Culture Watch

Don’t Put Me in Your Binary Box

You will be able to understand better my blog and my podcast if you don’t assume I’m in your binary box.

I reject them all. I can think beyond the false boxes politicians, media, and sometimes friends try to put me in. I think you do, too. I helped write a book about that where one of the chapters is titled, Disarming the Binary Bomb. I’m serious about that. Binary thinking is destroying this country, and many, many friendships. Binary thinking goes like this: “there are only two options here, and if you don’t fully support mine, you are my enemy.” It is the lowest form of dialogue on the planet.

If you watch a newscast or read an article and believe everything the person says, you probably need to check yourself. Everything you get is distorted by someone’s political agenda, attempts to be true to their brand, or a desperate attempt to get clicks. Whether it’s NBC News, Time Magazine, Fox News, MSNBC, or I book I’m reading, I agree with about 30% of what I hear or see in those venues. I don’t expect them to give me the unvarnished truth. The media serve mammon, after all, and politicians, their lust for power. They are not trying to tell us what’s true; they are only serving some personal interests. The more you read from diverse sources, the easier it will be to discern what’s true.

For instance, last week on The God Journey, I talked about the popular book, White Fragility, with Arnita Taylor. There is a lot I like about this book and how it helped me through some important realities in our culture. But I didn’t like everything about it. Monday morning, a news podcast I listen to attacked the book in terms I didn’t understand. I knew they hadn’t read the book but believed what someone else said about it. I read the book and appreciated much of it. Their attempts to debunk it as “total garbage” fell on deaf ears with me. 

I didn’t read it with a guilty conscience or to feel shame for my whiteness, only because I wanted to learn better how to interact with people of various colors in my life. Does the author overstate some things? Of course, she does. What author doesn’t? Do the things she exaggerates diminish the real things she points out? Not to a thinking person! It’s really OK to interact with what you read, to let some things challenge your thinking, without having to conclude it’s either all good or all bad.

So when I get an email like the one below, please don’t assume I think about the issues like you do:

I have been listening to The God Journey for about four years. The show has always been about God’s grace, but now just because the propaganda media started a Communist campaign, suddenly, you shift fears and make The God Journey a show about how white people don’t listen to black people. Black Lives Matter is funded by the Ford Foundation and other companies through Susan Rosenberg of Thousand Currents, former convicted Weather Underground and M19 communist revolutionary that was plotting to bomb buildings. I know your heart is in the right place, but you’ve been deceived. The media has so much influence that it directed you to change your show to follow the direction of their narrative. Social Justice is a Satanic deception for a Communist agenda. And this is the only reason you’ve shifted focus onto race issues. I can’t listen to your show anymore because your guilt and shame over whiteness have turned it into one more thing that hugs the curves of today’s political agendas.

The God Journey used to be a way for me to reset my attention on Jesus, and now it’s just another narrative that RESPONDS to the mainstream LEAD. Do you know where “White Privilege” came from? I’m tired of seeing Christians buy into this SJW garbage of the world, and I really think you should know that you are making all of your recent episodes of the God Journey about this topic have really turned me off from seeking out new episodes to focus on Jesus. I RESEARCH THIS STUFF HEAVILY, and it is all COMMUNISM! The goal is to divide us and conquer our nation.

(Hint: capitalizing complete words doesn’t make anyone seem more intelligent, just a bit unhinged.)

Here’s how I’d respond:

Ah, you’re welcome to stop listening; that is your privilege.

I hope you can appreciate that we are engaged in two different conversations. One is what you describe—an all-out political battle between left and right. I know the people behind the BLM organization have admitted to having Marxist leanings, and that their mission statement denigrates the nuclear family and religious faith. I don’t buy their extremist agenda, and I have not endorsed that organization in anything I’ve said. At the same time, there is a movement of “black lives matter” in our culture that is calling attention to the fact that young, innocent men are being killed by those empowered with government authority. To draw attention to that and demand that government officials be held accountable for how they treat people of color does not make me a sympathizer to Marxist doctrine. You have to separate the two to be intellectually honest. 

Black Lives Matter, as an organization, is gaining traction because we do have racial issues in our culture that many white people prefer to ignore. I would argue letters like yours only empower the Social Justice Warriors because you refuse to acknowledge the underlying problem that does real harm to people just because of the color of their skin. The “true origins” of my podcasts about race have nothing to do with their propaganda. They have risen out of my relationships with people of color and watching how they live in a very different world than I do, or my children and grandchildren. They have touched my heart and opened my eyes to the legitimate needs here, not the contrived ones by those who seek to undermine our culture. Our society is clearly weighted toward whiteness, and people of color are increasingly frustrated that we don’t care that they suffer through circumstances far more complicated than most of us endure.

So, there is a political game going on here. You’re right about that. Both sides want to divide and conquer this nation and pull it back from its powerful ideals. But I’m not playing that game. However, I am sharing this part of my journey to show what’s going on in our culture and to find solutions that are different from what BLM advocates. I’m not trying to score political points but asking people to live more generously in the world and help disarm those who would use the disparity and desperation for nefarious means of undermining our culture. President Trump has undoubtedly turned “mainstream media” into one of the most dismissive labels people can use to ignore whatever challenges their thinking. No doubt, the “mainstream media” distorts a lot of news to its political ends, but no more than Trump or his cronies at FOX. 

That is still a tiny part of all the content of my podcast (four shows out of forty-six this year). I label them clearly so that if discussions of current events aren’t of interest to you, you can easily skip them. But why people want to do so, however, was the point of the podcast last Friday. I hope that those of us who have power in the culture will find ways to share it freely with those who have for too long been marginalized. We can disagree on this, but I hope you understand better what’s motivating me. 

My utmost passion on this page and the podcast will always be to encourage people on a Jesus journey that shows you how to live loved by the Father and be a better lover in the world. I just began sharing some of the most exciting discoveries I’ve hmade ad in over a decade. It’s called Embracing His Glory and is meant to encourage people on the journey of transformation and freedom. A new release comes each Tuesday morning, and will for a while. 

So, don’t bother inviting me into your binary box. I’m not coming to join you. I’d sure welcome you, though, whenever you’re ready to give it up. 

There Is a Better Conversation Going On

Yes, I wanted to get your attention. I don’t triple-dog-dare anyone to do anything, though I would love for you to think through the issues the author lays out in that chapter. Please don’t let the media that amplifies the most extreme voices on the left and the right rob you of the important conversations going on about the inequities of race that still persist in our society. One of the lessons we encouraged in A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation is not to compare the worst actions of those who disagree with you with the best intentions of those who do.

This is a good time for softer hearts not harder ones, for listening instead of pontificating. Underneath the diatribes in the media—social, mainstream, and Fox—people are exploring what it is to care for others beyond what we might consider as “their tribe.” White Fragility, the book I referenced above, is a difficult read if you’re white. I don’t love everything about this book, and some of her terminology can be off-putting, but hopefully, it will make you think. It helped me understand more why we have such a hard time communicating about this, and why those who look like me have a hard time talking about the issues that underlie racial inequities in our culture.

I know some of you grow tired of my musings on this. I like this space to help encourage people on their journey of leaning in more deeply to Jesus and to be less influenced by the world’s ways. Some have called me “liberal” and accused me of being a Democrat. I hope you can appreciate that I’m not playing politics here. I’m not pro-Republican or pro-Democrat, and I think both parties are out to exploit the tensions in our society for whatever political power (and money) they can hope to gain. They are both a huge part of the problem, and I don’t look for them to be the solution.

So, I reject the binary constructs that both of them try to force on us. Life is more nuanced than they lead us to believe.  I can bear witness to the injustices some people groups suffer in this world and be a voice for more understanding and compassion without endorsing all their agenda or approving of violence or looting.  I can decry racist acts when they happen, and still support the men and women in blue who put their lives on the line to make us a safer society. These are our first responders who valiantly rush into the most dangerous situations to disarm evil and protect the good and, if not, they should be held to account. Society in a fallen world cannot exist without them.

I write because I have good friends who are severely impacted by these issues, and silence is no longer an option, and hoping it will get better is not a strategy. What could be closer to Jesus’ heart than how we treat people who are different from us? Isn’t that what the Good Samaritan story was about? Our neighbor not only includes those who look like us or live in our neighborhoods but even more importantly, those who don’t.

My heart hurts when people who say they love Jesus are unaware of their blindness about racial issues.  I saw this on FaceBook from a friend who attended the same congregation with me many years ago. I would love to be with her when her eyes are open to see just how arrogant and racist these words are.

For those of you drinking the white privilege hype, don’t be ashamed of your station in your God-given life. I know of plenty of African Americans who are privileged. You see no matter what you do, it won’t be good enough. The black community has to figure out they are not slaves anymore. Their hurt runs deep. Only God can truly heal their hurt. We can empathize, we can stand by them. We can love them, we can lift them up when they are down. What we cannot do is heal them. Unfortunately, they have leaders who are self-serving and have not led them to other ways of dealing with injustice. We see the agenda of hate, it’s time for our Black Americans to quit being used. It’s up to them. Meanwhile quit the white privilege narrative. It’s just an agenda of shame. I’m not ashamed of who God made me to be. Don’t slap God in the face by now denying who you are. Quit your bitching….

Of course, she doesn’t see herself as a racist and made enough “loving statement” to keep herself deluded.  I hope people like her will listen to what is really being said by those around us in real pain. We can do better.  I’m seeing it happen all around me.  The reason I’m in this conversation is for people like those below who are finding a different way to see the world around them, and hopefully, be more redemptive in it.

From someone I haven’t met, who read my latest book:

I finished A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation. I didn’t realize how much my pride and “search for the truth”, led me to justify the sufferings of others. I felt that if I admitted white privilege/advantage, I was admitting that I was inferior and less than. I justified myself and tried to “correct the narrative”. But I had never really pondered how Jesus would walk in this time. I started to feel compassion, empathy, and no longer concerned for my own “rights”. It is eye-opening to me, how much I staked my identity on being a conservative, American, instead of a son of God, who is walking in relationship with Father. I am starting to see just how dangerous tribalism is and how harmful it is to our brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, it has taken a long time for me to see, but I am excited to see the adventures that Father and I will have together, as I participate in this process of healing.

From someone in a small mountain community in the Colorado Rockies:

I wanted to express my thanks to you, Arnita and Bob for the amazing book The Language of Healing. You all not only created the best format for a multi-author book I have encountered but created a space where people can have meaningful conversations that can transform lives. The message of the book was something we so desperately need in our culture and has only been magnified over the past few weeks. Imagine if more of us had been reaching outside “our group” and been listening to understand others over the years. These types of conversations might have led directly to the saving of people’s lives.  I am hopeful that recent tragic events will spur more of us on to form relationships with those who are different than us. And from my perspective it is on the individual and community level where real transformation will take place. Your focus on personal connection and the practical steps you provided in each chapter is what gives me the hope that change can really happen. I found the book engaging but challenging in many good ways. And where Papa has been directing my attention is on engaging and showing empathy for working class folks in my community (almost entirely white) who hold very different political, economic and racial views.

From a twenty-one-year-old woman:

The murder of George Floyd did not happen in a vacuum. Rather, the tragedy was a symptom of a much larger, multifaceted problem. I like to use a pyramid analogy to think about racism here in America. The act of murder is at the top point of the pyramid. Individual, perhaps seemingly “smaller” acts of racism lay the foundation of the pyramid. These smaller acts include implicit biases, racial slurs, stereotypes, other microaggressions, and color-blindness. These “small” acts fit into the pyramid and eventually lead to devastating, tragic, life-sucking acts such as the murder of George Floyd. The murder of George Floyd was simply a bubbling over that reveals the race culture in American that often lies beneath the surface.

The thing is, these “small” acts truly aren’t so small. Each one contributes to a negative racial culture. Each one is damaging. Furthermore, silence is also damaging. While I may not use a racial slur myself, if my friend says one, and I don’t use my agency to speak up for my black brothers and sisters, I am creating damage too. My silence implies complicity and consent.

As a white female, I am striving to do what I can to disrupt the culture of silence and to help dismantle America’s negative racial culture starting with destroying the bottom of the pyramid. If more of us can speak up, using our voices to proclaim the equal worth of every human being, I have hope that we can crush the pyramid before it reaches the top.

Finally, while I want to use my voice to speak out against all forms of racial discrimination, I also want to be an empathetic listener for my black brothers and sisters. I will never truly fathom what it is like to a black person in America. And I should never pretend to.

From an African-American mother of two young boys in the Carolinas:

Then came the riots. Pain and frustration followed. This is not the way to solve it. But I get the pain! I can see why some feel like enough is enough! But I know in my heart violence is not the answer. I know my hope is in Jesus. I can quote scriptures to back that up, but sometimes life sucks. And I’m learning to sit in the tension of the pain and tears and being honest with that, knowing that Jesus is right there with me. He’s weeping too and understands my pain.

My husband and I have had some very interesting conversations with our respective friends over the last week. They have been so draining and all consuming, but mostly positive and definitely worth it. I’m thankful that my friends have felt comfortable enough to share and want to discuss. We are doing deep. I even had one friend who said that her eyes were open to systemic racism for the first time. I’m shocked, but so grateful! I listened to more of The Language Of Healing today and it’s been so good to get back into it. I have the book and the audible version. What an on-time book! So grateful that the three of you followed the Holy Spirit’s lead to put that together. You complement each other super well and each brings something uniquely important to the table. It’s beautiful.

I’m taking a moment to share this because I want to say thank you. Thank you for being in my community. Thank you for giving me hope. That you are willing to use your leverage and possibly lose friends in order to speak up on behalf of those whose voice goes unheard. Human dignity is human dignity. Period.

We can do better than the options the media give us.  Find your way into new relationships laced with compassion and the willingness to understand. Don’t just look for voices that only confirm what you already think. Read and explore outside your comfort zone and see what Father might want to shift in your thinking. If nothing else, your comfort zone will expand, and you’ll be a safer place for people to approach.

A Fork In the Road

First, Sara and I had a great trip to Denver to be with our son and his girlfriend, Karen. We put on a lot of miles, over a thousand each way.  We took our two dogs with us in a rented RV so we could maintain our anti-COVID bubble.  It all worked out great. Well, except for being mistaken for drug mules and having our vehicle sniffed out by a drug-detecting canine. After wasting our time and theirs, they allowed us to continue.

But the real reason for this post is to alert you to our Language of Healing Live session today at 2:00 pm PDT. Vince Coakley (pictured with Wayne above), a good friend and the host of The Vince Coakley Show in Charlotte, NC and Greenville, SC will be our moderator. We will be discussing the first chapter of A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation: A Fork in the Road.

Our society is certainly at yet another fork in the road. This book was all but getting lost in the pandemic before the racial events of the last few weeks brought it center stage again. We stand at the crossroads of whether we can find more meaningful changes to set our culture on a better past with equity of justice and opportunity for all, or whether it will all quiet down again until the next incident.

I’m voting for the former, but it is not likely to happen where the extremists on both sides control the narratives. If we’re going to see lasting change we have to have a different conversation, and unfortunately, our political leaders are not showing us the way.

Let’s discuss how we can choose a better path that leads to healing rather than more division. This is the fourth in a series of A Language of Healing Live events that we are posting on FaceBook. (You can view past ones here.)

The event is now over, but you can view the YouTube recording here.

This is a propitious time for our country that can mark an upward trajectory of equal justice for all, or devolve into greater division and anger. We can all be part of a better solution.

Is America a Racist Country?

I woke up yesterday to this email from a really close friend: “Do you believe there is systemic racism in this country? Do you think we are a racist country? I was just curious about what you thought as I couldn’t tell from what I have listened to and what you’ve written.”

Great question, and an important one for us all to answer.

I hope those are two separate questions. As to the second one, I don’t think any country can be racist any more than it can be Christian. The country is made up of people—some are, some aren’t. As a country, we are  committed to incredibly high ideals—”liberty and justice for all!” Have we ever lived to the fullness of those ideals?  No, not yet! Do most people aspire to that reality? I think they do, but they don’t control the microphones in this country. This great melting pot has some fabulous stories where people of different ethnicities coming together for a greater common good, and some horrible examples of those ideals being betrayed by those who act with hatred against certain groups of people.
The question I’d be more prone to answering is, “Does our country have a race problem?”  I used to think it didn’t. I knew we had a disturbing past of enslaving people, but we’ve been trying to dig our way out of that and extend freedom and rights for all, even if that has often been done grudgingly. I grew up on the West coast where I was not exposed to a lot of overt racism, but I didn’t have a lot of black or hispanic friends, either. I grew up around people like me, for the most part. Over the years I’ve had friendships with people who look different from me, but they never let me in on the inequities they faced in our society. Perhaps they feared it would risk the friendship. Over the last decade or so I’ve had an expanding group of African-American and Latino friends who have let me in on the injustices they and their friends face. Some of it is low-key, but it impacts their opportunity and they definitely get the message that they are looked down on by the bulk of white culture as not-quite-equal. They see their children more at risk, and they don’t think we care.
Now, I’m convinced our society has a race problem and that many of my white friends are blind to its implications. We want to think we have reached equality, that most of these battles are behind us, that we do have equal opportunity and if “they” just worked hard enough they could have what we have.  But, that isn’t true. They don’t have the same opportunities and we have added to their burden.  We didn’t see how lynching replaced slavery as a way to instill fear and keep a culture down. We don’t see how unjust mass incarceration of black youth get them into the system to limit their opportunity and “keep them in their place.”  We think high crime in ethnic neighborhoods justifies our suspicious treatment of all blacks.  We don’t see racism around us, because it doesn’t happen to us or people we love. So, yes I am convinced there is systemic racism woven into the fabric of our culture. Most of it isn’t as overt as a racist cop killing an unarmed black man, and may even be unconscious, but it does exist. It gives people of color more to overcome to have the same opportunity the majority culture enjoys.
The reason there is such an explosion with anger now is not just because George Floyd was tragically murdered by a white cop but because his death provided a visible, undeniable image of the injustices that my friends of color and their children suffer every day in a society that is still white-preferring. This one is on video and even so, we have white people who don’t want to look at it or look for a reason that Mr. Floyd deserved it. They want it to be an isolated incident and ignore the wider issues it exposes. If we didn’t have that video, it’s very likely our justice system would have believed the police and dismissed the testimony of the onlookers. That’s been going on far too long, not only in the deaths of so many black, unarmed young men, but in the systemic racial inequity of a society that can do better.
Most white people I know wouldn’t want any of this to be true, but they have a hard time looking at our disparity and seeing it for what it is. I don’t think acknowledging white privilege is some horrible evil for which we should all feel shamed. It simply expresses the advantages we’ve had in being part of the dominant culture that prevailed in settling this country, often by violent and unjust means. They don’t want us to despise what we have; they want us to create a more level playing field so they can have the same opportunities we do.  That reality has found its way into my heart, and I hurt along with them in ways I did not used to. I want to see more what they see, understand more what they feel, and lend my voice to theirs for more just and equitable solutions. I want to speak out against injustice, against using race as a means to judge another human, against ways they are exploited or looked down upon.  If we could see the suffering our unawareness causes, we would act differently. That may be what is happening now in the protests being so diverse racially and generationally.
It has always been hard to talk about racism because we don’t use the same definitions. I hear African-Americans use the word to describe any attitude, policy, or action that diminishes them and their opportunity. White people, however, only use it to describe the worst examples like the KKK and white supremacists and can’t recognize racist tendencies in themselves or in the mechanisms of our culture. They think our racial issues were solved by the Civil War, or at least by Civil Rights legislation in the 60s.  Most of us want this to be over and believe that all are created equal and have an opportunity to succeed. That’s why when racial conflict comes up they think even mentioning racism is divisive.

Don’t make the ‘racist’ term so evil, that you can’t look for it in your own heart and mind. Racism doesn’t have to be intentional or overt; it can simply result from not seeing beyond your own interests to incorporate the interests of others as well.  Don’t take your definition of ‘racist’ by its most extreme examples. You can have friends whose skin tones are different than yours and still be blind to the racial issues our society has yet to confront and in doing so you help perpetuate a problem that needs to be fixed.

But you may have racial issues, or at least racial blindness…

  • …if you’ve never offered safe space for your black or brown friends to discuss discrimination and bias without arguing with or dismissing their experience.
  • …if you think you are “color blind” and treat all people equally.
  • …if you see a group of white kids walking through your neighborhood you smile, and see a group of black kids and wonder if they are up to no good.
  • …if you think everyone has the same opportunities you did; they only need to work harder.
  • …if you take offense to the term “white privilege” or see it as a source of guilt or shame. White privilege is the recognition that as part of a dominant culture you have had significant advantage in navigating society—white more than black, male more than female. Since you’ve always had them it is easy to understand why you don’t recognize them. Watching how people of color are treated in public environments, or how you tend to look down on people who don’t achieve as much as you do, may help you recognize it.  I don’t think people want your guilt; they are hoping you’ll learn to share those advantages with all others.
  • …if you prefer not to talk (or read) about racism because it makes you uncomfortable.
  • …if you think there are no bad cops because they are racist, afraid, or unnecessarily violent. Or, if you think all cops are racist.
  • …if you see the destructive looters or rioters as an excuse to dismiss the concerns of so many law-abiding protesters.
  • …if you tend to want to blame the victims when they are black or excuse the perpetrators if they are white.
  • …if you still believe the narrative that Colin Kaepernick was out to denigrate our flag or our military.
  • …if you get angrier when someone from a different culture cuts you off in traffic or gets the job you wanted.
  • …if you have convinced yourself that President Trump cares equally for all Americans.

And if you find vestiges of racism in your heart, what can you do?

First, learning to recognize it is a big step.  Now learn more about it, especially from those who’ve suffered from it.

Second, if you’re a person of faith, talk to God about it. Ask him to show you where it is in your heart and how he can untangle it. It will take time, but progress is a great thing.

Third, make time for relationships with people who look different than you do.  Get to know them as friends and when you do, ask them to tell you their story. You can only discriminate against people you dehumanize. Humanizing them will change you and the way you live in society.

Fourth, explore with other people ways to make our society more equitable. The challenges are huge and finding the policies to fix them won’t be easy in our polarized culture. You can however, simply start with asking, “How can I become a more generous person in the world outside my own in-group? If you need some ideas here and some concrete ways to do that, see our book, A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation. It contains specific exercises for you to engage conversations about race, as well as politics, religion, and sexuality that can close the gap on the divisiveness of our media and political leaders.

Don’t let this upheaval pass without taking stock within.  Philip, a friend of mine, posted this scene from JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It is one of my favorites and so appropriate in the face of the pandemic and the racial concerns that now confront us:

Frodo tells Gandalf of his regret that the ring had come to him. “I wish it need not have happened in my time.”

“So do I,” Gandalf responds, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

We have not chosen to live in this time, but God has chosen us to live in it. Let’s respond in a way that puts more of Father’s glory in the world.

 

Going Live Today at 5:00 PDT

First, I want to let you know we have completed The Jesus Story, a twelve-week video class that I did for my grandchildren about appreciating the Bible as the treasure map that can lead us to an adventuresome life in Jesus. These twenty-minute videos are designed to help other parents and grandparents have a similar conversation with their children or grandchildren. I have so enjoyed the emails many families have sent me as to how this has sparked more Jesus-focused conversations in their home.  I love what it has done in my grandkids.

Now, the real reason for this post.  Who hasn’t been touched by the anguish in our country over the death of George Floyd. I’ve been deeply touched by the anguish and fear in the black and brown faces I see, for whom this murder was only the tip of an iceberg of injustices that they suffer daily. We’ve been here before and after days of grief our society settles back into its old form. I have white friends who either can’t or won’t wrap their hearts around the injustices that still exist in our society, either unaware they exist, or unwilling to look closer. What does encourage me this time is the number of people like me who want to understand and are now calling for change. That’s different, and it has given hope to the African-Americans I know that things will not always have to stay the way they are. I’ll write more about that later this week.

If we’re going to see lasting change we have to have a different conversation, and unfortunately our political leaders are not showing us the way. That’s why we’ve begun a series of on-line Live events to help people see how a better conversation can be had.

I’m going live 5:00 pm PDT with a conversation about Staking Out the Common Ground, that will be moderated by Josh Armstrong a facilitator of Common Ground in Bakersfield, CA. This is the third in a series of A Language of Healing Live events that we are posting on FaceBook. (You can view past ones here.) The one we did on race two weeks ago, before the murder of George Floyd, was a powerful example of how we can come together and listen to each other across racial lines. Just remember, love does not require agreement, but it does require understanding and empathy.

On today’s show I will be with my other two coauthors of A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation as well as a roomful of panelists in a Zoom session.  We will be streaming that live at the Language of Healing Discussion Group on FaceBook, and I will attempt to post that feed on my Wayne Jacobsen Page there as well.

We’ll be discussing the following questions:

  1. How can we use a language of healing to speak to the ever-widening racial divide—especially in light of the protests following the death of George Floyd.
  2. With this being a presidential election year, how can we find common ground with family and friends who view the world through a different lens?
  3. Are there strategies that we can use to bring healing to the pain that we are all experiencing?
  4. How can we intentionally pursue relationships with folks who are on the other side of the ideological aisle?

If you couldn’t join us live, the links will still work afterwards to view the recording or you can watch it here:

This is not a time for fear or for hand-wringing, but courageously becoming part of a solution in our corner of the world instead of hoping it will all just go away.

This Can’t Keep Happening

Two more horrible images of racism were added to the national lexicon of our racial divide this week. Both have made my heart hurt this week.

The first was the killing of a young, black man in Minneapolis by a policeman who persistently ground his knee into the man’s neck as he lay handcuffed and gasping for breath on the street. How in the world are people like him still on a police force in America? Who doesn’t yet know that you can’t treat another human being this way? This. Is. Reprehensible. Yes, he and his partners should have been fired, and I hope they also stand trial for murder. Another young life is lost, and I hope we all mourn this horrible tragedy and demand better from our authorities. And I really don’t want to hear from my white friends that we have to be careful and not jump to conclusions until all the facts are in. There is no possible fact that would justify what I saw in that video. None. You can be a supporter of law enforcement and call out bad police work at the same time. In fact, you have to. What happened in Minnesota is bad policing and bad humanity. It feeds the fears of so many people that our society doesn’t care when a young black man is killed or the presumption that, of course, he must have done something to deserve it. (And if you want to find out just what kind of man the victim was, you can read about George Floyd here.)

The second image came from a lady walking her dog in Central Park. Her dog was off-leash in the Ramble, which is against park rules. When she comes upon a man bird-watching, he tells her to leash her dog. As the confrontation heats up, the man records the engagement on his phone. It’s a good thing he did, too. The lady is obviously offended at has actions and demands he turns his camera off. She even moves aggressively towards him when he doesn’t obey her. He pleads with her not to come closer. She responds by telling him she is going to call the cops. He tells her to please go ahead and do so. She warns him that she will tell them an African-American man is threatening her life. He tells her to go ahead, and she does. The video causes her to lose her job, her dog, and possibly her right ever to go to Central Park again.

It’s easy to hate on the Minneapolis police and young woman. They both made horrible choices, one costing a young man his life, the other didn’t have the same grave consequences, but grows from the same root. Before we choose sides and mount our soapboxes to eloquently argue from whatever side of the racial divide we find ourselves, perhaps it would be better to pause and see if we can learn something. It would be nice if these were just the actions of a few “bad eggs,” but the incidents themselves and how our people react to them, belie an ugly underbelly of American society where all people are not yet treated equally.

When another young, black male is killed by the outrageous actions of a police detachment, can you feel, even for a moment, what that does to the mothers of young, black men all across this country? Can you imagine what a young man feels when he is put in cuffs by the police, especially if he knows he’s innocent of their presumptions? They don’t see this as a tragic accident, but the result of a systemic unfairness to people who aren’t white. Many have already taught their sons how to be compliant and nonthreatening in the face of a police presence. They know it is likely that their sons will be treated differently than a white suspect, and often to tragic ends.

The lady with the dog in Central Park may be a fine person most other days. She was simply doing what many dog-lovers do. I’ve done it. I’ve had my dogs off-leash on mountain trails so they can have a moment to run free. I only do it when no one’s around. Occasionally, however, I’ve gotten caught by an unexpected person coming up the trail. I have always apologized profusely and leashed them quickly. I’m sure she wishes she had done that now. Instead, her life has been ruined by her willingness to use her whiteness to falsely accuse another human being based on the color of his skin. Watching it escalate, my heart hurt for her. She’s in the wrong, and she knows it. To compensate, she gets all uppity about the fact that he is filming the incident. Her racism gets unmasked when she takes a superior tone with him and rushes forward to try to put him in his place. Thankfully, he doesn’t back down, and she goes from embarrassed to feeling violated with his camera, to threatening him in hopes of gaining power in a situation where she had none. 

Maybe that’s how we need to see racism. It is not only about white supremacists with hate in their hearts. Racism, at its core, is about power and what we are willing to do to gain or maintain an advantage over someone else. It subtly dehumanizes “the other” so we can treat them in whatever way is most advantageous to us. Even by making this woman a villain, we don’t have to look for the subtleties of racism in our hearts or how we might treat or perceive someone differently based on their skin color. 

After losing her job and her dog, even the man she threatened has come to her defense, saying that none of us deserve judgment for the worst moment in our life. You’ve got to love his generosity when he was being judged for no reason at all. Wouldn’t it have been incredible if this had stayed a human engagement, where she would have learned something about herself and the video would never have gone viral?

I know it is difficult for many of my friends to talk about racism. We are quick to discount race and want to pretend it had nothing to do with the incident in Minneapolis. We want to pretend we’re color blind and that society is now equitable for all. These situations unmask that lie. It isn’t race-baiting to acknowledge it, nor falling in step with the mainstream media. The African-American, Latino, and Asian friends I know tell me of the situations they are presented with frequently that I’ve never had to concern myself with. They continually deal with injustices that never make it into the news. We can do better. These kinds of tragedies have to end, and they won’t if we can’t face it, learn from it, and get to know people on the other side of the racial divide so my erroneous presumptions can be dismantled.

Last week, I was in a Zoom conversation with the coauthors of A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation and a diverse panel talking about our society’s reaction to the Ahmaud Arbery killing in Georgia. It lasted two hours as we listened to how circumstances like that affect families that aren’t part of the majority culture. I had one woman write to me afterward, sharing what she had gleaned from that conversation. 

I thought so many good points were raised as the individuals felt safe to express truths that came from deep within. It struck me when Arnita said we need to tell our children that it’s wrong to kill someone because of their skin color. Just the fact that she needed to say that speaks volumes in terms of how far we have to go. I remember one man saying that his daughter asked him why they “always have to be the ones to say, ‘Sorry’”. That one got to me. The man who expressed the idea of whites giving up power by having a black person actually occupy the leadership position and how that leads to true diversity, resonated with me. Perhaps the comment that impacted me the most was from the African-American woman who shared that she knows that hearts can change because she experienced it herself. She had wanted her sons to marry girls who looked like them, but when she got to know some of the bi-racial girls in her program, her heart changed. Wow! I wanted to thank you for your part in this movement. This work is much needed, and I hope, greatly valued!

These conversations are changing me, and I’m genuinely grateful. They are the greatest joy of my work on A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation. We wanted to put a tool in the world that would encourage people to move beyond their comfort zone and embrace those who don’t think or look like them. We’ve got to bridge the divisions in this country, especially where we can  help to create a more just society for people who are being unfairly marginalized. 

So, instead of reacting to news like this that reinforces our biases, maybe we could pause and learn how we can be a more generous person in a broken culture.

A Conversation about Race

Yesterday, my coauthors of A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation hosted a Zoom conversation to discuss the public reaction to the Ahmaud Arbery killing in Georgia and the racial divide it exposes. Gil Michel, a friend, CPA and an inner-city pastor in Indiana moderated our discussion with a diverse panel who braved the conversation with us. Set to go for an hour, the conversation went for two and could have gone on longer. There are some incredible moments here of pain and pleas to have the conversations that can make a difference.

You can view that conversation here if you like or watch it below. I am grateful to be in conversations like this where people can speak honestly about race and the inequities that exist in our culture, with a hope for healing the divide. To do that, however, we first have to hear each other at a heart level and understand someone’s pain, especially if it isn’t our pain. Remember, love doesn’t demand that we agree; it only demands that we understand.

It is my hope that people of faith can take the lead in a conversation like this and especially include those who can’t understand the fears and frustrations of those whose skin color makes them feel less a part of their country and less safe going about their daily lives. If you want to continue the conversation with me, you may do so in the comments below or if you want to include the other two authors, you can do so on the Language of Healing Discussion Group on Facebook.

Can’t We Have a Better Conversation?

In just a few hours, at 2:00 PDT today, I will be joining my coauthors of A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation to discuss the public reaction to the Ahmaud Arbery killing in Georgia and the racial divide it exposes. People are quick to choose sides and vilify anyone whose opinion doesn’t match their own. A Facebook post I did on it this weekend caused people to accuse me of race-baiting, being a progressive, and stupid enough to believe the mainstream media.

I was expressing my concern that a young, black man was gunned down in the street, seemingly for looking into an unoccupied home undergoing extensive remodeling. Accusations are flying everywhere, either that the young man deserved it or that the armed men were acting recklessly. It has once again fanned the flames of the racial divide in this country.

This afternoon, we’re going to discuss the racial divide in this country that is exposed in tragedies like this.  What can lower the rhetoric and actually come to some answers that will heal our wounds and treat each other with more respect?  Gil Michel, a CPA and an inner-city pastor in Indiana will moderate our conversation. We’ll also have a panel who will add their questions and insights as well.

You can watch it live, or recorded afterwards, at The Language of Healing Discussion Group on FaceBook. I’m also going to share it if I can on the Wayne Jacobsen Author Page.  Come join us if you can, and add your insights to the comment section on Facebook, or here on this blog.

Love Does Not Require Agreement

I’ve got friends on both sides of the polarizing divide in our country, some who think religious conservatives are some of the worst people on the planet and some who think it is impossible for Democrats to believe in God.  I’ve been questioned by people on both of those sides as to how I could write such a “great” book as He Loves Me and then follow it up with something as carnal as A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation.

Many seem to think God only loves the “home team” they are on and holds in contempt those on the “away team,” as they see it. The truth is, God’s love extends to us all. There is not one taste of Father’s love for me that has also not been extended to every other human on the planet. I believe a Father’s love is not the reward we receive for holding the right beliefs or following the right political agenda. Father’s love is the starting line of a glorious adventure of transformation that will allow us not only to live more freely in God’s reality, but also to love other people who need to find the starting line themselves.

The secret is, those two are not separate books about different things, but two books about the same thing. It is love we receive and then love we freely give away in the world. I loved how one lady discovered that and wrote me last week to tell me about it:

I wanted to tell you how much I appreciated the God Journey podcast last Tuesday with Vince Coakley (The Dangers of Dogma). I’m from the South and I found the conversation between the two of you so engaging for me personally, and so fitting for our nation as a whole at such a time as this!

As I was thinking back on your conversation and reflecting on the notes I took, I was struck by your statement about people who “ran up to the end of their answers and were willing to go beyond them”. I immediately thought, “That’s me. He’s talking about me!” I love having these words to help me articulate what I have experienced. And then you said something about finding the answers “beyond the ones I used to think were all I needed”. Again, I thought, “Yes, that’s what happened to me. That’s how I experienced that part of my journey towards authenticity.”

Then, I had one of those rare but profound moments when two concepts; or in this case, lessons learned from two seemingly different realms of experience suddenly converge as if they were intricately woven together all along.

I realized that what caused me to run up to the end of my answers was my desire to see my belief system through the eyes of my out-group as I wrote about in my first email to you several weeks ago. I knew that the answers that I had always leaned on were not going to stand up to the cynical doubts that drove the questions of three people in my life who all perceive Christians as hypocritical colonizers.

The more I thought about it, I saw that for me, and I’m guessing many others, there is a connection between the message of He Loves Me and the challenge presented in  A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation:

When my heart began to truly be free to live in God’s affection, I began to be more aware of a deeper love, a wider grace, and a more sincere desire to forgive. All of the sudden, I found myself loving those who represent my out-group in much the same way God loves me.

I mentioned in my first email to you that I read He Loves Me six years ago for the first time. I have been rereading it recently these last few weeks. Your words from p. 183 in Ch. 21 resonate with me so clearly now; much more so now than they did six years ago at the very beginning of my journey:

“Once we experience love as God defines it we will not be able to keep from sharing it with others as it has been shared with us. Where God is generous with you, you can be generous with others. Where God affirms your worth in him, you won’t seek a substitute from others. Where you know God overlooks your flaws, you’ll overlook them in others.”

And…

“Instead of despising people who are broken by sin you will be touched by the depth of bondage that holds them captive. You will also see better how the Father responds to them and then you will know how you can as well.”

So it became clear to me in the past couple of days that not only am I free now that I have stepped outside of the boundary of religious obligation, but I am truly free to love others in ways that I was powerless to do before. While I had recognized that my friendships with these three people inspired me to take a hard look at my values and beliefs from their perspectives, I now see that my new ability to begin living loved two and half years ago primed me for engaging with each of these individuals in the first place in ways I was previously not prepared to do. I was not conscious of it when each relationship took root, but I can see it now looking back.

That. Is. So. Cool.

Jesus said it best, “Love others as I have loved you… by this all men will know that you are my disciples.”  Without that love, no attempt to defend what’s true will matter.

Remember, loving someone doesn’t mean you’re required to agree with them, only that you’re willing to understand them.

Try it, and you’ll soon discover how you can love someone who sees the world very differently than you. It may even drive them a bit nuts!

____________________

Special Programming Notes:

This Sunday, May 17, at 1:00 pm PDT we are doing another God Journey After-Show, for those who want to discuss the content of the last two podcasts about viewing the Bible as a Treasure Map to explore, not a Moral Code to Follow. If you’d like to be in on the discussion, please listen to the two most-recent podcasts and sign-up for the After-Show and let Wayne know what your interest is in this discussion. If you just want to stream it live or watch it later, view it here.

Then

This Tuesday at 2:00 we are having another Language of Healing Live, where the co-authors will be discussing the recent shooting of a black man in Georgia and how our culture can discuss difficult issues like that without polarizing into two mutually exclusive camps. This episode of Live! will be hosted by Gil Michel, of South Bend, IN.  You can stream it live at The Language of Healing Discussion Group.

Social Distancing

I’ve had a lot of people worried about us out here in California, the land of fruits and nuts, especially hearing the news that we are now under a “stay at home” order by our state. I recorded a podcast on the pandemic on Tuesday and when it aired today, it was already a bit out of date, but the observations we talk about there are still important. People want to know how Sara and I are doing.  There’s nothing new we were asked to do last night that Sara and I haven’t already been doing, given that her allergies make her high risk.  We only go out for trips of necessity and that sparingly. We have all we need at this point and are physically fine. We miss some of the regular activities that have been part of the rhythm of our lives, but this is the most crucial circumstances our world has faced since World War II.  I know it doesn’t look like it yet to some people, but this is bigger than 9/11.  How we respond in this moment as individuals and as a nation will define us for centuries to come.

Unfortunately, this is going to hurt for a while. People are getting sick, and some will die. Businesses will be lost and bankruptcies will multiply. Don’t think just because you’re a Christian or “have faith in God”, you will be exempt from the consequences of this. Jesus reminded us that it rains on the just and the unjust. Anyone telling you that we still need to gather in our “churches” because that’s the safest place to be is lying to you.  There’s just no way around it. But these moments can overwhelm us or they can define us as resilient people that can rise above the challenges, mitigate the spread of this virus every way we can, and ride it out until the sun dawns again. This is one of those moments where we’re being called to “All Hands On Deck!”

I hope we have the national fortitude to respect what’s happening here and in these critical times not just think about ourselves, but be mindful that we’re part of a larger community. Each of us has a choice. Will I live by the creed of “everyone for themselves”, hoarding toilet paper, pulling out of my investments, stocking up on ammunition, or go attending “church” meetings to help spread the virus. Or, will I live out of generosity for people around me, either helping with finances if you have extra or connecting with those who might feel exceptionally lonely as they are no longer able to access their social gatherings.

In talking with a friend of mine yesterday, who also happens to pastor the local Presbyterian fellowship, he mentioned that they’ve changed the terminology a bit. We are being told by our public health people to not be with more than ten people, to stay in our homes and limit trips to necessary ones only, and to stay six feet away from others when we are out. But he said they are not calling that “social distancing,” but “physical distancing”, because that’s all we’re being asked to do. We don’t have to socially isolate. Through phone calls, FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom you can maintain all your social friendships and encourage others in the process. They are using the term, “Physical Distancing, with Social Interaction.”  I’m using that, too, because it reminds me to stay outward in my focus even as I remain separated physically.

I love that. I wish our government would have used it because I know people already hunkering down in the loneliness of their own homes and feeling pretty isolated. Let’s maintain social interaction, and perhaps all the more in these days. Think of five people you can connect with each day just to check in on them. You can’t watch that many Netflix shows anyway.  And if you’re lonely, call someone or arrange a video chat.  This is the time to be alone physically, but not socially.  Let others brighten your day.

He also shared with me the words of Martin Luther that expressed his approach to dealing with the Black Death that was ravaging Europe. Timely advice even today.

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I have done what he has expected of me, and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

Luther’s Works Volume 43, pg 132 the letter “Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague” written to Rev. Dr. John Eric Hess

Words of wisdom from a few centuries ago. This is how Sara and I are living it and hope you are, too. This is not a time for fear, but for deeper trust in Father’s presence with us and his provision for us regardless of what circumstances dish out.

The book cover of IN SEASON superimposed over a grape vineyard.

Let me make a few other announcements while I’ve got you here… First, In Season, which is a farmer’s view of John 15 and what it means to grow in fruitfulness and fulfillment in his kingdom, is now available in audio. I do the reading myself, so when you get tired of watching a ton of video, let me read to you. You can also get four of my other books here.

Also, I did a last-minute appearance on The Vince Coakley Show in Charlotte, NC today and will post the link here when the podcast is up.  We talked about the pandemic, Rodney Howard Brown’s assertion that people who stay away from his “church” during this time are “pansies”, and how we can live more generously in this season.

Finally, I’m thinking with my daughter about making this season of being homebound fruitful for my grandkids; we decided to put together a class about The Story of Scripture for her kids. Since we’ll be doing this via the web, we’re also checking to see if there will be other kids interested in joining. Of course, adults can tune in, too. We’re still working out details for this, but keep your eyes on this space and we’ll announce here when we get it set up.

Let’s take this time on, one day at a time, fearlessly with our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. No matter what life dishes out, he is greater and we are completely safe in his love.

 

 

 

 

Living in Uncertain Times

What a difference twenty-four hours can make. Last night as I watched at my grandson’s little league game, the coronavirus was still a distant concern. Then, the president spoke, and suddenly major league and college sports teams were postponing their schedules. Cruise lines were canceling their trips; Broadway and Disneyland are closing. Now, it seems, we are taking this seriously.

Of course, the idea is not to stop the spread, which now encircles the globe. Rather, officials want to slow its growth, so that we’ll have enough medical resources to help with those contracting the virus. Scientists have talked about the danger of a pandemic in this highly-mobile world, and it has finally come. Fortunately, this one does not yet appear to be as virulent as worst-case scenarios have imagined, but now we see that it is going to dramatically affect most of our lives.

I’m still not certain at this point what travel I’ll be able to take in the next few weeks or months. Some of us had been planning a gathering in Europe, which may have to be postponed. Time will tell, for sure. I’m all for being cautious and prudent, not only for myself but for people around me that my carelessness might put at additional risk. The best counsel I’ve heard to date came this morning in a conversation with a friend in Ireland. The UK is recommending that if you have a cough or a fever, self-isolate for at least seven days. It may turn out to be nothing, but that’s when you are the most contagious to others, whether you have the coronavirus or the cold or flu. Loving others enough to take that precaution seems minimal at best.

Who knows where all this might lead, other than God himself. John’s prophecies in the book of Revelation hint at plagues that will wipe out one-third of humans on the planet. This virus isn’t near that potent, but it does make me think, “What if?” Is this a birth pang of the Last Day? My heart leaps at the thought. Yes, it would mean a rough ride ahead, but isn’t this what our hearts have longed for—the consummation of this age and a kingdom to come fulfills all God has desired for his creation? Oh, that it is!

I know many people are afraid or at least find the uncertainty of it all disturbing. I am not among them. A long time ago, Jesus began to teach me how little control I had over my own life. I used to find my security in trying to control people and events around me; my inability to do so would cause great anxiety or fear. But ever-so-slowly, Jesus began to invite me into an ever-deepening security in his love and trust in his plans for the world that has allowed me to grow increasingly at rest in times of uncertainty. (Here’s a podcast Brad and I did back in 2009 if you want to taste a bit in the middle of that process.)

Faith is this: our whole life is in his hands—every breath—and he can enfold any circumstance into his purpose in the world. He promised each of us grace enough for each day and told us to look to the birds as encouragement because they live anxiety-free in the Father’s care. So, whether or not my planned trips come off right now or not, how much of a crisis this virus becomes is not in my control. My life is not wrapped up in the stock market curve or in my knowledge of the future. My joy is to wake up on this day, listen for his nudges, and follow his footprints. However he chooses to lead me, fear is not my friend. It will only wrap me into knots and make me respond in ways that will be destructive to me and others around me.

This is the adventure of walking with him, uncertain of what the next circumstance might bring. I’m actually learning to love this, not the tragedies in the world, but the freedom to lean into him through them. Yesterday, someone wrote this about a recent exchange I had with them during a podcast interview, “(He) has a willingness to be profoundly honest about his journey, and this wonderful lilies-and-the-sparrows trust about him which has helped me spiritually exhale more than once over the last month. For a person who’s been so successful in his career (he co-wrote The Shack, for instance), he’s also one of the most generous I’ve met when it comes to his time and his attention.” Man, that is not the Wayne of twenty years ago, but if that’s how my life encourages others right now, I’m overwhelmingly grateful.

You’ve got to know that this freedom has come through a lot of disappointment about what I wanted for my life. I’ve spent hours in fruitless prayers trying to get God to change my circumstances when he was more concerned about changing me in them. I’ve had close friends betray me and lie about me simply to get their own way. I’ve encountered circumstances that have challenged me to the core and drove me more deeply into trusting his care.

All the while, this has become one of my favorite portions of Scripture in times of extremity:

Jesus has the last word on everything and everyone, from angels to armies. He’s standing right alongside God, and what he says goes.

Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want. (I Peter 3:22 – 4:2, in The Message)

No, Jesus hasn’t had the last word about everything in my life, or this world. Not yet. I’ve been cheated, shunned, blamed, excluded, and insulted unfairly by people who have taken out their brokenness on me. Right now, it seems that they have had the last word. (By the way, I’ve done my share of that to others, and though I’ve tried to own those moments I’m aware of by apologizing to people, I’m sure there’s more I haven’t yet seen.) In any case, he will get the last word on all of it, and I can only imagine all the healing that will bring into his world.

And I love knowing he has been through everything I’m going through and more. I love Peter’s counsel here. I can see any suffering as an opportunity to let go of more of my plans and to embrace his purpose in the world. Who wouldn’t want to wake up every day free to do what he wants rather than be tyrannized by our own desires? And truthfully, today is no more uncertain than any other day you’ve lived; you’re just more aware of it.  

So, if you find yourself anxious in these times, this may be the best time to have him teach you how to deepen your rest in his love. Every plan we have that is a day out, a week out, or even a year out, may be turned on its head with the next twist of this crisis. This is not the time to grit our teeth and get through the next rush of anxiety, or to beg Jesus to take it away. This is the time to call out to Jesus. Ask him to help you see where fear has a hold to hook its tentacles in you. Live one day at a time and see where grace makes itself known to you. Spend less time trying to get him to change your circumstances and more time leaning into his love so that trust overwhelms fear.

If those who live loved can be fully at rest in seasons of uncertainty, then we can be a rock for others who have no such place to deal with their fear. That’s where God’s glory shines most brightly—when people respond differently than circumstances might dictate.

After all, our circumstances don’t get the last word, Jesus does.

Changing the World You Live In

My dad said he read the book, and he loved it, but he also added, “You’re going to have a tough time getting people to read this book.”

A few days later, I got this note from a friend in Washington, “(This is) one of the most important books I have seen in a long, long time—very close to the heart of God.”

A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation has been quite an adventure. It has opened the door to conversations I never expected to have with families who are dealing with gender or sexual identity issues, communities polarized over a racial divide, and those that have the ear of some pretty influential people. I don’t know yet where this little book will end up, but the conversations I’ve enjoyed over the past few months have made it all worth it.

People’s responses to it have been amazing, as the quote in the picture above that coauthor Bob Prater heard from someone. Even those who have been suspicious of its message, thinking it is just the invitation to make nice, have become engaged with the conversation. “I’ve never even heard of this perspective before,” is something I hear often. 

The language of healing is a robust conversation that can recognize our differences and still care about the perspectives of others. During my recent trip to Oklahoma, I got to share in a workshop with coauthor Arnita Taylor as we walked people through the ways to speak this language of healing that will allow us to live with conviction and generosity in the world.

I also met with two men who are influential in black churches throughout the US. They say one of their greatest needs is to help reconcile the polarity in their communities. These men were talking to me before they’d even read the book. 

And, next year Tulsa, OK, will be dealing with the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre that occurred in 1921. It has been called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.” Some of the key players in helping the community deal with this horrific tragedy are reading the book now. It will be interesting to see where that goes.

The greatest joy, however, is hearing how it has changed the way people think and interact with people around them. I got this email earlier this week:

My husband and I finished listening to the audiobook this afternoon. We absolutely loved it. It took us quite a bit of time to get through the book because we would pause for conversation and provide our own examples. It was also meaningful to talk about our hopes and dreams as the material lends itself to living a transformed life in relationship with others. We find this very exciting. We felt as though we were right there, listening to conversations between the three of you. It was truly delightful!

When I was in Richmond a few weeks before, one of the families I visited asked a black pastor from a downtown church to join us. He told us how discouraged he had been that the white community would ever have any compassion for him. He said he couldn’t remember the last time a white man had invited him out to lunch, and here he was sitting with a group of us. He was really touched by the gesture and the things we shared from the book, even though he hadn’t read it yet. It restored his hope, he said.

Last week in Edmond, OK, I met a young man who had been apprehended by the police as he was walking to the store when he was eighteen years old. They thought he had just robbed another store in the area. When the police officer found out the young man he had in custody did not match the description, he angrily uncuffed him and shoved him in the gutter before driving off. Can you imagine what that might do to a young man?

We can do better. I hope this book at least gets people to reconsider how their biases and prejudices shape their unfair responses to people. Then we hope they will invite people into their lives that are different than them. It can’t hurt to reach across whatever aisle we have in our world to find out those on the other side are a lot more like you than they are different. They’ve just had some experiences that have led them to different conclusions than the one you have.

This book can change every engagement you have with other people in the world. Working on it, has for me.  It was never meant to change Washington, DC or the news media. Remember, the world changes one conversation at a time.

Compassion and courage can change the world. Maybe not the whole world, but at least the world you live in. 

When Character Matters Most

As another impeachment trial begins today, the second in my lifetime, I’m really left wondering if character matters to anyone anymore for our political leaders. 

The Democrats fought for a resounding “no” in the Bill Clinton sex scandals, and many of my Republican friends are pushing the same agenda now that their champion holds the White House. 

Growing up, everyone I knew talked about the importance of moral character in voting for our representatives. Now, no one seems to care, or doubts that anyone rising to that level of politics will have any character left. One can hardly argue that Hillary Clinton had any better character than Trump. It seems a cynical electorate no longer seeks out a candidate who exudes integrity, honesty, or graciousness, and perhaps even sees those things as detriments to getting their agenda accomplished

At least, the character issue is back in the news again, after the Christianity Today editorial calling for President Trump’s removal from office or appealing for his resignation. “His Twitter feed alone — with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders — is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.” Mark Galli’s editorial also expressed his concern that evangelical support for Trump is undermining the credibility of the Gospel among groups that President Trump regularly belittles or marginalizes. 

The Christian Post immediately responded that Christians who support Trump support him for appointing pro-life judges, standing up for religious freedom for business owners, moving the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and fighting for border security. “It’s a different kind of character that is found in courageous leadership, fortitude, and dogged determination. There is a deeper morality in keeping your promises after you’ve been elected.”

It is disheartening to see people who claim to be following the same Lord and King so passionately divided along the Trump line, and so dismissive of anyone who disagrees with them. As one person told me, “I’ve got friends who regard President Trump as the nephew of Jesus Christ and others who think he’s the cousin of the Antichrist.” So do I.

Jesus prayed that his glory would fill each of us in such a way that we would become one with the others, and that’s how the world would know we are directed by the breath of a better Spirit. Is this division the fruit of our politics becoming our first loyalty, or even seeking a savior among those who play the political game? 

That’s why so many change tactics when their self-interest does. Those who dismissed the importance of Clinton’s flawed character back in the day, now want to hold Trump to account. That’s how you know it isn’t truly about what’s right or wrong, but about whatever advantage I can gain to drive my agenda. If we’re going to champion character, we have to be less one-sided on political issues or personalities. I appreciate those who can support some of President Trump’s policies, while still struggling with his caustic demeanor that diminishes his office and harms our national interest.

While I like many policies of his administration, I’d be hard-pressed to commend President Trump as a man of character. I don’t understand how many of my evangelical friends can ignore the problems he creates by dividing Americans into polarized groups, obfuscating the truth, and demeaning anyone who disagrees with him.

By granting unparalleled access to evangelical leaders, he has convinced many that he can right the American ship and that he needs to protect Christians from the liberals who wish to persecute their faith. What those leaders don’t seem to understand is that their unquestioned support for President Trump makes them complicit in his lies, his mockery of others, and the self-serving nature of his “America First” that has hurt our standing in the world among our own allies. Their unquestioned allegiance is having an impact on how people perceive the mission of Christ in the world.

What his detractors don’t seem to understand is that while evangelicals may be embarrassed by Trump’s bullying tactics, they won’t criticize him because they feel like the media establishment has already done so unfairly. In their mind, Trump may be an immature bully, but he’s their bully. They have long grown tired of the establishment media and leftist politicians belittling them as unthinking, gun-toting “deplorables,” and they see Trump’s antics as evening the score. But that is a mixed message at best. Many have justified his tactics by convincing themselves it takes someone as underhanded and belligerent as Trump to disrupt the Washington establishment that has worked so hard to marginalize them.

In a discussion in Los Angeles recently with a group called CultureBrave about my new book, A Language of Healing for a Polarized NationI was asked why I thought evangelicals give President Trump their unwavering support even though he doesn’t demonstrate the behavior they claim to value?

Before I answered, I asked him what his conclusion was. His response was immediate: “Racism, pure and simple.”

I understand why he would say that. Being an African American himself, he knows that racism didn’t end with the Obama presidency. Incidents of police violence against black males increased during his term, as did threats against President Obama himself. When Trump said, “Make America Great Again,” he heard Trump dog-whistling those who want to undermine gains in civil rights for the past forty years and re-assert white dominance of the culture. Like him, I am gravely disappointed that this President doesn’t even pretend to represent all Americans and seems to use our racial divide for political gain. 

That notwithstanding, I don’t believe most evangelicals have a racial agenda here. At least, I never hear that sentiment expressed among them. The image that disturbed them most was not a black man in the White House, but a rainbow of lights splashed across it when the Supreme Court affirmed the legality of gay marriage. Their concerns are not about race but sex. They are pained by abortion-on-demand at any stage of pregnancy, the amount of sexual exploitation in our culture, and special accommodations for the LGBTQ community they perceive as infringing on their religious liberty. 

As long as President Trump supports these causes, most of the evangelical community will put character on the back burner just as feminists did for President Clinton. They know that any word of criticism of his divisive and immature behavior will only trigger his wrath and threaten their access.

If character has any value, it’s what protects us from doing what we want to do for ourselves at the expense of others. Personal expedience is easy to understand. Everyone tends to do whatever they think will serve them best at the time. By nature, it is self-serving and often leads to decisions we come to regret. Every law we have is to rein in people of questionable character who are willing to use whatever advantage to benefit themselves.

In our bottom-line culture of garnering political power or individual profit, character is a fool’s errand. You can make more money and gather more power by greed and duplicity than you can caring about what is right, just, generous, and fair to others. Good character is the moral compass that will call someone to forego personal expedience for a higher human good. What may be best for me may not be fair to you or best for us all.

Character allows us to consider other factors than merely our pleasure or profit and doesn’t seek to benefit at someone else’s expense. Character comes by living to the truth, even when it hurts and especially when it costs you more than you’d want to pay. 

When does character matter most? I can think of two places.

First, character is critical whenever you give someone power. Raw power uncontrolled by a moral compass and sense of fairness will wreak havoc in the long term, even if it serves your interests in an immediate circumstance. The same way my evangelical friends have felt despised by leftist politicians and the media for decades are now unwittingly creating that same resentment in those Mr. Trump despises. It’s a no-win game. You may hold the cards now, but you eventually won’t, and there will be dividends to pay you’ve not yet considered. 

Without character in our national leaders, they will always put party above country, and their gain above the common good. Lacking integrity, a President will continue to risk American blood and treasure in an unwinnable war as Johnson and Nixon did in Vietnam, and now we are learning that Bush and Obama did the same in Afghanistan. A lack of character allows so-called “public servants” to take financial rewards for friends and family instead of fighting for equal access for all.

Character doesn’t change just because the financial reward grows greater, or the need to win an election becomes more acute. I’ll admit it’s hard to find anyone on the national stage who has the character to be a statesman or stateswoman, but that doesn’t mean we give up looking or encouraging those in power to do better. Win-at-all-costs is a strategy that only foments further division and anger.

And it’s not just politics, don’t we want people of character acting as our CEOs, educators, military officers, religious leaders, and law enforcement? What kind of society do we become when people in high places do not have a moral compass than bends toward honesty, justice, compassion, fairness for all? We get CEOs that take excessive compensation at the cost of providing fair wages for their workers, district attorneys who charge a man they know to be innocent to get the crime off their books, religious leaders who hide the rape of children for fear public relation concerns, and military officers that cast a blind eye to harassment. 

Character matters in every stratum of human society, and it matters most among those who hold power. Making society fair for you also includes making it fair for others who don’t think like you. Once we give in to the bottom line, be it in political power or maximizing profit, character gets lost, and society suffers.

Secondly, and this is for my evangelical friends, character matters most when we hope to demonstrate the nature of God to others who don’t know him. It would be fine for us to support those policies we think will make for a better nation, but to let the arrogance, mockery, and dishonesty go unchallenged is to forsake a higher calling. You most need character when it calls you to do what’s right, even when it costs you what your self-interest desires. 

When you think President Trump either needs to be roundly condemned or blindly defended, you have already purchased a seat on the train of illusion that wraps religion in a flag and uses it to divide this country further and as we’ve seen in the last few weeks. Peggy Wehmeyer, a journalist based in Dallas, expressed her frustration at fellow evangelicals, “What has really troubled me from the beginning is why can’t people say on the one hand, ‘We love what he’s done on religious liberty, abortion and the economy,’ but on the other hand, say that ‘As Christians whose allegiance is to Jesus Christ, his behavior is despicable’?”

When Jesus’ followers are marked by a political agenda, be it on the right or left, especially one that prides itself in mockery, deception, and putting down others, people will be confused about the Gospel as well. If God’s followers don’t demonstrate his glory by how they treat everyone around them, regardless of political leanings, the light of Jesus dims.

Jesus said as much at the end of his time on earth. As he prayed before going to the cross in John 17, he talked about putting God’s glory on display by the way he lived. He demonstrated how compelling his Father was by the quality of his own person—his passion for justice and truth, and his tenderness and love for all. 

And when Jesus prayed for the disciples, he said he had ‘spelled out’ God’s character to them in detail so that his life would be on display in them now. This is the evidence the godless world needs to make sense of God’s reality. (I’ll be talking more about this in days to come because displaying God’s glory is the mission he left on earth for his followers.)

Our loyalty is not primarily to change the world through the wielding of political power as satisfying as that might be to our flesh. Our allegiance is to the God who redeems us, and our passion should be for his glory to dwell in us so that we would live with the same tenderness and compassion that marked Jesus’ life. If we become associated with anything else, the message of the Gospel gets twisted in the frailties of human flesh. Even when we fall short, we can still uphold the ideals to which we aspire. 

This is how the world will come to know him, not because his name appears on our t-shirts, but because his splendor is on display in our character.

__________________________________

Wayne Jacobsen writes at Lifestream and podcasts at The God Journey. He is co-author of A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation, The Shack, and many other books.

Defining Life on the Extremes

I’m delighted so many of you are reading A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation and are putting those things you’ve learned into practice. I love hearing that people are exploring new relationships with those who are different, discovering that understanding and respect is a freer way to live than in fear and animosity. I know working on this book has changed every relationship I have in the world because I see people differently and engage people with more compassion and generosity.

But I do get the occasional email or comment from someone who immediately takes our premise to the extremes. Will this work with abusive people, or evil ones? In the book, we make clear that about 22% of people have to be right about everything and treat those who don’t agree with them with anger and hostility. No, you won’t be able to find common ground with them. But that leaves 78% of the people you know who are able to have a respectful conversation even if you do have significant differences. If they are hurt, they can talk it out and find or extend forgiveness for other people’s weaknesses, including yours.

So, what about abusive people, who always accuse or berate us? You don’t have to get along with people like that, or be their victims. If you can, avoid them; if you can’t, give them a wide berth. Life is too short to waste significant time with toxic people. If they are family you can’t always avoid, you can still be kind and respectful, but put your focus on the other 78% who don’t exhibit such arrogance.

And what about people we consider evil? The other day someone sent me this comment: “How did Jesus deal with the Pharisees and Sadducees. Was it what you’ve written. Did He ‘engage them with generosity and kindness?’ Not from anything I’ve read in Scripture.”

I’m surprised by the comment and saddened for people who define life in such extreme terms. I get it. I grew up in a religious world where there was a home team God loves and an away team he hates. That gave us the freedom to despise them, too. But I’m afraid the person who made the comment here, hasn’t read enough Scripture. In John 6:35, Jesus said, “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” (Emphasis mine.)

We read our Bibles wrong if we see Jesus being abusive to the Pharisees. Jesus was generous and compassionate to them. He told them the truth, even when they didn’t want to hear it, but love does that. Even in the end, when he calls them hypocrites, he is still hoping they will see what’s real and run under the safety of his wings, like the chicks under the hen. But they would not have it. Yes, you can love even Pharisees,’ he did.

A Language of Healing... is about building bridges of kindness to others, not to be afraid of our differences, and to discover that the vast majority of people simply want the same things for themselves that you want. You can share disagreements respectfully, work through problems with graciousness all while demonstrating compassion. We encourage people to start out where it’s easy, not with the most extreme relationships in their lives. 

If you haven’t read the book yet, give it a try. If you have, and want to interact about it, feel free to write me or comment here.  

I love what Stephanie wrote about the book….

If ever a book was needed to help us understand the common ground of our humanity, it is now. Today, when so many long to practice peace but are at a loss to go about it, A Language of Healing provides hope, guidance, and inspiration. Communicating effectively requires finding—and then walking in—the shared space between us. In a world of runaway social media and chaotic twitter feed we need to find a way back to each other… back to our humanness. A Language of Healing resounds with a strong, collective voice that arises out of the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of the authors. As they model dialogue and work together to fashion a solution, motivation toward peace and reconciliation are sure to emerge in readers who are open to the transforming power of God through Christ. This is a gift from God! 

Stephanie Bennett, PhD, Professor of Communication and Media Ecology, Palm Beach Atlantic University and author of the Within the Walls trilogy

With Prayers for Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton

Let me make a few comments about the tragic shootings last week in Gilroy, CA, and the two weekend shootings in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH. Our community suffered a mass shooting only nine months ago where eleven young people and a sheriff’s deputy were killed in a country-western club, hosting a college night.  I’ve been asked to assist our community with planning some gatherings around the first anniversary to help our community heal. Being behind the scenes has taught me a lot about mass shootings and what goes on in a community that deals with this kind of horror.

It’s hard enough having a child die by disease or accident, but there the anger and helplessness that comes from a senseless murder is a deeper wound. To think someone is so depraved that murdering innocent people will somehow satisfy their twisted soul is impossible to comprehend. It’s maddening to think that a choice to go back-to-school shopping at a Wal-Mart, or dance at a club, should end someone’s life. Grief, anger, and frustration can mix in a toxic brew. The people who lost loved ones need our prayers and, if you know them, our support as they try to make sense of something that is entirely senseless. To be the victim of another person’s abject selfishness is so brutal.

The first victims from a shooting like these are only the tip of the iceberg. Grief experts know that in the next few years more people will die of suicide because of these shootings than died in the shootings themselves. And that isn’t just among the families and friends of the victims, but first responders, medical people, and others who were swept up in the tragedy itself and its aftermath.  Stay close to anyone who has suffered grief, not just for a next week or two, but for two to three years. Make sure they have an outlet to deal with their pain and the senselessness of it all.

Do NOT push a community on to resilience. I saw on an NBC news report last night a headline about El Paso Resilience. Don’t use the term so quickly after a tragedy. It is offensive to the people who matter.  Outsiders love to talk about the resilience of a community to respond to such tragedies, but those who’ve suffered loss from these evil shootings see it as minimizing their pain so you can get back to your life. The news vans are going to pick up and leave as the funerals end, and media people want to believe the community is healing as they head off to the next one. Grief is a two to three year process at best.

Some have tried to put the term ‘resilience’ on our community after only nine months and the response from the victims’ families have been clear. They mostly worry that their children, friends, and parents have died in vain and that people will soon forget them. “Resilience” is only a term for those only tangentially touched by the tragedy, it doesn’t ease the pain of those who touched it personally. It is often an excuse for people to ease their conscience as they get back to their lives and leave the survivors even more isolated in their grief.

My heart goes out to those communities today who have been touched by violence, and not just the three most recent, but those still healing from their own mass murders. Now is the time for our national leaders to move beyond the partisan rhetoric that seeks to use these tragedies for whatever political agendas they have and find bipartisan solutions that can stem the tide of mass shootings by misguided young people.

If you are concerned that someone you know is angry and detached enough to act out in violence speak up! If you are one of those that fantasizes about inflicting violence on innocents as a way to get revenge for how unfair life has been to you, go seek out an older adult who can help you find what you need not to waste your life with such wanton destruction. It’s no way to end your life or theirs.

It’s Right in Front of You

I get so many emails from people trying to find a group of like-minded people or frustrated with the current political climate in which our country finds itself. These are troubled times indeed, but we are part of a kingdom that transcends everything in this age. Our God is working behind it all for his glory and to bring history to a glorious conclusion as the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Christ and of his Father.

It’s easy to forget sometimes that he is with us, too, working out his purpose in each of our lives. So quickly we get our eyes on people or our circumstances and forget that we are not alone in any of it. No, we don’t always get our way, but there is always a path to take that yields to the glory of his kingdom and how it takes shape in us.

This quote from a recent Time Magazine article spawned some of our discussion last week on The God Journey Podcast.

Unless you’re among the tiny group of people who exercise actual, substantial political authority, each of us can only have a large influence on a small number of people and a small influence on a large number of people. In other words, we have the potential to transform a life. We have minimal capacity to individually change American politics.

From Why Anger is a Wasted Emotion by David French

Man, I can raise my hand here. It may feel good to berate the idiocy of our national leaders, but to what end? How much time and emotional energy do we give to circumstances over which we have no control or influence? Social media provides yet another illusion that our voice on the big-ticket items of politics or religion can really make a difference, and then are frustrated when it doesn’t.  What I love about the quote above is that it asks us to be present in the places where we can make a difference, which is in the lives of people right in front of us every day.

Who do you know that brightens your heart when you spend time with them? Who do you know in need whose day you can brighten? What conversations can you have today that will move the needle in someone’s life? Who could you reach out and encourage today instead of reading the end of this blog?

That’s where our attention needs to be. I’m afraid the enemy has us wasting so much time venting on things that have no impact, instead of engaging the things right in front of us that do.

Somehow we’re always looking for the big moment “out there” somewhere instead of living with what Father has put right in front of us. Many keep trying to find the right group of people to fellowship with, or the best model for church life, instead of celebrating his presence in whomever we are with today. Jesus seemed to live every day with what was in front of him, and some of his most impactful moments rose out of spontaneous engagements that he didn’t pass by.

I’m finding my heart these days much more drawn to what I can impact and wasting far less time with words that merely flitter into the ether of cyberspace and are lost the moment after I push “post.” And I’m having a far richer time.

Jesus said the kingdom of God wasn’t “out there” somewhere; it’s already inside you. What you need from God today, he has already brought right to your doorstep. All you have to do today is respond to what God has already put inside you, and to what’s in front of you. That’s where you’ll find life abundant and fruitful.

You might well miss it if your eyes are set “out there” over the horizon, instead of “right here” where you are today.

When Tragedy Comes Home

I woke up this morning to my hometown being splattered all over the national news. Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, CA, which is less than two miles from my home, is now the scene of America’s latest mass shooting. Last week it was a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, before that a seemingly endless list of schools, nightclubs, churches, concerts, and workplaces. All of them are so horrible and so senseless—lives cut short because of the anger, “cause” or brokenness of an individual human being who somehow thought carnage was the only way to address his pain.

I watch my city grieve today and my heart and prayers go out for all the victims—the family of the sheriff’s deputy who was shot, the 13 murdered and the 22 wounded, those traumatized from the event, even for the family of the shooter who are living their own worst nightmare. What started as a college night of celebration ended in untold pain that will last a lifetime for many.

What a world we live in—one broken life in a fit of rage, narcissism, or vengeance can do so much damage to the lives of others they don’t even know. And it just keeps happening week after week as we re-hash the same old debate over gun control and nothing will change. It will happen again, unfortunately. Somewhere.

I was reminded of this exchange in THE SHACK movie between Wisdom and Mack as he deals with his own tragedy of an abducted and murdered daughter:

WISDOM: This was not God’s doing.

MACK: He didn’t stop it.

WISDOM: He doesn’t stop a lot of things that cause him pain. What happened to Missy was the work of evil. And no one in your world is immune from it. You want the promise of a pain-free life… There isn’t one. As long as there is another will in this universe, free not to follow God, evil can find a way in.

MACK: There’s gotta be a better way.

WISDOM: And there is. But the better way involves trust.

And there Mack was confronted with a choice, to give into his fear, blame and anger, most of it directed at God, or to embrace the love of God that would absorb all his pain in a growing trust in Father’s goodness. Untangling the senselessness of evil won’t come out of our fear but in our engagement with a Father worth trusting, who is not the cause of pain in our culture, but the cure for it.

Evil has such amazing power, to hurt, harm and destroy. And how someone’s unaddressed personal pain can morph into acts of such incredible evil is so hard to understand.

But as horrible as that is, Love is more powerful still. Humanity does not only have the capacity to do great evil, but also the opportunity to put love and light in the world. That, too, happens every day, and even in the midst of tragedies just like this, as a sheriff’s deputy rushes in to confront the shooter, and as people pour their lives out to help those impacted by this tragedy.

My next blog was going to be about our ongoing work in Kenya, and how many lives have been saved by the generosity of strangers. Not only does free will allow evil to be in the world, that same free will every day brings incredible love, life, and healing into the world. At times like this, I want to not only pause and pray for the victims of this tragedy, but I also become even more determined to pour more love and light into the world. We don’t have enough it, not anywhere!

Good will overcome evil. Love will win over hate. Life can feed into the most broken places and bring joy and goodness again. God’s love is certainly more powerful than anything evil can do. Free will allows for that, too.

How can I be even more a conduit for that to the people I know and the situations I am in today?  And tomorrow? And for all the days of my sojourn here on this planet?

Finding Our Way to a More Generous Conversation

Are you as tired of all the rancor in our national dialog as I am? Do you know most of it is contrived to fan the flames of fear or advance someone’s agenda? We can’t seem to simply disagree anymore; we have to vilify our opponents in the hope of garnering enough support to force our desires on the other half of the citizenry. And many Christian groups just play along, fomenting the hostility they hope will give them an advantage in forcing their way of life on others. Is this what our founders foresaw when they spoke of, “a more perfect union”?

Of course not! Maybe if we just stopped and listened long enough to those who disagree with us we would see them as fellow-citizens with similar hopes and fears to our own. Then we might actually respect each other in spite of our differences and together seek the kinds of solutions that would be in the best interests of all of us, not just a few of us.

No, that isn’t possible with every issue, but I promise you we could find a lot more common ground than our current process allows.  It can be done. I’ve helped people do exactly that across some of our major cultural controversies and explain how on this video taken from a TEDx presentation from last March in Abilene, Texas. It finally dropped this weekend and is now available.  You can view the embedded version below or if you have trouble with it, view the video here.

Finding common ground with people who have different worldviews than ours, is really a matter of applying the so-called Golden Rule to our relationships:  “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”  Who to you want to exclude as an “other”?  Liberals? Conservatives? The GLBTQ community? The poor? The undocumented immigrant? When Jesus said “other”, didn’t he mean all others? If we will respect the freedom of others as much as we want them to respect ours, we will find our way into more graceful conversations, and the chance to work together toward more enduring solutions to the problems our society faces.

More than ever we need a courageous group of people willing to turn the tide of our national animosity and lead the way into those conversations that heal our divide and offer respect to our fellow human beings. If you find yourself in agreement with what I say here, please help me get the word out. I’m not selling anything here, just hopeful that there is a more excellent way than the one we’ve chosen. If you want more resources, please see my BridgeBuilders website.

Share it however you can with whomever you can and see if we can’t have an impact on turning the tide of animosity in our country (and I suspect in others as well). Starting in our own relationships of family and friends as well as in your social media feeds. Encourage people turn down the anger and really listen to others.  You’ll find there are more of us who want fairness and compassion in our society, rather than animosity and arrogance. The future of our republic just might be at stake.

Conflicted Thoughts on a Day of Remembrance

Last November I was in Belgium amidst the cemeteries of the fallen in World War I. They were everywhere, in the middle of farms, along riverbanks. These men, mostly from England and Canada, were buried on the battlefields where their young lives ended. It was especially touching to me because my own father fought and was wounded in Europe, but in the Second World War, where so many of his friends died.

On this Memorial Day I am reminded of so many feelings I had standing in those cemeteries and looking at the thousands of graves of so many men whose lives ended at an all-too-early age. It was eerie and sobering.

hold in my heart great honor for those who have gone to war to protect the freedom of others. While our military has not always been used for just and moral purposes, that does not diminish in my heart the service of those who have risked their lives or lost them in the service to country. War has taken way too many young people, often because of some pathological despot, who wants to dominate the world or at least protect their own authority. And I count among them too the innocents who’ve been slaughtered in those conflicts, even today. I think of the children dying in Syria, who will never grow up and have a chance to know love, marriage, friendships, and creativity in God’s world.

I’m am frustrated at the political leaders who sacrificed young men and women merely to protect their political careers. As the The Vietnam Series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novice revealed how Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon all knew that war was unjust and unwinnable but continued to send young men from my generation into its caldron because they didn’t want to be the first American President to lose a war. They lied to the American people every day about it.

While the US still does much good in the world, I am still gravely aware of the moral authority our country has lost in the world over my lifetime. Yes, the world is more complicated, but it doesn’t help that we have used our might, not always to help others, but to further our own interests.  Our foreign policy has the stench of arrogance, and it has cost us severely. We force our will on others, instead of engaging with allies in genuine coalitions. I travel enough to know that our reputation in the world has suffered and few look on us now as a beacon of morality, generosity, and humility.

And I’m completely dismayed that so many have fallen for the drumbbeat of “America First,” failing to see how it only angers other nations. Yes, our government needs to look out for our best interests, but one of those interests has to be our generosity to the “least of these.” How can we who have so much be otherwise in the world?

I grew up a Christian nationalist, my passion for America tightly tied to my perception of the kingdom. It isn’t anymore. I’m not sure when or how it changed. I’m sure in part it came from having my illusion unmasked that our country is no longer a “beacon on the hill” of morality and hope. It is woefully corrupt and paralyzed by selfish interest rather than fighting for a common good. But I also hope it is also from the love of an expanding heart that no longer stops at the contrived borders humanity has drawn. I know there’s no way to erase them, but we can look beyond them. I wasn’t born here because I was special or deserving, and those born in more desperate cultures are no less humanity than me.

The children of war-torn Syria, cartel-infested regions of Mexico, or the drought-riddled plains of West Pokot, hold no less value than my own grandchildren. Those of us who live in the  affluence and relative safety of the West, are invested with a greater responsibility to find ways to share it with those who lack.

So while I honor today the memory of those who gave their lives in service to their country, I’m aware that honoring their memory is more than pausing by a flag or a parade, but working for a better country and a better world where despots have no opportunity to subdue people under them.

Oh, and here’s the famous poem written in those Flanders fields I was walked in a few months ago.  It’s why poppies are such a poignant symbol on this day. It is also an appeal to the living, to ensure that their lives were not given in vain.

In Flanders Fields
John McCrae, 1872 – 1918

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Differences Do Not Make Us Enemies

Many of you know I spent twenty-five years as a consultant and mediator in helping groups at odds with each other to stake out the common ground. What began in public education with conflicts over issues of religious liberty, expanded into some wide-ranging areas where I found ways to help people with differing agendas work together beyond their deepest differences. I started a service called BridgeBuilders to help make myself available. What started out as a passion, turned into a tent-making opportunity as I left pastoring, and then into a peacemaking vocation as I worked across the U.S. and even on some issues in Washington, DC.

I was fully unqualified to do it. I got involved simply as a parent volunteer in my own child’s public school. Serving there, I was referred to other committees in the district dealing with complicated issues and discovered I could help people find mutually-satisfying resolutions. My district began to invite me to help in difficult arenas helping resolve the concerns of religious parents in an increasingly diverse school environment.  Then, they began to refer me to other districts, then to education groups, finally I found myself speaking at education conventions and helping resolve tensions in Washington, DC.  God not only gave me favor with people I worked with, but he also provided a wealth of resources and connections to help people find a common good greater than their own agenda.

This was not about helping people compromise, but to create an environment where a consensus could emerge that diverse parties could embrace wholeheartedly. I came to appreciate the civic value of embracing other people’s stories, even when their conclusions didn’t fit my own. I discovered it fit theirs, and I became a richer person for understanding their point of view. And I got to be in numerous rooms where angry, polarized people began to discover a way to listen to each other and craft policies that were fair to each other, not use government power to get their way at the expense of others. Peacemaking is nothing more than giving other peoples’ consciences the same respect we want for our own

In the aftermath of all things related to The Shack, however, I no longer had time to keep up with BridgeBuilders and let it go. Over those years, however, I have been deeply troubled by the growing animosity and fear in our national dialog. It seemed everyone profited more by tearing our social fabric apart rather than working for a greater common good and that our political parties lost the will to seek national good above party interests.  In 2014, the well-known Pew Research Center released a report called Political Polarization in the American Republic that documents the growing discord in our nation. It concluded that “Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades. These trends manifest themselves in myriad ways, both in politics and in everyday life.” This was before the 2016 election and the attempts of the Russians to further polarize us. Today 92% of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94% of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican. Pew further found that, “partisan animosity has increased substantially over the same period. In each party, the share with a highly negative view of the opposing party has more than doubled since 1994. Most of these intense partisans believe the opposing party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.”

Then last summer I sensed a change in the wind. A year ago I was approached about doing something on BridgeBuilders for a TEDx talk at Abilene Christian University. In November I was contacted about helping write a book tentatively titled, The Language of Healing, to help people discover a different way of communicating, especially with people who don’t share their point of view. We had a third person involved, a former mayor of a large California city, but in the end she had to bow out. We asked God for another person who could offer a woman’s perspective as well as one from a different ethnic group. Two weeks ago while I was in Dallas, just such a person walked into one of our conversations. I loved how she talked about God, the struggles in our culture to truly understand each other, and how she handled some of the conversation about the racial divide in America. That has started a conversation to explore adding her to our team and this week we are flying out to Dallas to see if we can find a way to write this book together.

In the meantime my TEDx talk, Differences Don’t Make Us Enemies, was well-received and even motivated two students to approach me afterwards about an internship with BridgeBuilders. I explained to them that BridgeBuilders is nothing more than me, but that I appreciated their enthusiasm. I was also approached by a university executive that wanted to talk to me and pursue the possibility about helping their staff navigate a controversial issue, which I will also be doing next week.

I have no idea where any of this will lead. I do however feel led once again to follow the rabbit trail and see if it leads anywhere.  I’ve resurrected and updated our BridgeBuilders website. You’re invited to come take a look, and pass it on if you feel others you know might benefit from the information there. Helping our culture re-discover the common ground is more of an uphill climb than it was 25 years ago when God first nudged me this direction. The animosity is much greater in our culture and there are so many who profit from stoking the fires of animosity.  Our politicians have no interest in solving our problems, only enhancing their party’s power. The media know that conflict sells far better than reasonable people struggling for broad-based solutions. Advocacy groups raise funds by raising fears that anyone who disagrees with them is out to destroy the America they hold dear. From the halls of Congress, the offices of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, and the studios of newsrooms our political rhetoric has sunk to all-time lows.

But I also sense that a significant number of Americans are tired of the polarization and paralysis of our leaders. My observation is that 10-12% on either end of the political spectrum value the animosity and conflict but that the vast majority of Americans are sick and tired of it. Unfortunately our culture does not yet provide a venue for reasonable people to come together and find the common ground solutions that can ensure progress on immigration, black lives matter, the deficit, health care, or school safety. We can’t even mention them in social media without unleashing a torrent of angry opinions on both sides of those issues.

To find the common ground we don’t have to change the way people think about the issues, we only have to change the conversation. Instead of seeking the government’s power to take my side over my neighbor’s, we instead look for government to be an honest broker of a common good. We can show respect to those who disagree with us, listen carefully to their concerns and ideas, and look for policies that not only address my concerns, but theirs as well. To me that’s the hard work of a democratic republic and one desperately needed in our time.

I have no illusions that this conversation will begin in the halls of Washington, DC or in our statehouses. They will begin in our families and among our friends. If we can talk to each other more open-heartedly, there’s no telling how we can change the course of America and help advance the ideal of a “more perfect union,” at least more perfect than it has been in previous generations.

The Arrogance That Blinds Us

During Sara’s recovery, which is going fantastically by the way, we found ourselves watching two different TV series. The first was Turn, the true story of spies for General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. I’ll warn you it is a bit risqué in places, but we loved this series with an engaging story based in actual events, beautiful cinematography and wonderful actors. We were drawn into the story and marveled at the risk people had to take if this country was going to find it’s way to freedom from the Crown in England and have a chance to be it’s own country. And the conflict those suffered who were in America but didn’t want to forsake England. Who then is really the patriot, and who is committing treason? When you see the mistakes that were made on both sides,  you realize wars like this often turn on seemingly very small events.

Then we got hooked on The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. This is our war. Sara and I were in high school and college during these times and it was our classmates that fought and died in Vietnam. The soundtrack contains the songs we grew up on. Forty-five years later looking back at this powerful documentary we are having a very different perspective and set of emotions than we had living through them.  Of course this documentary has its own bias that some will disagree with, but it does bring out facts that are unmistakable. It caused me look back at events I lived through with a very different perspective and a unfamiliar set of emotions.

Being children of the World War II generation my family was full on for God and country. The U.S. could do no wrong and of course the President of the United States would not go on TV and tell baldfaced lies to the American people. The kids in Vietnam were standing against the rising tide of communism in Southeast Asia, and the protestors were cowards who wouldn’t go to war. All that gets blown up in this ten-part series.  I’ll warn you this one is hard to watch. Sara and I watch it in small bits until we get overwhelmed with the lies and the bloodshed. But in watching it we found out how John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon lied repeatedly to the American public about the war. Knowing it was unwinable they continued to trade our blood and treasure simply to keep their political aspirations on track.  Can you imagine how bankrupt you have to be to send eighteen year-olds to their death and dismemberment just so you have a chance for re-election? And you hear this stuff in their own words on recordings they made in the White House. I’ll never look at these presidents the same way again. They betrayed the people of my generation.

And nothing about this diminishes my respect for those young men and women who were in the service at that time. As one officer said in the documentary, these young men and women were doing the same thing on behalf of their country that what has been called the Greatest Generation did for theirs. Only World War II was a more just cause and they came back heroes, whereas many Vietnam vets came back conflicted about their involvement and then despised by their country. I still stand with all Vietnam Vets who were extraordinarily courageous in the face of a political-military establishment that used them in the wrong war for the wrong reasons to support increasingly corrupt regimes in South Vietnam. But that does not take away from their bravery and service to go when called upon and risk themselves for the good of others.

As sad as this series made me, I’m grateful to look back at it all very differently, even to see the protestors and those who leaked top secret documents to show the deceit of the U.S. Government on its citizenry. They, too, risked so much to expose the lies and end the war. And I’m just shocked that I could live through such a time as a young man and been so completely blind to what was really going on. I would have shouted, “America, love it or leave it,” to the anti-war demonstrators. I would have blindly backed the President, confident none would stay in this war only for their own political gain.

Arrogance blinds us, and the problem with arrogance no one actually knows they are afflicted with it. At the time, being arrogant feels like being right. One of the quote from this documentary that really stood out to me was this:

“We are prisoners of our own experience. Many of the things we learned that worked in WWIII were not applicable in Vietnam.  Combined with our over-confidence that caused us to be arrogant. It is very difficult to dispel ignorance if you retain arrogance.”  –Sam Wilson, Army officer

That last sentence can apply to almost every arena of your life. There’s an ungodly symbiosis between ignorance and arrogance, each feeding the other. Few of us would claim to know everything, but when we’re blindly confident that our own experience has given us all the information we need to determine what’s true around us, we have fallen into the trap. That’s applicable not just to this war, but almost anything else in our life—our thoughts about church, politics, morality, We are all ignorant of so much. I guess the best we can do is try not to mix it with arrogance, stay open to the fact that I may be wrong even about things in which I’m extremely confident, and keep looking for information that’s true, not just that which supports my preconceptions.

As Jesus said, to the Pharisees, “If the light that is in you (is really) darkness, how great is that darkness?”

How great indeed! When we call what’s dark, light we are truly lost. Humility and truth-hunting go hand-in-hand, and it would lead to better conversations with each other if we didn’t act like we already have the only facts that matter.

Revisiting The Nashville Statement

A few of weeks ago I posted a blog about The Nashville Statement, and got a host of feedback from people, both those who loved what I wrote and those who thought I’d committed the unpardonable sin. It sad how angry Christians can get just by reading a different point of view. Here’s some of what I learned in the ensuing conversation on that blog, by email and on my Facebook Page:

1. Most people really get it, at least those on my blog and Facebook feeds. There’s a growing number of people who are accepting the fact that we are living in a post-Christian culture and we will not impact it by trying to force our morality on people who don’t know the God we know. Attempting to do so in a pluralistic society only makes you look arrogant and weakens your voice. This is why even people who agree with your moral stands grow weary of your need to tell everyone else how to live their lives. We are looking for better language and approaches to help people discover who God is so that they will want to follow his ways.

2. Those who put morals first have little appreciation how arrogant their tactics appear and how that destroys any opportunity to impact the culture. Most of them think as long as you’re speaking truth you cannot be guilty of arrogance. However, Merriam Webster defines arrogance as, “an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner.” I don’t know a better definition of what I read in The Statement and what I hear from many of the so-called Bible teachers behind it. Their air of superiority makes me cringe, even though I’m in agreement with much of what they believe.

Truth can be spoken with gentleness and humility that opens doors, or with superiority that closes them. That’s why the more truth you think you know, the more humility you will need to let Jesus cultivate in your heart. There is more written in Scripture against arrogance than there are sexual sins, and that arrogance is a major deterrent to effective communication. Though Jesus had all truth he was never accused of arrogance, because humility and compassion set his course as he engaged people. And it probably helped that he didn’t write columns for the Jerusalem Post or Lifestream for that matter.

3. There is a great divide in evangelicalism between those who think we need more Law to bring people to repentance, and those think Jesus superseded that approach in his Incarnation. Is it by guilt or by goodness that the Spirit leads the lost to repentance? The problem is so many of them were won by guilt, but that only worked because they had a religious upbringing. Those without it won’t find guilt a helpful course to finding God.

They are also divided on whether human effort can conform to God’s standards, or whether God does the transforming as we invite him to live in us. I know those behind the Nashville Statement would claim only God has the power to change hearts, but their demands for other people’s compliance with their morality would suggest otherwise.

4. People really hate being within 500 feet of the ‘P’ word. And yet so much of the public perception of Christianity is more analogous to how Jesus saw the Pharisees rather than how the crowds saw Jesus. I see much of that in me in my first forty years and have even joked about needing a Pharisectomy because I was more concerned about people following the rules than knowing him.

Some even accused me of name-calling those they consider to be great theologians. I wrote (very carefully I might add) that “it seems that the Pharisees met….” I admit it’s a small distinction but nonetheless a critical one. I don’t know how these people treat others around them, but many are known beyond their borders as those who care more about rules than people. Being a Pharisee in the first century wasn’t a pejorative, except to Jesus. They were the best-read theologians of the day, the rule makers and the busybodies who made sure others followed them as well under penalty of death. They were proud of their station and even young Saul aspired to be a “Pharisee of Pharisees.” What I meant by correlating their actions to those of the Pharisees was that they seem to demonstrate more concern for sexual rules than they do for love and compassion of those Jesus saw as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

5. For too many the Statement has already become what I said it would—a litmus test. If you’re not wearing the “Nashville” pin on your lapel, some will accuse you of being soft on morality. They seem incapable of understanding that you can be committed to the moral claims of Scripture and at the same time not want to use civic law to discriminate against those who do not yet know the God we know.

6. People who categorically state the Bible teaches anything about being transgendered aren’t being honest with the fact that it never mentions it. There’s one verse about not wearing clothing of the opposite gender in Deuteronomy, but that is a very different application and one that is alongside other instructions God gave Israel that we don’t follow today. I realize many prefer a simpler world where everyone falls in line with what makes them comfortable, but it ignores the deep struggle and suffering that goes on in the transgendered soul. The conclusions made in The Statement are at best an extrapolation of Scripture and must be held suspect while showing compassion for those who for whatever reason in deep conflict with their anatomical gender.

7. Where is the compassion among evangelicals for people who, through no fault of their own, struggle with affections and desires outside of Scripture’s moral window. If the New Testament is true, none of us have the power to change ourselves without the redemptive power of Jesus at work in us. It’s the love and goodness of God that begins to make inroads into our hearts so that we begin to care about his will and his power to change our rebel hearts. People will beat a path to your door when you show them you care. If you treat people with contempt you become an impediment to the Gospel finding its way to them.

8. The best comment I received about this wondered if the reason conservative Protestants are so enamored with civic law, is because they refused to write a book of common order to spell out their view of morality as previous groups had done. Instead, they substituted civic law as their vehicle of morality and have had a painful time adjusting to their loss of influence as societies became more secular. They see civic law as their moral code and are frustrated when it no longer reflects their preferences in matters of sexuality and gender identity. They seem unable to understand that when you enforce theological views with the penalty of the state you become an oppressor and an advocate for discrimination.

That’s how Christianity lost its hold on the public debate as the wider culture concluded that freedom of conscience took precedence over theological demands, especially if those violating those demands weren’t a detriment to society and weren’t otherwise infringing on the rights of others. Thus, gay marriage and transgendered issues are being resolved as a freedom of conscience issue by the culture rather than a theological one, as they should by a secular state. Christianity always loses its vitality when it is enforced under the penalty of law. The life of God is freely given and can only be freely received.

9. Some have suggested that The Nashville Statement was not intended as a volley in the culture wars, but to draw a line of theological purity to exclude those pastors, authors, and denominations that advocate for the theological acceptance of homosexuality. That may be true, but the way they released it in the secular press would argue otherwise, and the fact that they did not host a wider conversation but stuck to a very narrow segment of evangelicalism would undermine that hope. The controversy it caused, as much by its process as its conclusions, shows that no one can in selective isolation compose an edict and have any hope that it will clear the air or bring the church together. The age of presumed gatekeepers has long since vanished.

10. As a culture we are losing our appreciation for nuance and assume that people can fit into one of two pre-determined camps. In our last election, we could either vote for the party who wanted to give amnesty to all undocumented aliens, or to the one who wanted to deport them all. No one was willing to negotiate the difficult space between those two extremes and find a more nuanced and just solution tailored to the circumstances of different people. The same is true of sexuality. You have to push biblical morality on everyone or the authenticity of your faith is suspect. Conversely people think your fidelity to Scripture will make it impossible for you to love those who don’t believe it. I reject both extremes. It is possible to disagree on moral issues and still be able to treat each other with compassion and respect, by protect the freedom of everyone’s right of conscience.

I hope we find a different conversation, both within Christianity about matters of morality and with the world in a way that opens the door for people to discover the Gospel, not slams it shut in their face before they ever have a chance to know how deeply loved they are by God.

Symbol over Substance

I wonder how it feels to have your protest stolen.

To be honest, I’ve never been a 49er or a Colin Kaepernick fan. When he sat down for the national anthem to draw attention to the inequities that still exists in our culture for people of color, I thought him disrespectful of our country.

But then he, and others, decided to kneel instead, not wanting people to mistake their protest as disrespect for flag, country, or its men and women in uniform. They just wanted our society to confront the fact that racial inequality still exists in our society. It does you know. You’d be a fool to think otherwise.

But most white people it seems would rather ignore that fact, thinking it was fixed fifty years ago when we passed civil rights legislation. While we do have equality under the law, we don’t yet have an equitable society given the great economic disadvantages that hold over from slavery and segregation. The escalating fear between police and the black community has led at times to innocent people being shot, and white America for the most part ignores it. It’s a problem for the ‘hood, or so they want to think.

What these athletes were hoping is that the majority white audience of the NFL would be confronted with a problem that is as yet unresolved in our culture and stand the powerless who live in neighborhoods most people wouldn’t choose to live in, who are incarcerated at disproportionate rates with disproportionate terms, and who lack the opportunities to better their lives that others have.

Why are we in white America so uncomfortable that we don’t want to take a look at the problem? Yes, it’s huge. No we don’t have enough governmental funds to throw at it, but the first step to change isn’t a new program, but compassion for people who weren’t born with the same advantages you were. You don’t have to be a racist to ignore it; you just have to be uncaring for humanity and too content with your own advantage.

To ignore the deeper issue others twisted it to make it about patriotism, the very thing these athletes were bending over backward to make sure we couldn’t do. Even President Trump has decided that to make America great again we have to despise those people who want to confront us with the truth that the ideals of this great nation don’t yet apply to all of us. I’m weary of those who want to defend his denigration of fellow American citizens expressing free speech as “sons of b*****s” and demand they be fired rather than take their concerns seriously. His actions simply underscore what began the protest in the first place and it is disappointing that he doesn’t see it as his responsibility as President to bring us together on these issues, rather than polarize us for the popularity he craves with his base.

Even the NFL teams who are linking arms, or staying in locker rooms are subverting the original issue by making it about free speech or team unity, rather then the inequities of race still inherent in our culture.

I wonder how it feels to have your protest stolen, to watch people care more about a flag than they do the lives of those living under it. Our soldiers fight for freedom overseas, but their work is not done if we’re not willing to fight for it at home—-for every American. Black lives suffering under oppression, fear and poverty do matter and their plight needs to move us all.

We need a better conversation about race in our culture and finding ways to nurture greater opportunities for those who are disadvantaged, not by our intent perhaps but by ignoring a history that didn’t treat us all fairly. We need reasonable men and women to come to the table and take up the task of making our society safer, fairer, and more equitable for all.

Nelson Mandela fought against bitterness for peace in post-apartheid South Africa by believing none of us are free until we all are free.

He was right. It’s not the symbol of liberty that’s at risk here, but liberty itself!

Nashville Statement Takes Evangelicals the Wrong Direction

It seems the Pharisees gathered in Nashville last week and carved out a stand on morality, marriage, and sexuality that they say is “essential” to the faith. It’s called The Nashville Statement and is the work of 150 conservative religious leaders convened by The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. As soon as I saw the headlines and those involved, my heart sank.

Why in this day of growing national animosity would so many religious figures publish yet another proclamation against the sins they most detest? There’s nothing new here. Their positions are already well known, but society continues to move away from them. Not surprisingly the list of signatories were mostly white and mostly male representing those groups that tend to focus on morality more than Christ. I can’t imagine anyone could sign this document who understands the heartbeat of our Father for the brokenness of the world. Certainly some had to ignore that inner sense that this was a bad idea. Perhaps they felt pressured to sign or others would accuse them of compromise.

While I agree with much of what it says about morality and seek to live my life accordingly, that is only true because of the grace God has given me. As a whole, this exercise represents the wrong message, time, and means to share God’s light with the world. It may give the home team something to cheer about, but at what cost to the Gospel? Moralists always go large on sex and remain strangely silent about religious arrogance, gossip, the excesses of capitalism, and ignoring the log in your own eye while you try to rip the sawdust out of someone else’s.

This statement re-draws the same lines of exclusion that has plunged evangelicalism into irrelevance over the past half century and does nothing to invite people into God’s reality. This is a statement the Pharisees might have generated when Jesus was spending too much of his time with those they regarded as sinners. It has more in common with their agenda for the culture, than it did for Jesus, who was bent on winning people into Father’s love as the conduit into a transformed life, rather than laying out the rules and compelling people to follow.

Now we have a new statement to wave around as a litmus test of Biblical morality that Christians will have to pledge allegiance to or be judged as soft on sin. Well, as a passionate follower of Jesus Christ and one that embraces the moral safety of Scripture, I reject this Statement on the following grounds:

  • It packages God’s desire for humanity as Law to obey instead of a Loving Father to embrace. As such it repudiates the Incarnation of Christ to win by love and affection what law and obedience could never win. Left to itself, this Statement distorts how God rescues people from their own brokenness and restores them through love and transformation.
  • As a political statement it confuses the differing role of government and the faith community in matters of marriage and sexuality.
  • It smacks of religious arrogance by calling its conclusions “essential” for faith, and attacking those who see it differently as “foolish” and “bent on ruin.” It overstates the conclusion of Scriptures to support their own prejudices and fears and there is no humility that admits even those who believe these things have a difficult time living true to them. Shouldn’t we clean our own house before telling others how to clean theirs?
  • It assumes that Christianity has a handle on masculinity and femininity when religious environments are notorious for stereotyping those distinctions to selectively distribute power rather than embracing the revelation of God.
  • It offers no compassion, kindness, or hope for people who do not conform to their view of morality. Instead it will embolden those whose animosity and fear seeks to hurt those who disagree with them and it will  add further condemnation and despair to those who do not yet know God’s love for them.

If moral statements such as this one is the best hope Christianity brings to the world, we have missed the most endearing realities of the Gospel. If Jesus had offered a Statement of Morality to the woman who had been caught in adultery, would it have given her any hope that she could approach the Father Jesus wanted her to know?

Religious leaders and secular advocates want to force us into one of two camps: I must force biblical morality on those who do not see it to the despair of those who cannot live it. Or, I can be compassionate by abandoning my convictions about morality. I refuse to accept this false dichotomy. It is possible to hold my moral convictions while at the same time loving and caring deeply for those who don’t. This is better communicated in conversations with people you know and care about, rather than making public proclamations.

We need a different conversation with our culture, one steeped in kindness and respect across our deepest differences. We don’t have to compromise our morality to love others who may not have the same anchor we do. We don’t have to pound them over the head with our moral views when they don’t yet know the God we know. What we can champion together is the freedom of each person’s conscience that allows them to see these things differently without either side employing the power of the state to force their preferences on others. There has never been a time when followers of Christ need to learn how to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” The Nashville Statement does neither.

Perhaps they could learn something from my wife. Our backyard is filled with an English garden that blooms profusely year-round. People come to marvel at what my wife, Sara, has created here and only I know the hours she invests every week to keep it so beautiful. A while ago we got a new puppy and one day when I went into the garden to talk to her, I saw the puppy digging a large hole in one corner of the garden on the opposite side where Sara was working. Seeing the plants strewn about, I assumed the new pup was in big trouble.

“Sara, do you know what’s going on over here behind your back,” I called to her.

“With Zoey?” she replied never turning around. “I do,” and I could hear the smile in her voice.

Uncertain she knew the gravity of the situation I asked her if she know how big it was. ”You could bury a small cadaver in there,” I chuckled as I approached her.

“It doesn’t matter. I just want her to enjoy being in the garden with me every time I’m here and if I’m always yelling at her she won’t. So, she can do whatever she wants this year. Next year we’re going to learn how to be in the garden without destroying it.”

Until people are endeared to God because of how wonderful he is they won’t care about the things he says, especially if they think he hates and rejects them. We would do better investing our time and resources in helping them discover a God worth loving for himself.

I have a quote on my computer I got years ago from an AIDs outreach video. “Sometimes we withhold grace until we are sure people understand their sin. But it is in the giving of grace that we remind people that they need to go to Jesus to find their own. People understand their sin without our help; it’s grace they need help understanding.”

Maybe if we truly understood grace, we would spend less effort crafting moral statements and more loving others like God loves us. That’s how Jesus said he would change the world. Let’s try that!

Sometimes You Just Have to Be There

The above photo was taken by a friend of mine Kent Burgess, during yesterday’s eclipse from somewhere near St. Louis. You can see additional ones on his website and Facebook page from the link above.

As part of bringing my son back to Denver to begin a new job, we took the day to run up to Wyoming where we would be in the path of totality. I’ve seen lots of eclipses in my day, because God’s glory in the heavens always fascinates me whether it’s in the form of meteor showers, the Milky Way, or an eclipse. I’ve always wanted to see a total eclipse, but the time and expense of getting to Wyoming just didn’t seem worth it for a two-minute show. Since, I was already in the area, however to help Andrew and to meet with others on the journey in the Denver area, it didn’t seem like too much to make a three-hour run to Wyoming.  (Though it was a five and a half hour ride back, but that’s another story.  Still worth it!)

But I didn’t know what to expect and was not prepared for what I saw. Most of the time is spent looking at various stages of an eclipse that I’ve seen before.  20%… 35%… 62%… even 85% and I thought going to 100 would be more of the same. I’d seen lots of pictures and videos of total eclipses, including the one from yesterday, but I’m telling you none of them do it justice.  It isn’t just what you’re seeing in the sky, it’s what’s going on all around you and the ambiance of majesty at that moment was palpable. I was not prepared to be as awed by all this as I was. Even though it was a two-minute show, I will never forget it. You just had to be there.

As totality approached the sunlight visibly darkened. Stars and planets began to appear on the blue sky and that was disorienting.. and majestic!  Even at only 1% of the sun shinning and all is getting dark around you, you still can’t bear to look at the son without the eclipse glasses. And then… suddenly, that bright light finishes, and for the text two minutes it’s as if someone set off the most incredible fireworks you’ve ever seen. Totality is not like any version of partiality at all! it’s a whole different “other”. As soon as the sun disappears behind the moon everything changes!

I pulled my glasses off and there is this big black hole in the sky, with the sun’s corona shooting out from behind it in starbursts of energy shooting far from the sun and twisting against the black background of space.  In pictures it looks small, in the moment it dominated the sky with wonder. Though it didn’t get completely dark, stars appeared and the horizon for 360 degrees around was painted in the soft pastels of an almost-completed sunset.

The entire view was awe-inspiring and every glance around me alive with his glory.  My soul quivered, goose bumps shot up my neck, and my eyes moistened. I was moved at the glory of it all even though I was expecting none of that. I never even thought of taking a photo, I just stood in awe of this phenomenon, knowing I only had a few seconds to take it all in. People screamed and applauded on the hillsides around us, but I was so captured by the moment, the noise seemed an intrusion. It is truly the most amazing thing in creation I’ve ever seen and it touched me deeply, though I’m not sure how. I didn’t feel closer to God, but I was more aware of what an incredible universe he made for us. And the immensity of his power within it.

If you ever get the chance to see an eclipse take it.  There’s one coming in 2024 to the U.S. It’s worth the added time and hassle. It’s truly one of the great wonders of the Creation and to think I almost missed it. Since Sara wasn’t well enough to travel I thought I’d pass on it as I have so many others in the past, until my sons invited me to come with him to Denver and see it together. I’m so glad he did and now I want to get Sara to one in the future.

I don’t mean to lord it over those of you that weren’t in the path of totality yesterday, just letting you know that one day you will want to be there. No words or even pictures can do it justice. That’s as true of the eclipse as it is of our relationship to God. Don’t just settle for others describing it to you or reading about it in books. He wants to show each of you how to behold him as he makes his revelation known in your heart. That’s not as easy as running off to an eclipse, but what you get to experience is far better. I know people get frustrated when they feel as if it isn’t happening for them, or at least not as fast as they want, but God knows how best to pour himself into our hearts. All we can give him is a quiet, open heart willing to engage him however he desires best and watch what he does. That’s hard to describe as well.

With a fuller heart, and a quieter spirit myself, I’ll be off to Amarillo on Thursday and the next chapter in my unfolding story….