Grace, Love And The Politics Of The American Church

I have yet to decide if I’m actually going to post this blog. If you’re reading it, that means I have decided to go ahead and do it, knowing that the result may be alienation of my readers and even some of my friends. Please know that I have not made this decision lightly, but thoroughly and prayerfully.

You should also know off the bat that my intended audience for this particular post are my readers who have a proclaimed affiliation with Christianity. While my atheist and agnostic readers are more than welcome to read what I have to say, please don’t use this as  fodder or a platform for the bashing of my faith.

What this also isn’t, since I’m already in the process of clarification, is an exegesis of current religious and political hot topics. I don’t have the scholastic credentials  to tackle theological apologetics on any issues beyond the basic tenets of the Bible.

Neither, I suspect, do many of you.

Which is sort of my point in writing this in the first place.

My heart has been deeply burdened of late with grief over the politicization of the American church, the statements and actions made by some church leaders (I’m not just looking at you, Franklin Graham and Creflo Dollar, but you’re at the top of my list right now), and the conversations, both in person and on Facebook that I have witnessed among my acquaintances, my friends and family who are self-described followers of Jesus.

My “Arugula!” warning signals are already going off in my head. I know that what I am about to say isn’t going to win me any popularity contests. While there was a time in my life when I actually thrived on debate, my desire to live in peace has tempered that part of me.

What God has been revealing to me over the past few years is how hurtful my approach has been, how my desire to prove my point came at the cost of relationships. He challenged many of my long-held beliefs, and even more so, challenged my attitude towards people who view the world differently than I do.

I have had some moments when I felt like everything I thought I knew was being tossed on its head, and I had to re-examine each thing to determine what was truth and what was an opinion based on my own personal experiences or beliefs.

I’m not claiming to have discovered irrefutable truth; Quite the opposite, actually.

I have come to believe that the smartest thing Albert Einstein ever said was, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”

I have said often I am by nature a very black and white thinker. http://kbjackson.com/zero-shades-of-grey-confessions-of-a-black-and-white-thinker/

I can see by many things I have heard and seen posted recently that I am not alone in that.

Everything must go in a bucket:

Good/Bad

Right/Wrong

For those of us who subscribe to what is by definition the pretty narrow lens of the Christian faith, this auto-labeling carries with it a significant implication for most issues and those who fall on either side of the spectrum of opinions.

And it often leaves very little room for grace.

People who have an agenda to control and manipulate the thoughts, feelings and actions of large quantities of people really like black and white thinkers. They need people who adhere steadfastly to absolutes because they know that with the right approach, once they get a black and white thinker to place an issue in their desired bucket, it will remain there, tenaciously defended regardless of any argument that may be used by someone of an opposing viewpoint. Black and white thinkers rarely change their mind.

Adhering to the ideology of Christianity appears to be one of those black/white right/wrong sort of scenarios.

Only, guess what? It’s not. Not really.

The Bible is filled with rules. It’s true. Some rules are given more weight by people than others, just as we like to weigh some sins heavier.

However as many “rules” as there are in the Bible,  there are many more declarations of  the unfathomable love of God for ALL mankind and  the unwavering command and admonition for His children to love others.

Why did God create rules? Is it so he could gleefully pour out his wrath on those who cannot/ do not abide by them? To give ammunition for believers to bash “sinners” over the head?

No. He created rules for two purposes:

1)To protect us from the natural consequences of our sinful choices

2)To make it crystal clear to us how incapable we are of following these rules on our own and how much in need of His grace and salvation we truly are.

He wrote the rules knowing we would break them. ALL OF THEM.

And He loves us anyways.

Out of that understanding of our depravity and His undeservedly lavish love we are to go out into the world to tell of the good news. The GOOD NEWS. Not the bad news. THE GOOD NEWS.

Instead, we fill our Facebook feeds with a version of “Christianity” that in no way sounds like anything resembling good news, or, honestly, that sounds like the words or example of Jesus Christ.

 

Did you know…

That God loves both Republicans AND Democrats?

That the message of the cross was as much for the Muslim as it was for the Jew, the Atheist and the American Christian?

That the good news of the gospel is as valid for both homosexual and heterosexual? (Also that sexual sin=sexual sin=sexual sin , and accordingly, sin=sin=sin)

That Jesus’ sacrifice was as much for those who would willingly accept him as those who would continually reject him?

That salvation is a gift of God, and the ONLY people it is intended for are sinners? (Know anyone who doesn’t fit into that category?)

That the grace that saves is enough to break the bonds of ALL religion, ALL sin, ALL human failings?

The beauty and the message of the cross is for everyone- even for those who have deemed all of the above unworthy to receive it.

I believe in democracy and I value and assert my right to vote.

However you will never find me affiliating with a political party again. I will examine each candidate and issue with prayerful consideration on their own individual merit, making my decision based on the values espoused by the only man to walk this earth blamelessly.

I refuse to accept that either political party represents these values.

How republicans and democrats can have opposing viewpoints and still both be inconsistent with Biblical values is why many like me find ourselves in political limbo. Abortion, gay marriage, government programs for the poor, government programs for the rich; you can be on the technically “right” side of an issue Biblically, but a lack of compassion can still make you wrong. And Christians, we’ve been getting these issues wrong.

The democrat party has made inclusiveness its religion, to the point of having little-to-no moral compass. The leadership uses the fears of the poor to manipulate and control. They exploit gender issues for political gain. Obama may or may not be everything those on the right say he is. (Of course it depends on the day. Sometimes he’s a total incompetent, other times he’s an evil mastermind.)

 

However, I am truly appalled that the American church has allowed many of its pulpits to be co-opted by the political agenda of a party that spews hateful rhetoric on a daily basis.

Nothing that is coming out of the RNC or its leadership, or frankly the people I know who have conservative political leanings are consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Whether or not it was your intention, here, in no particular order,  are the values expressed through the posts and re-posts I have witnessed over the past few years by my politically active Christian friends:

>Racism/lack of understanding of systemic racial problems in America

God says-

Mark 12:31

“The second is this:’Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

>Demonization of the poor

God says-

Psalm 12:5

“Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise,” says the LORD.” I will protect them from those who malign them.”

>Hatred for those of other faiths, particularly Muslims

(Fox news recently ran a story which attempted to paint Vlad the Impaler as simply a patriot hero fending off Muslim attackers. You’ve got to hate a group pretty bad to justify the actions of a man who roasted children and fed them to their mothers)

God says-

Luke 6:35

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”

>Disdain for those with differing political views

God says-

Proverbs 10:12

“Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.”

>Support for unbridled greed

God says-

1 Timothy 6:10

“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

>Hateful speech, passing judgement on external sin,  particularly  homosexuality  while ignoring sins of the heart

God says-

Mark 7:20-23

“And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

>Disregard for anything that might be considered “environmental”

God says-

Genesis 2:15

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden  to work it and take care of it.”

>Lack of compassion, grace and mercy for anyone who isn’t white, conservative, affluent, Christian, American

God says-

1 Peter 4:8

“Above all love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins.”

Whether you disagree with his political viewpoint, the vitriol spouted against our current president is sin. It just is.

Justifying personal and corporate greed as “capitalism at its finest” but shaming the single mom who chose not to have an abortion and needs financial help to care for her child is sin.

Focusing on one type of sin and making those who struggle with it feel unwelcome in the body of Christ is sin.

Pride in your “lack of sinfulness” is sin.

Hateful speech of any kind is sin.

Racism is sin.

Lack of compassion and mercy is sin.

Gluttony is sin. (I’m still not over the “gorge yourself on chick-fil-a to support the anti-gay marriage stance of the owner” protests. To me that whole incident said “we hate gay people so much we will shove fried fast food in our faces to prove it.” How many hungry people did they pass on their way to and from their “protest? )

Creating fancy churches to house our obese rear-ends and buying our “leaders” fancy jets so they don’t have to fly coach is sin.

We continuously focus on the speck in the eyes of others while ignoring the redwood forest growing in our own.

Brothers and sisters, I urge you to cling to the Word of God, the only real truth in this world, and leave behind the political agendas that seek only to divide us and distract us from our true purpose on this planet- to love our God and to honor Him by loving those He has made. It is possible to be unwavering in your beliefs and still be loving and compassionate towards those who don’t share them. It is impossible to follow the values of the world and do the will of God.

I’m not saying you can’t be a Christian and vote republican. But I do object to the idea that somehow those two things are congruent. Because they aren’t. They aren’t any more congruent than any other political party.

Please view everything you read and hear through the lens of the gospel and the Word of God, not through the lens of those who feed hate, fear and lies. Be conscientious and diligent in testing everything against the example set for us by Jesus.

Jesus came into a political and religious climate not unlike the one we live in now. The people felt oppressed and overtaxed by the government. (Legitimately I will admit). The religiosity of the people overshadowed every aspect of their daily lives… except their hearts.

Jesus said, “The government isn’t going anywhere. Deal with them the way you have to, but that really is no concern of mine. My issue is your hearts, and boy oh boy, you guys are really missing the point.”

(That was a paraphrase, in case you couldn’t tell.)

If we were busy serving the poor, the widows, the orphans, the hungry, the elderly, the sick…. would we have a moment of time or an ounce of desire to gripe about politics? Would we spend our time freaking out about whether someone else is gay? If we were telling people the good news, would we be taking the time in the middle to complain about health care legislation?

There’s a good chance that this whole thing has come off self-righteous and judgy. If it does, I’m sorry, it is not my intention. I am guilty of all of this and more. I include myself in every category of where I see us failing as God’s ambassadors to the world. We must be very cautious with whom we choose to affiliate ourselves.

We only have a short time on this planet in the scheme of things. Do we want to spend that time disseminating political propaganda or loving on people?

That’s all I’m trying to say. Pick the path that leads people to the cross.

 

eastersunrisecross

Getting Lost In The Moment

thecalifornians

https://screen.yahoo.com/californians-drama-off-405-000000032.html

FullSizeRender

Have you ever seen the Saturday Night Live skit “The Californians”? (see video link above) For those unfamiliar with Southern Cal, it may seem like a bit of an exaggeration, but having lived there for a quarter of my life, and just returning from a weekend there, I can assure you it’s more accurate than you might suspect.

Friday night I was making my way back from LA to my hotel in Orange County on the 405 South when I came upon signs that indicated the freeway ahead was closed and all lanes consolidated before being forced to exit at the 605 North.

Although I lived only 15 minutes south just 6 years ago, this was an area with which I was not too familiar. When I lived there, I made every effort possible to avoid the labyrinth of the SoCal freeway system. Even those with limited sense of direction can probably understand that when you’re headed south and then suddenly find yourself on a northbound freeway, you’re going the wrong way.

Earlier in the day I had already had the experience of getting on the 405 north when I had intended to go south leaving the airport, so while I wasn’t thrilled, it was not an unfamiliar feeling. Some people I know would find this situation completely unnerving. For me, though, I’ve always had this deep sense that no matter how many wrong turns I take I will ultimately find my way.

Eventually I did find my way to my hotel. I’d be lying if I said that after passing through several unfamiliar intersections and not recognizing any of the roads, and a gut feeling that I was indeed still headed the wrong direction, I pulled out my phone and entered my hotel into Google maps.

The first word out of male Siri’s ( I replaced the female because I thought she was a bit condescending) “mouth”were:

“Make a u-turn if possible.”

I’m pretty sure that 99% of the directions he has given me include that phrase.

Saturday morning I checked out of my hotel and headed to my sister Colleen’s house in Irvine to pick her up for our weekend in Palm Springs.

I entered the destination for the resort into my GPS. My sister, who has lived in the area for several years said, “I don’t understand why it’s taking us this way. Somehow this doesn’t seem right.”

However, I continued to follow the directions given to me by the man in my phone (Let’s call him Fritz). Sometimes he didn’t give me very much warning before telling me where to turn, and I would miss it. When that occurred he would do one of two things: readjust the course or utter the frequent and all-too-familiar, “Make a u-turn if possible.”

Soon we discovered that the route he had chosen required getting on to a toll road. Since I was driving a rental car with no transponder, the resulting fine would have been exorbitant.

We got off at the next available exit and made our way onto I-5 north, then onto the 55 , then the 91 east, to the I-215 to the 60 to the 10.

See? I told you “The Californians” wasn’t an exaggeration.

tumblr_ncyzynoFc51tnxaowo9_250

Somewhere after we got onto the 91, we ran into a large traffic jam. Saturday traffic jams in SoCal are not unusual, but are typically inexplicable. The back-up was likely the reason my GPS had tried to divert us onto a toll road. Either that, or because the toll roads are actually the most direct routes. Direct routes are only for the wealthy, apparently.

We sat in traffic, but neither of us minded because we had great conversation. I’m not even sure how long it took us to reach our actual destination, but that was the beauty of this trip; we had  planned to have no plans. Our only goal was to connect, spend time together and take each moment as it came.

Taking each moment as it comes and not trying to control my vacations is a new experience for me and not something at which I typically excel. I’m a work in progress.

After checking in  at the resort, we spent the afternoon poolside. The forecast predicted a rainy sunday, so we decided to take advantage of the sun while we had it.

Dinner was an easy choice; We both love Mexican food. I yelped Mexican restaurants in the vicinity and found one not too far away named Huerta’s on Jackson St that had a 4 1/2 star rating.

Once again I turned to “Fritz” for guidance. The area of Palm Springs/Palm Desert/Indio is a lot more sparse and spread out than one might think, and a lot of the roads are not well-lit at night.

I followed the directions given me by Fritz, and having visited the area a few years prior, I had a general understanding of where I was. Turn right on Hwy 111. Turn left onto Jackson. We passed a sign that welcomed us to Indian Wells.

Fritz said something about turning left that I couldn’t quite hear. Then he named a different road on which to turn left , as if he’d  changed his mind. I turned left at the next light and Fritz gave another street name on which to turn left, but I couldn’t see the street he named, and it certainly didn’t look like an area where a restaurant might be.

Colleen picked up my phone and said, “It says we just passed the turn.”

We were once again directed to take a left at the next light. After turning I said, “Why do I have the feeling we are going in one giant circle?”

My sister responded, “I believe we may be.”

Sure enough, we got to the next intersection and I noticed on my left was the giant sign for Indian Wells that we had passed earlier. We were back at Jackson Street. Fritz had indeed taken us in one giant circle.

Colleen looked at my phone again and said, “It looks like we are headed right for it. It’s on this street. Oh wait. It says we just passed it again.”

I looked to my left  and saw nothing but a dark residential neighborhood. There weren’t even street lights.

“I’m starting to think Huerta’s is really just someone’s house where they make a good chile relleno and someone thought it would be funny to put them on yelp just to make tourists go insane trying to find it.”

I drove in the darkness for a bit and finally made my way to a gas station so I could pull in and find another restaurant.

My sister said, “Why don’t we ask someone where we can find good Mexican food?”

I looked over at the monster truck that had pulled into the parking space next to me,  and at the man who leered at me as he got out.

“Uh. You’re welcome to. I think I’ll take my chances with Yelp.”

We looked over the other restaurants and realized a couple of the higher rated ones were listed as being on the road we had been approaching before pulling in to the station.

I said, “What about this El Mexicali Café?”

She said, “I was just looking at that. It says there are two of them, so they must be good.”

“It also says people prefer the one by the railroad tracks.”

(Possibly the only time I have uttered those words.)

We pulled back onto the road and kept our eyes peeled for a building showing some signs of life.

And then it appeared, like a literal oasis in the desert. An oasis near the railroad tracks that serves margaritas.

There were people outside but I couldn’t tell if they were waiting or just hanging around. Inside it was pretty small, and as we walked in we witnessed a scene that could only be described as festive. There were two mariachis (mariachi?) playing guitar and singing under a flatscreen  TV that was showing a basketball game. There was a small bar with stools where two older couples were laughing and eating. Every table and booth was filled with lively conversation except one small table for two that sat empty. Two men and three women were waiting in the entrance, and three waitresses were moving quickly between the kitchen, the bar, and the various tables and booths.

One of them, an older woman, came rushing up to us and asked in a heavily accented voice, “How many?”

We told her there were two of us, and she began scanning the restaurant. She went over to one of the waiting men and said, “You wait, yes? I give the ladies this table.”

The men seemed to grudgingly agree, but after waving us over to the not-yet wiped down table, another of the waitresses started yelling at her in Spanish from across the noisy room. My one year of high school Spanish told me that the plan had been to push the table with a table for 4 to seat the party waiting.

Our waitress hurried over to the other one, and there was much debate, complete with gestures and waving hands. Our waitress came back and said, “Sorry. Sorry. You wait a bit more.”

We got up and moved back to the entry and she said, “You want margarita. What kind? Strawberry? Mango?”

We ordered Cadillac margaritas, which she brought over to us while we waited. We people-watched and listened to the music. Neither of us was annoyed by the wait, because the room was electric and interesting. Occasionally the whole place would rumble as the train passed by. When we were finally seated we ended up at our original table, as the larger party had been put in the back once another group had left.

Our waitress returned and shouted at me, “You want peppers!” and pointed on the menu at a picture of what appeared to be some sort of stuffed peppers. My recent obsession with jalapeno poppers led me to agree. She rushed off before I realized the peppers were stuffed with shrimp, which I don’t eat, but I was able to flag her down and cancel the order.

It’s difficult to describe the atmosphere in this restaurant. The employees somehow managed to make every customer feel like a part of one big extended family. When the mariachis (mariachi) began playing “la Bamba” the whole place broke out into song. One of the waitresses would randomly grab a diner from their seat into the only open space and begin salsa dancing with them. Those who were waiting danced in place and clapped along. When certain songs came on, the entire staff would start trilling.

Besides the food being seriously delicious, that may have been the most fun I’ve ever had at a restaurant.

During dinner we mused about getting lost and yet somehow finding our way to this amazing, unexpected place and experience. We ended up exactly where we were supposed to be, even though we hadn’t meant to go there.

And here, finally, is my point in telling you all of this:

Life can be that way a lot of the time. We have agendas and expectations, and yet still we sometimes get lost.

Sometimes we get detoured.

Sometimes those we trust or allow to guide us take us in the wrong direction.

Being lost can be terrifying, unnerving. It can make you question everything you think you know.

But sometimes we discover that in the midst of being lost, we find something remarkable;

We find extra time to connect that we wouldn’t have had if we’d gone the direct route.

We find treasures or experiences we would have missed out on had we ended up where we intended.

We learn more about ourselves while lost and searching than we ever do when we stay on the path.

I’ve felt a little lost lately. As I said earlier, typically when I find myself lost while driving I feel certain that I’ll eventually arrive at my destination.

However when I feel spiritually or emotionally lost, I don’t always have that same confidence.

It’s so important in those moments to cling to what we are sure of, and to take inventory of who and what we truly value. Many times it’s not the destination that matters, but who we take along for the journey, and being fully present with them in those moments.

Someone recently told me that whenever I feel anxious, unsure, disconnected, or simply trying to control a moment instead of experiencing it, often it takes only to stop and get my bearings through the use of the 5 senses.

What do I smell?

What do I hear?

What do I feel?

What do I taste?

And what do I see right in front of me?

This past weekend I got lost more times than I could count. Our drive back from the desert included a 15 mile jaunt in the wrong direction of the 215 freeway (10 to the 60 to the 215, to the 91 to the 55 to the 5 to the 405). Fritz’s tone sounded a bit  offended when I finally gave in and pulled him up on my phone. I had thought I could figure it out on my own. He directed me off the southbound and back onto the northbound 215. I guess there are times when you’re lost that you have to be willing to take advice and guidance.

In all of my “lost-ness” though, I had a fantastic weekend of being in the moment with my sister; maybe not in spite of being lost, but because of it.

get-lost