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.

glasses-beach

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.

kid-glasses

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.
Dollarphotoclub_103701893

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.

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.

Dollarphotoclub_98369407
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.”

Dollarphotoclub_102436486.jpg

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.