Archive for November 2016

How Can I Resist the Age of Trump with the Love of Jesus?

How Can I Resist the Age of Trump with the Love of Jesus?
Denial is giving way to harsh reality. This is really happening. Donald Trump is going to be the President of the United States for the next four years. A Trump presidency threatens the safety and well-being of women, religious and ethnic minorities, immigrants, the LGBT community, and the poor. With its belligerent denial of climate change, the Trump regime represents a potentially catastrophic threat to the future of all life. Thanks to the increasing militarization and surveillance of our society under presidents Bush and Obama, this new administration is positioned to carry out a reign of fear and oppression.

When I contemplate where we’re at as a country, and what is likely to come in the months ahead, it’s hard to avoid the twin opiates of panic and denial. Each of us has our own personal favorite, but both of these reactions are a dodge from the hard work of looking reality square in the face. We are soon to be living under a Trump presidency. The level of brutality and injustice in our country, already at danger levels, are about to soar.

The reasonable, respectable voices of denial assure us that “everything will be alright.” But we know that’s not true. Things never were alright, and this election has made this reality plain for anyone with eyes to see. We have the dubious fortune to be alive in a moment of national and planetary crisis. We have every reason to be alarmed.

There are other voices – those of panic and despair –  that are ready to insist that Trump is already virtually invincible. Fascism is ascendent, they say, and the only way to defeat it is with a show of brute force. Few are making overt calls for revolutionary violence yet, but the dog whistles are already blaring on social media. Many on the Left and the Right are gearing up for armed conflict. Their caustic rhetoric ramps up a sense of dread and terror. It prepares us for violence.

This road is a tempting one for me. When I am pushed, I naturally want to push back. And the proto-fascist supporters of Trumpism are pushing very hard right now.

As a follower of Jesus, however, I am committed to a path of nonviolent resistance to evil. God has given us the example of the suffering servant Jesus, who faced humiliation and death at the hands of Empire. He spoke the truth fiercely. Jesus stood with the weak, the outsider, the poor. But when it came time to choose the manner of his revolution, Jesus renounced the sword and took up the cross. Through his death and resurrection, God reveals his power to redeem the evil of this world. Through the cross of Jesus, we discover a path that transforms enemies. God heals the world through the blood of the martyrs.

The way of Jesus is not merely one of embracing unjust suffering. In a way, that would be easy. We could accept the blows of evildoers, all the while feeling ourselves superior. We would not physically attack our enemies, but spiritually we would murder them.

The way of Jesus is so much more powerful than a smug pacifism that judges enemies while refusing to dirty its hands with fighting them. The way of Jesus is a struggle; it’s a very real warfare. It’s a war for our own hearts, and the hearts of those who oppress us. As insane as it may sound – as much as it goes against my own natural tendencies – we are called into a path that seeks the redemption and wholeness of our enemies. That includes Donald Trump, his evil counselors, and his millions of deceived followers.

The way of Jesus never cedes ground to evil. Just as Christ openly defied the Pharisees and the priestly rulers, you and I are called to put our lives on the line. We’re called to disrupt the systems of oppression that hold back grace and healing from the “least of these” in our society. We are also called to pray for those who persecute us. We are tasked not only with justice for the poor, but simultaneously with steadfast prayer and supplication for the salvation of oppressors.

Maybe this sounded like a more “realistic” path a few months ago, back when many of us assumed that Donald Trump could never actually become president. Maybe loving our enemies seems more palatable when our enemies are already defeated. But that’s a cheap gospel of personal convenience and comfort. It is precisely in this moment, as evil rises and our freedom and safety come under threat, that it is most critical that we obey Jesus when he tells us to love our enemies.

We have real enemies now. We know who they are, and their evil plans are clearer than ever. And we must love them. Even as we hold them accountable. Even as we stand against their brazen attacks on our liberty and safety, we are commanded to love them. This means speaking to the inward witness of Christ within Donald Trump, his regime, and the millions of ordinary Americans who have put their trust in him. We are called to love them, even as they mock us, hurl insults, and threaten us.

We are called to love our enemies as we resist them. In Christ the aim of resistance is to bring about healing and redemption for the whole of the creation. This creation includes even those who are most visibly twisted by evil. Our warfare – the Lamb’s War – takes no prisoners. Each and every one of us is to be redeemed and restored in the light and power of Jesus.

This is a challenging path, to put it mildly! The most difficult part for me at this moment is discerning what specific, concrete actions God is calling me to take to resist the spread of white supremacy, misogyny, and destruction of the earth. How do I work against the spread of this culture of death, while never allowing myself to use death’s own weapons? How do I fight fire – not with fire, but with the cleansing water of Christ’s love?

These are no longer theoretical questions, if they ever were. The time has come for us to make the reign of God visible in bold, radical, faithful ways that shake us out of the stupor of panic and denial. What does it look like to invite others into the fiery, prophetic, and loving way of Jesus?

Related Posts:

Jesus is Lord. Trump is Not.

Trump Will Be President. We Must Resist.

Jesus Is Lord. Trump Is Not.

Jesus Is Lord. Trump Is Not.
This is a sermon that I preached this Sunday (11/20/16), at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. The scripture readings for this sermon were: Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Luke 1:67-80.

You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (FYI, the spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

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I was raised in the Quaker community, so I didn’t grow up with liturgical seasons. My church growing up was actually more “high church” than most Quaker meetings, if you can believe it. We actually did observe the Advent season to some extent. I remember as a kid we had five candles up front in the sanctuary, and during worship we’d light one for each week of advent. We finally lit the fifth one at our Christmas Eve service. That’s about as intense as our liturgical calendar ever got.

Since I became a Christian as an adult, I’ve really come to appreciate what I would call the “basic” liturgical calendar – all the big holidays that fall between Advent and Pentecost. Observing Lent, Good Friday, Easter – these have all become a meaningful part of my life. They help shape the spiritual rhythm of my year.

Lately I’ve been preaching more frequently here at Washington City Church of the Brethren, and I’ve found the lectionary to be a sort of gateway drug for what I’d call the “advanced” liturgical calendar. The broader church recognizes all sorts of special days and festivals, way beyond what I ever imagined. There’s a special focus, theme, saint, or event to commemorate practically every day of the year. Growing up Quaker, I thought that there were maybe half a dozen Christian holidays. Turns out, there are hundreds!

So, today is a holiday, too. It’s one that I’d never heard of before I looked at the lectionary for this Sunday. This morning, we’re gathered together on the feast day of Christ the King.

But check this out, this is cool. Ordinarily, today is referred to as the feast of Christ the King. But the official name for today is: The Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

Pretty cool, right?

Today is the last Sunday before the beginning of Advent. Advent is all about preparing ourselves for the arrival of the baby Jesus, the infant King of kings. We’re getting ready to welcome the Word made flesh, who comes to us in weakness and vulnerability yet is the power through whom everything came into being – from the sun in the sky to your breakfast this morning. He came in weakness, but his power is limitless. Though he was willing to die for us, God has raised him up to live and reign forever. This morning, we declare that Jesus is the one true God and sovereign of the universe.

He is our commander and chief. He is our president. He is the reference point for all our thoughts and actions. He is the rightful recipient of our prayers, our hopes, our dreams, and our devotion.

He is powerful leader.

This morning, our scripture reading talks about the huge difference between the leadership of human beings, and this fierce, loving reign of justice that we find in Jesus.

This reading is really well-timed. The limits and pitfalls of human government are about as clear as they’ve ever been in living memory. Our country has been struggling for a long time. And in the last year we’ve watched our society straining under the weight of political divisions, violence committed against black and brown bodies, hatred poured out on immigrants, women, and the LGBT community, and a stubborn refusal to respond to the very real ecological crisis that threatens our future as a people.

There’s never been a time in history when we’ve been in greater need of the kingship of Jesus. There’s never been an Advent season when we should be more ready to hear the good news that Christ is here to govern us in truth, compassion, justice, and wholeness.

On this morning, more than most mornings, we dream of an earth restored. We hear the creation crying out for redemption. We hear the voices of the poor, the oppressed, those who are shoved aside in our society. We hear the reality of our own pain and hopelessness in the face of so much evil. In the face of national leadership that for so many years has shown itself to be blind to the destruction of the creation, and deaf to the cry of the poor.

We need a savior. We need a leader. We need our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

In our scripture reading this morning, we hear that God is angry at the oppression of his people. Through Jeremiah the prophet, God calls out the ruling classes of Israel, who have posed as shepherds but who in fact are only interested in shearing the sheep and eating their flesh. God is speaking to the evil rulers of ancient Israel, and he is speaking just as clearly to those who rule over us today: The politicians and officials, the celebrities and pundits – an entire system of governance through fear, confusion, and consumerist seduction. God condemns this system, and he promises that he will judge it, upend it, and replace it with the long-awaited reign of God.

Here’s what God says through Jeremiah: “Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock… I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer…”

“The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

We are in the midst of a national crisis. White supremacy has captured the White House. The constitutional order that has sustained American democracy for centuries is under threat. The very fabric of our society is being called into question.

But we’re not the first ones to experience this kind of upheaval. And we don’t stand alone in the face of these challenges. God has promised to accompany us in these dark days. He has assured us that he will intervene in history to thwart the selfishness and evil of our human leaders. He has promised to raise up a righteous Branch (his name is Jesus).

God has declared that he will be with us, and that he will send us a righteous ruler to govern us, to heal our people and our land. But we can’t just sit back and wait for that to happen. It’s not an accident that we receive this word of encouragement through the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah. There can’t be a kings without prophets. As part of God’s plan to reign in our society, we are called to be his prophets in this generation.

That’s what our second reading this morning is about. Early on in the gospel of Luke, we get introduced to John the Baptist. Actually, we first get introduced to his parents. John’s dad was Zechariah, Israel’s high priest. His mom was named Elizabeth. They were both very old, and had never been able to have children.

Well, one day when Zechariah is ministering before God in the Temple, the angel Gabriel appears to him and tells him that his wife Elizabeth is going to have a son. Zechariah is astonished at this news. Understandably, he expresses a little bit of uncertainty about the idea that he and his elderly wife could possibly bear children. In response to his skepticism, Gabriel tells Zechariah that until his son is born, he will not be able to speak. And so it is. Zechariah comes out of the Temple speechless, and he stays that way for the next nine months.

When the baby is born, there is some discussion about what his name should be. Elizabeth wants to name him John, but all the men of the family think he should be named Zechariah, after his father. When Elizabeth insists on the name John, the men go to Zechariah – who’s still mute – and ask him what name he wants to give the child. Zechariah asks for a writing tablet, and spells it out for them, “His name is John.”

Now the scripture says that after he writes these words, “Immediately his mouth was open and his tongue freed and he began to speak, praising God.” Zechariah must have been really noisy, because it also says that all the neighbors heard it and were frightened. “What then will this child become?” they asked one another. “For indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.”

It’s at this point that Zechariah gives the prophecy that we heard this morning. This birth was a miraculous sign that the reign of God is breaking into history. “He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David.” John would be a prophet of this new order:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people, by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

We’re sitting in darkness right now. We’re in the shadow of death. We need the dawn to break on us. We need a prophet to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Well, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news is, God “has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David.” Jesus is here with us. He’s ready to lead us if we’ll open ourselves to his kingship. If we’ll take on the very real risks that come with being his friends. In times like these, that’s encouraging to me.

Here’s the bad news. If we want to walk in the kingdom of God, the riskiness of discipleship isn’t going to stay theoretical for very long. This journey is going to cost us, just like it cost John.

Most of us know what happened to John. He had an amazing ministry. He touched the lives of thousands. And, just as Zechariah predicted, he was instrumental in preparing a way for the ministry of Jesus, who conquers the world and all its darkness.

John was a prophet. John spoke the word of God. Unabridged and uncut. He didn’t win popularity contests with the rulers. It’s not an accident that he spent his ministry living out in the wilderness beyond the reach of polite society. He was one of the most powerful voices in all of Israel, and yet he lived his life as an outcast.

John was also imprisoned for his witness. He ultimately died for it, when Herod ordered him beheaded. John was a prophet of God, and like so many other prophets before and after him, he paid the ultimate price for his faithful obedience.

The good news is that the reign of God is coming. It’s the power of invincible love that can’t be destroyed. But, as Jesus demonstrated for us, that unstoppable power is revealed in weakness, suffering, and even death. John died in Herod’s dungeon. Jesus was put to death on a Roman cross. The cost of discipleship is real, and each one of us has to consider whether we are ready to face the consequences of following Jesus.

We can’t delay our choice any longer. The false shepherds are devouring our people. The wolves are loose in the fold. God has promised us deliverance, a savior. Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe stands with us and sees all the way to the end of war, violence, intimidation, and discrimination.

But that eschatological reality doesn’t exempt us from the challenge of discipleship. On the contrary, it is precisely because Jesus has conquered the world through the blood of his cross that we must be willing to carry our own, in this time and place.

When we as Christians say that “Jesus is Lord,” we are by necessity saying that Caesar is not. The United States government is not lord. Donald Trump is not lord. The white supremacist regime that is currently preparing to take power is not lord. Just as John spoke the truth to the tyrant Herod, we must preach the word in this dangerous season.

Jesus proclaimed good news to the poor, release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind. He let the oppressed go free. He proclaimed the jubilee year of debt forgiveness. He endured torture and death at the hands of empire. He preached the good news all the way to the depths of hell. What will he ask us to do? Are we ready?

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. It is a solemnity. It’s a solemnity because love is powerful. Love doesn’t play games with the truth. It doesn’t back down before hatred and fear. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Empires come and go, but love never ends. We have to ground ourselves in that.

These are heavy times, and this is a heavy sermon. But I hope that you feel encouraged, too. Because we are incredibly privileged to be the friends of the light in these days of darkness. John the Baptist knew that it was a joy and an honor to serve as a prophet of the living God. So will we. Through the pain, the doubt, and the uncertainty, we are being invited into the most joyful path that there is, the way of Jesus – our brother, our friend, our king.

Related Posts:

Trump Will Be President. We Must Resist.

This Wall Is Coming Down. Which Side Are You On?

Trump Will Be President. We Must Resist.


Under a broken electoral college system, and in the context of widespread suppression of black and brown voters, the United States has chosen an openly racist, climate-denying, misogynistic, alleged sexual predator as its executive leader. With the appointment of racist zealot Stephen Bannon to Trump’s cabinet, white nationalism (for some reason referred to as “populism” by the establishment press) has been catapulted to the highest levels of our government. These are dark days indeed.

Since the election, I’ve been trying to reject despair and look for positive next steps that I can take in the midst of this nightmare scenario. One thing is for certain: Trumpism is not normal. It is essential that we not allow ourselves to get used to a world that embraces overt racism and xenophobia. These are times that call for faithful resistance to manifest evil that is emerging across our nation and planet.

It is also time for repentance. For those of us who have opposed Trump’s rise to power, we must acknowledge our own complicity in the economic systems that have fueled his rise. Income inequality, disastrous trade deals that benefit primarily the 1%, and a political system that is governed by big money and elite interests – all of these have been fully embraced by leaders in both parties. As we heed the call to resist this new, very dangerous administration, we must never forget the decades of elite bipartisan collusion that led us to this point.

Nothing has been more bipartisan than the creation of the military/industrial complex that is about to pass into the hands of the Trump regime. The drone-equipped surveillance state that Trump will inherit has been most fully developed and refined under the eight years of President Obama’s administration. Democrats polished the gun that is about to be placed in Trump’s hand.

For all of us who have been willing collaborators – or even just sullen bystanders – in this process, it is time for repentance. We must recognize and repent of of our willingness to tolerate endless war, unlimited spying, and repression of people around the globe. Even under the leadership of our first African American president, this state-sponsored terror has mostly targeted people of color – both within the United States and beyond its borders. For those of us who are white people, this calls for an extra layer of awareness and repentance.

As challenging as these times are, there is going to be a temptation to fall into one of two traps: Despair, and panic. On the one hand, we may become so overwhelmed by the loss and horror that we are witnessing that we choose to zone out and try to retreat into our own personal bubbles. This strategy is already being openly advocated by people like Garrison Keillor, who plans on withdrawing from public life and abandoning America to the wolves of Trumpism. This is a move only possible for the most privileged among us, who choose to ignore the struggles of people of color, women, and LGBT folk, and hope that the Trump regime won’t come for them next.

Besides despair and resignation, the other temptation we face is panic. Many of us are only half-joking when we talk about fleeing to Canada. There’s a sense that Trump’s regime will reshape the face of America overnight. But our answer must be: “Not if we have anything to say about it.”

And we do. We live in a perilous moment, but the friends of freedom, compassion, and justice are not without resources. The United States government and civil society still contain many checks and balances to slow the rise of authoritarianism in our country. Trump’s election has awakened millions of us to the threat that we’re facing. The time has never been more ripe for a real, positive change in our nation. 

We must have the courage to be agents of that change. Unbowed by fear of the unknown, by the threats and hatred being spewed by the white nationalist right, we are called to stand with the least of these our brothers – all those who are threatened by the rise of Trump.

Now is the time to stand up, organize, and resist. Not next month. Not after the inauguration. Today. As we speak, the Trump administration is planning out its strategy for the first 100 days of the new regime. So must we.

For all of us who seek to be friends of Jesus, now is a time to live out his commandment that we be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” I ask that you join me in prayer that leads to courageous action. May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ guide us into faithful witness in the face of darkness and oppression.

Related Posts:

If Donald Trump Wins

What Does it Mean to Follow Jesus in the Age of Trump?

In the Midst of Fear, Hold America in the Light

In the Midst of Fear, Hold America in the Light
This election has stretched on – like a long, sweaty, sleepless night. It’s hard to believe that daybreak is finally about to arrive. Votes will be counted. Winners will be declared. And millions of us will be struck by the terror of loss.

Our nation is in a media-induced panic. It’s growing stronger every day, every hour as this contest reaches its conclusion. Thousands of professional propagandists are spending millions of dollars to get just a few more of us frightened enough to vote for their candidate – or against their opponent.

We are in a dark place as a nation. The whole world is watching, astonished to see America coming apart at the seams. It’s been a long time since our democracy has seemed so shaken.

This frenzied atmosphere is a challenge for those of us who would like to be friends of Jesus. It’s hard to live amidst such fear, vitriol, and uncertainty and not be caught up in it ourselves. Yet it is through us that God wants to bless the world – to shine light in the midst of darkness. Groundedness in the face of chaos. Love that tackles hate in a bear hug and refuses let go.

We are children of the light. That’s who we’re called to be in this season. God’s love is no less real today than it was yesterday. It’s a life and power that wants to flow through us, lighting up everyone around us. In the midst of pervasive fear, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ is pouring out joy. Do you hear it?

Why do we look for the living among the dead? Why do you and I fret over the power struggles of this fallen and broken society? We are called to so much more. Jesus has given us authority to give so much more. Will you open up your clinched fists so that your hands can serve? Will you un-clinch your jaw so that your mouth can speak the good news? Jesus is Lord – and the rulers and powers of this world are not.

As millions of us head to the polls, you and I are invited into an even deeper level of participation in the struggle for the soul of this nation. Our truest vote is our growing commitment to live in the love and justice of Jesus, who takes away all occasion for wars and striving and contention.

This is bigger than an election. Our calling is to participate in the restoration of the whole cosmos. In a society where the world of ideas seems to be shrinking by the day, God offers us a canvas of pure imagination where our love can paint until every square inch is full of color. Do we dare?

It seems so dark right now. But that’s just because we still aren’t awake to our purpose. We are the children of the light. And the world needs us.

Related Posts:

As The Election Looms – God, Be Merciful To Us

In this Election, Our Real Enemy is Fear

When Everything Goes Wrong (It’s OK to Fail Sometimes)

When Everything Goes Wrong
There’s a really popular school of thought these days, which says that failure is the key to success. This ideology has been popularized by tech culture, which has experienced the power of computerized iteration, applying this principle to both business and personal life. Their logic says, “you can’t succeed without daring to experiment, and experiments often fail. If you’re not willing to fall flat on your face – repeatedly – you’re not likely to find success.”

There’s a lot of truth to this idea. Persistence in the face of repeated failure can often be a path to success. We’ve all experienced this. Who was ever good at playing a musical instrument the first time they picked it up? No one is born able to walk, write, or drive a car. All of these skills we’ve had to learn through (sometimes painful) trial and error.

Yet, this ideology has a massive shadow side. To begin with, it makes it easy to blame those who haven’t made it big. The social gospel of Silicon Valley suggests that a person’s lack of success is a sign that they haven’t had the courage to take risks and fail. The tech meritocracy is built on top of the relentless drive to succeed fastest. Those of us who are slower may be looked upon as less valuable and worthy of a place on the team.

Another problem with the “fail until you succeed” mantra is that it doesn’t take into account the reality that sometimes failure is not an invitation to get up and try again. Sometimes, persistence in the face of failure is really the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.

I’m a tenacious person. I am capable of persisting in the face of overwhelming adversity. And I do. So it’s no surprise that on many occasions throughout my life, I have spent weeks, months, even years failing pointlessly. Sometimes the answer isn’t just to try a little harder. Sometimes, surrendering to an entirely new direction is the best path.

It’s hard to decide when a situation calls for endurance, and when it simply calls for surrender. It takes discernment to know the difference, and I’ve failed at that, too. But I’m learning that it pays to be gentle with myself. I’m learning to accept that failure – real failure, that doesn’t ever lead to success – is OK sometimes. 

What’s your experience? Do you tend to give up too early, or too late? What does it look like to be faithful to where God is leading you, even if it means facing failure?

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