Tag Archives: Jesus

No Alternative to Right

As a Pastor, I know that Jesus can seem confusing.  When we read the words, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it,” we can scratch our heads.  I know that there are different ways to understand these words.

But one way of receiving these words is that God’s kingdom has been under attack and that violent people lay claim to it (and the Greek there is almost always a descriptive of maliciousness).  We can recognize truth in that idea.  Even if we broaden it out to say, “What is right and good has always been used violently and those who do that abuse the worth of it,” we can recognize that removing the religious element doesn’t change the inherent truth of the words.  People who have no place within the truth, will try to use it for their own gains.  They will claim that it is speaking about themselves and their cause.

The claim doesn’t make it true.

There is no right or good within the alt-right movement.  There is no life.  It doesn’t speak to the worth of America or the history of America.  It is only about themselves gaining power.  It takes a bit of truth – there is value in honoring heritage – and violently twists that to gain power.  That is the skillful work of liars, taking a bit of truth and creating a world of one’s own design by manipulating it to one’s desire.

The point of the power they seek is to overthrow the value of human beings, particular human beings… our black, Jewish, Asian, or differently-oriented human beings.  The point of the power is control and dominance and prestige.  It is to make others serve a vision of the future where their whim or edict will manage life, all lives.

If we do not step into this moment, if we waffle over whether we too believe in the honoring of heritage and not recognize the lie it is being used to support, we lose what is right and good.  We lose truth.  We cannot allow that.  We cannot expose our children to this subtlety because it will confuse them and they will become susceptible to the damage this lie brings to hearts and minds.  We must be forthright and plain.

The alt-right is not honoring heritage and not claiming a historical value.  It is maligning the value of other human beings for their own gain.  They are saying they have more value than any other.  They use blame and intolerance as tools to break down truth, to guide those who have been worn-out by tough times into serving them.  They take the lonely, the frustrated, the impoverished, the aimless and give them a direction built on a half-truth, a subtle dismissing of the value of anyone but themselves.

The tools against this lie seem impossibly weak in comparison to the violence it fosters.  The tools are friendship, conversation and love.  These don’t seem to move fast enough to counter the seeming wave of hatred.  But they are the tools to use and they must be used ferociously.  We must invite our neighbors over for dinner and talk with them.  We must build friendships with the other-oriented, the differently skin-colored, the races we do not know.  And we must seek the best for these other lives, in any way we can do that.

It may mean that we receive damage to our property by those who hate, it may be that we find ourselves maligned, we may be mistreated, we may even receive death threats for loving our neighbors.  That does happen to people who take truth seriously and who stand within the value of those who are different from themselves.  It does happen.  I recognize that and am willing to live in that because, really, Jesus isn’t confusing at all.

Blessings,
Geoff

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Power Addict

It’s been interesting, in a frightening sort of way, to watch the rise of Donald Trump.  One interesting moment came in the numerous responses to the support Trump is receiving from evangelicals.  I guess I’m surprised at the surprise expressed in many of these articles or blogs.  Evangelicals (with a capital “E”… I consider myself an evangelical) are addicted to power and that’s what they are aching for.  The Donald delivers the fix.

Like all addictions, power is subtle.

It seeks to take us, body and soul, completely by undermining our relational guidelines.  Relationship keeps us out of addiction.  As we depend on others, give to others and are grateful for others, we desire life and living.  We are satisfied in many deep and abiding ways.  An addiction grows as it replaces this satisfaction with want and it does that sometimes in the very cells of our bodies.  Very gently, addiction replaces our relationships with separation so that, over time, we ache for no one and nothing except the feeling we receive from the drug of choice.

This can happen with power.  We feel like we can “make things happen.”  We love when people give in and do as we want.  Evangelicalism, in its worst forms, has focused on bending people to its will through conversion.  Unfortunately, it moved away from conversion to Jesus and following him to conversion to a culture.  The culture was what it created around Jesus… “Jesus stuff.”  Jesus stuffConferences, trinkets, study Bibles in all colors, studies, videos, radio stations, clothes, pundits, separation from other culture… all to build a sense of protection and worth that didn’t rely on God’s grace.  It sought to make people believe its culture and to fall into line with behavioral patterns.  The trouble is that these patterns are focused on perfection and purity and not on relationship with people or God.  The aim is to be good, not to be real.  The dominance with its pressure to submit individually, in groups, through teachings, music and books, reveals the greater importance of power and authority over other people.

When the Moral Majority came into a period of national attention, the movement became focused on wielding political power.  Candidates fed this need by wooing the leaders.  Those following the leaders began to feed on the trickle-down obsession.  Even though the national attention shifted away because the hollow core was revealed through cascading scandals, the need and the need to feed remains.  Trump is simply giving them a free ride and they’re basking in the high.  When they realize that they have gained no ground but actually fallen into a deeper expression of loss, they’re going to get angry, but it won’t matter.

The example of humility, abiding in trusting God’s power, seeking others’ significance provided by Jesus has nothing to do with this community any more.  As has been the case for over 2000 years, the future of faith will be led by those who pray and assist their children to discover the One who is the heart of that conversation, the One who guides them deeply into relationship with other human beings, rather than those who anguish over it not being forced in schools anymore.

Blessings,
Geoff

Present

I’ve been thinking about clothes recently.  This will surprise a lot of people because I don’t usually.  One of my favorite quotes is from Henry David Thoreau who once wrote, “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.”  Thoreau was also the source of the quote by my picture in my yearbook – “I sometimes try my acquaintances by such tests as this; – who could wear a patch, or two extra seams only, over the knee?”  My niece just posted a picture of me with my son and her father and brother from like 15 years ago and I was wearing the same jacket I just had re-stitched at the dry cleaners.

Clothes are not usually a big deal to me, but they’ve been on my mind recently.

I’ve been thinking about clothes my wife and I buy for our grandchildren.  I’ve been thinking about tops I might buy for my daughters.  And my wife just told me that I should NOT buy her clothes this Christmas just because I think she’d look good in them (pretty clear hint on that one).

The reason I’ve been thinking about clothes, actually over the last couple of months this fall, is because I realized I have never bought my family clothes so that they wouldn’t be killed.

Do you think about that?  Do you look at something on the rack and think through whether or not that would cause someone to kill the person wearing it?  Do you live with that level of inherent fear?  I don’t.  I never have.

Not once have I spent a second considering whether this color, style, look would incite violence or encourage someone to take the life of my child or grandchild if they were wearing it.  I am now.  I’ve been thinking seriously about it for weeks.

That’s been the outcome of my considering the stories of black lives being taken that are penetrating our news in a horrifyingly consistent manner this fall.  Imagine (and obviously, some of you don’t have to imagine) that because your child is wearing a certain color or a hood or a particular hat they may be gunned down.

Right now, there’s no escaping the invitation.  And the thing we (the greater majority) are being invited into is not anger, regardless of how angry the people protesting and cursing and shouting may appear.  We’re being invited into fear, a very appropriate sentiment for a season that celebrates the One with greatest power who invested themselves in coming alongside us in our fears.

The next time you handle those new clothes in a store cause yourself to consider whether this would get the one you love or even yourself killed just because you are wearing it.  Enter fear as you watch the news and think, should anyone have to live that way?

Blessings,
Geoff

Most Important

Sometimes I just need to remind myself of this…
In no particular order, at some point in time it was decided that the most important thing to God was…

  • sacrifice
  • rules
  • baptism
  • communion
  • going to church
  • Bible study
  • proving the Bible is true
  • being pure
  • love
  • ritual
  • order

None of these things… really truly not one of these things is the most important thing to God.  The most important thing to God is us.  Just us.

And the most difficult thing about that is that as soon as we learn it, God wants us to participate in telling, showing, living that into the lives of others.

The last distressing and revealing thing we discover is that the most important thing to God is not ME… it’s us.  And it is us being with him.  It’s when God is included in us being us.  That’s the most important thing to God.  All of us being us with him.

God’s love is perfected in us… 1 John 4:12

Blessings,
Geoff

Voting

You may not know this but I never tell people how I vote on things… not even my wife.  So, it’s a big deal for me to write out that I voted against the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s change in their Book of Order that changed the definition of marriage.   Some people may say they’re not surprised, but maybe, just maybe they would be surprised by the reasons.
Along with the definition, here’s what got changed…

  • a pastor is allowed to perform weddings for marriages that are legal in their state
  • the requirement that at least one person in the couple be a professing Christian was removed
  • the pastor was made a “witness” of the wedding instead of consecrating it
  • the couple makes “promises” instead of vow

Here’s what these changes can mean…
When a pastor is told they can perform marriages that are legal in the state in which they live, that makes the authority of the church stand under the government or “the state.”  Back in the 1930’s a group of German Christians got together in the town of Barmen and they wrote out a document that made it vividly clear that the state never leads the church.  They did that because the Nazi party had announced that the state is the “head of the church.”  These folks wrote a declaration or confession that Jesus is the head of the church and not the state, ever.  In that time and place, they created their own death warrants by signing that document.
But, if the state is the one leading then there’s no need for at least one person in a couple to be a professing Christian.  But, then why have a pastor?  Why do this ceremony in a church?  Traditionally, weddings are worship services in which a marriage is consecrated (set apart as dedicated to God) with a community of believers.  The pastor acts as the representative of the gathered community to bring the two people together.  If neither person needs to be a Christian then shouldn’t the two people just go to a justice of the peace or a judge?  I mean, a “Church Wedding” is not about having a fancy day in the pretty building, right?
But if it is then a pastor is just a “witness” like everyone else.  They don’t actually perform a role in a worship experience or act with God’s participation.  They just agree with the uniting procedure these people are doing in front of other people who are there to see these folks do it.  God is not a necessary part of the experience.
This seems to allow the participants of the ceremony now described to shift from the solemnity or high standard of making vows to each other to that of simply making a promise.  It’s been my practice in weddings to point out that vows are different.  Like, a promise can be, “I’ll see you next Thursday.”  That’s different from the particular bond or covenant inherent in a vow.

So, yeah, I voted against this change.  I’m willing to extend the benefit of the doubt that those who crafted the words didn’t realize what the implications were.  But I do realize the words were crafted and I do feel the implications are impactful.
Blessings,
Geoff

Abnormal Love

Been thinking about Love this week.  I’ve been thinking about all the shouting and screaming going on about hatred, discrimination and retaliation and that’s made me consider Love.

In the midst of all the cannon fodder, the people who are used as target practice by those shouting the battle commands from both sides, we may recognize Love as a casualty, lying there in the field and bleeding seriously. Right now the battle has moved beyond acceptance and rights and into the determination of normal.  And it is not about seeking normal even, really.  It is about accepting one point of view as normal.  It is about making one opinion mean normal.

Deciding what’s normal is different from loving.  When I come to the command of Jesus, “Do not judge,” then I stop and think, Christians were never commanded to decide what is normal.  They were never told to stop people from doing what wasn’t beneficial or from what might master them.  They might warn them or try to talk with them, but they were commanded to love.

There is a united force explaining what normal looks like. It all makes me worry that loving the one who is different doesn’t matter.  I think I was commanded to love the one in front of me, no matter what they brought, who they were or how they acted. suffering2 If they didn’t want love, or walked away from it, or beat me to a pulp and hung me on a cross for it… that was supposed to be okay, if love was expressed.  What was done to me was not going to change the strength, course or truth of love.  In fact the harm done to me might express that love even more.

It seems appropriate this week to look at Love as a new casualty once again, this beaten and brutalized person who never met a homosexual, never spoke with a prostitute, never touched a leper… who only knew human beings.  This one who knew that deciding what was “normal” wasn’t the point.

Blessings,
Geoff

Touching Difference

“Whatever draws us together, draws us together, and whatever separates us, separates us.”
This little truism is one I share with those I counsel people prior to their weddings.  We talk about the BIG issues of life during those sessions, and this is just a little thought that’s important in relationship.  So the statement doesn’t just have to do with marriage.  It is simply true of human beings.  This is how we are.separating
When I did my little experiment of “blindness” I discovered that what I was told was true.  I could sense my closeness or distance from other things.  I could feel the difference between coins by touching their edge.  Someone decided to make the edges of coins different and so I can reach into my pocket and tell the difference by touch.
Difference is so important to relationship, but it can also divide us.  Loneliness develops from an increasing sense of difference.  We sense and focus on our own difference or we are driven into it by the bullying, belittling or neglect from others. We get lost in that emptiness and our souls begin to whither.  We become those who develop security from stuff gathered around us or from continuing to talk, almost unable to stop, or simply standing close.  Proximity to large amounts or to attention or to presence take the place of living within and enjoying the difference we bring to community.
Unfortunately, personal difference can drive those who are most scared by life to define worth by sameness rather than finding rest in similarity.  When these folks gain some power for any reason they produce laws in which they claim the community must abide.  But community isn’t developed, just these people’s sense of comfort.  We find it in people who hoard anything in order to find safety.  The kid who roams the school hallways defining who’s in and who isn’t or the adult who demands that they and others establish worth by the walls they build of wealth or the latest tech or around neighborhoods are doing the same thing as the lady whose home is filled with stacks of newspaper.  They find security in the control they find in sameness in their existence.
It’s when we walk in fear, in the valley of the shadow, and allow similarity and the lack of control built into that to prevail as a comfort rather than a threat that life grows.  It is because God, the one who created all, is with me that I can rest in my discomfort at being similar but not the same.  I can touch difference and discover how great life can be and then walk with it.  I lose my indifference, that apathy, that antithesis to love and enjoy the similarity.   Once I begin to enjoy similarity I start to appreciate and discern difference and it creates rather than detracts from life.  When I begin to appreciate similarity I look for what is life-giving and to discern what is not.intertwined
So I get why some people fall into the need for sameness and build their lives with that security.  It’s a risk to be different.  It’s scary.  But it is the basis of what we call organic, because it is participation in the lack of control and the enjoyment of the order that grows naturally.  On the other hand, I get why people have to proclaim that all personal expressions are fine or have the same value.  It’s hard to allow difference and discernment.  It’s hard to live in the tension that “all things are permissible but not all things are helpful.”  We build security so we can feel it.
It’s hard to just be a sheep when we want to tell the shepherd what to do.  We bleat our anxiety over needing to be the same and treated the same as much as we bleat our anxiety over being so different we feel like wandering off alone.  But we are given the chance to live within our indentifying fragility while rejoicing in our flocking similarity.  This is why what draws us together is the One who knows us and whom we know, whose voice we recognize, who leaves the flock to find the one who is lost and who lays down his life for us.  He knows our similarity and he knows our distinctions and he enjoys us in it all.

Blessings,
Geoff