I’m the Hateful One

The image above is an actual one from my brother’s Facebook page, as are the images below. When he isn’t re-posting brainless memes about Hillary’s emails, abortion, the Supreme Court, and how being politically “liberal” in the U.S. is some kind of mental illness, my brother is praising “America” uncritically…

…bashing the “mainstream media…”

…or offering vague religious platitudes…

Hopefully this would go without saying, but calling political “liberalism” in the U.S. a mental illness presupposes any number of things, including that such a political persuasion is so inconceivable that the only way to make sense of it is to believe that there must be something wrong with anyone so persuaded. It also presupposes that having a mental illness is some sort of character flaw, and that this “flaw” makes your political persuasions less credible. Aside from a passing “hello” by speakerphone while talking with others I think on Christmas day, the last interaction I had with my brother was via a now defunct Facebook account. He had re-posted something inflammatory probably having to do with immigration, and I (I thought) gently challenged the facts of the argument he was repeating. I don’t recall attacking him or making anything personal; instead I kept coming back to the facts of what he was saying (or not), expounding on the actual history related to his argument, which very much undermined the point he was trying to make. He responded by saying I was “full of hate” and then unfriended and blocked me on Facebook. I quit Facebook altogether a short time later.

Today I have another Facebook account with a new email address that Kirsten and I use solely at this point to relate to our local faith community. So with that Facebook account I can see my brother’s profile and posts, most of which are public, and occasionally I indulge the impulse to look at them. Sadly, it is more of the same with him these days. He claims he didn’t vote for Trump, but obviously supports him. It would be unfathomable to him that, as a friend of mine says, every Christian who voted for Trump and still supports him after all he’s done in office is in “unrepentant sin.”  He says he’s following Jesus and working for the kingdom of God, but is so devoted to a “conservative” U.S. political ideology that it’s hard to distinguish his secular politics from his faith. He would probably accuse me of the same on the “liberal” end of the U.S. political spectrum. I would like to make the case that while that may have been true of me in the past, it is no longer. The failure of the Obama administration to live up to its own ideals, and the subsequent “election” of Trump, have served effectively to remind me of where my hope lies and what I am to expectantly work for- the coming of God’s kingdom, which is not of this world. Even as Trump separates refugee children from their parents, denaturalizes those already granted citizenship, and discharges members of the military who were promised citizenship in exchange for their service, it is nonetheless true that it is Obama who came to be known as the “deporter in chief.” It is Obama who ramped up drone warfare to unparalleled levels, handing off this death dealing apparatus to the Trump administration. It is Obama who fought hard to improve the economic outlook not of the poorest of the poor around the world and in the U.S., but of the “middle class” (which is to say nothing of the elites) who helped get him into power and keep him there. For all these reasons and more, it didn’t take long for me to be disabused of any notion that the election of Obama, however historic it might have been, would usher in God’s kingdom any faster.

In the end, it was evident that Obama was just another tool of empire, effectively used to mostly perpetuate the status quo for the powers that be. Now, it is undeniable (though some will try to deny it) that things are demonstrably worse under Trump and are getting worse still. Nonetheless, it seems clear now that we could not gave gotten to Trump without Obama. The domination system will have its way regardless of which U.S. political party is in power. For all these reasons, “our hope must  be built on nothing less” than Jesus and his kingdom come.

That said, how, then, shall we live? I understand the partisan nature of almost all media. Some lean “right;” some lean “left.” (Almost) all are driven by the profit motive, and so serve the anti-Jesus powers that be. That is, they serve Mammon. That said, I believe my brother has been almost brainwashed by Fox News, Breitbart, and their ilk. He’s constantly lied to and shaped by the stories he’s told so that he will remain a good foot soldier for the cause of “American” exceptionalism and a kind of faith that (from where I sit) seems mostly about escaping hell, being nice, and earning your own way in “the land of the free.” For the record, to my knowledge, my brother doesn’t have a job, but I digress.

He might say that, to whatever extent I still tune in to MSNBC or watch Democracy Now!, I have been brainwashed by a steady stream of stories about Trump’s collusion with Russia, his constant scandals, his efforts to be the un-Obama which have the effect of rolling back many initiatives that might in some small way help the poor or marginalized, etc. I should mention that there’s a false equivalence there between MSNBC and Democracy Now! since MSNBC is definitely for-profit and Democracy Now! is not; still, my brother would say both lean “left.” He would call any reporting about Trump ties to white supremacists “fake news.” I would say the same of “birther-ism.” What, then, can we possibly have to say to one another?

Perhaps more importantly, why am I writing about this? I’m realizing that I’m angry at my brother, at least at some unprocessed surface level. His wild accusation toward me and abrupt ending of our relationship, at least on Facebook, stings, and this isn’t the first time he’s done this sort of thing. As our dad was dying, I led the way in really paying attention to what was going on, having frank conversations with the doctors, etc., and so was the first to advocate that hospice care should commence and no longer productive medical interventions should stop. I contacted a hospice agency, and started the ball rolling for services to start. As this was progressing, my brother and sisters (they’re all much older half-siblings) began paying attention and talked with one of the doctors separately. They said they believed they heard that doctor saying that we weren’t “there” (ready for hospice) yet, but in the event that things would progress to that point soon, they set up hospice care with a different agency. Along the way, they accused me of basically trying to kill our dad. My brother led this charge.

A very short time later, a new report from the doctor confirmed that treatments were not working and future treatments were not likely to. In other words, it was, indeed, time for hospice. My brother (and sisters) apologized to me, but it rang hollow, and I suppose it still does. Since my dad’s death 7 years ago, my subconscious at least has been trying to work all this out…in my dreams. I’ve dreamed, for example, that my dad had chosen to be cremated, and it was common practice for the family of those being cremated to place the bodies on a moving conveyor belt that leads directly into the furnace in which the bodies are burned. In my dream, I’m placing my dad on the conveyor belt…while he’s still alive. He does not seem alarmed about this, but my siblings are frantically trying to save him as I’m literally apparently trying to kill him. In another dream I had just a few days ago on the occasion of what would have been my dad’s 86th birthday, he’s dying, and he asks to come live with Kirsten and I and our family in the home in New Brighton we just bought…so that he can die there. We agree to this, but the only accessible bedroom (on the main floor with easy access to the front door, kitchen, living and dining room, a bathroom, etc.) is occupied, as indeed it is, by Kirsten’s mom. There’s a lot to be unpacked in both of those dreams, but going back to the first one, it clearly is related to my brother’s accusation I described above. This, I suppose, is no small part of why I may have some anger that I haven’t fully dealt with yet.

Be that as it may, I came across a saying recently (on Facebook, of all places) that I found revelatory. It goes: “I sat with my anger long enough, and she told me her real name is grief.” I read that and felt like I had been punched in the gut. How much of my anger is really grief related to un(fully)processed trauma? There is so much to grieve, after all, just in my own lifetime, which is to say nothing of the unprocessed trauma I carry in my bones as a descendant of British, German, and Russian Jewish ancestors. In my own lifetime, there was the loss of my childhood as I was parentified at the hands of my abusive, emotionally infantile mother. There was the fracturing of relationships among my dad’s first family after his first wife died and he married my mom. I do have siblings, after all, but their mother’s death and my mother’s abuse as she basically commandeered their family is a trauma from which none of them have ever recovered.

I know I can’t change my brother; yet I continue to find myself angered by his ignorant (to put it charitably) rhetoric, even though none of it is directed at me. His public support for Trump enables a would-be despot who is literally doing real harm to folks the Christian faith my brother and I purportedly share are called to love, serve, and be hospitable to. My brother’s castigation of those who don’t hold his views as “mentally ill” is demeaning to those who actually have a mental illness and betrays the feebleness of his point of view. If you can’t defend your opinions by citing actual (vetted) facts and hopefully with an appeal to what’s right and just not only for you but for your neighbor; if, instead, you have to resort to character assassination and bigoted attempts to destroy your opponents’ credibility, you probably need to rethink your opinions. All that said, no one could tell him any of that. He would deflect, defend, retrench, and probably lash out blindly. So it does neither myself nor him any good to talk with him about this, and we’re not exactly on speaking terms; thus, here I am blogging about it.

It probably goes without saying that the least, if not best, I can do here is to refrain from indulging the impulse to gawk at the car crash that is my brother’s Facebook feed. More than that, one of the appeals I would make to him, were we to ever have a constructive conversation about any of this, is to the notion that as Jesus followers we are called to love our neighbor (even/especially our globally poor ones), and as Jesus followers we are called to love our enemies. So however we might think of someone, our duty is to love them. Of course then I must apply this to myself. If, being brutally honest, I would think of my brother more as an enemy than a friend, my stance toward him should be the same. I must love him. What does that look like in this situation? We’ve never had a “regular” relationship. He’s nearly 20 years older than I am. He’s never taken an interest in me in the form of maintaining contact with me, checking in on how I’m doing, or otherwise being in any way invested or involved in my life. Does loving him mean that I should be the better man and make such efforts toward him, even if unreciprocated? I don’t know. Might loving him mean that I simply let sleeping dogs lie and grieve not only the loss of our father but also the relationship that I never had with my brother, and likely never will have? He’ll be 63 this year, and his health isn’t stellar. Shall I simply wait until he dies, and then wrestle with whether to make the journey to TX for his funeral, to formally mourn a man I hardly knew- and who certainly never really knew me- who therefore was never really a brother to me and who mostly acted in unloving ways toward myself and others?  I suppose time will tell. What I know for sure is that whether he’s an enemy, a friend, or something in between, again I’m called to love him. Now I just have to figure out how.

The Trappings of a Very Privileged Life

A.J. Muste (image from the public domain)

I’m probably a bit late in seeking to chime in on Trump’s latest immigration atrocity (including, now, his administration’s efforts to discharge immigrant members of the armed forces and to mobilize a “denaturalization” task force), and I don’t think I have anything substantive to add to the conversation, especially as a middle-class (by USAmerican standards) “white” male. Still, I’m reminded of something that A.J. Muste (pictured above) is reported to have said. According to Wikipedia, Muste “was a Dutch-born American clergyman and political activist…best remembered for his work in the labor movement, pacifist movement, antiwar movement, and the Civil Rights Movement.” In other words, he’s my kind of guy. I heard it reported that Muste, while demonstrating during the Civil Rights movement, was asked if he thought his demonstrating would change the country. He said that’s not why he was doing it. Instead, he said, he was “demonstrating so that his country wouldn’t change him.” I think the same logic applies here too. I’ve said before that I often write to discover what I think. Perhaps I also do it to remind myself, if no one else, of who I am. I do it, on the rare occasion I do these days, not because I think my writing will change the country or even a single other person’s mind, but instead so that in these perilous times “my” country doesn’t change me. I started this post two weeks ago, and said then that I don’t know how you can observe the pictures and stories in the news of late and not be moved by them. I certainly am. Kirsten had asked me then how I was doing, likely referring to the pain and swelling from my torn left meniscus (I had surgery on a torn right meniscus a couple of years ago; now I need it on the left), which was recently exacerbated dramatically by all the heavy lifting and physical labor I’ve been doing to get ourselves moved into our new home and then to get Kirsten’s mom moved in too. She might also have been referring to the stress and fatigue of all those transitions just mentioned, especially related to integrating Kirsten’s mom into our new home and figuring out all of the “new normals” that go along with that; she could have meant any number of things. What I told her was that I was feeling alternately sad, angry, and determined. Interestingly, that range of emotion is probably appropriate for all of the circumstances outlined above, not the least of which is Trump’s family separation (and now, indefinite family detention on military bases) policy.

 

The cold calculation of Trump’s policy is, indeed, infuriating. This land is not my land, or your land, or anyone else’s. The indigenous people of North America regard it, unless I’ve misunderstood, as sacred unto itself. Christian Scripture speaks of it as “groaning” in anticipation of its own redemption. There is an obviously alive quality to it that gives one pause when thinking of it as, indeed, an “it” rather than an “other.” Regardless, for (some of) my ancestors to claim this land by force, commit genocide against its native inhabitants, cultivate and develop it with slave labor in order to turn it into the wealthiest country the world has ever known, and then for their descendants to have the gall to hold it by force and draw lines and erect boundaries in order to decide who can come here, and when, and under what circumstances is an affront altogether worthy of my anger, sadness, and determination. Whey they enforce these arbitrary “laws” with a “zero tolerance” policy that rips babies from their mother’s breast and separates children from families with no plans or infrastructure for ever reuniting them, it is all the more galling still, especially because there is a causal link between our relative affluence and safety here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. and the poverty and violence in other countries that would cause some to undergo the dangerous trek to get here in order to seek asylum. (See, for example, this now 4 year old story that only begins to explore the U.S.’ destabilizing and impoverishing effect on its southern neighbors.)

 

And I can’t help but see a causal link between all that and what’s happening in my own home. As I alluded to above, we have a new home. After spending the past year working so hard to “get small” by giving up as much power, privilege, and possessions as we could so that we could get closer to experiencing life from “under” the oppression of the dominators (of whom we are a part) rather than “over” it, which is our default stance given our inherited “white” privilege and economic power; after coming to learn that solidarity with those under the oppression of the dominators requires proximity to them; after realizing how selfishly we had been living for so very long and making all the changes necessary to get out of debt and move into position to be radically generous and hospitable once we had done so; after all that, here we are as home”owners” again with a house in the ‘burbs, smartphones, two cars, etc. Granted, our second car before was a very expensive one with a very bad loan that we would have spent years repaying, but with the help of our faith community we paid it off and sold it, and our second car now is 11 years old with over 140,000 miles on it which we paid for all at once in cash. Still, we have all the trappings of a very privileged life.

 

And traps they most certainly are. We cut short our plans to be fully debt free (except for student loan debt, which we may die with) by the end of this year when Kirsten’s younger sister moved away, leaving us as the only viable family nearby both able and willing to give care to Kirsten’s mom. Then, the owner of the house Kirsten’s mom has been living in said she needed to sell it, and suddenly we found ourselves springing into action. Kirsten’s mom has declining health and mobility, and it just seemed to be obvious that we should try to get into a house that she could move into with us. She has lived with us before; so we knew there would be challenges, but it seemed to be the right thing to do. One of  the commands of Jesus that we’ve come back to time and again over the past year in our journey of “getting small” is his directive to give to those who ask of us. We felt ourselves being asked, even if implicitly. So we got ourselves in a position to give. When we found a small house with a finished basement and attic that had been divided into 6(!) bedrooms with three small ones in the basement that our little family of four could live in; one main floor bedroom with a bathroom and the kitchen and living room nearby that Kirsten’s mom could live in; and two more upstairs bedrooms that could serve as a guest room and maybe an office, we believed we had found a house that aligned with our values of radical generosity and hospitality, even if it was in the ‘burbs and would make us more proximate to the dominators than those dominated. The house is still very close to our faith community, and by all accounts it’s a modest home (by “white” USAmerican standards). Its footprint is small (though there is a big back yard); there’s nothing “fancy” about it. In fact, it needs some work, but our hope is that it will serve us well as Kirsten’s mom lives with us for now by allowing us to still be hospitable and generous, and in the future, it could give lots of options for communal living.

the house in question

So by the grace of God and in recognition of our “white” privilege, we secured a loan, bought the house, and moved in. Since then we’ve worked tirelessly to get it ready for Kirsten’s mom: painting her room with multiple coats; ripping up carpet and refinishing her wood floor; replacing a door I had broken while ripping up carpet; replacing the main floor bathroom vanity, sink, and faucet to make the bathroom more accessible to her and then dealing with the resulting plumbing issues; replacing some non-functioning kitchen appliances; and the list goes on. Kirsten’s mom moved in now a few weekends ago. She’s coming from a three bedroom house that was entirely full of just her stuff, and moving from that whole house with all those rooms into basically just a bedroom in our house, and a smaller one at that. She’s made a genuine effort to pare down and give away some of that stuff she had, but our now shared home has still been awash in the sea of all the stuff she brought, and daily it’s been a struggle to bail out. Part of the “paring down” process she’s engaged in has involved offering random things to our kids, including a jar full of sea shells, some framed nondescript scenic background pictures, etc. This all led to a situation recently in which our Xbox owning, expensive YMCA summer program attending boys were arguing over who was getting which of grandma’s framed random scenic pictures; meanwhile, migrant 4-year-olds from Central America are sleeping in cages courtesy of the U.S. government and “my” taxpayer dollars, while their parents are on the fast track to deportation, all so that coal miners in W. Virginia can be distracted from learning the real reason for their declining job prospects, and my heart is ready to burst.

 

God, help us. Forgive us for all the times our actions make clear that we value things more than people. Forgive us for all the ways we continue to benefit from privilege afforded to us unjustly. Forgive us for how easily we fall back under the spell of Mammon, for how readily we accept a wealthy lifestyle afforded by capitalism and created and maintained by violence. Many, many times over the past year I spoke of capitalism/Mammon and violence as the two forces I saw most powerfully at work these days (and probably in all days) doing all they can to thwart and resist the ever coming kingdom of God. It’s actually kind of ironic. We who would resist the “new world order” are seen as just that, resisters working over and against the dominant forces in the world today. Confoundingly, in truth it is those who seek to maintain this brutal world order founded on that which is not God’s rule, that which is not God’s economy of Jubilee- it is they who are the resisters; they are the ones fighting an inevitably lost cause. It may not seem that way most days, but I don’t doubt for a second that it’s true. God’s kingdom of love and justice will come. God’s will, will be done on earth just as it is in heaven because heaven will come to earth and is doing so even now. We who would really follow Jesus then must be constantly reminded, and must remind ourselves as I hope I am doing now- that we are people from the future; we are a foretaste of the feast to come. We are to embody the new reality that God is birthing by being an alternative to what the sin-sick world has to offer.

 

Wake us up, Lord, and give us boldness to live with radical generosity and hospitality, with radical love and acceptance, in S. Texas, in the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., and in my own little home in the ‘burbs. Amen.

Devolution and Getting In The (Right) Way

I like MPR’s caption for this photo from their story about Church of All Nations here in the Twin Cities: “Young Christians in the hallway.” Indeed, they’re not just young Christians; they’re young Christians who are part of a church with no dominant ethnic group.

It was this heartfelt talk (click the link) in the wake of the recent events in Charlottesville that did it for me, really. I mean it. You can just stop reading now and listen to this talk. If the only thing this post accomplishes is to get you to listen to this “sermon” (he says it’s not really a sermon) by Pastor Jin S. Kim of Church of All Nations here in the Twin Cities, my work here will be done.  I’ve known about Church of All Nations (CAN) for a little while. I don’t quite remember how it came across my radar. It may have been because CAN is one of the few churches here in the Twin Cities that has cell groups, and actually calls them cell groups, thus indicating, one would think, at least some familiarity with the concept. As I’ve mentioned many times, it was a cell group based church in Philly, Circle of Hope, that we were a part of in two stints from ’96-’98 and from ’03-’05 and which remains so very formative in terms of my imagination for what the church can and should be. It’s why I keep talking about it. Over the past year, though, I’ve come across CAN repeatedly.

I’ll say more about CAN in a moment, but first let’s talk about the central theme of what I and my family have been learning over the past year- “getting small.” Remember, we’re learning to give away privilege and power so that we can relate to the Empire of our day (the violent, capitalistic U.S. one) the way that Jesus and the first of his followers related to theirs (the violent, Mammon loving Roman one), from “under, not over.” We’re trying to get “small” and maybe even get into “Paul’s slavish shoes” a bit so that we can better be slaves for Jesus, just as he slaved for us. Here’s the post again that unpacks all this better than I ever could. On my break at work I often walk from the building I work in up to my alma mater, Luther Seminary. Yesterday as I was thinking on my walk back to work a word came to mind: devolution.

Here’s what the Oxford Dictionary online says about devolution.

I’m most interested in the first part of the first definition: “the transfer or delegation of power to a lower level.” This really gets at what I mean when I talk about “getting small.” Note that I don’t mean the “formal” sense of the word, “descent to a lower or worse state” because a lower state socioeconomically in U.S. empire is not “worse” than my more privileged one. If anything, I am in the “worse” state because my power and privilege insulates me from the reality of my need for a Savior. Indeed, if “getting small” has to do with decentering “whiteness” and relinquishing at least a few of the many privileges I enjoy because of my skin tone, if it has to do with recognizing that nothing belongs to me and that private property is a concept foreign to God’s economy and his kingdom- and therefore if I have two coats while my brother or sister have none it is incumbent upon me to give him one and apologize for keeping what God clearly gave me to give to him- if all this is true, then my aim is to transfer the worldly power that has accrued to me unjustly. My responsibility is to delegate the influence I’ve been given to my brothers or sisters who exist on a “lower level” in worldly society. I have to get small, and close, to those on the margins of secular society that I want to love and serve and be loved and served by and learn from, because solidarity requires proximity. Thus, this has been a year of devolution, and it’s far from over.

You may recall, then, that Ched Myers has been a big influence in our year of devolution in 2017. His book Sabbath Economics had a follow-up book written by Matthew Colwell, Sabbath Economics: Household Practices, which was one of the books we read in January that helped launch us down this path. It was in that book that we learned that “solidarity requires proximity,” and in regard to Jesus’ phrase  “the poor will always be with you,” it was Ched who said that this saying by Jesus “…is not about the inevitability of poverty but about the social location of the church.” Anyway, Ched does great work, including his recent book Watershed Discipleship, which I’m eager to read some day. Ched is part of Bartimeus Cooperative Ministries, and they help run this little site I discovered this year called Radical Discipleship. Among the great resources that site offers, one is a list of “Communities of Discontinuity.” These are communities around the country that are in some way trying to embody resistance to Empire in order to follow Jesus instead. On that page they quote Ched in one of his seminal works, Who Will Roll Away the Stone, in which he said that “…we are attempting to live in ways incongruous with and even defective from the expectations of our gender, race, and class.” Sounds a bit like devolution, doesn’t it? So among these communities of discontinuity are Circle of Hope, of course, and also South Street Ministries in Akron that we were also a part of at one time and whose pastor, Duane Crabbs, we have great affection for. Carnivale de Resistance and Christian Peacemaker Teams are listed. The Dorothy Day Catholic Worker is as well along with the Mennonite Worker here in the Twin Cities, which is run by Mark Van Steenwyk, whom we’ve been privileged to partner with of late. Rutba House, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s intentional community, is listed, as is The Simple Way, where Shane Claiborne got his start. And then there’s the Underground Seminary, also here in the Twin Cities.

When I clicked that Underground Seminary link for the first time, I discovered that it is run by CAN, and so I encountered them again. Incidentally, I also discovered that it was amazing and I wished that I could perhaps have gone there for seminary instead of where I did. Pastor Kim says that they started the Underground Seminary because in his work with pastoral interns at CAN he found that he kept getting “exasperated by the arduous task of deprogramming seminary grads” and so “thought it’d be better to equip them to be radical disciples from the start.” That said, when I went to seminary the Underground Seminary didn’t exist and I doubt I would have been ready for it if it had.

I mentioned Mark Van Steenwyk of the Mennonite Worker above. His is a radical voice that I appreciate, and it turns out that he and Pastor Kim are good friends. They’re both local, and Pastor Kim wrote the afterword for one of Mark’s books.  Mark also interviewed Pastor Kim for the amazing Iconocast podcast, which Mark used to be involved with. It’s another worthy listen. And then in this article, Mark quotes Dr. King, who spoke of a “mythical concept of time” by which “white” moderates “paternalistically believe” they “can set the timetable for another man’s freedom” by advising black folk to wait for a more “convenient” time to pursue civil rights. Regarding the myth alluded to above, Mark says:

But our myths weren’t born on the streets. They were forged in the pulpits of thousands of congregations. As my dear friend, Pastor Jin Kim of Church of All Nations, says: “The church provides the foot soldiers for the American Empire.”

If you’ve been reading this blog and know anything about me, can you see why I might like Pastor Kim? Here’s one more pearl of wisdom from him, just to drive home the point. In a two-part article for Sojourners, he wrote:

The meaning of evangelism is the proclamation of good news to the world. How can we continue to exclude and avoid those with whom we are not comfortable and live into our evangelical calling at the same time? If we do not shed this primitive tendency, and yet heed the call to be evangelical, do we not risk exporting our ecclesial tribalism far and wide? How can we say we are evangelical if the good news is not good for the whole world? If the gospel is proclaimed under the rubric of the homogeneous unit principle, I would argue that this is distorted news, even false news. The acid test of evangelism must be: Is this good news for the poor?

But the church has largely forgotten the poor, instead focusing on the perceived poverty of individual rights driven by debates over human sexuality and ordination. What about plain old poverty driven by the historic legacy of racism, a politics seemingly motivated by a preferential option for the rich, and the exploitation of the newly arrived on American shores?

A Local Community of Discontinuity

So Pastor Kim is pastor of Church of All Nations, which has kind of an amazing story. The people of Circle of Hope talk often about the “new humanity,” in which “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” For example, among Circle of Hope’s proverbs, they say:

◉ We are always trying to stretch across barriers: across racial/ethnic, class and cultural divides.

◉ Racial reconciliation is a matter of demanding justice, not just peace.

◉ A gospel that does not reconcile is no gospel at all.

◉ We will do what it takes to be an anti-racist, diverse community that represents the new humanity.

Such reconciliation is what CAN is all about, and about which they say: “Our central mission is to do the ministry of reconciliation.” This shows, as CAN is one of the most diverse congregations, I suspect, in the country. As Pastor Kim wrote about CAN in 2010:

This quote comes from this book.

Though according to this 2012 MPR story about CAN, there is a growing number of people of European descent that make up CAN, their commitment to embodying the new humanity is evident. As a Presbyterian congregation, they have deacons. There are 10 of them, and 8 of those ten are women. In most churches, it’s the other way around. There are 17 folks on staff (I don’t know how many are paid), and 9 of them are women, while 10 represent ethnic minorities. About all this diversity and the promise and potential pitfalls it represents, they say:

Many of us who began this journey assumed that we would be dealing with much more conflict as many cultures and worldviews add to the complexity of congregational dynamics. What we have discovered, to our delight, is the exact opposite. The very decision to join a church in which one chooses to be a minority seems to draw the kind of people who are willing to “lay down their sword” of power and privilege. The Korean American founders had to set the example first. Today, we all seem to be caught up in a virtuous cycle of who can lift up and value other individuals and cultures, to “consider others better than oneself.” The culture of public confession, corporate repentance, joyful celebration and vulnerable relationality that we have cultivated here is key to understanding the dynamism and eschatological hope evident in our life together.

This language of “laying down one’s sword of power and privilege” is obviously music to my ears, and as suggested above, I am indeed drawn to this church, but I’ll say more about that later. For now, just note that such language again is very much in keeping with “getting small,” with the year of devolution in 2017 that I’ve been describing.

Part of that devolution, though, indeed part of that giving up of power and privilege, has very much for us meant also quite really, if not literally, laying down one’s sword. As I’ve said, in the Sermon on the Mount, on the cross, and in our lives we’ve heard Jesus repeatedly calling us to renounce violence in all its forms, and so we’ve yearned to be part of a faith community that also understands this to be at the heart of the gospel. You can imagine, then, my delight when I discovered this bit of writing by Pastor Kim, in which, speaking of Jesus, he says:

He will not wage war to bring peace. He will not use violence to end violence. In Jesus Christ the wolf and the lamb, the lion and the ox, will break bread together. In Jesus Christ “we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” Our impulses of impatience, vengeance and violence will be changed, not by a violent inauguration of the last dispensation, but by the eschatological pull of God’s kingdom on all creation, old and new. When Jesus suffered violence on the cross without retaliating, he emptied violence of its power once and for all. Violence itself was crucified in Jesus.

Hearing the notion that violence itself was crucified on the cross with Jesus was somehow new to me in 2017. I heard it in Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove’s book The Awakening of Hope, in which a chapter is titled, “Why We Would Rather Die Than Kill.” Then, of course, I heard it in spades in both of the Brian Zahnd books I read this year, A Farewell to Mars and Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, as well as in Greg Boyd’s magnum opus which I’ve started reading and heard him speak about, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. Meanwhile, Pastor Kim has been writing and talking about this at least since 2010.

So let’s review. 2017 has been our year of devolution as we’ve worked on “getting small” so that we can follow Jesus “from under, not over.” Inherent in that effort is a recognition of history and an awareness of our standing vis-a-vis the larger culture. That is, we live in the shadow of an Empire more powerful than the Roman one that loomed large in the culture of Jesus’ day and in the imaginations of many of the Biblical writers. Our relationship to that Empire, inasmuch as it makes claims and seeks power and control that properly belongs to Jesus and his kingdom, must be one of resistance. As Jesus followers we must resist not just consumerism but capitalism itself. We must resist not just “bad guys with guns” but violence itself, including that which is so frequently engaged in around the world with impunity by the U.S. government, not to mention in local police forces around the country. We must not accommodate Mammon and Empire- the powers and principalities- but by living into God’s economy, renouncing violence, and pledging allegiance to Christ and his kingdom alone, we must therefore subvert Mammon and Empire.

Another photo from MPR’s story. There are flags in CAN’s sanctuary, probably even a U.S. one in there somewhere, but including the U.S. flag as one of dozens rather than holding it up on par with the “Christian” one is a subversive act that puts Empire in its place.

Still Trying to Keep Up With Jesus

Church of All Nations (CAN) is a community that “gets” all this, and more. They’re organized, at least partially, in cell groups. They started an “underground seminary” to raise up radical disciples who don’t have to be deprogrammed of their imperial, capitalistic outlook. They have a staff person whose job, in part, is to help organize the intentional community houses that are connected to their church. In short, there is much, much to like about this faith community. I know it’s not perfect. It can’t be. But they embody a prophetic witness that is simply remarkable.

So why am I writing about all this? As I’ve alluded to in previous posts, Kirsten and I have struggled for some months now to find our place within Mill City Church. We have so appreciated that faith community over the past year that we’ve been a part of it. It was within Mill City Church, after all, that we heard the call to get small and renounce violence, to take seriously our responsibility to follow Jesus by renouncing any kingdom that is not his so that we can “give to God what is God’s” (our allegiance, our loyalty, our very lives; in short, everything). Of all the puzzle pieces God put together to lead us in our year of devolution so far, being part of Mill City Church was a crucial one.

That said, the more we’ve learned along the way, the more marginalized within Mill City Church we’ve felt. This is probably a good thing. We are, after all, trying to get closer to those “on the margins.” However, it seems the call to radical discipleship and the conclusions we’ve reached about what it means for us are not shared by, according to one of Mill City’s pastors, “anyone else” within the church. Nor, we were told, would that call be included overtly in any of the teaching of Mill City’s pastors any time soon. Thus, in a recent meeting with two of Mill City’s pastors, it was made clear to us that if we are to continue on the path we’re on and remain part of Mill City Church as we do so, it will, at the very least, be a very lonely journey. We know that the path we’re trying to walk is a “narrow one that few find.” So on the one hand this served as something of a confirmation that we were moving in the right direction, but it really put in stark relief what we would be up against as we tried to keep moving in that direction within this church. As I said in a sub-heading in another recent post, “we followed Jesus into Mill City Church. Jesus kept moving.”

So it is with mixed feelings that I write that we will be moving on too. It was made clear to us again that we would be alone within Mill City Church if we kept trying to follow Jesus the way we feel called to. We can live with that, but we don’t want to be a distraction, or worse, a divisive element within a church that may not be everything we thought or hoped it was. Thus, as I recently told someone in an email, “there are times when it has seemed that in order to follow Jesus we’d have to abandon the church altogether. We’re praying we’re wrong about that, because we know we can’t follow Jesus alone, especially if we’re trying to resist violent, capitalistic U.S. culture as we do so.”

And that just brings me back to all I said above about CAN. You can see, I hope, why it would be an attractive faith community to us. All the things we’ve been learning this year they’ve been living for more than a few. Still, none of that was sufficient to cause us to jump ship from Mill City and start over again among Church of All Nations. However, the talk I linked to at the very top of this post was sufficient, at least enough to cause us to want to give CAN a try. It’s that talk that I listened to, jaw slightly agape, and then got Kirsten and listened to again with her. This talk is remarkable, in no small part because of the fact that in it Pastor Kim tells the truth about history when he calls the U.S. a “racist” and “fascist” state, and does so right from the pulpit, fearlessly. Beyond that, though, I found as I listened to it that I had another epiphany.

The U.S. Is A Racist, Fascist State

I was reminded that one of Mill City’s pastors had a 5 minute “family meeting” before giving their regular sermon in the wake of the events in Charlottesville. I can’t remember exactly what was said, but an effort was made to call out the injustice occurring and call us as Jesus followers to renounce racism and resist it. It was good, but it was brief, and then the pastor moved on to the bulk, and arguably the substance, of their prepared remarks. Let me be clear that I’m not criticizing what happened at Mill City’s worship gathering that morning. At least the events in Charlottesville were mentioned and racism was called out, which is more than occurred after the Jeronimo Yanez verdict, for example (and the preacher on that Sunday has publicly apologized for saying nothing about it). I do, however, want to contrast what happened at Mill City’s gathering with what happened at CAN’s after the events of Charlottesville, because the difference is instructive. Pastor Kim had a “family meeting” in his talk too, but that meeting was the substance of his remarks. It’s all he talked about, and he spent not 5 minutes doing so, but 40. And he told the truth. He didn’t say something about “racism” generally as a factor that some individuals in Charlottesville allowed to motivate them to do hateful things. He said the U.S. was itself a racist, not to mention fascist, state. And he did this with authority that none of Mill City’s pastors could ever have, because they’re European American, while Pastor Kim is not, and neither are the majority of his staff. Nor is CAN itself dominated by any one ethnic group, while Mill City is far and away, from the looks of things on Sunday probably 95% or more, made up of people of European descent. In other words, save for some notable exceptions, Mill City is all “white.”

So as I listened to the urgency in Pastor Kim’s voice as he described what could happen if racist, fascist forces eventually “came for” people of color in this country and perhaps for “people of color- lovers” too- just as Nazis eventually “came for” Jews in Hitler’s Germany- it struck me that it was only in a context of proximity to people of color that the impetus to do more than just “stand in solidarity” with the oppressed in some metaphorical sense gains the traction that it needs. The pastor that gave that 5 minute talk about Charlottesville to all the “white” people who make up Mill City is to be praised for, and often speaks herself about, all her efforts over the years to cultivate relationships with people of color and build bridges, etc. That is indeed very praiseworthy. But when you’re sitting in an auditorium again full of “white” people, she could even have said everything Pastor Kim said about Charlottesville, and the words simply wouldn’t have held the power that they did when Pastor Kim said them. A “white” person preaching to “white” people about loving black folks and resisting racism is all very well and good, but I kind of doubt it will change much. On the other hand, a “white” person such as myself who hears those same words spoken by a non-“white” person who says them to a congregation that is filled with people of color from many nations around the globe is moved to act.

Our Place Is Not Between the Rescuer and Those In Need Of Rescue. Our Place Is Between the Oppressor and Those They Would Oppress.

Pastor Kim gave a great analogy in his talk about a loved one in need of rescue. If you’re separated from that loved one in grave danger by a crowd of people who may have the best intentions in the world, but who aren’t paying attention to your loved one’s cry, then they become a formidable barrier to any effort to get to and save your loved one. As Pastor Kim said, the crowd that is in the way might be very well-meaning, but if they’re not “woke,” if they’re not actively trying to save your loved one too or at least getting out of the way so that you can, they remain part of the problem. As I listened to this, I realized that my friend Jesse who’s pursuing his PhD at Temple, working largely on matters of race and the church, is right. For some time, as far as I know, he’s been convicted that he and his family as “white” folks follow Jesus best if they do so as part of a black church. Solidarity requires proximity, as I keep saying. If people of color in this country need “white” folks to not just build bridges and have good intentions, but to really be in solidarity with them, then proximity is necessary. We need to be close enough to be “in the way,” but not as a barrier between the rescuer and the oppressed. We need to stand between the oppressor and the oppressed. So long, then, as I and my family remained in the mostly “white” Mill City Church, we remained “in the way” in the worst kind of way. So we followed Jesus into Mill City Church, but Jesus kept moving.

Granted, CAN is not a mostly black church any more than it’s a mostly “white” one. But I don’t think there will be ethnic neighborhoods in the New Jerusalem. I know every congregation probably realistically can’t be as diverse as CAN, but if CAN is a microcosm of the new humanity, if it’s a “foretaste of the feast to come,” it’s a prophetic reality worth striving for. So where no truly diverse congregation like CAN is available, I think “white” folks ought to be “all in” in a local black church. Then at least the oppressed are not an abstract ideal to love metaphorically as you educate yourself and try to get “woke,” often from a distance; instead, they are your friends and neighbors, your brothers and sisters in Christ with whom you worship on Sunday and work at being the Church together, however hard that might be. That said, we are blessed to live now about 4 miles from where CAN has their building, and so for all the reasons above, we feel very called to keep following Jesus into their midst. Who knows what will happen? What I hope, though, is that instead of being “in the way” in the worst possible way as a well-intentioned “white” person standing between  the rescuer and those in need of rescue, we will instead find ourselves “in the way” in the “right” way, that is, on the way with Jesus, along the way of the cross. Lord, let it be so.

On a final note, I should add that I don’t regret our time among Mill City Church in the least. I think being a part of this church was a necessary step in our journey. It turns out it was just a step, but we couldn’t make this next one without having made that one. Thus, we are very grateful for our time among them, and hope to continue our relationships with those from Mill City that want to. After all, we’re all trying to follow Jesus. Sometimes this involves moving rapidly along the way. Sometimes it seems like no progress is made at all. Sometimes we move in the wrong direction. As I’ve repeatedly said, Kirsten and I spent the better part of 20 years hardly following at all in many ways. Still, Jesus keeps calling us. Lord willing, we’ll all keep trying to answer, and follow, and keep up with him. Again, Lord, let it be so.

If You Want to Have Confidence on the Day of Judgment, Maybe Skip the Sinner’s Prayer?

Image HT

The “Right” Way to Follow Jesus

I will confess that I think most of us get following Jesus wrong. Obviously, to have such a thought presupposes that I have some idea of what it would look like to get following Jesus “right.” I intentionally said “us” in my first sentence, because like Paul, I am the worst of sinners. As I’ve said of late, after abandoning Facebook because it seemed on balance to be more of a negative than a positive in our lives, we came back on in order to better connect with our local faith community, relatives far away, etc. Being back on, as I’ve also said, has been something of a mixed bag. I’m finding that even without a smartphone, Facebook retains its power to suck you in. It’s so, so easy to get locked into the “bubble.” It’s literally rewarding; endorphins are released in your brain when you receive and respond to notifications (even if not on a smartphone). It’s easy to “like” all the news sites, public figures, and causes you believe in, and all the while behind the scenes Facebook’s not so magic algorithm works in self-referencing fashion to reinforce what you already thought was true, to magnify your outrage at all the things you already thought were wrong, until one day you find yourself plowing your car into the people who are surely trying to steal your country right out from under you. I should be explicit here in stating that I am in no way justifying the actions of the home-grown terrorist who murdered and harmed peaceful counter-protestors in Charlottesville, and I can’t begin to think I know what his motivations were when he committed his vile, murderous act of aggression. What I am saying is that I believed before, and believe still, that Facebook (can be? is?) dangerous.

Silencing Those I Disagree With

When we were on before I got in lots of online arguments with the people- usually from the conservative “Christian” upbringing of my youth- that I disagree with. Even if in my heart of hearts I didn’t really believe that my arguing with them would change their minds, I still felt compelled to do so. Usually those arguments ended badly, and a quick click of the “unfriend” or even “block” button followed. Naturally, as I silenced those I disagreed with, I locked myself ever more into my own self-referencing and self-reinforcing bubble. As I write this I’m struck by the last sentence I just wrote. Even if only on Facebook, “I silenced those I disagreed with.” Would I do this in person? Would I refuse to hear those I don’t agree with, even/especially when I find their rhetoric vile, their arguments baseless, and their opinions ignorant or ill-informed? My own rhetoric about myself would say “no,” even if in practice my web of face-to-face relationships and those I choose to spend time with might suggest otherwise.

“Issues” Don’t Deserve Our “Stances;” People Do

Of course I know that people will, and often do, “like,” “friend,” and “follow” pages, people, and groups they don’t agree with for the sole purpose of “trolling” and/or getting into such arguments as I allude to above. I suspect that this is no more virtuous than cementing yourself in your own little like-minded bubble on Facebook. If part of what I think might be the “right” way to follow Jesus involves breaking down barriers and overcoming (often self-constructed) walls of division, I have to think that I have some responsibility to pursue relationship with those who look, think, and act differently than I do, and at the very least to remain in those (online) relationships I’m already a part of with those who think like maybe I used to, but do no longer. Better still, I would do well when possible to invite such folks to dinner. You see, to the extent that I’ve changed in my thinking about the world and especially about how to follow Jesus, much of that change has been driven by my in-person contact with people and ideas that are different than I am. As I’ve said for a little while now, I’ve learned that some of the most divisive “issues” of our time usually involve real people’s lives, and it’s easy to take a stand for or against an “issue,” but when you get to know the real people who the “issue” impacts, you find yourself no longer talking and thinking about the “issue.” Instead, you must decide whether to advocate for or against the well-being and maybe the very life of that person you know, who hopefully has become your friend. The gay “lifestyle” and/or “agenda” used to be an “issue” for me. Now, when people argue about it, I have to think about David, and April, and Ty, and others. I have to ask whether or not I really love them and want the best for them. There’s a lot more to be said about that, but I digress.

Exposure Therapy

My point now I suppose is that “exposure therapy” works. Maybe that’s a good way to think of this. Especially to the extent that we remain afraid of those who are different from us and those we can’t understand, we all need a little therapy, and simple exposure to those friends we haven’t met yet would be a good start. What I’m saying is that I probably swung from one extreme to the other. I lived in a conservative bubble for a long time (pre-social media days), and it did not serve me well as a Jesus-follower. A “liberal” bubble will no doubt serve me no better. It’s probably fair to say that as a mobile-home dwelling male of European descent growing up in Texas, I was a conservative, America-loving, homophobic racist. And because as a child I was an abused conservative, America-loving, homophobic racist who grew up in the church, I really, really loved Jesus in my own small, ill-informed, immature way. I always say I grew up knowing that I could “depend on God in the absence of dependable parents.” Hear me now, the labels I’ve given myself above are labels I’m applying to myself, not to anyone else. Maybe others who grew up in the conditions I did might now look back and think of themselves then in the same way. Most probably wouldn’t, but I’m not saying that about anyone else. I’m saying that about myself.

Moving from One Secular Political Extreme to the Other When I’m Supposed to be an Extremist for Love

If before I was conservative, America-loving, homophobic, and racist, am I now liberal, America-hating, gay-loving, and anti-racist? Some would probably say so, at least in regard to some of those labels. I’d like to be anti-racist. It’s a necessary corrective to a foundational truth about the U.S. which it will likely take just as many centuries to undo as it did to “do” in the first place. I’d like to be thought of as someone who loves my LGBTQ brothers and sisters and who is passionate about (nonviolently) fighting for their good. Admittedly, this is probably still a growth point for me, but it’s something I aspire to. My “conservative” friends, to whatever extent I still have any, would likely think of me as very “liberal.” Truth be told, however, more and more I’m able to see the extent to which “liberalism” inasmuch as it’s thought of as a counter to “conservatism” in this country is a poor vehicle if our destination is the beloved community that MLK, Jr. spoke of and Scripture describes so beautifully. I think “liberal” secular politics in this country often offer the promise of more loving and humane answers to the problems that plague our society, but just as often fail to deliver on that promise. I’ll take the rhetoric of an Obama over that of a Trump any day, but sadly much of Obama’s rhetoric proved to be just- and only- that, rhetoric.

What I ought to know by now is that if what I really hope for is God’s kingdom of love and justice to come, then I have to live like Jesus is Lord, and Caesar/Trump/Obama is not. If the beloved community is what I’m called to be a part of, then I have to do the hard work that the family business of reconciliation requires. That means I must work to be reconciled with my neighbors of color, my LGBTQ neighbors, my poor neighbors, and my rich neighbors and conservative neighbors. If I believe that everything belongs to God, then I must stop hoarding all the material wealth I’ve been blessed with and to whatever extent I have two coats while my neighbor has none, I must give at least one away. If I believe that Jesus is the Prince of Peace and he really meant that we should not violently resist an evil person, I must do the hard work of peacemaking, even/especially as I consider the violent impulses of all the institutions I benefit from and participate in every day.

Too Many Causes, Too Little Time

When I go on Facebook these days, especially after the events in Charlottesville, I find myself overwhelmed with all the things I should be angry about. Some such anger, I hope, is right and righteous, and hopefully to the extent that this is true it will serve its purpose. The purpose of anger, after all, is to give the adrenaline necessary to act, and surely there are many actions that are necessary in these perilous times. Still, the simple volume of anger-inducing information is paralyzing. When there are so many things to do, it’s hard to know where to start. Adding to the vitriol in the comments on a Facebook post or Twitter thread probably isn’t the most helpful place to start, to be sure. I also think it’s a bit of a distraction. Online discussion can be helpful, and I participate in probably more than my fair share, but the real work of healing and restoration that this world so desperately needs happens most often as we break bread together, face-to-face, not as we break faith with one another while hurling insults online.

Without Worship, We Shrink

I read yesterday (online, of course) about how a pastor I respect was moved to pray as he faced all the troubles in the world as represented on Facebook and in his own, real life. When I went on Facebook today and was faced with the same troubles in the world and my own troubles in my own real life, I was moved…to praise. Among the faith community that same pastor I spoke of above is a part of, they have a proverb that goes: “without worship, we shrink.” I continue to believe that this is fundamentally, spiritually, and existentially true. When I allow myself to be moved by an effective worship song, I really am…moved. I’m transported from wherever my burdens feel too heavy to bear to the foot of the cross, where Jesus confronts me with his unflinching love not just for me and my tribe but for each and every person who has ever or will ever live, for the whole world, for the entire created order that groans with us in anticipation of its own redemption. In those moments I am overwhelmed not with anger or despair at all the troubles in the world, or at least on Facebook, but instead with love.

Being Overwhelmed is a Virtue

You see, we were meant to be overwhelmed. We were built and wired to be overwhelmed. We’re finite after all. We’re not in-finite. We can hold so much, and no more. God made us this way because he is infinite. He is not contained. God is love, and that love flows from God to his good creation and to every one of us each and every day for as long as the world has existed and on into eternity, and yet his love is never, ever diminished. He is not the less for it. His love is not a “zero-sum” endeavor. It is not subject to the “laws” of economics, and certainly not to the laws of capitalism. It is not the case that the more God gives, the less he has. And you know what? That’s true for us too. We were made to be overwhelmed because we were made to be vessels of this “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.” We were meant to be utterly filled up with it, and then it was meant to flow from us out to everyone around us. I John puts it best:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in that passage that a lot could be said about, and I’ve said some of it before. What I’m most interested in now is how the passage above ends:

This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

How to Have Confidence on the Day of Judgment

Do you think God’s a worse parent than you are? Would you torture your children forever? Image HT

Many would-be Jesus followers spend their whole lives focusing on what came before the last part I just quoted again above. They focus on this part:  “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.” Many Christians think this “acknowledgment” that Jesus is the Son of God has to do with reciting a formulaic prayer, or worse, making sure the Ten Commandments are in front of courthouses and hymns can be played by high school bands during football halftime shows. Maybe saying the “sinner’s prayer” suffices as the kind of acknowledgment the verse above alludes to, but I suspect not. What I’m struck by, though, is this. Why do some Christians insist everybody say that formulaic prayer or let them practice their USAmerican civil religion in public spaces? Undoubtedly it’s so that they can “have confidence on the day of judgment” because they think that God’s a worse parent than they hope to be and is therefore willing to torment people in hell forever if they don’t say such a prayer. Thus, it is very, very based in fear. Isn’t it ironic, then, that the very passage above speaks to this very issue? There are very specific instructions about just how to “have confidence on the day of judgment,” and this bit of scripture has a lot to say about fear. According to this passage, we will have confidence on the day of judgment not by saying a formulaic prayer and not by fighting the culture wars; rather, that confidence comes when, “in this world, we are like Jesus.” Immediately afterward, we read, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” The passage speaks of God’s love being made “complete” among us, and it seems really, really clear that this happens as we love another, because God has first loved us. Oh, that we would all be so overwhelmed with this love that we did love one another in this way, so that God’s love would be made complete and the world would know we were really, truly, finally Christians! What better way could there be to acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God?

Of course, all that is the opposite of love can seem overwhelming too. Thankfully, as finite creatures we were not built to contain all the hate and evil in the world, and to whatever extent we don’t act lovingly toward one another, there’s plenty of hate and evil to go around. When we focus on the hate and evil, even if we do so in the hope of countering it, it again feels overwhelming. Just spend a little time on Facebook, and you’ll know this to be true. The problem when this happens isn’t that we feel overwhelmed because again that’s how we’re built. The problem is what we’re letting ourselves be overwhelmed by. Let’s work to worship and pray and do whatever we need to keep close to Jesus, so that we can be overwhelmed by his love, letting it spill out of us to everyone who crosses our path. There’s plenty of hate-speech online and hateful actions in real life that require our loving response, but after all “darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Not surprisingly, those words came as Dr. King spoke about violence. He said:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Jesus says that we who would follow him are meant to be the “light of the world.” Let’s be light. It’s the only thing that can drive out darkness. Let’s be love. It’s the only thing that can drive out hate. Let’s be peace. It’s the only thing that can drive out violence.

Let’s Be Friends?

I hope to be light, love, and peace in real life, and on Facebook. That presupposes that I again work hard at the family business of reconciliation, and that requires that I be in relationship- in real life and on Facebook- with those who are different than I am. Hopefully in the coming days our Facebook friend list will grow as I reach out to the folks I unfriended when I grew out of the conservative outlook of my youth. I may not like everything they say; in fact, I’m sure I won’t, but I don’t have the right to silence them, and who knows, maybe I’ll learn something from them. Nor, of course, will they like all the online stances Kirsten and I might take. Be that as it may, if Jesus unrelentingly loves the entire world and each and every one of us whether we want or deserve it or not, and I purport to follow him, then I have to grow into that kind of love too. Lord, let it be so.

Your Tweets Are A Stench To Me

Image HT

I did it. After vowing off of Facebook because on balance its effect was more negative than positive, and then staying off it for 3 years or so, Kirsten and I came back on- together on one account- for the sake of interaction with our local community of faith and relatives who aren’t nearby. I promised myself I wouldn’t get drawn in to the mostly pointless debates Facebook is so infamous for, but I failed to keep that promise today. I participated in a thread dealing with justice for the poor, among other things, and having done so I feel…almost dirty, somehow tainted. The primary antagonist to the majority of voices on this thread, including my own, was unsurprisingly unswayed by anything we had to say; nor were we convinced by his “arguments.” I hate that I did this, but I’m almost grateful for the experience, as it solidified my belief that such debates are mostly pointless at best and toxic and damaging at worst. I suspect if Amos 5:21-24 were written today, it might go something like this:

I hate, I despise your Facebook posts;
    your tweets are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me good intentions and halting steps,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice charity donations,
    I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your voicemails to your congressperson!
    I will not listen to the music of your protest songs.
But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Of course I would never say that every Facebook post or tweet is necessarily useless. I think such tools can be useful for staying connected with loved ones, for providing information and organization within an affinity group, for fundraising perhaps, and in places where speech is otherwise suppressed. That said, social media is ill-suited as a vehicle for “real” news or as a platform for serious debate. Worse, I think it’s a tremendous distraction from the real work of loving the neighbors right in front of our faces and making sure that our faces are positioned in proximity to those on the margins of society.

Now I just need to post this to social media in a craven attempt at clicks, likes, and follows, but I do so knowingly and with a hint of irony; so that’s okay.

Right?

“Oh Lord, Bless This Thy Holy Hand Grenade, That With It Thou Mayest Blow Thine Enemies To Tiny Bits, In Thy Mercy.”

I can’t help but think that everyone’s been reading from The Book of Armaments rather than the Bible.

Yesterday I heard a Christian say, in response to the comment of a co-worker that was in some way related to the election (still!), “you lost!” Later I read about a church that is so afraid that it has asked its state legislature for (and may well get) permission to form its own police force. This morning I saw a headline about a Republican legislator using the Bible to justify withdrawing food stamps from welfare recipients, and then I saw a person online wanting to re-hash Vietnam (still!) by arguing that the U.S. bombing campaign was successful and the war was only “lost” because Democrats who were swept into power on the heels of Watergate stopped funding the shipment of arms to South Vietnam.

Is this what Jesus died for? Is this the best we can do? All of this occurred just after Jesus, just a few days ago as we follow him through Holy Week on his way to the cross, wept over Jerusalem because she “did not know the things that made for peace.” She still doesn’t. Neither, apparently, do we.

Doesn’t that vindictive Christian so ready to shout “you lost!” realize that we all lost with the election of Trump, and would have just as surely if Hillary had been elected too? (I saw something else online recently describing the surreal world we live in, in which Clinton argues for the bombing of Syria, Trump goes ahead and does it, and both blame Obama.)

Doesn’t that fearful “church” know that violence begets violence, that those who live by the sword will die by it? Doesn’t that fearful “church” know that Jesus sets us free from fear, that if God is for us no one can stand against us, no matter how many guns and bullets they have?

Doesn’t that stingy, heartless Republican know that there is enough, enough food for all, enough resources to meet everyone’s needs, if only “he who gathers much does not gather too much, and he who gathers little does not gather too little,” if only we would “give to whomever asks” and stop treating the poor as our enemies, as Jesus commands?

Doesn’t that warmonger who’s still bitter about Vietnam know that the same “successful” U.S. bombing campaign involved dropping more bombs per capita on Laos (not Vietnam) than on any other country on earth, in part simply because U.S. bomber pilots sometimes had their mission changed in-flight or didn’t drop their bombs on Vietnam for some reason, but didn’t feel safe landing their planes with bombs still onboard, and so dropped them on Laos indiscriminately on their way home, never mind the people below?

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Unexploded ordnance dropped on Laos. HT to this great site for the image.

In a couple of days our violent ways will culminate in violence against God himself as the state executes Jesus on the cross, and Jesus will interrupt this and every cycle of violence by receiving it without retaliating and praying “Father, forgive them, for they know what they do.”

Father, forgive us. We still don’t know what we’re doing. Teach us to follow you, the Prince of Peace. Amen.

Rich Mullins Sings About the Secular Politics of Our Day

Hit play on the video above and give Rich a listen as he sings prophetically about the days we live in. All the words below are his, from his classic song While the Nations Rage, which draws from Psalm 2. Some of the pictures below show the church rising up in Jesus’ name to love and serve those around them. Some of them, sadly, juxtapose Rich’s words (“the church of God she will not bend her knees…”) with an image of the church doing just the opposite. I’ll let Rich take it from here…

 

"Why do the nations rage?  Why do they plot and scheme?"
“Why do the nations rage? 
Why do they plot and scheme?”

 

"Their bullets can't stop the prayers we pray  In the name of the Prince of Peace "
“Their bullets can’t stop the prayers we pray 
In the name of the Prince of Peace “

“We walk in faith and remember long ago
How they killed Him and then how on the third day He arose
Well, things may look bad
And things may look grim
But all these things must pass except the things that are of Him”

"Where are the nails that pierced His hands?  Well the nails have turned to rust  But behold the Man  He is risen  And He reigns  In the hearts of the children  Rising up in His name..."
“Where are the nails that pierced His hands? 
Well the nails have turned to rust 
But behold the Man 
He is risen 
And He reigns 
In the hearts of the children 
Rising up in His name…”

 

"Where are the thorns that drew His blood?  Well, the thorns have turned to dust  But not so the love  He has given  No, it remains  In the hearts of the children  Who will love while the nations rage"
“Where are the thorns that drew His blood? 
Well, the thorns have turned to dust 
But not so the love 
He has given 
No, it remains 
In the hearts of the children 
Who will love while the nations rage”

 

"The Lord in Heaven laughs  He knows what is to come  While all the chiefs of state plan their big attacks  Against His anointed One"
“The Lord in Heaven laughs 
He knows what is to come 
While all the chiefs of state plan their big attacks 
Against His anointed One”

 

"The Church of God she will not bend her knees"
“The Church of God she will not bend her knees

 

 

"To the gods of this world though they promise her peace"
“To the gods of this world though they promise her peace”

 

 

"She stands her ground  Stands firm on the Rock  Watch their walls tumble down when she lives out His love"
“She stands her ground 
Stands firm on the Rock 
Watch their walls tumble down when she lives out His love”

 

 

"Where are the nails that pierced His hands?  Well the nails have turned to rust  But not so the Man  He is risen  And He reigns  In the hearts of the children  Rising up in His name"
“Where are the nails that pierced His hands? 
Well the nails have turned to rust 
But not so the Man 
He is risen 
And He reigns 
In the hearts of the children 
Rising up in His name

 

 

"Where are the thorns that drew His blood?  Well, the thorns have turned to dust  But behold the love  He has given  It remains  In the hearts of the children  Who will love while the nations rage  While the nations rage"
“Where are the thorns that drew His blood? 
Well, the thorns have turned to dust 
But behold the love 
He has given 
It remains 
In the hearts of the children 
Who will love while the nations rage 
While the nations rage”

“Well, where are the nails that pierced His hands?
Well the nails have turned to rust
But behold the Man
He is risen
And He reigns
In the hearts of the children
Rising up in His name
Where are the thorns that drew His blood?
Well, the thorns have turned to dust
But not so the love
He has given
Oh, it remains
In the hearts of the children
Who will love”

 

"...while the nations rage..."
“…while the nations rage…”

 

My Measly Voice


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My freshman year college roommate wrote me an email on the eve of yesterday’s inauguration that clocked in at just under 4,000 words. The basic gist of his argument in all those words seems to be that:
  • I’ve changed. I’m not the same person he knew in college, for about a year (we were only roommates for freshman year). He goes to reasonable lengths to try to express his appreciation for the fact that my journey has been very different from his and he says he knows that my experiences (which again have been very different from his) have shaped me.
  • Echoing one of Circle of Hope’s proverbs, I like to say that “Jesus is the lens through which I read the Bible.” My old roommate suggests, however, that it isn’t really Jesus through which I see the Bible. Rather, as far as he can tell in regard to me, “socialist liberalism” is the lens through which I see everything, including Jesus and the Bible. He says: “Socialist liberalism seems to be THE lens with which you see the Bible, Jesus’ teachings, the mission of the church, the only hope for USAmericans (my term), and the only morally justifiable way to accomplish economic and racial reconciliation.”
  • He goes on to suggest that when I write about my own story and struggles, he “applauds my courage and candor” and “there is not a hint of self-righteousness; only humility.” When, however, I:

“label conservative Christians as ‘fundagelicals’, rail against well-intention(ed) Jesus followers who disagree with socialist liberal political positions and mock them for completely missing the point of the gospel message, label every Trump supporter as racist, publicly shame any Christian who proudly supports Israel because you read an ALJazeera article,  devote a majority of a blog to try to see how you can survive thanksgiving with Trump-supporting in-laws, tweet and retweet 50 times  everyday with cynicism, hatred, and intolerance of those who disagree with your worldview, and see yourself as…someone who proudly resists a government that hasn’t had a chance yet…and to do all of that using very selective, theologically liberal biblical hermeneutics to make your case and claim the moral authority and high ground while at the same time subliminally (usually not directly) shaming every evangelical Christian…………… it says an awful lot more about the dangerous place you are in instead of the morally indefensible place you claim the ‘other team’ is living in.”

He wasn’t done, though. He adds that again from his perspective I “…can often come across as a self-righteous, hate-filled, borderline agnostic, ideologue who sits in judgment of conservatives, moderates, black and red-letter bible Christians (as opposed to only red-letter ones), meat-eaters, and anyone who is not willing to admit their white guilt and give reparations to every minority in our country….even though it’s not our country hence your USAmericans monicker.”

  • He then suggests “as a friend” that I “leave the militant socialist liberal Christianity stuff out of your social media life” and that I:

“flip the script to inspiration devoid of antagonization. I know it’s difficult to do that in this new administration but trust me, there is a better way to speak truth to power. The easy way is to keep reading alt left propaganda, get yourself all worked up, retweet 150,000 quotes and articles a day, resist the oppression of whatever it is that upsets you, carry around your white guilt as you live in suburbia, and spend your days miserable reading alt left books from progressive-only bookstores, written by left-wing authors. That’s actually the easy thing to do. The hard way to bring real change I believe is by inspiring a generation of people to the true gospel; the life, teachings, death, resurrection, red letters, and black letters of Jesus.” He says that I should inspire people “…by giving as much credence to the world of politics as Jesus did…not much. The Kingdom was all about speaking truth to power on a different level. Let the Essenes and Barabbas deal with trying to take down the oppression of Rome. Jesus’ speaking truth to power looked so different from Brian Zahnd…’s worldview.”

  • He adds that Obamacare was “doomed to fail” because, basically as I understand what my old roommate was saying, it tried to force people to care about one another. It tries to legislate morality. Finally, he concludes that “…rooting out all imperialistic Christendom from the world isn’t the solution in my opinion. The solution is changing the empire from within Christendom itself; one heart at a time. I believe that to be the hard way, but the more effective way. Politics is a failed system; for the left and the right; for both Christian conservatives and Christian progressives. There’s a better way.” Incidentally, I don’t think he’s plugging Paul Ryan’s economic plan with that last “better way” bit.
  • At the end he says he looks forward to seeing more of my family and sports related posts and posts about my faith community, and hopes that he’ll also see me “inspire the echo chamber” with something they “haven’t heard before or retweeted already,” with the gospel.

Phew! That’s a lot to digest, and I don’t even know where to begin to respond. What I don’t want to do is get into an online argument. I’ve been in more than my fair share of those, and they never, ever end well, but on a couple of occasions they have ended relationships. So, although it’s as tempting as the sweets I’ve been consuming much too frequently of late, I will do my best to resist the urge to defend myself, to take his points one by one and show from my perspective why he’s misunderstood me (there’s probably a lot of that) or why I believe whatever position I’ve taken or acted on is one that is as consistent as I can muster with my stated desire to follow Jesus. Some of what he said above is (needlessly) incendiary, whether he meant it to be or not. Nevertheless, I believe in his own way that he means well. So I’ll assume the best and instead of defending myself, what I will do is simply state, as clearly and briefly and in as straightforward fashion as I can, what I believe and why I do what I do. I think I’ve done this before, but lest there be any confusion, here goes:

Despite lots of very compelling reasons not to, I still want, and am trying, to follow Jesus. I know several smart, loving people who have tried to do the same and concluded that they cannot. As I keep saying, their stories aren’t over; so who knows what will happen with them in “the end?” I bring them up because I can relate to them and I respect their reasons. If you want to know more about this, I’ve written about it extensively of late. Just read my last several posts. For my part, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” I want to do this; no, I am compelled to do this, because somehow I still believe that as much as I may try (and fail) to hold on to Jesus, I believe deep down that Jesus is still holding on to me. Among the “prosperity gospel” preachers Trump gathered to pray for him as he was inaugurated yesterday, one of the other religious leaders (I don’t remember which one) prayed that Trump, in office, would “be his best self.” That’s one of the few sentiments from yesterday’s proceedings that I can support. I believe, and it has been my experience, that only as I try to closely follow Jesus am I ever truly my best self. It as at the foot of the cross, that great playing field leveler, that I see myself as I truly am (broken but healed), and more importantly, see those around me and around the world for who they truly are (God’s beloved children whom I am to love whether I consider them friends, neighbors, or even enemies). So I am trying, still, to follow Jesus, now well over the threshold of my fourth decade. In many ways that is no small feat these days. I’m not proud; I am grateful. I know, however, that I may not be following Jesus very well.

Even so, there are some basics about following Jesus that have become non-negotiable. I’m glad for this too. Among my “non-negotiables” is a willingness to be certain of very little. This willingness has been crucial to my ongoing relationship with Jesus. I used to be certain about various things that I thought were necessary for faith, like my former certainty that the Bible was inerrant, for example (it’s not). I used to be certain that Jesus was, as I’ve long now said, “a white Anglo-Saxon U.S. male protestant that shopped at the mall, lived in the ‘burbs, and spent his day pursing the American dream” just like most other people I used to know. Little of that, it turns out, is true. I used to be certain that following Jesus was “as American as apple pie” and that doing so, therefore, meant that following Jesus went hand-in-hand with being a “good (white) American,” that doing so meant being patriotic in the U.S. flag next to the “Christian” flag in houses of worship kind of way. According to this way of thinking that I used to be certain was the “correct” way, following Jesus was about following the rules of “checklist Christianity” (again, this is well-trod ground for me on this blog). Included in those rules were a whole bunch of “do’s and don’ts:”

  • Do read your Bible and pray every day and “go to church” every Sunday
  • Do be “polite” or “nice” (even while engaging in not-nice acts, like supporting an unrepentant sinner whose first actions in office reveal an unloving, unjust agenda; gone from the White House website, for example, are pages championing civil rights efforts and efforts on behalf of the environment- which is itself a civil rights issue– and the Trump DOJ has asked for a delay in pending litigation that would have defended disenfranchised voters of color in TX)
  •  Don’t use bad language or (for some) smoke or drink or even dance (my still favorite Baptist joke is that sex is bad because it might lead to dancing)
  • Speaking of sex, don’t engage in any other than male-female sex inside of marriage. I’m not pronouncing a judgment here, by the way; I believe that sex outside of marriage is sinful because it destroys the right relationships we were made for. There’s a lot more to be said about this, but I’m off point. Right now I’m just recounting all the “rules” I grew up with that I used to be certain about.

This list of rules could go on and on. My point is that the rules were the focus of the kind of “Christianity” I grew up with, and they extended to belief, which is to say that some of the rules dealt with lending intellectual assent to a series of propositions about God and the Bible. Anyway, if you could “check off” all the rules, you were “in;” you were a “good Christian.” Over time, however, and largely through my own experience, I’ve come to understand that this way of trying to follow Jesus is no way at all, because it’s not really about following Jesus at all. It’s about following the rules; it’s about imposing a new “law,” when in fact Jesus came to put an end to the law. It’s why I now say that “rules are for relationship.” Read Mark 2. It’s literally all about Jesus and his followers breaking all kinds of rules (ones in the Bible, no less) in order to show that they are a means to an end, not the end. Thus, the rules point us in the direction of right relationship, but they’re a poor substitute for it. And that’s just the thing, too many would be Jesus followers I know are willing to substitute the rules for Jesus. That is what I would contend is the “easy way.” The hard way is basing one’s faith on a relationship with a living God who is always on the move, always to be found on the margins, loving and including those that we so often do not. As Pierce Pettis sang, “I can’t go with you and stay where I’m at.” As All Sons and Daughters sing:

 I could just sit
I could just sit and wait for all Your goodness
Hope to feel Your presence
And I could just stay
I could just stay right where I am and hope to feel You
Hope to feel something again

And I could hold on
I could hold on to who I am and never let You
Change me from the inside
And I could be safe
I could be safe here in Your arms and never leave home
Never let these walls down

But You have called me higher
You have called me deeper
And I’ll go where You will lead me Lord
You have called me higher
You have called me deeper
And I’ll go where You lead me Lord
Where You lead me
Where You lead me Lord

My point obviously is that most of those things I used to be so sure of I simply am not sure of any longer. As always, here I am reminded of “my” teacher and mentor (not personally of course) Frederick Buechner, who says:

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Lately I’ve had a few more bad days than not, but I remain sure that “he who does not love remains in death,” and that “Jesus is the Word made flesh who dwells among us, full of grace and truth.” I’m resolved to know these truths and “little else,” for fully living in response to them would take a lifetime. Again as All Sons and Daughters sing:

Lord I find You in the seeking
Lord I find You in the doubt
And to know You is to love You
And to know so little else
I need You
Oh how I need You (x3)

Or, as Paul put it: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Living in love with a living God who is always calling me higher and deeper, more fully into my best self, more fully into right relationship with God and with my neighbors, friends, and enemies near and far- and with God’s good earth- means showing up for racial justice and engaging in action and awareness in regard to it; it means speaking truth to power whether it is that of Barack Obama or Donald Trump or Wall Street or Caesar. Declaring that Jesus is Lord means saying that Caesar (or Obama or Trump) is not. Living that out is messy and hard, but necessary, and very political in fact. As usual, Rod White said it better than I could:

“OK. I voted. To paraphrase Paul on both his prophetic and practical sides: In Christ there is no Republican or Democrat; Jesus is Lord. In the voting booth I voted to bring as much justice as I could with my measly vote. Now back to the everyday transformative work we do…with joy.”

In fact, his whole post about the election as a “whitelash” is instructive. I encourage you to read it. Again, for my part, if acting in the voting booth and in my social media posts to bring as much justice as I can with my measly vote and my measly voice makes me look like a “self-righteous, hate-filled, borderline agnostic, ideologue who sits in judgment of conservatives, moderates, black and red-letter bible Christians (as opposed to only red-letter ones), meat-eaters, and anyone who is not willing to admit their white guilt and give reparations to every minority in our country….even though it’s not our country,” then so be it. Lord willing, my more “liberal” and “left-ish” friends will find me equally offensive. If I follow Jesus well and closely enough, what will come through most clearly is love for neighbors near and far and friends and enemies alike. To the extent that my online presence does not make that clear, I repent and beg forgiveness.

It’s Not So Shocking that Rome Would Do Roman Things. It’s Shocking that Christians Would.

calvin
We’re two days out from Thanksgiving, and I’m filled with dread. It sits there, like a knot in the pit of my stomach. I can only avoid dealing with it for so long. The holidays can always be a stressful time, but they feel even more so this year, after this exceedingly contentious election season. I’ve long known that some of my in-laws, for example, do not share the political and sadly even the faith related views that Kirsten and I do, but this year it feels different. Of course it’s always work to really love anyone, especially those you have fundamental disagreements with, but again that’s more clear than ever now.
As I’ve told Kirsten of late, I feel truly “stuck.” I just can’t get over the fact that anyone who claims to be trying to follow Jesus could think they were doing so as they voted for Trump, and yet I know several such people. I get that someone could make the same assertion about voting for Hillary as I did. Yet I am ready with my many defenses, the arguments I’ve already made on this blog of late. I’m armed with facts about the declining abortion rate and the “smoke, but no fire” logic of the Clinton scandal(s) and false equivalence between them and Trump’s many scandals. I could talk about the bona fide good the Clinton Foundation has done despite the political influence its contributors gained by “paying” in order to “play,” versus the utter lack of good the alleged Trump “foundation” ever did for anyone anywhere and the many actual scandals attached to it. I could talk about how different this election would feel, how I would feel, if we were all sitting here in the wake of a McCain or Romney or, God help us, even a Bush win. I could talk about the peculiar evil that Trump represents, how he distinguishes himself in the worst possible way with his blatant racism and misogyny, with his unhinged rhetoric and unpredictability. I could talk about how he’s known by the company he seems to keep, by the coalition of supporters he’s gathered. I could point to his Cabinet appointments so far and say you need look no further than that to know how frightening his rise to power is.
I could talk too about how disturbing his “election” is with an ever-growing popular vote deficit via a system that was in fact “rigged,” but for Trump, not against him, due to widespread voter suppression by Republicans generally and especially in the wake of the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by an “activist” Supreme Court. It’s disturbing not only for those reasons, but especially since it comes on the heels of the Obama presidency. I was an enthusiastic Obama supporter in ’08 and a reluctant one in ’12. His legacy, such as it is, is in grave peril now, but I echo the many voices now saying that however one voted even in this election, I suspect the day will soon come when we all miss him.
It’s disturbing to know that after the historic tenure of the nation’s first Black president, the nation follows it up not by electing its first female president, but by turning instead to a man who traffics in racial tropes and blatant misogyny. How ironic, too, that a substantial minority of voters (again, he lost the popular vote by a wide margin) would choose a leader, in spite of all the above, in the hope that he would resuscitate their waning economic fortunes while this very same leader made his own fortune by oppressing and denying payment to people just like them. Trump’s habit of denying payment to vendors of his businesses for suspect reasons is well-known, or should have been. Think too about the optics of a man elected to save “working class folk” giving his first post-election television interview with he and his children literally seated on a matching set of gold thrones.
trump-thrones
He’s not even pretending to be anything other than an avaricious, narcissistic strongman, and enough people are so desperate to be just like him that they don’t seem to care. And some of those people say they’re following Jesus. It makes me sick….and angry.
Thus, it is with much dread that I face Thanksgiving.
Speaking of them, let’s go ahead and talk about my feelings. I wrote in my last post of my gratitude for Mill City Church’s service of lament after the election. It was a welcome, needed exercise, and as I wrote I even experienced some (emotional) healing in the midst of it of wounds that had little to do with the election. Knowing that the next Sunday, this past one, we as Mill City Church would follow-up our work of lamenting with a service of thanksgiving, I wrote that I would indeed approach this past Sunday with a thankful heart. I can tell you that I tried, but as Sunday morning approached, I “just wasn’t feeling it,” for all the reasons I’ve just described. I find it difficult not to repeatedly cycle back in to shock and disbelief. And again, I’m not so angry that the U.S. “elected” Trump. As I said in my last post, it’s not so shocking that “Rome” would do “Roman” things. It’s shocking that “Christians” would do “Roman” things.
Nonetheless, I showed up on Sunday, and did my best to participate.
And I’m so very glad that I did.
I would have come just for the visuals. What I saw on Sunday in the auditorium of the elementary school that my church remains committed to loving and serving is that the laments we had written down last week had been nailed to the cross, there to die along with Jesus, begging the question then if also along with Jesus something is to be resurrected in their place.
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I’d like to think that indeed something was resurrected along with Jesus, as just as we had done last week with the lament psalms, this week we were invited to follow a simplified pattern of the thanksgiving psalms, which is:

todah

So we corporately worked through each part of the traditional psalm of Thanksgiving, punctuating each part with worship through song, as we had done with the Lament psalms the week before. As we did so, we considered the turn we were making, what the move from lament to todah represented:
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Thus, we were led to consider that moving from lament to todah is a move from complaints to thanksgiving, from disorientation to reorientation, and from longing to hope. It’s notable that moving from lament to todah is first a move from disorientation to reorientation. As I’ve said, I’ve felt quite “stuck” of late. Part of that feeling is an acknowledgment that I’ve been feeling disoriented. The world I woke up in on the morning after the election did not appear to be the same world I fell asleep in the night before. Maybe this should not have been the case. Certainly, there was evidence of just how ungodly the world can be leading up to election night, and of course by “world” I don’t mean God’s good created order but rather the “world” inasmuch as the term can refer to the systems of oppression and domination that are set up in opposition to God’s kingdom.
Trump’s rallies were marked not only by divisive, hateful speech, but by the actions that usually follow from such speech. Moreover, even under the last 7+ years of the Obama presidency many civilians were killed by U.S. drones around the world and many in the world remained mired in abject poverty. So it is debatable whether or not I should have felt so newly disoriented after the election. Nonetheless, I did, and this is why I am so grateful that we were led to make the move, together, from lament to todah. Giving thanks, together, for the goodness of God’s kingdom in all the places where it is evident in the world despite the darkness constantly pushing against it forces us to remember that such goodness, such light, exists! In doing so, we are reoriented. We are reminded of who and whose we are. I felt “stuck” in part because I had lost my way. I literally could not see a path forward. Moving from lament to todah and so moving from disorientation to reorientation literally helps me find my way again. It helps me see how to get un-stuck and get moving along the path again, along the path of discipleship. Giving thanks reminds me of who Jesus is, and that it is Jesus that I am following, not any U.S. leader.
Moving then from lament to todah and so from disorientation to reorientation is also a move from longing to hope. Pastor Steph, leading us this past Sunday as she had the Sunday before, said something like “longing is what hope looks like on a bad day,” though I might not be remembering this exactly right. If, however, longing is what hope looks like on a bad day, I would argue then that hope is longing spurred to prophetic action. It seems to me that even the most sincere longing, the most sincere yearning for that which might seem so far away, does not require any movement on one’s part. You can wallow in your longing. You can’t wallow in hope, however. You can be immersed in hope; you can be sustained by it, but at some point hope requires you to move. Reorientation helps you see the path. Hope helps you put one foot in front of the other and get moving down it. This was especially important for me this week, given as I’ve said above how “stuck” I’ve felt. My longing for the love and justice of God’s kingdom had been stifled by how it seems so far away. It seems so clearly to be “not yet” fully realized.
When, as the church, we are nonetheless led to move from lament to todah, from disorientation to reorientation and so from longing to hope, I find that suddenly I have hope, when before there had been none. I’m reminded that my feelings are a great clue to what’s going on inside me; they are not a reliable guide, however, to external reality, and are certainly not a necessarily reliable guide to any sort of transcendent or eternal reality. I “wasn’t feelin’ it” when I walked in to the worship service on Sunday. In many ways I’m still not. But the truth is I don’t need to “feel” it in order for it to be true. The old adage that you can act yourself into a new way of feeling much more quickly than you can feel yourself into a new way of acting remains as apt as ever.
I’m reminded of the Pierce Pettis song, “You Move Me.” I’m a big fan of his; so it pains me that some may know this song because Susan Ashton and, I think later, Garth Brooks (God help me) sang it. Nonetheless, it comes to mind. Give it a listen.

Here are the lyrics:
Here’s how life seems to me
Life is like therapy
Real expensive with
No guarantees
And as I lay on the couch
With my heart hangin’ out
I was frozen in fear
Like a rock in the groundFirst Chorus
Oh, you move me
You give me courage I didn’t know I had
You move me
I can’t go with you and stay where I am
So you move meHere’s how love was to me
I could look and not see
Going through the emotions
Not knowing what they mean
And it scared me so much
That I just wouldn’t budge
I might have stayed there forever
If not for your touchSecond Chorus
Oh, you moved me
Out of myself and into the fire
You move me
Burning with love and hope and desire
And you move me

See how you move me

You go whistling in the dark
Making light of it, making light of it
I follow with my heart
Laughing all the way

Third Chorus
You move we
You got me dancin’ and you make me sing
You move we
Now I’m taking delight in every little thing
‘Cause you moved me

Oh-oh-oh you move me…

Of course I like especially the line “I can’t go with you and stay where I’m at.” In other words, I can’t follow Jesus and stay stuck. I can’t remain mired in my longing. If I am to follow Jesus, I must make the turn from longing to hope. I must act, prophetically living as if God’s kingdom is “already” upon us, though it seems so obviously to be “not yet” fully realized. Though I wasn’t “feeling it” Sunday morning, I’m part of the church that gathered in that auditorium, and as the church, we gave thanks for God’s goodness. I was buoyed by my brothers and sisters as together we did what I alone could not. This is among the many reasons why it is so important that we continue working to be the church. The specter of a Trump presidency is rightly frightening, but when the Church acts hopefully out of the goodness of God’s kingdom already come, we make light of the darkness in all the ways that phrase connotes. This is, after all, not “Trump’s America” any more than it was “Obama’s America.” All nations are subject to God’s sovereignty. There may be many days ahead in which we are called to act prophetically, to do together what none of us could do alone. Inasmuch as we do so, I will be thankful indeed.
Anticipating that faithful, prophetic action of the church of which I am a part, it was indeed with a thankful heart that I responded to the invitation on Sunday to join my brothers and sisters in recording what we were thankful for on canvas. I think that gratitude deserves the last word:
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Let’s Not Be Afraid of Refugees Because There Might Be Terrorists Among Them. Let’s Welcome Strangers Because There Might Be Angels Among Them.

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I’m so very grateful for Mill City Church today, for a variety of reasons. When the pastors charted out the current sermon series we’ve been working through, Going Public, they decided to end it this week and next with a service of Lament today, the first Sunday after the election, and a service of Thanksgiving next week (which just happens to the Sunday before Thanksgiving). As Pastor Stephanie described it on Instagram when she posted the photo above:

This has been a heavy week to be a human in America. It’s also a heavy week to be a leader and to figure out how we move forward and make changes. Many of the problems many face in our country I know I’ve contributed to. Every story I hear this week has been breaking my heart. For thousands of years, the followers of Yahweh have followed an ancient tradition in times like these… it’s called Lament-Todah. Lament is best translated as complaint and todah can be best translated as thanksgiving. So for the next two weeks at @millcitychurchmpls I am going to lead our church through Lament this weekend and Todah next weekend as we respond to the division, confusion and pain erupting in our country over the last few months. The Kingdom of God is our aim, but we must not neglect the need to stop and engage the pain and suffering and bring it to a God who loves us and who knows the deepest depths of human suffering. Jesus chose to know this first hand. Join us for worship at Sheridan School at 10am. #kingdomcome

Obviously, this was planned long before the election results were known, but long after the rhetoric in this election season had devolved in a way that few of us had ever seen. I was so very grateful when I found out that this was the plan, as my heart has been so very heavy of late, but especially since Tuesday. It should come as no surprise that I did not vote for Trump. His hateful rhetoric and actions made this a bit of a no-brainer, for me at least. Look, I know well-meaning Christians disagree about the proper role and size of government. Well-meaning Christians disagree about economic policy and even economic systems. Well-meaning Christians even disagree about political systems, as some of us suspect that something like democratic socialism might work a little better, and better serve the needs of all, than what we in the U.S. have now. Well-meaning Christians disagree about many things in the sphere of secular politics.

What we should not disagree about, though, is that the primary, fundamental responsibility in our public lives is to love and serve our neighbor, whether we find them on our street or in Syria, in our neighborhood mosque or desperately trying to cross the U.S.’ southern border. We ought not disagree that there are two kinds of people in the world, according to Jesus, and they’re not conservatives and liberals, not Republicans and Democrats, not globalists and nationalists. Rather, the two types of people in the world, according to Jesus, are our neighbors, whom we are to love, and our enemies, whom we are to love. These are Jesus’ actual words in Mark 12:31 and Mark 5:43-48. Sure, we can disagree about how to do this, but never that we should. We are not called to protect ourselves. We are not called to store up treasures for ourselves here on earth whether within our home or within our “country,” and then shut out, exclude, and marginalize anyone we think might possibly be a thief who could break in and steal our stuff. In fact, quite the opposite is true. So what has been most painful about this election season is the overwhelming number of self-identified “Christians” who seem to have forgotten this. It’s jarring to hear large crowds of mostly European descendants chant “build a wall” around land they have no right to control because their ancestors stole it from one people group and committed genocide against them while kidnapping another whole people group from another continent and enslaving them in their ill-gotten country. For those in such crowds who claim to be “Christian,” though, it’s especially jarring, for this runs so very counter to the clear thrust of the gospel. There are many, many verses in Scripture that tell us to love our neighbor and specifically to welcome strangers. Here’s one such passage from Hebrews 13:

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.[a]

It’s almost as if someone in the Trump campaign leaked his platform to the writer of Hebrews!

Trump says we should either stop all Muslim immigration or engage in (even more) “extreme vetting” out of fear that there might be terrorists among the strangers. Scripture tells us to welcome strangers, because there might be angels among them.

For profit prison company stocks soared after Trump’s election because he “has called for increased deportation of undocumented immigrants. Implementing that plan would heighten prison demand by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).” But that’s not all, his call for a national “stop and frisk” policy would likely increase the disproportionate arrest and mass incarceration of people of color (if they survived increased interaction with law enforcement at all). Meanwhile, Scripture tells us to “remember those who are in prison” as if we were there with them.

Trump has said he wants to “bring back water-boarding,” and even worse! Scripture tells us to remember those who are being tortured as if we were.

I can’t help but think that somehow all of this was lost on all those “Christians” who voted for Trump. As Brian Zahnd said in the wake of the election:

It will, indeed. Don’t get me wrong, please. I can imagine a scenario in which I’m sitting here writing a post calling President-Elect Clinton to task for her lack of openness and accountability and for her lack of being consistently pro-life (to her credit, she wants to increase the social safety net and provide healthcare for all, factors which are known to reduce abortion; on the downside, she’s for war, and, to the best of my knowledge, has not called for a repeal of the death penalty). That said, for too long Christians have been more interested in their Christianity than in actually following Jesus. For too long white “Christians” in the U.S. have been more interested in a very comfortable civil religion that has much more to do with ‘Merica, Mom, and apple pie than with the good news of the gospel. As Rod White of Circle of Hope recently said, “we (would be Jesus-followers) need (to be) evangelized!

I see this tendency to settle for a “Christian” (civil) religion that is all too accommodating to/conflated with USAmerican (white) culture in ways too numerous to count, and I’ve written about this many times. Take, for example, this worship song by Rend Collective that I’ve previously written about. Here are the lyrics:

Come, set Your rule and reign
In our hearts again
Increase in us we pray
Unveil why we’re made
Come, set our hearts ablaze with hope
Like wildfire in our very souls
Holy Spirit come invade us now
We are Your church
We need Your power in us

We seek Your kingdom first
We hunger and we thirst
Refuse to waste our lives
For You’re our joy and prize
To see the captive hearts released
The hurt, the sick, the poor at peace
We lay down our lives for Heaven’s cause

We are Your church
We pray: revive this earth

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

Unleash Your kingdoms power
Reaching the near and far
No force of Hell can stop
Your beauty changing hearts
You made us for much more than this
Awake the kingdom seed in us
Fill us with the strength and love of Christ

We are Your church
We are the hope on earth

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

As I said when I wrote about this song before:

Talking about winning the nation back sounds a lot like winning “our” country “back,” for starters. And when you say you’re winning it back, even if you mean for Jesus, you imply that somehow he once had it, and now doesn’t. Is this what we really mean?

Readers of this blog may recall that my family and I were part of a church plant in OH that I’ve alluded to before, the one that we were so very hopeful about at first, that seemed to really get that the church is a people, not a place, and that even was trying out some fledgling missional communities. I think in their first public worship service, they sang this song, and I couldn’t help but ask questions about it after the fact. I just knew in my heart, in my spirit, that while the overall gist of the song was good there was something amiss in “building God’s kingdom here” by “winning this nation back.” Perhaps if that church had launched in the midst of this election season with all the talk of “making America great again” and “taking our country back” the mixed message of winning “our nation” back would have been more obvious. I don’t know. At the time, in that OH church, my concern was shrugged off and the song stayed in the worship rotation as is. I don’t know what exactly I expected them to do; I just know I didn’t feel very heard or understood. As I’ve also said, our experience with that faith community ended badly, with much, much pain, and sadly quite similarly to another traumatic ending there not long before then as I left my long-time job under similarly painful circumstances. There’s no small degree to which I’ve been trying to figure out “what God is up to” in those circumstances ever since, even as they played no small part in our move back to MN.

You see my confusion about those lyrics, right? Not only do they imply that ‘Merica used to be “Christian” in a way that it isn’t now and that we need to get it back to being that way, but they also imply, I think, that the U.S. even can be “Christian” in the first place. Again, this is well-trod ground for me, but I do not believe this to be so. If we really pray, as the song suggests, that God’s kingdom is unleashed to the point that there is healing in the streets and in “the land,” there would be little room for the “American dream” in the hearts of our fellow citizens any longer. If folks were gettin’ healed in the street there’d be no need for Obamacare or for the profit hungry capitalist medical industry. If we started living like the Church is supposed to, and were known for our love in the transformative ways that we might be, many of the institutions of U.S. society would collapse not because of unrest and rioting in the streets but because there’d be no need for them. There’d be no need for our criminal justice system if we loved our enemies and turned the other cheek when confronted with violence (of course, there wouldn’t be much violence in the first place). Capitalism, so dependent on self-interest, whether “enlightened” or not, would collapse if we starting sharing all the possessions we had, knowing they were God’s, not ours. I could go on. The point is that to the extent that we really start living as if God’s kingdom has already come among us we represent a grave threat to the powers and principalities that be, including the U.S. and all other secular governments. That’s why I struggle with that line in that song.

So you might imagine my consternation when Mill City Church sang the same song not all that long into our experience with them. Gratefully, there was enough grace and goodness in what we were discovering in this faith community that I felt I had the capacity to overlook it. It grieved me, just a little, and as I already mentioned I couldn’t sing those words when they come up in the song, but I considered it adiaphora. I was able to do so hopefully because I’ve grown a little but mostly because of all the other clear evidence of God’s work in these people and this community. It was just so clear to me that they were working extra hard to discern what God might be already doing in the community they felt called to serve and then respond faithfully as best they could to join him in that work. And the ways that they were responding, the things that they were doing, deeply resonated with me. My spirit could wholeheartedly say “yes” to what I saw God up to in them.

So, in the wake of this terrible election season and the election itself, my spirit again said yes! when I learned that today’s worship service would be one of lament. We gathered for it today and Pastor Steph led us in a powerful exercise, following the pattern in most of the psalms of lament:

-The Address – usually directly to God

-The Lament Proper – a description of the occurrences for which the people are requesting assistance or rescue

-Confession of Trust – a statement showing belief that God will hear their prayers

-The Petition Proper and Motivation – a usually very specific statement of what the people want God to do

-Vow of Praise – portion of the lament where the people promise to offer thanksgiving once seeing God’s intervention

After each part, we sang. The liturgy was heartfelt and captured our collective yearning that God draw near, that he hear the cry of those suffering from oppression- that he see all the ways they are being oppressed and may be even more so in the days to come- that he hear our cry on their behalf, and that he act. The liturgy should be posted on her blog soon. I encourage you to check it out when that happens. During the “petition” part, I believe, we had a chance to come forward and place our own handwritten petitions in a glass jar:

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This was mine:

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I lament not just over the hateful rhetoric in this election season and the danger that a President Trump poses not just for the “least of these” here and around the world but in a host of many other ways. That is lamentable, to be sure. It shouldn’t be all that surprising, though. ‘Merica is not the Church, after all. It does not represent God’s kingdom come. ‘Merica, especially these days and in the days to come, is basically Rome in Jesus’ day. It is the empire that God’s actual kingdom of love and peace and justice stands in stark relief against. Why should I be surprised when Rome does “Roman” things? Why should I be surprised when a worldly empire pursues its own gain and good to the detriment of its people and those around the world? No, what is most lamentable is that we would-be Jesus followers who live in that empire look no different than its most selfish, power-hungry denizens. What is most lamentable is that our lives look so little like that of our leader, Jesus, who was executed as an enemy of the state for showing the state to be the sham that it is, for showing that God’s kingdom was worthy of our sole and true allegiance.

The service this morning was thus a very emotional experience for many of us, and many tears were shed throughout. Near the end of the service in the auditorium of that elementary school that Mill City Church has had such an amazing relationship with for all these years now, we stood to sing a few last songs:

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Can you guess what song we sang next? It was “Build Your Kingdom Here,” of course. I had been very moved throughout the service as I alluded to above. I felt like I had connected with God as I, as we, cried out to him on behalf of the least of these, on behalf of his children, and asked him to intervene, to move to save them. We had declared our trust that somehow, in spite of it all, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, he would act. Rightly, then, we were moved to praise him, to declare that he is our King, he is our President; it is to his kingdom that we pledge allegiance. Some of that sentiment is present in “Build Your Kingdom Here;” so we sang, but I braced myself for those words I knew I could not sing (“win this nation back”).

You know what?

They never came.

Here are the lyrics as we sang them this morning:

Come, set Your rule and reign
In our hearts again
Increase in us we pray
Unveil why we’re made
Come, set our hearts ablaze with hope
Like wildfire in our very souls
Holy Spirit come invade us now
We are Your church
We need Your power in us

We seek Your kingdom first
We hunger and we thirst
Refuse to waste our lives
For You’re our joy and prize
To see the captive hearts released
The hurt, the sick, the poor at peace
We lay down our lives for Heaven’s cause

We are Your church
We pray: revive this earth

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Bring revival back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

Unleash Your kingdoms power
Reaching the near and far
No force of Hell can stop
Your beauty changing hearts
You made us for much more than this
Awake the kingdom seed in us
Fill us with the strength and love of Christ

We are Your church
We are the hope on earth

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Bring revival back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Bring revival back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

We sang “Bring revival back,” not “win this nation back,” and in that moment I was broken yet again this morning. That’s a sentiment I can get behind. The spirit of God within me yearns for revival, not merely the Billy Sunday altar call variety, but the kind in which “Christians” give up their religion and start living like Jesus followers. If that happens, I have no doubt that we’ll see healing of many varieties in the streets. Lives will be changed. Swords will be beaten into plowshares. Racial reconciliation will occur. Lord, let it be so.

In that moment this morning when I realized the lyrics had been changed, not only did I feel broken, I felt healed. I don’t know why they changed the words. Maybe someone read my post that touched on those words and they heard me and agreed that the lyrics sent a mixed message. Maybe not. Maybe they changed them because they’re always working so hard to listen to God’s spirit anyway and as a result they discerned that the words could be better. I’d like to think at least in some small way it is God’s spirit in me that leads to my discomfort with those lyrics. Either way, I felt heard, and more importantly, I felt healed. I felt as if all that baggage I’ve been carrying around since leaving that OH church was suddenly gone. I was and am grateful.

Therefore it will be with a glad heart that I gather with my Mill City Church family next week for a worship service of Thanksgiving. Prior to that we’ll gather for Mill City Church’s annual “Thanks. Give. Serve” event. Then once the (vegan/faux) turkey is eaten on Thanksgiving, it will be with joyful expectation that I move into the season of Advent. I am hopeful that Christ will come. Again. I am hopeful that God-with-us will be born, that God’s “secret rescue plan” for his children will be started anew. I am hopeful that Jesus will be born, again, that we, his hands and feet, his body, will be made new as we redouble our efforts and rededicate ourselves to being the church in the most profound ways. I pray that we will gain notoriety not for our political power but for our willingness to give it up so that we can better serve those who don’t have it. I pray that our zealous pursuit of love, of God’s peace-with-justice, of God’s shalom, will quite simply make us dangerous. Jesus promised us persecution, and most white “Christians” in this country have never seen it, not really. We aren’t persecuted, after all, when we are criticized for refusing to serve a gay person in our place of business or government office. We might be, though, if we do serve them, if we refuse to see them in terms of their sexual identity but simply as fellow children of God. We aren’t persecuted when we get called out for harassing women entering abortion clinics. We might be, though, if we relentlessly pursued living wage ordinances and robust healthcare for all and more importantly if we so thoroughly and scandalously loved and mentored and supported all the vulnerable and at-risk young women in our lives (and if we actually had them in our lives!) that there was seldom any need for abortion.

Lord, let your kingdom come, in us. Bring revival back. As advent approaches, let us watch and wait expectantly for you to come. Be born into the world anew, through us. Amen.