Tag Archives: healing

A Christian in America

This is the weirdest, saddest, most distressing time of my life, as an American Christian. I believe that the church has strayed so far away from the needs of the ethnic minority, the poor, and the disabled of our own nation, that my generation is forced to choose a strange paradox: Do we vote for and actively pursue equality, knowing that eventually the exclusivity of Christianity will come under very strong fire in American Liberal politics? Or do we cover our right to religiously assemble, and by default (if not intentionally) perpetuate the divide that sees a Klan rally justified by an anti-biblical expression of “free speech”, to say nothing of the horror that blatant racism and willingness to harm other ethnicities reveals about our nation and its systemic racism as a whole?

Yeah, I think those are the two options. And they both suck.

That is not to say that there aren’t Conservatives standing opposed to the events of Charlottesville, and rightly condemning white nationalism, white supremacy, and the groups that represent those ideologies. But for the majority of those standing up now, there was silence until a white woman was murdered as a peaceful protestor or the leader of the nation made outlandish claims equating the KKK with people demonstrating in response to them. And why the silence? I think because American Christianity has largely become a game of safety and security. But why?

Patriotism Run Amuck

George McKenna, in his book The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism, wrote that the idea of patriotism is in effect, “an affection rather than a syllogistic process, it is a highly evocative word, recalling all kinds of memories, stored up in images”. He goes on to address the origins and true adaptable nature of American patriotism in the 17th century. And I think he’s right on all accounts. My first image of patriotism is my grandfather’s Purple Heart, that he earned as a soldier in the Army, fighting in WWII. And I remember the first time I stood at the Vietnam Memorial, overwhelmed by the length of that wall, and the small print still needed to fit the names of soldiers lost on it. Oh, and the first time I read Letters from a Birmingham Jail, as a student at Elon University. These things, for me, ring of American patriotism.

But I also believe that the adaptability of American patriotism has neutered what it truly means to love our nation, and learn about and FROM its history. Somehow people have so bastardized American ideology that ethnic cleansing is taught by some as permissible and beneficial. And churches can recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but most don’t know the Nicene Creed, or even that it exists. We study the news, but not the Bible. We know what we are against, but we have abandoned so much of what Jesus was truly for. We’ve traded in true belief and biblical conviction, for memes, prejudice, and the conviction to be right and loud. We don’t evangelize because we don’t want to be offensive or counter-offended, or we’ve just completely forgotten how to. We can’t be real in the world or “do life” with people because we’ve been so busy condemning gay people and Muslims, or standing for things that Jesus apparently forgot to make as pillars of his ministry. In so many ways, we’ve just stopped being the church.

So if you’re still reading this, you’re either in agreement so far, completely fuming but hanging in there, or you just came to see the fireworks. No matter what, I do believe that social media has influence. And as unbelievable as it may seem, altogether, roughly 5,000 people ‘follow’ me. And because I make everything I post public, many more can follow along too. So while I’m a pretty insignificant cog in the machine, I have a voice. And this is what I think needs to happen in American church and within the hearts of Christians soon.

Evangelism Lost

My sweet and brilliant wife reads my posts. She proofs some of them, and parts of all of them. In the introduction, where I mentioned evangelism and our fear of it, she rightly pointed out that we largely misunderstand it too.

We’ve lost American evangelism to a handful of unbiblical ideas. Here are a few that drive me insane:

Attraction – Being well-liked, or in a pretty building, or having an affable reputation is nice. It would be a whole lot more effective if that was coupled with being engaged in the community, financially invested in helping the hurting within that community, or being known as a haven for the hurting through programs or availability. But even then… if we poured money into the poor, and had a beautiful building, and were well thought of… none of that is evangelism. None. It’s nice. But it’s not evangelism. It may be a tremendous catalyst TO evangelism, but if you think it’s enough, well that’s called an idol.

Moral Superiority – I don’t know where to begin here. Christians are not superior in any way to anyone else. The moral superiority of Christianity resides entirely in the person of Jesus Christ. To posture that the rituals, habits, and platforms of faith cast a shadow on our cities that compel people to Jesus is absurd. Again, a positive reputation might lead someone to you, but if your excellence is your platform, again, that’s an idol that you’ve made in your own image.

Anti-Secularism – I grew up hearing the phrase, “no one has ever been argued into salvation”, and I’m 37, so the phrase has been around a while now. But we’ve gotten so good at being against things, that I think we’ve convinced ourselves that a Facebook video about what we find unbiblical or evil is some kind of evangelism. But it’s not. It never has been. It never will be. At best, it’s my opinion, gleaned from interpreting scripture, but at worst, it’s bullying that pushes people away from Jesus.

Lawless Love – My last one is the one I’m generally most accused of. As a registered Democrat, now living in Washington State, I get it. Since I don’t rail against things that are not permissible from Scripture, maybe I appear complicit. Maybe it seems that I treat people as though they are sinless, and that Scripture doesn’t really say hard things. But that’s not true of me, nor is it evangelical. The Bible is true for Christians, and it says hard things. In my experience, the best way to talk through them with people who do not view Christ as I do, is through (1.) earning the right to be heard, through loving them as they are and as I am, (2.) being humbly honest about Scripture, (3.) and reminding them that we are all on the same footing, as sinners. And then, after that, be consistent and steady. Scripture guides me as the Lord is my Savior. To reduce Scripture for the sake of love is not love at all.

Evangelism Reclaimed

It simply means that we bring the Good News. That’s it. And since, for Christians, that good news is the story of Christ and his sacrificial atonement, it means that evangelism is telling someone about Jesus. That’s it. All of that other stuff is either secondary or self-centered.

Period.

Choose For Yourselves

So yes, I’ve stepped beyond that crossroad of choosing which fight I’ll fight. But I do understand the real angst over potentially losing our freedom of religious assembly. I’ve been to countries where my function as a pastor and teacher was illegal. I’ve heard the knock at the door and watched a few dozen faces turn immediately from focus to fear. I have shaken the hands of a man who was disavowed, then condemned to die, and then martyred for simply believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And America is a long way away from that kind of existence… I think. But I could be wrong. I laughed at the idea of Trump as President.

Whether I’m right or wrong about the trajectory of faith in America, I’m captivated by Joshua’s call for covenant renewal: “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the god that your fathers served… and serve the Lord… choose this day whom you will serve.” [Joshua 24:14-15a]

My dad loves Jesus. It’s a humble affection that I’m forever grateful to have grown up under. But it’s not my faith. Same Jesus. But I’m not my dad, and his faith doesn’t save me or fuel me. It saves him and only him. And for me, I choose the God that says we are all equal (Gen. 1:27; Eph. 2:14; I John 2:2), and that our chief aim is to glorify God (Isa. 43:7; Hab. 2:14; Ps. 115:1) through loving one another (Rom. 12:9, 13:10; Mk. 12:31; I Cor. 13:1-3), even those who feel the need to oppose me for my faith (Luke 6:35), because I must fight as someone that has been called out by God to those who need him, need hope, and need help…

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

Aggressively for the Love of People

Maybe you still disagree with me. That’s fine, but I think I’m standing on Scripture here. So unless you can convince me that Jesus isn’t real (& you cannot), that we have not been called to bind up the broken-hearted (Isa. 61:1) and that somehow does not include black Americans right now, but other minorities, the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the refugee, the imprisoned, the homeless, and the foreigner, and that the eventuality of religious persecution in America is justification to hide, or defend the love of Christ that cannot be thwarted (Rom. 8:35)…. what are you standing for?

A fight just broke out in the cafeteria of the American consciousness, and everyone wearing a WWJD? t-shirt just collectively stood up and picked a side. And with the whole world watching, but more importantly, our neighbors, classmates, family, and friends saw us rise, and they saw us run to defend the hurting, as Jesus did, or to the defense of anything else.

So if one day, I lose the right to freely claim that Jesus alone is the way to God and that the Bible is uniquely true…. well ok then. I’ll go to jail for that. I’ll go to the mat for hope and faith. And until then, I’ll stand for Christ’s love for all people.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under America, Christianity, Discouraged, faith, Goals, Growth, Leadership, Ministry, Social Justice, Storm, Uncategorized

Shocked by Grief & Shock

I love peanut butter. Really, all kinds of peanut butter. But I also know that I don’t really love it. I like it a lot. But I don’t have a deep, intimate connection with the stuff. I know that I don’t really love it because I know what it truly means to love something & be loved. I am loved by God, & in response to that incredible & faultless love, I love my wife, our kids, & a large handful of some wonderful family & friends. And if I’m honest, I really do love our dog, Abbey & possibly the Chicago Cubs too. But I know love. I don’t love peanut butter.

And if you had asked me earlier this month, I’d have said that I knew what grief & shock were all about. I’d have told you a list of things that ‘grieved’ me or had shocked me in my life. But then last Monday, in the earliest part of the day, one of my best friends, favorite people in general, inexplicably breathed his last breath…..

And right there, in that moment. When a few hours had past, his family was just in the wee hours of that horrific tragedy, I got one call that placed an emptiness in my heart or stomach, or maybe my soul, & I haven’t truly shaken it. It’s like wishing for your ears to pop as your flight begins its descent home, but that pop never comes. I can’t do anything with the empty feeling of grief & the shock of this loss. I thought it would pop when I saw his wife or high-fived his children. When his mom & dad gave me that first hug, I was certain that the grief would break & I would start processing the shock of it all. But I was wrong.

Tripp was not just my buddy. And a few of his friends aren’t simply mutual acquaintances. And his family aren’t just folks that raised him. His wife isn’t just the nice girl he married. These are my people too. I love his wife. His family has always loved me. I can’t remember a time in my life that I didn’t love someone in his family. And very quickly, once I had confirmed the awfulness of last week, I pictured some of the funniest, most sincere friends I have ever known. And it really just compounded the grief & fortified the shock.

And like a dutiful minister, I went to the Bible & to prayer. I have desperately wanted to find a plan for closing the grief-hole in all of our hearts. But instead, I found out that God is daily grieved. That Christ was deeply familiar with grief. And that the Bible doesn’t tell me when this hurt will subside. And that is challenging for a man of faith to process. But that’s just what I’m doing. I’m processing it. Every day I have thought of my friend. And it doesn’t stop the hurt. Sometimes the thoughts inflame my emotions into tears. But I give into the daydream because, honestly, I trust God that like my body digests food naturally, I will just process my mourning naturally as well.

Whenever you eat something your body takes the process of digestion as a challenge. Separating the good bits from the bad, utilizing the good for the sake of energy, health, cleansing & clarity. The bad bits, & depending on what you eat, it might mostly be bad bits, pass through & either hurt your overall health or become the waste that they are, & you know how that ends. So here’s the question I’m pouring over as I fly home (deeply grateful for JetBlue’s free wifi!!):

What Am I Grieving? Where is the Shock Resting?

And I think I’m discovering there’s a healthy grieving & a harmful grieving, & I have to make the choice each morning, that I’m going to grieve healthy. So I am chewing on how great my friend was. I’m taking in the memories that are so precious to me. I’m committing to remember & hold on to the people that matter most to him. I’m remembering that while he can’t be the dad, husband, brother & son today that he’s always been, I still can be. So I think about my wife & kids a lot. And I cry. But it feels healthy. I’m not forgetting God. I’m not denouncing Christ or forfeiting my faith. I’m certainly not burning bridges or forcing myself to pretend I feel a way that I don’t feel. Tripp is in Heaven & that is more than enough cause for celebration & gratitude. Now, to be clear, I still confess to God all of my confusion & hurt. But God tells us to cast our burdens on Him, so I’m just being obedient. I’m not angry. I’m sad. I’m not hopeless or faithless, I’m just staggered & stunned by pain. And if anyone gets that, I trust that God does. And I don’t want to isolate or ignore my grief. I want all of those people in my life with me. I’d like to add some new folks too. If misery loves company, then healing wants the company to just move in & stay a while. And the worst way that I could honor¬†Tripp is by distancing myself from faith & family right now… or ever!

So I’m going to keep on grieving. Just ask the woman in 9A. She’s on the plane right in front of me, with her 2yr old daughter & apologized just before take-off. I guess that’s what all traveling parents with children think about doing. And she just casually said, her Daddy is away for a while so ‘it’s just us’.

I immediately teared up. She looked mortified. I was embarrassed. Her husband is deployed in the Air Force & will be back next month. Good.

But a couple hours into the flight, when her daughter (who flies better than most adults) had fallen asleep, she turned around & asked if I was ok. So I just spilled it. I talked about how awesome Tripp was & how great his wife is & will continue to be. I told her about his family & friends, & how much I miss him. How badly I want to get off this plane & hug Grace & our boys, nonstop for about a month. And I told her where he was right now, with Christ. I spoke with hope. Yes, I choked up a couple times in those short minutes. And grief is still grief.

There’s still that awful pit in my stomach, reminding me that I’m not over it¬†today. But it’s a process. It’s probably a slow process. But I’m getting all of the good bits out so I can use them forever. And it takes a while to digest two decades of great friendship. Missing him is just a part of loving him. And the next time someone mentions grief or shock, I’ll have a much better understanding of what they are going through. And this has helped me today.

I hope it helps someone else. Share this with anyone you want to. For now…

I don’t love peanut butter. I do love you, Tripp. I’ll see you later.

12 Comments

Filed under Christianity, faith, Growth