“Attitude reflect leadership”

One of my all-time favorite movies is “Remember the Titans,” made in 2000 about the football team at an all-white high school in Alexandria, Virginia, that was integrated in 1971.

There’s a great scene where linebacker Gary Bertier, the white team captain, confronts defensive end Julius Campbell, one of the new black players, about being selfish and not helping his teammates. Julius counters that Bertier isn’t doing his job as captain because he doesn’t call out the white linemen when they fail to block for one of the black running backs.

At the end of the scene, Bertier accuses Julius of having a bad attitude…and then Julius drops the mic:

“Attitude reflect leadership…captain.”

What that scene (and actually the whole movie) dramatically points out is the way that an ingrained sense of privilege can lead us, often unknowingly, to the harm of other people.

Privilege or purpose?

Last week I introduced the theological theme of purpose vs. privilege that has occupied much of my writing, teaching, and preaching of late. Today I want to unpack it a little more fully.

I first started to sense the idea that the theme of purpose vs. privilege is an underlying thread woven deeply into the biblical narrative about four years ago when I was in the midst of a long, deep dive into studying the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) through the lens of Dallas Willard’s brilliant book, The Divine Conspiracy.

The more I dwelled in the Sermon on the Mount over the better part of 2+ years, the more it started to really inform my entire hermeneutic. I began to see it not as a series of instructions or guidelines for behavior, but as a way of being that is centered on a radical awareness of the worth and dignity of all things.

Don’t give me your attitude

Without writing an entire book report, what Willard so beautifully demonstrates in The Divine Conspiracy is that the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ manifesto of how life is supposed to work. Especially through the “you have heard it said…but I say to you…” monologue in 5:21-48, Jesus is getting beneath the behaviors of Mosaic law to the attitudes that drive them.

Rather than pointing out (as is often taught) that the Law is far too difficult to live out on one’s own so we need Jesus to save us from our inability to carry it out, what the Sermon on the Mount actually does is reveal that there is no difference between dehumanizing attitudes and dehumanizing behaviors.

“Do not kill” is more than just an instruction not to commit murder, but to so deeply recognize the humanity in others that you could not possibly conceive of such an act.

“Do not commit adultery” becomes less about cheating on your partner and more about mentally objectifying others for your own satisfaction, either physical or emotional.

“Do not break your oath” is not just about keeping your word for the sake of your own honor, but for honoring the dignity of the one to whom you make the promise.

In other words, Jesus is stripping away all sense of personal privilege. He is revealing all the ways we think ourselves superior to others and places us all, no matter our station in life, on a level field with one another.

Righteousness of the Pharisees

In that light, the greatest virtue is living for purpose.

“You (Israel) were given a purpose: to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. To bring delight and flavor and love into the world. Don’t mistake the gifts of purpose for privilege. Don’t hoard them and keep them to yourself to exercise power and influence over others, but instead use them so that everyone everywhere knows that the true essence of God is love.” —Matt. 5:13-16, (my paraphrase)

Elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refers to this sense of purpose as “righteousness.” He warns his followers that their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees, the self-appointed religious leaders of the time.

What Jesus means to point out, I believe, is that the kind of righteousness displayed by the Pharisees was little more than self-righteousness, a putting on display of their piety in order to cement their place of privilege.

True righteousness, Jesus says, is to be true to your God-appointed purpose.

You had one job

Let’s rewind a little further for some perspective. In Genesis, God encounters this dude named Abraham and makes a promise to him: that his offspring will become a great nation…a nation with a very specific purpose. A vocation, if you will.

“All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3b, NIV)

This is the key part of Israel’s back story in the Old Testament narrative: to be a nation chosen by God to carry out God’s purpose of blessing.

And the rest of the Old Testament tells the story about how Israel failed again and again and again to live into that promise.

Because Israel wanted to keep God’s blessing to itself. To have power and influence in a world where it was more often the bullied than the bully. To turn the tables on the nations that continually overran its borders and carried its people into exile.

To make Israel great again.

Israel wanted to take the privilege of God’s promise to Abraham without taking on the responsibility of the purpose God intended.

In fact, we can go even further back in the story to the Creation myth[1] and see where the story that we refer to as “The Fall” or “Original Sin” is also really a story about placing privilege over purpose.

When the first humans in the story chose to take what they want for personal pleasure, they chose the privilege that went along with their freedom and ignored the purpose of their responsibility to steward the Creation.

Privilege puts self at the center of the universe. Privilege takes.

Purpose revolves around the other. Purpose gives.

And when we live for purpose rather than for privilege, that’s where the Kingdom of Heaven is.


Welcome to the reboot of joewebbwrites.com. After an extended dry season where my writing has been limited to a few sermons and work projects, I’m re-launching with a series of articles on the theology of purpose vs. privilege. I welcome your feedback and conversation over the concepts I present here…just keep it civil and keep it classy.

The kingdom is coming, y’all.


[1] I use the word “myth” to denote a story that people tell to try to explain their perception of reality. It should not be read as meaning the story is not true, although I might argue that truth and facts are not at all the same thing.

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A Parable of Purpose and Privilege

There were some folks who were very proud of who they were—their family heritage, their place in society, their ability to influence things—and who looked down on people who weren’t as “good” as them. And Jesus told them a story: “Two people went into the church to pray. One was a leader in the church who held much sway in the community. The other was an addict who tricked people into giving him their money to buy drugs. The first one stood at the middle of the altar, lifted his hands to the sky, and said, ‘Thank you, God, that you have made me so prosperous and so powerful, and that I’m not like these other low-lifes. I attend all the church council meetings and I put a tenth of my salary into the offering plate.’ But the addict stood in the back, ashamed to approach the altar or even to lift his eyes. He buried his head in his hands and said, ‘God, have mercy on me for the wrong that I do to people.’ I tell you, this person went home justified in God’s eyes rather than the one of influence. Everyone who thinks they’re more important than others will be brought low, and everyone who humbles themselves will be lifted up.” –Luke 18:9-14 (my paraphrase)

A friend of mine posted something on social media this morning that went something like this:

“I woke up this morning in a dry bed, had hot water in my shower, food in my fridge, and working air conditioning. God is so good!”

Actually, I hear this kind of thing a lot from my Christian friends.

“I can’t believe how awesome God is to make my life so comfortable. Yay God!”

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I like to be comfortable. I like having a memory foam mattress and a full fridge and fresh fair-trade coffee. I like my iPhone and AirPods, my 60” TV, and my collection of expensive fly rods and backpacking gear. I like it when my car runs, and I like a good parking place close to the door as much as anyone.

And I think God is in that. God is in my comfort.

But my comfort is not God’s agenda.

If my comfort, or anyone’s comfort for that matter, is God’s agenda, then that means that God’s agenda is also someone else’s discomfort. Because I know that a lot of the things that make me comfortable come at someone else’s expense.

And I think that’s something God unambiguously stands against.

Privilege or purpose?

One of the theological premises I’ve been exploring in my current season of spiritual reconstruction is the theme of purpose vs. privilege. I’m going to unpack that a lot more in the days and weeks to come, but at its heart it’s a subtext I see running throughout the biblical narrative…God imbues God’s creation with purpose from the very beginning, but the tendency of humanity is to turn the gifts of purpose into a claim for privilege.

In fact, I think a pretty substantial theological stance can be taken that privilege is really the essence of what we might call “original sin.” Again, I’ll dive into that a little deeper in some future writings. For now I’ll let you sit with that concept and consider its implications.

The point, though, is that privilege always comes at the expense of the other. By its very nature, it creates ins and outs, haves and have-nots, worthies and unworthies.

Because I can’t have privilege without someone else losing it.

Did you hear the one about the golden calf?

And so when I experience comfort in my life, and credit that comfort as a gift from God, I have to be very, very careful. Again, it’s not that comfort is not from God, but that comfort is something that can very quickly become something we fight really hard to protect.

You might even call it an idol.

And this doesn’t just happen on an individual level, but also a cultural and societal one. One of the most glaring examples, but certainly not the only one, can be seen in systemic racism or classism.

It’s a symptom of people using their privilege—which they often believe to be God-given—to protect what they believe to be their God-given comfort.

When the Israelites in the Exodus story decided to build a golden calf to worship, the problem wasn’t that they were representing a god other than Yahweh. It was that they were misrepresenting Yahweh. They were making God into something God was not.

When we begin to worship our privilege over our purpose, we are replacing God as God is with who we want God to be…a God that exists for our benefit at the expense of others.

The Superiority Complex

Now, a legitimate question to ask at this point might be why we can’t just all have comfort. Why does my comfort necessitate someone else’s discomfort?

Think about it for a moment. Privilege, by definition, is exclusivist. It means having something that others don’t. It means being something others aren’t. It carries with it—either implicitly or explicitly—a sense of superiority.

And while that often gets played out in the realm of consumerism and materialism, it reveals itself more deeply in economics and politics.

But however it manifests, it is, at its root, a theological problem.

When we believe God gifts certain people with certain comforts/privileges that God does not gift to others, we have created a false God.

Worse, we create theologies and doctrines that defend the view of an exclusivist God that cares more about propositional acquiescence to a conception of God than an actual, lived, relational experience of God.

All for one and one for all

So yes, please, thank God for your dry bed and your hot shower and the roof over your head. Thank God for a life with more comfort than discomfort. If you must, even thank God for that great parking spot.

But don’t lift your privilege above your purpose. Remember that whatever gifts God gives you, God gives you not just for your benefit, but for the benefit of all.


Welcome to the reboot of joewebbwrites.com. After an extended dry season where my writing has been limited to a few sermons and work projects, I’m re-launching this week with a series of articles on the theology of purpose vs. privilege. I welcome your feedback and conversation over the concepts I present here…just keep it civil and keep it classy.

The kingdom is coming, y’all.

America, we have a problem

(c) All-Nite Images. Via flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY-SA). Some rights reserved.

(c) All-Nite Images. Via flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY-SA). Some rights reserved.

When I woke this morning to the news from Dallas, I just felt gut-kicked. I’m sure a lot of you felt the same way. How many more killings must we endure? What will it take to make it stop?

As I scrolled through my Facebook and Twitter feeds, my depression just grew. Even the heartfelt and eloquent calls and prayers for unity and reconciliation seemed somewhat empty—not because they lacked passion or authenticity, but because even those just feel like more band-aids slapped on a gaping wound.

My opinion may not be any better. Certainly I’m as powerless as anyone else in pinpointing causes and offering answers. Part of that is because it’s not easy. There’s no single place to point blame, any more than there is any single solution to apply. Complex and nuanced issues are uncomfortable for us to confront. We’re more interested in fixing blame than healing wounds. We care more about voicing our rage than confronting the evil in our own hearts.

Which is probably why most of our responses—even the most articulate—ultimately amount to little more than kicking the can down the road…until the next black kid is murdered, or the next cop gets gunned down, or the next mass execution of innocents, or the next mom shoots her babies.

America is an angry nation right now. And in my experience, anger comes largely from fear. Fear of feeling victimized. From feeling wronged. From sensing you have no real control. We’re angry at other nations that fail to fall in line with our values. We’re angry at ideologies that conflict with our sense of moral superiority. We’re angry at refugees and immigrants who wish to share our benefits. We fear what all of that will do to our comfortable, privileged lifestyles.

Mostly, though, it seems we’re angry with each other. We can’t even carry on civil conversations about politics or economics or religion without calling each other sophomoric names or posting opinions and memes that do nothing but exacerbate our divides. We’ve come to believe that any thought that disagrees with our own lacks legitimacy. We view each other as enemies and compromise as weakness. We are obsessed with the us/them divide.

But what’s worse perhaps than this escalation in anger is our pervasive belief that our anger is righteous, and therefore any actions we take to express it are justifiable. That indulging our anger through acts of hatred and violence is acceptable. That somehow justice is served when we retaliate.

We forget, though, that justice and revenge are not at all the same thing.

Whatever the underlying causes, and whatever the ultimate solutions may be for our escalating culture of violence, at some point America has to deal with its underlying anger problem.

And that means you and I have to deal with it. We have to do the hard work of reconciliation and forgiveness.

We have to see each other as human.

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets (Matt. 7:12, NRSV).

We have a choice to make, America. And it’s more than a political or cultural or economic or religious choice. It’s a choice about who we are fundamentally going to be.

And if you’re one of those people who want to sacrifice other human beings at the alter of your anger, let me ask you: How’s that working out? Is your life better because of it? Are you really happier? More secure? More peaceful?

There is, as the Apostle Paul put it, a “more excellent way.” But the path to that way doesn’t come cheap and it doesn’t come easy.

It requires something of us. It demands we release our sense of justified outrage and self-righteousness and embrace the worth and dignity of every single human life. It compels us to face issues of privilege and entitlement and to realize that there are other humans on this planet who have every bit the value, even if their experiences, beliefs, cultures, and perspectives are different.

It means we have to recognize those voices that claim to report “news” and “facts” for what they are: hucksters of coliseum-type entertainment, selling our fears and anger back to us in the name of ratings and the dollars they bring.

I hope that we can be brave enough to do the right thing. I hope we can realize that love is a bigger weapon that fear and anger and hate.

Because ultimately, it’s the only one we have.

“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned.” (Matt. 4:16, NRSV).

America was once a place where people saw light and hope. May it be so again. And may we be its instruments.

May we celebrate love with grace

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

I am indeed thrilled today for my LGBTQ friends and fellow allies who are rejoicing the US Supreme Court’s decision to recognize the rights of all people to enjoy the benefits of marriage. It’s been a long and difficult journey, and I join you in your celebration of this dramatic moment in our history.

At the same time, I know many others who are deeply troubled by this decision because of genuine, authentic and very legitimate religious beliefs. People I also love deeply who have not yet—and may never—come to see marriage equality as something they can support within their understanding of their faith. I sincerely mourn for your pain today. I pray God’s comfort for you.

This is no time for gloating, for “I-told-you-so,” for demeaning folks who have been long accused of being demeanors. There is nothing to be gained by that. My own position has only come about through a lengthy and often very difficult period of listening, study, and prayer. Because of that, I must respect that others are in that same discernment process, and may come to different conclusions.

The long and glorious history of our faith is full of days like these where people of good conscious disagree on how we interpret our holy writings and traditions. Happily, none of those days have destroyed us.

May today be no different.

If today is a celebration of love, let it be a celebration of love not just for those with whom we agree, but for those with whom we disagree. Let us enjoy the gravity of the moment with dignity and grace for those who still struggle to understand.

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

It goes both ways.

Celebrate love. Extend grace. Keep it classy.

Shalom,
Joe

Authority

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(This is the eighth and final installment of The Awesomeness Conspiracy’s 2015 Lenten devotional on the Sermon on the Mount. Thanks for walking through the season with us! To view the entire series on a single page, click on the Lent 2015 tab above.)

[Part 1]  [Part 2]  [Part 3]  [Part 4]  [Part 5]  [Part 6]  [Part 7]

Today’s reading: Matthew 7:13-29

Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

He had redefined the law. Fulfilled it.

Love. Unbridled, unconditional. Counter-intuitive, upside-down, inside-out.

Love that puts the welfare of others ahead of self.

Love that places no burden on others. Love that sees through God’s eyes.

Love that sees through God’s heart.

The gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Their religious leaders had gotten it so wrong. It was so easy for them to condemn the imperfect and unclean. To protect their comfortable traditions, their strict legalism, their cozy doctrine…that, Jesus said, was a wide and easy path.

Anyone can cling to those things that benefit oneself and exclude those who don’t measure up. Anyone can call others to conform to their self-interest.

Anyone can love their friends and hate their enemies.

But this way of love, a love that gives and sacrifices and humanizes even those who would do us harm…this way is narrow. This way is hard.

This way is life.

Repent. Reorient.

Discard the way of false truth that destroys life on its way to self-salvation.

Real truth reveals itself in real love. Real peace. Kindness, patience, generosity, gentleness. Against these, there is no law.

Bear good fruit, Jesus says. Not the bad fruit of the Pharisees and religious elite that poisons and kills, but the fruit of love that nourishes and flourishes.

You can call out my name all you want. Use me to declare your own power and righteousness till you’re blue in the face. But unless you love, you’ll never know me.

Good news. Kingdom news.

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.

Follow.

Love is the way to life. Love that respects the God-breathed humanity and dignity of each other person. Love that blesses the undeserving.

It had to be true. No other “truth” could measure up.

There was authority in these words, in this man, like none they had witnessed before.

It was as if their leaders, the ones who claimed God’s truth, who called them to follow God’s law, who confidently declared who was “in” and who was “out,” didn’t really know God at all.

To truly know God, to be citizens of his kingdom, was to truly understand that love alone fulfills the law.

This was a kingdom worth living for.

This was a kingdom worth dying for.

Judgment

Pearls before swine old quotation from bible

(This is the seventh installment of The Awesomeness Conspiracy’s 2015 Lenten devotional on the Sermon on the Mount. Follow us to receive e-mail updates for each new post.)

[Part 1]  [Part 2]  [Part 3]  [Part 4]  [Part 5]  [Part 6]

Today’s reading: Matthew 6:25-7:12

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Love your enemies. Treasure what God treasures. Pray for love.

Their worldview was fully unraveled now. This was Israel. Chosen nation. God’s own people.

Tied together by legal codes that specified who was and was not in God’s favor.

It was all about getting from out to in. From unclean to clean. From excluded to included.

These were things worth fretting over.

But even this, Jesus says, is not as it seems.

Why worry? Isn’t God in charge? Either he is or he isn’t. See these birds? They work, but only to be what God made them to be. See these flowers? Each one beautiful, not because it chose to be beautiful, but because God created it beautiful.

You are blessed. From the highest and greatest to the lowest and least. Blessed.

But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Righteousness. There’s that word again. Not the righteousness of the Pharisees, of the law-enforcers, the status-quo-protectors.

The righteousness of God.

You have heard it said…but I tell you….

Anger, contempt, indulgence. Objectification. Dehumanization. Condemnation.

Splinters and logs.

You must see others for who they are. Created by, loved by, cared for by the One who created, loves, and cares for you.

Condemnation blinds. Only love can see.

It was all so hard to hear. So hard to accept.

Particularly, perhaps, for those most threatened by it.

Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

This Kingdom is dangerous. Love is dangerous.

Be perfect, Jesus said. Repent. Reorient.

But if even the Pharisees and teachers of the law have missed the point, how then could these outcasts and misfits access this love Jesus proclaims?

Ask. Seek. Knock.

Grace.

It cannot come from human will alone. Only God has that power.

But God, it seems, is willing to share it with his children.

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your strength.

And love your neighbor as yourself.

This is it! This is the law!

Love God fully. Love others fully.

Trust God, pray to God, to give you power where you have none. To see as God sees.

Not through eyes of distrust or condemnation or judgment.

But through eyes full of the light of love.

Next: Authority

Indulgence

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(This is the fourth installation of The Awesomeness Conspiracy’s 2015 Lenten devotional on the Sermon on the Mount. Follow us to receive e-mail updates for each new post.)

[Part 1]  [Part 2]  [Part 3]

Today’s reading: Matthew 5:21-37

You have heard…but I say to you….

If the righteousness of the Pharisees is not righteousness, then what is?

Jesus is challenging the very core of what they had been led to believe. Striking at the heart of what their leaders had taught for generations.

Murder. Adultery. Divorce. Swearing oaths.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were very clear about these matters.

Or were they?

Dig deeper, Jesus says.

Don’t murder, yes. But what leads to murder? Anger, condemnation, unforgiveness. Indulge these, says Jesus, and your heart is already murderous.

Don’t commit adultery, yes. But what leads to adultery? An attraction triggers a thought, a thought triggers a fantasy, a fantasy triggers objectification. Indulge these, says Jesus, and your heart is already adulterous.

Divorce? You make it too easy, says Jesus. You indulge your selfishness and dehumanize your spouse. Has she no more value to you than your crops or livestock? Do you care so little for her as to drive her to a life of poverty and indignity?

And those vows you make? Why must you swear by heaven or earth, or anything else for that matter? Is your word not enough? Are you so insecure that you need to manipulate others’ opinions by the power of your oaths? Have they no humanity of their own?

Indulgence.

We indulge anger and we murder.

We indulge lust and we commit adultery.

We indulge selfishness and we objectify.

We indulge insecurity and we manipulate.

This, he says, is the righteousness of the Pharisees. Obey the rules, period. You will be measured by your behavior and your behavior alone.

The sin, says Jesus, is more than our behavior. It is a heart that refuses to honor the humanity of others. That places more value on “me” than on “you.” And, by extension, on “we.”

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

If you think that life is all about you and how you behave, you’re missing the point. You might as well be blind or maimed, because that’s basically how you’re going through life as it is.

So what is righteousness? What does true righteousness look like?

Next: Perfect.

 

“Jesus was a socialist…”

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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?

Have Yourself a Compelling Little Christmas

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The gospel is compelling, not coercive.

Is there a statement that more fully embodies the Christmas story?

In a time when Christian denominations offer a fragmented picture of the body of Christ, when self-appointed gatekeepers impose narrow definitions and restrictive requirements for what is and is not acceptable, and when fear is wielded as the primary motivator of faith, we as the church would do well to be reminded of the compelling nature of God’s entry into our winner-take-all existence.

The ancient Hebrews spoke of God’s hesed love. Hesed is most often translated as “loving-kindness,” eliciting mercy, loyalty, faithfulness and compassion.

Hesed love is not conditional. It is not a love that wavers with our commitment or diminishes in the face of our disobedience. It is not love that pushes us to change in order to be acceptable.

Hesed is love that comes to us in a story of the poor and oppressed, of the despised and reviled. Of a baby born in dirt and filth to an unwed mother, whose coming was announced not to kings or religious leaders but to untrustworthy field workers and immigrant astrologers.

It is no coincidence that hesed is by its very nature incarnational. It is love that comes to us not as a warm and fuzzy feeling of attraction and excitement but as something that comes alive and takes shape in us and through us.

It is not just something that is delivered to us, but produces something in us, something new and surprising.

Something faithful and compassionate and merciful and just and beautiful.

There is nothing coercive about this kind of love. Nothing about it screams, “accept me or else!

But could there be anything more compelling?

Is there anything else, any other power in the universe that so captivates us? That grabs our imagination and makes us ask, what if life could REALLY be like this?

That’s the answer that Christmas gives us.

The compelling story that life really CAN be like this. That there is a love that reaches past our sorry commitments and our disobedience. That brings the incarnational beauty of hesed alive in us and unites us.

This Christmas, may we truly embrace the hesed loving-kindness of God through the incarnation of Jesus. And may we, like him, become a compelling force for mercy, love, justice, and compassion.

Happy Christmas!

Faith Not Fear: A story of inspiration

FNF_01

Dear fellow Conspirators for Awesomeness,

As a seminary student and someone seeking to discern a call into vocational ministry, I often find myself in conversations about discovering our purpose in the world. Often, we find ourselves talking about how we’ll know what God’s will is for our lives.

What I’ve come to believe is that, more often than not, God’s not so much directing us to a particular activity or position as he is encouraging us to find something that ignites our passions. Maybe, rather than waiting to hear what God is calling us to, we should do what excites us most and allow God to bless it.

A few months ago my friend Allie started a new venture called Faith Not Fear Apparel. FNF sells inspirational t-shirts as a means for people to start meaningful conversations, and gives away a portion of all sales to help empower others.

I wanted to feature FNF here on TheAwesomnessConspiracy.com both to help spread the word about their products as well as to tell Allie’s story. I think it’s a shining example of finding that place where your gifts and talents intersect with your passions, and watching God go to work with it in spectacular ways.

I recently had a chance to ask Allie to share the story behind FNF. And while many are rushing stores today for Black Friday deals, I thought today would be a good day to feature a possible alternative for your Christmas shopping.

What inspired you to start Faith Not Fear? 

Faith Not Fear Apparel was born out of a desire to “do more” to encourage people’s faith. After coming back from a life-changing mission trip to Haiti, I knew I couldn’t go back to sitting behind a desk, looking at the computer screen all day, when just a few days prior I put shoes on the feet of impoverished children, handed out Bibles and prayed with strangers. While sitting at my desk I kept wondering what I could do to make a difference here…as Mother Teresa said, “love begins at home.”

FNF_02Why t-shirts?

America is not a third world country and is privileged in many, many ways. But it’s a land full of hurting people, people who need Jesus. However, as a Christian it’s sometimes hard to start a conversation about God with strangers (or even friends!) − how do you bring it up a topic like that to that person behind you at the grocery store or that mom waiting to pick up her children beside of you. A t-shirt − that is was it! I decided that that was the way I could try to make a difference in my own community. It is our hope that by wearing a Faith Not Fear Apparel shirt that someone might ask you about it and give you the opportunity to share a little bit about faith/God/church with them. As a company, we strive to develop shirts you would be proud to wear and that have a simple, powerful message.

You said your trip to Haiti was life-changing. What was it about that experience that motivated you to do something like this?

With the root of the idea being planted in Haiti, 10% of the sales price of what we sell goes to support the ApParent Project, a nonprofit I visited there. The ApParent Project provides opportunities for Haitians to have steady employment. Haitian artisans learn skills, which enable them to provide for their children rather than send them to an orphanage due to extreme poverty. The Apparent Project distributes Haitian recycled, or “upcycled” items, which have become beautiful products including jewelry, home décor, pottery and more! They are making great strides in empowering Haitian people and keeping families together. To learn more about this heartwarming organization visit them at http://www.apparentproject.org

What’s in the name, “Faith Not Fear?” Is there a story there?

FNF_03Dave Willis, a leading expert on building strong Christian marriages, said, “There isn’t enough room in your life for both fear and faith. Each day, you must decide which one gets to stay.” This quote really stuck out to me − fear is something so many people (including myself) struggle with, it’s something the devil uses to paralyze us, so as the quote says, each and every day we have to make a conscious decision to squash those lies and choose to believe the promises from God.

How have other people spoken into your vision for FNF? Was it important for you to hear other voices? If so, why?

I have received a lot of encouragement from others to continue down this journey and each time I start to take a step back, God puts someone, even strangers, in my life at the right time to continue to push me! People have shared their heartfelt testimonies with me, and shared the reason they want a shirt whether it to be wear themself or to give it as a gift to encourage someone else. I love the way people want to shine God’s light on others using Faith Not Fear Apparel as a vehicle to do so. 

If we could fast-forward to a year from now and you could call FNF a success story, what would that look like for you?

I would love to walk down the street and see people wearing my shirts! I would also love to be able to send significant contributions to the ApParent Projects and be able to see the wonderful ways they will put the money to good use! 

What dreams do you have for the future of FNF…both in terms of product as well as mission?

I hope to expand the product line to include more designs and possibly a workout line of apparel. My main goal will continue to be to think of ways to shine God’s light on hurting people and find ways to help encourage people’s walk in faith.

To learn more about Faith Not Fear apparel, visit their fully-featured online store at www.faithnotfearapparel.com.

 

A prayer for Ferguson

pond5.com

pond5.com

I’m praying for Ferguson today.

Not just in that semi-sincere “Christian-ese” way that feels sorry for someone and says, “Oh, I’ll be praying for you.” I am literally on my knees. Praying. Begging God to make things right.

I’m praying that your city will find peace, and that neighbors can learn to live alongside one another without fear. That your people who desired nothing more than a nonviolent protest in response to a devastating announcement aren’t further victimized by criminals who used your pain as an excuse to loot and pillage, and your peaceful attempt to be heard as a cover for their selfish actions.

I’m praying for Michael Brown’s family. Your loss is insurmountable. And regardless of what the grand jury said, regardless of the evidence they saw, or maybe didn’t see, you deserved better than a cheap explanation from a slick politician.

I’m praying for Darren Wilson and his family. You have experienced something awful. You made a decision no one should ever have to make. You too are a victim of sorts. A victim of a “shoot first and ask questions later” mentality that makes deadly force your first instinct instead of a desperate measure of last resort.

I’m praying for justice. Not revenge. Not retribution. Those are different. I’m praying for real justice, the kind that brings reconciliation, the kind where something beautiful grows out of something horrible.

I’m praying that we can stop calling killing of any kind “justifiable.” I understand self-defense. I get that “kill or be killed” is a real, powerful, primal instinct. But because it’s understandable doesn’t make it justifiable. Again, that word implies that justice was somehow achieved. It’s more than semantics. Words matter, and we need to be less careless when our words are this important.

I’m praying that we can stop promoting and elevating fear as a motivation for our actions. The more we do that, the more superficial the things on which we base our fear…to the point where we become afraid of each other based on something as ultimately superficial as the color of our skin.

I’m praying that our news media will honor its responsibility to inform citizens, discover truth, and uncover corruption rather than selfishly escalating viewers’ emotions and inflaming conflict in the interest of selling more of its product.

I’m praying that white Americans can begin to empathize with the different perception our black neighbors have of life in our country. That we can recognize our privileged position in society and admit that we are able to live without much of the daily anxiety African-Americans must endure every moment of every day. That we can stop deflecting the argument toward so-called “black-on-black” violence. Or the notion that had Darren Wilson and Michael Brown been of the same race, their confrontation would have never made headlines. Those are cheap excuses that keep us from confronting legitimate issues.

I’m praying that the people of Jesus, who should be best equipped to bring about the kind of change that can end violence and injustice, will worry less about the silent voices of invisible imps and demons tempting them to misbehave and worry more about the systemic sin of an industrial/political/military complex that stirs fear and mistrust in order to protect its wealth and power and privilege. I’m praying that we will take seriously the call to stand up for the poor and oppressed and marginalized and stop defending those who oppress and marginalize.

And finally, I’m praying for love. Not a soft, sentimental emotion, but a love that has the power to burst through horrifying events to create communities of genuine affection and caring. A love that refuses to fear and insists on kindness, respect, dignity, and the common good.

A love that breaks down barriers and exposes our mutual humanity.

That’s my prayer for Ferguson. And for all of us.

Amen.