Beware the Line

send

Gentle Reader,

What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you?

– James 4:1 (CSB)

How often do you examine your motives?

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this recently. I know that it’s unpopular, but I do believe in tone policing, to an extent; there is a way to say something in order to get the message across, however strong it is, while maintaining integrity of self and respect for the other person (which is incredibly difficult sometimes) and then there’s being obnoxious for the sake of stirring the pot. Where that line is, where we cross from attempting to communicate and into poking the bear, is different for each person, for, while we share a common tongue, we are not always speaking the same language.

Tone policing is not the same as deeming a subject taboo. It’s not the same as refusing to engage in conversation on difficult matters. It’s not something that we can do for each other, really, beyond a gentle touch on the shoulder or a low-voiced, calming word. This is all about the individual. There are things that you can say, and ways that you can say these things, that I cannot. There are people who will respond to you who won’t respond to me. Frustrating as this can be (and it is), this is simply part of making our way through this world.

Beyond considering the way a sentence is worded, however, is the deeper issue of why one is about to say or write the sentence, or, indeed, post the meme or link to an article. What is the urge rooted in? What is the goal in sharing?

As I’ve previously written, 2018 was a long, hard year. I had no sense of direction in my writing. The Lord made it clear to me in the days just prior to pulling out a fresh, new calendar that I needed to place my eyes back on Him. That I needed to dwell in and focus on Him and His truth, for this lack of dwelling and focus is what led to the lostness. As I’ve begun doing this – make no mistake, it’s a daily choice – I realized that my motives in hitting “publish” or “send” haven’t been entirely good.

This whole section has in view an acquisitive society, the competition for material things and the pleasure they bring. It begins with the manifold desires of individuals that need to be satisfied; so individuals mobilize, each one, to seize the desired object. When they step outside the self, they engage in competition with other persons, even to the point of fierce conflict. So intense is the desire for possessions that they are ready to commit murder (Barclay).

Asbury Bible Commentary

Possessions are not merely things we hold in our hands. We all, each of us, are tempted by the desire to possess authority and power. This doesn’t always look like stepping on other’s to get the corner office. This can be as simple and subtle as thinking, “Why can’t you all see? Why can’t you admit that I’m right? Are you stupid?”

An attempt to diminish the imago dei in another. If I see them as somehow less-than, then I don’t have to check my words or explore my motives. I can let them have it.

When I crossed over from “there are things that are happening and they are very alarming and we need to talk about them” and into “seriously, you’re a bunch of morons and I don’t like you,” I don’t know. I suspect I went back and forth over that line a few times. Sometimes I would communicate as well as I know how and the discussion would be fruitful. Other times I would poke the bear because I felt angry and the bear is dumb.

Oh, the humanity.

This side of Heaven, we will struggle. We are never going to get this exactly right. Yet we must not shrug and think, “Well, it’ll never get better, so whatever.” It can get better. We can get better. Not perfect. Better. We who have the Holy Spirit dwelling within are not helpless, hapless, hopeless slaves to sin.

There are things happening, in society and in our churches, and they are alarming and we do need to talk about them. In our talking, there can’t be justifying or sugar-coating. But we don’t have to go to war. We don’t have to beat each other with words. Jesus never did and He is our example. He said a lot of hard things, spoke a lot of truth that people didn’t want to hear, but He never stepped outside the bounds of love.

Lord, make us more like You. Teach us to examine ourselves, by the light of Your Spirit, not that we may engage in self-condemnation but so that we may grow into who You designed us to be. Help us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. And when we do speak, grant us the self-control to keep our tongues from lighting a deadly fire. By Your grace, in Your power, and in Your Name, Amen.

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Suck It, Buttface

Trust

Gentle Reader,

Last week I wrote about the United States being caught in the grip of a nation-wide panic attack. Everyone seems to be dialed up to “11” at all times, ready to snap at the slightest provocation. Surely there are cooler heads out there, but they are not in control of the narrative. At all. Instead, shouts of “war!” and “enemies!” and “conspiracy!” fill our ears, via the breakneck news cycle and our collective social media addiction.

The confirmation and swearing in of Brett Kavanaugh as the 114th justice of the Supreme Court hasn’t helped.

I purposefully waited to write this, what might be the second installment of a series and what might be just a rather annoyed addition to the previous (I don’t know yet), until after last Saturday’s vote. Like many others, I watched the entirety of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony the week prior. I watched Judge Kavanaugh’s rebuttal. I watched Senators play politics, making speeches that sounded really good but ultimately contained nothing of substance. Everyone voted exactly as was expected. I watched as hard battle lines were drawn – “It’s so hard to be a man in America because those women, they lie!” vs. “All women must be believed!” I watched as Christian men and women shot off tweets and posted think-pieces in which they said, “Well, you know, the Bible does say that there needs to be two or more witnesses to a crime before anyone can be convicted…”

But mostly I watched as disgusting memes were passed around and those on the “winning side” gleefully enjoyed their “victory.”

Let’s break this down.

Everyone voted exactly as was expected: Where, oh, where, are the politicians who will put country ahead of party? Where is this generation’s Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy? Where is the man or woman moved by faith in the Creator, convicted and convinced that he or she must be a good steward of the creation?

I do have to give credit to Heidi Heitkamp, Senator from North Dakota. She, a Democrat in a strong Republican state, could have taken the easier way out and cast a vote that may have earned her a bump in a contentious race. (That’s what Joe Manchin, Senator from West Virginia, appears to have done, from a strictly political, in-the-middle of a campaign perspective, based on what has been reported in both right- and left-leaning publications. Ultimately, I don’t know why he voted “yes,” since I can’t read his mind). She chose to vote her conscience instead, based on her statements. May more rise up and do the same.

It’s so hard to be a man in America: Are you kidding me? Do people really think that women are working behind men’s backs to take them down because…? You know this isn’t true. I mean, come on. Your mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, coworkers and friends do not have a secret website where they share strategy and receive marching orders (probably from George Soros, who I am not entirely convinced is a real person). This is just the latest battle in the gender war that has raged since Adam and Eve ate the fruit. You really think that Satan doesn’t want to divide men and women from each other? To get us to view the opposite gender with suspicion, fear, disdain? To tempt us to try and dominate and abuse each other?

Women aren’t your enemy.

(For sure not all men believe these things or think this way. I’m privileged to know a lot of good guys. However, I’ve also seen some disturbing memes and rhetoric about women, coming from Christian men. This section applies to them. If this isn’t you, brother, please, confront the wrong thinking).

All women must be believed: My response here is nuanced, which we’re so good at these days, so please, do try to read all of it.

Just as man should not automatically be believed because he is a man, neither should a woman automatically be believed because she is a woman. Ah, I can hear the laptops slamming shut. Do not misunderstand me. I fully comprehend sexual assault statistics. I know how common it is. I get that the women who make false accusations are few and far between in the grand total. Men have been inappropriate toward me. I have had people work to destroy my reputation because I have chosen to come forward. I want perpetrators to be brought to justice.

Proponents of feminism and #MeToo have to be very conscious of pursuing just that, justice, rather than grabbing the double-standard that has been used against women for so long and stabbing men with it. We don’t like that men are automatically believed because they are men. At least, I don’t. So I don’t want to be automatically believed because I’m a woman. Basically, gender shouldn’t enter into the equation.

Equal treatment doesn’t mean special treatment. Does that mean we, particularly Christian women who understand and embrace that we are fully the equal of men in God’s design and also understand that the injustices of this world are rooted in sin, are going to have to work to pass better laws, to get church leaders to deal with sin rather than sweep it under the rug, to expose and work to correct often unconscious social attitudes that are biased against women? Yep. And no, it’s not fair. It’s not right. But when I think of all of my goddaughters – six in total – I know that it’s worth it.

Speaking truth and working for justice is always worth it, even when it hurts. That’s a hard thing to settle on, knowing that no form of utopia will ever be achieved this side of Eternity. But we cannot, must not, cease to do good, no matter how strong the wrong seems.

Two or more witnesses: Again, are you kidding me? Nice job taking Deuteronomy 19:15 out of context, guys. Great spin. If the only possible way that anyone, ever, could be convicted for any crime is for there to have been witnesses to the crime, no sexual assault cases would ever be prosecuted. Guess who saw the things that happened to me? Nobody other than me and the men who did them. Does that mean I’m lying?

And this whole issue of lying? People lie when they can get something out of it. Covering their butts, advancing up the corporate or social latter, you name it. Lies are motivated by the desire to achieve something. Again, back to nuance here: I don’t want to be believed simply because I am a woman, but at the same time, what do I or any others who come forward and speak about what’s happened to them have to gain? Nothing but additional problems, in my experience.

(Note: Yes, some women have lied about being assaulted. That doesn’t make all women liars any more than the fact that some men rape makes all men rapists).

Finally, the victory dance: Incredibly disgusting. I saw things posted by fellow Christians that should make them blush with guilt. Really, you want to “crush the left” and “destroy the libtards?”

You think that makes Jesus happy?

That’s what it’s all about. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to be all about for us, the ones who plunge ourselves into the fountain filled with His cleansing blood. What pleases Jesus?

He’s not pleased when we look at our neighbors and sneer, “Suck it, buttface.” He’s not pleased when we reduce our fellow people to soulless opponents in a game that nobody can win because the rules are ever-shifting and the goalposts always moving. He’s not pleased when we think that the Gospel belongs to and is lived out only by the segment of the population who votes a certain way. He’s not pleased when we care more about what CNN or Fox has to say than we do what He says, contained on the dusty pages of our Bibles (or, for us awful Millennials and Gen Z-ers, in our rarely-opened Bible apps).

Meditate upon 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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P.S. – I couldn’t figure out where to fit this, but just so everyone knows: Democrats aren’t fascists. Fascism is a right-wing position. Making that claim is like saying that Republicans are socialists, a left-wing position. If you’re going to engage in hyperbole, at least use the terms correctly. Thank you and goodnight.

Additonal p.s. – Underlined words/phrases indicate editing done after reading Andrew’s comment below. He was right in his point about Manchin. I apologize for being hasty and too broad in my comments. I seek to be even-handed but I don’t always succeed. I appreciate gentle, constructive criticism.

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Choose the Quiet

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

…aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands…

– 1 Thessalonians 4:11b (NKJV)

In 2002, Gary Jules covered the Tears for Fears song “Mad World” for the movie Donnie Darko. While I have never seen the film, the soft piano notes at the beginning of the song are instantly recognizable. I know that a quiet, breathy male voice will soon tell his story, a story that doesn’t quite make sense. Of course, with a title like “Mad World,” it’s probably not supposed to make sense.

I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad…

Repeated throughout the song, these phrases could be my anthem. I find it funny, as in odd, how the art of reasonable conversation has been lost. I find it sad, too. I find it odd how impossible it is to turn off the noise. Sad, too. Blame social media, blame news organizations, blame whoever and whatever you’d like to blame, but there is no denying the tension that hangs in the air, thick and oppressive.

No denying that our world is, perhaps, a mad place.

And so my verse for the year.

We have to live here. No jumping on a ship bound for Mars. Nothing would be different on Mars, anyway, because we’d be there. The problem is us. We’re stuck with that fact, stuck with each other. Yet we don’t have to live as though this is all there is. We don’t have to maneuver for the best position, the greatest influence, the largest pile of stuff. We don’t have to scrabble and scrape and step on each other. There is a different way.

That way is hēsycházō.

…to keep quiet; to rest, cease from labor; to lead a quiet life, said of those who are not running hither and thither, but stay at home and mind their business; to be silent, i.e. to say nothing, hold one’s peace…

Old / New Testament Greek Lexical Dictionary

Did you know that you can rest? Did you know that it’s okay to have empty spaces on your calendar? Did you know that you don’t have to speak to or about every single issue? Did you know that it’s okay to unplug and unwind?

Did you know that quietness is a command?

God knows more and better than we ever can. How easily we forget this truth. Our minds can’t handle the 24-hours news cycle, which seems to have shrunk to 8 or less. Our hearts can’t handle the constant stress that comparison brings, an inevitability in the age of Facebook and Twitter. Our spirits can’t handle screaming and straining every moment of every day. We are finite. Fragile. Made from the dust that I am constantly working to banish from my home.

Yes, it is true that burying our heads in the sands of denial and ignorance does no good. We are commanded to be quiet, but we are also commanded to be watchful (see Matthew 24:42-44, 25:13). Knowing what is going on is necessary. Making time to engage with the issues of the day is important. This life of faith does not equal mush-brain and hiding. We have to think. We have to learn. We have to grow.

What we don’t have to do is deny our fragility.

Before God made people, He made a garden. He stepped back and looked at everything – mighty trees, dainty flowers, cascading waterfalls. He heard the snuffling of furry creatures and the fluttering of bird’s wings. He paused, took it all in and declared it good.

If God, who has no need for rest, took the time to enjoy the simple beauty of a garden, then who are we to think we can cope with incessant noise?

There is business. There is work. Bills have to be paid and food has to be on the table. Homes must be cared for and jobs must be done well.

There is also the silence of snow falling at midnight. The rise and fall of a dog’s chest as he naps. The feel of a clean pair of socks.

We need space. We need to turn off the computer and tune out the ping of smartphone notifications. For an hour or two. Just long enough to sip coffee and gaze out the front window. Just long enough to gain control over raging emotions and lashing tongues. Just long enough to keep from gossiping. Just long enough to keep from committing to too many things out of guilt or fear. Just long enough to remember that God carries the weight of the world, not us.

We need to choose the quiet.

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The Hard Things

Gentle Reader,

Following my month(ish) fast from social media, I’ve changed the way I use the medium.

If I’m going to be on it, then I want to share things of value. Hard things. Deep things. There are conversations that need to be had. Ugly truths to confront.

Selfies aren’t bad. Fun stories aren’t bad. For me, in this season, the balance is simply tipped toward the thoughtful.

I read a lot of theological stuff. And political stuff. So I’m going to share that. I’m going to offer my imperfect commentary. Because I see a church that isn’t dealing well with the world around us. Instead of grappling with ideas and opinions, we whine that we no longer have a place of privilege. Instead of accepting the consequences of our belief with integrity and dignity, we moan about civil liberties.

Is it hard to be rejected? Tough to be mocked? Yes. Get used to it.

We who long to see those around us come to Christ had better learn to ask them the right kind of questions. To keep our heads cool. To develop a thick skin. To earn the right to speak into their lives. We need to know what we believe, why we believe it and be able to present the Gospel with love, simplicity and logic.

We are each given a voice. I am choosing to use mine in a way that I hope draws those who call themselves Christians to consider whether the way they live that out is consistent. Because the world is desperate for our consistency. We cannot preach peace and then turn a blind eye to a massacre at a gay nightclub, twiddling our thumbs as evil men who dare call themselves pastors rejoice in murder. Nor can we preach sin and the Cross and then say, “Oh, that thing the Bible calls sin? It’s really not.” There is no end to that slide.

I also hope to draw those who are not Christians to consider the Gospel. The real Gospel. Not this “Jesus and…” crap that far too many promote. You know what? The God, the faith that most people reject – I reject it, too. Because it’s not what’s real, what’s true.

We who are indwelt by the Spirit of the Living God do not belong to this world, but we do live in it. We’d best start learning how to navigate that tension. We’d best shake off our spiritual stupor and wake up. Grow up. Learn to think deeply and well. God is all about your heart, but He’s all about your mind as well. About time the two began to connect.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Odyssey Online