Foolish Loyalists And Prophets

Now is as good a time as any to question which of your loyalties are hindering you. It’s also a good time to question the messages you’re listening to. I’m not talking about becoming a paranoid cynical skeptic because those kinds of people tend to lean into the most uncomfortable, unhelpful assumptions of their paranoia.

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What I am calling into question is what we are quick to believe and who we are quick to defend. Our current American climate I think supplies some evidence to the danger of our foolishness. It’s too easy to take a side of what we feel are our only options. And we become staunch about our side glossing over its potential or obvious evil.

It’s amazing confounding how quick we are willing to discard accountability if it will delay our desire, whether we’ve questioned the validity of our desire or not. It’s amazing confounding how quick we are to demand justice from an institution that consistently proves to us is broken and flawed. It’s disheartening to see how we (me included) so often subject our faith in Jesus to the performance of people.

We only have one perfect savior, and it wasn’t someone in your family or the subject of your romantic affection, or your political or judicial candidate. This doesn’t mean we cease our loyalties or our prophecies.

It does mean, however, that every one of our loyalties and prophecies are foolish.

See the Apostle Paul talks about the foolishness of the Gospel and the foolishness of preaching as the sole way we receive our deliverance and salvation. The thought that God would have his son murdered as the way we come out of this thing eternally alive is a foolish yet an astounding reality.

The command to faithfully pursue the unity of faith within the Body, the Church despite our persistent division and struggle to love seems foolish especially in light of familiar and frequent accusation. But we need the exposing and expelling of darkness as we acknowledge our need for one another’s light. This is the eternal benefit of confession, another foolish invention of God.

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How does admitting my sins contain with it the potential for healing and restoration?

How does being immersed in water bear any evidence on our faith?

How does our love for one another provoke the love of the unfaithful?

 

I don’t have a succinct answer to any of these, but I also know from what I watch and what I read outside of Scripture is individuals we elect don’t know either. They are bound by constituencies, lobbyists and emotions probably more-so than most of us. And the worldly wisdom each of us espouse is flawed.

But Jesus, that sweet loyalty to Him and the foolish prophecy that He is busy reconciling the world to Himself patient for our devotion is audacious. It is real and raw, foolish but completely freeing. When I subtly perceive this kind of loyalty in others that forsakes every other affection, I am left convinced of the goodness and genuine love of God.

Our willingness to look foolish for the Gospel (knowing the true gospel required) contains a great reward. The reward is receiving and revelating love in greater ways.

You become rich in love.

On Loneliness, Loss, and Lasting Love

This is it folks, the blog post that will break the internet. If  you couldn’t tell by the title I’m ambitiously going to person-splain the meaning of life.

But before I get into it and switch gears, allow me to set the stage of the state I am in while I’m writing. I’m eating candy heart grapes and gluten-free pretzels while drinking Arizona Iced Green Tea from a protein shake bottle. I also took the day off today because the hospital offered it to me after working a 24-hour shift on Friday, and I highly considered not taking it, but I did. I took it not because I was tired or needed it, rather I took it because I read a few pages from a book titled Images of Pastoral Care, from a chapter written by Henry Nouwen regarding personal loneliness and the minister.

And to explain a little more, I took it because I believe the greater challenge for me today is not ministering to patients in a hospital, some of whom could be dying. Rather, my greater challenge is how Nouwen puts it “finding the wound of loneliness to be an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding.”

But that’s enough from the guy who has given pastoral ministers one of the clearest images of caring for others spiritual health in the last 40 years. If you want to hear from him I’ll loan you the book.

So let me ask you one question, then I’ll write a little, then I’ll go pay my parking ticket, visit the library, and write an assignment, and then maybe make some time for self-understanding.

Have you ever found the awareness of loneliness or loss to be a source of beauty?

If yes, well don’t read the rest and just write me immediately or better yet call me or better yet come to Charleston and agree to sit and talk with me for at least several hours about this topic and nothing else. I’ll buy you a moderately priced meal.

How can loneliness be beautiful? 

To start, loneliness can only begin to be beautiful with the assurance that it is temporary. If we feel our isolation will never end, all we will see is despair and be paralyzed by fear. Reminding the feeling that it is fleeting even if it seems final, is essential.

What also helps but is not a solution is the reminder that there are worse things than feeling lonely. Feeling incessantly annoyed or tortured is probably worse. But what’s actually worse than being lonely is self-loathing. There is  perhaps nothing worse than not liking yourself, which is why if you combine this with loneliness, its combustible.

I have a theory that people who genuinely like most things about themselves have little problem being alone.

Why is that?

Because they know what they like and feel absolutely no shame embracing that which they enjoy. Sure this could turn into complete selfishness, but there is something admirable about someone is completely secure in their delights.

Combine liking your self with self-awareness, you combine to make a refreshing human being. You’re like a classic Coke or Sprite, your like a refreshing Iced Tea, your like a warm (insert favorite latte), you’re the type of person that its okay to walk around in your underwear in front of. You won’t be creeped out or do anything creepy; you’re content to breastfeed in public without judging the people who might be judging you. You’re (this stopped being helpful 2 sentences ago) contented.

In other words, your happiness is not dependent on others but you allow it to be heightened and appropriately saddened given the person and circumstance. You’re soul is malleable rather than easily broken.

So you can use loneliness as a method of further self-discovery. This is the type of person I must become, and I must become it quickly and joyously and love God and others all the more for the opportunity.

But, what of loss?

How can loss be beautiful? 

Get your friggin’ softest tissues ready.

Anything you lose sucks to varying degrees. (Except excess weight, I guess). Especially when you lose something you think you need, keys, phone, family, kids. Like it sucks to misplace those things for five minutes but the loss I’m talking about is the kind of loss that implies permanence.

Loss sucks so much, I got to this part of the blog, and I don’t even want to write about it and part of the reason for me writing is to write about it. That’s how much I try to avoid it; I even am trying to avoid writing about it. (Snyder’s of Hanover gluten-free pretzels are great by the way; I wish they would pay me to say that).

Yet loss is inevitable. And worst of all, it usually if not always comes despite our intent. I won’t go so far to say that all loss is unintended because that is not the nature of what I’m trying to convince you and myself of.

If loss is inevitable and loss is painful and it’s something we, I included, try to avoid how exactly do we beautify it? Well, like loneliness, the effects of loss are temporal (what I mean is you can’t permanently lose the same thing twice) yet the love of that which was lost is enduring.

Love has this enduring quality and while you cannot change or really replace that which was lost, whether it be a parent, a sibling, a child, a spouse, a potential spouse, a friend, a pet, a vocation that gave you purpose, love need not die because of loss.

The loss of any one of those things may yield unbearable weight or heartbreak and most likely will. That heartbreak is real and it stings. We may yearn that we were lost in the stead of whom we lost. And the temptation becomes losing ourselves, to lose our identity in that which we lost. To become the person that our broken heart makes us vulnerable in believing: that we are irreparable, irreconcilable, impossible or unworthy to reconstruct. And the lie of loss is not the same as the loss itself or the love of the loss.

The lie of loss tries to tell you all is lost, but all is not lost. Even if in the moment, or in the season, or in the seeming lifetime it feels like all is lost, all is not lost. You are not lost if you are reading this. I mean in the metaphorical cosmic, what is the purpose of my existence, schema you might be lost, but that too is temporal. Our potential for being found is far greater than our propensity to wander away.

The love of the loss is our potential for gain.

How is love allowed to last?

See the divine nature of love is recognizable by its endurance. It’s recognizable by the lengths it pushes us to, and by the length and depth it propels others into. Love has this amazing potential to infuse tangible, powerful hope into the darkest of situations. The demonstration and resource of love provided to us by Jesus gives new strength, new life, and it need not end. Love doesn’t have a salary cap.

But it also has the attribute of self-forgetfulness that gives us additional strength to recognize our losses and loneliness as unique, yet equitable when met with love. It acts as currency to others in the midst of loss and the feeling of loneliness.

38710813_440696929773474_7108082828050432000_nBut the only way we can even begin to be a dispensary of this kind of love is to lean into the divine love of God, as the well we drink from. We drink as much as, even more than we might think we need throughout the day so our loss and loneliness won’t dehydrate us, leaving us so poor and empty that we lose sight of beauty and self-understanding.

The goal of lasting love in spite of loss and loneliness is not to erase existence; it is to thrive in spite of the suffering that comes with existing. It is so that if we lose a parent and yearn for that intimacy, we adopt a widow or widower; it’s if we have lost a sibling, we befriend a lonely stranger who yearns for loyalty; it’s if we lose a child, we find strength to be able to lavish love on one’s not lost, providing hospitality and family to the orphan. It’s if we lose a spouse and suffer heartbreak, we don’t crumble so far inwards that we close ourselves off or run from the viable love of others around us.

Sometimes allowing ourselves to be loved is the only salve that will heal us in time. I don’t think this blog will change the internet, but I hope it provides us with hope to give and receive divine love as our defense against loss and loneliness in a lasting way.

Trading the 2nd Amendment for the 2nd Commandment

John 18:11, Matthew 26:52-54, Luke 22:49-51

Our Swords are Our Guns and It’s Time to Put Them Away

I’m not writing specifically about the 2nd amendment. And my intention here is not to lobby for change in the political arena. I don’t like loud yelling, whistle blowing or things that divide people unless it is over Jesus.

So I’ll talk about Jesus going to his death. In the gospels, one of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, takes a sword and aims for someone’s head. This happens as another disciple asks Jesus, “Shall we strike with our swords?” Before the inquiring disciple can finish the question, Peter is quick to pull the trigger and cuts off a dudes ear.

After the incident Jesus says, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

Why have a sword you would never use?

The 2nd Amendment exists as a clause that we’d hope we would never have to use. It does not exist for our pleasure or for our enjoyment. It existed in the case of an emergency not as a pathway to more frequent emergencies. We would hope we would never need a gun to protect us from our government, and we would hope our government would protect us from one another. More specifically, to protect us from an enemy or the violent among us.

Why have the sword at all?

After Jesus makes the statement about living and dying by the sword, Jesus heals the mans ear who Peter had cut off with the sword. Then he says this in the gospel of Matthew 26:53 “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”

Jesus makes an obvious statement to His followers. Being one with God implies He has access to an army but chooses to relinquish that power in the face of death. Why? Because he is fearless and faithful.

But more than any of that, Jesus is humble, self-sacrificing and willing to lay down his life in love. He was willing to lay aside his power to become a servant.

He laid aside power.

Why relinquish our perception of power?

Look, I get it, I’ve worked in construction on an off for the last 6 years. I shared an office with a guy who hoarded ammunition and had it delivered every day to our work. I understand lots of men and women like to shoot guns because it gives them an adrenaline rush or rather the false sense of feeling powerful.

I understand the normalization of guns and the perception that they can be operated safely and frequently by responsible individuals.

But what I don’t understand is the American Evangelical Christian fascination with guns and (about to a make a really unpopular statement) the military.

We idolize what we perceive protects us.

And it is our faith in thinking guns protect and faith in the military as exclusively altruistic that fuel a fascination with violence and the glorification war. As a country America has found a way to consistently make violence profitable. We’ve done the same with sex, and instead of considering the cost, we normalize.

We begin to recite a story that suggests the rights we’ve “always” had are being infringed upon and it is oppressing our freedom.  And we begin to use the word freedom as an excuse to fight, conquer, and finance violence disguised as virtue

But that insistence is the sign of how bound we’ve become. We’ve become bound to our guns like being bound to an idol.

Anyone in our culture who would rather have a semi-automatic weapon or hand-gun to maintain their own sense of security at the expense of not being permitted to have one for the potential safety of the masses is looking to a conceal a pretty ugly idol.

How to Put Them Away

The disposition I advocate for among Christians is this: “I am willing to lay down my right to bear arms in hopes that others would also lay down that right, to live in a society where no child dies in a classroom from a firearm.” The 2nd Amendment says nothing  about laying aside our rights as a demonstration of love, but Jesus’ 2nd greatest commandment does. He advocates being inconvenienced for the love of your neighbor.

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Jesus advocates for this to the point where He asks His followers to lay down their lives. Despite this, it does not seem  we are  even at a place where Christians are willing to lay down their guns. That must change.

I believe only a radical movement of surrender will change culture, not lobbyists or legislation.

And I believe the solution is rather simple: “Put your guns away.”

– Stop considering them toys.

– Don’t resist stricter gun laws. In fact, don’t ignore the statistics, look around at the rest of the world and be willing to admit that maybe the events point to requiring America to have the strictest gun laws of any nation.

– Relegate that sense of power and adrenaline rush to highly secure shooting ranges.

– Regulate hunting rifles to be used or visible only during designated times of the year, the rest of the year those weapons are to be stored at a weapons bank.

– If we desire to hold to that 2nd Amendment piece about a “well-regulated” militia, have a militia bank/shooting range combo. If the goal is to be well-regulated, that’s the place you go to pick up your guns if the poop hits the fan and we have to wage war on the government.

I’m a pacifist, who has never shot a gun who has some great ideas.

Why it is definitely time

It’s time because we’ve lost our sense of urgency. This most recent shooting was forgotten quickly by the media because there was a Royal Wedding to watch. It also could be that a lot of people in Texas own guns and pushing  stricter gun policies would rub the majority the wrong way (which is what has to happen).

I admit I liked the Royal Wedding, but what I don’t like is the feeling I now have when I hear about mass shootings.

When Columbine happened, there was weight attached to it, real fear because it was unprecedented and admittedly no one knew what to do because nothing like it had happened. We had an excuse at that time for being frozen in fear.

Bowling for Columbine, produced and written by Michael Moore, actually made me think. Even if you fall on the side that it was a decent propaganda piece, it also explored what perpetuating an ideology centered around fear creates. That movie was made in 2002 about a shooting that happened that in 1999, almost 20 years ago. I’m fairly convinced that in 20 years the climate has gotten worse.

20 years later we have no excuse for being frozen in indifference or in the fantasy that my gun makes me feel more secure.

Fear creates a demand for entitlement until the mind gives way to the assumption that this was always mine. Once you’ve arrived, you cling tightly because the alternative is to live without hope or lose the impression of power.

The alternative that will overcome is the one that casts out fear with love. Love finds solutions and finds a way often at the expense or as a cost to the one who is loving. We lay down our weapons so our enemies ears might be healed. Or if you prefer you lay down your weapons so Jesus heals our ears.

Why it’s worth it

By now, anyone who would disagree and has continued to read could be thinking, “I’ve heard you; I’m empathetic or sympathetic, but even if I did lay down my gun, what if it doesn’t work? What if the solution is more about treating mental illness or arming more people and teachers?”

Teachers have bad days, the last thing I want when I have kids is to worry about them in school with a teacher they have consistently irritated who also has a firearm. It’s not that I don’t trust teachers, but why unnecessarily require people to be armed who already have pretty stressful jobs with my future annoying, hilarious kids.

As far as treating mental illness, this is a much wider discussion and one that is essential, but we know far less about the human mind, then we know about guns. The mind of an individual by in large is something that we still cannot comprehend. Even with heavily medicating, a missed dose, the wrong dose can change things pretty quickly and often without much explanation.

Guns are the object we as people can control. It’s the object in the equation we can discard. It is the idol. We can’t discard people, but I fear that’s what we do with every cry we ignore.

It’s worth it because laying down your right to bear arms is a practical demonstration of love that goes beyond words. How often do we actually see events or decisions like that anymore? It’s a movement more powerful than a Royal Wedding. And it’s worth it for the Church to finally lead the charge in something worth writing about or covering by the media, rather than being lambasted for indifference or hypocrisy.

It’s worth it because through it, we can in part, fulfill the 2nd great commandment to love our neighbor.