Culture Watch

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 I recorded a podcast on the pandemic on Tuesday and when it aired today, it was already a bit out of date, but the observations we talk about there are still important.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….

How Do I Love My Transgendered Child?

The letters come in now two or three a month. They’re all similar. In a moment of honesty an adult child has just informed their parents that they are transgendered or gay. Their question is always the same.

“What do we do now?”

Most parents are not prepared for this. Few have even thought about the possibility, especially if they raised their children in a Christian environment. This is something that happens to someone else’s children and now they have no idea how to respond, caught between the contempt they were taught to have for such claims, and the affection they have for the child they’ve loved heart and soul since birth.

It’s not an easy question to answer and I know many people will disagree with what I write here, but here is how I help parents respond to their child. I’ll admit I’m still sorting through all this in my own heart because it seems a tight-wire act to be sure. I assume people write me, however, because I embrace Biblical views of doctrine and morality. I also believe that the only hope of human transformation is through God’s kind of loving. In my view that’s what the Incarnation was all about: God winning by love and affection what fear and obedience could never untangle.

The question for us is whether we can love deeply someone who is embracing an identity or morality with which we don’t agree or approve. I used to think not. Love is the reward for conformity. If you don’t approve of what people are doing, you hold them at arm’s length hoping that shame will inspire them to repent. I never saw that work, however. Instead I kept reading about Jesus who could love people though they had not yet embraced God’s view of things. He saw the loving as opening a door to them, and the Pharisees derided him for it. But love is not about approving or rejecting, it’s about caring for people even at their most broken.

However you think of transgendered or gay issues, I hope we can agree that God’s love is the only thing that can work deeply enough in the human heart to change people. If that’s true, they have to taste of it before transformation is possible and often that love is first reflected in the actions of another who is learning to love as he loves. We all need to learn how love finds its way into relationships that view identity and morality differently than we do?

And to be honest, I’m not sure what the moral issues are with a transgendered person. Scripture doesn’t seem to address it except in one passage from Deuteronomy about clothing, but that really isn’t the same thing.  What is really going on when someone feels their anatomy is at odds with their psychological make-up? Is it a twist of darkness, or something else? Could it result from how the very distorted views we have of masculinity and femininity by the world and by religion?

My heart goes out to anyone caught in this struggle and I prefer to commend them to God to sort it out in the best way he can in each life. Most transgendered people don’t talk about it as a personal preference realizing how much it will impact others around them. For them it is a quest for survival itself. Most have contemplated suicide and too many have followed through with it rather than risk exposing their struggle to others. Is that what we want? I don’t. I have no doubt that God wants to be inside their honesty and struggle inviting them into his life and I want to be there with him.

So however these issues make you uncomfortable, it is worth sorting through them and learn how to support people in this struggle and what their parents are going through, rather than making them feel ashamed. If you don’t love someone who is transgendered, you’ve never dealt with the issue. You may think you have in Facebook postings and comments about your moral claims and the contempt you hold for those who see these things differently. That’s where political battles are fought and where judgment knows no bounds. Many would rather put these issues back in a closet never stopping to realize how oppressive that is for those who don’t fit into their preferred norms.

But when your child or a good friend lets you know that they have never felt comfortable in the body or the role society has put on them, what are you going to do? The parents writing me are often embarrassed that it’s happening to their child, worried about what family and friends might say, and scared of what the future may bring. They are also grieving the loss of long-held dreams and hopes they had for their child, and themselves. As one parent told me after their daughter announced she was transitioning to male, “I know my head was spinning for the first days… just totally spinning and bewildered.” And it’s normal to look for someone to blame for the crisis—their friends, the media, or even past discipline issues.

Fair enough. This is usually a shock to the parents and it’s not uncommon to seek a quick fix they hope will stuff it all back in the bottle. Just remember your son and daughter has been tortured with this struggle for a long time. None of this is easy for them. Before they come out to you, especially because they know how hard it would be for you, they already tried to stop it. They’ve repented and tried to pray the thoughts away, but their feelings haven’t changed.

As your head stops spinning, you’ll have a choice to make. Is your child someone you love deeply? If they are, then nothing has truly changed in your relationship with them. They are the same person they were an hour before they told you, it’s just that now you know more about what is really going on inside them. Can you imagine the courage it took for them to invite you to look deeply into their soul, especially when they know you’re not going to be blessed with the news? If you think this is coming from a broken place in their heart, wouldn’t you want all the more to be inside it with them, rather than abandoning them at so vulnerable a time?

Of course they are looking for your approval. They want nothing more than for you to embrace their newly announced identity and celebrate it with them. They too have tied love to approval. Some will even determine if you love them or not by whether you give them your blessing and may reject you if you don’t.

But most will know that they’ve just dropped a bombshell on the family and will hope that you’ll simply love them enough to work through this newfound information with them, whether you can approve or not. They will know you’ll need time to find a new footing in your relationship with them. Few people know how to love what they don’t approve. But God knows. He does it every day, with every one of us. Maybe it’s time we learn, too.

Let them know this isn’t going to be easy for you, but you want to learn how to respond in ways that are helpful to them. It will take some time for you both to learn. “You can’t expect me not to miss my little girl. I will. But I also realize you are the same person no matter how you present yourself on the outside and I want to love you no matter what, down whatever road you travel and I want to be a champion for you to find real joy and peace as you sort all this out.”

Let them know their decision will not change your love for them and your desire for them to find a life of joy and fulfillment. Even though you know that will only come in a transforming relationship with God’s love, you don’t have to push that on them.

Perhaps this is the hardest part of parenting, even in lesser ways when our children make decisions we don’t agree with in their careers or continuing to date someone we don’t like. Hopefully you’ll choose to discover the deepest realities of love and learn that being alongside your son or daughter even when they are making what you consider to be the wrong choices. Only there will you have the opportunity to share your love and your thoughts with them when they are ready for it.

If you want to be with them, put your love for them above everything else. Their choices are not your responsibility. Love doesn’t demand agreement and it doesn’t force its way on others. It will make them feel secure not threatened. Be with them and offer your thoughts only when they ask. When you learn not to manipulate their choices to do what you think best, they will want your input even if they don’t follow it right away. Remember this is all a journey and neither of you knows where it will lead in the next year, much less the next decade or two.

This is where you’ll learn each day how to listen to God and follow his lead. You cannot do this alone, but with him you’ll learn something about loving at the deepest level, when it sacrifices your hopes and dreams to support another person on their journey. You don’t have to forsake your convictions to do it. All you have to do is love like Father has loved you.

Can you love wholeheartedly in spite of the fact that someone is doing something with which we don’t approve? If so, you’ll offer a great gift to the world that will go well past your child or friend. It will be a lifeline to anyone around you lost in sin, bad theology, or hurtful behavior.

Every time you love like that you put God’s presence in the world, where he is able to do what is best to lead people to the light and to true freedom he has for them.

The Thirst for the Limelight

For over half my life I had an unrelenting desire to stand on a big stage to give voice to my thoughts and ideas. Oh, I thought I wanted to do it for God, since those who seemed to hold the stage spoke so poorly of his truth and rarely demonstrated his character off of it. I thought I would be different in those same circumstances and spent many years in frustration because I couldn’t get the platform I thought I deserved.

Then that kind of thinking didn’t seem near as arrogant at the time as it feels typing it out today. It was for the kingdom after all, or so I thought, even though Jesus never sought the limelight, even though he chose Galilee over Jerusalem. And over the years I’ve watched people who thought they could dwell in the limelight and remain unseduced by its power. Precious few have succeeded.  And I’ve watched dear friends become a shell of their former selves trying to hold the stage and live in that self-serving culture that forms around so-called celebrities. At some point it becomes more about power, money, and acclaim than it does letting Jesus’ light shine into the world.

I’ve been close to this world in the last few years and the amount of dishonesty and corruption that it takes to live there sickens me. Over the years of learning to live loved my desire to be on a stage surreptitiously vanished. I discovered it is not the environment in which God moves best and have enjoyed far more the value of smaller conversations from 2s and 3s to 30 and 40. That’s a far better environment for honesty and help to really happen.  I have relished the last couple of decades and the people I’ve gotten to know and the conversations about life and grace I’ve been a part of.

I just had a conversation this week with someone who used to work for a big-name in Christendom and to hear how much insecurity and how little character existed behind the scenes only affirms to me that we know nothing about someone’s heart or character when we’re just watching their giftedness on a stage.

Earlier this week this quote found it’s way into my inbox, and it helped me recognize the truth behind what God has been doing in my heart for a very long time.

Christ was crucified because he would have nothing to do with the crowd (even though he addressed himself to all). He did not want to form a party, an interest group, or a mass movement, but wanted to be what he was, the truth, which is related to the single individual. Therefore everyone who will genuinely serve the truth is by that very fact a martyr. To win a crowd is no art; for that only untruth is needed, nonsense, and a little knowledge of human passions. But no witness to the truth dares to get involved with the crowd.

Søren Kierkegaard in Provocations

If I could say anything to the Wayne of thirty years ago, or a young person like him today, it would be to forget the limelight. The fame and notoriety are a trap.  It pays well, but at what cost to the soul?  Look for God’s hand in the next person you meet, or the next opportunity he brings your way. Share your gift wherever you can, but don’t think the number of people who enjoy it is any commentary on its value. And if you ever find yourself on a big stage someday at God’s doing, keep it real by being genuine, and look to get off as soon as you can. Don’t believe the lie that you’re being more effective in this kingdom by the amount of attention you command or influence you wield; it’s only in the people you love and how you help them see Jesus.

Unfortunately, I doubt I would have listened.

Who’s Afraid of The Big, Bad Shack?

Who’s Afraid of The Big, Bad Shack?

By Wayne Jacobsen

It turns out quite a few people are.

As the movie adaptation of The Shack is set to release on March 3, I’m hearing increasing rumblings from people who want to denounce the story as dangerous for Christians to see. Mention the movie in your Facebook feed and you’ll hear from at least a few of your friends or family decrying it as heresy and judging those as fools who’ve been touched by its story.

Since I co-wrote the book and helped start the publishing company that distributed it, I often hear from some of these directly. A man wrote me last week concerned that the book distorts the Trinity, teaches that God is a woman, and promotes universalism. His email began like so many others, “I’ll be honest, I’ve never read The Shack, but…,” and then he launched into an all-to-familiar litany of misinformed interpretations of the book. And of course he’s concerned for the danger it represents to “the young in faith and those just growing in their understanding of God.”

It amazes me how people draw such certain conclusions from a book they’ve never bothered to read. I didn’t take the bait. It makes no sense to me to discuss a book with someone who hasn’t read it. We’d only be discussing his ignorance. Surprisingly most of those who have taken up my challenge to read it in a conversation like this have come back surprised that it wasn’t what they thought and tell me how deeply it touched them.

Why are people so afraid of a work of fiction? It’s not going to bite you. It’s not going to convince you something is true if you know already that it isn’t. And your fears just may rob you of an experience that many others have found so valuable in their own relationship with God.

The trouble is most of the accusations launched against The Shack aren’t even true, which makes me wonder what is really going on here. One pastor listed thirteen heresies in The Shack and I would disagree that The Shack promotes twelve of them and the other one isn’t actually a heresy. Like him, many quote a phrase from the book to justify an accusation, but ignore the rest of the story that argues against the very conclusion they want it to make. Amazingly not one of these people ever talked to someone involved with the book to find out if their judgments have merit.

One of the early detractors for The Shack was trying to build a cottage industry out of being the anti-Shack guy. He called me a few months after it was published offering to write a devotional guide to go along with the book. I asked him what he had in mind and he told me he wanted to help people mine the deep truths we’d written about. Having read his previous disdain for the book, I confronted him for his dishonesty. He didn’t want to unpack the story for people, but to attack it. He was surprised I knew and quickly hung up.

 

Spurious Accusations

Why are people so adamant about distorting the message of the book to scare people from reading it or from seeing the movie?

Some accused us of teaching that God is a woman when none of us who wrote The Shack believe that to be true. One even accused us of indoctrinating people into a black, Madonna, Hindu cult, whatever that is. You just have to make that stuff up.

The characterization in the book doesn’t speak to God’s gender, but through whom he chooses to reveal himself. For Paul Young and his family it was a black woman just like the one described in the book who first demonstrated the love of God to them in a brutal circumstance when few others would dare. In the story, Mack’s image of a father is severely broken by the abuse he suffered, so God comes to him through someone he can relate to. What it seeks to underscore is that God is Spirit and though he doesn’t have a physical body and gender as we do, Genesis assures us that both masculinity and femininity express the nature of God. This is more about Incarnation that God’s gender identity. The point is that he can reveal himself as easily through a black woman as a white male, an Asian senior, or a Latino child. It doesn’t get more Incarnational than that.

Some accused us of modalism, the idea that God is one person who takes on different forms at different times. They base this conclusion on one paragraph showing the wounds of the crucifixion on the Father’s character. They wrongly conclude that we believe the Father was crucified when the point in the book is that God didn’t abandon his Son even on the cross. He was “in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” Because Jesus took on our shame as well as our sin, he felt abandoned because he could no longer see the Father who was right there with him.

We were using a literary convention to convey the closeness between them, not as a depiction of modalism. To get to that conclusion you have to ignore the fact that the three persons of the Trinity spend most of the story in the same room interacting, loving and honoring each other. Of the theologians who wrote us in the first couple of years of the book’s release, 80% told us what we expressed about the relationship inside the Trinity was exactly as they see it. Only 20% took exception to it. But who knows for sure? The Trinity is an amazing mystery that defies description in our corporeal world. We could only depict it as loving, mutual relationships inside the one God.

Perhaps the most problematic accusation is that The Shack promotes universalism, the belief that everyone gets salvation in the end. Some who advance this idea quote from Paul Young’s paper for a think tank written before The Shack. Even today he describes himself as a “hopeful universalist”. However, Paul isn’t the only author of this story.

The original manuscript that became The Shack, was a rough cut of an endearing tale about God and suffering that Young had written for his children to explain his views of God. When he first sent me the manuscript, universalism was a significant component in the resolution of that story. When he asked for my help in publishing the book, I told him I wouldn’t work on it if that was his answer to human suffering. I didn’t agree with it and thought it would hamper efforts to reach the audience that would most benefit from the book.

Paul hoped to convince me I was wrong and sent me his paper on universalism. We spent some time discussing it, but in the end I felt it took too much linguistic gymnastics to bend Scripture to that conclusion. As I have friends who believe in universal salvation, it’s not a view I’m afraid of; it’s just one I don’t share. And regardless of what any of us believes, God will resolve this age exactly the way he has planned. I don’t have to figure it all out, but trust it to the God I know.  However, nothing Jesus, Paul, or John said points me to the conclusion that everyone receives salvation. In fact they warn of significant consequences in the age beyond for refusing God’s love in this one. I do believe God’s love is universal and his desire is for everyone to be saved, but that transaction involves a response from us.

At that point the conversations between God and Mack were a set of questions and answers, more like Sunday school lessons, interesting dialog surely but not yet a story of healing. To turn this into a book and later a movie, a friend of mine, Brad Cummings, and I discussed the need for those conversations to be more directed, moving Mack from anger and brokenness into freedom and healing. When we shared it with Paul he loved the idea. I explained to him exactly how to do rewrite it but he was reticent to do it on his own and begged us to rewrite it for him. “I’m done with it,” he told me one day. “If this book goes anywhere it’s because you’ll get involved.”

He agreed to let us take out the universalism theme saying he was less certain about it than when he wrote the first draft. So when people tell me that The Shack promotes universalism, I know it doesn’t because Brad and I don’t embrace it and when we rewrote the story in four different drafts over 16 months, we took it out.

Instead we wrote a story about God’s ability to find Mack in his brokenness and let his love invite him into truth and wholeness. Mack’s responses at every point are critical to the story. These quotes clearly set it apart from universalism:

 

“All I am telling you is that reconciliation is a two way street, and I have done my part, totally, completely, finally. It is not the nature of love to force a relationship but it is the nature of love to open the way.”

*     *     *     *

“Does that mean,” asked Mack, “that all roads will lead to you?”

“Not at all,” smiled Jesus as he reached for the door handle to the shop. “Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.”

*     *     *     *

Now (evil) touches everyone that I love, those who follow me and those who don’t. If I take away the consequences of people’s choices, I destroy the possibility of love. Love that is forced is no    love at all.”

*     *     *     *

 

The Real Controversy

One day I got a call from a church bookstore manager angry that we had included curse words in the book. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about and he reminded me that toward the end of the book, Mack calls his daughter’s murderer a son of a bitch as he wrestles with forgiving him. “My pastor won’t let me carry the book because of that.”

“Really?” I inquired further. “If it wasn’t there, everything else with the book is fine?”

He had to admit that it wasn’t. His pastor had other concerns, of course. The one curse word was only an excuse that others couldn’t argue with. It reminded me of Jesus healing people on the Sabbath. While nothing in the law forbid healing, it was something the Pharisees could point out to discredit him with the people. “We’re fine with him healing, he just shouldn’t do it on the Sabbath.” Sure!

I sense that with these many of the other accusations as well. They don’t stand up to the simplest reading of The Shack and seem forced on it by someone who has other issues they are not willing to admit. For some it may have been more about “black” than “woman”, but know that wouldn’t be well received. Or perhaps they didn’t like how gracious and playful Papa was with Mack. The story we wanted to tell was the story of a loving Father finding his way through all the pain, loss, and false accusations to reconnect with one of his children who was lost in his depression.

For the Pharisees Jesus was also too kind and compassionate with sinners, and not enough engaged with the religious elite of his day. He claimed to be a man of God but didn’t fit the mold the teachers of the law had designed for him. They preferred an angrier, more judgmental God. If there’s a controversy behind The Shack I suspect it is this: Who is God really? Is he an angry deity needing to be appeased by the submission of his fearful subjects, or is he a loving Abba winning people into his reality through tenderness and compassion? I grew up with the former, but have been won into the latter. But I can see why people would be threatened with the God of The Shack if he is more gracious to the lost than they are.

This book begs the question how a loving Father finds his way into the hearts of people in a broken world who are prone to blame him for their tragedies. That’s why I was willing to help rewrite this book. It’s one of the first books I knew of that attempted to show God finding his way into the darkness and paralysis of someone’s pain and personally walking them into freedom.

The Shack is a story of redemption, of God’s willingness to go into the worst of the human experience, and to the most broken of lives and love him into a friendship that could reverse the work of evil and restore a lost soul. In doing so it traverses the most difficult topics of God’s reality, suffering, depression, judgment, forgiveness, and love with a simplicity that befits the Gospel message.

Admittedly it is difficult to cover all of those issues without stepping on someone’s theological toes. I’m sure others would want to express these same truths differently and that’s what makes this novel such a catalyst for some fascinating conversations if it moves us to express our differences, and listen to each other rather than make accusations based on how we view the book. Fiction can be interpreted in a variety of ways, not all of them conforming to the intent of the authors. Like any piece of art I don’t expect everyone to appreciate it. But no one needs to fear it either. People throw accusations of heresy around way too easily these days. The idea that this is a dangerous book out to subvert the health of the Body of Christ, or that anyone who finds it meaningful is a theological simpleton is irresponsible at best and dishonest at worst.

The amount of email, and personal conversations I have had with people over the last decade tells me we got enough of this story right to provoke people to think about a loving God. Time and again I hear of people who had all but rejected God in the pain of their own lives, rediscovering how much God loves them by reading of this book. Is the book perfect? Of course not, but it was the best story three passionate men could produce a decade ago and we are grateful it has touched countless lives the world over. Our prayer is that this movie will do the same by helping people take a fresh look at God’s love and by sparking the conversations that will help them discover his reality.

I’ve seen the movie through its various edits and now in its final version. It simplifies these themes even more, and in an engaging way invites people to contemplate the existence of God in the face of human pain, and the lengths he would take to heal and redeem the brokenhearted. It is a visual feast that with simplicity and poignancy can open a wide door for God to make himself known to an audience who might never read the book. If evangelicals let the dialog speak for itself, they will be hard-pressed to find controversy here.

The point of the story is that none of us are so lost in our pain or despair that we are beyond the reach of a gracious Father.

Wouldn’t that be something to celebrate?

 

___________________________

Wayne Jacobsen is the co-author of The Shack alongside Paul Young and Brad Cummings and has authored numerous other books including He Loves Me, Finding Church, A Man Like No Other, and In Season and hangs his hat at Lifestream.org.

 

Bridge Building in a Contentious Culture

While I’m finishing up the tour in Israel with my podcast partner, Brad and a few of our friends, here is the second podcast I recorded with “A Christian and a Muslim Walk Into a Studio.”  This time we talked about my former work with BridgeBuilders, the state of our cultural dialog in America. This podcast is hosted by a good friend of mine, Bob Prater alongside a Muslim emir who is also becoming a good friend of mine. I think you’ll enjoy the interesting twists this conversation takes.

You can find both interviews here.  Mine are numbers 11 and 12.  You might also want to listen to #13. That’s a good friend of mine that rode up to Bakersfield with me and they ended up recording a podcast with him.  Pretty cool stuff there.

 

Finding God’s Grace when Tragedy Strikes

It is so easy to find God in the midst of life’s joys. Finding him in the midst of our pain is another and perhaps no pain is deeper than the loss of a child. Two new books speak directly into this arena by people who know it all too well. These stories just don’t wallow in the tragedy but unpack for the reader how to triumph in the midst of loss, pain and disappointment. You will be touched by both of these and learn how to handle your own tragic circumstances inside the affection of a gracious Father.

hillsTo Be Continued by Allen and Tammy Hill
(Paperback, 295 pages, self-published)

Allen and Tammy’s only child was murdered in the Virginia Teach shootings nine years ago this month. This is the story of Rachel’s life, that horrific day, and living in its aftermath of her loss, learning to lean into God’s love and even forgive the perpetrator of her death. Both The Shack and He Loves Me play into this story in a critical way, through which I came to know the Hill’s and have been friends with them over the past eight years.  I can vouch for the fact that they genuinely live in the freedom and grace they write about in their story.

The subtitle of the book is, “The life of Rachel Hill, and God’s grace to our family in the Virginia Tech tragedy.” And what a story it is! Rachel was a freshman at Tech, a talented and passionate young woman who was life was cut short. She was also a passionate follower of Jesus and you’ll see how her journal encouraged their own journeys in dealing with the pain. In so many ways, and through so many people, God wrapped his arms around the Hills and have not only worked great healing in their hearts, but made them lights to others as well. This is a raw story of, honestly and lovingly told. You will be inspired by their words and touched by the magnificence of God’s grace at the depth of human pain.

They came to discover that their hopes and dreams did not die that day, but that life was “to be continued”. In time God helped them discover how to enjoy life again and not be ruled by tragedy and grief.

Click here for a compelling interview with excellent Allen that aired on ESPN 950 in Richmond, VA, which aired last week on the 9th anniversary of the tragedy.

You can order this book from Amazon, or get one free by sending your address to them by email.  Or if you’d like to order one by mail, or even help them with a gift so they can keep making these books available, you can write them at:

Allen and Tammy Hill
P.O. Box 1685
Glen Allen, VA 23060

 

 

wtsWhen Tragedy Strikes by Laura Diehl
(Paperback, 295 pages, Morgan James Publishing)

This book is not just a story of a parent’s loss; it also offers hope and instruction as to how we can find God in the midst of our most tragic circumstances and let him teach us how to live beyond them.  The book’s subtitle is, “Rebuilding your life with hope and healing after the death of your child.”

Laura and Dave lost their daughter, Becca, six months short of her 30th birthday to a heart condition. She was married with a nine-year-old daughter when complications set in and despite their prayers, Becca died. Shocked and broken, with pain that made her feel as if she couldn’t breath at times, Laura found that God was big enough for this, too.  This is the raw account of her journey from deep darkness back into light and life. Now she wants to extend a helping hand to others who find themselves in the midst of unanticipated tragedies as well.

Laura has lived all of this and doesn’t offer cheap cliche’s or pat answers, but honest and real encouragement and instruction as to how invite God into our deepest pain and find healing an life beyond it. If you’ve been through this kind of pain, or want to learn how to better help others going through it, this book will help you.

Here’s what I wrote for the jacket of her book:

If you have suffered great tragedy and struggle to connect with God in your grief and disappointment, When Tragedy Strikes was written for you. Laura Diehl knows the unfathomable pain of losing a child in tragic circumstances, and through the grief and pain finding her footing in the love of an affectionate Father. As she describes her own journey with honesty, compassion, and wisdom she will help you process your own journey and find a glorious hope beyond your darkest days.

 

The Lies of Affluence

“Do you have any conflict enjoying the money you have in a world with so much need?”

I had been invited by a friend to attend an investment seminar and there were some high rollers in the room. As I looked around, however, I was surprised to see so many facial expressions that seemed confused by the question. Obviously they didn’t. I do. Every day.

When the speaker went on to ask why not, most responded that they had worked hard for what they had and never thought twice about enjoying a disproportionate slice of the world’s pie. The unspoken inference, of course, is that poor people don’t work as hard so they are only getting what they deserve. It’s only one of the lies wealthy people tell themselves so they can ignore the needs of others as they plunge headlong into their own amusements. But you can only believe that if you don’t actually know people who have very little and not a lot of options to help them move beyond it. And I don’t mean know about them, but actually know them individually.

I was raised a law-and-order Republican. I grew up with a high regard for discipline, hard work, and respect for authority. If you live responsibly and work hard you can get ahead in the world. Disobey a policeman and you risk getting shot. Do something illegal and the consequences should be severe.

But that’s before I caught a glimpse of life through the eyes of an African-American mother who not only fears the influences of the neighborhood on her son, but also any interaction he might have with the police and how it might escalate because of misunderstanding and fear. And I’ve become good friends with a family of undocumented immigrants and see first hand not only the hardships they endure, but also how our culture exploits them for its gain without rewarding them for their hard work.

These relationships have caused me to reassess many of my lifelong conclusions and it’s helped me come to grips with the lies affluent people use to justify their own comfort and suppress their generosity for people in need. Almost everyone screams unfair when they perceive circumstances have been rigged against them, but almost no one cries foul when they benefit from that rigging.

These are the lies you have to believe if you want to live callously in the world. To be truthful, I’ve actually benefited from most of them and grabbed for them whenever I needed to suppress my compassion for those in need. They allowed me for many years to live unaffected by the disproportionate distribution of resources in the world. Having them exposed has been a great gift to my humanity and has allowed me to discover the joys of generosity.

Lie #1: We all have the same opportunities; it’s just that some work harder. That’s what lie behind those confused expressions I saw at the investment seminar I mentioned at the beginning of this article. We love the illusion that a child growing up in south central Los Angeles has the same opportunities as those who grow up in the suburbs or small town America. Didn’t we solve inequality during the civil rights movements of the 60s? Can’t every child go to school, apply herself, get a college degree, and find a better life? We do have enough stories of people who have done it to think it’s true, not admitting that these are still the exceptional stories not the routine ones.

Without hope of a better, the tools to get there, a support network to encourage them they will never recognize the opportunities that may be at their disposal or be able to access them. There’s a reason why there are neighborhoods we wouldn’t chose to live in and schools we send our kids to.

Like #2: If you work hard enough you can be anything you want to be. Whenever someone becomes President or wins an award they claim it is proof that in America you can be anything that you want to be if you dream big and just work hard enough.

On the face of it, that conclusion is absurd. Only a miniscule percentage of people can make it to the top of any profession and those usually had some combination of lucky breaks, helpful relationships, or a gift or talent not everyone has. They want to believe they did it on our own so they can reap the rewards guiltlessly. But it creates so many false expectations. Not every child who dreams of being President, best-selling author, star athlete, a doctor or even an astronaut will get to be one. Competition will ensure that only a few will get to live those dream.

While capitalism gives everyone a shot at success, it tends to reward greed, which is why any industry rewards so few people with exorbitant amounts of money while all the average worker make a pittance in comparison. I’ve never understood the CEO who works alongside support staff who make a fraction of his salary, or the star athlete who thinks he deserves so much more than his supporting cast. Capitalism doesn’t reward the hardest workers, but the well-connected and whatever tinkering the government does with it should be to mitigate on behalf of those on the lower ends, not sell out to those on the upper ones.

Lie #3: Every human is equally valued. By God, yes! By human societies, or even among societies, far from it! Even if we may confess that all are created equal, in practical terms a culture weights its priorities to those in power. Some of us grew up with tremendous support systems, parents that championed us, a community that shared a common value of hard work and self-discipline. Others grow up in communities where it takes every ounce of energy just to survive the influences that pull them into a darker world and every day face biases in society that give them a steeper hill to climb. The cry of “Black Lives Matter” was not to say that others didn’t, but to get the culture to recognize that in many places people of color are less valued by those in power and put at greater risk by them.

Lie #4: Inalienable rights apply only to American citizens. Our forbearers fought a revolution on the premise that all of us are created equal and that our inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not bestowed by government, but the gift of Providence. When we think American citizens deserve more than others in the world, we undermine our own revolution. When you can hold others in contempt for simply wanting the same things you want, you make the world a poorer place. We would be better served with a more holistic view of the world knowing that none of us are truly free until we all are. Nelson Mandela said it best,  “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Lie #5: Illegal immigrants deserve the hardships they endure for breaking our law. They should just go home and get in line like everyone else.

What if they can’t go home because home has been here for so long there’s nothing to go back to? For decades our society has exploited this group both in hiring them at lower wages and denying them access to the lowest rungs of the economic ladder. I realize this is a failure of government to secure the border, and that appropriate measures must be taken to regulate immigration so it won’t overwhelm the culture. Not every child born her should automatically become a US citizen, especially when the parents are nonresidents. We can argue those issues in other venues, but we let them come here, exploited their labor, and shown no will to make them return for multiple decades. It is unjust to let them live in limbo while both political parties use their plight to garner votes when no one is actually serious about resolving the problem.

And those who are not willing to consider a pathway for legality for those who are living in the shadows of American society can’t possibly know anyone who came here in fear of their lives or simply to try and find a way to feed their children. Let me tell you about the “illegal alien” I know. He came here twenty-five years ago because as young man he faced certain death if he didn’t join the drug cartel. He works far harder than I do, and is constantly exploited by employers that increase his work while decreasing his pay, knowing he can’t complain. He pays taxes and has never sought welfare or free medical care. He keeps the laws more than I do because the consequences of being caught are so devastating.

His two daughters are U.S. citizens. A few years ago He sold everything he had to pay $18,000 to an attorney who promised him a way to get a green card, only to see the lawyer arrested a few years later for selling fraudulent documents. No human being deserves to be treated like this and our society should no longer ignore his presence or how we have exploited him. There is enough in America to absorb these extra people. They are already here. They are already contributing and if they haven’t broken the law in other ways we should fight for their inclusion in our society at some level. Even the Old Testament encourages kindness and compassion for the stranger or alien. Oh, that may mean some of us will have to wait an extra six months before upgrading our iPhone, but is that to high a price to pay?

Lie #6: I did something deserving to be born in a developed country with a comfortable lifestyle. No one actually says this one out loud, but you can tell they believe it by how they look at others “less fortunate” than them. Born part way up the ladder of success, they can’t understand the challenges of those to even find that ladder or even have access to it’s lowest rungs.

If where we were born, and what abilities and talents we have is a gift, wouldn’t we be more mindful of those who have less to start with and greater challenges to overcome to find a stable place in society?

Lie #7: Desperate people have choices. We think people can better themselves by hard work and discipline, and for the most part many can. But what if demands of daily survival are so overwhelming that they don’t have the time or energy to do so? Some people are simply victims of crime, war, famine, natural disaster, medical conditions, or psychological brokenness that they have incredibly few choices. Send an immigrant home or telling a poor youth to get a job may seem easy enough from your station up the ladder, but for people trying to survive the next day, the feat may be unimaginable without some help.

People on the margins need help to find a fruitful life in our society. Many of us got that from our parents or the slice of culture we lived in. Many did not. They need someone to be a champion for them, finding the space in their lives and the opportunities at hand to move away from the inheritance of their past and find a better future.

Lie #8: That government can fix these problems with the right program. If you were afraid my discoveries have made me a Bernie Sanders socialist, they have not. While government programs can help address these issues in a limited way, the effectiveness of mass bureaucracies has a horrible track record. My wealthy liberal friends are so certain government can fix all of this by passing laws and redistributing income, and can’t seem to admit that the worst kind of entitlement does not come from the poor who need help, but politicians and bureaucrats who run the programs for their own gain or convenience. We can’t even get government to provide health care to our veterans without huge delays, or waste and fraud by the bureaucrats themselves. Many are more concerned with their lavish pensions, red tape, and extravagant retreats than the veterans themselves.

I sometimes wonder if those who push government for the poor are their way of spending other people’s money to make them feel like they are doing good, when they are not willing to invite those people into their lives and homes. They can pat themselves on the back for doing good without ever making a personal connection among the poor and marginalized. That’s why many of our programs are not about empowering them to a better way of living, but only making them more dependent on the government and the political party that wants their vote. Socialism rewards laziness and dishonesty precisely because it doesn’t involve people in the solution, only dollars. Our government programs are broken, flush with massive waste and corruption. Washington, DC is the most affluent area of our country and they produce nothing except twisted laws to reward special interests as they line their own pockets. Start a government program and within a few years it will be less about the need it was meant to address as protecting the bureaucracy it spawned. Until government officials can be disciplined for incompetence and fraud, that won’t change.

But that doesn’t mean that individuals can’t respond out of a generosity that is born of proximity. The reason why so much of our nation remains calloused to these problems is because they don’t know anyone actually facing them. Until you know people who deal with violence or hunger or have a relationship with an undocumented worker you can ignore their plight and stick with the political view that serves your own ends. Proximity changes everything. Get outside your culture group and engage firsthand the challenges others face then you’ll know how you might be able to help them.

Until “those people” who crossed the border illegally, or live in dangerous neighborhoods become our friends and neighbors nothing will change. Until we see the world as our neighborhood and put faces and personalities to orphans growing up on the streets, children trafficked for sex, or parents starving in war or drought, those situations remain an abstraction and we can hold our law-and-order principles to the exclusion of love and compassion. Get to know some of them, and your heart will change. Jesus told a story about a Good Samaritan to help us understand we are all part of a bigger family and cannot think only of ourselves.

This is where the lies of affluence come to die and some amazing acts of human compassion can begin. When you find people hurting, help them with whatever you have. If you don’t know any, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or a ministry in the inner city. Don’t just give them money, befriend them and you will no longer be able to hide in those lies. You’ll join them in looking for solutions that will help empower them to better their own lives rather than remain dependent on others. You will be a voice for a more compassionate society. Change happens when the powerful advocate on behalf of the powerless, instead of making them fight for it themselves.

And I’m not talking only to the one-percent-ers here. From a global perspective if you have $3,650 of net worth—including the equity in your home—you are among the top 50% of the worlds wealthiest citizens. If you have than $77,000 you are in the top 10%. And if you have $798,000 you belong to the top 1%. That’s according to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report. That’s not a merit badge to wear proudly, but an opportunity to look for ways to share with others in the world where children still go to bed hungry or wake up in fear for their lives.

Generosity emerges when we realize everything we have is a gift, and the more we have the more responsible we need to be in sharing it with others who do not have the same advantages we do. It seeks to help them not only by the charity of things, but also by empowering them with the tools to better their own lives.

I know no system that can change the world. I know the generosity that can change one life or one family, one neighborhood at a time. If enough of us buy into that, then the world will change too.

Spotlight: A Movie Worth Watching

I spent most of my day in tears yesterday.

I spent the morning watching another rough cut of the movie adaptation of The Shack.  I found myself deeply moved by the retelling of this story. Tears welled up often with a tenderness for the work of God in the midst of human tragedy. I’m not sure when it will be released yet. They are still working on it, and pushed the release back to November 18, 2016.

Last night I was in tears for far different reasons.  When a dinner date we had planned cancelled, we went to see the new film, Spotlight, which tells the story of the Boston Globe reporters uncovering sexual abuse by Catholic priests and how they were enabled by a hierarchy more interested in protecting their reputation than little boys and girls. I mostly see movies for entertainment purposes. I get enough pain in my emails and conversations from the brutality of life.  I’m not going to review the movie here though it has received much acclaim and is incredibly well done. I just want to say everyone needs to see this movie. Admittedly it isn’t easy to watch, but I think everyone would find a depth of their soul enlightened…

  • To feel the pain of those who were abused and for so long ignored by the people that who were supposed to have protected them. Many of them committed suicide or overdosed on drugs and alcohol to deal with the undeserved shape and a pain no one would believe.
  • To be reminded how the desire to protect a religious system can twist otherwise well-meaning people into co-conspirators of the worst kind of evil, all while they maintain their place and status in the culture. The power of spiritual hierarchies is unfathomable and unrelenting.
  • To appreciate the courage of those who pursued the truth even when everyone stood against them and made it nearly impossible to find

And don’t be so naive as to think this is only a Catholic problem. Although it reached systemic proportions that boggle the mind due to the specific nature of that institution, I know many Protestant churches who engineered similar cover-ups, one who refused to expose an elder who was molesting his stepchild and a denominational official who kept moving his son to different congregations even though he was abusing women in every one he’d been to. The hubris of a “church” institution being superior to the state and able to handle it’s own problems, combined with the fear of negative public perception was a powerful brew that led many to the poorest of choices.

What a tender day! One that will shape me in many ways for days and experiences to come. And to all those who have been abused in their youth by someone they trusted, my heart goes out to you as does the heart of God.  You are deeply loved and your brokenness is not to your shame. You are not damaged goods; you are a beloved son or daughter of a Gracious Father. Your abuse is not proof that he does not love you, only that our culture is permeated by those who chose evil over health and healing.

May you find your path to healing and freedom as well and triumph over your tragedy.

To My Sisters Raised in Captivity

Warning: this article may be sexually explicit to some.  While I think it is fine for teens, other parents may feel differently.  Parental discretion is advised.

I know it’s hard to believe in this day and age. After 50 years of discussing women’s rights in our culture, there are still those who believe that women are subservient to men and that they must hide their bodies under loose and drab clothing so as not to cause men to stumble into lust.  Anything she does to make herself attractive is an in intentional act to stimulate men around her.  They are even told to cover their elbows because some men confuse them with breasts. All of this is in the name of Christianity.

Men are also told that to look at an attractive woman once is an accident, but to look too long or to sneak a second peak is lustful, which is the same as sin as adultery.  They are not even allowed drive dualies, pickups with double rear tires (Google it!) because to some people they can resemble a woman’s pelvis and that, too, will cause men to sin.

Really? Yes, really! I learned these things on my recent trip to Ohio and I’ll be honest, such teachings and practices really make me grieve over the repression this puts on women and how it makes sexuality creepy. Who makes these rules, anyway, except sexually frustrated men and women who think sex is dirty?

Over the past three years I’ve spent a lot of time with people coming out of religious groups that distort the teachings of Scripture to create an environment where women are required to dress and act in ways that won’t challenge men’s authority or provoke their sexual appetites.  I’ve listened at length to the damage this has done to them and my heart goes out to any who were raised according to these teachings. They are cruel, abusive, and rise from the pits of hell, not the instruction of Scripture. They crush the very core of how God made women to demonstrate his glory in the world.

Almost all of this thinking is built on the misapplication of two Scriptures: Paul’s admonishment for women to dress modestly (1 Timothy 2:9) and Jesus’ declaration that looking on a woman with lust is the same as committing adultery (Matthew 5:28).

In the first instance, Paul is talking to women to consider modesty in their dress and the context has as much to do with flouting their wealth as it does sexual provocation. But Paul doesn’t define what that modesty is, trusting the Spirit to write his ways onto their hearts not religious leaders to enforce their code of conduct. Most women know the difference between dressing as a lady and cheapening themselves in crude attempts to gain attention, but just because a women’s manner of dress provokes jealousy in some women or lust in a man doesn’t mean she’s being immodest. Their brokenness is not her standard.  It’s between her and God to sort out how she presents herself and all will eventually discover that true beauty is inside the person, not on the outside.

In the second instance, Jesus’ words do not blame the cause of the lustful look, but the lust itself. He wasn’t trying to expand their guilt for lust they didn’t act on, but helping them to understand that their freedom from it comes from inside not outside. Lust rises from a broken place in the human heart, not from a top cut too low, pants too tight, or a skirt too short. Our hope for healing is found in him and how he views people around us, not by removing all temptation around us.

We’ve raised too many young men who think that an arousing glance is the same as lust, multiplying their guilt and shame and their fixation on sex. But most men are not an elbow sighting away from full-fledged lust, and if someone is, that is the fault of their twisted appetites not you. Sexual desire is not lust. Lust is an obsession for sexual gratification with another outside of marriage. Sexuality is a gift God gave humanity and should be celebrated not distained. Trying to ignore an attractive woman, especially when she’s gone to so much effort to make herself beautiful is absurd. Appreciating beauty in the creation whether it’s a waterfall, sunset, or a woman is part of our human experience and God’s grace. Don’t make it dirty and don’t load yourself up on guilt because an attractive person catches your eye. Someone can draw your attention, without driving your lust.

I realize I’m writing this at a time when sex has been devalued by a careless and over-indulgent culture. We cheapen it by making it easily accessible, encase it in the fake thrill of pornography, and view it only as the gratification of a craving and not the most powerful expression of marital celebration and unity between a committed couple. You do not make love to an available body you can’t resist, but to celebrate the unity of the one you deeply love and with whom you share all of life.

But asking women to bear the responsibility for sexual brokenness is not only is unfair but also has never worked. Men who grow up around women dressed in drab are no less curious about sexuality and are often more fixated on it because it’s the constant focus.  Notice it is only the women who are forced to dress out of step with culture, even though most of the lust issues seem to reside in men. Our distorted view of repentance and forgiveness allows a man to confess his failures and feel forgiven enough in the next moment to lord over women to do his bidding. They demand women not to do anything that might incite even one man to an impure thought. How disgustingly convenient, and no wonder some women in these cultures grow up feeling dirty just for being a woman.

One of the saddest emails I’ve received came last week from a woman living in the regret of having raised her children this way: “We have eight children and the grief of raising them legalistically is overwhelming.  I simply do not know how to live this life or love them well. I live in constant, exhausting fear. I dread the dawn and wonder how I will get through the rest of my days. I am 60 now. For all the talk of God and His love, I rarely seem to fully trust him. Seeing my kids making decisions that bring pain-filled, long-term consequences is more that I can bear. The world seems so dark to me, and I feel so stupid in my parenting and in my living.”

I want this woman and all like her to know that there is no mistake so big God can’t overcome it and that it is vitally important for you and your family to walk in the growing joy of his freedom, not the regrets of the past. At the same time this is a sad reminder of how deeply these religious lies oppress us all, but to also admit that they oppresses women a hundred times worse. They have been blamed for man’s indiscretions and forced to repress themselves in deference to it. It has destroyed many a woman and it’s time to speak up on their behalf. If you’re awakening to a richer relationship with Jesus and find these views to demean you as a person and restrict you’re freedom in Christ, good for you! It’s time for men to stand up for women, not to them, and cheer them on to increasing freedom.

Here’s what I would like women raised in this captivity to know:

First and foremost, I’m so sorry that your passion to know God and follow him was exploited by false leaders and teachers to make you diminish yourself and the gift God made you to be in the world. I am sorry for the repression you suffered because others made you the focus of their sin. I wish there were some way to make up for all the years wasted under religious oppression, but there is none except to help you untangle the web of lies about God, men, sexuality, and yourself that will allow you to find the freedom God has for you now and end this cycle of destructive behavior in your family with this generation.

Second, reconsider with God every conclusion you’ve made about your womanhood and femininity and discover the joyful delight of being the beloved daughter of an affectionate Father.  Talk it over with God and each other as you sort out what’s true and not true about the way you were raised. The truth will set you free in ways you may not even begin to imagine yet.

Third, never again believe that you are a second-class citizen of God’s kingdom. You have wisdom to share with the rest of us and are not more prone to deception because of Eve’s failure. The piece you add to the body of Christ through your insights, personality, and story provide critical facets of God’s reflection no one else can offer.  Be the you God created so you can enrich his church in the world.

Fourth, your body is not disgusting and you don’t need to hide it in shapeless drab in the fear of inciting lust in men. If you’ve come to believe there’s something dirty about the way God made you, ask him to show you differently.  Learn to celebrate the body and the life God gave you, not the way the world does through exploitation and excess, but in letting God be fully glorified in all of you. If men around you struggle with lust, that is their problem, not yours and don’t let them put it back on you.

Fifth, don’t beat yourself up for not seeing through all this earlier, or even raising your children in it. It may have been all you knew and you thought you were doing God’s work.  Now that you know you weren’t, forgive yourself and let God make you an example and voice of freedom to share with your family. It may take awhile, but your freedom and transformation may rescue your family from these lies.

Sixth, you are not under the headship of your father until you marry, or a pastor to protect you. The only covering you need is Christ alone. Subservience to the males in your life is not Godly; it’s religious bondage that will tear you apart.  Women do not need a male covering to lord over them. They need to know men who are willing to lay down their lives, as Jesus did, and create a safe place for them to explore all Father has for them.

Seventh, live free inside that which love teaches you to do. Transformation is a process and it may come slowly especially with other people in play. I respect women who know their liberty from these things, but for the love of their husbands lay down some of that freedom as God coaxes him along as well.  But this has to be an act of love, led by God, not of fear or staying captive.

And what about the men?  I realize those from this environment have also suffered with this preoccupation with sexual appetites and desires.  You’ve been damaged too with distorted views of women, sexuality, and shame that make it almost impossible for you to see God’s love for you in a sea of guilt about sexual temptation.  Ask God to set you free as well, but never forget what this has done to your sisters is far more destructive than what has happened to you. Stop using God as an excuse to control the women in your life and become a champion for their freedom and liberty.

For those of you raised in the captivity of men’s misplaced lust it is past time for you to discover your freedom. He made you in his image and wants to set you free from all the lies that have controlled you and demeaned you. Many of us are rooting for you to come into the full glory of being his beloved and letting your light shine in the world.

What It Takes to Change the World

Since I was traveling and meeting new people yesterday, I heard very late about the events in Paris as my Facebook feed overflowed with grief and anger for the victims. What an incredible tragedy to see innocent people slaughtered in the name of an ideology that is ruthless and has no regard for human life! We can all imagine being in similar settings and feeling the horror of being attacked at times we’d least expect it and losing loved ones in the prime of their lives.
Media coverage will of course go wall-to-wall, creating a continuous wave of grief and fear that is made worse by how powerless we feel to do anything about it.  For most of us Paris is a long ways away, and we have no way to affect the turbulent events in the Middle East in any way that matters.
Interestingly I had an exchange last week about how God wants us to respond to our enemies by loving them and what it means in situations like this. And my answer was, I don’t have a clue.  When I think of the big-ticket items in our world, I’m at a loss as to how love would work in such extremity. But maybe that isn’t the point. We can’t see what it means here because we’re not really involved with any of it.
We can grieve for the people in Paris. We can pray for God’s intervention in these desperate circumstances and for the wisdom of global leaders to deal with all the chaos in our world. But it will help to realize that our media overwhelms us with storylines that invite our emotional responses to situations we cannot influence. And that can be crippling. We grieve for people we don’t know fear circumstances we can’t control. I don’t know how to comfort the people in Paris, or to end Islamic fundamentalist aggression in the world. But I do know how to love the people around me today. I know people going through painful circumstances and grief of their own and can comfort them. I know those who treat me with distain and betrayal and what it means to love them is very clear. We can’t really love “the world” in any meaningful way. It’s too abstract and generalized at a macro level to make any difference, but is richly powerful in the immediate circumstances of our own life.
Is that why Jesus asked us to, “love one another,” not to love the crowds or the whole world? Love is applied in the singular, not the plural. If you want to be the change in the world, get your eyes off of circumstances you don’t control and on to those people and circumstances right around you where your loving can make a difference. If you grieve for the people in Paris and feel powerless to help, think of someone you know going through deep grief or challenge and find a way to encourage them today.  Instead of leaving in fear or frustration of ISIS, find someone who has done you wrong and ask Jesus if there is a way to love him or her today that will begin to reverse the cycle of evil that only adds pain to pain.
We overcome evil in the world not by fussing and fretting, but by loving some one in front of us.  Every act of generosity and kindness brings light into the world.  Every time you comfort a broken heart, offer kindness to a stranger, or make time for someone who is lonely you pour a bit more of the kingdom in the world.
Wherever our fear gives way to love in the immediacy of our own circumstances, the world changes a little and the power of wickedness is broken. Find someone to love, encourage, or bless today and you will have been part of something significant.  You can leave the bigger things in Father’s hands, who is well up to the challenge.