Archive for 2015

My New Year’s Pledge

My New Year's Pledge

This year, I refuse to adapt and conform.

In so many little ways I am tempted to compromise. I get scared, and I’m tempted to sell out the truth for a more comfortable lie. Sometimes I give into fear.

But that was last year. This year, I will live boldly and passionately. I will keep my focus on how I can show my love for others. Love will be the first motion in all my actions.

I will live with reckless abandon. I’ll accept risk and follow my heart, even when I can barely breathe. I will find the beauty and power that accompanies boldness.

“Prosperity knits a man to the world,” wrote CS Lewis, “He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.” This year, I will lose my place. I’ll reside in a life and power that goes beyond the world. I’ll break beyond the barricades of human security that keep me from the truth.

I will choose to love. In the radical way of Jesus, I’ll learn to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God. For the sake of my soul, my sanity, and my son, I will renounce the worries and obsessions of this broken world. I will begin to heal, so that I can become a healer. I’ll put on my own oxygen mask first, in order to help those around me.

This year, I choose the risk and adventure of discipleship, even when it’s costly. Especially when it’s costly. Because you get what you pay for.

The risk is worth the reward: life, real life, without limits or shame.

The days ahead will test my heart. There will be moments when I’ll want to tuck tail and run, straight back to the fearful “safety” that Jesus calls me out of. But I won’t. I will dare to love dangerously. To give freely. To embrace uncertainty.

This is my pledge before God: to open my life to the way the Spirit wants to direct me, to change my life in ways I can’t even imagine yet. To let the relentless love and hidden glory of the invisible God shine through my life and relationships. To live unashamed and without fear in the midst of dark and fearful days.

I hope you’ll join me.

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The Dying Light of the Christmas Tree

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The Dying Light of the Christmas Tree

The time between Christmas and New Year’s has always been a special one for me.

For weeks leading up to the Christmas holiday, there’s a crescendo of activity: gift-buying, travel preparations, visits with loved ones, and candlelight services. Life fills to bursting.

And then, suddenly, nothing.  The last week of the year is made up of empty space. Where noise had been building, now there is silence.

There’s a deep breath that lies between one year and the next. It’s an annual Sabbath, a long rest in the midst of an otherwise crowded piece of music. It is a week to bask in the dying light of the Christmas tree, contemplating what has been and what is to come.

This season is one of those thin places, a time when God’s presence is more readily felt. It is an opportunity to open your heart to the Spirit’s movement in your life, to prepare yourself for the year ahead. You can experience an invitation to take an honest look at your life: Am I living faithfully? How am I being called to change?

It’s easy to miss the magic of this time of year. We’re often tempted (or required) to jump right back into the churn of everyday life – work, family, and social events. The week between Christmas and New Year’s can become little more than a chance to play catch-up between celebrations. But if we are attentive to the possibility of this season, it can be so much more.

Whether or not you are a long practitioner of year-end reflection and prayer, I’d like to invite you to join me this year. Take some time to slow down and listen. In this special season of darkness and silence, what are you hearing? How is the Spirit moving in your heart? Where would Jesus like to lead you in the days ahead?

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What Christmas Really Means

Take a Break for Beauty

What Christmas Really Means

What is Christmas? Is it like Thanksgiving – a holiday to eat good food, enjoy family, and rest from labor? Is it a time to go just a little farther into debt, buying presents and celebrating Santa Claus?

Is Christmas a solstice celebration? A myth of elves and flying reindeer? A time to re-affirm religious orthodoxy?

For those who experienced the first Noël, the birth of Jesus was a political revolution. In a world dominated by the imperial might of Caesar and brutalized by petty dictators like Herod, Jesus arrived as the anti-Caesar.

God’s messiah was born to reign with justice. This was a moment the Hebrew people had been anticipating for generations. And he’s homeless. He’s born in a cow stall and found lying in a feed trough. He’s attended by migrant farm workers and outsiders from foreign lands. These are people who could never expect to be invited to the natal celebration of a Caesar, but they are first to witness the good news of Christmas.

Christmas is a time for joy, but not the joy the world gives. It’s not primarily a time for celebrating family – as wonderful as family is. It’s not a moment to focus on exchanging gifts, or anticipating the arrival of Santa down the chimney. For those of us who choose to follow the baby Jesus, Christmas invites us to anticipate the total reordering of society. The newborn king is about to shake everything up.

Christmas is a revolution. It’s a time when the last becomes first, and the first last. It’s a moment when God’s power shines through in the weakness of a tiny child. Christmas is a sign for those who live on the margins, a reminder that real glory shines through those who are outsiders in this world.

Christmas is a promise for all of us: We don’t have to settle for this broken, unjust world of domination and despair. There is another world waiting for us, on the edge of what we think is real. It’s in this world that we find a homeless family, a crew of migrant farm workers, some dangerous foreigners, and the little baby Jesus under the starlight, preparing themselves for the struggle ahead.

Oh, come let us adore him! But to do so, we’re going to have to head to the wrong side of the tracks. Jesus lives in the neighborhood where respectable middle class folks are afraid to visit. Jesus lives in the fields with the undocumented workers. Jesus is with the refugees, even today.

Will this be the Christmas that we accept the invitation? This holiday season, will we finally leave the comfort of the inn and join our savior on the streets? Will this be the year we hear the victory announcement of Jesus’ birth, and respond?

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Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30

One of the central mottos of the radical movements of the 1960s was: Question authority. The Baby Boomer generation was coming of age, caught up in the culminating battles of the civil rights movement. They faced conscription into an unjust war in Vietnam, where reports of atrocities resounded louder every day. Increasingly, America’s young people were forced to make a choice – your country, or your soul.

Many in this rising generation were convinced that the whole system was rotten. It would have to be razed to the foundations – by any means necessary – so that a new, more just order could be established. The traditional authority structure of politicians, businessmen, church leaders, and generals could no longer be relied upon.

While perhaps embarrassing to the aging Boomers today, the popular slogan, Don’t trust anyone over 30, captured the spirit of this time. Anyone who had been around long enough sucked in by the powers that be simply couldn’t be relied upon to drive substantive change. Unfettered young people would have to chart a new way forward. This broken world, teetering on the edge of nuclear annihilation, would require a whole new set of values if we were to survive.

The mass abandonment of religious observance in the last 50 years is reflective of the way that the Christian community has often been seen playing chaplain to the powers of domination rather than lifting its voice on behalf of the oppressed. It doesn’t help that there are still today many reactionary elements within the Christian community that seek a return to their old place of political preeminence. This only reinforces the impression that the church is a shill of right-wing demagogues and corporate magnates.

Yet amidst the cultural wreckage left in the wake of the 1960s, a door has opened for the church to find a new way of relating to power. Almost unnoticed amidst the prostitution of the mainstream church to the violent systems of power and control, there has been an emerging alternative witness.

The prophetic stream of the church is growing on the margins of Empire, calling this whole rotten system into question. The true church of Jesus is caring for the needy and oppressed – especially those who are being rejected as unclean by the mainstream congregations. There is a church that is being the church – in spite of the church.

A revolution is coming (and it is here now) that is just as significant as the cultural upheavals of the 1960s. The Boomers helped to question the false authority that was leading us down a path to destruction, and we have a new set of national values as a result. Thanks in large part to their efforts, we can now count anti-racism, feminism, the embrace of LGBT people, and much more, as part of what we aspire to as a nation. Now it is time to translate these new values into a holistic way of life that can stand as an alternative to the death machine of Empire.

The radical project looks different today. Before, radicalism was about deconstructing and calling into question the structures and authorities that held our world in a death grip. Today, we are called to the equally radical task of building new, prophetic institutions that can embody the values that shined so brightly in the civil rights and anti-war struggles of the 1960s.

For those of us in the church, it is time to begin developing with earnest the new forms of community, worship, prophetic witness, and hospitality that are needed for a new era of Christian discipleship. Sprouting out of the rubble of 1960s deconstructionism, we are called to create something new. In the crumbling shell of Empire, we have an opportunity to grow movements that give life and bless the world around us.

Many in my parents’ generation mistakenly believe that they have failed. I have heard many Boomers lament the “failure” of their generation’s revolution. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The apparent strength of today’s military-industrial complex is illusory. It has never been weaker. Thanks to the pioneering work of previous generations, and the continuing inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we have been given everything we need to overcome this dark world order.

The groundwork has been laid. All we need now is the will to build on that foundation.

Do we have the courage to enact the beautiful, loving society we know God created us for? It is possible now. There’s nothing more we need to know. We have all the tools in our hands. We can begin living in the Kingdom today.

What will be your next step?

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Why the Church is like the DMV

Why the Church is like the DMV

Do you enjoy visiting the Department of Motor Vehicles? It doesn’t matter. No one expects you to enjoy it. But you will show up if you want to drive a car or get a photo ID. The service may be lousy and the staff surly, but there’s really no alternative. You’ll take a number, stand in line, do the eye exam, and pay your fees.

Once upon a time, the church was just like the DMV. Church was a utility, an indispensable requirement for citizenship in western civilization. It wasn’t the most exciting thing in the world, but it didn’t have to be. You were required by both law and custom to show up and pay your dues, so you did. You listened to the priest, stood in line, took your wafer, and paid your tithes.

Church doesn’t work like that anymore. (Thank God!) These days, churches are luxury items – like a trip to Starbucks – rather than a necessity – like a visit to the DMV. If you enjoy the church community, the rituals, and the doctrine being taught by the leaders, you might come back next week. If not, there are plenty of other options out there – including a nice stroll with your dog on a Sunday morning.

In today’s church world, it’s a buyer’s market. There’s no shortage of congregations in your town that are doing everything in their power to make your visit an inviting, welcoming, and fun experience. A lot of thought is put into greeters, child care, music, and sermons. The coffee is often good.

Some churches are still acting as if they were the DMV, though. Churches that stick to the old ways of doing things, who don’t give much thought to welcoming visitors and speaking to their spiritual condition. Most of these groups are dying out. They’ve got nothing going for them but inertia.

Are these really the only two options, though? Starbucks or the DMV? For over a thousand years, the church was basically an appendage of civil government. I definitely don’t want to go back to that reality. But neither am I thrilled with the current trend towards consumer Christianity. What’s the point of being part of a church that only exists to sing praise songs, drink good coffee, and promote a Christian lifestyle that looks a whole lot like middle class individualism?

I want to be part of a church that is simultaneous voluntary and demanding. I want a fellowship that challenges my individualism, but also overthrows conformity to the status quo. I want to be part of a movement that asks everything from me, that doesn’t let me off easy – but also one that leads by example and never forces me to go farther than I am ready for. Does this church exist?

I have caught glimpses of it at various points in my journey. I read about it in the New Testament. It’s the radical fellowship that deeply challenges the ways of the world, yet never assumes the right to force a conversion. It’s a community that loves everyone with incredible passion, but stubbornly refuses to pander in exchange for acceptance.

Have you experienced this kind of community? What is holding you back from living more fully in it? How can we become the free-spirited church that embodies the way of Jesus?

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If Donald Trump Wins

If Donald Trump Wins

Presidential candidate Donald Trump has removed all ambiguity. He is running his campaign on a platform of xenophobia and unambiguous fascism that, if enacted, would change the character of the United States just as surely as if the Third Reich had won the second world war. The enduring popularity of Trump’s campaign represents more than an embarrassment to America; it is a genuine threat to US national security and the global community.

As Donald Trump’s presidential bid continues to steamroll the Republican primaries, I often hear the sentiment that Trump simply can’t win. Thank goodness he’ll never be elected, many say. Trump represents a dangerous and ugly strain within the American psyche, to be sure; but our country isn’t so far gone that we would actually hand this man the nuclear codes… right?

I was recently reading the blog of a good friend and Quaker thinker, Johan Maurer, who is also reflecting on what the rise of Trump says about the American people and our culture. He suggests that Trump’s intense appeal doesn’t derive solely from his blinding racism and complete disregard for the constitution and character of the United States. Instead, it is Trump’s authentic voice – his willingness to say what he’s truly thinking, no-holds-barred, that captivates a large segment of the American public.

Maurer writes:

My personal theory on this man’s amazing popularity is that it is payback for all the ways traditional politicians are seen posturing and pandering, election cycle after election cycle. Trump’s supporters… do not trust those smoother politicians, even the ones they mostly agree with. … His audience… has a sense that what they see is what they get, rough bits and all — in stark contrast with most of the other candidates and their recycled platitudes.

The American people have become totally disillusioned with the lies of the elite 1%. We have been manipulated over and over again by our political, military, business, and news media leaders. We’re tired of the slick non-answers of men and women in suits. We understand that they are ultimately beholden to the principalities and powers that are disinheriting the vast majority of the world’s people while devastating the natural environment.

Millions of us have had enough. We want courageous leadership and transparent honesty from those who would lead us. We have lost so much trust in the establishment, that we are prepared to listen to people like Donald Trump, because at least with him, we believe we know what we’re getting.

The followers of Trump are correct in one important regard: They’ve been lied to for decades. Virtually none of the establishment politicians (Democrat or Republican) are going to level with us. Our leaders have no intention of enacting a society in which ordinary people have as much of a voice as the 1% and their corporations. Donald Trump is himself a well-documented liar, but we’re so desperate for authentic leadership that millions of us are ready to give him the benefit of the doubt.

If Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination, it will be the product of decades of moral confusion in our nation. We have been deceived for so long that many of us have lost our way altogether. We are increasingly unable to tell the difference between the bombastic charisma of demagogues and the humble authenticity of the prophets.

Now more than ever, our world is in desperate need of the church of Jesus Christ. In this age of deception and confusion, we must ground ourselves in the truthful way of Jesus, inviting our nation and world to walk in the way of justice and peace. Amidst violence and threats, we can point to the cross of Jesus, in which God has disarmed every blasphemous power and lying mouth. In contrast to the demagoguery and distortion of the world, we can demonstrate an alternative social order: the reign of God, in which each life is valued and no one will make us afraid.

It seems like such a small thing to change our lives. It won’t make front-page headlines when we join together in communities that love the refugee, practice economic redistribution, and care for the precious land we call home. Yet from this little mustard seed blooms a revolution of peace and transformation. Humble as it might be, this is the revolution that overcomes the world. Even if Donald Trump wins.

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Gun Control Won’t Be Enough

The battle over the role that guns should play in our national life has been intensifying in recent months. And rightly so. The murderous attack in San Bernardino, and the string of mass shootings that came before that, should be a wake-up call that our relationship with firearms is unhealthy.

America’s gun problem is far more serious than even many gun control proponents want to face but there’s still hope, says ShootingAuthority. The private killing sprees that have become so common in our land are a symptom of a deeper pathology. The violence that we inflict on ourselves is only a pale shadow of the terror and bloodshed that we unleash beyond our national borders.

Courtland Milloy got it right when he wrote in a recent column for The Washington Post, “We may mourn, if ever so briefly, for innocent victims of a mass shooting, but we will not flinch when a U.S. drone unleashes Hellfire missiles on, say, a wedding party in Yemen.” Our willingness to tolerate the massacre of innocent civilians in other countries belies our outrage at the violence experienced by our own citizens.

This is not just a Republican or Democrat issue. Our whole country has a violence addiction problem. The United States has spent $598.5 billion on warmaking in 2015 alone. This staggering sum was approved on a bipartisan basis. 2nd Amendment champions and gun control advocates united around the most colossal expenditures for organized violence the world has ever known.

For a nation in which 77% of us identify as followers of the crucified savior, this is astonishing. How is it that we are virtually unanimous in our consent to an endless cascade of state-sanctioned carnage? Regardless of any veneer of religious commitment, we glorify violence as a symbol of strength, safety, and national redemption. Is it any surprise that we’re killing one another with small arms? War-making is baked into our national character.

I believe that my country would benefit from stricter gun laws. But let’s be clear: Gun control won’t save us from this madness. It won’t protect us from the devastation that we are experiencing in our homes, schools, and streets. Legislation alone can’t overcome this kind of sickness. Even if the United States banned personal ownership of firearms tomorrow, the spirit of violence and domination would continue to grip our nation. Who will rescue us from this body of death?

There is a living alternative available to us. It is a path that requires immense courage, one that calls us to love our enemies and bless those who seek to do us harm. It is the path of forgiveness shown to us by Amish and African American victims of gun violence. It’s the love of Jesus on the cross, who in weakness and death conquers the world.

We can choose to live in this way of courageous love. Even now, the spirit of Jesus is ready to intervene in history and show us how to be people of peace. Are you ready to accept this invitation?

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