Archive for September 2015

Is John Boehner Right? Are There False Prophets in Congress?

Is Boehner Right? Are There False Prophets in Congress?

Just a day after welcoming Pope Francis, House Majority Leader John Boehner announced that he will step down from his role in Congress at the end of October. It’s a startling announcement that has caught almost everyone in Washington off-guard. Boehner’s resignation is being widely interpreted as a sign of just how irrational and divisive American politics has become.

This weekend, Boehner was making the rounds of TV news, explaining the current situation in Congress. He talked about how he plans to spend his last month in office, now freed of any need to protect himself politically. With nothing to fear at this point from far-right challengers, Boehner painted a dire picture of the spiritual state of the 114th Congress.

Boehner is engaging with this whole situation on a spiritual level. I was really struck by an interview that Boehner did with Face the Nation this Sunday morning, where he referenced the Bible, and referred to some of his fellow House members as false prophets. Check it out:

What Boehner is basically saying is that some Republicans are willing to say virtually anything to play to their far-right base. Despite the fact that they are clearly not going to be able to repeal Obamacare, or defund Planned Parenthood, for example, they’re publicly committed to doing just that. And they’re willing to shut down the federal government for prolonged periods, doing potentially huge damage to the US economy and reputation.

As I watched this video, I had several questions. First of all: How do we know the difference between false prophets and true ones? Prophets are uncompromising figures, and they’re often considered unrealistic. So how can we tell when someone has crossed the line from boldly challenging the status quo, to being a person who intentionally distorts reality and gains power through empty promises?

Another question: How much compromise should we want from our elected officials? For me personally, I’m happy when I see politicians who stand on principle and don’t back down from doing what is right, even when there are political costs. But there’s definitely a distinction between working strategically for justice and simply being obstructionist in order to create a self-serving spectacle. How can we tell which is happening?

And finally: Where is God in all of this? Clearly John Boehner feels that he’s been through some pretty significant spiritual discernment on this whole question, and he’s decided to walk away from the mess in Congress. Where does that leave us? What responsibility do you and I have to engage in the increasingly bogged-down world of US politics? What are other ways that we might find God calling us to make a positive impact in a world that is desperately in need of change? How can we find a path beyond the culture wars, coming to unity rather than compromise?

I the video below, I have a conversation with Nathan Hosler of the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness. During our talk, we consider what it means to be friends of Jesus in a society where false prophets hold positions of power and influence. We explore what each of us can do to be truthful and loving in the midst of a society that has largely lost its moral compass.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions, and whatever other reactions John Boehner’s resignation elicits for you. Please share in the comments below!

Related Posts:

3 Reasons Pope Francis’ Visit Could Change America

Should Christians Say the Pledge of Allegiance?

What If They Threatened Your Family?

What If They Threatened Your Family?

I’m the kind of Christian who believes that, when Jesus said Love your enemies, he probably meant Don’t kill them. I’m also the kind of Christian who thinks that the discernment of the early church was correct when they concluded that military service is incompatible with following Jesus. For those of us who worship a man who rejected the role of a military messiah, and who died at the hands of the imperial state, participation in state violence should be off the table.

Shouldn’t it?

It’s a live question. From my perspective Christian nonviolence is self-evident, but this is a minority viewpoint within the wider Christian community. Most modern-day Christians accept that violence and even warfare between nations is something that followers of Jesus can participate in.

And I get it. I understand why millions of my fellow believers see no alternative but war and bloodshed as the lesser of two evils. Just like the ancient Roman state that killed Jesus, the modern empires we live in do bring about a certain kind of peace. It’s definitely preferable to live in a strong, centralized state that has a monopoly on violence than it is to live in a chaos of perpetual warfare. Peace and security count for a lot – probably more than most first world citizens truly appreciate.

Still, I am convinced that God has more in store for us than the peace and tranquility of empire. Jesus invites us into a life where we can truly trust in God to be our strength and protection. The way of Jesus is dangerous for sure, but it’s also full of vibrance, beauty, and passion that simply can’t compare to the sad security of violent domination.

That’s not to say that the arguments of fear aren’t persuasive. Perhaps one of the most effective challenges to pacifist conviction is to simply ask the question: What would you do if someone broke into your house and was threatening your family?

This question contains so many assumptions – about violence, masculinity, and my ability to project force onto others with predictable consequences. And yet, despite all the problems I have with this question, there’s a reason people keep asking it. It strikes at something important, a challenge that must be answered: Am I willing to sacrifice my loved ones on the altar of Christian nonviolence? Am I really willing to allow my family to become martyrs along with me?

I think that anyone who answers this question easily hasn’t really thought enough about it. I can take risks with my own life, but what business do I have endangering the lives of those under my care? If I can protect my loved ones, isn’t it worth using violence?

My honest answer is: I don’t know. I just don’t know. I haven’t ever been in a situation where I’ve been presented with this horrible dilemma. I pray that I never am.

One thing is for sure: I know that, in such a situation, I couldn’t stand by and do nothing. I’m not capable of simply being a passive spectator while evil people abuse and slaughter my family. Honestly, it’s hard for me to imagine anyone having the callousness to do nothing while such terrible, personal injustice is being committed.

At the same time, I have hope that I am becoming a person who is open to a power that can guide me in such moments of crisis, in ways that go far beyond my natural capacities. I have experienced the Spirit that Jesus promised, who will guide me in those times of extremity. When I’ve gone to the breaking point and beyond, God is there.

I want to be a person who trusts the power of the Spirit to find a creative, loving response to any situation – even those that terrify me.

If you ask me whether I would use violence to defend myself or others, my human nature says yes. Without a doubt. But my identity in Jesus calls me to find a more creative, beautiful, loving way. A way that demonstrates the power and justice of God. A way that imitates Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.

I can’t even fathom what it would mean to live this way in a moment of crisis. But with God’s help, I want to be ready to find out.

How about you?

Related Posts:

Nonviolence in the Face of ISIS? Ridiculous!

How Can I Forgive?

3 Reasons Pope Francis’ Visit Could Change America

3 Reasons Pope Francis' Visit Could Change America

Pope Francis will be arriving in Washington, DC tomorrow, and we locals are getting ready for a huge celebration. Public officials have warned us to avoid travel for the next few days. We’re expecting the roads and public transportation to be flooded with thousands of pilgrims making their way to see the head of the world’s largest Christian communion. It’s gonna be a beautiful mess!

Francis’ visit to the United States will be an enormous spectacle. I have no doubt that many will find it inspiring and uplifting. But what’s the ultimate impact? Could Francis’ time in the US make waves that go beyond traffic delays and photo ops?

Here are three reasons that the Pope’s arrival could mark a tipping point for American culture:

1. The Pope inspires us to move beyond the culture wars. If you’re like most Americans, you’re exhausted from the endless ideological battles that have consumed our country in recent decades. So often in these battles, Christianity has been used as a weapon to attack others and score political points. It’s no wonder that millions of Americans have given up on organized religion altogether. Nobody wants to feel like they’re being manipulated for political advantage.

And yet, most of us are still hungry for something that goes deeper than the numbing consumerism that we are constantly being sold. We’re disgusted by the right-wing, imperial Christianity that justifies foreign wars and domestic discrimination, but we long for the heart of love that we once found in Jesus. We are hungry for the genuine gospel of peace, reconciliation, and justice.

The good news that Francis preaches cuts through the hypocrisy of American political discourse. Francis reminds us that, in Jesus, it is possible to work for the protection of all life – including the unborn threatened by abortion, the natural world threatened by climate change, and the poor who are being crushed by ever-widening income inequality and economic injustice. Pope Francis breaks down the Republican/Democrat binary, holding out a vision of the Reign of God that challenges all political ideologies.

2. Francis is unifying the Christian community. Just as the gospel message dissolves the hostility of the political culture wars, it also has the power to overcome divisions within the church. For hundreds of years, the Christian world has been divided between different Christian denominations, each one claiming to be the one and only true church. The emergence of Pope Francis, with his broad-minded ecumenism rooted in an evangelical mission, encourages us to reevaluate the sectarianism of centuries past.

This doesn’t mean we all become the same. There are important reasons that I am not a Catholic, and that the Pope is not a Quaker. But our differences are relativized in the light of our shared experience of Jesus Christ in our lives. The barriers between us are broken down by a common recognition of the challenges that face us as a species, and the extraordinary measures that we must take together to avert ecological catastrophe and economic atrocity. Our shared calling as disciples of Jesus and heirs of the Reign of God is so much greater than the many ways that we are different from one another. What would it look like if we committed ourselves to working together in all those areas where we are already of one heart and mind?

3. He builds bridges with skeptics. Pope Francis has shown himself to be a universal Christian leader, with relevance far beyond the bounds of the Roman Catholic fellowship. His compassion and demonstrated love for the marginalized speaks to the heart of the spiritual-but-not-religious, agnostics, and the countless other Americans who want something deeper, but cannot in good conscience accept the Christianity presented to them by mainstream Evangelicalism.

Most of these folks are probably never going to become Catholics, but that’s not the point. Francis is a major Christian leader who is showing himself to be a compassionate, principled human being. It’s sad to say, but for many Americans, that’s something new.

For an historically Protestant nation that is increasingly fed up with George Bush Evangelicalism, Pope Francis’ visit is an opportunity to present an alternative vision for what life with Jesus can look like. This pope is connecting with millions of Americans who don’t consider themselves Christians, but who find themselves resonating with the simple, radical faith of Jesus.

This is an exciting moment. I’m looking forward to welcoming Pope Francis to my city and nation. I feel hopeful about the kind of positive change that his visit could bring about in the spiritual life of our country.

What are ways that we can amplify the volume of the gospel message that Pope Francis is bringing to our national stage? How are we, as followers of Jesus, preparing ourselves to reap the harvest of this visit, as thousands – perhaps millions – are brought into a new awareness of what a radiant, loving, faithful life in Jesus can look like?

I’d love to discuss these questions with you in the comments below.

Related Posts:

Why Pope Francis’ Climate Encyclical Matters

Pope Francis: A Social Justice Pope?

The Key to the Good Life? Just-In-Time Delivery

The Key to the Good Life? Just-In-Time Delivery

At the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Fall Gathering, we were asked to share a simple word or phrase that expressed our vision of what abundant life looks like.

For me, the phrase was just-in-time delivery

This is a concept from the business world. It’s the idea that the most efficient system is one in which all resources are delivered shortly before they are to be used. An example of this would be an auto factory that received all the parts it needed the day the vehicle was to be assembled. The factory wouldn’t stockpile wheels, axles, and lug nuts for next week or next month’s production. Instead, it would rely on suppliers to deliver those items the day of

Why did I choose this random business concept as my definition of the good life?

It all goes back to the desert. In the Sinai wilderness, after Moses and the Hebrews had escaped from Egyptian slavery, they were totally reliant on God. They had no idea how to survive in the desert, far away from the carefully irrigated Nile Delta where they had lived for centuries.

Once they got over the shock of escaping certain death at the hands of Pharaoh’s army, the Hebrews were assailed by doubts. What have we done? Where have you taken us Moses? Did you bring us out into the desert so that we could die of starvation?

Moses and his compatriots were about to discover a way of life that was in many ways more uncomfortable than Egyptian bondage. Sure, in Egypt they were abused and oppressed – but at least they knew where dinner was coming from. If there was one thing the Egyptians were good at, it was stockpiling food.

There were no such reassuring granaries in the desert where Moses had led them. They were defenseless. They had nothing to rely on for survival but the daily mercy of God. They were dependent on just-in-time delivery of food from the sky, a substance so mysterious that they called it manna, which means What’s that?

This is exactly where the Hebrew people needed to be: Rooted in reality. Freed from the false security of stockpiles, military might, and economic oppression. Everything now depending on God’s daily providence.

This is where I need to be, too. When asked what abundant life looks like for me, I said just-in-time delivery. I might just as easily have said manna. It’s this life of dependence on God, trusting him to provide the next step, the next meal, the way home – this is where I find true abundance.

Rather than living slavery to accumulation and self-protection, I’m invited to trust deeply, release control, and see life as it really is.

Have you experienced this kind of desert abundance? When are times in your life when you were forced to rely completely on God for the resources you needed – material, spiritual, or emotional? What would it be like to remain in this desert journey, embracing the just-in-time delivery of the Holy Spirit? Who might you meet along the way?

Related Posts:

Yes, but I’d trade it all for a little more

Why Jesus is Anti-Capitalist

How Much Diversity Can You Handle?

How Much Diversity Can We Handle?

Our culture puts a huge value on diversity. We have a whole laundry list of identity groups that we aim to see represented in our organizations, brands, churches, and movements. We track metrics like race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, national origin – and the list goes on.

This helps us feel good about ourselves. We like to think of ourselves as inclusive people. Open-minded. Compassionate. It makes us feel better to know that everyone has had a fair shot at participation, membership, success. Even if we don’t ultimately achieve diversity – whatever that means – at least we tried.

But could it be that this apparent concern with inclusion is actually a defense mechanism? What if all our high-minded, check-list diversity is just a veneer hiding a less savory reality? What if our professed commitment to diversity is just a front, obscuring a deep-seated tendency to judge, discriminate, and exclude those who are different from us?

There’s something not quite right with a society that is so obsessed with the fiction of color blindness and I Have A Dream romanticization of Martin Luther King, yet at the same time continues to turn a blind eye to the ongoing racial, ethnic, and class segregation of our neighborhoods, businesses, churches, and civic organizations.

In a culture that insists that any of us can rise to the top, it’s striking that income inequality and class stratification is the greatest we’ve seen in generations. Even more remarkable is the enduring strength of the myth of meritocracy – that those who are wealthy earned it, and that the swelling ranks of the poor are filled by those who just didn’t make the right choices to succeed.

There’s something off-kilter in a culture where the myths of diversity and meritocracy can stand side by side, unquestioned. We say we want diversity, but only a diversity of the very best.

But real diversity means embracing those who don’t meet your expectations. True inclusivity means giving to those who can’t repay you. It means choosing to share love, attention, jobs, and opportunity indiscriminately – without regard for merit.

Easier said than done, I know. Maybe it’s not even realistic. But if not, let’s at least be honest about it: We don’t want diversity; we want the homogeneity of those who know how to work the system. We want a diversity of insiders.

That may work in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street. That may drive the elite economy and make the trains run on time. But it’s not the vision that Jesus calls us into.

The kingdom of God is open to all, and that’s scary. When we choose to follow Jesus, we’re called into relationship with all sorts of people that we’d rather avoid. People who slow us down and frustrate our ambitions.

There’s nobody more inclusive than God. In Jesus, he throws the door wide open to everybody. Everybody. You ain’t never seen diversity like this.

Maybe this kind of radical inclusion isn’t for you. That’s totally fair. It’s way outside my comfort zone, for sure.

Just don’t turn around and pretend that you like diversity.

Related Posts:

Dear White Church: Repent!

What Happens When Radicals Fall in Love?

Are Quakers Allowed to Speak in Tongues?

Are Quakers Allowed to Speak in Tongues?

The first time I heard someone speak in tongues was at the World Gathering of Young Friends, an international Quaker gathering held in 2005, in Lancaster, England.

It was a minister from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Deborah Saunders, who spoke to us with a commanding presence and a message that struck me to the heart. She called us to know who we are, to be grounded in the life and power of God, to live without being rocked by every new voice we heard. She called us to a life of guts, grit, and courage.

I didn’t realize that she was speaking in tongues at the time. I just thought I couldn’t understand some of what she was saying. But those sessions were recorded, and I listened to the audio many times in the years following the gathering. Eventually, after listening to the same sermon a half dozen times or more, I figured out what was happening. This Quaker minister was speaking in the voice of the tradition where she had come to Christ, in the Pentecostal stream.

After that, I didn’t run into the gift of tongues again for a very long time. I wasn’t involved in charismatic/Pentecostal circles, so it didn’t come up. Not until last year, at the Northeast Christ-Centered Friends Gathering in New York State. There, I came into contact Quakers who had been impacted by the charismatic renewal. During prayer time, they spoke in tongues.

It was wild.

They didn’t make a big deal of it. They weren’t ostentatious, nor did they expect anyone else to join them in their prayer language. But for someone like me with little experience of such phenomena, it was eye opening. I didn’t know such things could happen among Friends, and I honestly didn’t know what to make of it. I was both intrigued and slightly uncomfortable.

And then tongues came even closer. At the 2014 Fall Gathering of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, we experienced a critical mass of charismatic Friends. During one prayer time in particular, there was an outpouring of ecstatic utterance, with perhaps about a third of those gathered actively speaking in tongues.

I didn’t. In fact, I had a tough time not laughing while others were praying in unknown languages. I don’t know why I had the almost uncontainable impulse to laugh. I think I was mostly nervous. To have half a dozen of my brothers and sisters praying in tongues was simply something I had never experienced before. But there’s no doubt that the spiritual temperature in the room was off the charts. It really felt like God was moving, and who was I to stop Christ’s mouth?

Who’s Afraid of Tongues?

I recently learned that a visitor to our 2015 Spring Gathering experienced discomfort at the fact that speaking in tongues appeared to be a central part of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship. It seems that some of the folks who joined us for the weekend were unnerved by the fact that glossolalia was present in some of our prayer sessions.

I can understand why. It makes me uncomfortable, and I know this community intimately! I can only imagine how it must have felt for those who had neither a background with tongues, nor with the community where they were being unexpectedly spoken. It was probably pretty unnerving.

But what is so threatening about speaking in tongues? I have several guesses.

One is that, perhaps, speaking in tongues is seen as being exclusive. Not everyone speaks in tongues, and some brands of Pentecostalism hold that those who do not practice tongues-speaking are not actually saved. That would be pretty alienating, to say the least. I know I wouldn’t want to be part of any community that judged people’s spiritual lives based on whether or not they spoke in tongues. Especially since I never have!

Another reason that I think many folks – Quakers in particular – might have qualms with speaking in tongues, is that it is seen as being overly emotional, even irrational. 

I can understand why many would come to that conclusion – especially Quakers, who tend to shy away from strong expressions of feeling. The act of speaking in tongues is profoundly non-rational. It’s about something that goes beyond normal human understanding, delving into the realm of the unconscious and supernatural. For those who value reason above all, speaking in tongues must seem profoundly dangerous.

When Are Tongues OK?

I don’t understand this whole speaking in tongues thing. I have never spoken in unknown languages, and it’s not a gift I’m actively seeking. Yet there are some in my community who do sometimes speak in tongues. It’s a significant part of their spiritual experience and personal prayer life. Sometimes it comes out in worship.

I’m proud of my community. Friends of Jesus Fellowship isn’t obsessed with charismatic expressions. We’re not chasing after exotic gifts and wonders. At the same time, we don’t flee from them when they do occur. On the contrary, our 2014 Fall Gathering was edified by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, expressed in large part through the ecstatic prayer and non-rational utterances by several of our brothers and sisters.

I don’t have to understand speaking in tongues to know that it felt healthy when others did. I don’t have to pretend I’m comfortable with tongues to welcome these gifts into our community.

This was never about being comfortable, anyway. I learned a long time ago that it’s those times when I’m stretched beyond my comfort zone that God is doing really important work in me. If our community is stretched and challenged by the emergence of charismatic gifts among us, perhaps this an opportunity for spiritual growth on a mass scale.

I’m down for that.

What’s your experience of the charismatic gifts – tongues, healing, prophecy, and more? Do such gifts have a place among Friends? Do these expressions make you uncomfortable? Why?

Related Posts:

When We Pray, It Boils

Strive for the Greater Gifts

A Baptism Into Courage

Friends of Jesus Fellowship Fall Gathering

It’s easy for your faith to become just another obligation, a set of rules to fulfill and a standard that you struggle to live up to. But every once in a while, you catch glimpses of what it could feel like to be part of a community where heaven and earth come together, when everyday life becomes saturated with meaning and authenticity. In such times, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Life takes on a whole new smell, because you are living it on purpose.

In moments like these, you know who you are. You know where you belong.

This weekend has been one such moment for me, a time of power, presence, and life. I’ve been at the annual Fall Gathering of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, held this year in Lebanon, New Jersey. Our theme this weekend has been Fully Human, focused on the ways that we can live into the love-saturated life and power that Jesus promises us in the Holy Spirit.

Together, we’ve been experiencing the living presence of Jesus. We’ve been hearing his invitation to truly abundant life. What he offers us has more depth and reality than the false promises and illusions of the dominant culture: consumerism, materialism, and the soul-numbing myth of the autonomous individual.

We were made for more. We can feel it our bones.

Every gathering of God’s people has its own flavor. Some are raucous affairs, whipped hard by the winds of the Holy Spirit. At this gathering, though, we’ve experienced a sweet spirit of reassurance and gentle challenge. We’re being invited to take a realistic look at our lives, and to consider how we can take the next steps into deeper discipleship with Jesus.

This weekend has been a baptism into a deep reservoir of courage. It’s the kind of bravery that can only be lived into over a period of months, years, decades. It’s not the thrill of the quick decision or the decisive battle. We’re being called into the gentle, relentless faithfulness of water – slowly wearing down the path that God desires to walk in us.

There is a stream of living water that is flowing through our lives as friends of Jesus. We’re encountering an invitation to turn away from the many ways that we burden ourselves. The Spirit is calling to us, inviting us to take up the easy yoke of Jesus. Together.

It’s not clear what the next steps will be, though we’ve gotten some hints. It’s going to involve slowing down and really being present with one another. It’ll mean taking big risks over long periods of time, preparing ourselves for those kairos moments when God will use us to take powerful and transformative action, in ways both seen and unseen by the world.

The path we are being called into calls for patience, discipline, and steadfast love. There will be few quick victories, no easy answers. Nevertheless, Jesus has promised to walk with us along the way, and we already experience his child-like joy accompanying us. We are learning to trust him, and to take him at his word. He is faithful.

I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next.

Related Posts:

We’re Gathering Momentum – Are You In?

The Spicy, Subversive Kingdom of God