Five Minute Friday: Burden

Neighbor

Gentle Reader,

Attended my first homeowner’s association meeting last night.

Handy that that experience lends to a lot of thoughts around this prompt.

Kate says: burden.

Go.

Chris usually goes to the meetings because, honestly, I just haven’t cared to. As long as my neighbors keep their yards clean and are generally quiet (meaning no blaring music at midnight), then it’s all good. Do your thing. But Chris couldn’t go, and we got a passive aggressive letter from the HOA board in the mail that annoyed me, so I forced myself to remain in real pants past 6:30 p.m., signed myself in and sat at a table in a crowded American Legion hall.

The first hour-ish was boring. A lot of complaining about sprinkler systems that none of us have control over. Because Idaho is all about de-regulation, the designers of the neighborhood apparently didn’t have to file irrigation plans with the city, and some of the irrigation boxes are actually on private property, so a good chunk of them can’t be located by the landscaping company, who have been fired because of expenses, etcetera, etcetera. Riveting.

Then came the discussion about the people who have failed to pay their homeowner’s dues. As the young kids say, it was lit.

I get it. There are always going to be those who feel they are above the rules. They should be held accountable. Of course. No problem.

But what about those who experience sudden job loss? Idaho is a “right to work” state, so anyone can be “let go” at any time, for almost any reason. What about those who are sick and struggling to pay medical bills? If it were me, and I had to pick whether to pay the hospital or the HOA, I’m paying the hospital. What about those who have to choose between setting aside money to pay a yearly fee and using that money to provide for their children? The kids win, hands down.

So, I asked the board what the communication process looks like. I believe that we all tend to assume that other’s life experiences are much the same as our own. We theoretically understand that the poor are always among us, but we don’t always move from the theory to the reality. Does the board reach out to the individuals? Do they take the time to listen to the stories? Could we set up a separate fund that homeowners can voluntarily contribute to throughout the year to help cover shortfalls? Maybe that fund could function as a scholarship that those who are struggling could apply for?

Did you know that if you ask those kinds of questions, you are a socialist?

Jesus makes it super clear that loving others often entails coming alongside them, helping them shoulder burdens when appropriate and, if necessary, teaching and empowering them to make better choices in the future. We do exactly nobody any good when we sit there in our smug superiority and shame them. As if we are immune to sudden devastation! Any one of us can lose everything at any time. Nobody is guaranteed a trouble-free life. Nobody is even guaranteed the next breath.

I am weary of living in a culture, both secular and church-ly, that grows angrier, blinder and harder by the day. God, open our eyes to our selfishness. 

Stop.

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Today, Tomorrow and the Next Day

Trust

Gentle Reader,

Over the last month, there have been scores of articles written, stressing the importance of voting. This midterm election has taken on a weight, an importance, that I don’t recall seeing before. We are all Chicken Little, but instead of the sky falling, we fear, and even believe, that our country is coming to pieces.

I look out my front window. We have new neighbors. They’ve been here since early September. I’ve yet to get up the courage to go and introduce myself. They’ve been busy getting settled, anyway, running loads to here from whence they came. When I do cross the street and extend my hand, my first question will not be, “Who did you vote for in 2016? 2018?”

Because who wants to start off a relationship like that?

Politicians have sold us a great lie: The neighbor is the enemy. This simply isn’t true. Unless you live near a Neo-Nazi, chances are pretty good that those in the homes within shouting distance want the same things you do. A job, good schools, safe neighborhoods. Chances are also pretty good that everyone up and down your street disagrees on how to achieve those things, and just what role the government should play in the achievement, but down at the base level, where it really matters, people are just people.

We forget that. All of us, so tuned into what our leaders have to say, find our sinful, baser natures rising to the forefront. Fears of “the other” and “the different” and “the invader” have been stoked, and blatantly. It behooves those in power to stir us up and create suspicion. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, the house that is divided shall not stand. He uttered these words in 1858, on the eve of civil war, when brother took up arms against brother.

Do we want to repeat this history?

Yes, I believe that if we do not check ourselves, we will wreck ourselves. Violence is the natural, logical conclusion when people feed on fear and hate. Perhaps not tomorrow. Maybe not even next year. But eventually.

I won’t tell you who to vote for. I won’t even tell you to vote. As I write this, the polls open in less than 24 hours and I have yet to decide if I will be among those waiting for a ballot. Not because I think voting is pointless – I don’t. It matters a great deal. A couple of weeks ago I was sure; now, I feel a heaviness knowing that, once again, it will come down to choosing the “lesser of two evils.”

Is that a choice that a Christian can or should make?

Wrong is still wrong, isn’t it, even if varied by degrees?

You’ve read here of my love of politics. Long have I been fascinated by the history, the personalities and the processes. Today, I am sickened instead. Waves of nausea wash over me as I ponder what lies before us. Nobody knows exactly what tomorrow holds, but it is not too far a stretch to make an educated guess. More anger, more division, more trouble.

Unless we choose differently.

We legislate morality. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. Murder, robbery, abuse – all sinful, all penalized. What we cannot do, and must stop attempting to do, is legislate Christianity. This marriage of faith and politics, this reckless and futile attempt to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, right now, in the United States, as a distinct physical and political entity (read this as a jumping off point), must stop. There will be no utopia before the return of Christ. And His return certainly isn’t going to be forced by us.

Before you go to sleep tonight, examine yourself. Take a good, long, hard inventory of your heart and mind. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal both cherished and hidden sins. Ask Him to grant you the strength to repent. If you choose to vote tomorrow, be sure that you do so with His agenda squarely in focus.

Because that’s what we are to be about. Today, tomorrow and the next day.

Let us choose differently. Vote, don’t vote – that’s not an answer I have. What I can tell you is that, whatever the results are, we have to learn that sanctification is a process meant to change all parts of our lives. Nothing is to be held back from the refining fire of the Spirit’s touch. For some of us that might mean choosing to listen to the stories of an immigrant family (legal or otherwise). For others that might look like turning off the obnoxious cable news and reading the Bible a little longer than usual. I don’t know what God is asking of you, but I know it’s something, because that’s what He does.

Listen. Oh, please, let’s listen. Let’s choose Him, over and above all else. Like Hannaniah, Azariah and Mishael. Let’s not go with the flow. Let’s not allow ourselves to be manipulated. Let’s not give into fear and hate.

Today, tomorrow and the next day.

Mediate on these words:

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses;
But we will remember the name of the LORD our God.

– Psalm 20:7 (NKJV)

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Review: Finding Holy in the Suburbs

Finding Holy in the Suburbs

Gentle Reader,

I got a letter in the mail today detailing the time and location of the next homeowner’s association meeting. My immediate response was annoyance. What a waste of time. People arguing about stupid things like so-and-so not moving his garbage can from the curb in a timely fashion. These folks have way too much time on their hands.

Tract houses fenced off from the rest of the world. Mini malls full of things that none of us really need. Tidy little parks, so pristine as to be almost unfriendly.

The suburbs.

The impulse for building the suburbs was to create an idyll: the best of the country with access to the city, the pleasure of a country manor, a place of safety, and strong, thriving communities. These are good hungers; to enjoy, to rest, to work well, to keep your family safe, to grow a cohesive community. But when these hungers a met through shiny suburban packages, they come out sideways as consumerism, individualism, busyness and exclusion.

– p. 14

Hard to argue with that as I type on my laptop while I sit on my bed inside my house that sits next to my pathway on my street.

Ashley Hales knows what it is to live in the numbing suburbs, so she doesn’t condemn her readers for our struggles. Everything in the suburbs is designed to cater to an individualistic mindset, thereby undermining community-building before it even starts. Strange to realize this truth, for we so often imagine that the cities are places of disconnection. Yet it is us, wandering the aisles of the nearby Target, almond milk mochas in hand, who struggle mightily with getting out of our own heads.

Hales goes on:

There is a better way for the suburbs.

– ibid.

Each of the ten chapters explores specific temptations that suburbanites must be aware of and provides creative ways to address and overcome them. Hales begins with the most obvious sin of the Western world – consumerism. We have such a hard time embracing life as it is because we have bought into the idea that “this” or “that” will fulfill all of our deepest longings. Therefore, contentment is continually out of reach and our bank accounts bleed – yet “this” and “that” is never enough. It never ends.

So we must:

…ask for hearts that are not content with the thing itself but hunger for the source of our desires. … May the dust of our idols catch in our throats and awake us to our deathly habits of consumption.

– p. 30-31

That is the point of Finding Holy in the Suburbs. Hales spends 174 pages consistently pointing the reader to her need for the Lord. That might seem like a lot of ink spilled in order to share a fairly simple point, but nowhere is this book repetitive. With careful methodology and a solid understanding of Scripture, Hales first confronts us with the problem, moves us to the crisis point of repentance, then ends with a call to partner with God to bring shalom to the placid-looking streets we travel.

“Your suburb is not your home. It is your place you are called to in exile as you wait for glory. … The call of shalom is to maintain…’faithful presence within’ the structures of our neighborhoods and culture, as we experience God’s presence even in exile.”

– p. 156

As we live within the paradoxical “already” and “not yet” Kingdom of God, strangers and aliens who look like everyone else, we are tasked with bringing the Gospel to those who have yet to taste and see that God is good. The only way we can effectively accomplish this mission is to choose to reject the seemingly-sweet, definitely seductive vision the suburbs places before our eyes each day. Our lives are not about countertops, playdates or neatly trimmed lawns. None of these things are bad, of course, and there is no need for us to flee into the desert, but they do not define us.

We are, instead, defined by belonging to God.

The suburbs shine brightly, beckoning all to chase the much-heralded “American Dream.” Up close, inside, the light is dim, like a barely-flickering low-wattage bulb. We have the light of God within us, brighter than the sun itself. Ashley Hales helps us to see that and to reorder our priorities. Be sure to read this one.

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I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THIS BOOK IN EXCHANGE FOR MY FAIR AND HONEST REVIEW.
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Just Don’t Write About It

Trust

Gentle Reader,

I suppose this has become a series. Should probably think of a title for it.

How does “Everyone is Crazy” sound? Ah, I can hear the protests. Stop using that word! It’s ableist! Everyone thinks differently, obviously, but as someone who takes a pill every night in the attempt to keep her mind functioning properly, I don’t use “crazy” as an insult. I use it as a shorthand for “let’s put some Prozac in the water supply so maybe everyone can chill out a little, okay?”

Anyway.

It’s popular to publish “listicles,” those sometimes-annoying pop-up articles that proclaim to reveal “10 Secrets to Younger Looking Skin!” or “5 Steps to Becoming a Master Underwater Basket Weaver!” The exact opposite of popular is publishing articles discussing the intersection of theology and politics, or, as I like to think of it, pavement doctrine. You know, the way in which we walk out this thing called “faith” on a day-to-day basis. Actually, as I read these sentences, I realize that it’s okay to write about pavement doctrine, as long as you, the author, choose to stay in a specific lane on the road. “Conservatives” have their favorites, as do “progressives.”

When you go hop-scotching around, discussing the flaws on all sides…well, you lose subscribers. Occasionally get roasted on social media, but that’s kind of a badge of honor, right? My skin is certainly thicker than it used to be.

So why put yourself through that?, people ask. Just don’t write about it.

Would that I could. Can’t so I won’t.

Do you know that Christianity is an intellectual faith? Certainly relationship with God is not only about the mind, but nor is it about closing the mind. This is so obvious, so essential to the truth-claims that we make, that I cannot understand how so many operate from a place of…not stupidity (I don’t believe that anyone is actually stupid, meaning incapable of thought), but willful ignorance. Anything outside of the tidy little boxes we prefer is nothing about which we wish to know or understand.

Consider the issue of abortion. I am a pacifist, so I am as pro-life as you can get. The ending of human life by other humans is abhorrent in all its forms. Do you know that this, oddly, puts me outside of the pro-life movement much of the time?

Think about it. The Republican Party has positioned itself as being anti-abortion, correct? The rallying cry is “overturn Roe v. Wade!” Never mind the fact that overturning simply kicks the issue back to the states, who will make their own laws, rather than making abortion illegal. And if abortion were made illegal, would the GOP then legislate things like equal access to contraceptives (men can buy condoms at the store no problem; women need to visit the doctor for a prescription) which would mean shaking free of the insurance lobbyists and actually reforming the healthcare system?

The Democrats are no better. The party fights amongst itself right now, attempting to determine if abortion-on-demand will become a litmus test for membership. Loud voices begin to make it quite clear that pro-life people are not welcome. Never mind that pro-life people would likely help pass things like true healthcare reform and sensible environmental protections, planks on the Democratic platform. This makes it seem as though there is no place for people of faith.

That’s the problem with both party loyalty and single issue voting. Neither allows for nuance.

Our faith should enable us to think critically. We should be comfortable with nuance. That might sound strange, because the truth of salvation is so starkly black-and-white. It is. Jesus, and Jesus alone, saves. And what happens after that? I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: We live as Revelation 21 people in a Genesis 3 world. This means that we should clearly see that all systems are made by humans, who are fundamentally warped, and as such, no philosophical stance regarding the role of government is going to have every answer. No political party is going to get it right every time. No president is going to usher in a golden age.

Because golden ages, no matter what the history books say, don’t exist.

Mediate on these words:

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses;
But we will remember the name of the LORD our God.

– Psalm 20:7 (NKJV)

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