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.

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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

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

Treasure

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(This is the sixth 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]

Today’s reading: Matthew 6:1-24

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Love perfectly, Jesus said. Respect the worth and dignity of each person. Even those with whom we disagree.

Even those who would do us harm.

Lofty words. High ideals.

But how?

If the Pharisees in their righteousness cannot instruct us, what does it look like to put this perfect love into action?

I lift my eyes unto the hills. Where does my help come from?

The religious leaders make a great show of their piousness. Their worthiness is obvious.

My help comes from the Lord, creator of heaven and earth.

In secret. Jesus says to do it all in secret. As if one hand doesn’t even know what the other is doing.

It’s not about how others perceive your deeds of kindness, your acts of sacrifice, your stirring words of prayer.

You don’t need their approval.

For your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Whether in public or in private, pray like it’s just you and God.

Father…Your kingdom come. Make our lives like yours.

Show us how to love the way you love.

Feed us your very self.

Make us forgivers so we can experience your forgiveness.

Protect us from the trials we will face. Deliver us from persecution.

In this prayer, God’s way becomes our way.

This is no chant or charm, no formula for getting what we want.

It’s a door to a relationship. Where what we want becomes exactly what God wants.

What do you treasure? Your comfort? Your convenience? Your morality? Your power?

All these are so easily lost. In a moment, perhaps. Over time, certainly. Slowly, imperceptibly disintegrated by forces unseen.

But love. Love. There is a treasure which cannot be destroyed.

A heart of love sees things as they are. Undarkened by self-aggrandizement. Undimmed by self-indulgence.

Pure reality, bright and clear.

No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.

There is but one way to pursue Kingdom life. One reality to which to pledge our allegiance.

On earth as it is in heaven.

Next: Judgment

Perfect

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(This is the fifth 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]

Today’s reading: Matthew 5:38-48

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus was wrecking their worldview. Declaring them blessed. Imploring them to be salt and light. Challenging the authority of their leaders.

You have heard that the law is all in all, he said. But I tell you that it is how you think about others, how you treat them, your heart toward them that matters.

What could it all mean? What would he say next?

You have heard to seek revenge commensurate with the offense. But I tell you, when you are offended, return favor to your offender rather than harm.

But don’t our offenders deserve our revenge? Are we simply to roll over and accept it when we’re attacked?

We can’t appear to be weak.

Someone has to pay!

It was too much. But he wasn’t finished yet…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies.

Love our enemies? Love them?

It was one thing not to retaliate. Avoid them, maybe. Tolerate them, at best.

But love?

This is how the Kingdom works. The radical, righteous, upside-down-rightside-up Kingdom.

Empty yourself of self. Respect the dignity and humanity of others. Give freely. We are all created by the same God, loved equally. Remember how you thought you weren’t blessed? Why should your enemies be any less blessed?

Remember that you are dust…and to dust you shall return.

Equal under sun and rain alike, our enemies and us. Beloved by the Father. Whether we are brother or sister, tax collector or prostitute.

Blessed.

This Kingdom law, it seems, is not a behavior management program. It is not the righteousness of the Pharisees, which declares who is and is not worthy.

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

If the Pharisees and their version of the law are not perfect, then what is?

Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Anyone can love those who look like them, think like them, sound like them, act like them.

But you, O Israel! You are more than that!

Be perfect.

There’s only one way to live into a law like that.

Love must become devoid of self-interest. It must be filled with concern for the other.

It must become as the love of the Father.

Sun or rain, brother or sister, friend or enemy…the Father sees all through just one lens.

Love.

Perfect love.

Next: Treasure

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

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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.

The Election Day Conundrum

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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.