Frankly Alarming

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

Recently I came across a t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “1984 was not supposed to be an instruction manual.”

Written in 1949 by George Orwell, 1984 is a novel about:

Winston Smith…a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in London, in the nation of Oceania. Everywhere Winston goes, even his own home, the Party watches him through telescreens; everywhere he looks he sees the face of the Party’s seemingly omniscient leader, a figure known only as Big Brother. The Party controls everything in Oceania, even the people’s history and language. Currently, the Party is forcing the implementation of an invented language called Newspeak, which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating all words related to it. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is illegal. Such thoughtcrime is, in fact, the worst of all crimes.

SparkNotes Plot Summary

Republicans accuse Democrats of Newspeak. Democrats accuse Republicans of Newspeak. From cries of “fake news” to the redefinition of words as part of growing moral relativism, the blame rests equally on the shoulders of members of both major parties. Subtly, sneakily, by raising the temperature of the pot ever-so-slowly so that we aren’t alarmed when the water begins to boil, we have been ushered into an new age of propaganda.

Don’t believe me? Go and check out President Trump’s “real news.” State sponsored/controlled media. That’s a thing we have now. #Icanteven.

 

Irritated as I am over this, I’m not surprised. Both parties have been effective in undermining the work and position of the media. Both parties have gone into overdrive in painting the other as the most evil entity to have ever existed. Both parties have ingeniously and deviously played on the fear, ignorance and arrogance of the American people. I hope that my fellow countrypeople wake up. I hope they reject this insanity.

But this article isn’t even about that.

What gets under my skin even more, what pushes my temper to the hot zone, is the proliferation of evangelical propaganda. Consider:

Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, one of President Trump’s evangelical advisers who preached the morning of his inauguration, has released a statement saying the president has the moral authority to “take out” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“When it comes to how we should deal with evildoers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil,” Jeffress said. “In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.”

Jeffress said in a phone interview that he was prompted to make the statement after Trump said that if North Korea’s threats to the United States continue, Pyongyang will be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

The biblical passage Romans 13 gives the government authority to deal with evildoers, Jeffress said. “That gives the government … the authority to do whatever, whether it’s assassination, capital punishment or evil punishment to quell the actions of evildoers like Kim Jong Un,” he said.

He said that many pacifist Christians will cite Romans 12, which says, “Do not repay evil for evil,” but Jeffress says that the passage is referring to Christians, not to the government.

“A Christian writer asked me, ‘Don’t you want the president to embody the Sermon on the Mount?’ ” he said, referring to Jesus’s sermon. “I said absolutely not.”

Washington Post; August 9, 2017

This is easily summarized: God is okay with evil actions if they stop other evil actions, especially if the United States (and, more specifically, the President/party we like) takes the action.

Last I checked, assassination is murder. Where does God say He’s cool with that?

Now, consider this:

“I can’t help but admire Jared and Ivanka. The two of them have put their lives entirely on hold in order to pursue the good of their nation, and I have found them to be particularly interested in our concerns as evangelical Christians. It’s just like God to use a young Jewish couple to help Christians in the United States defend their rights, and secure their religious freedom for now, and for subsequent generations.”

“I have found every interaction with Jared Kushner to be exemplary. He is clearly an extraordinary individual, with obvious integrity, and he has been a great gift to the evangelical community. We have always found him to be ‘an ever-present help in time of need.’ There are few things I’m sure of in the world we are living in today, but one of thing I am sure of is that Jared Kushner is a good man, and I’m honored to know him.”

Pastors David Jerimiah and Samuel Rodriguez

An allusion to Mary and Joseph. Really?

Quoting Psalm 46:1 – the opening line of a song of praise to God – in lauding a mere mortal. Where’s the bolt of lightning?

Once again I think about all the professors I had, the ones who would have not hesitated to fail me or anyone else who dared to present such shoddy, sloppy interpretation. These church leaders, who have influence over so many, are engaging in Newspeak. They attempt to eliminate opposition by removing any understanding of doctrine and Scripture that would testify against the activities of the current administration. Are they calculated or malicious in doing so? I can’t guess at the motives. God alone knows. All I can do is point to the rotten fruit and tell you not to eat it.

Whatever your politics, this abuse of Scripture is wrong. Blatantly so. Crossed over into disturbing. This is not what we’re to be about, folks. We don’t use the Bible to prop up politicians and we don’t twist it to fit our agendas. We don’t snip it and pick it and fold it and ignore the stuff that doesn’t fit within our existing worldviews. We either take the whole Bible as it is and allow the words of truth to shape us via the loving, convicting, guiding activity of the Holy Spirit, or we inevitably destroy it and thus destroy our ability to witness, to speak truth.

Consider a churchman who understands this:

[Moore] actually been warning about someone like him for years. Writing prophetically in his 2014 book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, Moore warned that Christians “ought to be the last people to fall for hucksters and demagogues.” He argued against the coziness that old-guard evangelical Christians had nurtured within the Republican Party in the last few decades and chastised believers who celebrated politicians in exchange for access and power.

“Some sectors of religious activism are willing to receive, as Christians, heretics and demagogues, so long as they are with us politically,” Moore wrote. “When that happens, we are demonstrating what we believe to be truly important, and we are embracing then a different gospel from the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

He also rejected the notion that the United States was a nation in covenant with God.
“Our end goal is not a Christian America,” he wrote. “That illusion is over, and happily so.”

– The Survival of a Southern Baptist who Dared to Oppose Trump

I realize that my position on these matters and increasing willingness to share that position with others is abhorrent to some. Know this: It’s not a Trump thing. If Clinton had won, I would be just as appalled at the evangelical community, for no doubt, instead of slavish devotion, many would have opposed anything her administration attempted out of sheer spite.

Slavish devotion or sheer spite.

Surely these are not our only options.

Surely we are called to something better, something higher.

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Photo credit: Christin Hume
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Five Minute Friday: Place

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

“…you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.”

– Matthew 24:6-8 (NKJV)

See that you are not troubled.

How, Jesus? How do we erase the feeling of trepidation as leaders in Pyongyang and Washington, D.C., continue to breathe fire at each other, uncaring who is singed in the process? We pray, but the fear remains.

God, forgive us in our frail, simple humanity.

As usual, linking up with Kate and all. We seek: place.

Go.

I can’t remember a time without war.

Operation Desert Storm happened when I was in Kindergarten and first grade. Clinton authorized the bombing of Kosovo during middle school. The planes crashed and the towers fell at the start of my senior year of high school. Now I watch the news with an anxious knot in my chest, wondering if we’re really about to go along with Kim Jong-un and reignite the Korean War, a war that never really ended, a war that accomplished nothing. A war that will inevitably escalate until the nations gather once again to slaughter each other across continents.

One set of human beings seeking to strip the other of their humanity.

Will the government reinstate the draft? My husband only has two-and-a-half more years before he is free of being enlisted against his will.

Why should more people die? People caught in the crossfire, people who will suffer because of inflated egos and short tempers.

Gaily, recklessly, arrogantly marching off to war. Just as so many before.

Mothers and fathers, widows and widowers, sons and daughters – left to mourn.

To what end?

No end. Evil is never satiated. Violence is a great, gaping, black mouth, ever-hungry for more victims. It is the mouth of the Devil, that ancient father of lies.

I don’t understand this place, this world. I preach the grace of the Gospel, the solidness of God’s presence. I seek to be a minister of peace. Of reconciliation. My quiet voice – can it, does it make a difference in this place of noise and chaos and boiling blood?

God promises that He will finish what He started. The words He speaks fall to the ground, taking root in the fertile soil of hearts responsive to mercy. A great harvest will result. Nothing returns to Him void. His plans are not thwarted by missiles, His purposes not wrecked by tirades.

That – I must hold to in this place. Though fear pounds in my chest and frustration runs through my mind. He is good and pure and true.

So I, and you with me, must speak the words of truth in this place until we arrive at the other Place, where war and sin are no more.

Stop.

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Photo credit: Thomas Tucker

Get Off Your Butt

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (2)

Gentle Reader,

Context before we begin:

Many thoughts swirling in my head.

I’m a teacher. No, I don’t rule a classroom. I don’t have a degree in education. I simply love to learn and can’t help but share what I’ve learned with others. I have been told more than once that I have the ability to distill complex subjects down to their basic parts, something for which God gets all the credit. I love digging into Scripture and my brother told me just last night that, if I ever tried to preach, I’d probably start by saying, “Okay, so we’re going to go over the entire Bible.” (I laughed. It’s true. And it would be so fun).

For better or worse, this is how God has chosen to gift me.

So let’s talk discipleship. Let’s talk learning.

A disciple is a follower. One who submits to the authority of another (in the Christian context, God), learns his ways and passes that knowledge onto others. As we hear so often, a disciple makes disciples. Basically, it’s, “Hey, Jesus saved me and I love Him and you should join me in this because it’s awesome.” Really, there’s no neat formula in this disciple-making. No, “Do x, y and z – then you will have arrived.” It’s messy. There are steps forward and steps back. There isn’t a single person who gets it right all the time. Never, ever, should it be about one human being looking to another as the be-all, end-all, but rather the one who’s a little farther down the path pointing the newbie to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. It’s every believer everywhere becoming more and more enraptured with His presence, rather than seeking only what He provides. (There is a difference).

As Paul wrote:

Copy me, my brothers, as I copy Christ himself.

– 1 Corinthians 11:1 (Phillips)

Discipleship, then, is the process of growing in Christ. It’s mature believers putting their arms around the spiritual babies, helping them learn to walk God’s path. Those babies grow and strengthen, eventually putting their arms around those who nurtured them in a display of mutual love and support, then going on to repeat the process with new babies. It’s the Body doing what the Body does, in all its stumbling and variety. It’s deep, rich Bible study and doctrinally correct songs springing from tone-deaf but joyous congregations and hard conversations and liturgy and people not always getting along because we’re human and we suck sometimes but figuring out how to not get along in a Christ-honoring way (it can be done). It starts with God, centers on God and ends with God.

At least, it’s supposed to.

I am heartbroken over the state of discipleship in churches across the United States. (Really, I’m heartbroken over the church in general. When evangelicalism is known for its support of, at best, a deeply and troublingly flawed president, rather than for the spread of the Gospel, then it’s time for some sackcloth and ashes). It bothers me greatly that men and women abandon their Bibles as “boring” or “too hard” (or, perhaps worse yet, “irrelevant”). It sickens me that so few seem interested in doing the work of spiritual motherhood and fatherhood, picking those babies up when they fall and raising their down-turned faces to look upon the ultimate Father who smiles upon them. I roll my eyes at “rah-rah” women’s events aimed at inflating the self for a few days instead of teaching women to get in there, roll up their sleeves and finally get beyond the surface, a surface that infantilizes us more and more each day. I sigh when men lament the “feminization” of the church because nobody can really explain what that means and if a man doesn’t go to church, it’s because he doesn’t want to. My mouth drops when I hear someone dismiss a certain Scriptural tenet or command, for he fails to see how that dismissal logically leads to other dismissals and the entire thing falls apart. My lungs drain when I hear of some Christian leader not having the sense to recognize that praising a Mormon “prophet” isn’t good. I loathe how services are timed just so because we’ll be damned if anything goes past noon and interferes with lunch, no matter how the Holy Spirit might be moving. I hate that people can manage to make time for favorite television shows, movies or hobbies but are “too busy” for Bible study. I think it’s stupid that few are willing to lead Bible studies, or even to serve in any way at all, because they’re “not knowledgeable” enough or “there’s just too much else going on.” It disgusts me that much of what passes for Bible study is just pop-psychology laden, relationally focused, fuzzy-wuzzy gobbledy-gook. Or straight-up gossip time. I’m dismayed at how the sick, infertile and unmarried are often cut out of church life by default, because they don’t fit into “what works.”

There are thousands of think-pieces on why the church stinks. I can summarize them all in one sentence:

The problem is us.

I know that spiritual abuse is real; I’ve experienced it. I know that there are many unhealthy, unsound churches; I’ve been in more than one. I would never tell anyone that she should stay in a church just because. I definitely don’t think that church attendance is a factor in entering Heaven. There are real issues of misogyny and racism and false teaching.

All of those problems continue to exist because we aren’t engaged in discipleship.

That is, of course, a very broad statement. There are many thoughtful Christians, men and women who take the faith seriously, love the Lord deeply and do their best to serve Him daily. These people are, I suspect, quiet. Hidden. Behind the scenes just doing the thing. Not seeking glory or applause. But…overall…

We aren’t knowledgeable.

We aren’t teachable.

We aren’t imitating Christ.

This is our problem. Our issue. Together, the bad and the good. The pain and the beauty. We no longer have time to pursue “feel good” things. We don’t need to “have a political voice.” (Oh, Lord above, please let the Johnson Amendment be preserved). We have got to put on our big kid undies and deal. Stop whining. Get on with it. Study the Bible, raise our voices in worship, invite others to ask us hard questions, submit ourselves to the authority of the Holy Spirit each day.

We aren’t supposed to stay babies forever.

The “too long, didn’t read” conclusion for all you ADHD folks: Christian, get off your butt and grow up.

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Photo credit: Aaron Burden

And Now for Something Completely Different

along-the-way-mlsgregg-com

Gentle Reader,

I have wrestled with what and even if to write following the results of the election.

I’m not thrilled with the outcome. Wouldn’t have been thrilled with a Clinton win, either. It greatly bothers me that my fellow countrymen and women continue to back the Democrat/Republican duopoly. I grit my teeth when people tell me, “Well, I didn’t know about anyone else” because that means they chose to be less informed voters. Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, Darrell Castle, and Evan McMullin were all flawed candidates (as every candidate is) but their platforms and ideas were only a mouse click away. Not one of us had to choose between the lesser of two evils (which is still an evil, by the way).

Some are saying that Clinton’s loss is the fault of independent voters like me. It’s not. The numbers don’t add up. Leave us alone. All we’re trying to do is break this country out of the deadlock that everyone complains about but keeps voting back in every few years.

Okay. The election process played out. Trump won.

Here’s where I’m at with that.

Please, Those of You who Want to “Make America Great Again”

I know and love people who voted for Trump, which means that I know it’s not true that every person who did so is a racist. So I want them to loudly, roundly and flatly condemn the disgusting words that some now feel free to hurl at minorities. I want them to physically place themselves in the path of anyone who would do harm to someone who looks different.

Because it’s happening. People who are racist feel more comfortable in expressing themselves. Tell them they are wrong. Tell them that you stand with African, Asian, Latino and Native Americans.

Please, Those of You who Said “I’m With Her”

Depending on which generational model one uses, I’m either the very end of Generation X or the very beginning of the Millennials – and I’m disgusted with how those around my age and younger are reacting to this election. Peaceful gathering and protest is your right, but blocking streets? Destroying property? Rioting? Please. That does nothing. And I probably shouldn’t even start on the way some college campuses are operating right now. Cancelled classes? Take-home tests instead of finals? Double please.

Your candidate lost. You can be upset about that. It’s okay. But you know what? The world doesn’t revolve around you. Don’t throw a hissy fit. Dust yourself off, square your shoulders and move forward.

Class Warfare

I fully believe that this was all about the “have nots” flipping a giant middle finger at the “haves.” Racism and misogyny are mixed in there, no doubt, but this was large sections of the country screaming in protest. The government doesn’t work for them. The current administration spent time waging war over transgender bathroom issues while they struggled to feed their families. The President played rounds of golf while single mothers worked two and three jobs to try and make ends meet. They may have access to healthcare now, but they can’t afford to pay the premiums (or the penalties).

I’m one generation removed from small farmers and lumber workers. I get it. My father’s hometown hasn’t seen any kind of growth in decades. What are you supposed to do when you go to work in one sort of system and that system abruptly changes, ejecting you because you’re no longer needed? How are you supposed to get the job training you need for a new economy when you can’t afford to pay for college? Or when there isn’t a college anywhere near you and its just not feasible to move your family? Yes, Mike Rowe is right when he says that there are “dirty jobs” available, but do they pay enough? Will they break the body in a few years, leaving one to start again? What’s the answer? (Side note: the jobs that “those people” are always “stealing” – they aren’t jobs that Americans want to do. At least admit that).

Trump does not have the power to change any of this. He can’t force companies to shut down their overseas factories and bring them back to the United States. If he does find a way to create jobs, will they be the sort that calls for unskilled labor? How long will the jobs last?

There are answers to these questions. I don’t know what they are, but I do know they’ll only be found by the “average Joe and Jane” coming together with the “elites.” We have to work as a team. We have to remember that we’re all Americans.

Listen Up, Congress

If you get nothing done in the next 4 years, blame yourselves, Republicans. You have control of both the House and the Senate. You’ve shown yourselves to be blatantly obstructionist for no other reason than to be obstructionist. Now’s your chance. Since most of you have been in Congress since the dawn of time because we stupidly never put term limits in place, I’m not expecting much from you. Surprise me. Surprise us.

Personal Concerns

I worry that the Affordable Care Act legislation will be repealed without thought. My frustration with the ACA has never been centered around the gross belief that everyone doesn’t deserve equal access to healthcare. I believe the exact opposite. Anyone should be able to go to the doctor at any time for any reason. My issue with the ACA has always been that it’s not real reform. The government adopted the private insurance model and offered it to people who couldn’t get private insurance. Patients can still be denied medications and services.

Please, Congress, have some kind of plan before you put the ACA to death. Either decide to go over to fully socialized medicine and put the insurance companies out of business or open up state borders, increasing competition so premium prices go down and insurance companies are forced to get better at what they do if they want to stay afloat. Please, please don’t take us back to the days of “pre-existing conditions” or those of us with chronic illnesses are nothing short of screwed.

I worry about internet regulation, the pet project of some conservatives. Leave the internet alone.

I worry that the rich will get richer and the poor poorer, further deepening the divisions across this country.

I worry that we will continue to involve ourselves in foreign wars.

I worry that some Christians now mistakenly believe themselves to be the dominate force in society. No. Evangelicals who uncritically supported Trump or played on fears over the Supreme Court have done damage to the testimony of the Church. Naked ambition won out over the sharing of the Gospel. There is repenting to be done.

In the End

God is sovereign. He will accomplish His purposes. We can feel secure in that when all else feels shaky.

I am ready and willing to pray for President Trump and support him in the ways that I can, and, when I cannot, be honorable in opposition – just as I have done for President Obama over the last eight years. I genuinely hope that something good comes out of this.

This, difficult as it may be, is where we all must land.

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