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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.

 

The Cutting Gospel: Separating the Should and Should Not

John 18:1-27- Imagine the Divine Impulse

Have you ever been disappointed in yourself after acting on impulse? Considering how frequently in the Gospels Peter acts on impulse, I imagine he was disappointed in himself often.

But I am convinced that our impulsive action in ignorance does not disappoint God as much as it disappoints us. I’m not suggesting God is less disappointed when our impulse to sin is acted upon with a sense of knowing. I believe that disappoints God more than it disappoints us, but I could be convinced otherwise.

There is something about acting in ignorance, with good intentions, that I think Jesus has a large degree of empathy for. And I think the Gospel of John does a perfect job of showing us a Jesus that cares most about reconciliation and administering the grace to keep going.

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Jesus is about to be arrested. He knows this. When the ones coming to arrest him approach him Jesus steps towards them and asks them “Who is it you want?” He asks a question but really he is making an authoritative statement. In asking, he is actually showing them that He is the one they want.

John paints us a picture of a Jesus that is steps into his mission willingly. And those bold steps cause the party seeking to arrest him to fall over.

I believe when we take steps in faith Jesus causes us to knock down our doubters and our doubts.

Jesus steps towards his arrest with confidence. And though he knocks down his doubters and enemies, he does not stop his eager friend with a sword who supposes he is lending support.

After the act Jesus says, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

See Jesus does offer rebuke, and in other gospels, he heals the ear of the man who Peter slices at. But Jesus does not have time for our impulsive decisions and our denials. In fact, while we sit there and deny or rush to act, Jesus takes the burden of truth and opposition to His will upon Himself. In His strength, he waits for our surrender through our posture of receiving.

In a span of 12 verses, Peter denies Jesus 3 times. In the span of one evening Peter goes from getting his feet washed to taking a sword in his hand. He goes from believing it is not within him to deny Jesus to executing what he did not desire.

But what would this story look like if Peter did nothing? What would the end of this book look like if Peter did not chop an ear off and did not deny? Or what if John left it all out?

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Without Peter, I don’t think I would fully understand the grace of Jesus and His appreciation for radical faith. I don’t think I would learn the difference between the divine impulse and the carnal (fleshly) impulse.

Because the divine impulse is one that follows Jesus not one that fights for Jesus. It is recognizing that Jesus fought for and bought me, which now means I obey in love.

It shows me that Jesus is able to sever my mistakes and my sin from my identity. Peter denies, but Jesus prevents denial from defining Peter. Peter denies and is spared while Jesus speaks truth and is slapped.

And God allows this to awaken the heart of Peter, of you, and of me to gaze at Jesus in life, death and resurrection in order to know that obedience to what God has called us to leads to eternal joy and the experience of genuine love.

But what happens first is crucifixion. Specifically Jesus’ crucifixion. Specifically, the imagination of God working itself out in human history to display to all that God’s plan, action, and work not only could not be stopped but worked out for the good of all so our imagination and purpose would be fulfilled in Him.

More on that next time.

The Praying Gospel: Are you Curious?

John 17 – We are all 20-year old gypsy train wrecks

We made it this far. The last large exposition from Jesus in the Gospel of John is one long prayer. It is a prayer for glorification, a prayer for the disciples, and a prayer for contagious joy and complete unity among all who will believe in Jesus.

In short, He is praying for the fulfillment of all he set out to accomplish. I’m not sure logistically how this prayer was recorded in its fullness. It’s hard to believe that as Jesus prayed, John was scribbling this all down. Perhaps, God gave John a supernatural memory for this specific moment.

512201c4-012e-4eb3-83df-1b4c76e60230But I also imagine that this prayer or at least parts of it were common prayers of Jesus.

And I would propose that they were not prayers common of Jesus only from the past but are prayers Jesus prays now. Scripture tells us in Romans 8:34, that Jesus is alive and intercedes for us. Furthermore I believe Jesus enjoys this responsibility.

Can I share a story? It’s my blog; I suppose I don’t have to ask.

May 4th – 6th I was in Charleston, SC looking for a place to live. It was a somewhat fruitful trip in that regard, but the reality is, on paper, my future salary will barely cover my rent and car payment. For a season, I lived with a lot less on $700 a month for 6 months so I’m certain God will take care of it.

I’ve learned not to rely on paper which is funny because there was a time when I lived in the world of fiction and story-telling because I felt I could imagine a better reality than the one God was allowing me to live. I lived on paper so long as I was holding the pen and would not limit my imagination. I operated this way so I could be the author who chose what I was to suffer.

I wanted to choose what I would suffer so I wouldn’t be held accountable to what God was asking me to offer.

But as God is wont to, the story He is writing has been better. Other than apartment searching, bad sunburn, good Mexican food, and getting depressed by the lingering loneliness that often tries to color my life (that took a turn), Sunday morning I prepared to leave Charleston.

I had to be at the airport by noon, but ultimately decided to pop by church anyway. They had a free breakfast that I paid $20 for because I was hoping to get more out of my last couple hours than chocolate chip pancakes, some gross southern grits dish, coffee and juice.

I met two people, a guy named Kent who was helpful in connecting me with an elder and was genuinely enthusiastic. The second person I met a breakfast was a train-wreck who also was visiting the church.

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She told me she has visited 14 churches and hasn’t found one she liked. She also told me she moved from the Northwest to protest horse carriages. She also told me her best friend died the week prior in upstate New York. She also told me she travels to the Philippines often. Needless to say I listened, said its important to find community, and could not wait to lose her before service whilst questioning what of her story was true and why God manipulated my kindness to meet someone so exhausting on a day of rest.

If you subtract most everything from the tale of her life, I’ve been the 20 year-old gypsy girl at church because some older woman who cared invited her.

And I’ve probably exhausted strangers and friends with tales that I myself have struggled to find truth in. It wasn’t hard to see her wounds even if she was feeding me a spoonful of lies. Her story might have been better than the grits if it wasn’t so draining.

I said a prayer, sat in the back of the sanctuary and was hoping God would speak to me during worship since that was all I would be staying for.

One song, not a clue what it was and then they prayed for a pastor going on sabbatical for a month and invited someone to share a testimony.

The guy was introduced by the pastor as Ben. He shared for about a minute and my Spirit had this heightened sense of awareness. I liked the way he spoke and began to get pretty vulnerable.

Then one passing statement caught my intention. He said God called him to full-time ministry and joy filled my inner being. The sense of knowing I began to feel felt supernatural. Then a few sentences later he said God opened a door for him in the ministry of pastoral care as a hospital chaplain. He shared more about what God had brought him through while I squirmed in my chair filled with excitement.

He ended with the thought of: “Stay curious about what God is doing.”

I met Ben during communion, exchanged numbers after confirming we would be chaplain residents at the hospital together in August. I believe Jesus prayed for this. I also believe Jesus knew it would happen. I also believe it needed to happen.

As much as I’d like to say, taking a step of faith in the direction of my calling is easy, my resistant disposition has not done me too many favors. My introspection does more harm than good sometimes. The moments where I feel like God sees me helps me to say yes.

I need those moments to sustain me in through a transition still 3 months away.

I didn’t talk much about John 17 but I will leave us with this passage from it:

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” John 17:13

The Overcoming Gospel: Are you Over?

John 16

John 16 is the 3rd of 4 chapters of very long expositions from Jesus. This chapter in particular, deals with Jesus leaving. He is explaining to his followers that when He leaves, the Holy Spirit will come and fill them. The Spirit will also give them knowledge.

Then he talks about not being seen.

Then he talks about being seen again.

There will be mourning, then rejoicing.

It is also the third chapter in a row where Jesus makes a statement like this:

“In that day, you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

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He concludes this exposition, letting the disciples know they will be scattered and scared and confused, but to take heart and have courage. It is all apart of the plan for Jesus to overcome and conquer in a way, vastly different from their expectations.

Jesus is hyper-aware. He says, “you will all leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.”

That awareness is for you and for me. Maybe more for me than for you.

John 16 is suggested to take place in the last 2 weeks before Jesus’ crucifixion. At this point in time, Jesus has tamed his ministry and focused a lot more on his followers and friends instead of the crowds. The crowd mentality was no longer the prescription for his mission. They would soon turn against him.

*In wrestling there is a word that describes one’s popularity. The word is “over” If you are over, it means you are popular with the crowd, if you are “putting yourself over” it means you are going to great lengths, often at someone else’s expense, to become popular with the crowd.*

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At this point, Jesus is putting himself under, and will give off the appearance that he is sinking his own ship. He is making the unpopular decision in the present hour because he anticipates the promise of the future hours.

I think I live in that state. Or at least I live in the face of a temptation to live without purpose in order to be comfortable in the present.

For the second time in my life, I am preparing to leave a comfortable job with prospect of promotion to pursue ministry (what I feel called to do). I don’t know if it’s more or less painful this time. I don’t even know if it is more or less lonely.

But I hoped it wouldn’t be lonely at all. More specifically, I hoped that by 30 I wouldn’t be the same status of single I was at 20.

I didn’t think I would be confronted with the lies of being less desirable now that I’m older as I prepare for a career that will place me on paper as someone less likely able to provide. I didn’t think I would grow accustom to expecting rejection.

Which is why life inversely is so strange. Why then do I seemingly have the courage to follow God into hospital chaplaincy and why was I so convinced that the one 600 miles away was the better choice? Why does the process have to be difficult? or rather why do I make it difficult?

I’ve often discussed with my roommate, who formerly served in the military, was a semi-professional rower,  is in great shape, finishing his PhD in Physics, and loves Jesus wholeheartedly about what we are doing wrong. (I’ll put him over not myself)

But it’s not so much what we are doing wrong, it’s what we might be doing right.

I’m sorry to say, but it seems that trying to live an obedient, faithful life of seeking and serving does not make you more desirable to the masses. It doesn’t even make you more desirable to most people in church. Some days it doesn’t make you desirable to yourself.

But it does keep you tender-hearted towards Jesus and others.

I am willing to concede that it makes you more sensitive to the Holy Spirit, although there are days I’m not certain of that, if I’m being honest. I said it makes me sensitive not certain *shrug*.

And one thing I can say in confidence is I am way more sensitive, aware, and optimistic about the hurting and suffering of others.  Even when I have a multitude of doubts about what to feel about myself. When someone is vulnerable I can smile and see beauty. When someone is experiencing holy joy I can rejoice with them.

I can see when I can’t see myself.

My brother helped me with a budget last night that did not look promising come August.

But my calling didn’t come from a spreadsheet or a bank account. It didn’t come from my future spouse or my wavering optimism regarding whether or not she exists. It didn’t even come from supportive friends and family.

My calling came from the One who overcame the world.

The only way I share in that is if I follow my call from Christ in faith. That’s how I overcome.

Walk despite reasons to worry,

love despite rejection,

hope until you don’t need to anymore.

Whirlwind Emprise

I usually like to pick a word for myself that I hope will describe each new year.

My 2017 word was gentleness.

I picked this word because I knew my goal for the year was to cease from striving, to stop grasping, to accept my smallness in the world and to be considerably less frustrated about circumstances. As a result, I knew I would need patience as hope would be deferred and answers to questions would not come.

I found some of the best ways to discover if you are in fact gentle is to consistently not get what you want or expect and then see if you are able to remind yourself with frequency that in this world you are entitled to nothing. Godliness with contentment is great gain. Part of the gain is the evidence of gentleness.

While my word was gentleness and I can recognize many situations in which I exercised it, gentleness is still my endeavor because The Rolling Stones remind me that getting what I want is not always going to be the case…

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…Unless you change what you want.

Wait… huh? (This will take a turn, you probably didn’t expect).

Scripture tells me that where my treasure is there my heart will be also and what I know to be true is: if my want is wholly fixed on desiring the love of Jesus above all else, I can have that. I can have unconditional love despite circumstance. I can obey God if I want to, and I can say no to competing desires.

Which is why in August of 2017, I started asking myself some new questions. I also began giving up certain expectations. I decided to cast my net wider because I felt like I was becoming too comfortable, while being less content.

So I applied for chaplaincy positions on college campuses. I connected with a new young adult community. I planned my first vacation alone. I began the process of coming to an internal acceptance that if need be I would remain single forever. I was even willing to accept that my calling to ministry was less than what I imagined and resolved that I could continue working in construction, quietly, even if I felt strongly otherwise.

It led me to October where I confronted myself with the help of a friend. I addressed some things I didn’t necessarily like about life in general at that point. And I gave God my opinion. I gave my evaluation of my love for Jesus, and it seemed to me to be found wanting. This feeling saddened me.

I did not feel unloved by God. I felt incapable of reciprocating. Though, I was reminded that love was a choice, I felt tempted to choose to not love. And this potential decision provoked me to look around and recognize the faithfulness and love of others. I discovered one of the ways we reignite our love (and fear) of God is to observe others who are loving God faithfully. Choosing faithfulness despite uncertainty and suffering is an awesome display of love.

And something began, and I hope will be brought to a mature completion inside me. I remembered that love requires me to give while trusting that the risks of faith I take are guided by God. I was also reminded that it is not possible for me to love even a little bit without God.

For me, love starts with listening. Love happens when we hear the needs of others and meet them, but love finds its energy in the word of God. I started to hear when I listened.

God is the only one who knows me in my depths and the only one who knows me better than myself, which makes making decisions much easier when I’m hearing from the one writing my story.

Fast forward to the middle of December. I began the process of applying for hospital chaplaincy programs. I wrote 12 pages worth of essays (5 about my life history, 1 about my work history, 3 regarding my spiritual development, 2 about navigating a crisis, 1 about why I want to be chaplain).

I had my good friend Victor read and edit all of them. He is finishing up his PhD in counseling and was amazing enough to edit my essays in his free time. He’s a quality human being. I submitted all the materials and references for these programs around Christmas and was leaving for India on New Year’s Eve.

My assumption, based on how things usually work, was I would hopefully hear back sometime after I returned from India because 3 weeks is a normal amount of time to review 12 pages worth of essays and additional materials in an application packet.

Apparently, in the hospital chaplaincy world in specific parts of the country a suitable response time is a few hours and 2 days respectively. Whereas, here in the northeast where I submitted an application packet, a month has gone by with no response from 3 different individuals at the same hospital who I submitted my application to.

So with very quick responses, during the peak of the holiday season, while I was preparing to leave for India for 2 weeks, I found myself scheduling interviews within a week or so of my return.

India was a blast and a rather busy 2 weeks. I tried to take some time to process 2018 and potential new seasons of life and these opportunities. I suppose the little time I had to think about it was enough. While I wanted to process it more, time and energy did not seem to allow it.

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Between jet lag, jumping back into work, and trying to prepare for the interviews themselves, I did not think about the implications of an offer. My interviews were on the 17th and the 22nd respectively, and I felt optimistic after both of them. Again I assumed I would hear something after a couple of weeks.

 

Not the case, I received an offer of admission to a residency position within 24 hours of my interview on the 22nd.

**Full disclosure, I heard from God several times in September about a timetable for my next step in following the Spirit to whatever my ministry direction would be so I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Something similar happened 7 years ago when I interviewed for my first ministry position.

I still didn’t and don’t really feel like I’ve had time to adequately process, but my experience thus far has seemed to indicate that God is not too interested in me swirling it all around in my head for hours on end. Because what I am prone to do is to make up fears or potential excuses.

God, the Father, did extend the offer allowing me to list all my initial fears as a “counting the cost” type of measure to which He promised to give answers to. We hashed that out at Qdoba. I left a little teary eyed after finishing my burrito.

I accepted the offer Monday, mailed my documents today and now wait and pray through a hopefully slow transition. I hope its slow because I’m aware of something else God is doing.

God is interested in doing a deeper work in my heart, one that I am getting the impression is more important than processing through the external details of the location and timing of my next season. That is what I must slow down for while the externals continue to be caught up in the whirlwind.

By the way, just for your information, my word for 2018 is one I learned while in India and that I gave away in the title of this blog. It is Emprise – an adventurous, daring, or chivalric enterprise.