April 26, 2017

Donald Trump's First 100 Days

Telling God's Story by Peter Enns
In case you've been hiding under a rock, on Saturday Donald Trump will have completed 100 days as President of the United States. With that, critics are coming out in droves to point out that Trump will have the worst approval rating at 100 days of any President since 1945, that he has failed to meet his own standards for what he said he would accomplish in this time and that all he has done is prove he shouldn't have been in this position in the first place.

What is interesting to consider is that despite the many critics, the vast majority of the people who voted for Trump in the first place say they would vote for him again if the election was repeated today. More than that, what the linked article points out is that "62 percent [of those who voted for Trump] say he has been better than expected, with one-third (33 percent) saying he has been “much better.” Yes, I know many Trump voters who had low expectations as they cast their ballot for Trump mainly because they really didn't agree with what Clinton would have done if she won. Regardless of where the expectations started, it's safe to assume that many in this study had positive expectations of a Trump presidency, and they are saying that so far he has exceeded expectations.

How can the responses be so opposite? How can one group of people be looking at Trump and starting social media campaigns to say he should be impeached and another group be looking at him and say that he's been better than expected? Obviously, there are numerous reasons for this: spiral dynamics, political beliefs and opinions, intelligence (as cited by both sides!), etc.

In all of this, I keep coming back to one point that I think is easy to overlook: it's easier to outsource the responsibility of making our world better than it is to look at ourselves and take personal responsibility to do it. Put another way, it's easier to look at Donald Trump and critique his last 100 days, than it is to look at how YOU have done in your last 100 days? And this is really nothing new. Most people know the story in the Bible of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. I love the point that Peter Enns makes in Telling God's Story (a MUST read for parents!!) about what God is doing here:
In truth, the Israelites were not freed from “service” when God brought them out of Egypt. They were transferred from one form of “slavery” to another. God was forming them into a people who would reflect the image of God to a fallen world. That is the point of the Law. “When you enter Canaan, be like this. Don’t do what they do. You are to be my representatives. You are to be a blessing for the nations." (emphasis added)
What do the Israelites do in response to this responsibility of being the image of God in the world? They make a golden calf to represent God and begin to worship that. They shift the responsibility to something else.

They do the same thing in 1 Samuel when the Israelite people beg to have a king just like all the other nations around them. Instead of reflecting the image of God, they want to reflect the image of everyone else. More so, they wanted one person to represent them, to be the image of the nation of Israel, to be able to speak for everyone. Again, they shift the responsibility to something (or in this case someone) else. So they pick someone who looks great on the surface for this important position who inwardly ends of being arrogant and self conscious and not having the first clue about what it means to lead, especially in a Godly way. (No correlation to our time whatsoever...) Needless to say, it doesn't end well.

Then later, Jesus comes on the scene who was the perfect image of God and he taught how we should live as images of the Divine and what is the response? He's killed in exchange for a system and a religion that the people would rather hold on to as the image of God, rather than taking the responsibility for it themselves.

Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Yet, here we go again. Rather than take on the amazing responsibility that God has given us to reflect Divine love and justice around the world, it's so much easier to just elect someone to do it for us. (And I say that to everyone regardless of who you voted for.) There are a lot of things that are broken in the world that we live in. There are many things that we could be doing better as a nation and as a country. But Donald Trump is not the one who is going to make that happen. And neither will the next person elected or the person after that.

You are. YOU! Me. Your neighbor. The homeless guy down at the corner. Your coworker. All of us. 

Yes, we should talk about Trump's first 100 days. With as much political propaganda that is throughout the New Testament, following Jesus absolutely means getting involved in our local and federal government and figuring out ways together to make things better. But more than that, we need to take a good, long look at ourselves and ask if we are taking the responsibility that has been entrusted to us.

How have you done in your last 100 days?

How have you done in your role of spouse or significant other? What kind of friend have you been? Son or daughter? Parent? Employee?

How have you done in reflecting the image of the Divine in the world around you?

All of the things that you want to see happen politically, what are you doing in your every day life to do what you can?

Have you helped those who were in need? Have you fed the hungry? Clothed the naked? Taken care of the widow and the orphan?

What can you do in your next 100 days as an image of the Divine?

April 19, 2017

Rob Bell is a Heretic!

If you follow me on any of my social media accounts, you'll know that I share a lot of quotes. I read a ton, from a wide variety of authors and fields and I'm regularly finding things that resonate within me that I want to share with others. But the other thing you'll notice, especially in the last year or two, is that I rarely ever cite my source.

For some of you, that annoys you. Sorry! Some have Facebook messaged me and cited your frustration and asked why I don't cite my source and I thought I'd explain why in a blog post.

As I started regularly sharing quotes from things I was reading, I found that more often than not, many of the comments on the post reacted more with the source than they did the content. Quite frankly, I got sick of comments about "Rob Bell is a heretic, " or "Be careful with Dallas Willard," or on and on with why I shouldn't be reading or sharing what I was.

So I stopped citing my sources most of the time and a really funny thing happened. The same people who were commenting and bashing the author or expressing fear about who I was reading, actually started commenting positive things about the quotes. Literally, there was a person who expressed her warning and caution about my reading Rob Bell one week and then a couple weeks later, simply by taking Rob's name off of the quote, commented how much she loved the quote I shared and that we needed more religious leaders saying stuff like that!!

Within our Western culture, we spend a good deal of energy idolizing people, in both good and bad ways. This is especially true within the church. Whether we want to admit it or not, unconsciously, and even at times consciously, we don't really put our faith emphasis on the Gospel of Jesus, but on the Gospel of Person A. We look to our pastors and our spiritual leaders to have all the answers and to have faith all figured out. And once we identify who we want to follow, we then begin to segregate the rest of our relationships based on this person's theology: Christians and non-Christians, sinners and recovered sinners, truth tellers and false teachers, and Godly and heretics. Anyone who fits the mold is in, and anyone who doesn't is out.

We tell ourselves that we're protecting our faith, that we're being wise and being careful about what we're taking in. But in reality it's solely based on fear, and that doesn't lead to any kind of growth but actually stagnation. And stagnation is another word for death.

The term used for the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is "paraclete" and when you dig down to the meaning of that term it suggests "one who comes to walk alongside of us." Walk alongside of, not stand there with us. Our faith is supposed to be moving, growing, taking different shapes and evolving. And the only way that happens is by embracing diversity. That's what the entire beginning of the book of Acts is all about. Here was a faith that was reserved for the Jews, that was all about only certain people having access to the Temple and to teaching, but Christ's death and resurrection changed that. Pentecost is all about many different people hearing the message of Love in their own language. And that was only the beginning as the story of Jesus spread all over the known world and invited many different people and backgrounds to join in this new kind of community. That's why most of the New Testament was even written: how can people in these diverse communities get along, love another and join together around the truth of Jesus!

The fact of the matter is that even the people who we may disagree with on a number of things, still have things we can learn from them. And if you can't read or interact with someone that you disagree with because it's going to destroy your faith, well, you may want to double check what you've placed your faith in because it's not Jesus.

Instead of being quick to label a person or to shut down a conversation or a book because of fear, lean in to it. Ask what you can learn. Be honest about your feelings of fear and be open to the fact that you may be projecting something on to a person that shouldn't be there. Train yourself to interact with people's content and emotions and life experiences and enter into a faith journey with them.

April 5, 2017

The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness

Often times, I can't help myself. My brain works in such a way that I always find myself asking questions and being skeptical. In some ways, this is really good, but in others it sometimes comes as a curse. I often find myself as the odd man out or feeling like I'm alone on an island because I feel like I'm the only one thinking what I'm thinking. Once again, I often find myself fearful to speak up out of fear of being rejected or criticized. So, continuing with this theme lately of kicking fear in the butt, I want to share my private email exchange I just sent to a friend:

We've been talking a bit lately about LGBT sexuality and I've been doing a lot of reading about the subject from a Biblical perspective. I've been purposefully reading things that are contrary to what I have been taught growing up because I want to be challenged and I want to make sure that what I believe is truly what I believe, and not just some shallow idea that I'm regurgitating. In that, my friend sent me this blog to read as I processed it, I found myself getting more and more angry...

Honestly, it's a piece like this that makes me angered and embarrassed about the Church.

First, after reading the source material from Huffington Post, I feel like the blog is completely hypocritical. If the blog was written the same way but about Scripture, it would be labeled as proof texting, taking things out of context and making conclusions that the original text didn't make. No conservative Christian would have stood for that and it would be discarded for not being fully honest. Yet, for a Christian author to take a secular article and do exactly the same thing is ok? I argued this in a another blog recently, but if we as followers of Christ want to stand for Truth, then we have to be more consistent in how we handle truth. If we aren't going to handle material honestly and above reproach, then we have no business pointing our finger at the "lies" that other people are telling. 

Second, I think this blog completely places the emphasis on the wrong syllable. It comes across as condescending, demeaning and condemning. I feel like they could have just written, "The gay communities' loneliness, depression and anxiety is their own fault and no one else's." (In essence, it's basically what the first two sentences that starts the piece says...) And by the last paragraph, the way I take it is that our job as Christians is to tell these gay men their sins and convince them of the lies they have been living by. This quickly gets in to dangerous territory...

In contrast, what I heard in the original piece is a cry for help:
  • "We're lonely and don't have many real relationships."
  • "We're struggling to find love and acceptance."
  • "We feel like we have to constantly hide, even with legal rights being granted."
  • "We're wounded and hurt and we're stuck in a cycle of wounding others to "protect" ourselves?"
  • "We're buried in shame because we can't be vulnerable, ever, because we'll be ridiculed and shut down."
If we're honest, these cries aren't any different from the ones that you and I have found ourselves saying as well at different seasons in our lives. More than anything, the original post is a reminder that we're all human. We have different issues, different journeys, but at the core, we're all created in the image of God and know that "it's not good for the man to be alone."

More so, as much as these cries for help are echoing throughout the gay community itself and the secular world, I would venture to guess that they even more impact the Church. If someone in the LGBT community can't talk to their gay friends; if they can't talk to their atheist friend; then they sure as heck aren't going to talk to their Christian friends or talk to a pastor. By starting the conversation with "their lifestyle is wrong," it slams the door in their face and creates extra hoops of shame for them to get through if they ever actually want to experience the Love of Jesus.

I feel like it would have been a much more loving, productive and helpful piece to ask: 

How can we as Christians can come alongside our LGBT friends, neighbors and co-workers? 

How can we be listening ears? 

How can we be compassionate? 

How can we by sympathetic to their hunger for relationship, belonging and worth? 

How can we make sure we're not building extra boundaries that are keeping them from God and the Church? 

How can we authentically invite them in to our communities where all of us are asking questions about the best way to live our lives in light of Christ and the Resurrection?

As long as we continue to place these questions second to the question of whether the lifestyle is right or wrong (and yes, that discussion is important!), we are only going to continue to feed in to the loneliness and separation of these men and women from the love of Christ. Yes, there is a time and place for, "go and sin no more," [and oh by the way, side note: that quote, and story as a whole, wasn't even in the original text of the book of John but was added in later......] and frankly we all need to hear that refrain for any number of things in our lives. But that refrain needs to follow love, compassion, rescue and acceptance first, rather than starting the conversation.