“Jesus was a socialist…”

pond5.com

pond5.com

It the first day of a week-long seminary intensive course on the theology of John Wesley. I found myself in a classroom in central Kentucky viewing a satellite feed from another classroom in Orlando where our professor was conducting his lecture.

We were less than an hour into the class, having gone through brief introductions from everyone on both sites. Then, out of the blue, the professor dropped the bomb.

“Jesus was a socialist…and so am I.”

If a seminary classroom ever had a collective, unspoken “WTF?” moment, this was it.

Of course, the professor intended to create a stir. His statement was as much for shock value as anything…he was not making a political statement so much as he wanted to capture our attention and point us to something beyond what we’d mostly always been taught.

To a large degree, the church in America has hung its hat on the idea that our nation was founded on Christian principles. Our fight for liberty from an oppressive monarchy was, we’ve been taught, both right and righteous.

And as we drafted policies to protect our freedom to express our religious beliefs, that naturally grew into all sorts of other freedoms that were necessary to protect the foundational freedom of religion.

But as those freedoms have become more and more ingrained, an uglier side of them has emerged. We have gone from protecting ourselves against subjugation to the point where the rights of individuals have, in many cases, overridden the common good.

What was supposed to be freedom from oppression has become freedom to oppress.

Case in point: the current debate over vaccinations. There can be no question that childhood vaccination against diseases like measles and polio is beneficial to the vast majority of people and to society as a whole. Yet, in our staunch political defense of individual choice, we have allowed an illness that was once virtually dead in this country (and much of the world) to now create a public panic.

Which leads to the question: Have our freedoms enslaved us?

And, perhaps more to the point, to what extent is the church complicit?

For centuries predating the founding of America, church and state were effectively the same thing. From the time Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire, religion and governance have gone hand in hand.

And while the American project, with its explicit constitutional separation of church and state, ostensibly rebelled against extant Christendom, nothing really changed.

The predictable result, as history has shown over and over, is a rather unholy alliance where the agenda of the state invariably infects the agenda of the church.

And so as America grew in its love of individual freedoms and protection of our rights to make choices contrary to the common good, so the church became equally enamored of those freedoms.

Which is what made my professor’s statement so provocative.

Somewhere along the line we managed to turn a movement based on radical inclusion and sacrificial love into a hackneyed champion of the sovereign self. We have become so consumed with exercising what we perceive to be our individual “rights” that we can no longer distinguish where one person’s rights begin and another’s ends.

But the Jesus we claim to follow was no respecter of persons. Everything he did and said laid bare the claim that, while individual rights and freedoms are indeed important, the most free a human being could be was in setting aside personal rights in favor of the other…even to the extent of loving our enemies.

The radical claim of Jesus is not that we are so much free from something—oppression, marginalization, even sin or death—but that we are free for something.

And that something is the terrifying prospect of being able to love in the ultimate way…unconditionally and sacrificially.

The reason most of my classmates were shocked at my professor’s statement was that they have bought into the idea that our sociopolitical protection of individual rights is somehow a biblical concept. They immediately equated Christian socialism with political Marxism…which was not at all the claim the professor was making.

To claim that Jesus was a socialist is to claim that Jesus valued others above self, community above individuals.

21st Century America is arguably the most individualistic society ever to exist on the face of the earth. It is so much a part of our DNA that we don’t even realize it. The idea that we would sacrifice individual rights—even the right to ignorance—is not only completely foreign to most of us, it is downright offensive.

But the kind of love Jesus represents requires a vulnerability that flies in the face of militant protection of individual freedoms.

That’s why it causes me no grief at all to echo my professor’s provocative statement: “Jesus was a socialist…and so am I.”

It’s not a political statement. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the benefits and privileges that come with being a free citizen of this free country.

But we have to realize how often our personal rights and freedoms come explicitly at the expense of others.

The question for the church is, do we have the courage to repent?

Advertisements

The Election Day Conundrum

wordpress.com

wordpress.com

Like many Americans (although probably not enough), I’ll go to the polls today to cast my ballot.

Unfortunately, I won’t be doing it because there are people I believe in for whom I wish to register my support. No, for the most part, I’ll be selecting what I, at least, perceive to be the lesser of two evils.

I won’t bore you with my complaints about how negative our election process has become. I’m sure most of you share similar frustrations. No matter which party or candidates we may support, I suspect we’re all fairly sick and tired of the tone of political campaigning.

So here’s a note for any candidates or potential candidates who may be reading this little rant of mine today:

I don’t want to hear what you’re against. If you use “war,” “fighting,” or “battle” language in your campaign materials, I’m not going to vote for you. If your platform is to impose your side’s political will over the other side, you will not get a check mark beside your name on my ballot.

And while I am interested in what it is you stand for, do you know what I really want to hear?

I want to hear about how you will work with people you disagree with, not against them. I want to hear about how you can provide leadership in seeking productive compromise. I want to know that you are willing to go beyond sloganeering to actually listen to all sides and engage in dialogue across ideological divides.

Because the truth is, people do have honest disagreements over the way things should be run in our government at all levels. People come into office with different perspectives on what are and are not problems and what may or may not be appropriate solutions.

I’m not looking for one candidate or one party to be in lockstep with my personal beliefs. I’m looking for real leaders who can objectively look at all angles of an issue and forge solutions that benefit the common good…not just the good of people who agree with them (or, for that matter, with me) on those particular issues.

I’m also looking for candidates who won’t let the media manipulate them into confrontation and conflict. One of the saddest trends in our country today has been the commoditization of the news. With apologies to some individual journalists I know who do stand against the tide, we can no longer trust the media (especially television) to provide us with objective information by which we can make informed decisions. The Fourth Estate has become just one more player in the drama, just one more voice screaming for our attention and our dollars.

So why vote at all? It’s a legitimate question. Some would argue that not voting is itself a vote, or at least a choice signaling dissatisfaction with the whole process. And, to be honest, there will be races on my ballot that will be left blank because I have been so offended by both candidates that I cannot in good conscious vote for either one.

But for all of our problems and faults in this country, I still believe our great experiment in democracy can be our highest virtue. We all have a voice, even if it is a tiny one, screaming out a feeble “Yop!” against all the cries to boil our collective dust speck (shout out to those of you who get the Dr. Seuss reference!).

So, please, go out today, and cast that ballot. Even if it is a “lesser of two evils” choice, it is, in the end, our choice.

But may we continue to demand something better from those asking us to choose them.

The Path of Most Resistance

tangledpathI confess, I’m a bit irritated with myself for taking so long between blog posts.

Actually, I could have ended that sentence about seven words earlier.

I’m a bit irritated with myself.

Come to think of it, that’s still too much.

I’m a bit irritated.

For the past two-and-a-half years I’ve been working toward a Master’s Degree in Christian Ministry at Asbury Theological Seminary. Up until now I was taking a limited part-time course load, trying to balance work and life and school without unnecessary overload.

But I added an extra class this spring in hopes of finishing by December, slightly ahead of my pre-determined, self-imposed schedule. Half of my 60 hours’ worth of classes are online; the remainder must be completed on campus in the tiny rural village of Wilmore, Kentucky, about 25 miles south of downtown Lexington.

So, yeah, things are a little busier than usual. Juggling course assignments with work, family and church life can be hectic. Add to that a series of four-hour drives to Wilmore for weekend classes on campus, toss in some additional duties I’ve taken on in ministry, and there just hasn’t been any time to write.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. There’s time to write. There’s just no time to think. To concentrate. To focus. To process ideas.

And I find it all a bit irritating.

When I can’t concentrate, when I can’t focus, when I feel like I don’t even have time to think or sort or process ideas, I get stressed. It’s one of the few and very rare instances when it sucks to be me. Sure, things get done, but it’s just an exercise of pinballing from one priority to the next, waiting to hit the flapper and get flung up into the game again, bouncing aimlessly from bumper to bumper.

But I’m starting to think all of this irritation, this lack of focus, this inability to concentrate, is actually a symptom of something else.

When I enrolled at Asbury for the Fall 2011 semester, I had no idea exactly what I was going to do with a seminary degree. I was certain I was being called into some type of vocational ministry. I had been preaching for about six years as a lay speaker, filling in for pastors who were on vacation or accepting invitations to appear as a guest speaker at various church functions, and I was receiving a ton of encouragement and affirmation from people that it was something for which I had a gift.

So while I was sure I was doing what I was supposed to do, I never really had a clear picture of where it was all going.

And now, with the end in sight, I still don’t know.

To be honest, I’m a little anxious about it.

Maybe even a bit irritated.

Now, I know I still need to be patient. I’m as convinced as ever that God placed me on this path for a purpose, and that at the right time the right opportunity will come along and it will all make sense. I’ve been down that road before. That’s the great thing about faith. The more you experience it being rewarded, the more confident you become in it.

But the closer I get, and as I start entering into the “system” of United Methodist ministry, and the more I see that I don’t really fit into any of the boxes that exist in that system, the more I find myself pushing for an answer. And the less I find myself able to really focus. On anything.

And the more irritating it becomes.

Of course, it doesn’t help that perfectly well-meaning people, folks who are genuinely interested in me, keep asking those questions: “How long do you have left?” “What is your degree in?” “Are you going to be a pastor?”

“What are you going to do?”

It also doesn’t help that the UM ministry hierarchy is a fairly tangled and complex one which is difficult to explain. Most people who have been Methodists their entire life don’t understand it. Which makes it that much harder to relate to someone from a different faith background.

And so when I try to answer these good, interested, well-meaning people, it takes me half an hour to just explain the difference between an elder and a deacon and a local pastor, and how all of those different options play out, and how you need an M.Div. for this and an M.A. for that, and how none of them really seem to fit what it is I sense God calling me toward.

They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

My line is anything but straight. I have chosen the path of most resistance.

And while I’m absolutely convinced it’s the right path, and while the end of it is in sight, the destination is still unclear. The trail is obscured.

So I hope you’ll excuse my infrequent posts and my self-indulgent little rant. But at least I’ve written something.

And even if nobody reads it, at least I’m a little bit less irritated.

Persecuted or Persecutors?

CupIf you’re on the internet reading this blog, I’m sure you’re aware of the controversy swirling around some comments made by Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson and A&E Network’s subsequent decision to suspend him from the show.

I really had no intention of writing about this today. And, in truth, it’s not really what this blog is about. But it does create an illustration for something I’ve been wanting to talk about for awhile, which is the false sense of persecution that is so prevalent in the American church today.

I’ve watched a grand total of probably 20 minutes of DD in my life. Which is about the same amount of NASCAR I’ve ever watched. So you see the connection. I don’t get it. It’s not for me.

In fact, I really don’t care what Robertson said or how A&E responded. My opinion of his comments was that they were fairly uninformed, but largely blown out of proportion. It’s less than a blip on the cosmic radar as far as I’m concerned.

But what does concern me is the response of the church. And so far, I’m pretty disappointed.

I’m not quite sure how the DD crew got to become spokespeople for American Christianity. I know they speak openly about their faith on national TV, which is pretty rare, and so I can see how some people can identify with them because of that.

But it seems like Christians have become desperate to have some kind of icon to hold up to the secular world. And I think that desperation grows out of a sense that somehow Christians are being persecuted in America.

Just look at the so-called “War on Christmas.” Somehow a large number of us have gotten it in our heads that we’re under attack.

But here’s the thing: we’re not. We’re just not in control anymore.

And that, my friends, is not persecution. Believe me. Thousands of Christians around the world are being truly persecuted. And what some goofy rednecks do or say on television has nothing to do with it.

Yes, things are changing around us. We live in a culture with a multitude of religions, belief systems, races, and nationalities. When I was in grade school we used to celebrate this fact. The great melting pot of America was something we took pride in (that is, until non-white, non-Christians started to outnumber us).

And yes, Christians have been criticized, and often unfairly. But that’s still not the same as persecution. That’s just criticism.

What’s really happening is that there are other ideas in the world that sometimes challenge and even conflict with Christian beliefs. Nothing new there. But because Christianity in America has for so long dominated the general cultural consciousness, we’re feeling threatened and defensive because we think we’re losing control.

Still, it’s a long way from persecution. Moving from the majority to the minority may be uncomfortable. It may be incredibly hard. It may even piss you off to no end. But it’s still not persecution.

So for the folks who are outraged by what they perceive as Christianity coming under attack, and who think Phil Robertson is their new champion and standard-bearer, please consider a couple of things:

I know you think Phil is defending your faith. I know you think he’s defending the Bible. I know you think he’s standing up to the liberal non-Christian secular humanist Grinches that are trying to steal your perfect Who-ville Christmas.

But faith that hurts people—even people you disagree with—is most emphatically NOT the faith of Jesus.

The hard truth is, for most of our history in America, the church has more often been the persecutor than the persecuted. We have been responsible, directly or indirectly, for untold atrocities in the name of “defending our faith.”

If you want to understand real persecution in America, try sitting with one of my gay friends who once again today is being subjected to hateful marginalization by a church founded on the principals of love and inclusiveness for the marginalized.

So while many of you are supporting Phil Robertson all over your Facebook timelines and “defending your faith” on Twitter, you need to realize that you’re simultaneously sending a message to a confused teenager somewhere that she’s unworthy of the God who created her.

So ask yourself this, my fellow Christian:

Will your “I support Phil” meme be the last thing that girl sees before she swallows that handful of pills on her dresser?

Will your words “defending your faith” be the last words a young boy reads before he decides to put a gun in his mouth rather than come out to his parents?

Is that the kind of faith you want to defend? Is that your church?

Persecuted or persecutor?

What kind of church are we going to be?

Happy holidays.

Throwback Thursday: A Roller Coaster Guy in a Merry-Go-Round World

everestdrop

This article originally appeared on Aug. 13, 2009. I revisit it today not because of any current frustration with my own leadership roles, but because I’ve recently completed a course in Christian leadership that reminded me of some of the tensions in which those of us in leadership positions often find ourselves.

I love metaphors. I think there’s a reason Jesus speaks so much in that form through stories and parables. Metaphors draw pictures of concepts in a way that speaks to our commonality of experience.

Regular readers–both of you (insert smiley face emoticon here)–will notice that lately I’ve been wrestling with expressing some frustrations in the arena of church leadership. And last night, in one of those times when my brain wouldn’t shut down and let me sleep, this whole Merry-Go-Round/Roller Coaster metaphor started to creep into my imagination. And it speaks to a lot of my current sense of restlessness.

Folks who know me will get it when I say I’m a Roller Coaster. Wildly erratic at times, rushing at full speed from place to place, tossed about uncontrollably. If it wasn’t for the belts and harnesses I’d fly off the track. Life to me always has been and always will be a thrill ride. An adventure. An experience to throw myself into without worry or regard to where it’s going to take me or what it’s going to do to me.

Other folks, though, are more like Merry-Go-Rounds. Enjoying a nice, pleasant, easy pace. No jerking around. No sudden acceleration. No adventure. No need for belts or harnesses. No puking at the end of the ride.

Merry-Go-Rounds don’t understand Roller Coasters. They’re too uncomfortable. Too unpredictable. Too uncontrollable. Too messy. Too dangerous.

We Roller Coasters, similarly, don’t get the Merry-Go-Round life. Circling around and around and around and around. Seeing and experiencing the same things over and over and over again. Too comfortable. Too predictable. Too ordered. Too safe.

Roller Coasters want everyone to be Roller Coasters. To experience the thrill. To be utterly and thoroughly exhilarated by the very wildness of the ride. To fly off into the unknown and be totally at the mercy of the ride.

Merry-Go-Rounds have no desire to be Roller Coasters. Merry-Go-Rounds wonder why Roller Coasters can’t just straighten the track, flatten the hills, and be more…well…stable. More cautious. More under control.

Now I’m not talking about extremes here. I’m not about to go jump out of an airplane or bungee off of a bridge. Nor am I talking on the other end of the spectrum about folks who just do nothing and settle for a bland, couch-potato type of existence. I’m just talking in broad generalities.

If you’re a Merry-Go-Round, please try not to get mad at me here. Because I love you. I just don’t get you. Going around and around and around makes me dizzy. It’s not pleasant or peaceful at all. In fact, I find it stressful. Unnatural. Because when I look at Jesus, I don’t see a Merry-Go-Round. I see a Roller Coaster.

And yet, in many ways, there is something about “church life” that is much more Merry-Go-Round than it is Roller Coaster. It is the most counter-intuitive thing I can imagine. And I think the reason is, we’re much more comfortable PLAYING church than BEING the church.

Playing church is comfortable. It’s safe. It’s predictable. It’s plannable. It’s showing up on Sundays, singing nice songs, passing the plate. Casserole dinners. Shaking hands in the aisles. Not offending anyone. No risks. Polite prayers. It’s a Merry-Go-Round.

Being the church is dangerous. Unpredictable. It’s stepping into the war zone of culture and addiction and poverty and brokennes. It is battling the demons that entrap total strangers while forcing yourself to face your own. It is risking everything to follow Jesus wherever he leads you. It is loud, powerful, hands-in-the-air, tears-in-your-eyes worship. It will fill you with adrenaline one minute and empty your stomach the next. It’s high-fiving your friends right before you barf on your shoes. Roller Coaster.

Admittedly, some Merry-Go-Rounds will never embrace Roller Coasters. Some folks will always be content to spin around and around, their biggest thrills coming as the horsies bob up and down. Smiling and passing the potatoes. Playing a nice comfortable game of church.

Others will long for the rush of the Roller Coaster, but live a life afraid of leaving their friends on the Merry-Go-Round. Worried that the Merry-Go-Rounds will resent them for changing rides. Afraid to leave the game and live the life. Trapped in an endless cycle of regret. Resenting both the Merry-Go-Rounds that hold them back and the Roller Coasters who live with wind in their hair and hearts pounding out of their chests.

Those who will take the risk and ride the Roller Coaster will be filled with life in a way that can never be experienced on the Merry-Go-Round. We will suffer as much as we rejoice. We will cry as much as we laugh. And we will love every minute of it.

We will always love our friends on the Merry-Go-Round. But we can’t ride with them.

A Black Friday Prophecy

BlackFridayToday is the annual high holiday of American consumerism…Black Friday.

While I personally have never had any interest in participating in the shopping melee that is taking place across our nation today, I understand also that, for good or for bad, many hardworking people will rely on today and the upcoming holiday shopping season for their livelihoods.

Somehow we have created the ultimate irony.

We have built a society which places high value on material possessions. That value requires people to create and distribute those possessions. In order to make those possessions as affordable and widely available as possible, we demand that those people work for low wages. Inevitably, the consequence of people working for low wages is marginalization and, ultimately, impoverishment.

In our Western Christian heritage, we have attached the giving and receiving of possessions to one of our holiest days, our celebration of Jesus’ birth.

And so our consumer culture has merged with our religious culture. A religion which claims to worship the ways of a radically self-giving God attempts to do so through a consumeristic celebration of God’s incarnation into humanity.

The result is a kind of religious schizophrenia. In order to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we have created the very kind of marginalization and impoverishment Jesus consistently condemns.

Ultimate. Irony.

In the biblical narrative, God’s intent was for Israel to be a nation which valued all people equally and sacrificially cared for one another, and which demonstrated that kind of care as a counter-cultural picture to the rest of the world of what humanity could be at its best.

During the period in which the books of the prophets emerged, many in Israel had become very prosperous. Ironically, wealth and power came largely through enslavement of the poorest and most vulnerable.

The prophets arose as a voice to critique what Israel had become. Their job was not so much to predict the future as it was to point out the consequences for the nation’s behavior. Israel, ironically, had risen from enslavement in Egypt to enslaving its own people. The consequence would be exile and enslavement in Babylon.

Enslavement always leads to enslavement. Mistreatment of others always leads to being mistreated.

As another Black Friday leads us into another Christmas shopping season, we would be wise to remember the voice of the prophets.

This is not a call to monasticism or asceticism. I’m not advocating that we stop buying or giving. I claim no moral high ground from which to cast blame on anyone. I am as culpable as any.

I simply hope that by confronting our own religious schizophrenia, we might begin to be more truly generous, more counter-culturally compassionate, and more truly human.

Whacky Tacky Wednesday

photo

A youth pastor friend of mine recently had his budget cut because he spent too much on tacos for some students one night. Another was run out of his job at a small church because parents wanted him to spend more time playing games and developing activities for his students than teaching them the Bible.

It seems like churches are always trying to find a balance in their student ministries between teaching and fun. Sadly, many youth pastors get caught in a trap between parishioners on one side who feel that fun and learning are mutually exclusive, and parents on the other who prefer to have their children entertained rather than taught anything significant.

No wonder the average tenure of a youth pastor in American churches is something like 18 months.

Activities like the Youth Week event I’m speaking at in Chesapeake, Va., this week are a perfect demonstration of the fact that it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to make a choice between serious teaching and serious fun. In fact, if you do it right, it doesn’t even become about achieving some kind of balance between fun and learning. It is entirely possible to do both at the same time.

What makes it work is attitude. The attitude of pastors, youth leaders, parents and students are all critical components. Youth leaders have to have clear expectations and communicate them to their kids. Parents have to buy in to what the leaders are trying to do and, most importantly, be present both for their children and for their youth staff. Students have to be teachable. And pastors have to give their leaders the space to work creatively while providing moral and spiritual support without suffocating them.

Yesterday’s “Whacky-Tacky Wednesday” here at Aldersgagte was a great example of these principles at work. Many of the kids who attended dressed in goofy costumes for our worship and teaching sessions today. Even the worship band, some of the parents and leaders, and even this grizzly old guest speaker got in on the act. We learned. We served. We worshipped. And we had a blast.

Church leaders, don’t hamstring your youth staff by either forcing out the fun or, worse yet, making it so overly-contrived and orchestrated as to render it inauthentic. Parents, allow your church to actually teach your kids something. Trust me, they can take it.

The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of joy. Churches should be the first place our students learn that lesson, not the last.

This is not a story about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.
–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The social network noise over George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin has been deafening these past few days. And while I tend to agree with the general disappointment in the verdict, that’s not what I want to write about today.

Because ultimately, at least for me, this is about more than a murder trial. It’s about more than race or guns or a screwed up criminal justice system.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 3.26.59 PMWhen the above message from the fair trade organization Trade as One appeared in my Twitter feed yesterday, I realized this is not a story about any of that. It’s a story about us.

What this story is really about is an American culture that has drifted far from the teachings of Jesus and the Christian roots we proclaim so proudly but embrace so poorly. It’s about a mindset that turns first to fear and distrust before it even considers caring and compassion.

Our culture has told us for some time that it’s acceptable to respond to violence with more violence. Certainly, that comes as no surprise to anyone. It’s nothing new.

But it’s a very short trip from there to the point where even perceived violence, or, as seems to have happened in this case, the imagined threat of violence, is sufficient to elicit a deadly response. It would even appear that Florida law has gone so far as to codify this principle.

And we have the gall to call ourselves a Christian nation.

Yes, violence and crime are a reality in our nation and in our world. Yes, people have a right to protect themselves.

But somehow, somewhere, we have got to change that attitude where fear and distrust are our default settings. Somehow, somewhere, we have to find a way to put love and compassion first.

If there’s anyplace that can offer hope for that kind of change, anyplace that has the power to make a difference, it is the Christian church. The body of the crucified and risen Christ. The representative people of the man who chose to bless, forgive, and sacrificially surrender to his enemies–to the actual threat of real violence–rather than respond with more violence.

The question is, will the church stand up? Will we take the lead in changing the cultural endorsement of violence?

Regrettably, there is much evidence that, at least in some instances, the church is so profoundly complicit in the American gun culture, in the false doctrines of retributive violence and “just war,” that it is too deeply ingrained as part of the problem to become part of the solution. For many, it has become far too common to equate constitutional rights with biblical mandates.

My hope, indeed my belief, is that such complicity represents a very small minority of American Christians, albeit perhaps the loudest.

But that makes it that much more urgent that the rest of us not only stand up and make our voices heard, but let our actual behaviors speak the gospel we claim to believe.

Maybe it’s time we actually attempted to act like the Jesus we say we follow. Like the savior who rescued us from slavery not just to sin and death, but to the violence which ultimately accompanies it.

Perhaps it’s not realistic to think that in this day and age any of us would offer a stranger a ride home on a rainy night. But can we at least get to the point where we don’t let our suspicions and prejudices and overactive imaginations drive us to violent actions? Wouldn’t that be a reasonable first step?

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to live in that world where George Zimmerman offered Trayvon Martin a ride home on a rainy night. Maybe we can’t get there today, or tomorrow, or next week or even next year.

But we’ve got to start somewhere.

The Apostle Paul urges  the church in Rome to “renew your mind” in response to “the pattern of this world” (Rom. 12:2, NIV). And it is undeniable that “the pattern of this world” is one of violence and fear.

Let us be the people that change that pattern. Let us be the ones that renew our minds and transform the world.

Let us be the ones that say it ends here. The violence and murder and hatred ends with us.

No more children will die because of our fear.

How cool would it be to live in that world?

Every Life Has Value…a Buckwild Story

The Awesomeness Conspiracy Poet Laureate Anna Webb weighs in on the death of MTV’s Buckwild star Shain Gandee’s death and why it matters:

You can follow this and more of Anna’s videos on her YouTube page.

Think what you want about MTV, reality programming, or seemingly self-indulgent people who apparently bring tragedy upon themselves, we cannot afford to harden our hearts toward any loss of life for any reason. Television has the tendency to commoditize human life. All of us, regardless of faith tradition, have to remain vigilant. We must value every life, even those whose circumstances or choices disturb us at best or downright offend us at worst.

Thanks, Anna, for this timely reminder. You make your dad proud.

Why supporting gay rights is the most Christian thing I can do

redflagThere’s a story in the Bible where Jesus talks about a field where a man planted a crop of wheat. While he was sleeping, an enemy snuck into the field and planted weeds. The wheat and the weeds grew together, intermingled. The man’s servants offered to pick through the field and remove all the weeds. But the man refused to let them. Instead, he told them to let both the wheat and the weeds grow together. Later, when the time came for the harvest, they could be separated and the weeds could be burned.

Later, Jesus explains to his closest followers that he is the sower, the field is the kingdom of God, and the enemy is the devil. The wheat is the people of the kingdom, the weeds are those who do evil. In theological terms, it’s what we call an eschatological story…a story about how God achieves his ultimate ends.

Religious purists lick their chops at stories like this. To them, it’s all about who’s “in” and who’s “out.” It’s about the people who believe all the right things going to heaven, and those who don’t going to hell.

It’s not.

In the original languages of the Bible, the weeds in this story are referred to as “tares.” There is some dispute over the precise taxonomy, but there is general agreement that these tares were virtually indistinguishable from wheat until the plants came to full maturity. So there was a very real danger that if the man’s servants attempted to root out the weeds, they would damage some wheat as well.

This is not a story about who’s “in” and who’s “out.” It’s a story about God. About his patience. About his sovereignty. About his long-suffering. If you will, it’s a story about judgement. And it’s a story about who gets to be the judge.

Here’s a hint: it’s not us.

For two days this week the US Supreme Court heard arguments regarding same-sex marriage. For those two days, I joined many people in showing my support by putting a red equality symbol on my Facebook profile. Not because I thought it would make a lick of difference to the Supreme Court, but because I want people I know and love–some of whom happen to be homosexual–to know I’m on their side.

During those two days, I also saw, read, and listened to a lot of people–many of them friends–who disagreed. Many, if not most, believe that supporting gay marriage is explicitly prohibited by a handful of Bible verses, and therefore is non-Christian.

I have absolutely no problem with their disagreement. Honest people can disagree with civility, kindness and charity. Usually, it leads to deeper understanding for both sides.

What I do have a problem with is the condemnation that far too often went with the disagreement. Condemnation not only for people living in a reality they can’t possibly understand, but also for Christians who dared to support them. All because of what they think the Bible says.

Here’s the thing, though. It’s easy to quote what the Bible says. The trick is to understand what it means.

The more I study the Bible, the more time I spend letting it work on me and work in me, the more convinced I am that it was never intended to be a book of rules.

Yes, there are rules in the Bible, but the rules are not what the Bible is about. What it is about is God’s revelation of himself, mostly through stories about ordinary human beings who make tons of mistakes…and who, by the way, regularly break the rules.

And that makes it a love story.

I have read and heard from people who support gay marriage say that it’s not a religious issue, it’s a civil rights issue. At first, I agreed with that sentiment. What the Supreme Court is discussing is the rights our country extends to its citizens, not religious doctrine.

But the more I thought about it, I see that, for Christians at least, it is a religious issue. And not in the way a lot of Christians think.

Because the Bible is a love story.

And to think that the measure of being a Christian depends on following rules you find in the Bible is to miss the point of both the Bible and of Christ.

One of the most important things Jesus says to his followers is that they are to love their enemies. He tells them it’s easy to love people who agree with them, who look like them, who believe the same things. But it’s hard to love those you disagree with. It’s hard to love people who are…different.

When Jesus says to love our enemies, he doesn’t mean we just tolerate them as long as they don’t interfere with our way of life. He means we actively seek their well-being. We work for their best interests.

We make sure they have the same rights and privileges we do.

We become their neighbors.

We become their friends.

If we try to root out what we think are the tares, we could very easily be ruining perfectly good wheat.

Yes, same-sex marriage is a religious issue for Christians. Because to stand against it is, ultimately, most decidedly non-Christian.

I don’t support same-sex marriage because I’ve abandoned my Christian beliefs. I do it because it’s the most Christian thing I could do. It fulfills everything I understand about what it means to follow Jesus.

As for wheat and weeds, I’m willing to let God sort that out. He certainly doesn’t need me to do it for him. I’m quite sure I can’t tell the difference.

How sure are you?

Be Reconciled!

This marks the first post to The Awesomeness Conspiracy by our own Bard-in-Residence, Mr. Steve Peck. Today we are happy to share Steve’s original song, “Be Reconciled.” It is a prophetic word to the church to meet Jesus’ challenge to love all. Enjoy!