There are Two Kinds of People
James Dobson recently called Mr. Trump a "baby Christian" and joined the ranks of plenty of other evangelicals endorsing Trump. In the NYT article, Dobson is quoted as saying that Christians need to give Trump slack because "he didn't grow up like we did." Dobson, whether consciously or not, is saying that he believes there is one kind of Christian: the kind that grew up like he did. I don't know who the "we" is he's talking about, but I know a lot of Christians, and here's the thing: their upbringing does not fit into a nice, packaged box. That's the beauty of the Christianity I love: it brings together people from every type of background regardless of race, gender, religion, economic status, social status, etc. Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, who was born in a stable and buried in a borrowed tomb, the Lord of Lords who washes disciples feet and reminds the pious that they too are sinners, the Man who was God, the God who was Man—who dealt with temptation and lived a blameless life nonetheless, the sometimes-quiet and sometimes-loud Revolutionary who chose the road of nonviolence. This is Jesus Christ, the One who was, who is, and who is coming again—and yes, while we need to recognize that only Christ is perfect, and we need to give each other slack; we also need to call out the things that are wrong, and be reminded that while we "guard each man's dignity" we also "see each man's pride". Jesus tells us to go remove the plank from our own eye before we remove the speck from another man's. But he doesn't tell us to leave the speck in the other man's eyes! Yes, we need to self-reflect. Yes, we need to make sure the Gospel we preach in public is one we preach to our own flesh in private moment-by-moment.
If Trump, who is claiming he's a Christian, can openly criticize full sectors of human beings simply because they are a specific religion or ethnicity—we don't just need to "cut him some slack", we need to show him what following Christ is. He can take the word evangelical. But I won't sit back and let him redefine what it means to be a Christian. I am a Christian, and being Christ-like means laying down bigotry and racism, even when I don't want to. It means learning to undo hate, even when I feel justified in hating. It means valuing human life regardless of what label that life fits into. So I'm sorry Mr. Trump, but if you want to call yourself Christian, you need to start acting like one. I'm afraid you are simply doing this to get more "evangelical" vote; and while I value your life (or struggle each day to do so) I do not value your deception or your outlook.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think human beings fit into two categories and those who don't. I'm one of the latter.
The American political system is one that fits people into two categories. And most Americans do the same. You either love Coke and hate Pepsi or vice versa. You are either a football fan or you aren't. And we do it in the Church too: you're either a left Christian or a right. You're either one who feeds or one who eats. You're either a Calvinist or an Arminian. You've either said the sinner's prayer and accepted salvation or you haven't.
Unfortunately that leaves a lot of people out: I'm just as happy to be drinking a Coke as I am a Pepsi (mostly because I NEED caffeine and I don't drink a lot of soda). Sometimes I'm OK with watching American football, but when I start thinking about how much money the sport makes and the corruption that goes on with that love of money I get discouraged and wonder if my watching it only helps that love of money (I know I think too much). I'm neither right nor left on the Christian spectrum, though with my "right" Christian friends I think I don't quite fit in and with my "left" Christian friends I think the same. I'm neither Calvinist nor Arminian (You can call me a 3-point Calvinist or a 3-point Arminian depending on what day of the week it is.) And some people haven't said the sinner's prayer, but they are on the road to salvation; while others who have said it are still on that same road.
Unfortunately our two-party political system is polarizing its people once again. The government of the people, for the people, by the people is leaving out a LOT of people, and turning into the government of the polarized, for the polarized, by the polarized. We've got Trump and Hillary. I'm not sure it's ever been so evident in my lifetime how much our country needs a three-party system. And how much Christian Americans need to remember what Tony Campolo recently said:
"The Kingdom of God will not come from the White House, regardless of which party wins the coming election."
"[After all] the kingdom of God is not a matter of [getting the] food and drink [one likes], but instead it is righteousness (that state which makes a person acceptable to God) and [heart] peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." -Romans 14:17 (AMPC)
Love is Stronger than the Grave
Shane Evan Tomlinson was one of the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. He died on June 12 because of hate, but he came alive to me today because of love. Today, June 24, I had the privilege of walking into my home church's auditorium and sitting down next to Shane's friends and family who decided to have his service at our church. To me, his name is no longer flat letters that sit on a page, but it is three-dimensional and conjures up thoughts of MTV and Michael Jackson's jealousy of Shane's moves, Sister Act and Joyful Joyful, fashion and style and perfectionism.
A close friend of his, Kristen, said he had a premonition a few nights before he died, and he said, "The only complete protection we have is God and sometimes he needs you more than this evil world." She then said, "Whatever the motives were of that shooter, they were not accomplished. There is more love ... and we are stronger for it."
Shane's father, Stephan, talked about the 13-hour drive to Orlando he and his wife took. They had an opportunity to fly down, but decided to drive. "I thought about the verse that says, 'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.' We were in that valley for 13 hours. But I'm glad we drove. My wife and I had the opportunity to lift God up ... and we still lift Him up because He is the author and finisher of our faith. Knowing that God was with us really gave us peace."
Stephan reminded us all that there were 48 other families grieving, the whole nation grieving over this tragedy. But he said that Shane's friends created a safety net for the Tomlinson family. "And I gained more sons and daughters than you can imagine."
Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.
Hate multiplies hate,
violence multiplies violence,
and toughness multiplies toughness
in a descending spiral of destruction....
The chain reaction of evil --
hate begetting hate,
wars producing more wars --
must be broken,
or we shall be plunged
into the dark abyss of annihilation.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
When human beings are simply flat names it's easy to say they are defined by only one characteristic (that we love or we hate). But when they come alive to us and we see them in 3D as image bearers of our God, we recognize what MLK Jr. says is true. Only love can drive out hate. Only love can bring a multitude of sons and daughters when you lose a child. Only love can have you cry out to God when you walk through the valley of shadow of death, rather than yell at the enemy and sell your soul by choosing to hate. And love starts with seeing in three dimensions. Shane was a brother, a son, an uncle, a friend before he was anything else, including an entertainer. In the end, we realize all along that it is our relationships that define us, nothing more and nothing less.
My 27-year-old cousin, Matt Ruocco, died almost one month ago. I won't tell you the tragedy his death was or the defining characteristics of this "gentle giant". I won't tell you where he worked or where he lived. All you need to know is that he was my cousin. It doesn't matter that his skin color was different than mine, or that we didn't live long in the same state. All that matters is that he is my cousin, and like Shane, he is no longer on this earth. But I love him, and I mourn for his loss. His name may be flat to you, but he is 3D to me because of my relationship to him.
If we learn nothing else from death, may we learn what the Gospel spells out—that every human being has value not because of their characteristics, accomplishments, or opinions. They have intrinsic value that God gave in creating them and no force on earth—even hate—is strong enough to take that value away.
Resisting [for] the Sabbath
"...inevitably sets this God on a collision course with the gods of insatiable productivity." (Walter Bruggemann, Sabbath as Resistance)
My almost five-year-old looks at the TV and then at me and says, "Is today the Sabbath day?" almost every day. He knows now, even though we've only been doing this a few weeks, that Sabbath day means no TV. At this point in his life, the Sabbath is a list of "do-nots" with the most important one for him "Thou shalt not use screens on the Sabbath."
Most often, I convince myself not do such things because I don't want my son to grow up legalistic. But there came a point where I had to tell myself it's OK if he thinks it's just rules right now. One day he'll understand the heart behind the law. At this point, I need to stop resisting the Sabbath pull, and resist for the Sabbath, and make it a practical part of our home life. I don't think TV is wrong or screens are wrong or anything of the sort, but I do believe in Christian discipline—at least theoretically I do. Practically, I don't prefer it. It means I have to stop doing work on Wednesdays. It means I can't just sit my son down in front of the TV so I can send emails, work on grants, write articles and attempt to market my book by randomly doing everything I can think of or anything Google tells me will help me sell, sell, sell. It means I have to prepare on Tuesdays by doing more laundry, making sure to vacuum, and wash the cloth diaper load. Last night I plopped in bed around 11:30 p.m. and sighed, "Preparing for the Sabbath is exhausting." It means I have to say no to Twitter, Facebook, & Instagram. It means I don't respond to emails immediately. And it means I sit my butt in a chair and force myself to stay there. But the 'gods of insatiable productivity' are all around me, and for some crazy reason, it seems I get more emails beckoning me to respond on Wednesdays, and more temptations to turn on the boob tube than other days.
But discipline—as crazy as it sounds—equals rest.
And if I've ever needed rest in my life, it's right now, as a stay-at-home mom who works from home. I feel like I never just sit down without reminding myself I need to get back up in exactly five minutes and go do __________ (fill in the blank). There's always something more to do. Always something I haven't yet done. Always some other way in which I need to be productive. There's always more bricks that need to be made, and it feels like there always will be (Bruggemann opens his book with this concept of more bricks for Pharoah). So if I don't take a day to resist brick-making then I will never get rest.
Without rest, I make bricks without perspective, without vision, without remembrance of who God is and what He is capable of. Without rest, I feel less human and more like a robot. So on Wednesdays, we're working on turning off everything that seems to give life so we can reconnect with the One who actually gives life. We turn off the outside noises so we can re-calibrate and resist the narrative that says, "We live to produce." On Wednesdays I fight my bones, my flesh, and my culture, and sometimes my son's bones and my son's flesh, so that the depths of our minds get renewed. Sometimes I lose. Sometimes I give in to the temptations. But discipline isn't learned overnight; and becoming disciplined disciples takes a lifetime. Sometimes it starts by following a law that is only a law; a rule that is annoying and confusing. But maybe we will one day recognize that we are not only defined by what we do, but also by what we don't do. And that truth is worth the sacrifice.