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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31 Days of Feasting on Theology: Bonus Post

31 Days 2017 Large

Gentle Reader,

All right.

I don’t usually post when I’m angry.

But there’s an emotion we call righteous anger. The kind of fury and frustration that arises from a broken heart. The kind of pain that makes you want to tear your clothes. The flush that splashes your cheeks at the sight of injustice. The sort of chest-constricting, goosebumps causing, I’m going to throw things while I cry if this isn’t made right feeling.

That’s what I felt when this made its way across my Twitter feed:

DL5X2cAVQAE0uJ3

I don’t know who painted this.

I’m not sure it matters.

This painting is the fruit of bad theology. It’s the result of sprinkling a little Jesus on the salad of life. This painting exists because of blind, unthinking nationalism. It is a shining example of everything that’s wrong with believing that America and Americans are special (it isn’t and we aren’t). But first, foremost and glaringly – this is a portrait of idolatry. Trump will make everything right again. Trump is Jesus’ special guy. I’ll put my faith in Trump.

Stop it.

Just stop it.

I’m nearly halfway through this series. My heart hurts. Unbidden tears roll down my cheeks. Come on, people! Come on, church! How can we, who are so privileged, who possess multiple Bibles, who can listen to thousands of sermons at any time, who are the wealthiest and best-educated (comparatively speaking) be this stupid?

In the Old Testament, we read about the Israelites and their fondness for Baal and other ancient Canaanite deities. We think, “Wow, they were so dumb. How could they worship some hunk of stone? I would never do something like that.”

Except we do.

It’s not about Trump. He’s just the latest, loudest example.

The president, whoever he/she is, will never be your savior. He’s not going to make anything great again. She can’t fix you. He can’t provide for you. She doesn’t even have a clue who you are.

Oh, dear reader! Lay down this burden of placing your hope in people who are as frail and flawed as you are. Let go of the desire to “Christianize” the nation through law. If the perfect law of God as handed down at Sinai couldn’t save, then how can imperfect law imperfectly enforced by imperfect people save? Make like Gideon in the good days of his life and topple the statues that lurk in your heart. Prostrate yourself before the Holy King and beg forgiveness. Ask Him for a new perspective, eyes to see and ears to hear.

Please, please, for the sake of your soul, your heart, your mind, your life – read the Bible. Really read it. Study it. Ask questions. Learn things. Get to know the truth so you can spot the lies. Pray for the president, yes. Support him/her within the boundaries of faithful Christian ethics (i.e., follow God and do as He says first and always). Never, ever, idolize the president (or this country).

God doesn’t take kindly to that sort of thing.

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For all entries in the 31 Days of Feasting on Theology series, go here.

War of the Words

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

It’s a chilly almost mid-October afternoon. My coffee has grown cold. I’m dazed and confused, to borrow the film title, following a wicked days-long headache. Caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror earlier and I look like death warmed up. Ghostly pale skin. The pupil of my right eye is dilated, which makes sense, as that’s where the Witch-King of Angmar has been stabbing me repeatedly.

Shout out to Tolkien.

There’s been a lot of talk about protesting. What good does it do? When should it be done? Who can protest? How should protesters conduct themselves? What does it all mean? When is life going to return to normal?

And now this.

Click the link.

Read the article.

This short entry, posted on one small blog that resides in a dusty corner of the internet, is my protest.

In a battle over words, I use words.

Without them, specifically the written variety, I wouldn’t be able to communicate. I wouldn’t be able to process the world around me. The love affair began at age 6, on the day I picked up the pen and committed unknowing plagiarism with the composition of a Sherlock Holmes story. I haven’t put it down since.

Should writers be people of integrity? Should we tell the truth? Yes. I was blessed to have a college journalism adviser that could spot a fabrication or a “stretching” from miles away. Once he even yelled at me for manipulating a quote from one of the local papers. The reporter had contacted him and complained. (Haven’t told anyone this story until today. Because, you know, shame and stuff). Fairness and accuracy matter.

Nevertheless, the “disgusting” press can write whatever they want. It’s up to the reading public to hold journalists accountable. It’s up to editors and owners to dish out discipline. Anyone can sue for libel. If laws are broken, then justice should be swift and direct.

None of that means that the printing rooms should go dark at the whim of a public official. The government – local, state or federal – is in no position to dictate to or control the press, thanks to James Madison and the people who thought the Bill of Rights was a good idea. We, especially Christians, do not want state-controlled press. We do not want the president, any president, to have a say in what goes to print.

Why especially Christians?

Think of your brothers and sisters around the world, men and women who risk life and limb to get their hands on even a single page of the Bible.

Censorship, in any form, will only harm everyone in the end.

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Photo Credit: Alexa Mazzarello

Five Minute Friday: Depend

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

The scent of sawdust fills the air. I hear the mechanical whine of the blade as it slices through wood. My husband, self-taught carpenter that he is, labors over another project. Only it isn’t labor for him. It’s joy. Release. Relaxation.

Occasionally it’s a swear word and throwing something.

Kate says: depend.

Go.

I have a post written. I’ve cut it from here and pasted it elsewhere. Attempting to decide if it should be published. Gone back and forth for a solid 20 minutes.

This is far longer than the usual FMF entry. And it might make you mad.

Here goes.

********

In light of the command to go and share the Gospel, does this matter? When you are on your face before the throne in Eternity, will this matter?

Two questions that came to mind early this morning as I lay on the couch, bemoaning my existence. (To paraphrase Jon Leguizamo as Tybalt in Baz Lurhman’s amazing adaptation of Romeo & Juliet: “Migraine, thou art a villain”). Normally I cannot think deeply when in pain. In fact, I can barely think at all. But clear as a bell, these questions rang through my mind, adding their noise to the discordant symphony already in progress.

The overall, highly generalized answer to both: It depends.

So some dudes who make a lot of money to play a game have been kneeling before said games while the “Star-Spangled Banner” is performed. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began doing so on September 2, 2016, after a conversation with Nate Boyer, a former Seahawk and Green Beret. Before then, Kaepernick sat on the bench during the anthem. Boyer understood the Kaepernick wanted to protest police brutality against African-Americans, but encouraged him to take a more respectful posture while doing so, which Kaepernick did. Others have since followed suit.

This opened a ginormous can of worms.

But oddly, a year later.

President Trump chose to cast these peaceful, lawful, respectful protests as being anti-American and anti-veteran. (I don’t know what’s in his mind, but could this sudden battle have been waged to distract everyone from what’s happening – or not happening – in Washington, D.C.)?

Some believe that these rich, privileged men have no right to protest anything, no right to draw attention to injustice. (Because you have to be poor to protest? Or you have to experience a bad thing in order to say the thing is bad? Or you can’t care about the “little guy” when you’re famous)?

Others say that, instead of protesting, they should give time and money to organizations that will make things better. (I don’t doubt that some are big talkers, but I also don’t doubt that more than a few of these men do just that. We simply don’t hear of it. And if we did, we’d probably skewer them for their pride in parading their good deeds for all to see, because we, the public, are quite fickle and impossible to please).

Another set desires new laws to be made, laws that enforce displays of commonly-accepted patriotism. (That’s what North Korea does. Aren’t we not fans of that kind of thing)?

It boils down to: First Amendment, sure, but not like that.

Parts of the above remain within the realm of “I can sort of see your point” but certain folks take it a step farther and conflate standing for the anthem with worshiping God. In order to be a good Christian, you must be a good American, in the way that the majority understands being a good American. Hot dogs and apple pie and all that. Because Jesus loves America more than other countries.

It bothers me more than I can express to see “render unto Caesar” and “let every soul be subject to the governing authorities” abused in order to prop up American civil religion, a belief system that cannot and will not save. The Bible does not command anyone to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” If that’s what you believe, then, in order to be consistent, you have to be angry with the Amish, Mennonites and other religious groups who neither sing nor pledge. You have to stop reading this blog and shun me forever, because my convictions on this run very contrary to popular opinion.

Do not mistake me: I judge no Christian who stands for the anthem or says the pledge. That is between the individual and God. (To be perfectly honest, I don’t care if anyone stands, sits or kneels. This is genuinely not something that’s an issue to me, which is why I’m perplexed at the passion this has aroused in so many). What causes me to tear my hair out is when Christians scream about those who do not stand or pledge, particularly fellow Christians who do not stand or pledge, as if they do not have the freedom, enshrined in the Constitution we all claim to love, but most especially within the confines of the intelligence and the will that He gave each person, to make a different choice, a choice that is neither unlawful, immoral or disrespectful, despite being discussed in such terms.

(Note here before continuing: Dear reader, I am a pacifist. I have not, do not and will not support violence. I do not believe in being nasty to those with whom you disagree. I have family members in the military and on the police force, and so I know that the majority of people who enter these professions are doing so out of a genuine desire to do what they believe to be right and not because they are hateful, awful people).

I don’t know if protest is always the right way to address anything, but I support the right of these men to take a knee. They aren’t yelling at anyone, or spitting on graves, or shooting at people, or burning buildings. They’re just kneeling for two minutes or less. They are quietly drawing attention to a real problem.

You don’t have to agree with them. You don’t have to like what they’re doing. You can choose to never watch football again.

Isn’t it nice to have that freedom?

What you can’t do is say that they don’t have a right to do this – the NFL makes the rules regarding player conduct, not the viewers or the government. You can’t say that they hate America or soldiers – those interviewed consistently and clearly say that their protests aren’t about any of that. You can’t say that Christians who support these men or who do not choose to sing or pledge are any less saved than you are – salvation is found in Christ alone, not Christ and patriotism.

But let’s get back to the questions that began this post: Does this matter? Will it matter?

I don’t want to present a false dichotomy, a trap I unknowingly fell into earlier this week when discussing these things. You can be upset about the protest and the devastation in Puerto Rico and a whole host of other things that are going on. You’re not required to pick and choose. But, again, does nail-spitting anger over 2 minutes or less and quiet kneeling matter right now and will it matter later?

Or is it all just a distraction?

Now go and read this other long thing, written by someone far smarter than me.

Stop (was a long time ago).

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