Riches Have No Meaning

I’ve been reading through Shane Claiborne‘s book “The Irresistible Revolution”. Nearly every page has something that challenges and hurts to read, in a good way. This was from my reading today:

“So I did a little survey, probing Christians about their (mis)conceptions of Jesus. It was fun just to see how many people think Jesus loved homosexuals or ate kosher. But I learned a striking thing from the survey. I asked participants who claimed to be ‘strong followers of Jesus’ whether Jesus spent time with the poor. Nearly 80 percent said yes. Later in the survey, I sneaked in another question. I asked this same group of strong followers whether they spent time with the poor, and less than 2 percent said they did. I learned a powerful lesson: We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor. … I truly believe that when the poor meet the rich, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end.”

shane

A God That Cares About Justice

Over the last few months, with a new and fresh burden on my soul for those caught in the cross-hairs of injustice and oppression, I’ve often looked up to heaven wondering when God is gonna show up and right some of the wrongs in front of us. As I wait in silence, like a lonely passenger waiting in the subway for that train that never seems to come, it’s easy to get to a place where you wonder if he cares at all.

It’s actually quite easy to assume he doesn’t.

subway

Eric Garner

Michael Brown

Walter Scott

Philando Castile

Alton Sterling

Jordan Edwards

But then I got an answer that was both encouraging and daunting: God expects his followers – the people who truly claim to be committed to him – to create the justice we all long for. He’s expecting you and I to stand in that gap. To not wait for someone else or for the right time or for the right resources – but to fight and labor for justice now!

Certainly, there is a day coming when Jesus will come back on the scene… not as a baby in need of care, but as a King ready to rule. But that’s not yet. For today, he’s called us to rise up and act.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill, and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

Matthew 23:23-24

In Jesus’ day, the teachers of the law and Pharisees were an interesting bunch. I don’t like to admit it, but they thought very similarly to the ways I often think, when left unchecked. They’re more similar to us in the church today than we often concede. I’m convinced of this.

It was common practice for the Jews to tithe- to give 10% of their earnings and income each year back to God. And they were very meticulous about it. It was common practice for families to tithe from all of their crops. Even if they had a small garden of spices in their back yard, they would still give a tenth of it each year at harvest time as an offering. In fact, they were so meticulous, if there was any miscommunication or question as to whether or not the tithe had been given already, the owner of the land would give a second tithe, just to make sure it happened.

Jesus isn’t knocking that carefulness here. He clearly states that they should be following the law, which this practice was part of.

The issue Jesus has here is that they were neglecting something more important in the process. Clearly, Jesus felt the issues of justice, mercy and faithfulness were of greater importance and more central to his heart than tithing spices. Essentially, if we’re gonna get something wrong, we ought to not let it be turning a blind eye to injustice and allowing our brothers and sisters to live under the stubborn, selfish, systemic oppression that snakes its way into society.

It gets better.

If his audience wasn’t repulsed enough already, he ended with a sucker-punch to the gut with this last indictment:

“You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

The imagery here is profound. According to Jewish ceremonial law, both a gnat and a camel were unclean; it would be impure to ingest either one. If living today, the Pharisees would put a metal strainer over that tiny opening at the top of their Starbucks cup to ensure a gnat wouldn’t accidentally get through on their way to work… not realizing (or caring) that the night before they feasted at the dinner table on camel steak.

There were probably many examples of a lack of justice, mercy and faithfulness in Jesus’ mind as he had this conversation.

  • The woman caught in adultery – in the very act. The woman was caught… but what about the man? He was never presented before Jesus and the mob never intended to kill him. But their stones were in hand, raised and ready to kill her. A complete lack of justice.
  • The story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus for sure had specific examples in mind of this scenario playing out. A man is beaten and left to die on the side of the road, but religious people walked by and looked the other way, rather than investing and helping. A complete lack of mercy.
  • Jesus continually got in “trouble” with the law when he healed hurting people on the Sabbath. A complete lack of faithfulness.

One of the best examples is probably the day Jesus walked into the temple for worship, overcome with wrath at the blatant injustice occurring right before his eyes. People behind tables, taking advantage of the poor and destitute, using the sacrificial system set up by God in order to turn an exorbitant profit margin for personal gain.

Crazy stuff.

So… why does all this matter?

To those who don’t follow Jesus or claim allegiance to him, I think in many ways you’re off the hook here. To those of us though who do name the name of Christ, and sing his songs on the weekend, and claim him as our Savior, we have a responsibility. And when we don’t step into these conversations and speak up and create the kind of justice we all want, and when we don’t fight against the systemic forces of oppression in our nation, our message loses credibility. 

People walk by and see us tithing our mint, and dill, and cummin… and they see us doing nothing about the young black boy shot in the street last week.

And they don’t care about our message. Because to them, (rightfully so) it doesn’t matter! Our message isn’t changing their experience on the ground! 

There’s a God that cares about justice.

If you’ve been hurt and beaten down while the church passed by on the other side of the road, oblivious, I’m sorry.

It’s not your fault, and it’s not God’s.

It’s ours.

 

I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty

“I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security… More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, ‘Give them something to eat.'”

– Pope Francis

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Humility

“If you’re modest and have an awareness of the limits of your own knowledge you know that you need the people who disagree with you to correct for your own errors. [However] if you think you have the truth 100% then the people who disagree with you are just in the way.”

-David Brooks, NY Times

bench

We don’t need more truth-tellers in the Christian community

There are several high-profile national leaders in Christianity whose posts I simply cannot like or share, and haven’t been able to for several years now. And that’s frustrating to me because these are people I align with on much of their theology.

Why? Because their TONE is continually so condescending, so arrogant, and so judgmental. How I wished we all realized that HOW something is said is just as important as WHAT is being said.

We don’t need more truth-tellers in the Christian community right now. 

We need more truth-in-love tellers.

We need more people who won’t shy away from telling the truth, but are at the same time extremely aware and cognizant of its delivery. People who are hyper-intentional about communicating their love and acceptance of the ones who happen to be in the crosshairs of that truth.

Truth-only-tellers tend to garner support from their “Christian fan-base” while simultaneous pissing off those on the edges and margins of the faith. They embolden the ones in the Christian corner while alienating themselves from the very ones they’re called to reach.

I believe that it is 100% possible to communicate your view of truth with someone who 100% disagrees with you, and still do so in a way that validates their experiences, intellect, and dignity. But if you shut them down and attack them as a person first, your message won’t be heard.

You’ll be known for who you’re against and what you hate, rather than who you’re for and what you love.

walking away

 

 

On Dylann Roof, the Charleston Shooting, and the Death Penalty

when the subject comes up, people know i’m very much against the death penalty.

which puts me in a precarious place: the default line for people of faith is overwhelmingly FOR death.

death-penalty

i used to be there too, but then i read this book. it’s brought me to a complete 180. it gave me a total knockout-to-the-face, as the hypocrisy and double standards of my beliefs were showcased before my very eyes.

book

to those of us in the Church, i’m convinced this is front-and-center to an arena we’ve chosen to not think well about, to our own detriment. we have lost our humanity along the way, using the bible to defend a position we’ve known deep down inside is just wrong.

we often look at the crimes that have been committed and in our understandable desire for “justice”, the words of the victims’ families are often silenced. the media will seldom pick them up, and there’s usually an attorney general or prosecutor on the other end wanting to be voted back into office.

which is why i’m so excited for this piece ran by the NY Times 3 days ago.

seriously, read it!

the families of the victims in the Charleston Shooting have been vocally AGAINST the death penalty for Dylann Roof, and it’s profound to see. i wish i could get to know these beautiful people… i wish their spirituality could rub off on me more.

church

hearing their words – not just their extensions of forgiveness shortly after that horrific night – but now 17 months later, pleading for mercy… there’s just something very Jesus-like about their actions.

i think we’re witnessing here a version of Christianity profoundly close to the heart of God.

 

“Perspective”… ASL Gets It Right

if we’ve learned anything from this election it’s that the issues at hand are complex. i’m still amazed how surprised people are when i explain to them how i voted, which btw definitely did not fall in the norm for a white male with the evangelical (hate that term) label often tied closely around my ankle.

the thing is, there’s more than one way to look at the issues.

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and we often don’t want to admit that there are intelligent people who love Jesus and are genuinely following him on all sides of the debate.

there are multiple ways to look at…

  • immigration reform
  • health care
  • foreign policy
  • abortion
  • guns & violence
  • the death penalty
  • gay marriage
  • you name it

perspective-hacks

in a word, you could say we all need a little more “perspective”.

american sign language gets this term right. in fact, the english term really doesn’t come close to doing it justice.

a friend of mine showed me this sign a couple months ago, and it’s profound. the sign is 2 eyes pivoting 360 degrees around a single point.

how often do we look at an issue from the angle we’re most comfortable? or an angle we “inherited” from our family of origin?

what if instead, we took the time and invested the emotional energy needed to truly view it from all other angles?

true perspective is looking at an issue from every single vantage point.

when you do that, you just might be surprised how your perspective changes.

Tough Choices

a few years ago, as a church staff, we read Carly Fiorina‘s book, Tough Choices. this morning i was reminded of the themes she touches on in this memoir, and it is still so challenging and helpful. it was fun to pick it up and flip through the book today.

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here’s a few (of many) quotes i had underlined back when i read it the first time:

There are some people who would argue that a manager’s job is to use fear to motivate people, but I believe a leader’s job is to help people overcome their fear.

 

Never threaten if you’re not prepared to follow through. Never threaten if reason can prevail, but if you must, threaten something that really matters and stick to it.

 

Once change is advanced, retreat is fatal. Sometimes you just have to burn the boats.

 

A leader’s job is to set the frame so that the people a leader serves can do the right jobs in the right way to the best of their abilities. A leader’s job is to build lasting capability into the organization he or she serves.

 

There is always something to laugh about, even in the most difficult of times. It’s especially important to find the humor in the tough times because laughter helps people manage stress.

 

Responsible directors and reasonable people do not reverse in a few days a decision that has taken nine months to reach.

 

Values are signposts to guide people’s behavior when the rules aren’t clear and the supervisor isn’t present.

 

Not everything is easy, and not everything happens right away. Not everything happens exactly as you think it will, but when people work together, focused on a common goal and inspired by a worthy purpose, then truly everything is possible.

Get the book for yourself here!

Silent Too Long

Silent Too Long

i’ve been silent too long.

i’ve had a lot to say but i’ve been waiting for the perfect words. i’ve drafted the posts, reworked the wording again and again and again and again. and then i’ve deleted those posts time and time again before tapping “send”.

there’s a lot of reasons for that, but i’m coming to realize they’re all pretty much rooted in pride and selfishness.

i don’t want to be polarized. i don’t want to be misunderstood. i don’t want people to get the wrong idea. i don’t want them to think bad of me. i don’t want to be disliked and rejected.

and it seems that anything that is said these days within the race conversation does all of that and more, the minute you start engaging.

but no more.

no more!

shush

the legitimate hurt facing my friends and brothers and sisters in the black community is grievous to me. and what i now realize is that my silence has actually been speaking for me. my silence has put me in a camp. and it’s not the camp i want to be in.

like at the republican national convention last night.

trump walked out to queen’s song (without permission), giving the perception that the band was part of team trump.

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 9.19.55 AM

not so, and they were (rightfully) pissed.

by simply doing nothing and saying nothing, i have said something.

and i’m no longer ok with that.

to those in the black community who are hurting and grieving right now, i want you to know that i am hurting and grieving with you. i want you to know that i recognize that you live with a reality i personally have never had to face in my lifetime. and i want you to know that you do not stand alone right now.
i want you to know that i do not believe we need to just get back to normal, as one politician recently said. normal got us to where we are today. we need to create and carve out and slug out a new normal.

a new normal that gets us all honest about prejudice and preference.

a new normal that attacks and dismantles the implicit racial bias we all experience, whether we know it or not.

a new normal that allows us the freedom to converse without being polarized.

a new normal that somehow brings us to true equality and freedom, the mutual respect and dignity that all humans have been given by their creator.

a new normal that genuinely celebrates and embraces the many different cultures within our communities.

i’m sorry for the silence.

no more.

#blacklivesmatter

Today We Groan

the world we walk and the air we breathe today is not what was intended. this was not the reality God envisioned for us when he created this place. we groan from the depths of our being for the day when all things will be restored, when all tears will be wiped away, all injustice and all oppression silenced.

today we groan

i consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 

for the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.

for the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 

we know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 

not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 

for in this hope we were saved. but hope that is seen is no hope at all. who hopes for what they already have? 

but if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.