Beyond Just Indignation

It is an election year and I’m angry. You are too. The candidate who will win this election is the one whose supporters are most angry at either Trumpty Dumpty or Crooked Hillary. We are not all angry at the same things or for the same reasons, but we are mad. We may be angry because:

  • 2016-07-15-1468607338-43291-donaldtrumpangryTrump’s sexual-assault bragging and his cavalier dismissal of it as mere “locker-room-talk.”
  • The party of “family values” has chosen a serial adulterer, chauvinist, casino and strip-club owner as their champion.
  • Hillary’s 30,000 emails and the security risk they posed and the failure of the justice department to prosecute her.
  •  Those “illegal immigrants” that are over running our country and taking American jobs.
  • “Chai Nah.”
  • The demonizing of immigrant communities and xenophobia and failure to care for widows, orphans and  the alien.
  • The way rural Americans are excluded from political discourse.
  • The Republicans’ continuing failure to  take climate change seriously.
  • The Democrats’ failure to champion the unborn and  their support of late-term abortions.
  • Prolifers who don’t care about criminal justice reform, refugees and other vulnerable members of society.
  • Hillary Clinton is a two-faced politician with a public and private persona and she lies.
  • Trump’s near inability to tell the truth.
  • Hillary cheating to get the Democrat nod and manipulating the system and your vote.
  • hillary-angryThe Russians are trying to rig the election.
  • Security lapses  which led up to the Benghazi attacks while HRC was Secretary of State.
  • Racial bias in policing African American communities continues and has led to unjust killing of African Americans
  • Black Live Matters activists have the audacity to declare that black lives matter.
  • Obama doesn’t call a press conference when a police officer gets shot.
  • The way politicians pander to special interest.
  • The Main Stream Media’s bias strains credulity.
  • Common Core math is so hard right now.

This is not an exhaustive list. Maybe you are angry about something else, but if you aren’t angry you aren’t paying attention. Anger can be a great motivator. When we are angry, for good reasons, our anger can become a force of good, motivating us to action.

So anger itself isn’t the problem, as long as it isn’t motivated out by self-interest. Anger is the appropriate response to injustice. There are times you should be angry! When we see those who are suffering, and fail to “get angry,” we are complicit in systems of injustice (Sarah Sumner’s Angry Like Jesus, Fortress 2015, makes this point. See chapter 9). If we repress anger, it comes out in unhealthy ways.

Be angry, but know we all have blindspots. We side with the left or right and we all ignore inconvenient injustices. We relativize abortion or excuse the poor treatment of women. We claim to be strong on crime but ignore the cries of the wrongfully accused and the unjustly punished. We rage against terror but advocate war.  We champion institutions (Law & Order!) but excuse where systems grind people up. We see the speck in our neighbor’s eye and ignore the log in our own. Be angry but don’t be blind!

And anger is dangerous to our souls. Bitterness can blight the whole tree and we should take care what grows in us. So my suggestion this election cycle  is don’t let the daily news cycle poison you. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said this:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48, emphasis mine).

Jesus declares enemy love is a defining characteristic of what it means to be children of our Father in heaven! When our anger leads to hate and bitterness, we lose. When anger at injustice drives us to love and pray for our enemies we are enlivened by the Spirit and set free to live towards the Kingdom coming. So does Hillary make you angry? Have you prayed for her? How about the Donald? Have you prayed for him? How do you demonstrate your love to those whose view of the world you find abhorrent?  I confess enemy love doesn’t characterize my life enough. It is easier to write others off and dismiss them. But when God’s anger burned against humanity, his response was to send Jesus to reconcile us to himself. Then he gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18-21).

Does this mean we capitulate and stop being angry at injustice? Not at all. It means we rage, rant, act, call people to task and pray when people suffer because of the careless or willful actions of others. This doesn’t mean we excuse abuse, assault, lying, bulling, negligence or dehumanizing rhetoric. Real reconciliation will never gloss over injustice, but it will choose enemy love despite it. It means we call them to task while we pray for God’s grace to flood their soul.

Anger is part of what it means to be human. It is often the appropriate response. “Be angry but do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). In contrast, enemy love is what it means to be a child of God. Don’t settle for just indignation if you serve the one who is reconciling all things to Himself.

The Jesus Way of Love and Justice: a book review

A recent book I read was Dave Andrew’s The Jihad of Jesus. That book is interfaith dialogue at its best. Andrews explored the concept of Jihad and relates it to Jesus’ gentle struggle for peace and justice (also noting similarly gentle struggles within Islam itself). That book, plus another recent read, Craig Greenfield’s Subversive Jesus, (which speaks highly of Andrews) made me want to reach back into his catalog of books and see what else he had on offer.

9781610978514Not Religion But Love: Practicing a Radical Spirituality of Compassion was originally published in 1999, a follow up to Andrews infamous/influential Christi-Anarchy.  A 2006 edition accompanied a 2006 class Compassionate Community Work (published by Piquant Press). Wipf and Stock has republished the book (2012) with a new introduction from Brian McLaren and a forward by Charles Ringma.

The book picks up on the radical vision for personal and communal renewal that Andrews described in Christi-Anarchy (the first chapter is a summary of some of the ideas from the earlier book). This book describes how to work out Jesus’ vision of love and justice in our lives and neighborhoods. Each of the nineteen chapters ends with ‘ideas for meditation, discussion and action, which call us to recall, reflect and relate how we can embody Christ’s relational and communal vision for justice.

The book divides into five parts. Part one, The Heart of Christ, describes Jesus’ vision for compassion, justice, and gentleness as an alternative to the dominant mode of operating in society. Part two, A Heart for Breaking Barriers, describes how living into Christ’s vision breaks down the barriers of futility, selfishness, fear and spitefulness that runs through our hearts. Part three, A Heart for Building Bridges, explores the work of building bridges between people through relationships and groups and through cooperation. Part four, A Heart for Bringing Growth and Change, describes how walking in Jesus’ way of love brings hope, political empowerment, problem resolution and prophetic transformation. The final section, From Half Hearted to Wholehearted Humanity provides ways to press into Christ’s spirituality of compassion through exploring his sayings, stories about his life, through resources, and through courses that Andrews offered (I haven’t checked to see if the courses are still on offer).

This is radical spirituality in the sense that Andrews is calling us away from Christendom back to the source: Jesus Christ. He aims at helping us recover Jesus vision for spirituality and justice and his challenge to the status quo.  Andrews peppers his chapters with stories of how he has tried to live out the way of Jesus in living simply, sacrificially and missionally.

I am tired of statusquo spirituality which tells people to come to Jesus but leaves them fundamentally unchanged in their to injustice, culture and everyday life. Andrews offers a vision of the life Jesus calls us to where we take up our cross and follow in his footsteps. Andrews is inspiring (with a little bit of hippy counter culture thrown in for good measure). I recommend this book for anyone else tired of status quo spirituality who wants to explore what it can look like to live out Jesus’ vision of compassion. This book is challenging and makes you hunger for something more prophetic, transformative, and life-giving than some of the ways the gospel is packaged. Religion doesn’t transform, the radical, relational and sacrifical love of Jesus does. This is a book about how to live Christ’s lvoe out.  I give it four stars.

Note: I received this book from Wipf and Stock in exchange for my honest review.

Love Comes to Town: Advent Week 4

The final candle of Advent lit, we prepare for Christ’s Nativity. The day of the Lord is near, a baby is soon to  be born in Bethlehem. We know the details: Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, a babe in a manger, angels in  the sky, scared shepherd. But in other ways, centuries of tradition keep us from really hearing the story.

  • Mary didn’t ride into Bethlehem fully dilated in donkey-induced-labor. She  gave birth while they were in Bethlehem (Luke 2:6), implying that they may have been there a while.
  • There wasn’t an ‘inn-keeper’ because there was no ‘inn.’ “No room in the inn” was the classic King James Version rendering of Luke 2:7 and many other translations follow suit. The NIV renders  κατάλυμα as guest-room. It is likely that Joseph had made arrangements to stay with relatives or friends, but the guest room was taken.
  • Jesus wasn’t born in a barn. Yes I love the ‘living nativities, with their  wooden stables under the starry skies. I love the traditional tales  and pageants with shepherds and wisemen under the starry sky. But that is how it happened (and not just because the wismen weren’t there yet). It is likely that the ‘stable’ was the ground floor of a house. Homes in ancient  Palestine often had a, slightly lower floor palestinian-village-homeat the front entry where animals were brought in for the night (Kenneth Bailey, Jesus Through the Middle East, 28-30). The Holy Family were jammed into a house with friends or family caring for them in their hour of need. Yes there was no guest room available, and Baby Jesus was laid in a manger, but they weren’t left out in the cold either.
  • So Mary and Joseph weren’t abandoned to the elements. In ancient Palestine, caring for pregnant women would be a major cultural value (Bailey, 26). No one would have left them to fend for themselves  in their hour of need, and even if they did, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth lived in a nearby village. Joseph and Mary had places to turn if they needed it. They could stay in Bethlehem because they were looked after.

The interior ground floor of a house doesn’t look as nice on a Christmas card. Our Christmas pageants and living nativities would  be really different if this is how we depicted it. There is no  problem with some of the imagination and whimsy surrounding this season as we contemplate Christ’s nativity, but I do think the real story (inasmuch as we can fill in details) opens up something for us.

Jesus was coming, they knew it. They made arrangements for shelter and protection, Mary and Joseph  were recipients of hospitality not hostility. What are you doing to prepare a place for Christ’s coming? Has the rush of the season crowded Christ out? Are you in danger of leaving Mary  and Joseph out in the cold? Or have you invited Jesus into the inner chamber of your home–a Savior waiting to be born?

Deeply Loved: Week One of Lent

It is just over a week since Ash Wednesday and I am settling into my Lenten routine. I am reading two devotionals through Lent. My ‘Catholic One’ I read with my wife. Last night she went to bed while I was blogging so I’m now a day behind. The other devotional is Deeply Loved by Keri Wyatt Kent.  I have agreed with Abingdon Press to post on this book and what I am learning from it each week. Normally I don’t really ‘do devotionals.’ I tend to read at a verocious pace and devotionals give you a small taste. And then tomorrow another. This daily measured pace is hard for me. It is like running. I like to run as fast and as far as I can, even if my body is stiff for several days afterwards. Devotionals force me to slow down and rest with an idea, practice or scripture.  It has been a good Lenten discipline for me.

I am enjoying Deeply Loved.  One of the things I’ve really appreciated is the tone. Each day has Keri’s reflections on a particular scripture and theme, followed by a ‘Presence Practice.’ These practices are an invitation to deepen your spiritual life. When I think about everything Keri is asking me to put into practice is is actually quite a lot, but it never feels like it. She has a gracious way of inviting me to deepen my spiritual practice without it feeling burdensome.  On day one she asked me to consider how I think God sees me and then replace my ‘gut reaction’ with the reality that God sees me with love and delight. On day two she asked me to recall Jesus’ loving presence with me throughout the day. After that she asked me to ‘slow down’ and prune out over commitments, review my day (intentinally pray the examen each and every day),  begin each day dedicating it to Jesus,  pray fixed hour prayers, practice the prayer of adoration, seek a spiritual companion, and set aside an hour to spend with God in solitude.  I am uncertain what she will ask of me tomorrow.

These practices have enriched my Lenten experience. I have not practiced all of them. I thought about the fixed hour prayer through out the day I read that one, but haven’t thought of it much since. I do not feel overcommitted at the moment (except at work but I can’t help that) so I didn’t prune anything out of my life. I haven’t yet found an hour to unplug and spend with God in solitude. However I have appreciated the challenge of these practices and feel the hunger for a deeper experience of God.

In the first couple days of reading this book I was reminded of a significant moment I had in Spiritual Direction just over a year ago. I was at a pastors conference, though thus far I have failed to find a position as a pastor in a church. While I was there I felt very small. Anytime someone asked me where I was serving, I smiled sheepishly and told them ‘nowhere at the moment.’ I was also taking a class at the conference where me and other participants reflected on the role of the pastor (Williomon’s excellent book Pastor gave broad outline to the course).  I felt like a failure and every insecurity I had welled up in me. I began thinking about my lack of experience, how I was bad at evanglism, how I needed to hone my adminstrative skills.

My prayer times were different. When I prayed I felt like God was pleased with me.  I remember reflecting in solitude on how timid I feel at evangelism. The verse from the gospels came to mind where Jesus says, “If you deny me before men, I will deny you before my Father.” In the past I’ve felt judged by that verse for everytime I failed to boldly proclaim the gospel for fear of sounding insensitive. But in my prayer time I felt something different. It was as though Jesus said to me, “You have not denyed me, you have staked your life on me!”

At this conference I got a moment to sit with a Spiritual Director and I told her this. She led me through a excercise where I listened to the voice of the ‘accuser in my life’ but then invited the voice of compassion. Through this excercise, her prayer and mine, and the Presence of the Spirit with us, I felt like God said to me, “You are loved and you are chosen.’

Now a year later I am doing a devotional  and the very first practice invites me to reflect on the reality of Jesus’ love for me.  I am Deeply Loved by God.

What’s in a Word?: Why I dont want to ‘just love on you.’

I haven’t done one of these in a while, but I thought it was time I posted one of my cranky posts critiquing the way we Christians use language. Words are important and when we use them badly we end up communicating something we don’t want to communicate. Worse, sometimes a bad phrase might start us thinking about things the wrong way. Yet at other times, our words aren’t really harmful, they just don’t make a lot of sense.

Case in point:

I just want to love on you.

Excuse me?! You want to what on me? You hear this said in church with several nuances in meaning depending on the context:

We just want to love on this community  (translation: we want to pick up garbage , smile a lot and have a free car wash)

We just are going to love on her ( translation: a guest speaker  has a ministry we should support so we are taking a ‘love’ offering to benefit their ministry)

I  want to love on them (translation: they are  facing some trying circumstances and I want to help care for their needs).

These things are good. We ought to seek tangible ways to bless the community, give generously to ministries who are fulfilling God’s mission in the world and we should look for ways to care for the vulnerable in our midst.  We are called as Christ followers to love one another (John 13:34-5) and numerous scriptures exhort us towards mutual care.  But do we have to say it that way? Honestly!

Here is my problem. The phrase “I just want to love on you” is unnecessarily modified in two places, the first makes it untrue while the second makes it incomprehensible.  When you say you ‘just’ want to do something, you imply that you are wanting to do that thing and that thing only.  Like when my five-year-old daughter says I just want to sing, that is the only thing she wants to do. When we say ‘I just want to…’ do we really mean with all our being this is what we want? Or are we just using a stock phrase which doesn’t mean much (like when we ask “How are you?” and are just being polite)?

“On’ is our second modifier.  What does it mean to love on someone? The word-picture I get is not really something that you hear discussed much in church.   What we mean by the term, ‘love-on’ is ‘express love.’ Certainly ‘love on’ expresses love, but not exactly the love we mean to express.

But we also modify it when we say this is what ‘we want.’  By these words we express desire and our ideal, but we allow for some dissonance from reality.

These modifying words soften the phrase. If you consider our examples, consider someone saying:

We will love this community

or

I love her

or

We will  love them

These phrases have power and speak of  commitment. Love is a powerful word which names our relationship to family, friends, church and world. When we add modifiers we soften our love, putting limitations and making  it  more manageable.  Tell me you love me and I feel like you have committed to me in a powerful way. Telling me you just want to love-on me does not boast any commitment on your part.

By our syntax we have manufactured an easy way to love our neighbor that doesn’t require our whole person. Loving someone is a relationship and a lifestyle. Loving on someone is an event. Events are easy. We need relationship.

My Life As a Hypocrite

I am a hypocrite and have been one all my life. I console myself with the fact that likely you are too. I mean, it is only natural. We live in a culture of pretense and self justification and me being in job interview mode I feel like I am always  covering over  my weaknesses and extolling my strengths, puffing myself up like a peacock to make me seem more beautiful than I really am.  Maybe some of this is more insecurity but hypocrisy is there too. I’ll prove it.

Yesterday, as I sat and listened to the sermon at my church I caught myself praying a Pharisaical prayer. It was abstract and not really directed at anyone but there was a smug self congratulatory feel about it which is kind of embarassing (so I’m blogging about it).  My pastor was preaching from Ephesians 5 and talking about the need to run from immorality, sexual sin, greed of every kind, and as he used certain examples I found myself saying in my heart, “I’m glad that isn’t my struggle” And then I thought of the Pharisee in Luke 18 who prays,”God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get (Luke 18:11-12).” This Pharisee and I did the same thing. Instead of coming before the altar to come clean and be made right before God and others, I used my time in church to extol my own  devotion and to tell myself (and God) that I’m not that bad. The truth is I’m every bit as proud and petty as the next guy(or girl).

The tax collector for his part prayed simply, “God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Nopretense, no pretend holiness or self justification. The tax collector knew his sin and collusion with the powers. He did not look around or congratulate himself for showing up for worship but confessed sin and reached for God.

So I am a hypocrite in the house of God, offering pretense instead of praise. I don’t think I’m alone.  Insecurity, pride  and need to paint myself in the best light is something  others feel too. But I am not a COMPLETE hypocrite. I caught myself and confessed it. I share this with you not to congratulate myself but to illustrate something I have learned: To the extent that I am not a hypocrite it is because I have experienced the Grace of God.

I am not thumbing my nose at fellow hypocrites declaring, “There but by the grace of God go I.” I am exclaiming a lived reality! When you know the grace of God, his full acceptance and love for us, you don’t have to pretend anymore.  I don’t need to trust my own virtue and devotion or prove myself to God. I need only come and throw myself at God’s mercy.  My worth is not bound up with being better than my fellow sinner; I am loved extravagantly by the God of love. 

Prayers for Easter

Today marks the high day of the Christian calender. Jesus is risen, He is risen Indeed! Here are some prayers that help mark the wonder of Easter, and the newness it brings. The first is from Lent & Easter Readings from Iona, a prayer of blessing from Kate Mcllhagga. She names the reality of new life which we experience this time of year (Northern Hemisphere, and relates it to Christ’s resurrection:

Easter Blessing

How beautiful is the blossom
spilling from the tree,
the hidden primrose
and the bluebell
ringing out the news
He is risen
he is alive
we shall live
for evermore.
The dark winter is past,
the slow, cold, foggy days are over.
May the warmth of your resurrection
touch our hearts and minds
as the warmth of the sun
blesses our bodies.

The next prayer comes from Walter Brueggemann’s Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth. Easter confounds the wise and troubles the strong. Brueggemann does a good job of challenging those of us who are safe and smug move beyond our pontificating into wonder:

We are baffled

Christ is Risen
He is risen indeed!
We are baffled by the very Easter claim we voice.
Your new life fits none of our categories.
We wonder and stew and argue,
and add clarifying adjectives like “spiritual” and “physical.”
But we remain baffled, seeking clarity and explanation,
we who are prosperous, and full and safe and tenured.
We are baffled and want explanations.

But there are those not baffled, but stunned by the news,
stunned while at minimum wage jobs;
stunned while the body wastes in cancer;
stunned while the fabric of life rots away in fatigue and despair;
stunned while unproperouus and unfull
and unsafe and untenured . . .
Waiting only for you in your Easter outfit,
waiting for you to say, “Fear not, it is I.”
Deliver us from our bafflement and our many explanations.
Push us over into stunned need and show yourself to us lively.
Easter us in honesty,
Easter us in fear;
Easter us in joy,
and let us be Eastered. Amen.

Finally this prayer comes from St. John Damascene, 8th Century, excerpted from the Prayer Book of the Early Christians. What I like about this prayer is that it names the whole arc of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross and resurrection:

Hymn to the Life-Giving Cross

O Christ our God,
Ceaselessly we bow
Before your cross
That gives us life;
And glorify your Resurrection,
Most powerful Lord,
When on that third day
You made anew
The failing nature of mankind,
Showing us revealed
the path to heaven above;
For you alone are good,
The Lover of the Human Race.