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.

my people

A couple months ago I was speaking to a fellow Christian who comes from a rather conservative perspective, both religiously and politically. They were talking about how ‘the seculars’ and want to stop people from being allowed to things like ‘Merry Christmas’. They had heard something on the news that had conveyed this to them and genuinely believed it to be true. I pressed back and went round in circles with them a bit, but I didn’t say the thing most on my heart. You know what was on my heart, and what is often on my heart when I hear people from my faith disparage or assume the worst of outsiders?

“Those are MY people.”

I am protective of my atheist friends, my gay friends, my Muslim and immigrant neighbors, and others who qualify as outsiders in any given context. I am at home with them in many ways. I’m even able to be myself more than with the types of Christians who assume I think just like them. With skeptics in particular I feel this way because I think in so much the same way… even though I’ve decided to trust Jesus, I very very much get the mindset. In intense conversations I am normally respected in my differences, not written off. I can be utterly honest with many non-believers in ways that would make many believers uncomfortable. These are my people… anyone I can be intellectually honest and relaxed with is my people, whether Christian or non. Luckily I do have some Christian friends I can be honest with too, but so often I just feel like most Christians don’t get me, aren’t asking the same questions as me, or just have very different brains than me. I guess I have the brain of a skeptic and the heart of a Jesus follower. Or something like that.:)

Anyways, think of it this way: Imagine you have a racist aunt (I don’t, for the record) who starts saying ignorant things about black people. Imagine your best friend is black. How do you feel? You feel like telling your aunt to shut it. At the same time, you look at your aunt and ask yourself why she thinks and feels the way she does. You want to talk some sense into her. You want to help her see that her attitudes are based in ignorance and judgement, not in empathy or love or understanding. Through your frustration though you don’t despise her.

This is kind of how I feel when people tell me how horrible the atheists or secular feminists or whoever are. I’m conflicted. I’m angry. Those are my people. Those are my friends. I love them. I’m angry to hear them misunderstood or assumed to be represented by the worst characters in their group. But the one speaking against my friends is my family- they share my faith- the faith which is the single most defining thing about me. They are often good people in so very many ways. I can’t dismiss them as people any more than I want them dismissing outsiders.. They are just as important and valuable as anyone. In a very significant way, they are also MY people.

I sometimes find myself struggling to keep my cool with some in my extended ‘christian family’. I feel the tension on being tied to two sides of an imaginary canyon- Christians on one side and everyone else on the other, and I’m not willing to let go of either side. I’m not supposed to let go of either side. I long for us to open our hearts and minds to those outside of our clan. I long for us to honor the questions and push back of skeptics. I want us to hear and honor the struggles of LGBT folks. I desperately wish we would walk a mile or two in the Muslim and the immigrant’s shoes. Of course that doesn’t mean we won’t have opinions or disagreements with those outside (or inside!) of our faith… But when love guides our attitudes we won’t need to talk about people we on the other side of the canyon as if they are our enemy. We are called to be peacemakers and make our natural enemies our friends. I want our family to live into this calling. Of all the clans in the world, we be the most open hearted towards all people because we know that’s exactly what God’s heart is like. He is the ultimate friend, longing to draw all into His embrace.

in a foreign nation on a patriotic holiday

A friend asked me yesterday how I celebrate Memorial Day given my beliefs about Christians and war. One of the things I told him is that I feel a lot like a foreigner on these patriotic days. Every year I struggle a bit to know how to think about and participate in the celebration of military sacrifice and national birthdays initiated by war.

You see, my perspective is that I’m legally a citizen of the United States, but that my whole allegiance is to Jesus and His kingdom. There is a no competition. Jesus has total claim on me and if there is ever a shred of conflict, Jesus wins my loyalty.

Now some people, probably most American Christians, would respond by saying ‘sure, Jesus is #1, and if there is ever any conflict, I’ll choose Him too.’ We say this while accepting, with little to no questioning, the idea the idea that there really isn’t conflict between God’s kingdom and our earthly kingdom. Most specifically, we don’t question if war and violence are actually compatible with a King Jesus.

Sometimes I don’t think we see how ‘political’ the Kingdom of God is. Often we think about God’s Kingdom as being the place we will go when we die. We think about Jesus’ Lordship as being a personal and purely ‘spiritual’ authority. However, from the perspective of the New Testament perspective, THE KINGDOM OF GOD (or heaven) and JESUS IS LORD are profoundly political statements as well. They represent an alternative government and King that is a present reality.

In the New Testament, the Kingdom of God is the people and place that is submitted to God’s reign. It is where people live and love His way. It is not just another word for the spiritual realm or heaven. It is here now on earth and it is also coming. It is breaking in, promising to engulf and transform the whole creation. John the Baptist announces “The kingdom of God is at hand!”- the rightful King is coming back!  “Jesus is Lord” was to say that Jesus is our King… and Caesar is not. Caesar has been demoted. Our citizenship is in His kingdom and our allegiance is to King Jesus… here. now.

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Now it is important to note that Jesus makes clear when speaking to Pilate that His Kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this world- otherwise his disciples would be fighting! We in God’s Kingdom don’t win through the power of the sword. We win through the power of the cross. Our ethic is one of love for enemies and neighbors alike. The ethic of worldly nations is generally self-serving and self-protective. It is too much to expect an earthly government to mirror God’s Kingdom. Their foundation is built on the power of the power of the sword, the threat of force. The foundation of God’s Kingdom is built on the King dying FOR traitors, not cutting down the traitors. It’s upside down.

This makes us aliens, exiles, ambassadors, subversive rebels… but not real citizens. We are loyal to the true King who is at work to win back this whole world into his dominion, not ultimately loyal to the nations in which we live.

So what’s a Kingdom person to do while living in a kingdom of this world during seasons of patriotism?

Well for starters, I think we must carefully consider where our allegiances really may be in conflict. We shouldn’t just assume that America’s interests are God’s interests and that America’s ways are God’s ways. We need to prayerfully sort through how to navigate our realities. We need to ask ourselves if we’ve fallen into nationalistic idolatry. Jesus followers must commit to making Jesus Lord of our whole lives. Some may do this and feel that military service is compatible for them as a Christian. It’s a messy space and can feel less than clear cut, I get that. I sure won’t judge another’s honest conscience. I might challenge it, but I won’t judge it. I expect the same in return, as I realize there are people who would genuinely question how one can be a Christian and committed to nonviolence. My primary concern is that we prayerfully ask and keep an open mind to how we best live in a way that leans into His reign.

Next, a way we live as exiles is to honor the good and seek the thriving in the nation we live. There is much to honor and appreciate on a patriotic holiday- we can honor the discipline, bravery, and sacrifice of those who have served in the military. There is much we can applaud- we can applaud a nation who aims for opportunity, liberty, and equality.  There are also many ways we can partner with our nation in common goals- we can partner in caring for those in need, in taking care of our land, in working for as much thriving as possible.

Skyline of downtown Philadelphia

Also, we also call out our nation when it is acting unjustly and foolish. Whether we are comminted to non-violence or not, we must not be afraid to speak up when our nation or it’s leaders are acting power hungry, abusive, and exploitative.

Lastly, we get to live out the way of love, showing the world (and ourselves) how magnificent it is to experience the love of God. The Church should be a standard bearer of sorts- people who live by a different way and display  what is truly possible for people completely committed to God’s Kingdom. We live as people who aren’t constrained by national boundaries or driven by self-interest. The whole world is God’s. All of the people are loved by the King- Americans, Iraqis, Vietnamese, all. And we, people reconciled to Jesus, get to partake in His boundless love. This is a gift we partner with God in giving to our earthy nation and the world.

Patriotic holidays can feel strange to me. but feeling out of place in the land of my birth is a small price to pay to be part of this beautiful Kingdom of Jesus.

 

Get in the Water. A Pentecost Call.

 

When the Church lives in fear, We relegate ourselves to the pool wall.

When We live from a place of fear- fear of losing power, fear of disapproval, or loss, or mistreatment, fear of getting something wrong, or failing, fear of an angry and disapproving God,

When we live from these things, we will not learn the freedom and joy of swimming in the life of God.

But,

When the Church lives in trust, we throw off the chains of fear and jump in the water when our Swim Instructor calls us.

When We live from a place of trust in God, trust in His knowledge of us, trust in His ability to teach, trust in His ability to save us when we falter, trust in His detailed knowledge of us, trust in His all encompassing love,

When We live in trust, we relax our Body, allowing it to be more buoyant. We see that fear makes us rigid and being rigid makes us sink. So we chose faith over fear and see our ability to swim grow.

When we live from trust, we live in freedom, we experience peace, and we learn to move with the currents of his Spirit.

When we live from trust,
We find we can relax.
We can float.
We can be pushed.
We can be strengthened.
We can dive in the deep end.
We can do cannon balls and somersaults.
We can find ourselves at home…
even in water that is over our head…
ESPECIALLY  in water that is over our head.

There is no need to fear, Church,
There is every reason to be free.

The Spirit is calling us away from the pool wall.
We can exchange our fear for His freedom.
We can dive in.

Losing and Finding mySelf in Motherhood

Being a stay-at-home mom is a strange experience for me. Sometimes I feel like I’m losing myself. Sometimes I feel peaceful. I’ve had times where I literally felt like I was suffocating. Sometimes I feel in my element. Other times I feel like part of my ‘self’ is in a cocoon, changing over this season.
 
Part of what makes this phase of life work for me is recognizing that is in fact a season. A WANTED season. I chose this season; I choose this season. The season will blend into a new season in time. A season with different joys and challenges. The key to enjoying any season is to focus on the season and all that is good in it, NOT to continuously spend energy longing for the next season.
 
Also, this season helps me embrace the reality of imperfection and the growth that can come from it. Interrupted plans, messes and chaos, discipline struggles, and other challenges can feel like nothing but aggravating pebbles in my shoe. However, as I’ve been learning this with my anxiety issues lately- a certain level of acceptance can help me deal more effectively with reality. You know that phrase ‘it is what it is’? I hate that phrase. It’s normally said with discontent or defeat. But acceptance doesn’t HAVE to be about giving up. I can learn to accept the challenges of life while asking ‘now how do I respond to let this form me for the better?’ Same with the challenging parts of being a stay-at-home mom. Yup, I’m a bit ill fitted for this role. Maybe we all are ill fitted for parenthood in some way. But the question is, how do I let the challenges of motherhood shape me (and those around me) for the better?

 
Another thing that helps me during this phase of life is to make time to come up for air- to do things that make me feel simply human. Things that stretch my mind. Things that make me laugh. Things that get me outdoors- this is when my mind and heart really calms. Or sometimes just things like getting an uninterrupted shower… this can feel like a truly divine experience after a particularly draining day. Self care looks different for different people, but the need is real. We shouldn’t delay putting our own oxygen masks on. Self care doesn’t mean we make life perfect for ourselves and screw over everyone else. But it does mean that I recognize that if I’m not reasonably healthy then I’m not really gonna end up being the mom, wife, and friend I need and want to be. If Jesus ran away from the crowds to refresh then you darn well better believe I’m allowed to.
 
One last that helps me in this time of life is knowing how important the work of raising kids is. This applies to all parents, stay-at-home or not (the whole post does, really). One of my biggest goals in life is to bring a little more Jesus to the world. A little more wholeness. A little more life. These things come through relationships, including our relationships with our kids and our family’s relationships with our church, with our community, and with our God. Raising a family and forming these wider relationships forces me to put a lot of my big thoughts and ideas into the messy context of life. My big theoretical ideas that can feel squelched or stunted by life are already going to work in a thousand little ways in the realities of that very life.

There are times I think we make too big of a deal about ‘finding ourselves’ or ‘losing ourselves’. We are individuals, to be sure. It is healthy to have a sense of who YOU are- what your values are, what you like, what your personality is. But I don’t think the self is the end all of fulfillment.  There is a level of fluidity to who we are. We are communal beings. We are more when we are together than we could be as a bunch of disconnected individuals. The self is deeply connected to and affected by many other ‘selfs’ in this world. Motherhood inevitably changes me- my ‘self’ changes. My relationships change ME.  Who I am is woven into my ties with others.

When all is said and done, my ‘self’ is lost and found and transformed in the context of my relationships.

happy mother and little daughter play at sunset

 

black and white and shades of understanding

I expected I’d sit down to write sometime today. I got up with my kids, drank coffee, and worked on reading John Walton’s book about Adam and Eve. I thought I’d work on a blog post about that topic since related issues have been on my mind.

Then I checked facebook and saw that a friend had brought up the topic of black hair styles and cultural appropriation. And so my morning reading took a totally different turn. This post caught my eye because I’d been thinking for awhile about getting braids. Every time I see a black woman with those million tiny braids, I think two words: “beautiful” and “want”. On the other hand, when I hear the words ‘cultural appropriation’ I think “blackface” and “offensive Halloween costumes”.

So, unsettled after reading that facebook post, I asked my friend Tracey what she thought about me getting braids. Tracey is one of my go-to people when I need a black perspective on, well, any thing. She shared her thoughts and a couple of links about cultural appropriation. I spent the morning reading and parenting and suddenly it was lunch time.

black ethnicity hands pulling rope against white Caucasian race
Pursuing a deeper understanding of racial issues has been an 6ish year journey for me so far (and will surely last me until die). Up until 6 years ago I’m someone whose understanding of modern American racial issues would have been summed up with phrases like “well, injustice used to exist in America, but now the problems regarding the black community are just cultural”. Read: “The problems the black community experiences are because of some real cultural problems they need to deal with. End of story.” Also, to add another layer, I was someone who wept for joy when Barack Obama was elected, despite having not voted for him, because “look how far we’ve come… maybe this will help heal the hurt that lingers”.

I grew up in a diverse town, but never really had any black friends. I went to a Christian (white evangelical) school and went to a mostly white church. I ‘knew’ black people, but didn’t really KNOW black people… not enough to talk openly and honestly and CURIOUSLY about racial issues.

About 6 years ago I began a friendship with Petula, a young black Bajan woman who had recently moved up here after marrying an American from the area. Our friendship and her feedback on being a black woman in our part of the country pushed my white fragility buttons. I pushed back. She pushed back. I began to consider that maybe my perspective on what a black woman in America “should” feel wasn’t necessarily solid. Maybe. So I started doing some mental exercises, imagining what it would feel like to be black in America in light of the cultural and historical context. I started reading and thinking about it more. I met Tracey. She pushed (pushes) my white fragility buttons even more. I read more. (A whole actual world of perspectives open before you if you are willing to go read them.) I ask more. I still push back sometimes. Meanwhile we have racial injustice and tensions coming more and more to the forefront of our national dialogue.

Column of books and young man with laptop

There is no end to this story. I mean, there is, but I don’t know the details. “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice”, said Dr King. My effort, in light of this great hope, it to bend towards justice myself.

How do I bend towards justice though? How do I move in the direction of being a healer in our broken world where injustice is so woven into our stories?

1. As a white woman, I have to admit that there are many ways in which I am blind. We are all blind in some ways, to be sure, but I’m in charge of me. I have to be willing to admit that there are things I’m conditioned to notice, and things I’m conditioned not to notice. There are things I know about our racial history, and so many things I’m still learning… and so many things I don’t even know I don’t know. There always will be. If there is one thing that stands out to me in my study of theology, it is that context matters. Our context and our worldview frame how we see ourselves and others. Our context and perspective shape the many subconscious assumptions we make. I had to realize that being white in a world where white men have long been at the top of the food chain has shaped the way I see things and the way I don’t see things.

2. I have to embrace some conflict and discomfort. Look, my biggest breakthrough moments in gaining more empathy for and understanding of my black friends came AFTER I got really pissed and/or pissed them off. I had to ask myself if I was honestly open to the idea that maybe oppression is still real and that I’ve been quite blind to it or even participated in it through my attitudes and actions. And really, the more familiar I get with these issues and the injustice others face in our world, the more that discomfort seems not worth mentioning. Still, it is a genuine hurdle when I’m in the midst of it.

3. Which brings me to this: I have get teachable and curious and humble in the arena of racial relations. That humility part sounds nice and Christiany I guess, but healthy humility is incredibly difficult. Side note: healthy humility exposes our weaknesses and vulnerabilities and leaves our value and essence intact. But it still is painful because our default is to wear pride like invisible protective scales. Humility requires I shed those scales and that hurts. Teachability means I admit I don’t know, but also that I want to learn… and curiosity is what drives me to want to learn.

4. Also, I have to embrace nuance and shades of gray. While I aim to be humble and teachable, I refuse to give up a healthy dose of skepticism. I don’t believe things easily, and when I change my mind about something, I want it to be because I SHOULD change my mind, not because I fully trust every new opinion or perspective I hear. My mother-in-law calls me a ‘late adopter’ because I’m quick to doubt and poke holes in new (and old) ideas. It’s true. So on this issue it leaves me with a lot of gray area- places where I feel I have bits and pieces of the big picture but don’t feel like I have it all figured out or know exactly what the big picture solution will look like. For example: tensions between cops and the black community. There are so many angles and people involved here and I’m simply not willing say I think this is cut and dry. It looks very pixelated and 3-D to me. To get to the completely clear cut bits of the story we have to zoom in so much that we discover each person himself is pixelated in some way. Make sense? I suppose I’m just saying I think that if we want to bend toward justice then we must bend toward truth, even when that truth has layers and nuance.

5. Lastly, while I love to speak and think in the world of ideas, nothing substitutes for our individual relationships and actions. Whether you are an ideas person or a hands on ‘what about the practical, real life stuff?’ person, we must live out justice in our day to day life. We must be open to people who are in some ways unlike us: our neighbor, our schoolmate, our landscaper, our boss. We must commit to allowing our eyes to be opened to our own assumptions and attitudes and actions. We must commit to ‘doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly’- before God and others. I don’t exactly know the ‘big picture action plan’ for combating injustice, but I do believe it will look like people everywhere doing the next right thing that’s set before us.

Salty Politics

With election season in full swing and the drama around the recent and upcoming changes in the Supreme Court, my mind has been in serious politics mode lately. I’m listening to people debate about who the best candidates are, about whether President Obama could/should nominate a new justice, and about policy troubles both foreign and domestic. However, I’m a bit zeroed in on another dimension of it all at the moment: the political tone in our country.

When people talk about Christianity and politics, the conversation is normally centered on positions and policies:
What is the right/biblical role of government?
Should we stop or support gay marriage?
Should we help the poor through the government or rely on private programs?
How do we protect innocent lives?
Is the death penalty just?
How much should we regulate/tax/spend?
When should we go to war?

Great questions. There are some even broader questions we ask in some of my circles:
How closely connected should church and state be?
Should a Christian serve in the military?
How much should a Christian invest into politics anyways- isn’t God’s kingdom not of this world?

Important questions, everyone of them.

However, for all our talk of theology and policy I think we can really miss a fundamental element of what it means to live out our Christian identity.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

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Jesus is telling His hearers here that they are to have both a preserving and flavoring effect on the world around them. So what is does that even mean? How do we preserve? What is the ‘flavor’of a Jesus follower? And how can this play out in a political environment?

Well, most Christians know to say that the chief characteristic of a Christian is love. ‘They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love…’ right? But seriously, has the word ‘love’ come to be seen as cliche and thoughtless? Should we at least unpack what we mean by that? Surely the Bible gives us plenty of examples of what love is. Love is patient and kind, it’s not self-seeking. Love is laying down your life for another. Love seeks the truth.

Ok, those are all very true and good, but I suspect they still seem cliche. So let me turn to one of my favorite chapters in the Bible- Philippians 2.

This passage speaks of Christ’s humility and how we are to imitate it in our relationships with each other. It speaks of love in a familiar way but focuses in on how Christ’s love for us was necessarily humble.

 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,

 did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

Now this particular passage was aimed at believers’ relationships with each other, but I see no reason we not apply this description of love to our relationships with other people… Especially when we consider here that the example we are to follow is Jesus’, and he served all in this way.

Back to politics. Here is my angle: What if part of our mission as Christians in a democratic society isn’t just what our policies are, but what our posture is?

What if we thought it was as important to value our political opponents above ourselves as it was to make our point about how the government should handle immigration? What if we thought it was as important to share power as it was to retain plenty of it? What if listening and being people who take time to understand others was as important to us as arguing for a better/bigger/smaller/more efficient government program? What if being aware of our own fallibility was as big of a deal to us as ‘standing for righteousness’ in our condemnation of those-things-those-people-do?

Gosh, I feel like I’m saying nothing new here, but dammit, we sure don’t act like we we give a shit about our political opposition. We talk about love, but we are so quick to demonize people on ‘the other side’. That is not love. We assume terrible motives. That is not love. We rarely take a second to understand the perspectives of people who are “CLEARLY” on the wrong side of our most deeply held cultural convictions. This is not what Jesus meant when he said to love. We walk in deep fear of what will come of our privileges and rights. There is no room for love in that.

We are failing to be salt when we act like simply having political victory is our end game. Being like Jesus is our end game. He somehow managed to value and care for people who were all over the cultural and political map. We must find a way to do the same.

Now look, Jesus wasn’t a politician. Power and government and many of the political hot buttons of the day look nothing like they do now. This is *part* of why Christians disagree on political issues so much. May that fact actually help us give even more grace to each other and ourselves as we wade through the swamp of this nasty election season. But even if we see some issues as perfectly clear and obvious, it seems rather evident to me that we are never given leave from loving others. Enemies, friends, Christians, non Christians, Americans, Iraqis. We simply don’t get a pass on that. And when we love people, we value them. We look for ways to meet their needs and understand them better. It doesn’t mean we always  find agreement. I doesn’t mean a solution to the problem at hand will always be clear. But we don’t get to stop taking a humble and loving posture towards others. If we do, we are losing our saltiness and have sacrificed the core element of our calling.

 

why I’m stuck as a political moderate

Because I believe that people need to take responsibility for themselves;
And that people need to take responsibility for each other.

Because I believe that unfettered capitalism and socialism both fix some problems;
And create other problems.

Because I believe that liberty is essential for humanity to flourish;
And that we need to guard against my liberty threatening your freedom to flourish.

Because I believe that nearly 20 trillion dollars of federal debt is a very serious problem;
And that neither side of the aisle is actually interested in addressing it.

Because I believe that people have a bent towards gaming the system;
And that the wealthy and well connected have that same bent and even more ability to game the system effectively.

Because I believe we have a work ethic problem in this country;
And that we have an opportunity problem as well.

Because I believe that power corrupts;
And that when we find ourselves in the position of power we must use it humbly and wisely.

Because I believe unborn human life is to be protected;
And that the best way to protect it isn’t always to pass more laws.

Because I believe we are a nation of immigrants who calls out to the huddled masses;
And that we are a nation that rightly values order and law.

Because I believe ‘privilege’ is a reality and causes unremedied injustice;
And that not every hardship is a result of someone having a disadvantage.

Because I believe that black and white and right and wrong are real things;
And that we need to learn that shades of gray are real things too.

Because I believe America has been a wonderful experiment;
And that we aren’t the last best hope for mankind.

Because I believe we rely too heavily on character attacks on those with whom we disagree.

Because I believe non-American lives matter just as much as American lives.

Because I believe nuance and honesty are the most undervalued qualities in today’s political and cultural discourse.

Because I believe compromise is not a dirty word.

Because I believe we’d do well to stop shouting across the aisle and lay down our talking points long enough to consider the perspective others bring to the table.

Friendship>Evangelism

I grew up hearing and learning about the concept of evangelism. I learned about missionaries who went to far away countries to win people for Jesus. I knew about people who handed out tracts to win people for Jesus. I knew about people who would hold rallies and church services and give alter calls to win people for Jesus. These were all forms of evangelism I was familiar with. I won’t bore you with Greek, but in the Biblical context, evangelism is literally about sharing the good news of Jesus. In my mind this has all centered around the goal of sharing that good news in order to invite people to become a follower of Jesus. Win them. Convert them. Evangelism 101.

So one other way we talk about evangelizing is by talking about ‘friendship evangelism’. The logic behind friendship evangelism goes like this:
‘People don’t care what they know till they know that you care.’
‘People don’t respond well to tracts anymore, we need to be more relational.’
‘People are more likely to respond to the gospel if it comes from a friend or family member.’

Many great and true points here.

However, I have one beef with friendship evangelism: we can easily miss out on true friendship because we have one very specific goal in the relationship. That goal in this case? Win people to Jesus. What happens when you are ‘trying to reach someone’ through friendship evangelism and realize they really, really have no interest in Jesus? Do we suddenly feel like that friendship is a waste of time or that our effort has failed or that we should move on and reach out to someone else? If so, then I believe we are missing out on really living out the good news of Jesus. The irony is that the reason we are missing out on becoming like Jesus is because we are so busy trying to win people TO Jesus. Following me?

Let me say it this way: when we as believers joined the Jesus family, we signed up to be transformed into people who are compatible with God. We signed up to have our selfishness burned away, to exchange our goals for God’s goals, to love Him with our whole selves, and ultimately to be transformed into people who love as indiscriminately as the Father does.

I heard a speaker this last weekend- the most excellent Jen Hatmaker. She was speaking of Jesus’ tendency to hang with the less than upright Jews and show kindness to Gentiles and Samaritans and even Roman soldiers (read, oppressors). She said something to the extent of ‘when Jesus loves, He loves like a FRIEND… He doesn’t treat people like a photo-op or a project or a sob story. He treats people like FRIENDS.’

The difference between a project and a friend is that a friend is an equal. Both parties in a friendship have something to contribute to the relationship. They don’t treat you like a person to talk down to or fix. A real friend doesn’t just start a friendship in order to get you to do them a favor or sell you something. In fact, if you’ve ever been cornered by an acquaintance you haven’t seen in years who suddenly is acting like your BFF and five minutes later tells you should start selling weight loss shakes in their awesome company and that with just a tiny bit of work you’ll both be independently wealthy for life, you know what I’m saying. Extreme example I realize, but you know what I mean, right? You don’t feel like that person is being a real friend… in that case you feel primarily like you are a business prospect being recruited for a pyramid scheme.

If we are becoming like Jesus, we will learn to be real friends, agendas aside. OF COURSE we want people to know Jesus. But do we also realize how vitally important it is for us to be LIKE Jesus ourselves?  Do we realize that if we are knowing Jesus more and more, then we will become better friends to believers and non-believers alike? If we are becoming like Jesus we will see that caring for people, loving them, being a good neighbor and friend, is a very important aspect of us living out the good news whether or not our friends ever decide to follow Jesus themselves. This goes for all of our lives: when we live well, when we act in love towards other people, when we work well, when we are truthful and kind, when we care for this earth God put us on, when we create beautiful art, when we pursue justice and mercy, we are living out our redemption. We are living out the gospel.

We must get our own house in order, our own selves in order. If we, the people who say we follow Jesus, are living out the beautiful reality of what it looks like to know God, then perhaps others will find our good news more compelling. Or not, who am I to say? But regardless of who else decides to follow Jesus, surely it can be nothing but good for the whole world if we Christians look more and more like our Christ.

10 Rules of Engagement: talking to your formerly Christian friends and family

So there is this thing that’s been on my mind; I’ve been thinking about how sometimes when we try to ‘witness’ or talk about Jesus with non-Christians, we end up having a more negative impact than a positive one. Not always of course, but often. No group is this more true with than non-Christians who used to be Christians.

So I want to throw out some ideas, some unsolicited suggestions, for how to have better conversation, how to be better friends, and ultimately how we can exercise love.

Stop trying so hard. It is alienating when you feel hounded, right? Like say your aunt can’t stop critiquing your parenting or your step brother can’t stop telling you about how you’d really be more successful in your career if you would just take his advice… You begin to feel badgered, right? You begin to expect that this is going to keep coming up and it makes you dread talking to that person. Don’t be that guy when it comes to trying to get your formerly Christian loved one to come back to Jesus. It really isn’t likely to help when the only thing you care to relate with them about is how they need to change.

Exercise Empathy. Take a few minutes to mentally step into their shoes. Imagine: you were a devout Christian for many years. You are surrounded by Christian friends and family. Upon examining your faith, you come to the realization that you just don’t believe this any more. You come out with this reality to your friends and family. This information radically alters all your relationships. You wish people could see more than the fact that you don’t believe when they look at you, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. This is very painful.
Please sit with that for a bit.
Also sit with the very real fact that while you’ve probably never been in their non-believing shoes, they have already been in the Christian shoes. They may well know more of what it feels like to be you than you know what it’s like to be them. We need to exercise a good deal of humility there.

Next, Exercise Appreciation. Now sit with the fact that we ALL want to be cared about as we are… not be disappointed in for who we aren’t. Think about this the next time you are with your non-Christian friend. Care about him for who he is. Enjoy her company. Appreciate their many good qualities- their honesty, their intelligence, their humor, their kindness. There is something wonderful about being able to appreciate people as they are, no strings attached. Be at peace in that gift.

Leave the Bible verses in your head. While it can be so tempting for us Christians to slip a Bible verse or other reference to God or Christianity into conversation, please know that your formerly Christian family member won’t forget what Christianity teaches just because you stop bringing it up. I promise, if they were a devout Christian in the past, they know the verses and all the Christian things. The Bible isn’t a book of magical incantations that, if injected into conversation, is bound to have positive effects. In fact, it is probably doing the opposite at this point.

By all means pray for for them but leave that in your head too. If they know you are a Christian and that you care for them, they likely assume you pray for them… But telling them about it when you know that they adamantly don’t believe can border strongly on being passive-aggressive. We should do it, but let’s listen to Jesus and keep it quiet.

Angry fury woman screaming man closes his ears.

It’s ok to ask genuine questions. Maybe I’m going out on a limb a bit, but I don’t think most people mind an honest question. This comes with two big caveats though. One is HONEST. Honest question. As in, we are asking because you desire to understand better, not because we are looking to start a conversation where we launch into a monologue about how they are wrong and need to come back to Jesus. The other caveat is that sometimes people want to talk about other things. Sometimes it’s ok to just talk about things that we have more in common.

Answer honest questions. If there is good dialogue happening, they may ask you questions or otherwise give you an opening to share your heart and thoughts. Do so not with a canned speech, but from a place of authenticity and openness, free from defensiveness or pressure to make something happen.

An important tag on to that is that boundaries are to be respected. Maybe it would be a good idea, when we want to broach the heavy topic of faith, that we ask if it’s ok. Like “hey, friend, I’ve had a something on my mind I’ve been wanting to ask you about regarding faith, would that be ok?” If they say yes, proceed. If they say no, don’t. No good will come of pushing through.

Don’t try to use guilt. Don’t talk about how sad Granny is because her grand baby isn’t a believer and she is worried for them. Don’t remind them that their parents are disappointed and wondering where they went wrong. Don’t tell them about how their kids are praying for them to come back to church. Not. Help.ing. Really, do we want someone’s motivation for coming back to Jesus to be that they were guilted? No way.

Lastly, be at peace. As Christians, we believe in the ultimate goodness of God, right? There is no fear in love, right? Then relax and trust the whole thing to Him. Everyone in our lives, including our non-believing loved ones, will benefit from us being at peace. It is not on us to save them. It is on us to love them. Lean on love and be at peace.

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