptom of a more foundational problem. The underlying problem is this: We have failed to be reconciled to our neighbors and therefore have failed to love our neighbors. We have failed to understand our non evangelical and minority neighbors and failed to take their needs, wounds, and concerns seriously. We often aren’t even close enough to our Muslim neighbors, our LGBT neighbors, or our immigrant neighbors to begin to know that we don’t really know them.

(And no, the fact that there is a black gal at your church and she votes conservative isn’t enough. She is an image bearer of God, as valuable as any other person, but she is not a reason to gloss over the 90% of African Americans who vote for democrats. It isn’t fair to point to someone who is a major outlier from their group and say that that is all the understanding you need.)

All too often, white evangelicals lack deep open minded relationships with many people from very different perspectives. This leads to us assuming we get ‘those people’ when we really really don’t. Deepening our understandings of others is ESSENTIAL when it comes to reconciliation and love.

So when I say the church needs to repent- aka ‘reverse course’- this is largely what I mean. We as a Church are missing the mark and we need to be reconciled to our neighbor. I believe if we are reconciled to our neighbors our politics and rhetoric and ‘culture wars’ would really change. (And related note, our theology would be deeply enriched.)

Why do you have to be such a self-righteous condescending asshole?
It’s a gift.
No, really, it’s a couple things. Perhaps this is obvious, but I don’t actually mean to come across that way.
I’m extremely passionate about this topic. I’ve invested time, energy, and emotion into understanding different perspectives. I’ve shared the pain of people wounded and alienated by the Church. I’ve also had major shifts in my thinking about politics, moving away from the ‘take America back for God’ mindset and into what I might call a ‘Third Way’ or ‘Kingdom’ midset. It’s lasered in me as a deeply important value and I’m desprate for the church to make some changes in this area.

This passion can come across in both hurtful and healing ways, sometimes at the exact same time. Sometimes I might post a thing where I get these 2 responses: A gay formerly Christian friend might tell me ‘thank you for being willing to say that. You acknowledge that what the Church has done is hurtful. That is healing to me.’ And then a Christian friend might tell me ‘You are so harsh and judgmental of the church. You clearly think you are better than me. Why do you think it’s helpful to run down the body like that?’

The reality is that there is no perfect expression that will please everyone.
The reality is that sometimes words can be both painful and needed.
The reality also is that I need to do a better job of slowing down when anger or frustration is fueling my passion.

“Anything you can do WITH anger, you can do better WITHOUT it.”
I don’t recall who I heard say this, but it rings true to me.

It doesn’t mean I can eradicate all anger or should focus my attention on that. But it does mean that anything I do fueled by anger is likely to be with compromised judgement.

So with that in mind, I ask the forgiveness of anyone I’ve unhelpfully hurt through my words, particularly this week. It isn’t my intention to judge people’s hearts or shut people down. It’s my intention to challenge as well as open up dialogue that can be beneficial and helpful. So if I have made you feel misunderstood, condescended to, or written off, please forgive me.

If in the future I come across as edgier than you like, please know that I am trying to measure my words to be challenging AND gracious, daring AND wise. I’ll fail, and I’ll keep trying, because I believe somethings need to be said, conversations need to be had, and bridge building needs to be done.

You have some major criticisms, so do you just like to talk about what you think is wrong or do you have any helpful proactive solutions to offer?

Yes, one in particular at the moment. Church, please, I beg you, develop deep open minded and openhearted relationships with people who are different than you. People who look different, think different, vote different, believe different.

For the individual, this just means starting with one person and building upon that. We don’t diversify our social circles quickly or easily, but it’s very much worth a try. Facebook can help for some people if you can do genuine facebook friendships. It also might mean reading different news sources or books that give us a different angle on the world.

The church will experience greater reconciliation and oneness as we truly get to know and love each other. We will struggle to love our neighbor well if we don’t know them well. My hope is for us to grown in our breadth and depth of relationships with people who are unlike us… and that we would learn to love your neighbor like we love our own selves.

Drawing A Bridge

Now What?

I’m rather in shock.
I did not see this coming.

I expected to deal with a defeated conservative Christian/GOP crowd for the next four years while I would be glad we dodged the Trump bullet.

But we didn’t dodge the bullet, we accepted it. It’s not the GOP who is defeated this morning. It’s those like me on the left, walloped by the frustrated traditional/rural/conservative christian voters who turned out in droves to ‘take America back’.

I’m grieved and angered at an Evangelical Church that voted for him 4 times out of 5. I believe our priorities are off in a big way. I believe we are deceived by the promise of power and privilege. Some are upset that I would say this. Whelp, that’s my assessment. You can disagree. Even better, prove me wrong by standing up for our vulnerable neighbors these next four years. Prove me wrong by sharing your power and voice with those who find themselves marginalized. Really, I will happily eat crow pie every day for four years if it can mean I’m wrong about where this is going.

For my end, I’m contemplating where I go from here, and this is what I’ve got so far:

1. I’m going to accept the results of this election. I’m going to refer to President Elect Trump in those terms, just like I insisted on calling President Obama in proper terms when I was unhappy with him. I’ll honor the humanity and image of God in Trump and His supporters. I will not mock or deride PEOPLE. I will not hold my Christian brothers and sisters who enabled and supported Trump in contempt.

2. I’m going to call out unjust actions and attitudes in society and ESPECIALLY the church. This is not at odds with #1. If I am a pain the church’s ass, it is not gratuitously, but because I think we were wrong to back this man and I want better for us. I want us to live into our calling as God’s people.

3. I will not abandon the church. I see people talking of hanging up their hats, giving up on the church. I won’t. This is not an option. The followers of Jesus are the light of the world, we have the hope of God in us. This is my family even if I think we have failed in this realm of politics. I love them and I won’t go anywhere.

4. I’ll pray. I’ll pray for President Trump and our government. I’ll pray for us. I’ll pray for me. This is my rule for myself: If I’m praying  for others to change or ‘get it’, I must pray the same for myself. If I pray for others to see their blind spots, I must pray for myself. I’ll be doing a lot of praying. I’ll pray God gives our leaders wisdom. I’ll pray God helps us all see clearly. I’ll pray God helps my negative emotions only come from a place of genuine care. I’ll pray I can learn from my conservative friends. I’ll pray we the church can figure out a good way to be peacemakers.

5. I will DO justice. I will support my Muslim, LGBT, immigrant, and black friends. I will resist favoritism shown to the Evangelical community or the white community. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I commit to justice. I commit to justice even if it puts me at odds with some other Christians. I’ll do justice in a thousand little ways in my community and everyday life. I will do justice in the big ways that are open to me.

6. I’ll hope. I’ll hope for President Trump to be a better President than I think he will be, but far more important, I’ll keep hope in the belief that in the end love wins the day. Not just in our country, I look and work toward that day when the peace and justice of God envelopes the whole world. Divisions will cease. Our hearts will fully reflect the perfect goodness of God. Our creation will be renewed. Our relationships healed. Our bodies made new.

I finally fell asleep last night to the beautiful thoughts about how it’s all going to be ok. REALLY. I will work toward that wholeness and justice now… but where I fail, I know the best is still coming. Love will win the day. May my heart reflect that love wins.

partisan politics and an assassinated king

If you aren’t feeling ready to move to your own private island right now, then you aren’t paying attention to this election season.

This has been the most vile and crazy making time in American politics I’ve witnessed in my short 31 years on this planet. Many of my  Christian friends have been agonizing over what to do. Do we vote for Trump in hopes that at least he will appoint good justices and judges? Do we vote for Hillary to stop Trump from burning down the world? Do we vote third party or write in or not vote at all? Do we vote on principle or vote pragmatically? Which party is closer to Christian values? And can Jesus just come back already and spare us this decision?

There are many ways to analyze and talk about this election, but for Christians, I think we need a foundational understanding of where our allegiance lies.

There was once a preacher man who walked around Roman occupied Judea, doing miracles and teaching people about this thing called ‘the Kingdom of God’. The politics in Judea at this time were tense. There was a tyrannical and even terroristic government dominating the Jews. Uprisings of zealots happened with some regularity; rebels rising up in ‘righteous anger’ to throw off the Roman empire, only to be brutally squashed. Some Jews had more of a ‘go along to get along’ – people like tax collectors, who found ways to make a pretty penny off their national situation.

Needless to say, the radicals and tax collector types didn’t get along. They had polar opposite ways of approaching the politics of the day.

Somehow though, when this preacher man came through, he saw fit to choose both types of people to come along of his mission to bring this new ‘Kingdom of God’.

This Kingdom of God thing was something unlike what both the zealots and the tax collectors had ever heard. It was outside their framework for thinking about countries, kings, national boundaries, power, Caesars, battles, and laws.

The preacher man talked about servanthood, sacrifice, humility, love, and mercy that triumphed over judgement. He spoke about how the world was upside down, because really, the last were first and the greatest were least. The Kingdom of God meant that God was rightful King and He had come to win back his rebel kids; not by crushing them or by pacifying them, but by revealing the depths of His goodness and His love for them. All creation could return to it’s rightful King and the world would be in full bloom under such goodness. The Kingdom of God.

Both tax collectors and zealots were drawn to him. His words would have convicted them both. Yet we don’t have any record of him ever weighing in on which of their political approaches was better… because in reality neither approach translated well to this Kingdom of God paradigm.

We don’t know exactly how either of their political convictions would have changed, but we do know a few things:

1. They didn’t kill each other. Seriously, a zealot knifing a tax collector in the middle of the night totally could have been a thing. And not only didn’t they not kill each other, but they found themselves on the same team. Brothers. I’m sure they had some interesting conversations, but they stayed on the same team and found the same ultimate allegiance… which brings me to my second point…

2. Their focus shifted. Following Jesus doesn’t necessarily change your political leanings, but it does change your heart. When Jesus’ followers commit to their King and His Kingdom, all other allegiances become secondary. The conviction that Rome had no right to control Jerusalem was submitted to the conviction that we love our neighbors and enemies alike. The draw to make the system work for our own pocketbook was submitted to the belief that we treat others how we want to be treated, regardless of what is ‘legal’. The rules and allegiances in this new kingdom were utterly different from the rules and allegiances of normal world systems.

And then this preacher man/messiah/king goes and gets Himself killed.

The sense of defeat must have been overwhelming. Apparently this upside down Kingdom with it’s humble King was too good to be true. How foolish they’d been. The political powers of the day had crushed their vision of a world made right.

Perhaps they should have gone back to the old ways, at least a little. Maybe this Kingdom of God needed a bit of ‘help’ from the political options in their arsenal. Maybe they should have fought the Roman guard in Gethsemane. I mean, how can a Kingdom remain if it doesn’t at least use some self defense and protect it’s own?

Well apparently it can. Apparently no sword or whip or roman cross could destroy this upside down kingdom. Apparently, when you kill love, it insists on coming back, like a surprise sunflower that brings with it a thousand new seeds.

Tombstone and beautiful flowers - 3D render

Brothers and sisters, there are difficult decisions to make this election, and many things hang in the balance, but the Kingdom of God is not one of them. It will rise from those who are following our assassinated and victorious King whether America elects Trump or Hillary. It will rise whether laws make life easier or harder for Christians. It will rise whether America rises or falls.

What matters most for the church is that our allegiance is to Jesus and His law of love above and beyond any political conviction about liberty or laws or the best way government works. Those convictions matter infinitely less than our conviction that Jesus is our King.

For me, voting is one way in which I chose to love my neighbor and promote justice in the world. It’s a tiny way and it’s an imperfect way. The 99% rest of my life I have to live with that same allegiance and conviction that I’m a citizen of God’s good Kingdom regardless of national laws and boundaries. I must live with that same conviction that democrats and republicans, Christians and atheists, Iraqis and Americans are people to be loved, not people to be hated or feared.

This doesn’t mean that all our political options are morally equal right now. I’ve got definite opinions of what the better way to vote is. But I know believers who disagree, and instead of continuing to argue over policy, I want to point us to the bigger picture. And that bigger picture isn’t the tenuous future of America. It’s the unstoppable future of God’s upside down Kingdom.

Brother’s Keeper

Another week, another shooting, another protest, another round of people shouting at each other about whose fault this racial mess is.

I have a plea for white America… especially white Conservative Christian America. I’m addressing white Christian America because I’m part of white Christian America. If I were part of black Christian America I’d likely have some different things to say.

I want us to ask ourselves if ‘Don’t blame the cops (or white people), it’s YOUR fault you have troubles’ is actually an acceptable response to the outcry coming from our black brothers and sisters.

I want us to ask ourselves first if ‘It’s not our fault, it’s your fault’ is a CHRISTIAN response. Is that the response of people whose birthright it is to bear the burdens of others? Is it a response of a people who follow a King, who being blameless Himself, not a thing any of us can claim, entered humanity to take away our brokenness and sin? Is it the response of people who are called to be their brother’s keeper? Why should the response for a Christian ever be ‘it’s not our fault’? If we are acting like our King we will draw near to others in their pain. We will want our eyes to be opened to whatever ways we might be currently blinded. Is it a Christian response to so easily blame everything on those who are most downtrodden?

I want us to ask ourselves if ‘It’s not our fault, it’s your fault’ is a TRUTHFUL response. To begin with, who is ‘our’ and who is ‘you’? Does is take into account the generations upon generations of oppression black people have faced? Does that even matter? Is it fair to trace the problem of violence in black communities back to ‘thug culture’ or ‘black crime’ or ‘fatherlessness’ without looking at the social dynamics that made fertile ground for those things? Does it matter that our justice system continues to treat black folks more harshly and that employers are likely to not give qualified black applicants the same shot they give white ones? Does it matter that throughout most of the 1900’s, redlining many financially qualified black families were denied the ability to own a home in a good neighborhood? Does it matter that the trauma of centuries of oppression and terrorism continue to negatively effect the way black people’s genes are activated? Is it fair to tout ‘personal responsibility’ as the end all of justice issues when for centuries our American system pushed down certain people groups, denying them the ability to live in to their God given potential? Many people still don’t believe in ‘white privilege’, but perhaps you would consider the idea of black oppression and disadvantage’?

I’m not asking you to absolve others of all accountablity for their actions. I’m asking you to try to understand the bigger picture of where the black community is coming from. Understanding people’s troubles enables a far clearer perspective on what is going on in their actions. It inspires grace and an ability to collectively come up with more helpful solutions.

By the way, understanding the perspective of the police is hugely important as well. I’m just not addressing that now, mostly because I’m coming from a cultural background that has an easier time empathizing with cops than the black community. I’ve had to spend time trying to enter into the perspective of the black community and so I’m more passionate about addressing that angle. I also have a soft spot for the less powerful. Still, it would be a thing worth writing on sometime.

In the end, I ask my fellow white Christians- especially those who find it easy to simplistically blame the black community for all these problems- to try to walk a mile in the shoes of our black brothers and sisters. I ask us to consider how our callings as Christ followers and our commitment to the truth can help us enter into the messy place of our racial tensions instead of making sweeping judgments from the sidelines. We serve a God who enters into the messiness of human existence and carry other’s burdens- physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, all the ways. As his body on earth we are called to do the same.

black ethnicity hands pulling rope against white Caucasian race

ideological glasses

I’m currently, and very slowly, reading through a book called ‘The Civil War As A Theological Crisis’.  It addresses the major faith problem for the Christians on both sides of the conflict. That problem is best summed up in this statement: both sides were convinced they were on the side of God. Both sides believed the ‘true meaning’ of the Bible supported their cause. Both sides believed goodness and common sense backed them up. With a few exceptions, both sides believed their rightness was quite obvious. Not many people saw or were willing to see how their own culture and bias played into their convictions.

The Christians in the South pointed to the ‘clear’ support of scripture- scriptures from both New and Old Testaments- which sanctioned slavery. America was commonly interpreted as a type of New Israel, a nation with His distinct favor and special purpose. White superiority and black inferiority was assumed  based on ‘the curse of Ham’ and “common sense”. Slavery appeared to be an economical and social necessity. “If scripture and common sense supports racism and slavery”, they said, “then who are we to disagree… and who are those blasted Yankees in the north to tell us to abandon this God ordained institution called slavery?”

The Christians in the North tended to point to the ‘spirit of scripture’- the commands to love our neighbors and to treat others well. Many felt that slavery was clearly out of sync with Christianity, though those who argued this in the most broad terms came across to more conservative Christians as using scripture too loosely. There were also plenty of northerners who didn’t feel they could argue biblically with slavery as an institution per se, but turned the biblical commands around to point out that southern slavery wasn’t following ‘the rules’ put forth in biblical slavery passages. For example, slavery in the Bible had guidelines for how one could punish slaves and prohibitions on man stealing (kidnapping). Others appealed to “common sense” and “common decency” to decry the grotesque abuses of southern chattel slavery.

Then there were the black Christians, who lived in both north and south, whose passion and theological arguments had unique depth. They were obviously deeply acquainted with the abuses and results of slavery- the physical and sexual abuse, the destruction of marriages, the broken souls. The black Christians appealed the horror of these conditions in appeal for abolition. They pointed to scriptural commands against stealing, adultery, harming children, as well as to deeper biblical themes such as Christian brotherhood regardless of race. They also called attention to the disconnnect between the concept of a ‘free country’ and a country propped up by the bondage of slaves and the harmful effect of slavery on missionary efforts. While I don’t recall the book making specific mention of the exodus narrative and Israel’s identity as liberated slaves, I know this story was also a powerful sign to slaves of how God’s will was for their freedom. Not surprisingly, black arguments, despite their power, were rarely paid much attention by white folks.

On the whole, the common mindset of the day was that ‘we are clearly in the right here’. In all cases, their sense of justice was affected by their particular perspective. The most alarming part of this for me as a Christian is how scripture was used with such confidence and perceived clarity as ammunition in BOTH pro-slavery and anti-slavery arguments. Actually, what gets my attention even more is how we do the same thing today- often with continued absence of self-awareness. We continue to appeal to the clear meanings of scripture when we discuss controversial cultural and theological issues; often with little to no humility or awareness of how our own bias plays in to our sense of clarity.

What do I mean by bias? I mean that we all have lenses and assumptions, often unexamined, about the nature of scripture, of our country, of God’s will, and of what it means to be a good Christian. That unexamined part is key. Having a lens- a perspective or basic working assumptions- is inevitable. The question is whether we examine those lenses. Some of our perspective is influenced by unchosen factors- our personalities, past experiences, and cultural background are not generally things we have a choice in. Other parts of our perspective are chosen, even if they are chosen by default. Factors such as our religious beliefs, the values we embrace, what new experiences we pursue, and how we educate ourselves are chosen factors.


However, our perspective is widened when we do our best (for that is all we can do) to examine our own lenses and take time to put on the lenses of others. We do the former by asking ourselves what our assumptions are. One way to do this is to ask’why?’ questions, like kids ask.

Kid: ‘Mom, why do you tell us to eat healthy?’
Mom: ‘Because I want you to have a healthy mind and body.’
Kid: ‘Why?’
Mom: ‘Because I love you and want you to be all you can be.’
Kid: ‘Why?’
Mom: ‘Because that’s what good Moms do!’
Kid: ‘Why?’

As you see, “why?” questions, while potentially never-ending, help unearth our basic values, assumptions, and beliefs. So what if we tried the “why ?” question with some of our convictions? Pick one of the following that fits you, or make up your own: ‘Why do I trust the Bible?’ ‘Why do I believe the Bible is clear?’ ‘Why don’t I believe in a personal God?’ ‘Why do I trust science?’ ‘Why do I believe in hell?’ ‘Why do I believe America is a great nation?’ ‘Why do I believe the government should ensure people are cared for?’ ‘Why am I a Christian and not a Hindu?’ While it’s likely that you will unearth a less than perfectly cogent or logical rationale, it IS helpful and humbling to recognize that our assumptions and lenses exist. We can pair the “why ?” question with the question of “have I other considered other possibilities?” We can examine a core belief and it’s alternatives, then ask ourselves if we need to adjust our lenses- if we are making assumptions or living in beliefs that we really ought to shed.

Next, it’s helpful for us to try on the lenses of others. We do this when we listen without judgment to the perspectives of others- their experience, their insight, their assumptions. Listening with an ear to understand, not argue, helps us again see how real those lenses are and where others’ lenses may be allowing them to see things our lenses blurred out. When you listen, always expect to learn something. This can admittedly be hard, especially when you are pretty sure you know what the speaker will say, but it’s worth the effort. Good listening conveys respect and enables us not to understand and empathize as deeply as possible what the other person feels, thinks, and believes.


Last, if both sides are agreeable to it, we can argue. Allowing critique of our lenses is an important part in gaining better understanding of ourselves and our lenses. Humbly giving push back and accepting push back is a virtue. However, even among Christians, as we see in the Civil War, there is no ideological tie breaker unless it is mutually agreed on. The best we can hope for is humility and self-awareness. Well, and through my (admittedly Christian) lens, there is also the hope that if we are humble and willing, God will illuminate our lens with His wisdom so that we have an increasingly clear view of reality.

One of the most significant aspects of my lens is that the God who made us loves us enough to redeem us. This is a chosen conviction, the chief assumption through which I see the world, my fellow man, and God. It is a lens I willingly examine and own. It’s a lens through which the world seems clearer to me. It guides my path. I need to be willing to admit though that that lens alone doesn’t provide 20/20 vision in every aspect of life. Having a Christian perspective doesn’t mean my lenses are instantly suited to clarify every political, relational, scientific, or even religious question. I have blind spots. The only way to address those blindspots and hopefully see a clearer picture of the world is to examine my many perspectives and biases, humbly ‘try on’ the lenses of others, consider wise critiques, and try my best to adjust my glasses accordingly… and our best is all we can do.


Creation Through Ancient Eyes

We recently started a series at my church that is taking a tour through the apostles’ creed. With all the diversity of beliefs in the church- diversity on things like doctrinal, cultural, and political issues- our pastor thought it would be a good idea to take some time to talk about what the core beliefs of orthodox Christianity are. We want to focus on the beliefs that really bind Christians together and define us.

So this week I took a turn preaching on one of my favorite topics- the Creator and His Creation. As I took some time putting my teaching together, it occurred to me that I should take the material I was teaching on and turn it into a blog post. So here we are.

“I believe in God… Creator of Heaven and Earth”

This was an important part of the creed because the views on creation varied quite a bit in the ancient world. The Early Christians wanted to make clear that God the Father was also the founder of the entire cosmos.

At it’s most core part, they were telling everyone that the God they worshiped, the God who had come to rescue the world, was also the one who created the world to begin with. By his will, he spoke into being world and everything in it. He gives it it’s purpose and meaning. This is what all orthodox Christians everywhere believe and have believed since the beginning.

Andromeda Galaxy

There ARE different Christian views on creation, and there actually has been debate since at least the early church on how to read the creation account in Genesis.(1) It’s not a new issue. It is believed throughout the Christian church through history to be TRUE that God is Creator. But how to understand that- as a scientific and historical account or as something less scientific like a poem or parable- has been highly debated, especially since the dawn of modern science where we discovered new ways of understanding the world and how it works. Now we have Christians who believe everywhere on a spectrum from God creating the world in 6 literal days 6,000 years ago to God creating the world through natural processes beginning billions of years ago.

But again, the core belief that Christians agree on is that God is the creator of all that is.

To go a bit beyond that core belief, to unpack it, lets look at what the Bible was saying to its original audiences about creation. We need to remember that the Bible is written for us, but not to us. In other words, the Bible is for our benefit, but we are not its original audience. It’s helpful to ask what the original audience was hearing when they listened to the creation story (or really any part of the Bible) in order to better understand the message that was meant to be conveyed. How something sounds to modern ears might have been understood rather differently by the people of ancient Israel or Christians in the early Church.

So what I want to do is take us through a who-what-where-when-why-how run down of the creation story through a more ancient perspective and look at how it can inform our perspective on creation now.
WHO? Who are we talking about? Well, the Creator. The God the Israelites worshiped was the God above all gods, the maker of the heaven and the earth. “Creator” was a significant marker for both the Jews and the early Christians since so many surrounding cultures believed in many gods. They were essentially declaring ‘we worship the One who started it all!’
NOW? In our western culture now, it’s not so often that ‘many gods’ challenge Christian beliefs, but that ‘NO god’ challenges Christian beliefs. This part of the creed gives the same answer. Christians (as well as people of many other faiths) declare that this world has a founder, a creator.

WHAT? What did He create? God made all of creation, the heavens and earth. When ancient people talked about creation, they focused on something we often don’t- the idea of ‘function’. To people from Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) cultures, something wasn’t really ‘created’ until function had been designated to it. What do I mean by function? Well we think of God creating the ‘stuff’, the material. They were more interested in the function- what does it do, what is it’s purpose, what is it’s role? For example, God’s creating the sun, moon, and stars TO MARK days and seasons is a particularly clear example of function. We have the fish TO FILL the seas, humans TO RULE, etc. They didn’t care or think about what the sun was made of or how a fish might be materially connected to the other animals. No, they are asking what it’s purpose and significance was.(2) They were also making the point that the sun, moon, etc were not gods as was sometimes thought. Everything in the world was created, not something to be worshiped. God is the one that created them and gave them purpose.
NOW? It is meaningful for us to realize that God didn’t just create the material of us and our world, but He created our purpose, our functions, our jobs. Also, nothing in creation is worthy of our worship, our total allegiance and service, like the Creator is.

WHERE? Where did God create? Basically, everywhere. He created the ‘heavens’, which meant both the sky above as well as the place God was, and he created earth, which meant the land, the place we live. Another aspect of note when we talk about ‘where’ is that when we read Genesis 1 we see in the first three days God separating and making spaces. In the later three days we see God filling that space up- sun, moon, and stars in the sky, birds and fish in the sky and sea, animals and people on the land.
NOW? We can see all the universe is God’s space, space he called good. Every part of the world is His rightful domain.

WHEN? When did this happen? From what I’ve read, I don’t believe the date of the beginning of the universe was really one of the questions ancient people were thinking about. I realize some Christians disagree and feel the potential dating of these stories is important. Personally I don’t see good evidence that the creation story is the type of literature we were ever meant to read for like a science book. I believe we are free to let science and history speak to things like this on their terms and to let the Bible speak on it’s rather different terms. The ‘when’ ancient biblical people would have been looking at was ‘in the beginning’. The God of the Bible, in both the earlier Jewish portion and the later Christian portion, was a God who was there from the beginning. He is the first and the last. We like to say He is outside of time, but while I could be wrong, it doesn’t appear to me that the concept of ‘inside or outside of time’ was on the radar of the original audiences. What was on their radar is that He was there from the beginning.
NOW? There is no part of history that has been outside His view. He was there in the beginning.

WHY? Why did God create the heavens and earth? Ancient people saw the creation story in Genesis as God making a space for Himself to dwell. The story has all kinds of neat allusions to God setting up a temple (3), a home, for Himself in this space. He created space to place people in his image. Then He came and walked with them. This ties in with God as our Father. Why did he create? He wanted a home and kids to raise up. Recall that in the Book of Revelation we have this beautiful picture of God bringing heaven to earth to dwell with man again in our new creation.
From Revelation 21 we read:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”… And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 
NOW? We can see earth for it’s original purpose. A place God created for Himself to dwell with us. As we live out the ways of Jesus, we are living into that future reality where God is fully with us and we are in whole relationships with Him, each other, and creation. We can see the earth not as the hell hole it sometimes looks like, but as a place God made and loved and will transform and return to in a full way. It changes our perspectives when we see God’s purpose for making creation. If we believe in God’s purpose for us and our world, we are more empowered to live accordingly.

couple looking at home

HOW? How did He create? He created intentionally, by His word, His sovereign will. The Bible clarifies that the world wasn’t self creating or the result of collaboration or conflict between the Gods, as many people in that time believed. (4) The HOW question for ancient people wasn’t whether it was through natural processes or supernatural ‘miracles’. They didn’t understand the mechanics of natural processes in general and almost all natural things appeared to ‘just happen’. Even if they happened predictably, they tended to be attributed to the work of the gods. So there doesn’t seem to be a clear distinction between natural and supernatural in the way they thought. We make a mistake if we project our ‘science’ frame of mind back on to a part of the Bible that is speaking originally to a very different people. (5)
Also worth noting is that He didn’t just initially create the world by his will- He sustains is as well. He didn’t just make it and walk away like deism would teach; he remains intimately connected with it’s ongoing being and working.  In Colossians 1 we read:
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
NOW? We can know that however he created in scientific terms, it was intentional. This world is no accident. He is working even in the sustaining of this world, even in the natural ways. When crops grow, glorious sunsets happen, or babies grow healthfully in their mothers’ wombs, God is still at work. Supernatural and natural alike, every good gift is from our good Father.
sea wave during storm in atlantic ocean

As a last note of interest, I believe that largely because of this last question of ‘how’ God created, the problem of evil is regularly a part of the creation discussion. Let’s briefly address that.
While all of creation comes from God, not all of creation is in sync with God’s initial good plan. Through the Bible, we see wills and forces operating in opposition to God– even before the fall. For example, in the Genesis story we see language of chaos in 1:2 (6), as well as the presence of the tempter in the garden with no indication that he is there because of human decision.  Creation itself is GOOD, but not all creation operates in a good way. When Jesus shows up, he does things like heal the blind, cast out demons, calm storms… because the King is there and He calls creation back into wholeness. There is so much on this subject that can be talked and theologized about, but the most important thing I want to communicate is that even though God is good and he made the world good, we don’t need to assume that creation is behaving in the exact way he initial designed it to. Creation is compromised because of evil and rebellion. We see in Jesus a God who is at work to redeem His good creation and to vanquish chaos and evil.

The more we understand the message of creation in the Bible, the more equipped we are to live according to that reality.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creationism#Early_and_medieval_times
2. John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, pages 38-46
3. http://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/the-ancient-universe-and-the-cosmic-temple/ ; John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, pages 78-92
4. https://biologos.org/uploads/projects/lam_scholarly_essay.pdf ; http://www.religionandnature.com/ern/sample/Fiala–CreationMythsAncientWorld.pdf
5. http://biologos.org/blogs/archive/natural-and-supernatural-are-modern-categories-not-biblical-ones
6. http://biblehub.com/hebrew/tohu_8414.htm , http://whchurch.org/blog/7215/immoral-tohu-wa-bohu minute 19:00-29:00

for the men who hurt on Father’s Day

Every year around Mother’s Day we work to acknowledge the women who are hurting. We speak about being sensitive to those struggling with infertility, those who have suffered the loss of a child, and even those who have lost their mom. This acknowledgement is a positive development in the last decade or so. When I was a child I don’t feel like that hurt was talked about nearly as much and so I assume those who were hurting just hurt in relative quiet. I’m glad to see now how we are a bit quicker to recognize the struggles around us and look to offer some sort of comfort and inclusion.

But I was thinking, while we do this on Mother’s Day, it doesn’t seem we talk much about the same themes around Father’s Day. I suspect there are many reasons for this. One is that men often aren’t as vocal about their pain- perhaps to call attention to your wounds is subtly discouraged since men are told they need to be ‘strong’.  Also, our culture worships the idea of ‘mom’ more than the role of ‘dad’… and therefore the holiday is emphasized less in general. In our culture motherhood is often treated as the pinnacle of womanhood, whereas fatherhood is often not treated as a such an essential core for men.  We are quicker to demonize or minimize dads. Also, when it comes to things like miscarriage, women are typically more intimately caught up in the loss.

All these likely play a role, but that doesn’t mean that Father’s Day isn’t tough for a lot of men. I really can’t say I know for sure, but I’d suspect there are many men who hurt on some level on this day. So, that suspicion in mind, can I just say something to those of you who hurt?

For those who never had children, whether because of infertility, not finding a partner, or any other factor, and wish you had, may you feel a deep sense of peace and community.

For those who have lost a child, young or old, whether through miscarriage, abortion, an accident, or an illness, may you experience a deep sense of comfort and healing.

For those who have distant or estranged relationships with your children, whether because of family break up, relational hurts, or any other type of divisions or wrongs, may you be able to experience personal healing… and even reconciliation where appropriate and possible.

For those who feel forgotten, unappreciated, or obsolete, may you know that your significance lies in something deeper than whatever makes you feel unimportant right now. You are truly needed and loved.

And for all, both men and women, who hurt on Father’s Day because of hurt or distance from YOUR Father, may you also find a deep sense of peace and healing in your soul. For the many who have lost your Father, may you also feel deep comfort. May your heart turn to good memories and legacies from your Dad on this Father’s Day.