I Lied (Kind Of)

Tired

Gentle Reader,

When I wrote that I needed to take a sort-of break from writing, I was telling the truth. I don’t want to stick to a posting schedule right now. What wasn’t true is that I lack inspiration. I mean, I do. In a way. I am working out where God wants to take this little blog of mine. I want to be faithful to His leading.

But.

What I did not say is that I am tired. Very, very tired.

Over the last coupleish years, I have written about controversial topics and taken positions on those topics that are often unpopular among some. The rise of Trumpism, as distinct from traditional conservatism, has been deeply bothersome to me, but what has truly been alarming is the ongoing attempts to justify his lifestyle and actions (as well as those of the current administration and Congress) using Scripture. The combining of biblical worldview and ethics with a particular party and set of political positions, leading to the assumption that the two are the same, is incredibly annoying. The outrage over peaceful protests makes no sense to me; you may not agree with the position of the protester, but you can’t deny they have that right. On and on it goes.

In recent days, the Twitterverse has labeled me both a fundamentalist for affirming the literal, bodily resurrection of Christ (you know, the central article of the faith) and a liberal for finding a recent statement regarding social justice to be equal parts unnecessary, needlessly divisive and far too vague. As to the resurrection, I’ve heard that it’s not needed; one can be a Christian without believing, which makes zero sense because then what the heck are you here for? As to the statement, I’ve been told to take it at face value, to not consider the positions, teachings and other statements of the framers and initial signers, which makes zero sense because context matters.

Like I said, I’m so tired. Not only is the political world a dumpster fire, but Gnosticism rears it’s ugly head once more, a Gnosticism that denies the resurrection and a Gnosticism that elevates the spiritual over the material. I don’t really have a dog in either conflict, so to speak, because the one is taking place within Anglicanism and the other within the Reformed movement. After all, I’m just a breath away from being a heretic, by virtue of holding to Arminian and egalitarian positions.

Grin.

Actually, I have been called a heretic this week for not signing the statement. But here’s the thing: I have spent the last year purposefully looking for and following biblically sound men and women of color. I live in a fairly ethnically homogeneous area, so I don’t have much opportunity to interact with people who don’t look like me. I thought that it was important for me to seek out those whose theology is sound but whose lived experiences are different from my own. I wanted to hear their perspectives and stories.

I haven’t always agreed with everything these people have said (when is that ever true?), but I have learned. A lot. There is real, ongoing pain and struggle. Heartache that I and many others are largely unaware of, because it’s not part of our daily lives. So while I can and do agree with significant chunks of the theology contained in that statement – the affirmations – I can’t get in line with the denials. I can’t divorce social justice from the Gospel. Submitting to Christ necessitates that I work to help and care for the marginalized and oppressed. Committed, solid believers can disagree on what that looks like on a practical level, but we can’t disagree that Scripture consistently testifies to God’s commanding His people to do justly.

(Side note: I don’t know all of the ins and outs of this particular social justice fight. As I said, I’m not Reformed. A lot of what the Calvinists argue about leaves me looking at them with a strong side-eye. I do know that certain people have gotten into Twitter snits, which isn’t helpful in any way. I can and do extend charity to the authors of the statement; it’s possible that they did not mean to come across the way they did. Basically, I wish that the leading personalities on all sides had gotten together and had discussions).

So tired.

That’s why I haven’t wanted to write. That’s the real reason. I’m exhausted in trying to explain, over and over again, things that seem so obvious to me. I make my conservative friends mad. I make my liberal friends mad. And I weep as I watch the Body tear itself apart not over doctrine, for the most part (save for the strange resurrection debate), not over orthodoxy, but over orthopraxy, the way the faith is lived out. I watch brothers and sisters who genuinely, strongly hold to Scriptural teaching beat each other up over whether Republicans or Democrats should be in power. I observe and sometimes participate in complete distractions to the Great Commission.

I’m a Bible teacher. Down at the bottom line, at the base, I want people to know Scripture because I want them to know who God is. I want people to love Jesus because He loves them. I am the farthest thing from perfect or smartest, but I strive to look at every issue through a biblical lens. I want to live out the ethics of Christ. Frankly, we (the hugely general, extremely broad, American church as a whole “we”) aren’t doing a good job of that. Our lack of knowledge, lack of wisdom, lack of love, lack of patience, lack of grace and lack of understanding the “now” aspect of the “not yet” Kingdom clearly, glaringly shows.

That “we” gets me into trouble, too. I don’t have a problem acknowledging the corporate, communal nature of our problems and sins. This doesn’t mean that I own things that I don’t need to own or feel that I have to atone for a group. It just means that I see the Body as my family, my peeps, and we have problems, which means I have problems. We rise together and we go down together.

I have done what Paul says not to do. I’ve grown weary of doing good. I am so, so ready to throw in the towel on this blog, on teaching. I’m ready to delete all of my social media accounts and disappear. The worst part of it all is that the weariness washes over me following interactions with fellow believers. This should not be. Satan stands and laughs as the children of God rip each other to shreds.

We must do better.

But this is not all. The last drops of energy are drained from me by something personal, something that shakes me to my core and causes me to question whether I can write or teach or do anything of value at all. The sensitive places, the areas in which I struggle, are simultaneously hit, repeatedly. Violation, denial and then attack. I am, simply, vulnerable and discomfited and I hate that.

So, there you go. There’s the full truth, albeit with some vagueness that I believe to be necessary at this time. I have a lot to say, but right now, I need to say a lot of it privately, to God alone. My thoughts and words, coming from a place of exhaustion and anguish as they do, probably really only make sense to Him. They don’t always make sense to me.

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All the Titles I Came up With for This Looked Like Click-Bait

Priority

Gentle Reader,

I ache for the Church. My heart pounds within my chest, bouncing off my ribs in a thudding rhythm that fills my ears. I am distraught over the mess that she has gotten herself into. The Bride of Christ is dressed in dingy clothes. She is distracted. She hasn’t brought along enough oil to light her lamp through the long, dark night (Matthew 25:1-13). She does not watch. She sleeps, complacent.

The Church is my people. Much as I’d like to shake free at times, I can’t. I know that. You want Jesus, you get the Church. That’s how it works. I own my part in this. I admit to my flaws, imperfections, and straight up rebelliousness. But I believe that the time for shrugging shoulders and saying, “What can you do?” is over. It never should have been in the first place. The Holy Spirit’s hand of conviction is heavy upon His people everywhere you turn.

I wonder if we will respond.

“Where is this coming from and where is it going?,” you ask.

On June 29, I posted this paragraph on my personal Facebook page:

I often get into trouble for saying this, but patriotic displays have no place in worship. None. Zero. When we gather corporately, or when we engage privately in the spiritual disciplines, the focus is to be God and God alone. There are plenty of other times and places to talk or sing about our appreciation for whatever country we live in.

Most of what I post receives little attention (often none), so I was not expecting the controversy that followed. Because the above is not a controversial statement. I did not say that a patriotic person cannot be a Christian. I did not say that a Christian can’t be patriotic. I did not say that I hate anyone and everyone in the military. I did not say that I hate anyone and everyone on the police force. All I said was…well, what I said.

I have gotten into trouble for sharing this thought (or a variation thereof) before, which I guess should have given me some clue, but, again, I really expected this to go unnoticed. It didn’t.

Before you join those I angered and unsubscribe, let me give you just the newest in a long list of a reasons why I hold fast to this opinion, unpopular as it is: Robert Jeffress, the “pastor” of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, hosted a “Freedom Sunday” campaign rally (definitely not a church service) on June 24. This is the second year he has done so. Last year, the choir sang a brand-new composition: “Make America Great Again.” The “sanctuary” was draped in red, white and blue. The audience waved little flags in the air. Jeffress talked about how amazing America is and how wonderful President Trump is. I refuse to provide you links to the church or the song because you have Google and I won’t funnel traffic to either.

Because it’s disgusting.

I am the LORD, that is My name;
And My glory I will not give to another,
Nor My praise to carved images.

– Isaiah 42:8 (NKJV)

…I will not give My glory to another.

– Isaiah 48:11c (NKJV)

Do you suppose that God was joking around? Do you think His views have changed?

That rally was nothing less than an exercise in foul idolatry. On a Sunday, in a church, instead of preaching the Gospel, instead of digging into Scripture, instead of singing praise to God, this man led the people in the singing of praises to the country and the president. That is wrong. At least it was all very blatant and in-your-face, though. Have to give Jeffress credit for that. Congregations around the country routinely mix politics and patriotism with faith, engaging in the syncretism, largely out of ignorance, that ancient Israel was destroyed by. Many drape the Cross in the flag, literally and figuratively, assuming, perhaps unconsciously, that they belong together.

Do you think that God is pleased by this?

I wish that you could hear me speaking this aloud. I wish that you could hear the passion in my voice. This isn’t about anger or making people feel bad. I don’t think I’m better than you. What I am is desperate for Christians to understand this: The United States of America is not special. This is a country, like any other a country. A geographic location. A piece of earth. No American citizen is amazing or wonderful or exceptional by virtue of being an American citizen. Those of us who live here are the same as everyone else on the planet. Our history is just as checkered.

Additionally, Republican does not equal Christian nor is Donald Trump the second coming of Christ. So many behave as if both those things are true. They are willing to defend and justify anything this party or this man does because…I genuinely have no idea at this point. No Supreme Court justice appointment is worth the wrangling and compromise (nor should the court be politicized the way it has been, but honestly that’s always been an issue, to greater and lesser extents depending on who was president at the time, from the beginning). I guess people think they can get something out of it? That the GOP will make them rich through the not-miracle of trickle down economics? It’s a mystery to me.

Please, don’t object via soundbites such as “What about the Democrats?!” or “Her emails!” That’s not good argumentation. Believe me, I clearly see the corruption in politics as a whole (which has existed since the Continental Congress), and I am aware of the issues within the Democratic Party, but, objectively, neither the party nor Hillary Clinton is (or would have been) any worse than what we have now. If the Democrats were in power, there would be problems, no doubt, albeit different ones. (And I’d be writing about that if the Church had shackled herself to those leaders). But stubbornly folding your arms and declaring, “They did it, too,” wasn’t a good excuse for your parents and it’s not a good excuse now. Evil on one side does not give anyone license to promote or protect evil on the other side. I don’t know why this is difficult for anyone to grasp. Wrong is wrong no matter who does it.

We Protestants like to get on the Catholics for elevating Mary to a salvific position (which, for the record, they deny and really depends on the individual Catholic’s grasp of doctrine), but what about our own elevation of country? What about our own beliefs of exceptionalism and superiority? We can be thankful for the good in this country (and others can be thankful for the good in the countries in which they live) but that thankfulness is not blind, uncritical or unquestioning. Even the most casual, cursory reading of history reveals the rot that has always existed in the United States. And that thankfulness most certainly is not to be blended with theology to create some bizarre civic religion. This conflation goes directly against truths revealed in Scripture, truths about idolatry, about the make-up of the Kingdom of God, about the universality of the Gospel.

We have got to let go of this idea that we live in a “Christian nation.” We don’t. We never did. Yes, Christians were involved in the founding of this country, but they didn’t establish a theocracy. (Except the Puritans, who sort of tried that in Massachusetts, but they really aren’t the best example because they liked to burn, hang and otherwise harass people who didn’t agree with them, i.e. Quakers and a bunch of people in Salem). We have no hemeneutical leg to stand on in believing that we have replaced Israel, that we live in the “promised land,” and can therefore apply promises made to that nation to ourselves, here and now. We have no reason to think that we occupy a unique place in God’s plan beyond that of any other nation that He has allowed to rise and fall.

God says He won’t give His glory to another. He’s super blunt about it. Thus patriotic displays and songs don’t belong in our worship services. The “Star-Spangled Banner” and other songs that celebrate the nation should be expunged from hymnals. The flag doesn’t belong in the sanctuary. Pastors should not use the pulpit for anything other than preaching the Word. There are plenty of times and places for us to discuss and celebrate what we appreciate about this country. Corporate gathering for worship is not one of those times or places. How is this controversial? How is this offensive?

We need to check ourselves at all times, though. Beyond Sunday morning. As I said above, idolatry isn’t often so blatant as that at First Baptist. What are our priorities? Upon what are we focusing? Do we find ourselves arrogantly thinking, “Oh, thank God I’m not from an African country”? (Note that I said “arrogantly thinking,” as if we are better than those elsewhere, as if we are entitled to the prosperity and privilege in which we live, because reasons. It’s okay to be thankful that you don’t live in a country decimated by civil war and extreme poverty, though that thankfulness should lead to compassionate action toward those who do suffer in those conditions, including those who are impoverished here). Do we think that we have the right to traipse through the world, demanding special treatment?

Just as Christianity should not be tied to man-made plans or means, so it is not spread through societal dominance or political institutions. The world will not be saved by our allegiance to the temporal. People will not come to Christ by our smearing a thin veneer of ultimately false morality over the culture. The “city on a hill” from which the light shines (Matthew 5:14) is not this specific place, but all places, among all those who know the Lord. Our job is not to force a fake post-millennial utopia that will last approximately one minute until all hell breaks loose. Instead, our job is to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly (Micah 6:8). It is to care for the poor, oppressed and marginalized (1 John 3:17-18). It is to preach the Gospel of grace and restoration, mercifully supplied by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ (John 21:15-17).

That’s the thing about following Jesus, though – it means you’re rarely going to have a cultural army on your side. Jesus Himself was born into a world rocked by culture war, and he never really embraced the cause of the conservatives (Sadducees), or the liberals (Pharisees), or the radicals (Zealots), or even the…Benedict-option-types (Essenes). Instead He called them all to the same thing: “Repent and follow Me.”

The Fake Kidnapping Scandal That Almost Destroyed a Megachurch Pioneer

We can do better. We can be better. I know we can. The Holy Spirit will enable and empower us. It will take humility and repentance from us, which is extremely painful, but that pain is worth it. Because being American ultimately doesn’t matter. National distinctions disappear in the Kingdom, as our adoption by God through Christ makes us one global family. Our thankfulness and celebrations must always be tempered by this greater reality. Our brothers and sisters, our literal brothers and sisters, all of whom we will not meet until the culmination of this state of existence, are beautiful and entirely equal to us.

As for those who do not know and love the Lord: How can we go out into the world and preach the Gospel to them if we are not their servants, as the Savior modeled?

Dear God, help us to choose. Help us to release the white-knuckled grip we have on wrong notions and treasured positions that run contrary to Your will and way for us. We have been stupid and selfish. We have swallowed flattery and falsity because it makes us feel good. We have remained babies, refusing to grow, refusing to cooperate in Your work of sanctification. Help us to bend our stiff knees and necks to You. The hour is late. The harvest is great. It is time for us to get up and do the work that You commissioned us to do. In the glorious, saving, mighty Name of Jesus, Amen.

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Five Minute Friday: If

Repent

Gentle Reader,

So I was asleep on the couch before 6:00 p.m. last night and woke up long enough to wash my face, throw on some sweats and drop into bed.

Kate says: if.

Go.

Like all human beings, there are moments when I intentionally stir the pot or poke the bear because I want to see what happens. It’s like when you fight with a sibling; you know what buttons to push to really drive him crazy. And it always ends with everyone in angry tears.

But when I write about serious issues, it is not my intention to just throw a fire cracker into a circle of people so I can watch them freak out. It’s because I’m observing and participating in what’s happening in our churches, in our country, and it’s all disturbing. Deep, soul-roiling disturbing. I don’t pretend to be the smartest or to know the most, but I know enough to be able to confidently assert that faith and politics, whether of the conservative or liberal variety, have been conflated to the degree that party/ideology is seen as the savior.

We’ve very much become “Jesus, and…” people. Defending abhorrent actions of leaders, believing that the end justifies the means. Jesus and the Supreme Court appointee that we want. Jesus and the passage of this law. Jesus and us in a position of power. 

If we don’t step back and critically, even mercilessly, evaluate our actions, positions and words, we are in danger of truly destroying our witness in this country. People who are far smarter and wiser than I bluntly say that we need to repent. Those who don’t follow Christ need to see us, hear us, repent.

God, forgive us, forgive me, for focusing on the temporal. You tell us that we are strangers and aliens. You tell us that this world isn’t our home. You tell us that we are to be servants, that we don’t have permission to oppress others. You say that if we love You, we will show it by obeying Your commands – to love others, to speak truth, to do justly, to walk humbly. Empower us, Father, to make the choice that we cannot make on our own, which is to be about Your business. To prioritize Your will over and above all else. Help us remember that Your church spans the globe and encompasses all nationalities, ethnicities and languages. Our identity is found in You, not in the soil upon which we were born or live.

Forgive us for turning a blind eye to sin or attempting to justify it because we think we can get something out of the person or the decision. Forgive us for remaining silent in the face of evil. Forgive us for ignoring the bleeding man on the road. Forgive us for our pride and our complacency.

Holy Spirit, lay Your hand of conviction heavily upon us. Show us where we, where I, have gone wrong. Grant us eyes to see and ears to hear. Cleanse us, Jesus. Renew our hearts. Fill us with holy love and zeal. In the Name of Christ, Amen.

Stop.

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Where Has All the Conscience Gone?

Storm

Gentle Reader,

The view from my window is not a pretty one. The wind blows, pulling at the early summer roses, forcing them to release their petals. The sky darkens, clouds laden with rain and hail. The birds are silent, hunkered down in their nests, beaks tucked into their feathers. The roughly 2-foot scar on my abdomen throbs. A storm is brewing.

In 1955, Pete Seeger wrote the first version of the folk song Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Penned just after the fall of Joseph McCarthy but before the United States became heavily involved in Vietnam, the lyrics are oddly prophetic, beginning with:

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

And ending with:

Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Covered with flowers every one
When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?

Indeed, when will we ever learn?

I am ashamed of this government, these people who call themselves leaders. They play politics while children scream and shudder, wondering if they will ever see their parents again. I am appalled by those who speak of immigration in cold and abstract terms, forgetting that there are real humans involved. I am angered by Christians who dismiss the immigrants, especially the children, who say “they aren’t ours to worry about.”

Jesus begs to differ.

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?

So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”

But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”

And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

– Luke 10:25-37 (NKJV; emphasis mine)

I am not a lawyer nor an expert in the law. I don’t pretend to be. I do know that legally emigrating to the United States is a far more difficult process than most of us realize. I do know that someone from a poverty-stricken country isn’t going to have thousands of dollars to go through the process (application fees, lawyer fees, travel costs; see this for an example). I do know that our government has contributed to the problems in Mexico and Central American countries via ignoring certain dictators because it benefits us, raising tariffs on goods, overthrowing the occasional president.

I do know that these people are our neighbors and they’re crying out for help.

Will there be some who manipulate the system? Yes. Does that mean you slam the door in everyone’s faces? No.

The United States isn’t a theocracy; we aren’t a Christian nation. But there are Christians living here and if that’s you, you can be sure that Jesus commands you to love your neighbor – all people, everywhere, sacrificially, all the time. It doesn’t matter if the immigrant who moves in next door is here legally or not. Our job is to love and serve.

Our consciences are seared on this issue. We think we have rights and privileges because of where we were born, rights and privileges that we must defend, at all costs, against “those people.” Well, “those people” are quite literally the same as us. Same biology, same aspirations, same needs. Why are we building walls – literally and metaphorically – when we are given no leave to do so in Scripture, which is supposedly our foundation for living? Why are we so desperate to cling to the passing, fading, identity of “nation” when we’re flat out told that we don’t belong here (see Hebrews 13:14, 1 Peter 2:11)?

I’m hardly an anarchist. I believe in order. I believe in obeying the laws. I also believe that our allegiance is to God, over and above all else, and when the direction the country takes is contrary to His way, we stand up, say so, and tenaciously stick to His path. Our ancient brothers and sisters did so when they refused to worship the emperor of Rome and when they rescued babies left out to die in the cold. Our brothers and sisters living in the shadow of the Third Reich did so when they hid Jewish people and helped smuggle them out of the country. They saw the evil for what it was. They didn’t attempt to defend or justify it.

It’s time for us to let go of the illusion of the United States as morally superior and innocent. We aren’t. This country is just like any other throughout history. Good and bad, bright and blight. We aren’t special. We aren’t unique. Right now, we horrify people around the world. This “zero tolerance” policy is wrong. Refusing to really do anything about it – all parties are guilty of this – is wrong.

Christian, you and me have to face this. We have to stop making excuses and we certainly, definitely, absolutely have to stop twisting and abusing Scripture the way Attorney General Jeff Sessions did in his attempt to justify separating families at the border. We have to get real and stop believing that any political party – GOP or otherwise – is the “party of Jesus.” When our government does something wrong, ours should be the voices raised the loudest, speaking truth and defending those harmed by the action. We need to recognize lies we’ve believed and reject them.

We can – and should – care about all those who are marginalized: the children, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, the immigrants. We must use our privilege wisely and effectively. We were once the children and time will make us the elderly. We are all one disaster away from becoming the poor, the disabled, the immigrant.

God loves them, just as He loves us. Jesus died for them, just as He died for us.

We are all the same.

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