Jesus on the narrow way through the power struggle

What do you think? Is it a problem when one is praying about love and a scene from “The Crown” and other fragments of pop culture come to mind? I suspect appropriate fragments of the Bible should come to mind! But that is how it was. I have been struggling with love in the midst of the painful binary arguments that fragment both church and society these days as both find it hard to listen to the Holy Spirit. As it turns out, the media is also struggling.

Love is not THE answer

My first fragment was England Dan & John Ford Coley singing “Love is the Answer.” I first heard the song in 1979 when my first son was born. Now you can’t get away from it in the supermarket. Ronald Reagan was running for president. Margret Thatcher became prime minister of Great Britain. Ayn Rand lost her husband.

When the guys sing “Light of the world shine on me,” it makes their song sound very Christian. That’s how I took it. But, according to Todd Rundgren, the songwriter, it is was just written to be Christianesque:

“From a lyrical standpoint, it’s part of a whole class of songs that I write, which are about filial love. I’m not a Christian, but it’s called Christian love, the love that people are supposed to naturally feel because we are all of the same species. That may be mythical, but it’s still a subject” (Rolling Stone).

You may be a bit Christianesque like that yourself. Dan Seals and John Coley were Bahai at the time. Coley later returned to Jesus. Regardless, love is not THE answer, even if it is a good answer to almost everything. Jesus is the answer and healing, reuniting love becomes possible as an outgrowth of our relationship with God. Abstracted Jesus love is just an argument.

It is odd that we are still arguing about what this song purports. Is love the answer? Donald Trump is a walking poster representing the man for whom love is not the answer. He’s the bad boy from the Margaret Thatcher/Paul Ryan side of the societal binary argument about how to relate. He is selfish. The only thing that matters to him is the deal [see this Atlantic article about The Art of the Deal]. He purports to be a self-made man. He’s a personified argument ready to be the reason for whatever  happens.

Reason is not THE answer, either

That brings up another fragment. I am watching The Crown and it is getting into history I personally remember. The other night Queen Elizabeth was arguing with Margaret Thatcher about the common good, loving one’s neighbor and being the keeper of one’s brother. Elizabeth is not “keen” on how her prime minister is retraining England. Thatcher is famous for saying,

“They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.”

There is another unspoken voice in the conversation between Thatcher and the Queen. Thatcher’s sense that there is “no society” comes straight from the Ayn Rand critique of Western Democracy. As Paul Ryan said, we are in a fight between individualism and collectivism; and now we know that is a fight right down to whether you should wear a mask in South Dakota during a pandemic.

Ayn Rand’s influence in the church and in society (whether Thatcher thinks that exists or not) is probably way underestimated. In 2008-9, Atlas Shrugged sold 1 million copies! That’s one million of the seven that had been sold during the 50 years since the novel was published in 1957. Here’s a bio of Ayn Rand.  She was a Russian Jew whose family was ruined by totalitarianism. After they fled to the U.S. in 1926 she soon saw the New Deal providing all sorts of new social benefits and saw big government getting bigger. She began to write, and invented a philosophy she called “objectivism.” It values its definition of selfishness, rejects altruism as slavery, and advocates unfettered, free market capitalism. Here is a tortured rationalization for how the Ayn Rand Institute could justify living off the “altruism” of the welfare state’s PPE funds this year while purporting to expose the distribution of those funds as evil: clip from their site. They insist that altruist, statist, collectivist principles are destroying the country.

When I was in high school, I read some Ayn Rand, most of her novels and The Virtue of Selfishness. When she threw off God, society and anything but Donald Trump’s gut instincts, I deserted her. She’s not all wrong, philosophically, but since she is an atheist, I’m not sure why Christians follow her. Here’s a sample from the Virtue of Selfishness.

Selfishness, however, does not mean “doing whatever you please.” Moral principles are not a matter of personal opinion — they are based in the facts of reality, in man’s nature as a rational being, who must think and act successfully in order to live and be happy. Morality’s task is to identify the kinds of action that in fact benefit oneself. These virtues (productivity, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, pride) are all applications of the basic virtue, rationality.

Rand’s moral ideal is a life of reason, purpose and self-esteem. But reason is obviously not THE answer, since Kellyanne Conway just used it to construct a set of “alternative facts.” Reason is not the answer, Jesus is the answer. Our relationship with God gives reason a chance to flourish.

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Expressing dignity on the Bethlehem side of the wall.

Jesus doesn’t need to win the argument

One of my favorite proverbs says, “Truth without love kills and love without truth lies.” One side thinks the truth about freedom is worth a few lives. The other side thinks loving the marginalized justifies whatever it takes to defeat oppressors. And on the fight goes, even in the church. In Jesus we have seen the glory of God, full of grace and truth, love and reason. Jesus is the both/and of the binary. He is the reconciliation of the irreconcilable. He’s the end of the endless struggle between polarities.

Ayn Rand has been winning the argument with the baby boomers for their entire adult lives, in the church and out. Now it seems reasonable to be selfish in a good way and seems logical to let unfettered capitalism run over everyone who can’t exercise their “God-given freedom” fast enough or well enough to keep up with the economy. You can see how this argument goes round and round, as Dan Patrick, the Lt. Governor of Texas, said he was willing to sacrifice his life to the virus if he could save the economy for his grandchildren. It seems that love was his answer, but the economy had a reason of its own. Rand would not approve of him sacrificing his life for anyone, but she might approve of surrendering to the  “fact” of the virus and letting the weak (or “losers” in the Donald’s parlance) die their death.

What started all this was an old song squeezing into my meditation. As it turns out, love is not the answer, but love is sure my problem. I don’t want to give it up just because I live in the middle of a constant argument — potentially despised by one side and deserted by another. I am trying to learn the Jesus, third-way love, walking a narrow path right down the middle of the binary arguments of the world which just go on and on. For some, that endless argument seems to pass for eternal life, whether anyone wants to live it or not, or just a feature of a pluralist society, whether a society exists or not.  I am grateful that Jesus promises and demonstrates an eternity worth living in a community worth building.

A few words from Bruxy Cavey on the basis for the Jesus Collective

Bruxy Cavey was excited the other day when the pioneers of the Jesus Collective met for their monthly “hub” meeting. He rushed into the zoom room to meet us direct from recording the audiobook for his rewritten and repurposed best seller, The End of Religion. I’m the rep to the Jesus Collective for Circle of Hope, so I got to listen to him riff on the themes of his writing. He’s great at giving voice to what moves churches from around the world to form the Jesus Collective. Many of us are hungry for a Jesus-centered life together.

Jesus Collective meeting
On my first trip to the Meeting House

Bruxy is the main teacher from one of the few Anabaptist  megachurches: the Meeting House in the Toronto area. He is onto what we, as the Circle of Hope and others who read this, have been onto for decades, only he says it better and sometimes bolder.

I want to share some of what he said last week. I won’t try to quote him (I was just in a zoom, after all), and I will expand a bit, but I want to offer you the gist. Here are some examples of his teaching that I think will get your spiritual juices flowing.

  • You can’t bolt the Old covenant on to the New. Paul clearly teaches that the Law is a tutor for life in Christ. But plenty of church people apply the whole Bible as if nothing ever developed both in the history recorded in the Bible or since the book took shape. As a result, they use Old Testament ethics and examples like Moses or David to justify violence, patriarchy and all sorts of things that undermine the message of Jesus. In Jesus God birthed something new from the old, just like he is doing in us as individuals and a church. We need to move with that new birth.
  • The previous mentality noted is an example of what Cavey calls a “religious spirit.” He says having a religious spirit is like spiritual hoarding. Perhaps most people are not threatened by what is new – they just never let go of the old. They ponder an old worship style like a hoarder ponders a stained piece of Tupperware the cleanup crew wants to clear out. Risking change is not easy, but it is much easier when we live in relationship with a loving God who personally guarantees the future. We should boldly imagine the end of what we are doing now so we fight the temptation to perfect what is passing away, or fight yesterday’s battles when new foes demand our love and courage.
  • The Anabaptists were the radical reformers when many Europeans wanted to get out from under the corruption and warped theology of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. These radicals were good examples of letting go of the old and grasping the new. The main Reformers wanted to always be reforming. But as it turned out, they freeze-dried and shrink-wrapped their faith around statements and catechisms written in the 15 and 1600’s. Unlike them, the Anabaptists were organic and Spirit led. The scriptures were a beginning point for them, not an end point, because they were following the risen Jesus and doing the word. Over the years Anabaptists, like our Amish friends in Lancaster Co., lost their change-the-world passion and spent their energy trying not to engage it. They preserved compassion, simplicity and peacemaking, but they also became preserved as sort of a curiosity. Every movement has a shelf life. It cools off like lava flowing into new territory and hardening into something quite permanent. Bruxy wants us to break open tradition and let reformation flow.
  • Early radicals believed the risen Jesus spoke to the church in the scripture and in the lives of their covenant partners. Their “community hermeneutic” made the voice of Jesus clearer and louder — when individual Spirit-receptors come together they amplify revelation. They weren’t looking to go beyond the Bible. But the Bible says: I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I am leaving; for if I do not leave, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). There is more access to God now that Jesus is not walking in a body with us and the Holy Spirit multiplies ways to connect to God. A few hundred could follow the man; thousands could, now billions can follow the Spirit.

I’m excited to be part of a movement that wants to get out from under the hardened lava of Eurocentric/Roman Empire Christianity. Not that I don’t deeply admire all the wonderful people of Europe and North America who have followed Jesus with abandon — they are the salt of the earth right now, too. But the Jesus Collective, including Bruxy Cavey, represents what is coming next.

On December 10 I will represent Circle of Hope at a brief ceremony inducting the first partner churches who will form the Jesus Collective. Some of you reading will be there from around the world. I am honored to be a part. I know there is always something new to grasp. Even Circle of Hope, which was designed for flexibility and change, has ways that can get solid. We could lose our fire and stop flowing. But Jesus has sent us the Helper and I doubt we’ll ever get hardened enough to be impervious to her persistent grace.

Help for the meditation-challenged

In January, I tried to help people work with their desire for a helpful meditation practice from a Christian foundation. I shared this speech with a couple of friends today and i thought it might prove useful for you, too.

If you would like the transcript, here it is. There were many visuals, so you’ll be missing that element.

Help for the meditation challenged.                               1-12-20

So I hear it is rather sexy when your husband is spiritual. At least that is what someone told me not long ago. She was kind of dishing on her mate, which was not totally nice. Because she hadn’t really told him that if he prayed, she would find that arousing. She thought it would give him more substance. Some spiritual abs would be nice. Or so she thought.

It is no surprise that her husband was a bit meditation-challenged. It is kind of a secret people keep that there is not as much prayer going on as people would like. Maybe you thought I was going to say there is not as much sex going on as people would like, that too. In a lot of intimate areas we feel like things are lacking. So this speech is all about hope for the meditation challenged. Before I am finished I hope you’ll get some encouragement to keep going, get going or get going again on that aspect of prayer, that multi-faceted personal connection we get to have with God.

A friend wrote to me a couple of weeks ago to thank me for Circle of Hope Daily Prayer [Here is a picture of today’s entry for Circle of Hope Daily Prayer :: WIND, which is designed for people who are new to faith or new to Circle of Hope. Circle of Hope Daily Prayer :: WATER, is designed for people who are along the road in their spiritual development]. Being contacted by my old friend in this way was kind of out of the blue, since I did not even know she knew about our blogs and she lives about 3000 miles from Pennsauken. She said she was thankful for the resource because she is “meditation challenged.” What she specifically meant was she could not read the Bible and get all the stuff out of it that Circle of Hope Daily Prayer can get.

That is one big reason the body of Christ is supposed to rely on each other. Some people can figure out the Bible better than others, some teach better than others, some put together resources better than others, some pray more than others. Nobody is supposed to have a life in Christ alone – it is unthinkable and probably impossible. So she was relying on us and wanted me to know she is grateful.

Our daily prayer blogs are designed to be so simple a newbie could dig in right away on some level and deep enough that the most mature among us won’t mind joining in with others who use the resource. Which resource is not a requirement, by that way. But why would you go by a plate of snickerdoodles with a sign that said, “Please eat one,” and not do it? The Daily Prayer is just a nice little spiritual meal to feed your heart soul mind and strength that someone made for you — why not eat it?

Growing in one’s capacity to pray is sexy, and the offerings of our Daily Prayer blogs are like a plate of cookies. What could go wrong, here?

Prayer is for everyone who follows Jesus, even if you don’t think God is very interested in your ongoing dialogue. So  if you are new to faith or very experienced, prayer, and so our daily prayer blogs, are for you.

The blogs are good for the meditation challenged. When I say meditation a picture might come to your head about someone who meditates. I am not even going to put one up so it does not get stuck. I would rather you, yourself, come to mind, so the picture is of you thinking and feeling with God. You might be thinking and feeling about God and that’s meditation too. But the goal of meditation in Christ is oneness, communion, integration, love. Meditation is turning toward God who is with us. I’ll briefly talk about how a lot of meditation is taught as turning away from anxiety as the main role of the practice. But Christians turn away in order to turn toward. Our meditation has an object: our loving God and our true selves.

Sometime meditation sounds complex, but maybe it is not. We all meditate on other things besides God, too. I meditate on my wife, Gwen. I wonder what she is thinking, how she is feeling. I fondly remember her and love her even though she is across town, or making snickerdoodles downstairs. In that case the fragrance of Gwen comes to me and I remember what it is like to be loved by her and feel close to her. We do similar things with God. The Daily Prayer blog leads us through a simple format, which I hope will inspire you.

We always start with the Bible. Of course you don’t need to start with the Bible to pray or meditate. I turn to God on the train and I don’t need a format to do so.

We start with the Bible when we are in our disciplined time for meditation because we are not turning into nothingness or just considering how we feel or how we intend not to feel. We are turning to love and truth and opening to it. So this morning we started with a Bible reading on Daily Prayer :: WIND.  See that orange “Today’s Bible reading.” We had a section of the Bible that worked with the theme of today’s entry, but I want to give you this Bible reading to go with what I am trying to offer for the meditation challenged..

The mind at peace

If you understood what I was saying earlier, you’ll probably agree that this is one of the sexiest verses in the Bible

Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace—
in peace because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3  Say it.

“Steadfast” literally has to do with being “Sturdily formed.” We’re talking about how minds are formed, and we hope they will be sturdy.

Don’t just think of “mind” here as your brain or your reasoning ability or even your thoughts. When Jesus says to love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength, he’s piling up words to describe us, not creating thick boundaries between categories. So you could say, those of steadfast consciousness, attentiveness, connectedness or mind you keep in peace, Lord, because they trust in you.

Your mind is steadfast, your inner life is sturdily formed, when it is turned toward and attentive to your trustworthy creator and your friend and brother, Jesus. We’re talking about an active trust. Meditation is an active trust which forms a character of steadfastness, secure vision, hope, all with a heart of love born of being heart-to-heart with the great lover who we love back, heart, soul, mind and strength

In this one line about meditation from Isaiah, you can see some very basic things. And each one of them makes a difference as to whether you will get to that peace you crave.

  • We are having a relationship. It is because they “trust in you.” We are talking to God.
  • It assumes a mind that is one’s own. You have an interior life that can be kept in peace.
  • We’re talking about “those of steadfast mind.” We are imagining people in a place and time and in a body.
  • It is all in the present. The time is now. I’d say an eternal now connected to the Creator of our now.

Trusting and staying is water for the soul. Learning to trust God is swimming in the deep water. Turning into trust, determining to stay — that is meditation.

So we start with the Bible because it is arrogant to try a variation before you’ve learned the basics. Trying to meditate before you’ve been attentive to what our predecessors have taught us  kind of like putting your bear on your bicycle before you’ve taught her to pedal. You just saw that the Bible teaches about the pedaling of meditation before it just throws you on a spiritual bike. That doesn’t mean we won’t need to get used to how a meditation bike feels. But it does mean we have some trustworthy guidance as we pray.

So the next section of Daily Prayer is all about more guidance and getting a feels for things. Here is the Meditation section from today’s Daily Prayer: WIND entry

As far as this speech about help for the meditation-challenged, here are some of my thoughts for meditation.

Meditation is not just mindfulness, which is basically being in charge of your own relaxation. Mindfulness is a big term, and a popular one these days, so it can mean a lot of things. Have any of you received any mindfulness training at work? Have your kids received any training in school? A lot of what we mean when we say meditation could coincide with mindfulness, since settling down is settling down as far as humankind goes. But the godless techniques most people are probably teaching your children need some unpacking. Because even though they present themselves as conviction-neutral, they have some assumptions behind them.

I think most mindfulness training is more in line with Dom Peringnon philosophy rather than in line with Jesus. Check this out https://youtu.be/RJnbkl_WX5s  The first gobsmacking version of this I saw said “Life is what we create each day out of nothing.” A lot of mindfulness teaching goes this exact direction.

Now let me go off on this for a minute. Mindfulness claims to offer a multipurpose, multi-user remedy for all occasions. So it oversimplifies the difficult business of understanding oneself. It fits neatly into a culture of techno-fixes, easy answers and self-hacks, where we can all just tinker with the contents of our heads to solve problems, instead of probing why we’re so anxious or dissatisfied with our lives in the first place.

In particular, almost all mindfulness training is grounded in the Buddhist doctrine of anattā, or the ‘no-self’. In most mindfulness teaching, what the Bible just taught about a mind steadfast on God  is not “right understanding.” In Buddhist teaching, there is no God or self, just a collection of factors, the experience of which is impermanent. So life is what you create out of nothing every day.

Like their Buddhist predecessors, contemporary mindfulness practitioners teach that nothing is  permanent or personal – thus we’ve come to handle conflict by saying, “No worries” and “It’s nothing personal.” Whereas Jesus followers know that everything matters and it is all personal.

Mindfulness exercises repeatedly draw attention to the transitory nature of what is being observed in the present moment. Explicit directions (‘see how thoughts seem to simply arise and cease’) and visual imagery (‘think of your thoughts like clouds drifting away in the sky’) reinforce ideas of transience, and encourage us to detach ourselves from getting too caught up in our own experience (‘You are not your thoughts; you are not your pain’ are common mantras). These things are not all bad, of course, unless you think they are what meditation is in total, instead of just the first steps of turning toward God.

With its promises of assisting everyone with anything and everything, the mistake of the mindfulness movement is to present its impersonal mode of awareness as a superior or universally useful one. Its roots in the Buddhist doctrine of anattā mean that it sidelines a certain kind of deep, deliberative reflection that’s required for unpicking which of our thoughts and emotions are reflective of our true selves in relation to God, which are responses to the environment, and – the most difficult question of all – what we should be doing about it. How we should relate to God and others. [Aeon essay]

Mindfulness is taking over the meditation landscape and teaching everyone basic Buddhist doctrine — although Buddhists object to the watered-down version, too. I tried out a mindfulness app on the trolley the other day. I had discovered such apps are multiplying. You probably already knew about all of them. Americans can commodify anything. I tried this one called Headspace. Very nice. Its main competitor is Calm. And there are Christian versions, too. One is called Abide. I did not try them all because I don’t want to. But I am trying to understand them – someone asked me to record Daily Prayer so they could listen to it.

Andy Puddicombe came back to Britain to create Headspace after being a Tibetan monk for 10 years. Here he is getting his head shaved for his commitment ceremony. When he was twenty he lost friends in an accident and found peace in Asia.

The BBC calls him: “The former monk who runs a 100 million dollar meditation firm” with Rich Pierson, who is responsible for the technical side. Here is Rick holding the app up in China. Puddicombe’s 2013 TedTalk has been viewed 3 million times. [Which seems like a lot until you know that Justin put out a video for Yummy on Jan 4 and it had 40 million views as of yesterday morning]

Here is a little come on for Headspace. https://youtu.be/pDm_na_Blq8. Not all bad. But one takeaway is that it all happens on the train to make you present to yourself in your moment. But not necessarily present to God or anyone else.

If you don’t have time for Headspace’s ten-minute meditations you can pick up an app from Dan Harris, the Good Morning America anchor, called 10% Happier. He’s devoted to getting in two hours of meditation each day in short bits while he is being fabulous.

You can see I am skeptical of commodified, Buddhist mindfulness that could masquerade as Christian meditation. So let me briefly get to the last section of where a Daily Prayer entry leads:  Suggestions for action

Just do it. Don’t give up, God will show up if you learn to show up. I think one of the main reasons people never get into daily prayer of any kind is they don’t think they can do it right or don’t think God will do it right.  Will God show up if I show up? Will my expectations be met? We’ll have to risk it to find out. I say yes, God will show up. I have lots of stories about that, but I’m about out of time.

Don’t start with your expectations, find God somewhere and start there, but never stay there. Everyone, whether they follow Jesus or not, have a sense of God, they carry the image of God. There is some experience, knowledge, intuition, capacity that draws us to know God and be our true selves. Feel OK about starting where you are. Turn toward your fullness.

Let’s try it. It is like getting on the bike and feeling it for the first time like my granddaughter Hannah did not long ago.

This is a very simple exercise. Try to be mindful and centered in your place. Breathe deeply and notice your breath. It will settle you down. Now just let your self wander through the last hour with Jesus and note the different things you have experienced, thought or felt. If one particular thing sticks out, focus on it. Got one? Let it mean what it means: encouraging, convicted, enlightening, disgusting, hope-building, confusing. Trust God for it, however you understand that. Let your trusting experience of it make you steadfast, more connected, loved, truthful and trusting.

This group meditation in song helps too. This weekly meeting is a suggestion for action.

Thou wilt keep [them] in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because [they] trusteth in thee. (KJV)

Lead me to the rock that is higher than I

File:Meteora`s monastery 2.jpg
Meteora, Greece: ancient thin place

I was praying with the Jesus Prayer this morning:

Jesus, son of God, Savior, have mercy on me.

While I was sinking into contemplation, my attention was invaded by an old song lyric. That isn’t unheard of, but it seemed unusual. I turned my attention away from it and back to the breath of life I often experience in the Jesus Prayer. But the lyric would not go away. So I followed it:

Hear my cry, O God;
…..give heed to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint;
…..Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For You have been a refuge for me, — Psalm 61:1-3 (NASB)

I used to sing this song on the way from San Diego to Pasadena for my last year of seminary at Fuller. I about wore out the 4-track tape. The song, based on Psalm 61, often arises when I need it the most.

I searched myself to figure out why I had been led to that old path. I did not feel like I was in danger.  I was not faint. My heart was actually full, affirmed by many voices during the Sunday meeting, among other things. So the usual uses for the song were unnecessary. So I searched the psalm again and this line caught my eye:

Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

The original song is a prayer for help from the God who provides a stronghold in the face of the enemy. The Candle song is a sweet plea, full of yearning and assurance, knowing that Jesus is that refuge.

I decided the one line that caught my attention was about all the ways I had experienced “spiritual” or “good-hearted” people weighing down conversations with their immanent frame [see the end of this post] — people with no rock higher than the one they can learn, label or own. I discovered how weighed down a felt from recent experiences with:

  • Evangelicals schooled to pray right, to pray for things and to suspect relating to the Spirit who is unbound by their theology and emanating from not trapped in the Bible.
  • good-hearted poets finding spiritual experiences in nature without the Spirit, luring the unsuspecting into their salvation by aesthetics.
  • psychology researchers leading people to solve their grief by accepting ambiguity and relying on their capacity to choose something better than meaningless suffering.

I don’t think I realized just how weighed down I was under the pressure of the antiChrist movement in our polluted air. I was going with a flow that did not feel joyful. The Spirit was gently leading me toward recognition and renewed hope.

I am sure you may feel hemmed in by lies, by confidence in illusions, by outright hostility undoing love every day. I feel hemmed in by Christians with a morality of anger who are willing to kill relationships for their righteousness, both left and right. Thank God for this sweet, humble song, ancient and new, which quietly lifts up a faint heart from the end of the earth to Someone greater than their heart and larger than the understanding of humans.

There is a rock higher than than mine, a love wilder, a truth larger and a hope eternal. In Jesus we meet such love in our history and by the Spirit he is even larger, reaching to the ends of the earth and into my meditation.

We’re listening, Lord: Post-election direction for keeping faith

You gotta find a way to forgive each other. Gotta find joy in your existence in spite of that feeling.

I feel encouraged to discover that many people share my sense of what has happened in 2020 and what we need to do about it. I wrote about it last week.

My friend, Michiko, wrote this on her Facebook page

Don’t be lulled. 70 million people still voted for racism, homophobia and white terror. The work is only now begun. We must heal the spiritual wounds wrought by genocide and slavery, which as Dave Chappelle likes to say “was only 3 people ago” or we will repeat this process. [SNL this week] I like this message [below] because it’s been resonating with what I believe God is saying to me which is…throw spiritual water on the fire, speak the history back to the earth, let her absorb it and reconfigure it and put out the flames of hatred, human classification and human division. This is the work I feel called to do.

I think all of us probably have some variation on her calling. Can we all agree to:

  1. Throw spiritual water on the fire?
  2. Live in creation and not in our classifications and divisions?

Michiko’s friend, Spencer Clayton, spoke a creative sermon after the election that was on a similar wavelength: When your faith is misplaced –1 Samuel 4:1-11. He says:

Stay vigilant. Our actions add up.

Three things that can happen as a result of misplaced faith.

1) If our faith is not in God, we are putting ourselves in danger.

    • Jeffrey Epstein put his faith in money and political connections, but it did not save him.
    • Young people put their faith in their health but Covid-19 kills people as a result.
    • Symbols are not God. Applying your ignorant ways harder in hope of a better result could be deadly.

2) Premature celebration can attract attention that invites even more challenges.

    • Trump declared victory before the votes were counted. He stirred up opposition.
    • Democrats advertised some radical plans and invited opposition.
    • Moving in silence is often better. Let your character and actions speak, not just your advertising.

3) Results of our misapplied faith are often much worse than we needed faith to address.

    • Plenty of pastors asserted that Trump would win easily. Paula White, one of the president’s spiritual advisors, has become famous for her televised prayer for Trump’s God-ordained victory. The parodies of it abound. As a result, the church becomes a joke and evangelism becomes very difficult.  People feel like Christians are crazy.
    • Be careful in public.

I think it is a good time in the history of Eurocentric Christianity to finally listen to historically marginalized people and hear what they have been saying all along. Now that mostly a bunch of old “white” men have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on an inconclusive election it is time for the church to return to Jesus. We can get over Donald Trump, Paula White and our lust for power (from political conservatives clear to revolutionaries) and come up with what Jesus wants to come up with.

It is still all there in the Bible:

  • It is living water poured on the fires of hatred.
  • It is the stones crying out for the restoration of shalom in creation.
  • It is faith in God and not all the others things empire-lovers cherish.

Like Michiko and Spencer say, the work is beginning. Let’s get reoriented now that the results of all our societal nonsense are becoming clear. The church will survive and we will carry the seeds of transformation into the new territory we are entering. The Spirit of God will not abandon us.

The inside-out way of love will lead to what is next

Philadelphia George Floyd Protests Police Tank I676 Tear Gas 001.jpg | The Daily Pennsylvanian
The latest “chariots and horses”

One of my irreligious and lovely FB friends gave a good invocation for the post-election liturgy.

“There is no weighted blanket heavy enough to get me through this week, my GOD.”

Funny, true — and what a good lament! Nothing seems able to solve America right now.

The situation moves me to fire up my blog and say SOMETHING, at least. My prayer this morning felt like renewal, now that I know things are not likely to get that much better in the country with Mitch McConnell still at the helm in the Senate.

I was reminded of when the U.S. first invaded Afghanistan. In a speech I admired Taliban fighters who were known to be up in the caves like David hiding from Saul [DP today] making their own guns to fight the Great Satan. I caused a little trouble with that story. But some of us might be looking for a cave before too long. Because I still think most Americans, and most American Christians, were more upset their stores got boarded up or looted than upset black people, in particular, were gunned down in the street by the militarized brotherhood called the police. My point was then and is now that following Jesus is clarified greatly by seeing the evil we are up against. The worse things are the more chance we get to be real. I am not encouraged today, since I really hoped for something effectively new, but I am reoriented.

I don’t really feel like getting out from under my blanket, but I also feel like this moment is a really good time to be an actual Christian, and I want to follow Jesus. Here are two things that rose up in me as I prayed this morning and what I think we should do about them.

Transformation starts small, from the inside out

Trump does not act out of any spiritual awareness and he dragged us into his outside-in world where every day is just a matter of winning that day. A lot of us do that same thing in our little worlds and every day is a fight. We are so tossed about by the “deceitful scheming of men” that it is not funny. I need to get smaller so larger things can happen. I need to live out of my relationship with God, daily renewed, moment by moment, Jesus centered, if I have any hope of joy and newness.

  • Discipline the media consumption

Whether Trump finally wins or not, I need to end my codependency with the media: Stop notifications to my phone. Put parameters around news consumption, gaming, social media, shopping sites. We’re getting killed, literally, by this stuff.

  • Make the church work as a survival strategy.

Goodness is encultured not proven. You give good principles to people who are safe enough in Christ to apply them, you don’t force principles on people as if applying them will save them. Jesus saves and his home address is our church.

  • Get used to creative suffering as the way to life

Satan is a liar and a murderer, he calls disease and disaster nothing and creates catastrophic weapons to wheel into your neighborhood. Not being on his side will cost us. Not being on his side will make us into people like Jesus. Our main battle is fought inside where fear tries to dominate us and despair tries to glue us to sin. Moving through fear and despair, or whatever it is for you, feels like suffering to us, even though the process is healing us.

Social action is about love, not power

I admit I am still a bit disappointed at times that God did not allow me to follow my dreams outside the United States. But I was called to work in the belly of the beast [Psalters]. That beast has eaten any number of my comrades and convinced any number of Evangelicals that Trump is God’s man. No matter how much we preach, a good number of people, even in Circle of Hope, still see themselves as primarily part of an economy, identified by their race or orientation, and a “free” individual — and, contrary to the Bible, everything will matter before faith working itself out in love. I hope this next bit of history is a proving ground for what is better.

  • Reconciliation is a top priority

No matter what we have to say and do, if it does not come from love, it does not come from Jesus. People might be legitimate enemies of all that is good and we still come to them in love. The church is meant to be the example of this kind of Jesus-empowered love, so start there. If our church is divided up, it basically puts Jesus out of business. I am not grandiose enough to think I am part of unknown “churches” out there in statistic land. So I don’t wake up despairing of my impossible task of reconciliation every morning. But I do think I have to do what I can with those with whom I live in face-to-face covenant, for sure.

  • Practice blessing

I really felt myself getting activated as I bore the stress of my clients and directees as we all dreaded the results of the election (along with more virus, violence and weather disaster). When I prayed this morning, I was reminded of an old calling that usually arises at just the right time. My prayer was “Help me out from under the blanket and make me a blessing.” Each of us has gifts to give from the Love and Truth we carry. Even if the ship were sinking, we’d find a way to give them.

  • Focus action from a spiritual and relational base, not an ideological construct

I have been stereotyped more in the past year than in my whole life, I think. Maybe I am becoming more of a stereotype, or maybe people are less willing than ever to listen to someone’s story in love and call out their best self, regardless of who they are at the moment. We accept first like Jesus accepts us, then we can deal with the intricacies of righteousness. If people need to match our present ideology, or else, that’s the very judgment most of us hate with a passion. We certainly need to get into action (and our map calls for that)! But we need to act out of fearless faith, mystical hope and self-giving love, or we are just a tiny gong adding to the cacophony of this evil day.

Do not hope in “chariots and horses

2020 has certainly exposed the United States for what it is.

  • My friend, Drew Hart tweeted this morning: “I’m stressed about how my state, Pennsyltucky will go in the end. White supremacy is religion for large swaths of PA. I’m still always shocked at how many white Pennsylvanians in central PA have confederate flags. Only our cities large & small can save us from self-destruction.”
  • Another old friend, Leonard Dow, replied: “This is who we are.” (with an emoji face palm)
  • I added: “Unfortunately, as much as I do not identify with that we, this is who most Pennsylvanians are.”

Let’s not give up because of the corruption in the government, in the church, or in our hearts. Instead, lets sing along with Jonny Szczesniak and the defiant worshipers at Frankford Ave.: https://archive.org/details/IWontPutMyTrustInChariotsAndHorses

Turning

Paul ran away up the forest road
until our voices echoed into the fall
demanding he stop.
Nana labored down the way,
irresistibly tempted to run with his youth.

When Lulu picked up a bright red leaf,
she held it up for inspection,
insisting we stop —
our time suspended in glory,
in gratuitous art, strewn on the Temple floor.

I wanted to climb the fallen trees
to honor how they once stretched to the sky
then came to a stop:
their roots upended in crisp air;
the hole awaiting snow coming to fill the wound.

We thought we might make a root ball home,
roofing the pit to keep out the looming darkness.
But we had to stop
and motor back through the leaf storm
to warm climbs of normality as the world turned.

Lend me a hand Francis

Lend me a hand, Francis,
and pull me onto the road
leading to the sun, sunrise and sunset,
ending up who-knows-where in trust.

Take my hand, Jesus,
and pull me out of the sea
ebbing into the past, sunset to sunrise,
leaving behind who-knows-what to trust.

The road is fearfully new.
My doing had a lot of being in it.
Now my being must discover what to do.
The tide of yesterday inevitably pulls out.

Take my hand, Francis,
and walk with me on the way –
you who stopped wondering where you were going,
and help me listen to the birds sing.

Lend me your hand, Jesus,
and keep me from sinking –
you who became small and suffered so in love,
please make my way full of your heart song.

The road is wonderfully new.
I feel guilty for sleeping eight hours last night.
I’m a kitten on grass in a strange backyard.
The tide of tomorrow is pulling down my castle
as the sun dawns on another Francis Day.

The parable of the pins

The glory of 59th and Baltimore

Yesterday I spontaneously decided to remove the last vestige of our two-month sojourn upstairs at Circle Counseling South Broad. It is a blessing to have one’s own private homeless shelter, when needed. Our house sold and we needed to move out. The contractor at our new place had to be fired because the contract reached its six-month end and no finish was in sight. Chaos, Covid-19 and anxiety ensued.

Now that we are a couple of months settled in our new place, which was somehow finished, infection-free, under exemption from lockdown restrictions, we are feeling better. So I felt enough energy to drag our old mattress to the street for disposal and take apart the bed frame in our former shelter.

All the time I was doing that I was on a deadline and few of my errands were working out as planned. For instance, the libraries reopened, but not the one to which I was headed. The next closest one at 59th and Baltimore did, however, face the glorious front yard above. By the time I was putting away my bed-removal tools, I was getting a bit nervous about navigating around whatever road closures I would encounter on the way back to more screen work. But the Lord shows up in remarkable ways — in a way that I find profound enough to share with you even though my blog is on hiatus. It is my own little parable.

For some reason I had a little plastic container of pins in my tool box at the counseling offices. As I hurriedly reassembled the items in the tray I hit the container and it fell to the floor, scattering pins everywhere. I just sighed and thought, “Of course.” But as I bent down to hold the dust pan, I thought, “You need to slow down and be more careful.” It was my mother popping up to provide her instruction! Once the pins were in the dust pan, I took the lid off the trash can and there was no liner. I thought, “See. We think ahead and stay prepared because we are going to need things later.” There was my father!

I went over to the open door where the lone therapist in the building was typing. I told her my tale to affirm our work with clients when they have inner voices from their parents stuck in their brains. My voices were amusing. They were only a bit shame-inducing — I did scatter pins everywhere, after all! They are probably stuck under the baseboards and ready to gravitate under bare feet that shouldn’t be uncovered to begin with and likely to contract tetanus — or so my inner parent would predict. I told my colleague about what I named “the wisdom from the plains” and she said, “Rod, Stuff happens.” It was the wisdom from the city!

I love the Lord’s parables. They are about everyday life where we are most likely to see the glory of God. They are so profound and so well-considered over centuries that they all have many layers of meaning. I have been pondering my little parable ever since it came to a pleasant ending. My friend tried to comfort me and release me from my shame.

Jesus might tell it in just a few lines. The kingdom of God is like an old man dropping pins from his toolbox. As he swept them up, the voice of his parents came to him, scolding him for his haste and carelessness. When he spoke of this to his younger friend, she led him to not care at all. “Stuff happens,” she said. But he went away rejoicing over the transcendent love that peeked through the clouds of their wisdom.

My friend’s encouragement might have been the best thing to offer when I was much younger and definitely run around by my shame. I felt like I was in charge of making sure nothing wrong happened. And I did fail at that quest every day and didn’t want my inner parents or my true self to know about any of it. But at this point I am more amused than anxiety-ridden when mom and dad show up randomly. And as I look back on the pin drop, I actually miss them more than resent their intrusion into my thoughts.

The traumatizing move and project, the sojourn in the upper room, wrestling the mattress to the street, dropping the pins and having loved ones, past and present, older and younger, interpret the moment all happened in Christ. All were touched with love, if my ego was porous enough to receive it. As it turns out this time, it was.

John Lewis: “Love is the better way.”

Image

In 2016, John Lewis led a sit-in on the Senate floor to demand common-sense gun-control. He did not get what he wanted, but he never gave up. And he never gave up his remarkable love as he did it.

I watched almost all of his funeral last Thursday. I was repeatedly moved by the saint being honored in Martin Luther King’s church.

I even praised George Bush

I was flabbergasted by George Bush’s tender speech. In the spirit of John Lewis’ “love first and let the rest follow” Christianity I ventured a rare Facebook entry to be amazed about Bush. I just felt like saying something not-quite-nice-but-good about a man about whom, Lord knows, I have said about a million extremely negative things.  I was taken up by the way of love.

I am not sure how people found this FB entry, since they did not comment on my next entry about St. Ignatius (who has plenty to criticize, as well). But they countered my little love with quite a bit of hate for Bush. In their defense, the bombers who flew over my Facebook page were probably just standing up for what they believe in. I think they were trying to make sure George Bush was not exonerated by being likable, which is his go-to. I did question their love, but they also reflect my hero in their stubborn refusal to give in to the lies that are destroying the beloved community. I’m not sure they are building such a community with their judgment, but at least they are on some frontier shooting at its enemies.

The better way of John Lewis

John Lewis had a better way and it made me cry to hear about it, even from George Bush. Lewis let his little light shine right to the end. When he knew he was dying, he asked the NYTimes to print his final words, and they did. Obama essentially riffed on Lewis’ exhortation in his eulogy. Here’s part of his parting words:

I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself

I have no faith in the American state. And I think democracy based on capitalism is absurd. But I do know what Lewis is saying when he says “beloved community.” And the fact that he wouldn’t give up until the godless American government reflected it is beautiful. I have given myself to a much smaller goal: that the church of Jesus Christ would be a beloved community that contrasts with the world as it demonstrates the heart of its alternativity. One would think I have a much easier row to hoe than Lewis was given. Some days Facebook mocks me for my hope, but I don’t think we should give up. Lewis didn’t:

In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

I wish he would  have mentioned Jesus in there. But MLK and his crew did not want to leave anyone out — and everyone is made in the image of God, after all. Their relentless love and their nonviolent pressure had core values that everyone could understand, whether they were committed to Jesus or not. I think it is clear that their values require resurrection power to implement and sustain, since John Lewis died in the same year as George Floyd. But ascending into generous inclusion is a lot better than the usual descent into our present hate-filled particularity.

Thank you Jesus for John Lewis and thank you John Lewis for being Jesus among us. I hope people listen to you even more, now that you have received a lot of media attention. The church should lead the way to truth and justice as it lets love guide it. In  Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America, Lewis said:

“It was no accident that the movement was led primarily by ministers—not politicians, presidents or even community activists—but ministers first, who believed they were called to the work of civil rights as an expression of their faith.”…“Religious faith is a powerful connecting force for any group of people who are working toward social change.”

I am grateful for his example. Love is the way. As he demonstrated, it didn’t even matter if the society changed, since it did, but it also didn’t. Self-giving love will always be the core value of the way of Jesus no matter what we face next, right up to the end.

 

Will people grow up before the church gets wrecked?: Eliza’s question and Janet’s answer

Eliza wins a Pulitzer Prize

A few days ago I was talking to Eliza Griswold. She is writing a book about Circle of Hope — along with other churches on our wavelength and the future of the Church in general. She was recording me.

When we got to the part about turmoil in our church (there is a little), which makes for a better book, after all,  and turmoil in the larger Church (there is quite a bit), I looked at the phone for a second. “Am I going to say something dumb?”

I took a deep breath. Our turmoil is all for the best. Most of the controversies we face are about causes that should cause turmoil. Some of them are either over the tipping point or about to go over the tipping point into full scale change, which would be worth a lot of trouble. For instance, a school in Virginia just got a name change from Robert E. Lee to John Lewis last week – so things could be looking up (and I mean looking “as God sees things” in the case of that school, not IMO).

Eliza lamented in her inquisitive way about some of the strident discourse she was hearing in our church. It scared her, since she is well acquainted with church controversy. She tagged the young ones as responsible for most of it, I think (I didn’t record her). And the phrase “social justice warriors” seems like it was used, although I’m not sure either of us said it. The angry-sounding, division-threatening dialogue made her wonder if we would even survive! So she wanted to hear what an old head like me would say about it.

I told her (I guess she could check the tape about this) I thought old people should be the last to judge the young. My job is to help everyone get into a sustainable stage in their faith so they are not run over by the deceitful world – otherwise, what is the point of walking with Jesus for 50 years — so young people can look dumb in comparison? People don’t start where they end up, even if they think where they are now is a fine achievement. I want to affirm their achievements and help them get into what is next, since none of us is going to stop developing, in one way or another. It was something like that.

Janet Hagberg and her inspiring books

Janet Hagberg

Janet Hagberg is all about development and she has been influencing me again, lately.

When I was in my twenties I heard Janet Hagberg speak. As I recall, she was testing out some material she was collecting for how to implement James Fowler’s seminal work on the Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. Later on I read Hagberg’s book Real Power and it made so much difference to me, I basically installed it in Circle of Hope. I was so impressed with Real Power, I went back and read James Fowler, the basis, which was tough but productive sledding. After that, I laced the “stages of faith” into most of my thinking about growing in faith: I put it in workshops, I blogged about it, and I engineered a version of it, with the pastors, that became the outline for the  Way of Jesus site – when you go to it you’ll see me ready to talk about the stages of faith right there on the intro page.

Just lately, I found a book that had been languishing on my selves for a long time, undiscovered, until I took it out of a packing box to reshelve it. It was Hagberg’s book The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith. God drew her into a deeper rendition of Real Power later on in life. Real Power was for the corporate world; and though spirituality is present, it isn’t focused on Jesus, per se. The Critical Journey is for Jesus followers (and anyone who wants to follow along with them). I think she might say this book “ruined her life” – at least it “ruined” the previous life that was headed for success in the corporate world.

Instead, Hagberg became a spiritual director and a mentor to many disciples. Last week I wrote to her with a question about the spiritual stages inventory in her book and she wrote back! That was unexpected, as it always is for me when a hero notices me. (That desire to be seen might be why I always get so choked up when cast members in the Disney parade break ranks to come over and wish my grandchild a “magical birthday”). I am pondering whether to accept her invitation to travel with a small group she is forming for next year as a means for spiritual development.

Time to grow and time for social action

I was fresh from reading The Critical Journey when I sat in the heat with Eliza (who has a Wikipedia page BTW). And she was wondering about what twentysomethings would do to the church. I started formulating my feelings into a theory in their defense.

I think young people should get involved with the power struggles of the world to express their undeserved powerlessness (stage one) and fully explore the energizing experiences of exercising power in stage two. Many derisively-labeled “social justice warriors” are criticized for being one-way know-it-alls who will cancel someone who does not agree with them. People do dumb stuff at every stage of life. I think stage two people often act like they know it all because they just learned a huge amount of meaningful material that is forming their future. Unlike a lot of burned out old people, they think life is important and they are going to make something out of it. Any twenty-something who is not on some bandwagon in the name of great causes should catch up. Their cohort is fueling some wonderful development in themselves and the world, whether they know what they are doing or not!

The observations of the stages of faith usually place most twentysomethings in stage two of their adult development, as humans, but also as people of faith.

  • One of the main characteristics of people in stage two (whenever they get there) is finding meaning in belonging. They may like a denominational way of being the church, but they are more likely to attach to a local church, and even within that church they are most likely to find a small group of people to whom they belong. Pastors may not like this, but that’s how people are. The group shapes our identity, we find power in association with others.
  • No one comes out fully formed, so in stage two people connect to a leader, a system or a cause, sometimes many before they zero in. The sense of enlightenment from sharing the leader’s/author’s/system’s wisdom is intoxicating. The same experience can be found by having a cause be the leader and not a person. A sense of being right, now that they have found the right stuff, often breeds a feeling of security –- which can sometimes come off as too secure, and exclusive of others who aren’t at the same place, or stage.

Calling something a stage implies that we are moving through it. Thus Hagberg calls our development a critical “journey.” People can get stuck in stage two for a number of reasons. The major reasons are

  • They get rigid: legalistic and moralistic. When someone complains about getting taken out by a “my way or the highway” SJW I can acknowledge the danger of people acting that way, but I am just so happy they have gotten far enough in life to find something outside themselves to care about! Audacity is underrated.
  • A sense of belonging can end up with being part of a closed, paranoid, “us against them” group. America, in general seems to have regressed into this trap,
  • A group can end up not being as attractive as expected so people can keep switching groups and doing the same thing over and over. They don’t move forward, just move around.
  • People who have been injured in groups, especially in churches, can spend a lifetime searching for a group that won’t hurt them. They need to move inward — that was the invitation when the leader, group or theory proved faulty, instead they blame the group and move on to have a similar experience, quite often, in the next one.

How does one avoid getting stuck in stage 2 or get unstuck? Moving on usually means becoming a producer instead of a product. When it comes to life in Christ, that movement is sort of inevitable. People joke that if you have a good idea in Circle of Hope, you’ll probably end up in charge of it. That’s not necessarily so, but maybe it should be. We formed cells and teams so people could be in charge of something and grow up in faith. Jesus wants friends, not slaves who only do what they’re told. In Ephesians 4 Paul tells us not to be infants, but grow up into Christ!

A lot of us find this need for development satisfied at work and in our own family. That’s where we take on responsibility and produce something – like offspring, a mortgage and profits for the company. The movement from Stage 2 to 3 in the Spirit is deeper. Women risk to be valuable. So-called minorities insist they matter and deserve a voice in  the dialogue. Young people seek responsibility the old guard thinks they don’t deserve. We discover our gifts and are moved to enact them. We rejoice in the fact that we can develop and become all we are called to be.

I rejoice. I vividly remember being in stage two. At that time in my life, a 70something elder in the church I was serving took me aside one day and said, “Rod, you have great ideas, but you have terrible PR.” He went on. I listened to him. But I essentially thought, “The hell with PR! I don’t see Jesus taking cues from his media advisors!” I was right, but I later realized that I wanted to build something, not spend my life rebelling against what someone else built. I got some new skills, eventually. I’m still grateful for people like Janet Hagberg and that fed-up elder who cared enough to open up the possibility of development in critical ways — in both the positive and negative senses of that word.

Scrape, scrape, scrape: The deposits on my soul

scrape
I always own five of these and can find zero.

The metaphor for my life this week has been scraping the mineral deposits off my new counters in my newly-rehabbed condo. We noticed when the light shines just right we can see stuff left on the counter we just wiped off. Come to find out, if we leave water or juice to dry on the counter, it will leave a crust that cannot be dissolved by a cleaner! One of the ways to be rid of it or diminish it is to scrape it with a razor blade. Some advisors say, “Just get used to it (and have a life, already!).” So far, I guess I am not the “get used to it” kind of guy. I’m scraping, and meditating as I do.

Now that the nearly-year-old rehab project and move is nearing some finality, I am finding some blessed room for feeling my post-transition life. Scraping my counter is an activity that slows me down and teaches me lessons. I’ve been scraping paint residue from floors and now mineral deposits from counters and it feels like my soul is getting a good scrape, too.

Failures like mineral deposits on my soul

It feels like a failure to have mineral deposits on the brand-new counters! Quartz is expensive. Finding out quartz is not really indestructible hurts. It all begs a lot of questions: Why didn’t I read everything on Google about quartz counters before I messed them up? Did I buy substandard stuff and get ripped off? Did I saddle myself with a maintenance job I will never do? Am I just the world’s worst consumer and should have stayed on a lower level of American household splendor, since I can’t get enough obsession going to take care of things?

I was telling Rachel last week that my life seems like a series of failures. I feel like a poster child for Falling Upward at times. My spiritual gift might be getting myself into trouble, or in over my head, or in a situation that will require reconciliation at best or miracle at worst. As I scrape the counter I have a familiar choice: am I going to meet Jesus on this counter or get back to him when I feel a little better after fixing the problem? – if that ever happens.

Scraping my life has also been a meditation on race, like for many of us these days. I have certainly been committed to failing at racial reconciliation in many ways since I moved to Philly. My dried up relationships are like mineral stains on my past. In a certain light they make me wince a little.

The passing away illusions of the perfect present

While I am scraping the counter I am tempted to damn the counter and condemn myself for having one. “Why did I buy this nice thing to oppress me, anyway?” I have a very strong inner Franciscan. The other argument goes, “Why are you worrying about scraping the counter? Just do it.  Be in the moment of this scrape. Or don’t scrape and be there.” That’s the side that usually wins (thus this blog post).

We were talking over successes and failures the other night with some friends (with whom we were not successful at social distance, so I’ll add “catching Covid-19” to my failure list, shortly) and began to ponder the reality that we can’t understand the next stage of our development, spiritually, until we get into it. The tipping point moment of development usually feels like we’re in the fog, upended, even headed in a wrong direction. The future feels like an illusion, maybe even an apparition – something to be feared. Sometimes we get so scared we won’t even go, even though we are ready for what’s next.

Pin on TattoosScraping my life right now feels like part of that kind of foggy transition. I begin to see the deposits on my counter like deposits of the past on my soul, dried up relationships that feel like scars, dried up work that left a mark, memories of goodness that are fading. For some reason, the old slogan of the much-maligned Robert Schuller keeps coming to my mind. He used to preach “turn your scars into stars.” The illusion of the perfect counter and successfully buying just what I want in a new home is a new scar in the night sky of my development. Every time I look at that counter, and myself, in a certain light, I need to get saved.

Gratitude really is the beginning and end of seeing clearly

I am scraping, scraping, scraping my condo, which was supposed to be all perfect long before the pandemic started. It is tempting to have my only prayer be, “Oh my God!” That is a prayer in the spirit of, “Now what?” as if I were Job, or something – albeit a Job scraping in his high rise looking out over a shining city. Eventually, my loving friend, Jesus, gets down on the floor with me, or sits at a barstool fingering a water stain and says something like, “Isn’t it great you are healthy enough to do this?” or “Remember that pilgrimage we took to Africa and were invited into some homes?” If I resist temptation, my prayer graduates to “Thanks.”

Gratitude is a good scraper. I keep talking about my recent experience with some wonderful people in my small-group “hub” connected to the Jesus Collective. The getting-to-know-you time was a blessing. One of my takeaways from our first meeting, however, was to get a better picture of the church in which I live. The leader of our group offered us some of the recent development in his spiritual life to use in our prayer together. It was a nice gift and I used it. But it was at a level I thought our pastors and all of our Leadership Team, maybe most of our cell leaders, had probably surpassed. I shouldn’t compare people, but I thought I knew maybe thirty people in our church who were much better prepared to lead this “hub,” which was culled from great people from all over the world! Like Paul, the “scales” fell from my eyes — the dried-up residue of not seeing my situation with a Jesus lens (or maybe seeing it with a Covid-19 lens). I was grateful. Maybe I should say I was reduced to gratitude.

Even pop stars tell us they are learning gratitude. It is not just a cliché; gratitude makes everything better. If we are grateful, we exercise humility and don’t fall prey to the dark side of our reality: the hubris of autonomy and rapacity of greed. Some time ago, I decided to start every day in my journal with a list of thanks. It is often amazing how hard it is to settle in to the blessings of my life. Often, especially in the depressing time of the virus, I need to force myself to see the wonders in and around me. I try not to wait for Jesus to open my eyes, or for the weight of creation to tip my scales. I need to be honest about what I feel. But I also need to be honest about what God feels. I need to go through a process of confession and restoration. But I also need to learn how to do that in the presence of Love, with trust and hope. Dwelling on the good with gratitude is a very effective soul scraper.

I think I’m learning. How are you doing? Got any scraping going on in your territory? Or what is your metaphor of the week? I would love to hear some more of your story about how Jesus is leading you through your troubles.

5 rules for life in the pandemic: Help for church survival

Next month the pastors are calling the church to consider our “rule” of life as followers of Jesus. You might like to pick up Ken Shigematsu’s book, My God in Everything, and start reading now. I love it when postmodern people rediscover ancient patterns to grow healthy faith. They give me hope for the world. And we could use some hope right now.

Americans are having a tough time living by any rules at all when it comes to the pandemic. As usual we’re dividing up over something as simple as whether wearing a mask is necessary. I know what I am about to say might not be true about you (at least I hope not), but as a society, the individual freedom to kill seems to be trumping our responsibility to save. As a society, the Americans perfected the world’s largest killing machine — their arsenals and armed “services;” I don’t think anyone would dispute that violence is a core characteristic of the U.S.A. But that trait characterizes the people as individuals, too. The society is debating whether policing means the right to make split-second decisions to kill Black people, especially, and whoever else challenges state-sponsored violence. We’ve been debating whether everyone should be allowed to carry weapons into Walmart. The wild Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is more popular in the U.S. than the NHL or NASCAR among 18-34 year-olds. All this goes to say that Americans lean toward lawlessness when it comes to relating to anyone but their small circle, and white people, especially, tend to think death is “collateral damage” when it comes to protecting their way of life.

Contrary to Disney’s decision to open Disney World, the coronavirus crisis is not over. But some things have changed. To start, lockdowns are ending because cases are low or falling in some areas or because state leaders decided to move ahead despite the risk. Testing has increased, giving us more indicators of community health. Plus we know a lot more about how the virus behaves, how to treat it, and what activities pose the highest risk.

Since life on permanent lockdown isn’t sustainable, public health experts are beginning to embrace a “harm reduction” approach, giving people alternatives to strict quarantine. These options — like forming a “bubble” with another household or moving social activities outdoors — don’t eliminate risk, but they minimize it as people try to return to daily life. We need to have some new rules about how to go about the week.

Nobody knows exactly what will happen as communities open up. The most likely scenario is that virus cases will continue to surge and fall around the globe for the foreseeable future. In the middle of that uncertainty, churches, in particular, are dividing up over when it is safe to do things in person (as are thrift stores and counseling centers!). Will our church and its enterprises survive the pandemic? Will our friends and children know more about harm reduction strategies than Jesus in a year?

Jeremy Cohen, right, first approached Tori via drone, during self-isolation in their respective Brooklyn residences. Then he donned a bubble so they could hang out in person.

5 rules for life in the pandemic

It is a blessing that Jesus can hold your hand as you figure out harm reduction. It seems we have learned to live with masks and social distancing, as well as new rituals of hand-washing after handling packages and touching surfaces. We need some basic rules to minimize risk and still have a life going forward. Here are some ideas for the church culled from public health leaders [thanks to Tara Parker-Pope] that might give us tools to make our own decisions about being the church in person.

  1. We need to know the present health of our state and community

Gwen and I are considering a trip to Vermont in the fall. When I started researching places to stay, I was informed there was  a criteria for entry into the state. I would need paperwork to prove I was not infectious and sign a self-certification! That was sobering. Philadelphia county does not presently make the cut for numbers of cases allowed in one’s home territory to prove I am not too great a threat to Vermont.

To gauge our risk of coming into contact with an infected person, we need to pay attention to two important indicators of Covid-19 in our area : the percentage of tests that are positive, and the trend in overall case rates [Philadelphia] [South Jersey]. When the percentage of positive Covid-19 tests stay at 5% or lower for two weeks, that suggests there’s adequate testing to mitigate transmission and you’re less likely to cross paths with the virus. The lower the number the better, of course. Right now PA has a 5.4 rate but Philadelphia County has about 1500 active cases compared to Vermont’s sense that 400 is the mark to meet.

  1. We need to decide the extent of our “corona bubble”

After three months of being locked up together (or alone!), the safety zone of our apartments or family circles is driving quite a few of us “mad.” We’re widening our circles to include the extended family and friends. The prime minister of New Zealand started calling this extension a  “corona bubble.” Now we need to agree on safety guidelines for our bubbles. The arrangement requires a high level of trust and communication.

Some cells are already experimenting with being a bubble and negotiating the level of social distance their meetings require. More anxious members want to know the number of “leaks” their bubble has — such as trips to the store or office, play dates, children and teens who see friends, or housekeepers and nannies who may visit multiple homes. Others don’t really care, or are unaware of the dangers.

Communication is the key to these arrangements working out. If  a person is not going to face instant judgment about leaks they are less likely to hide them. Our activities are going to change all the time — schools are on the way to reopening, there should probably be more protests. So our arrangements need to be flexible. Is the church important enough to us to learn how to have this level of dialogue? Or will we wait and see what we’ve got when the powers-that-be sound the “all clear?”

  1. We need to think of ourselves as managing an “exposure budget”

During a pandemic, every member of the household should manage their own exposure budget. (Think Weight Watchers points for virus risk.) You spend very few budget points for low-risk choices like a once-a-week grocery trip or exercising outdoors. You spend more budget points when you attend an indoor dinner party, get a haircut or go to the office. You blow your budget completely if you spend time in a crowd.

The initial crisis response is over, if some states ever had one, and we’re moving into  long-term management. There is a lot of work on a vaccine. But it is unlikely to be ready by January, even if people keep promising it. We need to have a long-term plan about how to limit our exposure and still have a life. Gwen and I want to see the grandchildren. But it might make sense to stay away from Home Depot as a trade-off. It makes sense to go over the week and assess what the budget should be and how many risks we are actually taking.

  1. We need to keep higher-risk activities short

We need to be together and will be together again. Let’s not forget. Until then, we are blessed with any number of ways to connect: phone, the dreaded Zoom, the now-expensive Marco Polo app, email – and people used to write letters and feel close to people at a distance. Budget in connecting, however possible or inadequate, before depression makes you even more isolated.

When you are going out into some risky territory, it might be a good rule of thumb to ask, “If an infected person happens to be nearby, how much time could I be spending with them?” It takes an extended period of close contact with an infected person, or extended time in a poorly ventilated room with an infected person, to have a substantial risk of catching the virus through the air, it is said.  Keep indoor events brief. For a few more months we can move social events outdoors. Wear a mask and practice social distancing. Here’s some guidance about time of exposure.

Brief exposure: Brief encounters, particularly those outside — like passing someone on the sidewalk or a runner who huffs and puffs past your picnic — are unlikely to make you sick.

Face-to-face contact: Wear a mask, and keep close conversations short. We don’t know the level of exposure required to make us sick, but estimates range from a few hundred to 1,000 copies of the virus. In theory, you might reach the higher estimate after just five minutes of close conversation, given that a person might expel 200 viral particles a minute through speech. When health officials perform contact tracing, they typically look for people with whom you’ve spent at least 15 minutes in close contact.

Indoor exposure: In an enclosed space, like an office, at a birthday party, in a restaurant or in a church meeting, you can still become infected from a person across the room if you share the same air for an extended period of time. There’s no proven time limit that is safest but it is best to keep it less than an hour. Even shorter is better. We went to Michael’s to get some framing done the other day then I was appalled that my 70-something brother went to get a haircut! I find it difficult to figure out what is appropriate! Dr. Erin Bromage suggests we consider the volume of air space (open space is safer than a small meeting room), the number of people in the space (fewer is better) and how much time everyone is together (keep it brief). His blog about timing and risk has been viewed more than 18 million times.

Circle of Hope’s mapping process is helping us decide how we want to live as the people of God in a pandemic. If you read every link in this post, your personal decision might be better informed. But I doubt you would be certain about what is the right thing to do. As the Bible teaches us so well, our behavior is going to be a mixed bag and we’ll need to accept one another. Read Romans 14 and 15 again and learn to accept the one who stays quarantined too long and the one whose behavior seems to risky. I am learning to accept that I am at risk as an older person (albeit a fairly healthy one) and I might die. I have friends my age who have already survived an infection, but I am preparing not to survive, as well. Businesses and churches are in the process of dying. It all feels terrible. But along with physical risk management, I am also managing the spiritual risk I am facing. I will live forever, but I would like to be living that eternal life now, not when the pandemic is over.

Faith Christian Church - Andy's Blog

  1. Unfortunately, we need to keep up the precautions and make some rules

I’m surprised how many disparaging remarks I have heard about Florida this week. (Well, half of them might have been from me). My friends skipped their beloved month down south (but my pastor went south to enjoy the tropical storm!), since the whole state decided the President had the power to declare the whole pandemic a hoax. Thus, they are setting infection records.

Here’s the common sense about precautions, so far:

  • Keep your mask handy. Wear a mask in enclosed spaces, when you shop or go to the office and anytime you are in close contact with people outside your household.
  • Practice social distancing — staying at least six feet apart — when you are with people who live outside your household. Keep social activities outdoors and keep indoor activities brief.
  • Wash your hands frequently, and be mindful about touching public surfaces (elevator buttons, hand rails, subway poles, and other high-touch areas). Gwen put hand sanitizer in my van, since I touch my face all the time.
  • Adopt stricter quarantine practices if you or someone in your circle is at higher risk.

When will precautions allow us to “open” the church? Actually, if you have any decent theology at all, you know the church is open 24/7 if it is filled with God’s Spirit. We can’t be closed because we are it. But it sure would be great to have meetings and to serve people face to face in the community! We need each other. We don’t know how to do more than online meetings, at this point (so don’t miss them!!).

But before we start thinking about when to get in a room together (or outside, as we might), would you start thinking about how Jesus wants to you take care of his church? What rules your life? What is your rule of life – the desires and disciplines that form your behavior and fill your schedule? Your rule matters more than ever to protect our lives and our church. We need each other to take some precautions in regard to our tender faith — our own and one another’s. We are not subject to the pandemic in such a way as it defines us – that is, not really. We need to help one another get through this with our faith, hope and love intact, not just our bodies.

Doing theology about the upcoming election: Eleven takeaways

People who identify as Americans entered the July 4 weekend humiliated as almost never before. They had one collective project this year and that was to crush Covid-19, and they failed. Confronted with a crisis, most couldn’t even put on a mask.

The Day - 'It's broken': Fears grow about patchwork US election ...
A voter (right) checks in with an election worker ion Philadelphia on June 2

America the wounded electorate

Last Wednesday, the U.S. had about 50,000 new positive tests, a record. Other nations are beating the disease while the U.S. infection graph shoots upward as sharply as it did in March. This failure is leading to other problems. A third of Americans show signs of clinical anxiety or depression, according to the Census Bureau. Suspected drug overdose deaths surged by 42 percent in May. Small businesses, colleges and community hubs are collapsing.

Most Americans are not in denial about the last three months of turmoil. According to a Pew survey, 71% are angry about the state of the country right now and 66% are fearful. Only 17% are proud.

Even better than not being in denial, many Americans are reacting to the turmoil in two positive ways. There are unforeseen shifts in attitudes toward race. Roughly 60% of Americans now believe African-Americans and other people of color face a great deal or a lot of discrimination and live under the threat of random police brutality. People have been waiting for a white backlash since the riots, or since the statues started toppling. There isn’t much if any evidence of a backlash. There’s evidence of a fore-lash.

Second, Americans have decided to get rid of Donald Trump and much of the world is breathing a sigh of relief. His mishandling of Covid-19 hurt his re-election chances among seniors. His racist catcalls in a time of racial reckoning have damaged him among all groups. His asinine July 4 celebration of maskless thousands worshiping at a shrine to white supremacy at Mt. Rushmore will, if God answers my prayers, be the last time we witness that.

What’s the core problem with Americans? We’ve been preaching about it for 25 years, now. Damon Linker identified a piece of the problem in  his article: “It amounts to a refusal on the part of lots of Americans to think in terms of the social whole — of what’s best for the community, of the common or public good. Each of us thinks we know what’s best for ourselves.” For many people, Linker’s insight amounts to a revelation Covid-19 delivered – even to Jesus followers whose Savior calls them to love as he loves!

You can add a lot more core problems, of course. Just read the Constitution. I’d add autonomy,  preoccupation with identity, capitalism as a way of life, acceptance of the fruit of Empire, militarism, economic slavery, and selfishness touted in Congress as a virtue. They all  lead to a gnawing sense of inauthenticity – it is so deep people project it on each other all day. In 1970, in a moment like our own (It was wild; I was 16), Irving Kristol wrote, “[People] cannot for long tolerate a sense of spiritual meaninglessness in their individual lives, so they cannot for long accept a society in which power, privilege, and property are not distributed according to some morally meaningful criteria.” David Brooks said last week, “A lot of people look around at the conditions of this country — how Black Americans are treated, how communities are collapsing, how Washington doesn’t work — and none of it makes sense. None of it inspires faith, confidence. In none of it do they feel a part.”

Our thoughts on the upcoming election

Since I became a Christian in the 70’s, I think it is safe to say that at the end of every year of knowing Jesus, the United States has made even less sense. At this point I won’t even call myself an American. None of it inspires faith or confidence. In none of it do I feel a part. I am at home in my alternative society led by Jesus. That mentality was central to the convictions I brought to the recent dialogue we had about the upcoming elections. We were trying to contribute some theology to what people need to think about when they face November. Do we have (or need to have) a definitive view on elections?

I hesitate to sum it up, since it was a rich, generous discussion, even on Zoom. So even though people rarely use my blog to dialogue, maybe they will add some things this time. What I will try to do is bullet some “takeaways” from doing theology. These are my takeaways, if not mostly my thoughts – this is not a report on what everyone said. You heard my point of view, already, and I think it is a New Testament one. Most people were in my ballpark, so I want to follow that theme as a way to help you look at participating in the election with the Americans.

  • In 2016, we took communion on election night to remind ourselves that Jesus is our true leader. (We also collected some theology related to that election). We were acting along with the spirit of Dr. King, who says the church is not meant to be the servant of the state or the master of the state… the church is meant to be the conscience of the state.
  • Participating in politics is not as easy as being for or against. We have a responsibility for others that does not allow us to “wash our hands” like Pilate. We should suffer, not hunker down in an ideology and give up wrestling. We cannot make a law and give up the messiness of grace. We must not moralize instead of accepting the winding road everyone is on toward their destiny.
  • Politics is an endless, inconclusive, mostly redundant process. The church is a big tent. Put those facts together and it makes sense to have provisional opinions and flexible actions. We have people in the church who feel the fear Trump elicits. We have people in the church calling out people for not being true believers in their liberation movement. Everyone should be invited into the safety of God’s love so they can check their own motivation and be in dialogue even about an election. Our videos on how to discern might be a good place keep pondering these things.
  • We should not feel a great burden about being integrous in relation to a corrupt system. It would be nice if we lived by a rule and whatever candidate we offered looked like Jesus so we could give an actual alternative. (This would be a “rule” as a “way,” not a standard or authority). National elections tend to rob us of our awareness of local connections – the media undermines our conversation as a church and with our neighbors. Maybe we should make sure to prompt all our cells to have some real dialogue so they are not dominated by the media powers.
  • We have misgivings about appearing “partisan” but also about abandoning duty to speak plainly about matters of consequence. We are committed to the truth even to the point where we would hope to be willing to die for it if necessary. But we don’t want to steamroll people who are also trying to figure things out the best they can — sometimes in good faith, sometimes not.
  • When we guide each other about voting, we want the guidance generated up, not down. We don’t need a guide distributed by the “authorities;” we all need to actively discern the spirits together. We would more likely come up with something like a Yelp review of candidates. The Poor People’s Campaign might be a good example of a group who has a way to assess what’s important.
  • It is a privilege to vote. What about voter suppression? We could help solve the issues of voting. Maybe a compassion team could organize for this. We spent some time admiring how we let teams form to do what inspires them. We should pray for our compassion teams so their attempts to lead and inspire us actually work as part of the body, not just their interest group.
  • Why do we participate in elections? Do we do it to get power or to influence the powers? One person said, “If I got the power I might be just as screwed up!” We would like people who help us influence to do it with prophetic imagination — imagine newness. (Here is Bruggerman on On Being). We want to breed a new way of thinking in line with our alternative way of life. Kendra Brooks is a nice local example of coming up with another way.
  • Love is always central. If what we do will feel polarizing, we need to be loving in our presentation and follow up with people who feel injured. Try to win the right to be heard. We should try to know what people think or might think and let them know we acknowledge that and care — we will listen, not just talk. We don’t want to lose people to Jesus by seeming “too political.” We should honor their process if they are not where we think Jesus is going yet.
  • The book Exclusion and Embrace could help people relate across boundaries. An embrace does not dissolve the individual; it is an object in itself. The embrace is where goodness happens. We should be obsessed with getting to the hearts of people. That’s our tier one. Until we get there, we may need to change some behaviors on tier two. People get killed by corrupt government. The train might run over them and we might need to lay on the tracks, embracing the experience of the victimized.
  • Solzhenitzyn’s advice for living under dictatorship was “Just never say anything that isn’t true.” As we think about our involvement in politics, it is helpful to distinguish between influence and integrity as two possible ways we can act morally. They are both ways to think about “doing good.” Influence is about the use of power. It is the coinage of the democratic political process: organizing yourself into a bloc in order to increase your power and leverage that power in order to bring about the (ostensibly good) outcome that you want. Integrity measures our actions not by what is accomplished but only by what is good or true — speak the truth because it is the truth, not because it is going to influence a political process. The distinction between the two is a matter of the soul. We can learn to have integrity — even unto death — or we can learn to have influence. If our integrity influences, that is great, but we don’t count on that. The disorder we feel when talking about politics is because we have gotten sucked into a way of seeing the world that is informed by power and influence rather than integrity.

David Brooks again: How Paul’s “two tiers” apply to social action

Black Lives Matter surges in public approval (chart) - CSMonitor.com
From CS Monitor article. Click pic to see it.

We are thrilled with the possibilities of police reform and a new (hopefully effective) awareness of the scourge of racism. The chart above is thrilling to a guy like me who has been waiting for the tipping point for a long time. May all our years of work bear fruit.

Our excitement tempts us to live on the “second tier” of life in Christ,  the practical, relational interchange with the world around us — especially when our hope for change is activated. As a result, we can miss the deeper, “first tier” of relating to God in a transcendent and transformative way. Since so many people have thrown God out of reality, it is tempting to relate to them according to the worldview for which they are fighting, rather than joining with them in social action as our true selves in Christ.

Paul and the first church definitely did social action. The first churches, though they were a tiny, sometimes persecuted minority within the Roman Empire, started a movement that eventually overran it. Much of the church’s favorable reputation grew out of their alternativity: how they shared, how they loved, and how they managed to accept people of all classes and backgrounds into a dynamic whole.

But I don’t they were doing “social action” in the way most of us think of it. Paul does not have an idea of “social” or “action” in the way we do. For one thing, he did not know about the conceptual frameworks of the Enlightenment that spawned Hobbes and Rousseau arguing about the essence of the social contract and the state of nature without God. And I don’t think he had any democratic sense of his rights or responsibility to influence society as a whole.

Paul’s idea of social action, like all his ideas, started with his faith in Jesus. His motivation came from the Holy Spirit. His hope came from his trust that he lived “in Christ” which defined his present and guaranteed his future. He certainly does not have a theory of social action under which his faith is subsumed. I don’t think he ever imagined reforming the Roman Empire. His only power resides in the apparently powerless love of Jesus.

As Circle of Hope, we are sometimes unclear about the source of our action when we operate according to a sense of society donated by European rationalists and all their followers since their heyday. We sometimes start in tier two, even forget tier one altogether, when we relate to others and try to make a difference in the world. I think we should be more serious about our faith and about the revelation in the Bible whether it seems to “work well” or not. We should hold on to Jesus and revelation whether people label it as unacceptable speech or not. What Paul has going works a lot better than what we usually do. And what he builds will last a lot longer than the results of the latest power struggle.

Image may contain: text that says 'IF U.S. LAND WERE DIVIDED LIKE U.S. WEALTH 1% WOULD OWN THIS 9% WOULD OWN THIS 30% WOULD OWN THIS 20% WOULD OWN THIS 40% Would Own This Red Dot'
Click for a Pew Research article

The two tiers of our present social action

Our doing Theology team is still mulling over the rich dialogue we had about our approach to the coming election, so you’ll probably hear more about that before long. Until then, my mind has been drawn toward mulling over a previous dialogue we shared about Paul’s two-tiered outlook, as you can see by what I just said. In case you haven’t heard about this piece of theology, we reported on it and saved the material at the Way of Jesus site.

David Brooks, of all people (my strange new “friend” from the conservatives), got me thinking about how we are engaging in the present transformation of the police, in particular. He wrote another interesting piece in the New York Times last week. In it, he crystallizes a view of the social justice “religion” that is quite alluring to many of us. You can see it all over our mapping material this year, and also see people questioning it. Brooks says one of the five crises the U.S. is facing right now is:

“Fourth, a quasi-religion is seeking control of America’s cultural institutions. The acolytes of this quasi-religion, Social Justice, hew to a simplifying ideology: History is essentially a power struggle between groups, some of which are oppressors and others of which are oppressed. Viewpoints are not explorations of truth; they are weapons that dominant groups use to maintain their place in the power structure. Words can thus be a form of violence that has to be regulated.”

I don’t feel like I need to agree with David Brooks’ reduction or not. But I can accept his sound bite of a viewpoint and listen to it. He might be on to something.

In tier two, I think Jesus followers are out on the street demanding  real reform of the oppressive institutions that have grown up since Ronald Reagan, an end to half-measures regarding systemic racism, and economic justice that rightsizes the rich and their corporations. But I hope we all come to that social action from tier one, where we know Jesus is the way to the real revolution and know these power struggles are not the deepest response we have to what torments humanity. We come to society with the humility not to impose the latest ideological purity but to trust God in others to bring things to right.

Many people in the church have been damaged by powerful teachers handing down provisional solutions to sinful conditions as if they were mandates from God (like women needing to wear head coverings, or the Bible coming to a final form in 1611, or priests needing to be celibate, or America being a haven for righteousness – the list goes on). They make tier two into tier one. In the ultimate example of that grab for power, the church lost the miraculous influence it had in the beginning by taking over the rights and structure of the Roman Empire.

I want to be part of the church where it is not an outpost of the Empire, where it does not reference the Empire when it thinks of itself – for it or against it as if the nation or society is the ultimate context. Being free of that world would be authentic tier one living. To be free like that requires a preoccupation with listening to God and others. One thing I always love about our mapping process is how it brings up the need for discernment as a way of life. We need to listen to the voice of our Savior like sheep listening for their shepherd so we can find our way through perilous times and foment transformation along the way. Such discernment comes to us in many ways, not least of all in the voices of our partners in Christ, both present and gone before, so it is readily available.

The discernment we gain as we make our map, rarely gets boiled down to an ideology or something that seems simple. Love for God has an eternal “open end” to it. Love for others has a provisional sense of creating what is best together. So our listening is never shallow enough to merely win an argument or take power in the establishment. Besides, the resurrection of Jesus won the argument and “Who’s in power?” wasn’t the question, it was already a given.