The Jesus Militant Christian Nationalists and Evangelicals Have Created in Their Own Image

This very long blog post began here with an Introduction followed by a two part post concerning Western Christian beliefs about who Jesus is and what “following” him entails.

This last part is mostly a compilation of articles and quotes that I we have been inundated with since January 6, 2021. All presented with the purpose of trying to understand the reality of what we are facing as a country – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ll spare you all the details and offer the sources in case you’re someone, unlike me, that actually has a life.

Let’s begin with this article in Christianity Today:

Christian nationalism has little to do with personal religiosity and everything to do with acquiring and leveraging political power around key issues like Islam, immigration, abortion, patriarchy, militarism, gun control and sacrificial allegiance to the flag.

Christian nationalists, then, appeal to biblical justification to construct an “us” (i.e., “white” Christians) versus “them” (heathen) caste system, wherein immigrants, BIPOC, LGBTQ persons and women are subordinate. This segregated worldview attempts to monopolize power among white, native-born Protestants to control social and political institutions.

Christian nationalists, it turns out, are often religiously disconnected, lean toward heterodoxy, and are often at odds with biblical ethical values like hospitality, peace/justice, and neighborly love. One of the strangest realities of calling oneself a Christian…is that if you affirm the social teachings of Jesus (love of neighbors/enemies, inclusive table-fellowship, divestment of money, care for poor), you are called a “libtard” or a “snowflake.” But if you affirm the values of Christian nationalism (militarism, xenophobia, meritocracy), you are considered a good, Bible-believing Christian.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/august/lets-talk-about-christian-nationalism.html

NPR: Militant Christian Nationalists Remain a Potent Force, Even After the Capitol Riot, by Tom Gjelten

The notion that God would take direct interest in a U.S. election is an expression of the ideology of Christian nationalism, says sociologist Andrew Whitehead. “Taken to an extreme that viewpoint can even be seen as justifying violence. It tends to draw on a framework of conquering outsiders and taking violent hold of what is rightfully yours.”

The founder of the OathKeepers militia group, Stewart Rhodes, hoped Trump would use the Insurrection Act to “drop the hammer” on his opponents. “He needs to know from you that you are with him, and that if he does not do it now, we’re going to have to do it ourselves later, in a much more desperate, much more bloody war.”

One of the leaders of the invasion of the Senate chamber, Jacob Chansley, actually asked the rioters to pause in their rampage and join him for a moment of prayer to God. “Thank you for allowing the United States to be reborn,” Chansley said, “We love you and we thank you. In Christ’s holy name, we pray.”

Eric Metaxas: author and radio host:

Metaxas said he did not care about the overwhelming odds against any effort to overturn the election of Joe Biden. “We need to fight to the death, to the last drop of blood, because it’s worth it.”

Metaxas was the emcee at the Jericho March in Washington, where he and others implored God to keep Trump in office. “We are here because we know he is the God who does real miracles when his remnant cries out to him in humility and love (my emphasis – added after I threw up!),” Metaxas said.

Metaxas has never shown himself as one who feels compelled to respond to criticism, especially when he feels he has heard directly from God on the matter. In his autobiography, Metaxas lists a whole series of miracles and messages from God — including one from a turtle in Central Park…(Nothing questionable here! While walking one day, Kermit the Frog jumped out of a tree in front of me! I kid you not! SCARED. ME. TO. DEATH. He told me God wanted me to buy that Hermes handbag Shilpa Shetty was spotted carrying. Yeah – my husband didn’t believe me either.  Okay, fine, I don’t even know what a Hermes bag is, except that the cost of it would buy a kidney on the black market.)

Pastor Darryl Knappen was still denying reality and even declaring himself willing to take up arms to keep Donald Trump in office. “I was tempted to wear my black robe today and cover up my AR-15 beneath it.” In his Jan. 9 Facebook message, Knappen issued a call to arms, “There is a need in every one of our localities to have individuals, patriots, who are ready to arm up and be part of a citizen militia to protect our freedoms.”

Kristin du Mez, an historian at Calvin University and author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.

Evangelicals formed an idea of Christ from figures like John Wayne and Theodore Roosevelt. This Christ was a rugged warrior, willing to fight for the faith and the nation. For all their talk of being Bible-believing Christians, when it came to these guides on Christian manhood, there was a Bible verse sprinkled here or there, but it really wasn’t based on biblical teaching. Instead, it was based on Hollywood heroes, mythical warriors, soldiers and cowboys. Its good guys versus bad guys, using violence to achieve order, and the ends will justify the means. It’s violence for the sake of righteousness, violence to achieve order, violence to bring peace and security. There’s a willingness to do what needs to be done.

I just finished reading du Mezes book and what she has uncovered is seriously frightening!  She details the belief that this house of cards seems to be toppling. She says,

In the end, Doug Wilson, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, James Dobson, Doug Phillips, and John Eldredge all preached a mutually reinforcing vision of Christian masculinity—of patriarchy and submission, sex and power. It was a vision that promised protection for women but left women without defense, one that worshiped power and turned a blind eye to justice, and one that transformed the Jesus of the Gospels into an image of their own making. The militant Christian masculinity they practiced and preached did indelibly shape both family and nation. Masculine authority, militarism, and the sexual and spiritual subordination of women have simply been part of the air evangelicals breathe for decades.

That so many of their “leaders” have been accused of and indicted on charges of extreme sexual misconduct and many of those who continually hold them up as the victims of haters of Evangelicalism seems to be the tip of the iceberg and their names as likely as recognizable to you as they are to me. There is no way of knowing over all these many years how many young minds have been corrupted by the violence and hatred they teach and advocate for.

https://www.npr.org/2021/01/19/958159202/militant-christian-nationalists-remain-a-potent-force

This is fun! A little light reading for you:

https://www.splcenter.org/hate-map

https://www.isdglobal.org/our-mission/

https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2021/01/22/capitol-insurrection-shows-how-trends-far-rights-fringe-have-become-mainstream

There’s this analysis in 2020 by the Department of Homeland Security – Violent Extremism in the United States:

Some U.S.-based violent extremists have capitalized on increased social and political tensions in 2020, which will drive an elevated threat environment at least through early 2021. Violent extremists will continue to target individuals or institutions that represent symbols of their grievances, as well as grievances based on political affiliation or perceived policy positions. https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/2020_10_06_homeland-threat-assessment.pdf

Accelerationism in the White Power Movement:

What defines white supremacist accelerationists is their belief that violence is the only way to pursue their political goals. To put it most simply, accelerationists embrace terrorism. Accelerationists aren’t part of a new movement. They’re just an iteration more inclined toward terroristic violence than has existed in recent decades.

 “We advocate political terror and murder against jews and politicians among other things. We have accepted that the (((system))) cannot be saved, rather it must be destroyed,” one group posted on Telegram in February. “In order to accelerate the inevitable collapse of the jewish nightmare society we must not follow the rules of the (((system))) but ACT against it.”

In December 2018, a man named Rinaldo Nazzaro purchased 30 acres of remote land in Republic, Washington, a city of roughly 1,000 people about an hour’s drive south of the Canadian border. The tract was meant to serve as a training ground for a terroristic white power group he founded earlier that year called The Base.

Where do we go from here?

In their minds, they are the heirs to a movement that began decades ago and are nobly carrying out the fight. They believe – not unlike many Americans all across the political spectrum – that we’ve arrived at a breaking point.

Scholars and pundits are actively questioning whether American democracy can withstand the threats being made against it….the far right is openly talking about the prospect of civil war. On the economic front, Americans continue to struggle to find stability and, on the political side, people believe not only trust in government, but in each other, is declining. Uncertainty like this provides fertile ground for extremists.

https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2020/06/23/there-no-political-solution-accelerationism-white-power-movement

Robert Wuthnow, Princeton sociologist of religion tells us, “On January 6, we did not witness the old Religious Right at the Capitol. Instead, we saw three streams of religion, forging a new alliance.”

And don’t think for a moment that you can exhale because Trump has left the building.

A recent article in the LA Times:

In the days following the Capitol riot, right-wing extremists who lost Parler accounts or were suspended from Facebook and Twitter migrated to Telegram and gained a following of tens of thousands of Trump supporters looking to vent anger and promote extremist views. The groups are competing for a surge of new users on alternative platforms while refocusing their messages on militant nationalism (and) white supremacy.“We want people who walk away from Trump and authoritarianism to join us,” Dunn said in an interview later. “Memes play a role on the younger generation and we are winning.”

Trump’s impeachment and the prosecution of rioters who attacked the Capitol have left the far right emboldened and potentially more dangerous, experts say. Some still rally around the former president. Others, like the militant Proud Boys, have distanced themselves from Trump, blaming him for disavowing the Capitol insurrection and betraying them by leaving office.

“This has been very energizing for far-right movements,” Lindsay Schubiner, program director at Portland, Ore.-based Western States Center, said of the Capitol attack. “The core of these movements is likely to become even more hardcore and violent.”

Schubiner, who tracks activity by right-wing extremists, said some have chosen to work within the political system, shifting their focus from disputing Trump’s loss to joining local races. “They are spreading bigotry to build political power”.

https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-01-27/

According to a CBS News poll released in January, more than half of all Americans say the greatest danger to America’s way of life comes from their fellow citizens. Before the election, another study illustrated that about one in five Republicans and Democrats believed that their political adversaries “lack the traits to be considered fully human.” Is it possible for Americans to achieve unity when they cannot agree on their common humanity?

https://www.dannyhayes.org/uploads/6/9/8/5/69858539/kalmoe___mason_ncapsa_2019_-_lethal_partisanship_-_final_lmedit.pdf

Militant Websites:

https://www.propublica.org/article/boogaloo-bois-military-training?emci=20437b9d-6d65-eb11-9889-00155d43c992&emdi=84d073e2-7465-eb11-9889-00155d43c992&ceid=200218

https://religionnews.com/2021/01/06/as-chaos-hits-capitol-two-forms-of-faith-on-display/

Perhaps this will lighten your emotional load a bit. In the aftermath of the violence that day, many faith leaders spoke out condemning it in no uncertain terms:

https://religionnews.com/2021/01/06/faith-leaders-react-to-mob-at-capitol-with-prayers-calls-for-end-to-violence/

So, where does all this leave us? Again, I can only speak for myself, but it has called me to reevaluate who I am, what I believe, and how I am called to act in such a toxic and hostile world. I had to go back pretty far to begin that process.

When I was growing up, Jesus wasn’t in the picture. I never heard him mentioned except in a parental fit of anger. So, he was just an expletive. God did show up occasionally disguised as a dysfunctional wild woman (my mother) and other times a man who sat numb in front of the T.V. every night while his family was being dismembered in the next room (my father).

If either of these images was reality it’s no wonder this god messed up his creation. I suppose in the planning stages it looked great to him on paper. According to the beliefs of Christians who adhere to an “us” vs “them” theology, that warns that you’re doomed to hell because you won’t buy into their “rules”.  This god would have created an excess of people he would then turn around and damn to hell. Just for fun. Like playing the game whack-a-mole out of sheer boredom. It probably keeps him busy on those long winter nights when he is being totally ignored by humanity.

Anyway, God seemed crazy unpredictable and impossible to please. I wanted nothing to do with him. But, alas, my wretched soul was not totally, irreparably lost.

I am so grateful that nearly twenty years ago, right in the midst of my pain and confusion over just who this God was and who I was in relation to him, he showed up in a powerful way in the person of Jesus. I discovered how deeply God loved me in spite of myself and he offered Jesus as my guide. He would walk with me through this long, but necessary, journey with all its pitfalls and uncertainties. I could now accept that, although he would not help me get even with those who so deeply hurt me, he would not leave me alone either. I discovered for the first time that I was worthy of his love; that I mattered, and my life had a purpose.

So, to come back around to my original question:

In this current culture war the lines have been drawn by those on both sides of the struggle for power and significance. When we label those we disagree with “radical” it immediately conjures up a sense of “us” vs “them”, “right” vs “wrong”. It makes us enemies and instills hatred in our hearts leaving no room for Jesus.

So, consider this: If Jesus is the answer, then who do you say Jesus is – the Jesus of hate or the Jesus of love?

Many still believe it’s the Jesus who hates. A belief that has ushered in the violence and animus we witness on a continuous thread. So much so that many have become desensitized to it. It doesn’t seem so extreme any more. It becomes accepted by those who need to normalize their beliefs.  

But, when everything un-Christ-like is stripped away: all the false beliefs, bad theology, and broken promises of our egocentric selves – the foundational, naked truth is revealed. It is there; in that deepest place where “radical” faith goes beyond our human understanding. It becomes a powerful, revolutionary force for God’s love! Which may now give us a better sense of this Jesus.

Now, that’s radical! So, take a deep breath, quite yourself before God, and trust that he will make all things new!

I feel an apology may be in order if you found this last post difficult to follow! Just think of how difficult it was for me to write and offer some grace to this old woman who now needs a serious nap!

God bless!

Jesus is the Answer – Wait…What was the Question Again?

I have been contemplating this often touted Christian belief that “Jesus is the Answer”. It seems simple enough. Easy to dance to. Rolls effortlessly off the tongue. But, in light of the unremitting struggles and suffering in the world there is a glaring question for me. If God actually designated Jesus as the one and only “Savior of the world”, as is the belief of Christians who adhere to a stifling literalism of scripture, and so much of humanity has continually suffered all these thousands of years, is this mess on Jesus? Did Jesus not want to save all of creation? Reminds me of Jonah.

God: “Jonah! Wake up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”

Jonah: BAHAHAHAHAHAHA…NO!

God: “Fine. Get your trunks on. You’re going for a swim!” (Jonah 1:2)

Or did God mess up trusting this one guy; albeit a really AMAZING guy, with so much responsibility? Who knows, maybe the vetting process wasn’t perfected back then. Or is it remotely possible that God divvied up that job? What if Jesus and Buddha and Muhammad were all sent out in their time, within their culture, to draw followers to the heart of God? If you look into it it’s almost eerie how similar their lives were.

Or is it on us to not just rotely nod to church authority proclaiming the only truth of their particular faith? I have shared the words of Jeremy Weber in an earlier post.

Listen, I love Jesus with all my heart!  He’s the One who saved my sorry, pathetic self from my sorry, pathetic self so long ago and continues to love me in spite of my sorry, pathetic self.

Though I often mess up trying to emulate him, I keep trying because he has become for me a powerful manifestation of God! That said, I still respect the faith of those adherents of other traditions as well.

Consider that our faith could just be a matter of where we were born. If I was born in another country there’s a chance I would have been a Buddhist or Muslim.  Several years ago, we were in Morocco. Our son hired a cab driver to give us a tour. This lovely man enthusiastically shared things about his Muslim faith that nearly brought me to tears. We noticed before that day that so many of the buildings were unadorned; made of mud and earth.

Like this one we saw on our way to a Riad
Then you step inside and the beauty takes your breath away!

Our cab driver explained that the buildings are like that because it’s a metaphor for their very personhood. Their Muslim faith teaches them that what is on the outside is not important. It’s what is on the inside that matters.

In this country, because of 9/11, we have learned to hate all Muslims. What I discovered from that gentleman that day was the true essence of the Muslim people. Sure there are exceptions. But, if we have learned nothing else in 2020, we must acknowledge our own propensity toward violence and hatred that is escalating at an alarming rate.

I will never accept the belief of many Christians, especially church leaders, that if you don’t profess Jesus, and only Jesus, you’re doomed to eternal damnation. I am certain that does not come from God.

Thich Nhat Hanh in his book, Living Buddha, Living Christ says:

“If you only satisfy yourself with praising a name, even the name of Jesus, it is
not practicing the life of Jesus. We must practice living deeply, loving and acting with charity if we wish to truly honor Jesus. The way is Jesus himself and not just some idea of him.

Jesus said, the two greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbors. Who knows but that such love encompasses Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and all eternal truths humans conceive of to explain the mystery of God in every time and culture?”

Anywho…There’s definitely something seismic going on within American Christianity that screams foul and yet those leaders who claim moral authority seem to be oblivious to it as they finger wag to an empty church. Looks like the Emperor still has no clothes on.

For years, research has shown that people have been leaving the church in droves. We’re just waiting for the last guy to turn out the lights when he leaves.

Some church leaders seem to be slow-walking their supposed desire to understand what is happening, especially among millennials, while still operating within an outdated template. They have been focusing on new ways to rebrand Christianity and bring them back (if they were ever there to begin with): Perhaps a more casual atmosphere, a fun coffee bar or surround sound music with a light show.

Some may have even considered a more extreme threat of hell. Forgetting that that’s one of the reasons they left in the first place. You can’t scare these guys like you did their grandmothers!  They don’t even believe in hell. So, that’s an empty threat.

Rev. David M. Felten says:

The challenge is that most people in most churches (and many clergy) have their theological beliefs pre-set to the “oldies station” and are either insulated from or intimidated by what’s going on outside their comfort zone. So, they simply plod along in the isolation of their bubble of orthodoxy without a clue that there are people who practice Christianity and follow Jesus in radically different ways.

How many of these leaders of the Christian faith have thrown up their hands in frustration, choosing  to fill empty pews with cutouts that look remarkably like those numb pew sitters I mentioned earlier?!

I so appreciate the honesty of one millennial, Emma Cooper, in a recent article: Anything But Christian: Why Millennials Leave the Church.

 “We come after college begins, on our breaks. Then, we don’t come back. Why don’t we come back?”

Cooper tells how she was raised in the church and loved everything about it! She never imagined walking away. But, she did. She frankly and openly addresses the issues. One is that:

A separate group of people is speaking for us, explaining why we leave, and what it will take to bring us back. We don’t want coffee. We don’t want multi-colored stage lights. We want Jesus. And we can’t find Him in your churches.”

As if to say, “HELLLLOOO, we’re right here!”

 “No one’s asking us why we left!”

Sadly, they know non-Christians who seem to innately act on God’s call to love one another and care for the suffering. She says that:

If no-Christ has made them people we’d love to be, while Christianity creates people we beg to never be… then why should we be Christians?

What we’re looking for in religion is an experience so real, so gripping, it knocks us breathless. We want our lives to be overturned….We’re not interested in your churches because — as much as we need Him to be — God is not there.

https://emmacopper.medium.com/anything-but-christian-why-millennials-leave-the-church-ccae210dfb06

That is such open and unadulterated commentary on the state of American Christianity that no dogma, doctrine, canon of faith, or fun new latte, will ever penetrate. Perhaps that’s why so many church leaders refuse to acknowledge the truth of their failings to exemplify and teach the love of Christ. They must get stuck on the “exemplify” part. Which seems like an obvious failure since Jesus made it clear that those who are charged with the teaching of God’s truth but use their power to lead people astray will, well, end up in the very place they threaten others with. Many of them seem to continue their stubborn resistance to this reality at their own, and their blind followers, peril.  During his time right up to today, Jesus had no patience with those who claim such authority to rule over others; to mislead them right into the pit (Matt 15:14).  

Barna Research shows: 

  • Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important or worthwhile (an all-time low).
  • 59 percent of millennials raised in a church have dropped out.
  • 35 percent of millennials have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good.
  • Millennials are the least likely age group of anyone to attend church (by far).

But…if “Jesus is the answer” how is this happening? Where’s the disconnect?

 “What if it’s not a building or an attendance record that is at the core of God’s heart? What if it’s how we love?” Sam Eaton http://www.recklesslyalive.com/50-ways-to-serve/

Has anyone considered the fact that Jesus was a millennial himself – and a radical one at that? There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus LOVES these young people who have bolted from the cold stone buildings and have chosen instead to step into the muck and mire of the suffering and brokenness in their midst, just like he did. They want to make a difference. They want to know and fulfill their life’s purpose.

 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”. -James 1:27

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

I believe Jesus was exactly the one God prepared and sent at that time to infuse the lost with a love they had forgotten. Just as I believe that he is still the One so many of us love! People would not still be dying for him if that were not true.

“We dare to believe that the love manifest in Jesus reflects the authentic nature or character of the Ultimate Reality, which makes Jesus a great teacher, an inspirational philosopher, and someone whose words and example should be followed indeed.” ~ Brian D. McLaren

Consider how Jesus’ ministry began. Father Alfred McBride tells us:

Jesus began his public ministry. His inaugural address in the synagogue was a powerful statement on the need for justice and concern for the poor. (Luke 4:16-21)

Jesus read from a scroll the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah. Those words were about the servant of the Lord that God’s Spirit had come upon. God sent the servant to bring good news to the lowly, to heal broken hearts, to announce freedom for those in prison and liberation for those suffering oppression.

Everyone listening thought those words to be the fulfillment of their longing for the Messiah that would come to set them free from their oppressors. An army would be raised up in rebellion against the government; a political and military revolt against Rome. It was gonna be epic. The stuff movies are made of!

Jesus knew what they believed about that reading in Isaiah. When he rolled the scroll up he sat down quietly and watched as the tension rose in the room. But, when he finally spoke again and said, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:20-21) they were gob-smacked! Wait…what?! Did Jesus claim that he was the Messiah God sent to save them? Jesus? For real? The kid who grew up in their midst!? He was a lover not a fighter! His message struck a nerve in them because they didn’t want to hear it. All that love, mercy, compassion, justice talk was too much for them. They were seething with anger to think that he wanted them to let go of their long held desire to get even with those who oppressed and held power over them. They covered their ears, walled off their hearts, ran him out of their midst and threatened to kill him. (Luke 4:29)

Even in our time, those who followed the non-violent precepts of Jesus and died for them are still etched in our memories: Mahatma Gandhi (that’s right, Gandhi loved Jesus!) Martin Luther King, and Archbishop Oscar Romero just to name a few. Like Jesus, all of them were well aware of the hatred that would likely cost them their lives, but they continued on in spite of the threats, until they too were silenced.

And now, this is our time of reckoning; a time for each of us to take a stand, to pronounce our faith in Jesus and then to act on that faith. Not in anger or hatred, but in love. This country is on shaky ground, but it is not a time to cower in fear.

“When people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.” Martin Luther King

“Seeing the suffering is only the beginning of change….to move not just our hearts into a deeper understanding but also our bodies into the work of greater change. Perhaps out of this comes, truly, every form of love.”  Kristin Lin, Editor of the On Being Project

Thich Nhat Hanh offers another critical question that must be answered:

…what we say of Jesus, what we believe of Christ, determines how we live our lives.
To set our minds on divine things is to care about how everyone answers the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Because the answer is the heart of the matter.

The answer to his question, “Who do you say I am?”….is the key to our own lives. It calls our bluff about all the things we say our lives are about. All the things we say, but do not do. When historical people like the Buddha and Jesus, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. live out the call of who they believe God to be, the world knows it. If you and I live out the call of who we believe God to be, the world will also know us. Who we say Jesus is inspirits our lives.

Episcopal Bishop John Spong said:

I do not believe that God is a Christian or a Buddhist. Yet both Christianity and Buddhism have pointed hundreds of millions of people toward the mystery of God. Seeking faith is not about dogma and the mind alone, though it is about that. It is about the heart. It is about living as God inspires us to live.

So, I will leave you to consider this: If Jesus is the answer, then who do you say Jesus is?

Yes, Jesus was radical…He radically loved, he radically touched lepers, he radically condemned the powerful for causing the suffering of those they considered “less than”.  Jesus did NOT hate and he did NOT empower others to do so. So, what do you feel deep down in your very being as you witness that hatred day in and day out?

Up  next:  The Agenda of Militant Christian Nationalists and Evangelicals

Jesus 101

This post has been developing into a book! I have spent a great deal of time reading and researching massive amounts of material concerning the hatred and violence we have been witnessing for so long, not just on January 6, 2021. It began long before Donald Trump and those who monitor it, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, warn that it is getting worse. https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch

While watching the violence escalate that day something shook me to my core. Since then, I have sat with, prayed about, and reaffirmed my deepest beliefs about who Jesus is, who I am as a professed follower of him, who my neighbor is, and who we are as a country.

It has been messy and fluid with so many nuances but here we go.

This is a thought process that I began for my own understanding and sanity…mostly sanity, because trying to know anything concerning God and the way he operates, without any doubts, can be likened to figuring out how birds know I just washed my car!

The need to know, to understand, presupposes that somehow, someway, we can reason this out. Like when Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say I am?” – that was not an academic question. It will not be satisfied by any amount of head knowledge. It is answered by first falling on our knees in awe and reverence before the magnificence that is God’s love on full display in the life of Jesus. That’s a great start, but, it can’t stop there. And that’s the rub. We want it to stop before that. Let’s just go to church – get our cards punched –done – go home and watch football. But, Jesus never said, “Worship me”, he said “Follow me”. OUCH!

 You may not agree with me when it’s all said and done and that’s fine. These are just my thoughts not any attempt to coerce or judge anyone who differs. If we were all meant to be robots marching lock-step through this life God could have easily made that happen. Although, I wonder if, for his own sanity, he may now regret not doing that!

Anyway, I believe it is incumbent upon each of us to decide; to take a stand once and for all. To not be afraid of what others will think or say about us. Rather be afraid of not being the person we claim to be only when others are watching. We should be more concerned that God is watching! And I am betting that it’s not the god who keeps a running total of our church attendance and tithing spreadsheet. That would be a shallow, small-minded, authoritarian god who is out to get you if you make one wrong move.

The God I’m going to stick with tells us through the uncompromising words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13, spoken to the hard-headed Corinthians. I know these are verses we have heard so often our eyes glaze over. So, perhaps reading them again, slowly, one at a time, picturing all the hatred and violence we are witnessing we could see them as God intended:  

 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 

Love is patient.

Love is kind.

It does not envy.

It does not boast.

It is not proud. 

It does not dishonor others.

It is not self-seeking.

It is not easily angered.

It keeps no record of wrongs. 

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is…following the “rules” some guys made up over beers in a bar…wait…no…that’s not it…sorry. Just seeing if you’re still there.

“The greatest of these is love”.

From where I stand, it seems to have come down to two options if I claim to be a Christian: Either I stand with the Jesus who loves or the Jesus who hates.

I once would have said there was a third option of neutrality, but, not anymore. Too much is at stake. God is adamant about it when he says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16) Ewwwww…nothing ambiguous here.

Let’s say you agree that you need to decide where you stand and why. The “why” is critical. I believe  stopping short of fully embracing your “why” leaves you wobbly and vulnerable to anyone who can shove you off-balance. Believe me; I have had that happen more times in my life than I care to admit.

So, this is where I landed: As a Christian, I am compelled to consider my life and purpose from my essence, my very being, where God resides.  How I live that life, if I own up to being a follower of Jesus, is to manifest his love in every moment and with every decision.

Not that seeing the hatred spewed by those who profess Jesus is anything new, but it has challenged me to look honestly at how I am living my life in light of Jesus’ words to his disciples, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) I believe at times we all need a wake-up call because too often we simply muddle through our days numb to what we’re even doing here.

And so, as I see it, the most important question to begin with must be: Just who is this Jesus I claim to follow? I think it’s fair to say that one of Western Christianity’s most espoused and fervent beliefs is that Jesus is the Answer. But, are we asking the right question?

Up next: Jesus is the Answer

A Christmas Thought

It’s Christmas. Advent is over – the waiting is over. The anticipation: waiting, sitting in darkness, in wonder and awe. Over.

My prayer for this Christmas is that what is not over is hope for a better, more peaceful, world, and an understanding that that begins with God, but is manifest through us, just as it was with Jesus so long ago. Archibald MacLeish explains that truth in a sermon on the Book of Job:

“Man depends on God for all things: God depends on man for one (ONE). And it is most itself…when it is offered in spite of suffering, or injustice, or death. It is in man’s love that God…triumphs; in man’s love that the world’s injustice is resolved.”

What does that love look like for us today? It looks just like it did for Mary. I’m imagining that when she humbly offered her “yes” to God’s call, that “yes” came from the depths of her heart, even in the midst of doubt. This was her purpose, to use the gifts God had given her, as Esther said, “For such a time as this.”

Surely, Mary contemplated the meaning of her “yes” to this new birth; to this baby she would soon be holding. Being a mother, I can picture her and Joseph just staring at the magnificence of this new creation that God had blessed them with, imagining what his future would hold and surely wondering if they were even capable of parenting him well, helping him to become fully who he was created to be. Remember, Mary was just a teenager, though she was blessed with awesome parents who excelled at Parenting 101 – training her up by their example.  

I was just a teenager when my daughter was born and I can assure you that if I would have had the good sense to consider the magnitude of raising a child and loving them well, I would have been scared to death! Unlike Mary, I had no positive role models to emulate. It was trial by fire and I made plenty of mistakes, later requesting a do-over from God – which he never granted. However, in his infinite love and mercy and forgiveness he tenderly held and began healing those broken parts, infusing his love into our relationship. I suppose you could call that a do-over.

So, we reflect on the magnitude of Mary’s “yes” and Jesus’ “yes”, and let’s not forget poor Joseph. We’re always forgetting his “yes”, his contribution to this family and his obvious love and care for them.  

Mary and I both questioned God’s wisdom. “Wait, WHAT?! ME? You’re kidding, right?”

God – “NOPE!”

And guess what…you’re not off the hook either my friends! God has called each one of us to be Christ-bearers as well.  Scary, huh?

Take a deep breath. It’s okay.

God prepares us all for the work he has for us to do. Admittedly, it’s usually in hindsight that I see the progression of things God put in place to provide everything I needed short of my “yes”.

I recall many times in the past striking out on my own to do “volunteer work”. Those efforts usually failed in one way or another, never born of a longing, only an effort to garner praise from others and hopefully God. To get a few brownie points for heaven. But, in short order, I would lose interest or burn out because there was no real passion for what I was doing.

And, friends, you have to know that GOD DOES PASSION – OVER THE TOP!  

When it’s God’s plan, it will not fail.  He will see it through to completion. Jeremiah tells us so (29:11). Think of it, if he relied on us to figure it out by ourselves, we would surely mess it up and make him look bad. This, in turn, may cause others who may be watching to reconsider any thought of using their gifts. “WOW Linda! You royally screwed that one up! And wasted a whole lot of time and energy in the process! Alrighty then, no thanks. I’m not goin’ there. I have better things to do.”

Of course, we could argue that the expression, “Go big or go home” was probably coined by God. But, that doesn’t negate the fact that he initiates his plans for us, not the other way around. A great example is our friend Job. And, like Job, he doesn’t consult us for anything. Job found that out the hard way.

It wasn’t pretty when God confronted Job’s whiny self, “Hey buddy, I’m curious, when I was creating the world out of nothing I don’t recall seeing you there or consulting you on how to keep the oceans in their place or make a Zebra from scratch, or how to paint a breath-taking sunset. Whew, I outdid myself on that one even if I do say so myself! That was brilliant actually! And, of course, the myriad other uniquely spectacular feats of creation that no one has been able to top!

And what about my grand finale – humans?! Huh! Yea, I know, that was genius. Sure, there have been a few hiccups along the way – okay fine – major human failings. But, that’s not my fault! It’s you guys never seeming to get your part right.”

In any case, when we can’t see how we could possibly accomplish the task God sets before us, it takes trust and faith, like Mary, to say “yes” anyway. 

So this Christmas, as we are reminded once again of the amazing story of Christ’s birth—God’s love coming to us with skin on, I pray we will all listen for and accept God’s call to be Christ-bearers in whatever way he has prepared us for. 

Go ahead, allow yourself to sit in the darkness with God and bravely ask him what in the world you are here for. His answer will surely surprise you.  And I guarantee you, if you utter that one little word “yes”, fasten your seatbelt because there will be no more business as usual!

“May the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you,and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”  

Non-refundable LOVE

We all know the words of 1 Corinthians 13. Right? It’s one of the most familiar verses in scripture. Who hasn’t been to a wedding, or two, or twenty that present it as a reminder of the love and commitment a couple is offering to each other?

But, do you know the original intent of Paul when he wrote it? Maybe he sat around the campfire with his “flock” and wrote this song to commemorate the establishment of his new faith community (though it’s not credited to him and he gets no residuals. Pity):

Anyway, everybody’s high-fiving as Paul slaps his own back for his ingenious efforts in the name of love. He may have even imagined himself receiving a Pulitzer Prize or at least Time’s Man of the Year. Temporarily losing sight of his own advice about “pride” and all.

Okay, fine…truth be told, none of that happened. He wasn’t in some mushy mindset when he wrote those words to the Corinthians. Actually, Paul wrote them in a fit of anger. I kid you not.

When he established Corinth, he imagined it being perfect. God’s dwelling place; a community of love and care for each other and all man/womankind. Peace on earth; Good will to men…and all that.

But, things quickly fell apart. He was peeved at them because of their short memories. As soon as Paul was out of sight and on his way to his next church planting the Corinthians began to fight and argue over everything. The rich and powerful immediately began to demand more and more for themselves, believing they deserved it. Jealousy often lead to striving for importance and self-promotion. And if you’ve ever wondered why many churches today use those little thimbles for communion wine, it may be because some of these guys got a bit carried away guzzling the stuff and making fools of themselves. I don’t know – just guessing.

But, the deepest split came when the self-proclaimed “authorities” felt compelled to form a committee to decide, and then pronounce, who was going to heaven and who was headed for hell because of their messed up beliefs. So, they drew a line in the sand: the “ins” over here, the “outs” here. Love got lost in the scramble for importance. In short, they were all a mess. Sound familiar?

Sure, initially, they may have bought into the idea of love. But it wasn’t the love Jesus taught and died for. They wanted it on their terms: less demanding, just as we do today. We want the watered down version that puts loving my new car in the same category as loving humans or puppies. (I know, I know, puppies are much easier!) Anyway, perhaps in our own time of so much strife it would behoove us to revisit 1 Corinthians 13 in light of what Paul was trying to get across to those hard-headed folks, immature in faith and lacking the love that requires self-sacrifice – a love rooted in compassion.

So, here goes.

Love Never Fails – 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 (NIV)

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. Like when I put myself and my wants and presumed needs first.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. As in “I know everything about everything that matters – to me. That’s why I have given myself all authority to laud it over you.”

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. As in “Look at me, ain’t I special?!”

Love is patient – except when you annoy me.

Love is kind – except when I don’t get my way.

It does not envy – except when you bought that new, nicer, shinier car before me.

It does not boast – except when I excelled in some project at work, got a significant raise, and a corner office.

It is not proud – except when I installed the biggest pool in the neighborhood.

It does not dishonor others – except when they deserve it because they’re being poopyheads.

It is not self-seeking – except when I believe I am deserving of fame and fortune; power and authority; and fewer wrinkles.

It is not easily angered – except when my kids can’t seem to behave appropriately – by my rigid standards, of course. 

It keeps no record of wrongs – except for all the people who just can’t seem to keep their broken, messy attitudes out of my broken, messy life. 

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth – well…I don’t necessarily delight in evil. It’s just that I can sometimes stretch the definition of “truth”.

It always protects – those innocents who suffer and are downtrodden.  

Always trusts – our God who never fails us.

Always hopes – in a better way; a better life for all mankind.

Always perseveres – even when things seem impossible.

Love never failsNEVER! END OF STORY

And finally:

Diana Butler Bass says it beautifully:

Yes, we may be in hell. The world may be hellish. COVID is hell. Our political crisis is hell. The climate crisis is truly hell. But there is another story, another song, a different word. A word we can speak and a word we can act upon.

Peace has been born. We wait for its fullness….we claim the power of the Christmas story to bless, to redeem, to transform the stark earth. While “death howls in strife,” we embrace and embody the poetry of God and beat back the walls of hell.

Make ready the stable of your heart. Fear not. And get busy with the work of peace.

Bishop John Shelby Spong and Martin Luther Kings words should be written on our hearts, “Dream of Peace on Earth and good will among men and women, and then dedicate yourself to bringing that vision into being.”

Peace to you and your loved ones this Christmas. It is certainly a Christmas like no other most of us have experienced; a Christmas that may seem to counter all we have believed about goodness and love. But, only if we have lost sight of the one who changed everything for all of us, Christian and non-Christian alike. This Christmas Day, may we finally “see” Jesus as an incarnation of God’s immovable, constant, abiding, majestic, unfailing LOVE for ALL: every single messy, broken one of us! A LOVE that is not returnable. You can’t refuse it like that ugly tie you’re getting – again – from Aunt Lucy.

Jesus: The Man; the Legend

It’s a shame that Gandhi, Buddha and all their followers are in, or headed to, hell. So say many Christians. What do you believe? What do I believe? People who profess to be Christian surely have a sacred calling. Scripture tells us so. If that’s true – what is it? Is it to announce the luck of the draw for members in an exclusive club with the secret handshake and a never to expire ticket to heaven, or to announce the bad news of condemnation and the hell-bound destiny of all those tough-luck-for-you-non-Christians? Over all my seventy-two years, I have probably accepted, without question, those beliefs more than I care to admit.

This post is my attempt, as feeble as it is, to offer a very different possibility of what Christianity means to me. Though it is different than what so many have come to embrace, it is actually what the first Christians believed about themselves as followers of Jesus. You may agree or you may not. Either way, this is where I have landed after many years of struggling with and contemplating my ongoing journey of faith, anger, falls from grace, brokenness and healing – all in one day sometimes. My very being has been squeezed through the wringer, patched together, taped up and super-glued so often I look like Humpty Dumpty! 

This post has been difficult and challenging for me to write. It has developed through months of witnessing the continued dumpster fires of 2020. In particular, the ugliness, anger, hatred and violence that seem to have rendered many of us oblivious to the suffering of so many innocent people, children in particular. They have just become collateral damage in this war – and it is a war – a spiritual war.

But, what has endured through it all for me are the words of wisdom and encouragement of those I quote in this post. Those folks that I consider to be outstanding voices and true examples of what it means to be a follower of a Holy, Magnificent, All-Loving God of every single messy one of us! Every one! You will see a lot of italics within the following quotes. They are all my doing! They have powerfully pierced my heart and uplifted my soul. They have reminded me and given me new hope that the God I love; have always deeply loved even when I often lose sight of him, has never changed. He is certain and immovable even when we have tried so desperately to change him to suit our egocentristic selves in moments of darkness and uncertainty.

I have been in that place more often than I can count. But, I do not want to be stuck there again. I recognized that god-awful place where it seemed to be easier for me to default to taking sides and raising my own fist against those I disagree with than to follow in the footsteps of those I so admire: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and, of course, at the top of that list, the One we all should be emulating – Jesus. Even Gandhi liked Jesus and learned from his life. He loved the Sermon on the Mount! And yet, it’s very telling that he once remarked, “I like your Christ, but not your Christianity.” Ouch!

Vance Morgan helped clarify my struggles to define how “Christianity” applies to me today.  What is that “new way of life” I am called to?:

 “I don’t believe Christianity can be packaged in a doctrinal statement at all. Jesus did not come to establish a new set of beliefs. Jesus came to show us a new way of life, a new way of being in the world and with that which is greater than us.

Seek to discover how the heart of the gospel is relevant to and can be lived out in our contemporary world. Choosing to understand Christianity as something that one lives rather than something that one believes is, of course, problematic for those whose Christianity is more about orthodoxy (what you believe) than about orthopraxy (what you do).”

Getting unstuck.

I believe the most critical questions for me to address have welled up from the deepest part of my being. They are: (1) how did we get here? And (2) how can we possibly move forward with any semblance of self and care and compassion for each other?  These questions have required more soul-searching and truth-telling than I have ever been willing to engage in for any length of time. Questions I have touched on, danced around, and often ignored for fear of what the answers might require of me. I will admit that God has had to drag me here kicking and screaming; lovingly and patiently loosening my clenched fists from my arrogance and ignorance.

So, here we go.

Addressing these questions begins and ends with Jesus.  Who was he? What was he doing here? And how in the world have we forgotten?

Before attending Aquinas Institute in 2006, I believed, without question, what I was told to believe by the church. For three years, my professors challenged my blind faith and lovingly confronted me with words I can still hear, “How do you know that, Linda?” – a question that I was only able to respond to with, “I don’t know”. Before that adventure I would never have considered these historical facts presented by Dr. Carl Krieg in Progressing Spirit10/15/2020, Racism, How Did We Get Here:

Speculation about who Jesus was and who he thought he was, begins in the New Testament itself. Layer upon layer was added to the original story and what we have today in the Christian Writings is far removed from the initial encounter between Jesus and the disciples.

It was not until 325 CE that the Council of Nicaea concluded, under imperial pressure, that Jesus was God. It was in 451, at Chalcedon, that the church threw up its hands and confessed that it had no idea how Jesus could be both God and man. The contemporaries of Jesus confronted no such issues. For them, Jesus was a man, but a man like no other, a man who presented to them who they were and could become. All the disciples knew was that Jesus empowered them to discover the truth of their humanity.

The original story of Jesus and his followers has been transformed into a story alien to what he intended and what they experienced. We now have someone born of a virgin who dies for our sins, appeasing an angry god, who will come in the future to judge all who have ever lived, and whose power is now controlled by the church (this is so critical to understand).

The good news is that this is not really who we are. None of us. Jesus showed us that, and we all know it in our hearts, in the depths of our being. The truth of our humanity, manifest in Jesus, requires that we dismantle the egocentricity that encapsulates us so that we can reconnect with ourselves, with one another and with God. Clearly what’s required is to rediscover the Jesus story.”

The truth of who Jesus was and who we are as God’s beloved may be lost to us in the West, but it has not been lost to so many in other countries who have long risked their lives and are still today being martyred for their faith. The numbers are staggering!

Consider these startling statistics on Christian persecution compiled by Open Doors USA.org:

Every day, 8 Christians worldwide are killed because of their faith.

Every week, 182 churches or Christian buildings are attacked.

Every month, 309 Christians are imprisoned unjustly.

The listed nations comprise 260 million Christians suffering high to severe levels of persecution, up from 245 million in last year’s list.

We can’t imagine any of this can we?  People are literally dying for their faith while we rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. Brilliant! Yeah us! Speaking the truth to power doesn’t often end well. But, in the immortal words of Saint Mother Theresa, “Do it anyway”.

Nothing in scripture tells us that Jesus, or any of his followers would die for the belief of those Christians today who condemn non-Christians to hell or proclaim some sort of special status for themselves. Rob Bell in his powerful book, “Love Wins” says:

“Jesus talked about hell to the people who considered themselves “in,” warning them that their hard hearts were putting their “in-ness” at risk, reminding them that whatever “chosen- ness” or “election” meant, whatever special standing they believed they had with God was always, only, ever about their being the kind of transformed, generous, loving people through whom God could show the world what God’s love looks like in flesh and blood.”  

And if that’s not enough, here’s another stark and uncomfortable reminder for us comphy, cozy American Christians in our watered down, lukewarm faith. You know, the faith that Jesus railed against? (Rev. 3:15-16). Whew…yeah, that one’s way too awkward! Let’s just skip over it. Surely, he didn’t mean it. He was probably just having a bad day…maybe too much caffeine. (But, I digress.)

Here’s another powerful article by Jeremy Weber that should cause some serious squirming in the pews. If there’s anyone left in the pews:

No Cheeks Left to Turn:

In America can I hate you for your faith? Absolutely. Can I practice my faith openly? Yes. And do I do that without fear of persecution or violence against me? Many Christians live in countries where gathering for church is illegal. They are forced to live their faith behind closed doors; in secret. The consequences are dire if they get caught: imprisonment, persecution, violence, beheadings, and death. One American pastor retold his story of visiting an underground church that villagers walked miles to attend in a country in Asia. He sat with them as they recounted with tears flowing what following Christ meant to their very existence. But, they did it; week in and week out, knowing full well they were risking their lives for Christ. Teenagers determined to share the love of Christ with others would say goodbye to their parents when they left their homes knowing they may not return.

And, here we are, in America with our comfortable lavish multimillion-dollar churches, many now half full. They live a radical and dangerous faith, while we settle for a comfortable, feel-good experience. We demand certitude in our beliefs and our dogmas, while they risk danger and uncertainty to follow Christ just as he calls us all to do, “If you want to be my disciple, pick up your cross and follow me.” But, we want to ignore the “pick up your cross” part. We prefer the easy way: Drop to your knees, bow your head, pray this prayer, sign your commitment card and you’re in our exclusive club full of perks, not the least of which is a direct ticket to heaven as you kick the lost and suffering to the curb on the way.”(OUCH AGAIN!)

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/november/nigeria-fulani-boko-haram-no-cheeks-left-to-turn.html

Jesus said abandon your possessions (Matt. 19:21) – we try to dicker, “Ummm, how about if I sell one mink coat, or one car. No? Okay, this is killing me, but how about if I sell one condo and then donate a few dollars to charity? Will that get me a ticket to heaven? Come on, cut me some slack, Lord!”

Jesus said abandon family and friends (Luke 14:25-27) – instead we cling to them and turn our backs on those not like us.

Jesus said abandon your very self (Matt. 16:24) – we might lay one bad habit down. But give up all our “stuff” – all our striving for power and influence – all our dreams of fame and fortune? No way!

There it is. We have just watered Jesus down and settled him into our comfort zone rendering him mediocre – right along with God. Hmmmm, sorta like us. But, what have we lost in the process? I can easily imagine, but dread to think, that I could one day say the same thing as Tolstoy’s character Ivan Ilyich said on his deathbed, “What if my whole life has been wrong.”

Bishop John Shelby Spong says, “I hope I never disparage or look down on the way any person journeys into the mystery and wonder of God. I do not want to be against any religion. I want to walk beyond all religions, even my own, in my lifetime quest for the truth of God that all of us can only ‘see through a glass darkly’”. Bishop Spong has taught me so much about true faith! Here is another example of things we profess about Jesus, that have no basis in fact. If you care to read further: https://mailchi.mp/6447ab6ffa68/getting-beyond-the-usual-giving-birth-to-jesus-in-the-2020s-760564?e=8b67574a56

Steven Weinberg reminds us that, “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

Why do we stay stuck in doctrines and dogmas? Because it’s safe. But, is that actually what God wants? Is that what Jesus, and so many others died for? So, it appears there are two options to consider: Would I march myself into martyrdom for a doctrine created long ago by a church seeking control of its people? Or would I commit to an unwavering faith in the God who makes no demands for allegiance, but simply and profoundly speaks within the depth of our hearts and calls us all to love; to show compassion and care for others, no matter the cost? I want to be counted among the latter. Thanks.

Kevin G. Forrester, Ph.D. speaks of maturing in faith, “…while your “belief” in antiquated teachings is diminishing, at the same time your authentic faith is maturing. And maturation, whenever and however it occurs, involves “loss” of what we have previously taken ourselves to be.”

From the book “Holy Rascals”, “The God that can be branded is not the true God. Our job isn’t to dethrone the emperor, only to point out that the emperor has no clothes. Our task isn’t to banish the Great and Terrible Wizard, only to reveal that the Land of Oz is run by a small man with a large megaphone.”

In the words Mirabai Starr:

We are conditioned to treat the spiritual life as another commodity, rather than as a discipline of inner transformation with a corresponding commitment to alleviating suffering in the world.

The sacred scriptures of all faiths call us to love as we have never loved before. This requires effort, vigilance, and radical humility. This is the narrow gate Jesus speaks about… mutual dedication to lovingkindness as the highest expression of faith.

The call does not come softly. It bangs the shutters of your heart and wakes you from a deep sleep. You have no choice but to respond.

This faith is not predicated on belief. It is informed by experience….with an ongoing encounter with the Mystery….it is a direct engagement with the roots of poverty, a willingness to sacrifice our own comfort for the well-being of someone else, an unqualified identification with those on the margins and a wholehearted effort to bring everyone home to the table of the Holy One.”

So, here I stand naked and humbled before God. As uncomfortable as that may seem, it is far more desirable than sleep-walking through this one, short, marvelous life we have been given.

The experience of my seventy-second birthday a couple of weeks ago was more profound than even life’s typical milestones some call “rites of passage”. Like sixteen when I smoked in front of my dad for the first time. Guess he was just tired of me stealing his cigarettes and since I now had a job I could buy my own. Not sure how that stacks up with being allowed to wear makeup or going on a first date. It simply paved the way for a swifter road to possible lung cancer. But who thinks about that at sixteen? At twenty-one, I could discard the fake ID I had already used for a few years to get drunk. Now I would remain drunk and stupefied for years! Woohoo!

As you may have deduced by now there have been few birthdays for me that became Kodak moments. With the exception of this last one. Hopefully not last as in LAST. But, that’s the final point I want to make here. If this past year has not impacted me any other way it has reminded me of what’s really important, because I often forget that we have no guarantees in this life. And God is going to be VERY disappointed if, for whatever time I have remaining that I have not left this world better in some way for my having been here. Thankfully, there’s still time as long as I am breathing.

At the end of my life I DO NOT want to be reminded of these profound words by Gian Carlo Menotti, “Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do.”

I would prefer to dust myself off, let go of the negativity of 2020, and embrace these thoughts to empower my every action from here on out. Because every day is a new day. Every dayI am a new creation in Christ. Every day I can here God say to me, “Okay, Linda, let’s try this love thing again.”

Richard Rohr says it beautifully, not that God doesn’t (sorry, Lord), “We must re-teach all things their loveliness. That could be your one and only life calling!”  

Howard Thurman tells us:  “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

The beginning of my quest for truth came with my willingness to question what I believed about who God was, who Jesus was, who I was and who my neighbor was. Dag Hammarskjold said, “The longest journey is the journey inwards. Of him who has chosen his destiny, who has started upon his quest for the source of his being.”

Well, alrighty then…that was fun! Are you still here?

Let me leave you with my favorite prayer of blessing and this awesome song by Casting Crowns as we prepare for Christmas. I pray for God’s blessings for you and your loved ones during this season of remembrance. This time of renewal and commitment to love God and each other!

“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you,
and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
  (Numbers 6:24-26)

Jesus: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Have you ever regifted something your Aunt Ethel gave you for Christmas that you have absolutely no use for, which she probably got last year from her tasteless brother? Come on, you know you have. We probably all have. It’s okay. Regifting is in scripture you know. John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” I have a new appreciation for those words this year.

For the last three weeks we have been decorating for Christmas and we’re not finished. Not even sure what Christmas is going to look like, but my anticipation this year has taken on a deeper meaning. It’s not the expectation of the sweet, non-threatening, “baby” Jesus arriving. It’s about the Jesus who seems to have gotten lost among us, especially during this year.

We have all been witnessing our world collapse into chaos: the anger and violence and hatred brought about by Covid, the Black Lives Matter movement, economic collapse, natural disasters, and the elections. That’s a LOT to deal with in such a short time. And watching the steady stream of sucky news isn’t helping. Some may wonder if Christmas is even worth the hassle, or anticipate more violence, or obsessively shop and decorate just to dull the senses.  But, as I prepare for this season, I have been imagining a different, better scenario.

As one who has fallen away from the “Institutional” church with all its trappings of dogma and rules and birthday cake for baby Jesus I seem to be left with the stripped down version of the meaning of Christmas. Perhaps I can see much better, like the blind man Jesus healed. I’m not sure if Jesus would have “physically” healed his blindness. He certainly could have. But, more importantly, I think of it as compassion revealing itself. I believe it was the tender touch of Jesus that changed that man others rejected and cast aside. Maybe for the first time in his life, he felt his worth and innate dignity. If you have ever “experienced” Jesus’ tender touch you know what I’m talking about. But, there’s more – and this is where it gets uncomfortable. Jesus expected him, as he does us, to not cling to that love he was shown, but to reach out to others and share it. It’s not a commodity to horde like the last roll of toilet paper on the shelf; it’s a gift to be given away. I have come to see this Christmas as an opportunity like no other to do just that.

God wants my excitement and anticipation to result in action. He is telling me; all of us really, “That’s great you’re excited. Now go do something about it!” Offer kindness and compassion to those who suffer: the elderly who are alone, millions of children in America that go to bed hungry, the neglected and abused. Check on your neighbor. Offer a smile and kind word to everyone you meet. Quit hating and judging others. Quit whining and complaining about what you don’t have, feel gratitude for what you do have, and then find a way to share it.

When we are called to “give till it hurts” that’s not referring to outlandish presents under the tree that are often not even appreciated. It’s about offering love back to God and others with all your heart and soul. (Matt. 22:37) That’s how we can more meaningfully celebrate Christ in our midst!

Here’s one of my favorite “Christmas-like” songs. Try not to get it stuck in your head!

Jesus Weeps – So Why Don’t We?

For the year of 2005, my husband and I had the incredible opportunity to live in Belfast, Northern Ireland and work for Habitat for Humanity. During that year we learned about a sectarian conflict there known as The Troubles. After thirty years of hatred and violence some were able to forgive and love neighbors once considered their enemy. But, there was also ongoing refusal of others to let go of their hatred. Annual Orange Day parades continued to fuel division year after year since the Peace Accords of 1998. Many parents passed that hatred on to their children. Today, the divisiveness and conflict may be played out differently, but it is still a reality, often manifested in rival gangs.

Ten years later, we were in Rhonda and learned about the horrendous massacre of 800,000 men, women, and children, slaughtered by their own neighbors. It took only ninety days – NINETY DAYS! Most of the perpetrators of those atrocities were never brought to justice. They scattered into the mountains or other countries and regrouped.  They’re still out there causing mayhem and promoting hatred.

Now, here we are, reliving hatred and strife in America that is pitting us against each other. Extremists groups fueled by years of hatred going back to the days of slavery and Jim Crow are more and more embolden today to act out that hatred encouraged by a wink and a nod from the President. Some White Evangelical churches advocating their claim of being “Christian” – cling to power presumed given them by God.

What is going on? Did Jesus lose his way? Or have we reinvented him and relegated him to a dashboard Buddy Jesus bobblehead?

Let’s listen in on a few guys trying to figure it all out for themselves – perhaps you can relate:

One night a few friends gathered in a neighborhood bar. Their conversation quickly turned to questions of how to overcome fear (they won’t admit to) and frustration over the current crisis playing out over their backyard fences, at family dinners, and in the news. The violence and anger coming from all sides was hard for all of them to reconcile with their beliefs. They were a varied group: two Catholic brothers – one “devoted” (as in a follower of all the “rules”) and the other lukewarm (as in “rules suck”), a Presbyterian, and a Baptist. After several beers they found it difficult to come to any consensus on what part they played as Christians. They were even struggling to agree on what a “Christian” was.

Before departing they jokingly decided to invite Jesus to their whinefest the following week so they could drill him to see if he could help them come to some agreement on the most basic fundamentals of their Christian faith. They really weren’t looking for clarity on what was true and noble and right as much as fodder for their own arguments. Something they could use to counter those they did not agree with. But, none of them would admit to that either. Considering the stark differences they held on who was right and who was totally on the path to hell they were at an impasse. They would let Jesus decide.

So, on the allotted day they all showed up for a second installment of “My God can beat up your God”. And who shows up? – Jesus (through the front door, not the wall). “Hey, guys, what’s up?” Still in shock that he actually came, they offered him a chair and a beer…or…uh…wine. He took a seat and declined the alcohol, “I’m driving, but you go ahead.”

Then right out of the gate, one guy at the table explained what had happened the prior week and why they invited him (as if he didn’t know…duh!). Anyway, the argument conversation begins but immediately deteriorates into the same dispute as before. Each of them chimes in with their “beliefs”. Then someone has the foresight to ask the “Expert” sitting right in their midst, “Jesus, how would you resolve this?” Jesus sits quietly for a moment and then the men observe his eyes welling up with tears. They are shocked and don’t know how to react. Why isn’t he angry and pounding his fist like we do? Why isn’t he pointing out people to blame? There are plenty of them: the media, politicians, white supremacists, other so-called Christians. 

Jesus’ weeping felt akin to the times their wives would cry about something they could not get their heads around – like the broccoli soufflé that fell right before Christmas dinner with the in-laws. And, buddy, you learned very quickly that your response better not be some lame man-up comment because you just want that awkward moment to be over! How’d that work for you? Exactly.

This Jesus moment was like that. Sure, he was known to throw a few tables around when he got mad, but we only see that once in all of scripture. So, why don’t we put that angry, show em’ who’s boss, can’t-control-his-temper-just-like-me Jesus to rest? This is not the no-more-mister-nice-guy Jesus you were hoping for. Sorry.

So, the world is falling apart and Jesus weeps. That’s it? That’s all he can offer us? What are we supposed todo with that? Well, let’s see:

Joan Chittister says of weeping: 

Indeed, few of us see our weeping as a spiritual gift or a matter of divine design. But we are wrong. Weeping is a very holy and life-giving thing. It sounds alarms for a society and wizens the soul of the individual. If we do not weep on the personal level, we shall never understand humanity around us. If we do not weep on the public level, we are less than human ourselves.

The Rabbi Hanoch of Alexander offers:

There are…some things that ought not to be endured. There are some things worth weeping about lest we lose our sense of self. We must always cope with evil, of course, but we must never adjust to it. We must stay eternally restless for justice, for joy. Restless enough to cry out in pain when the world loses them.

Chittister concludes:

If we do not allow ourselves to face and feel pain…our lies about life shrink our hearts and limit our vision. It is not healthy, for instance, to say that massive poverty is sad but “normal.” It is not right to say that sexism is unfortunate but “necessary.” It is not human to say that war is miserable but “inevitable”. To weep tears of frustration about them may be to take our first real steps toward honesty, toward mental health, toward a life that is worth living.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/where-i-stand/and-jesus-wept-good-idea

Now, we know Jesus did not just sit around weeping all day long. As with Jesus, so with us, God took that pain, that compassion Jesus felt in the deepest part of his being and turned it into action. “Now go”, God would tell him and “do something for those you weep for”.

He longs to tell us the same thing if we can just get over ourselves; if we are able to see clearly the suffering all around us that breaks God’s heart. The next hurdle is being accountable. It’s way too easy to shirk our responsibility to bring Christ into this battle for the soul of America with whatever excuse happens to work in the moment. Lately, we seem to be so overwhelmed by the reality of the pain and suffering right in our midst that we have either become numb to it or shake our fists in anger. We don’t feel like we have the power to address the massive needs of others even if we wanted to. And truth-be-told we don’t. Not my problem. So, we shrug our shoulders, retreat into our little bubbles, and utter some feeble justification for not “getting involved”.

But we’re definitely not weepers – that’s a weakness we are not willing to put out there. If suffering humanity is lucky, Jesus just blew that myth to shreds for you! Fine. He doesn’t blow things up. But, you get it. Right?

And don’t worry I’m not going to spew some moral edict to try to guilt anyone out of being a self-serving, self-absorbed jerk. This isn’t about taking on a rule-following, righteous, high and mighty stance. That would amount to the lowest common denominator required for entry into “heaven” at some later date. Is that what you want out of life?

If your faith subsists within the rigid and narrow parameters of acceptable and unacceptable “Christian” behavior you may want to ask yourself: is that what Jesus’ life was about? Is that what got him killed? Would anyone have even bothered with him if he was just another face in the crowd? Or is that the metric you use to justify yourself and “judge” others?

So, let’s reconsider the gift of weeping that Jesus modeled, now seemingly lost as a Christian response to hatred and suffering. Not only should we weep for the state of our nation and the wrongs done to others, but we also need to realize that Jesus isn’t your personal fixer of all things that suck. That is not his job.

I believe the question is not “what are you going to do about this, Jesus”? The real question should be “what am I going to do about this in so much as I have the power to effect change in myself and the world around me?” Should my response be couched in adherence to the “rules” of morality or compassion born of an inherent desire to be Christ-like?

Let’s revisit Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (John 4:1-42) which magnifies Jesus’ longing to reveal her sacredness to her. She had several strikes against her. She was a Samaritan which made her the lowest of the low. She was married and divorced five times and was now living with a sixth man.

Most of the women enjoyed gathering at the well early in the morning for their daily gossip-fest and no doubt she was often the topic of their natter. So, she went alone in the heat of the day to avoid them. And who shows up at the well? – Jesus, the Jew, asking her, the outcast, for water.  She could not believe what was happening. Here is a guy who’s clearly a prophet speaking life into her. She quizzed him relentlessly, certain she had to be dreaming. And Jesus’ reply? “Did I stutter? You are loved now go act like it.”

And how did she respond to that love? She danced all the way back to town. She couldn’t wait to announce to everyone who would listen, “You’re not gonna believe what just happened!” Because of her witness many other Samaritans became believers. And don’t think those nasty women weren’t pissed when they heard her! The next day they followed her to the well and hid in the bushes in an attempt to catch her in a lie.

Anyway, did all that happen because she was now on some moral high-ground or because Jesus sparked within her a hunger that surprised her? For so long she had learned to endure the rejection of others. She accepted that she was unworthy of love or acceptance or dignity, and lived accordingly, having no understanding of her intrinsic worth.

I think Rami Shapiro in his powerful book, “Holy Rascals”, gives us the most powerful definition of people of true faith that I have ever read:

Holy Rascals have only one aim: to pull the curtain back on parochial religion in order to liberate people from the Great and Terrible Wizards who use religion to frighten them in to submission and to manipulate them into doing evil under the banner of good.

We are not anti-religion: we are anti-unhealthy religion: religion that promotes a world of “us against them” and sanctions the exploitation, oppression, and even murder of “them” in this world and the torture of “them” in the next.

We are not anti-belief; we are anti-irrational belief: belief that substitutes ancient fiction for modern science.

We are not anti-God; we are anti-mad Gods: Gods who sanction the lust for power that rules those who invented them.”

What saddens me more than anything today is the fact that there is such contention and visceral hatred among those who profess to be “Christians”.  But, the louder they are the less like Jesus they are, which is clearly an oxymoron: “Christians” who hate, “Christians” who seek power and prestige, “Christians” who have no empathy or compassion for others. Jesus was the Suffering Servant not the King of the elitists.

“This is my commandment,” said Jesus, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” That’s it.

We are so far removed from the Jesus known to his disciples. When the Church turned him into “Jesus Christ Superstar” he got lost in the power struggle for whose faith was the true faith. I would say many Christians probably have no idea that it was the Church struggling for power that created the Jesus so many “worship” today. And there’s the rub I think. Jesus never told us to worship him. He said, “Follow me”. When Jesus said, “Pick up your cross kid and follow me.” What do you think he meant? Pick up your bucket and shovel we’re headed to the beach?

Jesus lived and moved and had his being on the fringes of society. He was a revolutionary, a rebel, an outsider among the powerful leaders of his time. Why? Because he loved without regard for position or status or how it looked to others. He loved “the least of these” with abandon. He touched and healed and served the broken and the outcast. And they responded in love; a love that blurred distinctions between us and them, rich and poor, powerful and weak, saint and sinner. Does that sound anything like what is preached on street corners and in some churches today? Or the hatred spewed by “White Supremacists”? They have tried to remake Jesus into someone who would be unrecognizable to his followers and they have been given a thumbs-up by a president who, at the same time, secretly makes fun of them. It is frightening to watch.

Trillia Newbell, an author and Christian commentator, says, “I want to hear that we’re mourning and weeping, that we are active in our community, that we are going to work to love our neighbor as ourselves, that racism and any kind of hate is evil.”

https://www.npr.org/2020/06/06/871014393/evangelical-christians-grapple-with-racism-as-sin

I would like to share one final, uncomfortable, not proud of this, Linda-you-suck-at-caring-but-it-will-get-easier, story about two women I met in Belfast in 2005. Both taught me about what compassion looks like up close and personal.

Not long after we got there, I was walking to the post office before work and I was in a hurry. Several blocks ahead of me, I saw a woman lying on the sidewalk. I watched people walk right past her without giving her a thought. Here’s the awful truth, I did the same thing. I was thinking of the fact that I needed to get to work, I wasn’t from there and wouldn’t know what to do, and…and…and. I didn’t get far when I heard that “still small (annoying) voice” – “Go back”. Just two words that felt like a gut punch. So, I turned around. Fearful now that she might be dead and then how would I feel? “Okay, Lord, this was your big idea please tell me what to do.”

I set my things down and sat next to her. It was clear she was drunk. I had to nudge her several times before she responded. She looked irritated at me, but sat up. I tried to find out her name and where she lived, but all she said was, “Leave me alone. I’m not worth it.” To this day, I can hear her say those words that pierced my heart. I held her dirty; make-up streaked face, and told her she was worth it because she was a child of God. She said again, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m not worth it!” I said to her, “I am looking at you and what I see is someone God loves deeply!” Through tears I tried to get her up so I could put her in a cab and take her to get something to eat. Just then a mission van pulled up. A guy got out and addressed her by name. He gently helped her up and walked her to the van. I never saw her again.

My second experience wasn’t quite so involved, but was equally as dramatic. Again, I was walking down the street and saw a woman with a little boy about five or six walking toward me.  He said something that angered her and she slapped him, which shocked me. Again, I summoned that annoying voice within, a bit more willing to cooperate. “Okay, Lord, what do I do here?” When I got to her I simply asked if she wanted to talk. She slapped me too, walked around me and kept going. The little boy turned around and stuck his tongue out at me.  Alrighty then. Yeah me!

Encountering those two women for just one moment in time literally changed the trajectory of my life and gave me purpose! Seeing the humanity of others teaches us compassion. Allowing ourselves to see Jesus in everyone we encounter we will grow in love for those we usually disregard, or worse, reject outright. Seeing beyond the degenerate, the depraved, the lost and broken takes courage, humility and trust in a God who shows us the beauty in others – and BONUS – in ourselves.

So, there you have it you macho-guys guzzling your beer and feeling a bit queasy watching Jesus weep for those who suffer. How do you respond to that? The first thing you need to do is offer a resounding, “YES” to whatever Jesus has in mind for you. That’s it. Easy enough. Right?

Then fasten your seatbelt brother, this is when the rubber meets the road because God has a plan for you (Jeremiah 29:11) and this probably won’t be an “I’ll get back to you next week” moment either. There’s much to do and you’re running out of time because you sat on your duff in that bar so long trying to get out of it. Just pray and stay open to your calling. You’ll know it. Then, brave heart, this is your moment! GO!

Wait…maybe lose the war paint. You don’t want to scare the crap out of people. They have enough to deal with.

The Best of Times – The Worst of Times: The Sequel

“Joe Newman is 107 years-old. He has survived two World Wars, the 1918 Flu Pandemic, and the Great Depression. His advice after reflecting on all he has lived through? ‘Always look on the bright side. Don’t spend time worrying about what’s going to happen, since what will happen, will happen.’”  Anita Sampson, who recently celebrated her 100th birthday, is Joe’s fiancée.  “Joe says the coronavirus is just another event in his life. He believes we should look forward to whatever time we have, be it years, weeks, or just days, ‘and then hope for another on.’”

Maybe work on those wedding plans – or not. (I’m not sure if this is true, but, Anita has reportedly demanded a “Promise” ring by Tuesday or she’s moving to her own rocker!) But, for now, it’s nap time.

Since there are now so many American Centenarians there have been many studies regarding these 100+ year-old folks. They all have survived so much. They have lived through misery, hunger and job loss, financial ruin, the loss of loved ones, and every imaginable heartache along the way.  But, that’s not the whole story. There is much beauty and blessing intermingled with the suffering.

The most common and inspiring thread was just as I suspected (and, no, it has nothing to do with great sex or alcohol, so get your mind out of the gutter!) During the Depression, people learned to support and care for each other. They were generous with a few extra dollars, food from their gardens, and emotional support. Many discovered a deep well of strength and optimism that have carried them beyond those tough times. They had a shared sense of gratitude, kindness toward others and even a feeling of being blessed in the midst of unimaginable hardships. They learned acceptance of circumstances you cannot control. And hope – always hope. Happiness and fulfillment come from helping others; having a positive and optimistic attitude. Most have a strong faith and a deep commitment and passion for a cause beyond themselves.

I’m not close to 100, except for those achy things that are the bane of my existence. But in my seventy-one years, I have learned so much about the ugliness and beauty of the human condition; about reality and resilience. I have experienced joy and sorrow, loss and pain and grief and epic moments of delight and wonder and unexplainable joy. I hate and love, horde and give generously, fear and throw caution to the wind. One moment I close in on myself and another I can open up with compassion and empathy for the brokenness that surrounds me. I’m a mixed bag of pride and humility. I can be your biggest fan or your most vocal adversary. I can be quiet and reflective or noisy and blow things up. I’m confusing, even to myself! I think that makes me human, albeit a very messy, bewildering human, like everyone else – if everyone else were honest. Anne Lamott says it beautifully, “Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared. So there’s no sense wanting to be differently screwed up than you already are.”

I believe those wise Centenarians still hanging around and those of us who have not simply survived, but against all odds, have thrived during this screwed up mess called human life, are not finished yet. We have a calling, a responsibility actually, to share those experiences with younger generations in these desperate, seemingly hopeless times. We owe it to them. We have a treasure trove of stories I believe they are hungry for.

What we are dealing with today: a failing economy, children going to bed hungry, job losses, covid, wild fires, hurricanes, racial tensions, protests, and violence in the streets is nothing new. But, all at once? Good Lord! Think about all those younger than us that have not lived long enough to feel any sense of hope for their future because they have not had much of a past to draw that hope from. I believe we are in the midst of our collective dark night of the soul and there’s a double whammy for those younger generations that have not found religion, or even God, to be relevant. They have rejected a religion based on duty and obligation. No thanks.

But, that’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. “Religion” as we have come to know it since the first century has always been top-down and authoritarian. But, that is not God’s way. He sent Jesus on a mission, not the likes of Herod the power-hungry king, to show his steadfast, dogged, unwavering love to the lost and broken. I have openly admitted that I have given up on the Institutional church, but I have not given up on God or my faith which is couched in awe and wonder at the marvels of all of creation.

Jesus didn’t wander the streets playing whack-a-mole with anyone who didn’t follow the rules, memorize rote prayers, or tithe 10%. He was a hands-on guy. When he said, “follow me” he didn’t mean act virtuous, he meant be virtuous; be kind and gentle and caring for your brothers and sisters that suffer life’s cruelties. Consider these verses: Jesus touched the blind man (Mark 8:22), he touched the deaf and mute man (Mark 7:33), he touched a leper (Matthew 8:3). The gentle, compassionate, loving touch of someone who cares that is what we are called to. I’m not gonna lie, it can be scary! Reaching out will require some risk and could result in ridicule or rejection from others. Hum…isn’t that what Jesus accepted to his death? Do you think for one moment that Jesus or the countless martyrs throughout history went to their deaths for a bargain basement god? Would you?

Surely God put wisdom and gray hair together for a reason. I believe, like Esther, we were made for such a time as this. People are scared and hurting. We have been there and have experienced the love and healing power of God. Every life has a story and those are stories that must be told. If your story begins and ends with you we all lose a bit of God’s glory. So, what is your story? How have you overcome hurt and pain? How have you hurt others? How have you prevailed over life’s disappointments? How do you find joy and peace in these trying times? I Peter 3:15 tells us to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” Are youready?

People today, especially young people, are living out of fear instead of the abundance of life God has promised each of us. What we fail to understand is that it isn’t God being the mean, authoritarian father that is holding back on us. It’s us holding back. It’s us not believing he’s worth the effort. I truly believe this is a remarkable time for us old folks to still be hanging around and to get ourselves off our rockers and into the fray. Why should we bother? Do they even want to hear from us? Well, you decide:

Let’s focus in on what young adults (ages 18-25) are dealing with in this frightening and uncertain time:

First, a recent article by CNN:

Jeffrey Arnett, a psychologist at Clark University says, “The pandemic struck students at a particularly vulnerable age.” He explains that this is “a time of life when many different directions remain possible, when little about the future has been decided for certain, when the scope of independent exploration of life’s possibilities is greater for most people than it will be at any other period of the life course.”


https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/25/opinions/coronavirus-pandemic-racism-generation-resilient-fredrick/index.html

So, picture these young people that have likely never experienced even one of the many crises we’re facing today. They have had their certainties about life jerked out from under them without any warning.

The article continues:

Since the pandemic, the percentage of Americans, especially younger ones, dealing with mental health issues has increased at an alarming rate. Over a six-day period in early June, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, 41% of 18-34-year-olds showed clinically significant symptoms of an anxiety disorder, 35.1% experienced a major depressive disorder and 47.5% reported anxiety and/or depression.

There’s much more in this article that sheds light on what they’re dealing with: a government they feel they can no longer rely on, constant news coverage of injustice and violence, the tragedy of years of denial of climate change, loss of a sense of security and hope for their future.

Perhaps here is a glimmer of hope:

In (one) study, young people said they were “empowered by forming connections, but they admitted they did not always know how to form them. Psychologists at the University of Manchester have found another factor critical to young adults’ resiliency — the strength of their social bonds able to provide them with the support needed to weather the worst storms.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/25/opinions/coronavirus-pandemic-racism-generation-resilient-fredrick/index.html

Check this out for inspiration: https://www.nunsandnones.org/

So, as their lives seem to be falling apart and the government can no longer be trusted to shore up confidence in their future, or that they will even have one, that leaves a huge gap to be filled, a gap between their current reality and hope. And that’s where God can use us to step in because dancing in the midst of tragedy is our specialty. There, of course, is a hurdle to jump first (not that God isn’t the world’s best hurdle jumper!). They don’t think much of religion or God or the pain of Judgment Day…..Ohhhh, don’t get me started on “God’s gonna-take-you-to-the-woodshed on Judgment Day”!  Let’s quickly move on…

Here is a great article from National Catholic Reporter: “…the Study asks: Why are young Catholics going, going, gone?” Since we know it’s not just Catholics that have left their faith, this is very telling for all young adults that feel disenfranchised and left to their own devices to find their own way.

“Whether it’s feelings of being judged by religious leaders who don’t know or understand them, or being forced by their parents to attend church, or witnessing the sexual abuse scandal and the hypocrisy of church hierarchy, young people are expressing a desire both to break free from organized religion and to be part of a community. As emerging adults continue to navigate a difficult period, it is crucially important that they are able to maintain wellbeing and seek support where needed from those around them.”


https://www.ncronline.org/news/parish/study-asks-why-are-young-catholics-going-going-gon

Then there’s this from Springtide Research Institute:

Springtide Research Institute is committed to understanding the distinct ways new generations experience and express community, identity, and meaning. We exist at the intersection of religious and human experience in the lives of young people.

Our newest research found today’s young people are the most lonely and isolated generation that has ever existed. One in three young people feel completely alone much of the time. The good news though? You’re the solution (my emphasis).

What would it look like for belonging to come before believing?

One of the fundamental truths about communities is that belonging comes before believing. As our research demonstrates, we often get that equation backward, especially when it comes to young people. The traditional institutional tools for engaging with young people are no longer effective as trust erodes across all institutional sectors.

Young people are facing epidemic levels of isolation and loneliness.

Young people are struggling to connect with each other and the adults who care about them. Nearly 40% of young people feel at times they have no one to talk to and attending religious groups or gatherings does not have any effect, unless they have a relationship with an adult who cares.


https://www.springtideresearch.org/belonging/

“Belonging before believing” may be the key in all of this! The Institutional church teaches “rules” necessary to live as a “good” person of faith is expected to. That rigid voice has become old and tiresome; void of meaning and purpose. It cannot address the deepest longing of a soul that knows deep down it belongs to something bigger; something more. Where do we see in any of Jesus’ teachings to the masses gathered everywhere he went that he stopped mid-sermon for an alter call? “Look guys, we know you’re hungry after walking for miles and sitting here in the heat for hours. The food trucks won’t be coming any time soon…BUT…we’ve got fish! Come on up and get yourselves saved and you get some!” Years ago, when I was a youth minister one of the most basic truths that I grew to understand about human longing and relationship came from one statement, “I don’t care how much you know, until I know how much you care.”

I didn’t have any idea what I was doing when I first got some teens in our church together to start a youth group. Truth be told, I was probably needier than they were, but I sincerely wanted to give them a place to gather, safely question anything about their faith (when Father wasn’t within ear shot), serve the community, and have fun. Granted, I suffered the pains of having an A.D.D. brain that called into question my “fly by the seat of your pants” leadership style. More than one parent informed me how unorganized I was – thank you very much. Of course, they were too busy to help.

But, here’s the thing: not one of the kids walked away because a teaching was rescheduled due to a bit of forgetfulness by one flighty adult. Not one kid complained when said flighty adult was the only one who thought an ice breaker consisting of sticking life savers on someone’s face was funny. I still think that one’s funny! But, oh well. (Note to self: teenager = insecurity. Got it.) They forgave my every misstep as we all learned together. Why? Because they knew I loved them. That’s it. That’s all that mattered…well…except that I made some badass cookies!

I also recall a young pastor we had, new out of seminary. He came to a meeting one night and later complained that there were only ten kids there. So, why did we bother? I didn’t see that one coming and had no reply for him until a few days later. I invited a therapist to come speak to the kids about suicide: how to recognize it and what to do if they suspected a friend was at risk. One of the kids at that meeting called me a couple of days later to thank me – like sobbing thanking me – for having her there. He got her phone number afterwards and called her because he was contemplating suicide. They began therapy sessions with his mom. I still get teary when I think about that.

Another day, that same priest was talking to me and a girl in our youth group. She told him she hated her mom and he immediately cut her off telling her she could not hate her mom, that her mom was a wonderful person. I knew why she said that and knew she was suffering a lot of pain in their relationship. I could not share that with him, but I did “share” the fact that he managed to shut her down and she would never confide in him the pain for which she needed help and healing. I could go on, but I won’t, except to say that I have so many great memories of those times and am still in contact with some of the teens that are now parents themselves.

We all have life’s most critical and basic questions that need to be answered if we are to live fully the lives we were meant to live. Who am I? Why am I here? What is God’s purpose for me? Are you someone that can help young people answer those questions? You can, you know, just by being present to them, listening to them, and trusting God. Knowing he has already given you all the tools you need to fulfill your own destiny – you can now help them do the same. And I will tell you this without the slightest hesitation – they will do just as much, if not more, for you!

One final note: if you are considering forming a relationship with young adults it would behoove you to know that they will see right through any hidden motive to “straighten them out and save them from hell and damnation. Don’t do that. Okay? Here’s one final example of someone wanting to do just that. An “older” woman in our parish called me and wanted to “help” with the kids. I invited her to come to our next meeting just to observe. In that particular meeting we were going to watch a new T.V. show….ready?…”Married with Children”. I wasn’t concerned about exposing them to something distasteful because they were already mindlessly watching it at home. I wanted us to watch it together and talk about it. Hopefully they would make a more informed decision about watching it. It shouldn’t surprise you that my “older” friend only lasted about five minutes into the show when she walked out in a huff and never returned.  But, at the end of that meeting, the kids were upset about the content of it. As a result they all wrote letters to the companies that sponsored it! How cool is that?!

God Gives us a Clear Mandate for HOW to Vote – Not WHO to Vote for

With the election just a few weeks away I only want to ask you to consider the fullness of God’s Word in light of your choices. It disturbs me beyond measure that there are some Priests and Bishops that have taken to twitter to endorse Donald Trump and vilify Joe Biden. This is SO WRONG on so many levels. They are not to tell anyone who to vote for. Not that this is the only madness in the church. But, let’s move on before I say something I may, but probably won’t, regret later.

Anyway…

Below I offer the words of Pope Francis and excerpts from a statement by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. You may not be Catholic but I believe these words offer something for everyone’s consideration if you believe in the dignity and worth of every human being. I have included the link below if you want to read it in its entirety. All bold type is mine.

Pope Francis tells us:

…the very love which is (God’s) gift, brings forth in our lives and actions a primary and fundamental response: to desire, seek and protect the good of others.

An authentic faith . . . always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, it hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed “the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics,” the Church, “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 183)

God’s word teaches that our brothers and sisters are the prolongation of the incarnation for each of us: “As you did it to one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). The way we treat others has a transcendent dimension: “The measure you give will be the measure you get” (Mt 7:2). It corresponds to the mercy which God has shown us: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you . . . For the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Lk 6:36-38). What these passages make clear is the absolute priority of “going forth from ourselves toward our brothers and sisters” as one of the two great commandments which ground every moral norm….(no. 179)

…the creation’ refers to every aspect of human life; consequently, ‘the mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ has a universal destination. Its mandate of charity encompasses all dimensions of existence, all individuals, all areas of community life, and all peoples.

“We are faced . . . with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature(Laudato Si’, no. 139).

USCCB’s Statement:

Thus we take up the task of serving the common good with joy and hope….God is love, and he desires that we help to build a “civilization of love”-one in which all human beings have the freedom and opportunity to experience the love of God and live out that love by making a free gift of themselves to one another.

The political realities of our nation present us with opportunities and challenges. We are a nation founded on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but the right to life itself is not fully protected, especially for unborn children, the terminally ill, and the elderly, the most vulnerable members of the American family. We are called to be peacemakers in a nation at war. We are a country pledged to pursue “liberty and justice for all,” but we are too often divided across lines of race, ethnicity, and economic inequality. We are a nation of immigrants, struggling to address the challenges of many new immigrants in our midst. We are a powerful nation in a violent world, confronting terror and trying to build a safer, more just, more peaceful world. We are an affluent society where too many live in poverty and lack health care and other necessities of life. We are part of a global community charged with being good stewards of the earth’s environment, what Pope Francis calls “our common home,” which is being threatened. These challenges are at the heart of public life and at the center of the pursuit of the common good. They are intertwined and inseparable.

(We are called to the care and concern for ALL OF THESE CHALLENGES. God is not a one issue God and we cannot be one-issue voters.)

This statement highlights the role of the Church in the formation of conscience and the corresponding moral responsibility of each Catholic to hear, receive, and act upon the Church’s teaching in the lifelong task of forming his or her own conscience. Foremost amongst those teachings are the four basic principles of Catholic social doctrine: the dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity, and solidarity (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 160). With this foundation, Catholics are better able to evaluate policy positions, party platforms, and candidates’ promises and actions in light of the Gospel and the moral and social teaching of the Church in order to help build a better world.

In this statement, we bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth. We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election.

…. the foundational principles that guide these teachings should not be ignored in any case nor used selectively in order to serve partisan interests.

https://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/forming-consciences-for-faithful-citizenship-part-one