Archive for February 2015

Are You Patient Enough for the Revolution?

We live in a fast food culture. We want it easy. We want it hot. We want it now. Whether you’re working for a non-profit or a big corporation, the mantra is likely the same: What have you produced this week, this month, this quarter? This culture demands instant results that can be measured in simple charts and graphs. Show me the money.

In this environment, it’s easy to lose sight of what is most important. It becomes almost second nature to measure success in terms of short-term profitability rather than enduring values. Under the pressure to produce, we limit ourselves to the question: What sells? Yet the most authentic part of us yearns to ask: How can we make our lives, our community, our world more beautiful?

What if we paid attention to this persistent whisper of hope and courage? What if we prioritized the truth we feel in our bones over the short-term results that our culture demands of us?

This requires immense courage. It’s the kind of slow-roasted boldness that is taken in small sips, spread out over the course of months and years. This is what Cornel West calls revolutionary patience, which requires keeping your integrity even when the rest of the world seems to want to sell everything and everybody, or buy everything and everybody.

Such courage demands faith. The author of Hebrews says that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. The practice of  revolutionary patience requires us to have faith that a more just and beautiful world is possible, that this is God’s intention for us. We must put this faith into concrete action, even when the work seems hopeless. Revolutionary patience means trusting in the word we have received, even when the logic of the quarterly report tells us that we are failures and nobodies.

A patient revolutionary is willing to become nothing in the eyes of the world for the sake of truth. Despite what we’ve seen in the movies, real heroes aren’t entitled to instant gratification, success, or happy endings. Just the unconditional love of God, and the strength to carry on.

Hollywood’s heroes get neat gadgets, sleek costumes, and the approval of the world. But that’s not the story that Jesus gives us. When we volunteer as  revolutionaries of the kingdom, we’re signing up for a life that looks like defeat to those whose worldview is shaped by our short-sighted culture.

Jesus has many admirers, but few followers. Far too many of us have decided to believe in Christ without really understanding where his path leads. Can we drink the cup that he drinks, or be baptized with his baptism? Before glibly replying, we are able, we must know that his cup is shame in the eyes of the world, and his baptism is death. That’s the life of a gospel revolutionary.

This is why endurance and long-term perspective are so vital. If we fail to see our lives in light of the ultimate triumph of the kingdom, we are bound to give into despair. Our world is not friendly to the message of peace and the work of justice. This system we live in will distract us if able, purchase us if possible, and destroy us if necessary. Violent inequality perpetuates itself however it must; it does not hesitate to spill the blood of the prophets.

Yet despite the risks, there are always those precious few who will choose truth over comfort, risky love over safe indifference. Are you ready to act on the promptings of love and truth you feel in your heart? Is it time to walk in the revolutionary patience of Jesus, even if it means the cross?

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Feeling Tired? Here’s How to Rest

You push yourself to the limit. Anything you can do, why wouldn’t you want to do more of it? Whether it’s a project for work or the next family gathering, you max it out. More effort, more excitement, bigger numbers, epic proportions. Even vacation is an opportunity to maximize, pulling out all the stops to experience and do as much as possible while you’re away.

This system is working out for you. You have goals, and you achieve them. You’ve got a reputation for being a get it done kind of person. Others might settle for half-way; you aim for 150%. You usually get what you aim for. Deeply, efficiently, ruthlessly.

But lately you’ve noticed some downsides to your ruthlessly effective lifestyle. Some days, it’s hard to drag yourself out of bed. You hesitate to take on new projects, knowing that you’ll wear yourself out to complete them. Each day, there’s the nagging question: When do I get done? Is there no end to this rabbit hole?

What if you could get off this treadmill altogether? How would it feel to truly rest?

There is a spirit that invites you to be gentle with yourself. There is an invitation to care for yourself like you care for others. There is a peace waiting for you, whenever you’re ready to relinquish the need to be first, best, strongest, fastest. Is it time to embrace a different way of life?

It might start by allowing yourself the grace that you extend to others. Imagine yourself as a young child. Would you burden that child with your worries?

In the eyes of God you will always be that child: tender, vulnerable, loved. Whatever burdens you are placing on yourself, God would relieve you of those. His desire is for you to flourish and grow, not to be weighed down by the drive to be the best, whatever that means.

Are you willing to be a child?

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Should Christians Say the Pledge of Allegiance?

Do you remember saying the Pledge of Allegiance as a kid? When I was growing up, the Pledge was a standard part of every public school classroom. Each morning during announcements, we would be asked to stand and, turning to the American flag that hung at the front of the class, every student and teacher would place hand over heart and recite the creed.

I pledge allegiance
to the flag
of the United States of America,
and to the republic
for which it stands:
one nation
under God
with liberty and justice for all.

Technically, no one was required to say the pledge of allegiance. But to say that it was strongly encouraged would be an understatement. It was not presented as an option, and no child in their right mind would want to expose themselves to the kind of questions that would be raised by not participating.

An Opportunity for Faithfulness

My parents never told me that I wasn’t allowed to stand for the Pledge. It wasn’t a rule. But they helped me understand that each morning’s recital was an opportunity to practice faithfulness. In the face of enormous peer pressure, I had a choice to make. Would I recite a statement of faith directed to the nation-state, or would I remain true to the only-sovereign God?

I actually had several options. I could stand – hand on heart – and recite the Pledge. Or, I could just stand, but say nothing. (This way, I wouldn’t actually say the nationalistic creed, but few would notice that I wasn’t fully participating.) Then there was the nuclear option: I could make the choice to remain seated.

I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance early, probably in late grade school. By that point, I was able to understand the concept of idolatry – that the American flag was not an appropriate object of my allegiance; only God was. But it took me longer before I would have the courage to remain seated. As long as I was on my feet during the Pledge, I remained invisible. I could avoid saying the words I felt so uncomfortable with, but I could still dodge the social consequences of dissent.

I Will Not Stand

By the time I reached high school, though, I began to sense that even standing for the Pledge did violence to my conscience. I became convinced that I could not participate, even passively, in this act of worship directed towards a nationalistic symbol. My ultimate allegiance belonged only to God.

Full disclosure: I was a pretty rebellious teenager, so bucking the status quo came more naturally for me than it would have for some. But it was still hard. Every morning at 9:00, I made the choice to publicly separate myself from the shared faith of the rest of the class. Every day, I sat while others stood. It was uncomfortable every time.

I did have to stand my ground (so to speak) with a few teachers that didn’t seem aware that the Pledge wasn’t mandatory, but they eventually let it drop. I was occasionally harassed by other students, who assumed that I must just hate America. The idea that the Kingdom of God was my primary allegiance didn’t compute. But overall, I met surprisingly little resistance to my conscientious objection. People got used to it.

Becoming a Cross-Bearer

Still, there were social consequences. I was never a what you would call a social butterfly, and refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance certainly didn’t help me make friends in a world that values social conformity. By the time I was a teenager, I understood that. I was willing to accept the repercussions of my counter-cultural actions.

In this way, I began to discover what it means to carry the prophetic cross of Jesus. In some small measure, I learned to participate in the public shame of the crucifixion, the violent resistance that always meets us when we shift our allegiance from the authority of Empire to the kingdom of God. I was learning to be a cross-bearer.

In our culture that places such an emphasis on obedience and reverence to the idea of America, we all have a choice. We can choose to be flag-wavers or cross-bearers. Here is how the prophetic intellectual Cornel West describes flag-wavers:

They want the acceptance of the US nation-state; they want the acceptance of the mainstream. So they are silent on drones; they are silent on the centrality of the new Jim Crow in terms of Black life; they are silent on the trade union movement being crushed; they are silent on the Wall Street criminality.

When we choose to be flag-wavers, we rationalize our choice to participate in the domination system. We tell ourselves that we are powerless to challenge the death-dealing structures that hold our people captive. By conforming, we hope that we can work within the system for at least some incremental positive change. We stay silent on some of the most alarming examples of systematic violence and oppression, seeking to maintain our own credibility with our peers – and, above all, with those in power.

Silence is Death

But silence is death to the prophetic tradition. When we stand up for the Pledge, even if we don’t recite the creed, we lend courage to no one. We set an example for no one. We confine our radical imagination to the inside of our skull. And imagination is a species that cannot survive long in captivity.

Our silent conformity to the spirit of this age presents an existential challenge to the possibility of a movement for justice and gospel peace in our time. Again, in the words of Cornel West:

…If we don’t come to terms with this challenge, then we end up being just these deferential flag-wavers, thinking that somehow we are keeping alive the Black prophetic tradition. This self-deception must be shattered – in each and every generation.

It is time to shatter our own self-deception. Are we to be cross-bearers or flag-wavers? Will we prioritize comfort, or faithfulness? Are we willing to expose ourselves to ridicule, to lose the respect of those around us if that’s what it takes to be true to the subversive, life-giving message of the gospel?

Where does our allegiance lie? Will we identify ourselves with the flag, filling our lives with patriotic gestures meant to reassure our neighbors that we, too, share the values of Empire? Or will we have the courage to become troublemakers, those who choose to take up the cross of Jesus, the anti-flag that lays bare the blasphemous violence of Empire?

Related Video:

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Ready to Explore Your Calling? There’s a Place for You

Have you ever felt alone in your search for depth, meaning, and purpose in life? Do you sense the Spirit calling you to a deeper, more adventurous way of living? Are you seeking a community that supports you in being true to your deepest calling? There’s a place for you here.

Seeds of the Kingdom - Friends of Jesus Fellowship

This March 13-15, the Friends of Jesus Fellowship is gathering in Barnesville, Ohio to explore what it means to allow the kingdom of God to truly come alive among us. How can we uncover what it is the Spirit is asking of us? Where are the tools that God has given us to be faithful? What part does each of us have to play in building up a love-centered community in the midst of Empire?

The seeds of truth, love, power are scattered everywhere. This spring, we’ll discover community and explore how we can support one another. We’ll tend the seeds of life, and learn how to bless our neighborhoods with Christ-like character and love.

Does this sound like the place for you and your tribe? I hope you’ll join us.

Does Obama Owe Christians An Apology?

Obama Namaste at Prayer Breakfast

I’m very offended. Or so I’m told. As a believing Christian, I’m supposed to be deeply troubled by the remarks that President Barack Obama delivered at the recent National Prayer Breakfast here in Washington, DC. Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore had this to say:

The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime. He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.

Strong words. But what were Obama’s terribly offensive remarks? Here’s what the president said:

And lest we get on our high horse and think [religious violence] is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

Wait… what? Why should I be offended by that? That’s a fact. That’s our history. Every Christian should be aware of what we are capable of when we turn our eyes away from the self-sacrificing love of Jesus and instead turn Christianity into an ideology that justifies terror, brutality, oppression, and war.

It should be impossible to study Western history without getting some glimpse into the terrifying possibilities that any religious system – including Christian ones – hold out for those who seek t dominate others. We humans have a long track record of twisting our most precious faith into a weapon of violence and hatred. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement; it should be a matter of ongoing repentance and prayer for people of faith everywhere.

So I’m confused.

President Obama speaks about the reality that any religion, including Christianity, can be used as justification for acts of terror. Gilmore responds with outrage that Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.

I don’t see the connection.

For me, Christianity and America are distinct concepts. One is a 2,000-year-old religion centered around the person of Jesus Christ. The other is a roughly 200-year-old nation state where I just so happen to live. Why would Gilmore take President Obama’s remarks, about the violent distortion of Christianity, as an attack on America?

Unless he means… No, he can’t mean that, can he? That Christianity and American nationalism are essentially the same religion? I know he can’t mean that, because that’s exactly the kind of religious perversion that Obama was talking about. When we start making our causes, our ideologies, our nation synonymous with Christianity, we’re in the danger zone.

This is where religious terrorism comes from.

Let me state, for the record, that there is at least one believing Christian in America who is not offended by President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. On the contrary, I would have been pleased for Obama to take it a little further. The people of the United States are in desperate need of a wake-up call that real Christian faith is not compatible with any of our nationalist ideologies, no matter how popular and unquestionable they may seem at present.

When we turn Christianity into a belief system that justifies our fear and violent tendencies, we rob the gospel of its power to convict us of our need for forgiveness and transformation. When Christianity is cross-bred with nationalism, the resulting animal is one devoid of all prophetic fire, all critique of violence and state-sanctioned terror.

When we combine our Christian faith with American exceptionalism, we’re flirting with the soul-numbing ideology of ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

As a believing Christian, I choose not to be offended by the president’s words. Instead, I receive them as a much-needed rebuke to a nation that has far too often killed in the name of Jesus, carried out pre-emptive wars in the name of God, and overseen blasphemous systems of Jim Crow in the name of the God who freed the slaves.

For far too long, American Christians have been unwilling to face our own potential to be agents of religious extremism and terror, whether grassroots or state-sanctioned. Let this be a wake up call. It can happen here. It has happened here. It is happening here. And we’re responsible.

It’s never too late for America’s Christians to repent and believe the gospel. But we can’t carry the cross and the bayonet at the same time. We’re going to have to choose between following Jesus and serving Empire. Which will it be?

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The Quaker Testimony of… Truthiness?

Stephen Colbert Report

Quakers pride ourselves on being almost pathologically truthful. But are we losing our edge? We live in a culture where bending the truth is the norm. When RSVPing, we’d often rather say yes and cancel later than disappoint our friends up front. We like to keep our options open, even if it means leaving other people in the dark about what our true intentions are. In a society where duty and obligation are at an all time low, what does it mean to be people of integrity?

The early Quakers were fanatical in their honesty. They were beaten, thrown in jail, and had their property confiscated because they refused to swear oaths. For them, to swear was a betrayal of Jesus, who calls us to lives of truthfulness so deep that oaths become blasphemy. For centuries, the testimony against oaths was a fundamental part of the Quaker identity.

Has this traditional witness become obsolete? Thanks to centuries of Quaker obstinacy, Americans now have the right to affirm rather than swear when appearing in court or signing legal documents. Is it dustbin time for the testimony against oaths, or is there a deeper spiritual core that is still relevant?

Whether or not literal oath-taking is an issue anymore, a deeper question remains: Are we fundamentally truthful in our interactions with others and in the way we talk to ourselves? Are we transparent in our commitments? Are we stripped down naked in our speech?

For most of us, the answer is probably, not quite.

Even if we don’t tend to lie outright, we’re deeply enmeshed in what Stephen Colbert would call a certain truthiness. In the circles I run in, it’s increasingly the norm to avoid firm commitments at all costs. We want to keep our options open. When someone invites me to an event, for example, I might say something like this: Yeah, that sounds great. I’ll see if I can make it!

Affirmation. Positivity. And zero indication of whether I’ll actually show up.

Stephen Colbert Truthiness

A part of what it means to be a truthful person in our generation is to be conscientious of the commitments that we make. Letting my yes be yes and my no be no involves being clear about what I’m actually going to do. It’s probably not in keeping with the spirit of Jesus to quadruple book myself for Friday night, and also hold open the option that I might just need to crash and watch Netflix after a long workweek.

Does this seem trivial to you? After all, who really cares if I show up to a party that I expressed interest in?

Maybe nobody, but my decisions have consequences. Real trust and community are impossible without the kind of everyday integrity that says Yes, I’m definitely going to be there, and I’ll bring drinks or No, you know what, I just can’t make this one, thanks for inviting me.

This is hard. It means being direct. It means committing ourselves to something that we may later not totally want to do. It means disappointing someone to their face, setting boundaries in person rather than simply bowing out of a vague non-commitment via email or text message. It means being uncomfortable.

Challenging as it may be, I’m convinced that this kind of fearless integrity is essential if we want to build healthy relationships and strong communities. You need to know that when I say I’m interested in something, I’m actually interested and not just being nice. I need the relational security of trusting that when you say you’ll have coffee with me, it’s actually going to happen.

It’s harder to love one another when, at a very deep level, we don’t really trust each other with the truth. It’s almost impossible to become the body of Christ together when we don’t have this kind of confidence.

What does it look like for us to live into this kind of integrity today? Do we need a new Quaker testimony of Saying yes or no and meaning it?

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There’s a Stick of Dynamite on your Bookshelf

Obama with MLK's bible

There’s a stick of dynamite sitting on your bookshelf. There’s a flamethrower in your desk drawer. Beneath the statues and federal holidays, there lies buried the raw power of men like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, women like Rosa Parks and Ida B. Wells. The lives of the prophets are still with us, entombed under layers of Nobel prizes, eulogies, and commemorative plaques. The spirit that animated their struggle for justice and dangerous truthfulness remains among us, ready to break out again if we have the courage to embrace it.

If we don’t embrace it, the 1% certainly will. We see this every time an ambitious politician claims the legacy of Martin Luther King, as if the prophetic fire of the black church were compatible with power struggles of the elite. We saw it when President Barack Obama laid his hand on MLK’s Bible at his second inauguration. The very power structures that killed the prophets have no compunction about using the prophetic mantle as a towel for their blood-stained hands.

The prophets are more dangerous than we think. Don’t kid yourself. MLK’s Bible is no mere piece of Americana to be brought out like some holy relic and used at high religious festivals like a presidential inauguration. That little book represents a prophetic tradition that is absolutely thermonuclear. It’s ready to explode the comfort of the privileged people who hold it up proudly, who tell us: If we had been in charge in the 60s, we never would have firebombed his house. We never would have tapped his phone. We never would have threatened his life. We never would have shot him in the head.

That little black Bible, representing the faith life of a revolutionary – an American prophet if there ever was one – now lies embalmed in a sterile glass case. It’s an historical artifact that we keep as a touchstone of national memory. It reminds us of what is possible when we are baptized into the courage of Moses, of the Hebrew prophets, of Jesus and the first disciples. It lies waiting for a time of emergency, when we will once again become desperate and courageous enough to break the glass.

Are we there yet? Are we ready to see the leaders who use MLK’s Bible as an accoutrement of power for who they really are – servants of the very structures that murdered King, and so many other prophets? Are there women and men today who are ready to face that beast, awake with the knowledge that it is more than capable of killing again?

We are invited into the same dangerous path that Martin and Malcolm and Rosa and Ida and César and so many others have walked. We are invited, in the words of Ched Myers, to exhume the dynamite of our shared prophetic heritage and to embrace it as our common work in our own historical moment. And through this blood-soaked inheritance of prophetic fire, Jesus is inviting us to come and die.

Is it finally time to break the glass on that little black book?

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