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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Thoughts After Charlottesville 

Gentle Reader,

You know I’m a pacifist, but I wonder how we got from Captain America punching Hitler to, “well, Nazis aren’t that big a deal” and, “it’s probably all a conspiracy because Soros and Antifa.”

How did we come to idolize Robert E. Lee, a slave owner who fought against his own country?

Why do we still doubt that the Civil War was about slavery?

Why are people who call themselves Christians saying, “we will not be silenced?” Chanting, “blood and soil?” (That’s a Nazi slogan, if you don’t know).

A woman died and dozens more are injured. All for a statue that shouldn’t have been erected in the first place.

And, yeah, I know. Free speech is a thing we have here. People can assemble and say stupid, ugly things. I support that. Doesn’t mean that I will shy away from labeling that speech “stupid” and “ugly.” 

After sitting with and mourning this for 2 days, I wonder: Could we Christians lead the way here by no longer screaming about our rights? By refusing to see the government – local, state or federal – as an entity meant to protect us? What if we truly rested in the promises of Christ, knowing in our bones that He will see us through whatever happens? What if we decided to esteem others and consider their needs before our own, as Paul admonishes in Philippians 2? What if we recognised that this world is not our home and that the spread of the Gospel is more important than politics? What if we looked to our brothers and sisters in hostile countries and emulated their example? Those of us who are white, what if we took the time to really listen to and empathize with people of color – not to take on false guilt, but so we can understand what they deal with?

I wonder what would happen. I wonder if we’d become agents of healing and shine brightly in dark places.

Meditate on these passages:

2 Corinthans 5:20; 6:4a, 6b

2 Corinthains 5:9

Philippians 2:3-4

Philippians 2:14-15

Philippians 4:5

Colossians 3:8

1 Thessalonians 5:5

James 2:8-9a

Matthew 28:18-20

Romans 12:17-18

Galatians 5:24

1 John 4:9

Revelation 7:9-10

Racism has no place in Christianity. May we be courageous enough to examine our own hearts and repent if needed. May we be brave enough to vocally condemn this evil. May we be loving enough to reach out to those who are different.

Skin is skin.

It doesn’t matter.

Lord, teach us to love as You love. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear. Expose what needs exposing. Help us to prioritize preaching the Gospel over and above all else. Kill the selfish ambitions and vain conceits that strangle our hearts.

Break us and remake us.

Forgive us, Jesus. 

Red, brown, yellow, black and white – all are precious in Your sight.

Just a Soupcon, It’s Okay

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

In recent days I’ve been told that I am, perhaps, just a bit too intense about this whole Christianity thing. I’m just a little too serious about obeying Jesus. I make people uncomfortable. Maybe I should just back off a little.

Makes me think of Jeremiah:

Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him,

Nor speak anymore in His name.”

But His word was in my heart like a burning fire

Shut up in my bones;

I was weary of holding it back,

And I could not.

– Jeremiah 20:9 (NKJV)

No, I’m not claiming to be a prophet. Calm down.

I am claiming to understand the temptation to hold back. To bite my tongue. To keep silent. To please people and strive for popularity instead of speaking (writing, really) the truth. I know that my words are often strong. You know it, too. What you may not know, however, is that they come from a cracked heart. You do not know about the hours I spend in prayer, begging God to stir up the fires of repentance and revival in our hearts. I believe He hears. I believe He moves.

We don’t hear. We don’t move.

I look around at my fellow believers and I wonder just what it is that we think we’re doing. In other parts of the world, people die for their faith, while we complain if someone prays for too long.

So let’s just go ahead and talk about idolatry, shall we?

Might as well keep the “you write things that I don’t like” streak alive.

Because I really don’t know how we, the Western Church in general, are escaping the lightning bolts that should justifiably incinerate us.

We, who are supposed to know better, waste time worshiping “Christian celebrities,” rising to their defense any time someone dares to question them. (Yes, I know that some people are trolls and they can’t figure out how to argue intelligently so they go for the personal attacks. This is not what I’m talking about). We pat their heads and say, “Oh, poor you,” whenever a dissenting comment gets posted on their blogs or another Christian leader has the audacity to point out where their theology has gone wild.

We waste time worshiping power. Though the primary purpose of my writing isn’t to engage in politics, only a blind and deaf person could have escaped noticing how so-called evangelical leaders slavishly praise every move of the current administration. Because we think, maybe, we can force our vision of society on the country through the people who occupy congressional seats and the person who works in the Oval Office. It’s not like the Holy Spirit has to indwell a person in order for her to live as Christ commands.

We waste time worshiping offense. We relish calling people “snowflakes.” We scream “microaggression!” and, instead of just not going to listen to a certain person speak, we drive them off of campuses and out of stadiums. We get all hot under the collar when – gasp! – we discover that there are different viewpoints, different experiences, different ways of thinking. (All of this is far cry from working for justice, which much of this butthurtedness masquerades as).

We waste time worshiping “the way things used to be.” Don’t change the time we meet for Sunday service. Don’t step on out toes in a sermon. Don’t change the small group curriculum. Don’t paint the wall that color. Don’t dress in a way that we don’t like. Don’t bring snacks that we think are gross. Don’t ask us to do anything that’s even remotely outside of our comfort zone.

We waste time worshiping “the way things should be.” This church sucks. These people suck. Let’s complain about it, but not actually do anything to bring about positive change. Let’s not pray or study Scripture or you know, repent.

We waste time worshiping position. We want everyone to see our good works. We want to get ahead, climb the ladder. We want to be, as Leo DiCaprio so famously shouted in that one movie, “King[s] of the world.”

On and on it goes. We waste time worshiping family.  We waste time worshiping stuff. We waste time worshiping money.

But it’s all okay, we unconsciously rationalize, because it’s just a little bit of idolatry. Just a soupcon. A little dollop on top of the Jesus soup. It’ll mix in just fine. Add a little flavor, a little spice. Nobody will notice. It doesn’t matter.

Except it does.

You shall have no other gods before Me. …

…you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God…

“Now see that I, even I, am He,

And there is no God besides Me;

I kill and I make alive;

I wound and I heal;

Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand.” …

“Tell and bring forth your case;
Yes, let them take counsel together.
Who has declared this from ancient time?
Who has told it from that time?
Have not I, the Lord?
And there is no other God besides Me,
A just God and a Savior;
There is none besides Me.
Look to Me, and be saved,
All you ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
I have sworn by Myself;
The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness,
And shall not return,
That to Me every knee shall bow,
Every tongue shall take an oath.” …

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

– Exodus 20:3; 34:14; Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 45:21-23; 1 Timothy 1:17 (NKJV)

There is no other God and God doesn’t share glory. He’s not okay with some side-worship. He’s not cool with those little idols in our hearts. He ruthlessly digs them out and confronts us with them – for our benefit. For there is no life in idols, only death. Only disconnection from the Lord.

I point no fingers at you, dear reader, that I have not already pointed at myself.

The world is watching. They scrutinize our moves in order to ascertain if we walk what we talk. We cannot sing praises to God for a few hours on Sunday and then live out praise to some other little, gross, vile, vain thing every other moment of our lives. It’s deeply, horrendously hypocritical.

God is watching. He knows the motivations of our hearts. He knows if our worship is pure and true. He will keep picking at the raw place, shining light in the dark corner, pushing us to look at what we don’t want to look at. He will keep whispering words of conviction and tender mercy to our souls.

But we get too choose.

He doesn’t force us to do what’s best, what will set us free and make us healthy.

So what will it be?

Idols or God?

Can’t be both.

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Photo credit: Alexis Brown

Review: For the Love, Part 2

Watch your life and doctrine closely.

For the Love: Part 1

Gentle Reader,

This is the part that I didn’t want to write. Allow me to repeat myself: The toughest position I ever held during my time on a college newspaper was that of a reviewer. It is difficult for me to put into practice the instruction of my professor – observe and dissect – knowing how intensely artists labor over their work. They practically bleed onto the page or the canvas. Nevertheless, it is important to strive to be as even-handed and objective as possible. That is my goal in this piece.

Nevertheless I am well aware that what I’m about to publish is going to generate some heat.

QUESTIONS

I wish that I had saved it so that I could give you a specific date, but sometime between Tuesday, July 7, and Friday, July 10, I received an email from Hatmaker (along with other members of her “Email Friends” list). She wrote to tell us about the free goodies we could get with pre-ordering a copy of For the Love. (As part of the launch team, I expected this and wasn’t offended. The point, after all, is to generate buzz and sell books). In the first paragraph of this email (again, I wish I had saved it so I could quote directly) she mentioned being influenced in her spirituality by the fiction work of Sue Monk Kidd.

Update, 8/27/15: A friend had this email and forwarded it to me. It was sent out on July 10, and the line that I referenced above reads, “…I want to know if Sue Monk Kidd read the tweets I sent about how much her storylines affected me spiritually.”

At first, I wasn’t even going to pursue this. I didn’t want to pursue this. I wanted to write a short-and-sweet, stellar review. So I deleted the email.

But I only know of one Sue Monk Kidd:

To embrace Goddess is simply to discover the Divine in yourself as powerfully and vividly feminine. (Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 141)

… something inside me was calling on the Goddess of the Dark, even though I didn’t know her name. (The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 93)

I remember a feeling rising up from a place about two inches below my navel. … It was the purest inner knowing I had experienced, and it was shouting in me no, no, no! The ultimate authority of my life is not the Bible; it is not confined between the covers of a book. It is not something written by men and frozen in time. It is not from a source outside myself. My ultimate authority is the divine voice in my own soul. Period. … That day sitting in church, I believed the voice in my belly. … The voice in my belly was the voice of the wise old woman. It was my female soul talking. And it had challenged the assumption that the Baptist Church would get me where I needed to go. (Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 76-78)

I knew right then and there that the patriarchal church was no longer working for me. The exclusive image of God as heavenly Father wasn’t working, either. I needed a Power of Being that was also feminine. (Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 80)

There’s a bulb of truth buried in the human soul that’s “only God” … the soul is more than something to win or save. It’s the seat and repository of the inner Divine, the God-image, the truest part of us. (When the Heart Waits, p. 47, 48)

When we encounter another person … we should walk as if we were upon holy ground. We should respond as if God dwells there. (God’s Joyful Surprise, p. 233)

I ran my finger around the rim of the circle on the page and prayed my first prayer to a Divine Feminine presence. I said, “Mothergod, I have nothing to hold me. No place to be, inside or out. I need to find a container of support, a space where my journey can unfold. (Dance of the Dissent Daughter, p. 94)

Divine Feminine love came, wiping out all my puny ideas about love in one driving sweep. Today I remember that event for the radiant mystery it was, how I felt myself embraced by Goddess, how I felt myself in touch with the deepest thing I am. It was the moment when, as playwright and poet Ntozake Shange put it, “I found god in myself/ and I loved her/ I loved her fiercely.” (Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 136)

I came to know myself as an embodiment of Goddess. (Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 163)

When I woke, my thought was that I was finally being reunited with the snake in myself – that lost and defiled symbol of feminine instinct. (Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 107)

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I am an egalitarian. I believe in the full equality of men and women. Yet I also believe in the accuracy and inerrancy of Scripture. God chose to reveal Himself in masculine terms. This doesn’t mean that He is masculine; God is transcendent. He is in a category all by Himself and cannot be classified as man or woman. Nevertheless, He chose to relate to us as Father, Son and Spirit. Christian faith simply does not support worshiping the “feminine divine” or the “goddess.” This does not demean women or relegate them to a “second class” space. Men have done that, not God.

I have no idea what Hatmaker means by saying that she’s been influenced by Kidd. I attempted to reach out to her via Facebook and through her website’s contact page, asking for clarification. I have yet to receive an answer. At this point I am not making any hard-and-fast judgments. She could simply mean that something in one of Kidd’s novels touched her. I am unwilling to come to a solid conclusion until I have more information.

Still, this leaves me in an awkward position, especially since my endorsement appears in the book.

Reading through For the Love a second time, with this in mind, I noticed something: Quotes from authors Annie Dillard, Anna Quindlen and Brene Brown are sprinkled throughout. The framework, the worldview, from within which these authors write shows strong threads of panentheism, pop-psychology self-help and a mish-mash of New Age-y, maybe Christian terms that I can make heads nor tails of. I have no problem recognizing the fact that they may well have good and positive things to say, but, as with Kidd, the spiritual content of their works is concerning.

Do not interpret this as an attack on Jen Hatmaker. I don’t know her personally and I don’t wish her any ill. I’m not making a call on whether or not she’s saved, so please don’t go there. I will happily update this post if I receive clarification regarding the statement about Kidd. I can easily accept that she used the quotes from the other authors for very good reasons. As of now, I am left holding a mixed bag. If this were strictly a work of humor, I would have no problem giving it five stars. Due to the muddied nature of the spiritual currents, I cannot give this book the wholehearted recommendation that I initially hoped.

FINAL THOUGHTS

So, where does that leave us? I won’t slap For the Love out of your hands if I see you reading it, but I won’t tell you to rush out and snag a copy, either. I think you can read this book and enjoy it for its message of freedom for women and its humor, but I do encourage you to keep this background information in the forefront of your mind. Be aware of what you are taking in and examine it closely. Ask the Holy Spirit to grant you guidance and sensitivity in this and all reading selections.

Do so for your sanity. Do it for your integrity.

Do it for His love.

This, above all, is the lesson I have learned in being on the launch team.

My journey to faith. (15)