La Résistance

The election is days away. With each day, my heart grows heavier. Most of my readers and friends have some clue about the ideas I have concerning the Church and the political process. Namely, I feel the Church should pull out of the process, and be something distinct from government entirely. I really need to dedicate a blog to that subject alone, but this can’t be that post. In fact, in this post, I won’t ask anyone to forego voting this cycle. Ultimately, people need to follow their conscience concerning the roles of Church and state, and I can’t impede on that. So, if you feel like voting Clinton, or Trump, or some other third party, please do so with your conscience under the discipleship of Jesus.

Now, to be on with the real subject, political resistance.

Whether or not a person feels they should vote, the problem every Christian needs to acknowledge is the current relationship between the Church and politics is sick, at best. This is not specific to one party. The GOP and Evangelicals have a history together, and this is what most people think of when they talk about an unhealthy relationship between Church and state. But I’m thinking of both (all) parties, especially since more and more young adult Christians are finding their beliefs and convictions line up closely with the Democratic Party. If things continue this way, in a very near future, the way people feel about Evangelicals and the GOP will be the way they feel about Millennial Christians and the Democratic Party.

This shift from Conservatism to “Liberalism” has been fueled by two, probably legitimate, desires in young Christian Americans. The first is a longing for an authentic Christianity that more closely resembles that taught by Jesus in the Gospels, and the example of the early Church. The second is a desire to no longer be bound by lifeless religiosity, conventions that know how to only say “No!” without real connection with the Spirit of Jesus.(This negative Christianity, that can only say “No!” instead of “Yes!” has been the cause of so much Church fall out and the Christian inability to function as normal human beings who can talk about and enjoy things like alcohol and sex, among other things.) An offshoot of the second reason is the desire to be culturally relevant to an America that was not only hostile to the typical expression of Christianity, but unmoved by it.

Each flavor has its particular danger. The Conservative side is in danger of holding legalistic standards over others and over unbelievers (all the while letting themselves getting away with the same sins, and crushed by shame) apart from the experience of communion with Jesus. The Liberal side is in danger of allowing serious compromise into their lives, choosing sinful lifestyles in the name of being culturally relevant and not being religious. This, too, happens apart from communion with Jesus.

Communion is the hinge one which this all swings. The reason, a reason, the Church is at war with itself, at least in the political arena, is because we are choosing sides and participating in this system apart from communion. If we are not first and foremost disciples of Jesus Christ, it will be impossible for us to participate in this country as Christians. Republicans and Democrats, yes, but not as Christians, not as witnesses, and therefore, always at the mercy of the current of culture, unable to change the direction it heads. Significantly, both sides want to help change the direction of culture, influencing it in a Gospel way. I ask the question, if there is no actual communion with Jesus, how can we influence the culture with the love of God?

I believe it is time to resist the system at every angle, time for the Church to no longer let its voice be manipulated by the vicious and disgusting politics that happen in this country. If we are honest with ourselves, neither party, no party, speaks with the authority of Jesus Christ because no party is concerned with Jesus and the Gospel. Again, this isn’t a direct call to quit voting or work in the political system, but it is imperative that we change the way we approach the political system specifically, and culture generally. This is where the Sermon on the Mount comes in.

This message which Jesus gave to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew, is the guiding principle for the Christian. The beauty of it is, since Jesus moves the commandments from outward actions to internal ways of being, we are given no choice but to wait for the word of God, the voice of the Spirit, in every moment of crucial decision. There are no correct answers, no laws for us to follow, only a voice to hear and obey. That is why the Sermon is resistance against the system, against the culture, and why it will be the way to engage with and transform both. Anyone who knows me, or is familiar with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, will know immediately that his teachings are highly influential in my train of thought, right above the Desert Fathers of the third and fourth centuries. Let’s allow him to say something about the Sermon:

“I think I am right in saying that I would only achieve true inner clarity and honesty by really starting to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. Here alone lies the force that can blow all this hocus-pocus sky-high–like fireworks, leaving only a few burnt-out shells behind. The restoration of the church must surely depend on a new kind of monasticism, which has nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising discipleship, following Christ according to the Sermon on the Mount. I believe the time has come to gather people together and do this.”

Bonhoeffer thought the Sermon was “the deciding word on this whole affair.” Are you concerned about social justice? Are you offended by the beggar on the street corner? The Sermon speaks, “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. (5:42)” Are you poor? Are you rich? Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, (5:3)” and, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (6:19, 21)” Are you concerned about the moral direction of our country? Do you try to stay away from legalism? Jesus warns, “You shall not commit adultery, but I say to you that everyone who looks with lustful intent has already committed adultery in their heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out… (5:27-29)” We could all use Jesus’ warnings about anger, “Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment… (5:22)” Next time you want to have an outburst of anger toward a Trump supporter, or a Clinton supporter, or any of their followers, remember that one. How can we forget the (in)famous, “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also, (5:39)” and, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. (5:44, 45)”?

My point is, it’s not just Conservatives or just Liberals who need to start taking the Sermon on the Mount seriously. It’s every Christian. It’s you and I. The Sermon speaks to every disciple, and if anyone would be a disciple of Jesus Christ, they must take the Sermon seriously, or risk discovering they never were a disciple to begin with (see 7:21-23).

This is the way of resistance. In the end, a person can vote for whomever they want, but what truly matters is whether or not they are being Salt and Light. For “if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?

In the end, Christians of both political persuasions must give up hope in the political system, at least as a means of establishing a good society, whatever that means to each person. Even more importantly,

we have to stop fighting one another over political parties.

We are one Church, and we are called to be witnesses of Jesus Christ in our country by how we act, not by what we say is right, not by legislation, not by what we say isn’t wrong, not by political persuasion, and certainly not by accusing our brothers and sisters to those outside the Church. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

We must be the Church before anything else. We must be disciples of Jesus before we are Democrats or Republicans or Moderates. Our allegiances and guiding principles must belong to Scripture and the voice of God above all else. It is the Church’s job to stand over against the government, whatever form it takes, and declare the word of God, and shelter all who flee to her for refuge from the governments. It is our duty to be a preserving agent (salt) in the world, while the state is called to “bear the sword.” (See Romans 12)

There is so much to say. I have so much to say and have thought, wrestled, and prayed about this particular subject for a few years now. The Sermon on the Mount is where I am landing. I have had some radical(?) ideas in the last couple years about proper Christian response, not simply to this election, but to the political system in general, and I feel this Sermon is the sun around which all other ideas have to orbit. So if this is a call, and I hope you read it that way, it is not to vote for anyone person in particular, or to not vote (which is what I am choosing), but to commit to taking the Sermon on the Mount seriously, to commit to becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ, encouraging our brothers and sisters in the Church in the areas we find easy, and allowing ourselves to be challenged and changed by Jesus’ words in the Sermon, and by those who find those parts easier. We are in this together, whether we like it or not.

Last election cycle, I said that the next would leave Christians in a particularly difficult situation. The details of it worked out a little differently than I thought, but the overall effect is the same. Christians have as options people who care nothing for the Gospel or human dignity. Whichever way a Christian might vote, they are doing so by necessarily making significant compromises to the Gospel and to Jesus. Maybe it’s always been this way, but it seems out in the light this time around. At this point, we can only be blind to that fact by conscious decision. I believed then, and I believe now, that this is God’s way of breaking the unhealthy relationship the Church has with the State, forcing us to realize we have to go about engaging with culture in a different way, and giving us little option but to either continue in compromise until our voice is completely obliterated, or become the Church.

Devotional Doubt

I’m reading My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman. It might be the most beautiful non-fiction book I’ve read. It’s challenging me in ways I’ve never been challenged before, the way I think about God and the world. I like it. It makes me uncomfortable sometimes, and I’m having to take them into prayer.

I started reading the book shortly after I posted My Darkness, and it seems to fit my mood perfectly. All that being said, I’m going to quote a couple paragraphs from it here. I’ve never done this before, and I don’t know if it’s legal. So, Christian, if you somehow come across this, first of all, thank you for writing, and secondly, all credit goes to you.

You know the value of your doubt by the quality of the disquiet that it produces in you. Is it a furious, centrifugal sort of anxiety that feeds on itself and never seems to move you in any one direction? Is it an ironclad compulsion to refute, to find in even the most transfiguring experiences, your own or others’, some rational or “psychological” explanation? Is it an almost religious commitment to doubt itself, an assuredness that absolute doubt is the highest form of faith? There is something static and self-enthralled about all these attitudes. Honest doubt, what I would call devotional doubt, is marked, it seems to me, by three qualities: humility, which makes one’s attitude impossible to celebrate; insufficiency, which makes it impossible to rest; and mystery, which continues to tug you upward–or at least outward–even in your lowest moments. Such doubt is painful–more painful, in fact, than any of the other forms–but its pain is active rather than passive, purifying rather than stultifying. Far beneath it, no matter how severe its drought, how thoroughly  your skepticism seems to have salted the ground of your soul, faith, durable faith, is steadily taking root.


The Gospels vary quite a bit in their accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and the ensuing encounters he had with people, but they are quite consistent about one thing: many of his followers doubted him, sometimes even when he was staring them in the face. This ought to be heartening  for those of us who seek belief. If the disciples of Christ could doubt not only firsthand accounts of his resurrection but the very fact of his face in front of them, then clearly, doubt has little to do with distance from events. It is in some way the seed of Christianity itself, planted in the very heart of him (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?) who is at once God and our best selves, and it must be torn terribly, wondrously open in order to flower into living faith.

But how does this happen? Here, too, the Gospel stories are helpful, Just as some of Jesus’ first-century followers could not credit the presence of the risen Christ, so our own blindness, habit, and fear form a kind of constant fog that keeps us from seeing, and thereby believing in, the forms that grace takes in our everyday lives. We may think that it would be a great deal easier to believe if the world erupted around us, if some savior came down and offered as evidence the bloody scars in his side, but what the Gospels suggest is that this is not only wishful thinking but willful blindness, for in fact the world is erupting around us, Christ is very often offering us the scars in his side. What we call doubt is often simply dullness of mind and spirit, not the absence of faith at all, but faith latent in the lives we are not quite living, God dormant in the world to which we are not quite giving our best selves.

There it is. These are the reasons I love this book.

Lord, if we are going to have doubt, when we inevitably have doubt, let it be devotional doubt, and not self-sufficient pride.

Amen.

Quid Est Veritas?

This weekend, I found myself, unexpectedly, sitting next to a man I knew several years ago. He’s a minster, and has been an inspiration to many. I was surprised when he walked into the room where I was reading Wise Blood, but naturally, I stood to hug him. We sat down and began the necessary dialogue between two people who haven’t seen each other in a few years. As we talked I saw he was the same man I’ve always known him to be: passionate, prophetic, driven, ready to move, ready for the next big thing.

It was as he was telling me about the next venture for his ministry that I realized I had changed. I wondered to myself if the changes were for the better? I don’t think I can say with one sweeping statement they’re all good or all bad changes. Obviously, I hope they’re good, but reality is I can’t actually know. All I know is I have changed.

Some years ago, I found myself dissatisfied with my Christianity, realizing if it was going to be sustained, I would have to stop simply swallowing what was given to me by my teachers, as well meaning and genuine as they were and are, and seek truth for myself. I did just that.

I have tried my best to stay away from certain beliefs, or rejecting them, based on the mere fact of them being liberal, or progressive, or conservative, or ortho- or heterodox. It is tempting to reject old beliefs simply because they’re old or to adopt new ones simply because they’re new. I don’t want to be a partisan theology student. I have sought truth and have tried to hold onto it regardless of who does or doesn’t believe or disbelieve in it. I want to know and believe truth.

I try not to react to things with cynicism, but it is difficult to continue to believe certain things after years of disappointment.

What is truth?

(I swear if someone says “The Bible!” or “Truth is a man!” I’m going to lose my mind. Those are the kind of answers that are not helpful at all. I get it. But there’s more to it than that, and those answers don’t lead anyone on the path of truth.)

I don’t believe truth is relative, subject to change, or vanity. I do feel like our grasp of it is often weak at best. We adjust our lives and believes as we discover it. At least, that’s what I (try to) do.

Christ does not change.
But we certainly do.

I certainly do.

I have changed. I hope I continue to change, and I hope it’s in the direction of truth. I hope it’s in the direction of Christ. Sometimes we discover that a road we thought led away from him actually leads to him. This is always a surprise, and sometimes it’s painful to grow into new ideas.

How much do we hold onto simply because it’s what we’ve always held onto? Is that reason enough to continue holding on? Is it reason enough to let go? Maybe these questions should not even be part of the equation. Maybe it’s the pursuit of truth itself that is important, without regard to old and new, same or different. Though, I don’t mean a pursuit of truth as an abstract concept, as something to be learned, but as an experience, made of many experiences, to be lived.

Maybe that is why it’s important that Jesus is called the truth. He is not a thing or concept to be accepted. He is a concrete…no…a flesh and blood person to be experienced. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands…we have seen it and testify to it…that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

To follow Jesus, I think, will mean to follow him “outside the camp,” to follow him where our fellow believers will often be unwilling to go. This is a painful thought because this entity called The Church is a communal reality, and any truth has to be lived in life with others, experienced with others, if it is to be truth. No person can be a Christian alone. No person can know truth in isolation.

My Darkness

During the winter of 2007, through the spring of 2008, I walked into darkness.

I’ve probably thought about that time every day since then. It at least feels like it. It has never left me.

In the winter of 1987, I was severely burned over a large portion of my body. I spent about six months at Denver Children’s Mercy Hospital, fighting for life in the beginning, and recovering for the rest of that time. I was released on April 4th, my birthday, which was also Easter Sunday. Seems fitting. Almost thirty years later, I still wear the scars from that moment on my arms and back. When I was in high school, my dad learned of a procedure that could remove my scars, significantly, if not entirely. He asked if I wanted to go through the procedure. Without hesitation, I told him no. He was taken back by my reaction. He couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to remove the scars.

I still feel the same way today I felt then. These are not just scars, these are my scars. They are as much part of me as my brown eyes, or my temperament. What happened to me that day shaped me, left its mark, literally, and is a necessary part of my being. To remove these scars, my scars, would be to deny and attempt to hide who I am. Though there are painful memories living in my scars, they are me.

Sometimes, while I am driving alone after a long day, or long week, or long month, I think about that winter, when God disappeared. It didn’t happen suddenly. Gradually, he faded from sight, vanishing behind the descending darkness. I remember the night I realized he was gone. I was in the living room of my parents house, watching an advertisement for a conference in Kansas City, and the cold reality of my lostness hit me full force. I quietly shut my laptop, went downstairs into my room, and begged God to come back. With tears making their way down my cheeks, I understood I was alone.

Without God, the only one I could look at was myself, and I didn’t see much. I had been very self-confident until then. There wasn’t much I didn’t know, or that I couldn’t learn. I thought that, until I could no longer see.

Existential atheism.

I thought I believed in God. I wanted to believe in God. I wanted Jesus to be what and who he said he was, but there was no evidence of that for me. Maybe he was, but without coming face to face with that reality, he may as well have been rotting in a grave somewhere. That was the Jesus I knew then, a dead, long forgotten Jesus who meant nothing to me. Yet, in meaning nothing, he meant everything. His existence still overshadowed mine.

God was gone, and in his absence, he was present with me.

He was the void I was falling into, without knowing it. We live most our lives in fantasy, trying to convince ourselves of things we don’t truly believe.

Had I ever believed in God?

I never thought about it. I never gave myself the chance to doubt, and in so doing, I never gave myself the chance to believe. There were times in the two years that followed high school when moments of unbelief would explode in my head, but I never confronted them. I simply told myself this was untrue, that God did exist, and I only needed to keep believing. But darkness grew like moss in my being, until one day, I could no longer deny it. Darkness became my reality, and it pushed out all the fantasies I called faith.

I hated it then.
I am thankful for it now.

Obviously, I came out believing in Jesus. I’ve written about it before, so I won’t take the time here.

My heart wears scars from that time. Scars which are sensitive to certain temperatures and touches. Scars I can see whenever I look into my own eyes. Scars I hope never disappear. They remind me that I have lived and I am alive. They remind me that I am nothing, and in my nothingness, the reality of God can be a light in darkness, and my nothingness becomes Being in him.

There is a sadness in my heart that never goes away. Its roots are anchored in my atheism, in my dead God. But the leaves grow up into the brightness that is the Living God. There, where they bear fruit, is joy and peace.

My scars remind me what I have is faith in Jesus, and not a fantasy of God.

Oh Dear…

something needs to change.

I was in a conversation with some people today about their conservative parents response to their liberal ideas. Typical Republican answers to typical Democratic convictions.

What is upsetting to me is the reasoning I hear from the mouths of Christians supporting the Republican agenda.

“People in entry level jobs don’t deserve a living wage.”

What?
So, what you’re saying is that a person isn’t worthy of a living wage simply because they’re somehow less educated, or less skilled? We’re not talking here about someone having a higher wage than another. If you think highly educated people deserve higher wages, that’s fine. But that’s not what I’m hearing.

What I’m hearing is that a person is not worth a living wage, a person isn’t valuable enough to be paid a wage with which they can support themselves, and say, maybe a spouse, simply because they’re doing “entry level jobs.” An entry level job is a job that only those who need money take because they have little or no other options.

But what is that person worth?

The way I see it, people who are working entry level jobs are as integral to society as those who work skilled jobs. Lord knows the doctor isn’t going to clean the restrooms in the hospital. I suppose the person on the operating table wouldn’t want the doctors hands in the toilet as well as in his chest.

The service industry is a vital part of our hyperactive, nervous, Capitalist society. Who wants to go to work in the morning without their morning cup of coffee? Think of the convenience you have because there are people out there who do nothing else but listen to you say what you want to eat, along with your idiosyncratic modifications, then run along and make sure the cook, who likely makes your meal to specifications, prepares your food, then runs it out to you. All in as timely a manner as they can.

Why does that person not deserve to live relatively comfortable, with all needs met with a little left over for entertainment?

A person deserves to live with their needs met and a little comfort simply because they’re human. Not because they’re educated, or put their time in, or citizens, or whatever other reasons you’re thinking. Maybe a lawyer should make more money than a janitor or a server (I’m not necessarily saying they should). But why does that mean a person shouldn’t make a living wage? (I am necessarily saying they should.)

The entire Christian faith is founded on the principle that people don’t get what they deserve, and do get what they don’t. In other words, God acted selflessly because he valued humans beings as human beings. Once you insert the idea of “deserving,” you invalidate the whole divine action. “Deserving” is not a word that is in the vocabulary of salvation.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. This isn’t addressing other anti-human systems at work. Let me be clear, I am not a Democrat, even if I lean liberal. I am a non-voter. I think the whole system is sham, a game that is played with the American people. But if I can’t vote Democrat because I disagree with the platform on two or three issues, I certainly can’t vote Republican since I agree with them on two or three issues, and not on any others.

I have much more to say, and I think this may turn into a series.

Queen in Gold

cornstalk
Corn in a Twilight Sky by KDB

 

I was thinking about the statements the Bible says about the Church, and some of the things I’ve heard said over the years about the Church becoming this powerful, holy force (see Ephesians 4:11-16). I was also thinking about the condition she is in now.
Divided
Angry
Confused
Compromised
Hurt
Hungry
Broken
Defensive

I didn’t know how to reconcile what I could see in the Church now with what I read in the Scriptures. And I certainly could not see how we are supposed to come into this glorious reality I was reading about, so I asked the Holy Spirit how it would happen, expressing my disbelief in it ever happening.

Suddenly, I saw a great, grassy field stretching as far as the eye could see in every direction. If you’ve ever been to Wyoming, and watched the breeze move through the grass like waves, you’ll know what I’m talking about. In the distance, I could see a single plant, standing above the grass.

I was rushed toward it, and saw it was a corn stalk. Just one. There were no cornfields here. Only the plains and the single stalk of corn. It grew high and straight. I could see the age in the sections toward the bottom. The older sections browned and peeled back to allow the newer sections to grown. What wasn’t browning and drying up at the bottom was a dark green.

A single ear of corn grew at the top.
The husk around the corn was light brown and dry. The leaves were starting to turn back at the top. The husk peeled back slowly, and revealed, not an ear of corn, but a woman of solid gold. She shone with a bright light and wore a crown.

This is a picture of the Church, Ecclesia, the Queen of Heaven.

I feel that God was showing me the growth pattern of the Church, because She is, after all, a single, living organism. There has never been a time in history when the expression of the Church was wrong, even if some practices or beliefs were. The Church has been exactly what it needed to be in order to fulfill the purpose God had for it at that time. Yet, a time would come when it grew old, and new growth had to come out from within. The old skin would peel back to allow the new growth. But the old was still alive, still part of the Church, and still necessary for the new growth to survive. In some ways, it protected the new growth.

This is all leading up to the fruit, the Queen of Gold, the Church in all her glory. All the growth. All the hard times, the sick times, the bad weather, the droughts, the explosions of growth, the hardening of the outer layers, is leading up to that moment when suddenly She will be revealed to be what God always intended. She will be full of the glory of God. She will be beautiful and pure.

She has to finish growing. Fruit should not be eaten until it’s ripe. As long as we’re here, fighting this out, figuring out how to worship and serve and love Jesus Christ, we’re still growing. We need to be kind to one another. We are all One plant.

And one day,
we will all
be revealed to be the One bride of Jesus Christ.

Black Hole

IMG_5949

It tears the soul
deep inside
unreachable
unsoundable
gnawing just below the rib cage

Like a black hole
Ready to consume
to destroy
to take anything
anyone
in
and drain what little life there is to find
Vampire thirst for blood

Is there light bright enough to overcome
the cavity
in existence
ravaging existence
ingesting existence?
Is there fire torrid enough
to warm the icy blackness
capturing a thousand stars?

Mercy drives the stake
into the void
where darkness lies
Drains black bile
liberating spirit
exhale