Tag Archives: Trump

The Love Feast: A big splash of goodness in a flood of evil

My son reported that a person making their covenant last Saturday at the Love Feast said they were taking a stand with the church as a reaction to Trump. Hearing that was one of the best moments of my weekend!

A lively Love Feast makes for an alive church. Authentic, living covenant members make for a lively Love Feast. Put it all together and the living body of Christ is, indeed, the antidote to what ails the world — and Trump’s character is an ailment.

I have written a lot about the president since he began running for office. He is terrible for Christians – for those who hate him and those who love him. For the last two years, his evil ways have only become more evident. I can still understand how he can get a rally going in Illinois. But we Jesus followers need to understand our role in providing people an escape from the aftermath of his rhetoric.

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Proud Boys beating up a protester outside their meeting.

What is happening?

On Thursday, law enforcement arrested Gregory Bush, who tried to shoot up a black church, couldn’t get in, and so moved onto a Kroger grocery store and killed two black patrons in cold blood while pointedly sparing a white one. On Friday, it was Cesar Sayoc, who was charged with sending mail bombs to a bunch of folks who just so happen to be targets of Donald Trump’s verbal attacks. And on Saturday, it was Robert Bowers, who entered a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday and, amid a torrent of anti-Semitic hate speech, went on a rampage that left 11 people dead from gunshot wounds. That marks three days in a row, then, that an angry, middle-aged man committed a violent crime that certainly appears to have been encouraged, at least in part, by Donald Trump’s decision to turn the bully pulpit into a bully’s pulpit.

Not long before, the pro-Trump Proud Boys beat up opponents after their leader spoke at the Republican Club in NYC. At the same time, news outlets were reporting that Trump’s lying was actually picking up speed in advance of the elections, trying to stoke the Kavanaugh confirmation victory momentum – and yes, he lamented that last week’s events sapped the momentum. And yes, he did say the synagogue would have been protected from the Nazi if they had an armed guard.

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Evocative stock image

To stand in this evil day we need a place to stand.

We can’t just shout back or fight back. We need to build the alternative. So I am encouraged when someone wants to build the church as a response to Trump and any of his  supporters who are as deluded as he would like.

That brings me to another good moment during my weekend. I was at the conference of the Christian Association of Psychological Studies in Lancaster (CAPS — Gwen is on the board). I went to a workshop led by an expert on rumors.  He had some interesting things to say about people who flood the airwaves with lies so people give up on knowing the truth. He had some good psychological reasons why people love conspiracy theories so much. He also said that what we are facing, every day now, is blatant evil. Like the Bible recounts, people who don’t follow Jesus are in league with the father of lies, the devil. The tongue is a fire, James says.

We are not just in a political battle. Such a battle might be a distraction if it were not put into perspective. We are in a final campaign against rebellious powers for the rule of humanity.

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. – Ephesians 6:11ff

The presenter reminded us that Jesus has defeated the enemy. We are mopping up with him. But just because the decisive battle has been won, does not mean the enemy is not in a frenzy of resistance, like any cornered, wild animal might be. A striking example of this reality is how the Nazis “turned up the ovens” in 1944 after it became evident that World War 2 was lost. Auschwitz was gassing up to 6000 Jews a day that year. In March, diverting much-needed resources from the war effort, Hitler ordered the occupation of Hungary and dispatched Eichmann to supervise the deportation of the country’s Jews. By July, 440,000 had been deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. In a final act of delusion, a month before the deportations began, Eichmann offered to exchange one million Jews for 10,000 trucks and other goods from the Allies — the “blood for goods” proposal. Again and again we see the devil’s allies acting in similar ways. They might beat people up in the street, but we must not be afraid or begin to think that trading blood for goods is an actual option.

What we are doing is more important than ever

Trump is not the first disciple of the father of lies to come into a powerful position in the world. And we are not the first or last group of Jesus followers who take our faith seriously enough to build the alternative in the face of their strategies for domination — our movement got started under the Emperors Tiberius and Caligula, after all! Trump is just a shocking inspiration for all the activities we might normally take for granted in a more peaceful world, like a lively Love Feast.

Being a cell, forming a team, meeting for worship are all taking on their truest meaning aren’t they? They aren’t just about our good feelings or personal development; they are about transforming the world and giving people an escape from the madness of the evil powers – and all those regular activities are transforming  people and offering people an escape.

Having a well-supplied Common Fund is more important than ever. Sharing our money is not like paying the rent on our spiritual house, it is about making us strong and supplying visionary leaders who can keep us together and equipped to stand in an evil day. And we are standing in significant ways — against forgotten diseases like lupus, against the unjust justice system, against the oppression of the poor who are forced out of their homeland in Central America and other places all over the world, against mental illness, joblessness, addiction, loneliness, faithlessness and fear.

As I was writing this, another person sent me a text about the Love Feast. They were excited! That meeting, like so many of the meetings we hold, was like a big rock in the societal pool of our region. We don’t know where the ripples will carry the news that Jesus is risen and alive in his people. As Paul encourages the Romans, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” We’re part of the campaign to redeem the world. We have another Lord and we won’t bend the knee to the latest liar who tries to usurp Jesus.

Six soul-killing political pathologies demanding the church’s conformity

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Damon Linker of This Week, Penn, and suburban Philly, says “The lies, corruption, graft, racism, xenophobia, hucksterism, and demagoguery of President Trump and leading members of his administration are so brazen and diverge so sharply from the political norms of the recent American past, it’s easy to lapse into misplaced hope that the pathologies swirling around us will dissipate as soon as the man leaves office.”

I was in a house full of grandchildren as I read that. That made it an even more alarming prediction. Are the children destined to navigate some terrible pathology? I hope not. But if they are so troubled, it will give Jesus an opportunity to prove, once again, that he is greater than our hearts.

Trump may catalyze the worst in us for his own benefit, but he couldn’t do it without the rest of the country providing him opportunity and giving in when he takes it. We of Circle of Hope mildly talk about our “alternativity,” but how far have you been driven, in truth, into some individual bunker from which you plot your safest route to your personal desires? Our recent dialogue about consolidating two of our congregations, although amazing and encouraging (and alternative!), also highlighted what we are up against these days. We are tempted to conform to the pathology around us either by adopting it or endlessly rebelling against it – either way it dominates us.

Linker lists six features of the United States society that often threaten to become features of our church, as well. I hope commenting on his list contributes to finding a way to avoid the pitfalls of our time.

Skepticism about leaders

  • There’s the spread of skepticism, rooted in radical egalitarianism, about the capacity of any authority to judge fairly among competing truth claims.

If we desert our families and can’t listen to our leaders, can we learn to follow Jesus? Aren’t we tempted to perfect autonomy, thinking that is a good thing? I think our pastors talk about our skepticism all the time — but that doesn’t mean anyone thinks it is right to listen to them, or that they actually do listen. People tend to wake up to “who’s in charge” or “what’s the process” when they discover some change actually impacts their “personal lives.” Otherwise, they assume that everyone in charge is self-interested or corrupt and try to steer clear of any process that might require their responsibility or sacrifice. Skeptics need to be questioned: Are all the region’s police self-interested and corrupt? Is everyone in government out for profit? Are the Cell Leader Coordinators unaware of your reality? Are protesters wasting their time?  What kind of person is your skepticism making you?

Virtual extremism

  • There’s the technological amplification of extreme views, which allows those on the ideological margins (and other bad actors) to spread and organize with unprecedented potency in virtual space.

The Russians would not be able to corrupt the U.S. system if the echo chambers in which citizens are trapped intersected and if they were not all atomized into individual interpreters of the day’s news. Our church, designed as it is to span usually-distinct territories and people groups often has a terrible time getting people to follow Jesus together if their ideological underpinnings are not satisfied. I have convictions that I consider elemental to my faith in Jesus and which bind me to prophesy to society, but should they exclude others who don’t know what I’m talking about yet?

Endless entertainment

  • There’s the thoroughgoing transformation of our public life into a forum for mass entertainment aimed at the lowest common denominator.

Last week one of my grandchildren so skillfully lobbied for watching the The Two Towers we spent hours of a cloudy vacation day doing it. Afterwords, we had a long talk (long for elementary attention spans, that is) about what the movie means. One of them questioned my authority to begin such a discussion, of course (back to point one), but we talked anyway. I pointed out that the movies corrupt Tolkien’s story, since the filmmakers use extraordinary, powerful technology to tell the story of the meek inheriting the earth. This thought came to mind after I was informed that the spectacle of Helm’s Deep is much more interesting than the Hobbit scenes, and it is time to hit the bathroom when Gollum is dithering about his soul. They might be children of their age, in danger of spiritual lobotomy by the powerful scenes from the entertainment industry. The news is infotainment and the presidency a reality TV show. It is no wonder people have a tough time taking their faith and their church seriously.

Accepted polarization

  • There’s ideological polarization combined with a regional (urban-rural) split along both cultural and political lines, which is exacerbated by our country’s multiple counter-majoritarian institutions.

We passed around an article a few weeks back about the interesting divides in the country. We could see the cultural stereotypes played out in some of our own dialogue as the church. We don’t have to look hard to find evidence of the country’s division among us. One might say many of us are obsessed with what divides us — condemned by their “identities” to perpetual otherness instead of welcomed into the community we crave. Lately, our email list of covenant members has been the scene of some brilliant practical theology after our leaders called us to a course of practical necessity and creative adaptation – a change. I am glad to see we gravitated toward unity in Christ instead of mere diversity of choice.

Distortion as strategy

  • And there’s the willingness of cynical, power-hungry political functionaries to traffic in outright lies and distortions in order to win and hold office.

The Faith of Donald J. Trump: A Spiritual BiographyI was in Barnes and Noble with five 7-11 year olds, enough said. While we were buying books I spotted a surprising title: The Faith of Donald J. Trump. I pondered it the day after the news of Cohen’s and Manafort’s legal issues came to a head, both which point to the corruption and brazen immorality of the leader, who the books calls, “the one guiding figure who can return us to the traditional values-hard work, discipline, duty, respect, and faith-that have long been the foundation of American life.” It is small wonder there will be a whole generation of people who assume any leader, including a church leader, is lying. After all, we don’t need Trump, just a few bishops in Pennsylvania will make us wonder.

No love of enemies

  • Justice has been reduced to the friend/enemy distinction: Whatever damage is done to the other side in the name of progress for my own mission is acceptable, even laudable.

Are people, in general, really losing all capacity to have conflicts that result in mutually beneficial outcomes? In our church, people often solve difficult relationships by refusing to ever have the conflict they feel. They kill love to avoid conflict. They neuter their faith in the name of some “acceptance” that masks their fear. They don’t want to be a loser and they have reduced love down to not making anyone else lose. This is politics conducted without any notion of a common good. The interests of the whole community no longer transcend the competing, perpetually clashing, and conflicted parts. Such a “politics” could kill a church, of course.

I felt a lot of these influences tempting us during our dialogue last week; so I was nervous. I wasn’t sure I could trust our trust system. We purposely designed our church so people could wreck it by being unloving or irresponsible (since Christians love and care and share or they should not be called Christians). I was not sure we would be Christians when we felt hurt or threatened or needed to fail and change. I went to prayer. Jesus came through and we came through. We’ll all be fine. But we will still be living in a world that is clearly not fine, these days. It will try to drag us down with it, so we’d better keep praying.

We love what evangelicals were: Let’s be who we are becoming.

When the seminarians cohort met last week to do some theology, Corinne quoted a speech by Fuller Seminary’s President, Mark Labberton (from our mutual alma mater!), as an example of an Evangelical who is struggling with us:

Abuse of power is central in the national debates of the moment.  Whether we think about US militarism, or mass incarceration, or the #MeToo movement (or mistreatment of women in general), or the police shootings of unarmed, young, black men, or the actions of ICE toward child and adult immigrants, or gun use and control, or tax policy—all this is about power.  The apparent evangelical alignment with the use of power that seeks dominance, control, supremacy, and victory over compassion and justice associates Jesus with the strategies of Caesar, not with the good news of the gospel.

He went on to talk about race, nationalism and economics as other notable places where the Evangelical movement has long been off the rails in the United States, noting that someone told him when one Googles “Evangelical” one gets “Trump.”(I tried it. Sure enough, the last three entries on the first page concerned Trump). A Christian is in big trouble when Trump is associated with their spiritual convictions.Image result for evangelical millennials

That kind of “evangelical” is why people leave the church

One of the generators of the post-WW2 Evangelical explosion was Fuller Seminary. Now Fuller is facing decline as the white church causes an exodus of millennials. As a church founded by an evangelical-influenced Anabaptist and twentysomethings, Circle of Hope regularly hears and feels the abhorrence associated with the label “evangelical.”

Carolyn Custis James asks the church what they are going to do about their reputation in the Huffington Post:

What would inspire [millennials]  to return [to the church] if the only vision we offer is negative and isolating? Why would they want to be part of a church that rejects and insults their friends? Is Jesus’ gospel rigid, petrified, and unbending, or is it nimble and robust enough to equip millennials and the rest of us to engage the changes and challenges of every new generation, no matter how unexpected that future may be? Does Jesus’ gospel fill our lungs with hope and passion for his world, or suck the oxygen out of the room? Does it equip us to send the same enduring indiscriminate invitation to a lost and hurting world? Does the twenty-first century evangelical church say “come!” or “stay away”?

To begin with, if you want people to stay or return, how about not labeling them? —  like calling them “millennial?”

We’ve been creatively answering Custis’ questions and many others for many years. At our meeting to do some theology we pondered the question “What’s up with Evangelicals?”

  • We considered how to affirm Evangelicals who keep the faith while jettisoning the label that has been hijacked by powerful racists seeking to control the domination system.
  • We considered how we are not an exclusively Evangelical church, by any stretch of the imagination, but how we care about all the traditional emphases that mark the movement.
  • We noted that while we share some convictions with historic Evangelicals, at the same time we care about the contemplative prayer movement from the Catholic church, the spiritual immediacy of the Pentecostals, the social action of the Mennonites, as well as all sorts of art, thinking and influences from movements that most people have never heard about from all over the world. We aspire to transcend labels.

Jeff Sessions is a good reason to wear the label “Evangelical” lightly

The big “for instance” about Evangelicals came up during our “Ask Me Anything” session on South Broad last Sunday. One of our friends asked Rachel what we are supposed to do about Attorney General Jeff Sessions offering a traditional Evangelical interpretation of Romans 13 to justify the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant parents from their children after they enter the U.S. illegally. Sessions said,

“I would cite to you the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”

Later, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (whose dad is a notable Evangelical pastor) summed up the same idea: “It is very biblical to enforce the law.” – USA Today

What are we supposed to do with that? Let’s be kind of Evangelical about it right now and actually care about what the Bible says. I think it is obvious that Paul is not writing the Romans as if he were Jeff Sessions! Jesus was killed by evil-doing authorities and the Apostle would soon be killed likewise. Neither of them were notably obedient to the established order out of principle. If anything, Paul is recommending in Romans 13 that the church obey the authorities so they don’t all get killed before the church takes root in Rome! Nero will shortly try to get rid of all of them after the big fire (Trump is like Nero). Even a cursory reading of Romans 12-15 reveals a vision that far transcends something as measly as obeying worldly powers as a goal for Christian behavior:

  • Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (12:21).
  • Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law (13:8).
  • You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat (14:10).
  • We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up (15:1-2).

As our dialogue developed among the cohort, I was happy to see us shrug off the label “Evangelical” as well as others plastered on us by the world while affirming the goodness that can be found in most containers (like “Brethren in Christ”). We ended up wanting to help people who  think Jeff Sessions might be a member of Circle of Hope find their way out of the thicket of lies growing up around them. Really, I don’t think any of us even know Jeff Sessions; much less is he one of us. Besides,  the trap he is in makes him about as real as reality TV and he probably knows he is just playing a role — he might not like it either. Regardless, our debt to him is love. And though he deserves contempt, we are not going to treat anyone with contempt. If we are convicted to be more faithful than others, we will bear with the weak and build them up. We are going to overcome evil with good.

Rhett Butler also has some Paul-like convictions we need

I have been in many discussions lately in which the convictions I just described have been labeled as “not enough.” From what I understand of the persistent arguments thrown at me, I am supposed to wear a label from the most recent political fight and defend it. I am supposed to get power and use it rightly. I am supposed to be with the Evangelicals or against them, as if our endless strife were Lord and not Jesus. It is tiring.

So I was glad to find some actual edification as I was zoning out in front of the TV on my day off. I tuned into Gone With The Wind again after flipping through other possibilities —  I love to watch finely-done movies, even if they are philosophical travesties. I only got to the part in the movie where the disreputable but moral Rhett Butler convinces the daring but disreputable Scarlett O’Hara to violate all standards of public mourning by dancing with him at the charity ball. She mildly laments that her reputation is going to be shot after all their unseemly waltzing. He tells her, “With enough courage you can do without a reputation.”

I may have gotten as much from that line as I have from Paul’s letters on today’s subject. I’m not sure why he didn’t write it himself; he surely thought it! As people who take our faith, the Bible, the Church, and its mission seriously, we need a lot of courage these days, because, as one of the cohort noted, “Evangelical” might as well be an “F word;” and Jeff Sessions represents the church on the news! Our reputation is shot with the so-labeled millennials. We live among Americans and they like to fight, not love. They love power, not pleasing their neighbors – even the weak ones seem to wake up every day wondering who stole their power! We need courage! Because I can’t help thinking we were made for this very moment, good reputation or not.

There are a lot of loving Evangelicals (I hope you said, “Of course!”). Their movement has roots in all the serious-Christian movements in the history of the Church. I can be one of them, or not, because I am serious about following Jesus, too. Wherever the Lord is followed, I’m fine. We all have the future in Christ to receive and build; we need to avoid  fighting to do it right now. We are meant to end strife, not conform to it.

That’s not to say I don’t think a good argument can be usefuI! — but I would hardly let one label me. As Paul said (in Romans 13, Jeff!), “The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” There are great labels yet to be born, like “There goes that effin’ armor of light guy!”

Trump is a lot like Nero, which brings me back to Paul.

I certainly enjoyed my relatively Trumpless trip to Greece following around the Apostle Paul! It was refreshing and clarifying. The Greeks have a corrupt government, too, they say. So it is no surprise to them that a Donald Trump is taking hold of the U.S. Treasury. But the people who live in the home of democracy, whose ancestors invented all the temple architecture in which Lincoln  and Jefferson are enshrined, were kind of hoping the United States would hold out and not end up that way.

The U.S. ended up that way. I don’t say “we” ended up that way, since I am not elected by the people, or stealing from them, or planning to enslave them in new ways as I undo the fabric of their society, be it ever so  humble. I live here, but I would hardly let myself be governed by Trump in any sense that really mattered.

Like I texted my brother, I consider our branch of the Christian family to be a permanent and long-standing example of the Sons and Daughters of Liberty he was texting about (1 Cor. 7).  I admit I had to go to Google to see who they were — they were the secret society devoted to overthrowing the rule of King George III in the American colonies.  He thinks we should be ready to overthrow Trump — and knowing him, he is only half joking.  He is a rather conservative guy with a daughter in the FBI, but he hates being embarrassed. And Trump, along with his Bible-misinterpreting Attorney General are very embarrassing. I know they embarrassed me in Europe. I literally called myself Canadian a few times.

It was good timing to be following around the Apostle Paul on a long-held dream of a trip. Walter Wangerin’s fictionalized narrative of his life helped, too. Paul had the Roman emperors Claudius and Nero to deal with, we have Trump.  Wangerin’s biography reminded me that after Nero killed his mother five years into his reign to solidify his power at age 21, he was welcomed into Rome as a hero. People in the Eastern Empire thought of him as a god and longed for his return after he committed suicide. That’s the same emperor who executed Paul and Peter. We can’t really tell what people will swallow or even worship. Humankind is messed up. But isn’t it amazing how important Paul ended up being and how comical, if morbid,  Nero seems now!

I was surprised at how moved I was when i arrived in Veria (Berea) and found the small memorial park devoted to Paul’s work there. I was struck by how the simple message of the work of Jesus on our behalf is a powerful antidote to what ails the world and carries a restorative power that no strange ruler can ultimately undermine. As soon as as our wheels struck runway back in the U.S., Jeff Sessions reminded me that I live in crazy land in need of the gospel. Justifying the separation of parents and their children (in honor of Father’s Day, I guess) with Romans 13 (missing Romans 12, obviously), isn’t the craziest thing offered by the latest administration, but it is high on the list. I was happy to be carrying a revitalized antidote with me from Greece.

I had already heard a small voice in me get louder while I was away, telling me not to rest while Trump fills the earth with lies and people believe he is a god. I’m not going to react to Trump every day, that’s for sure; he does not deserve it. Jesus is Lord and Trump probably won’t even live but a few more years.  What I am going to do every day is nurture the alternative to Trump: the church — even if parts of it are walking with the liar in search of the power and safety of American wealth and whites-only power.

I was emboldened to listen to the promptings of the Spirit when I kept remembering that Paul walked into Greece with nothing but the message of Jesus and upended the Roman Empire, eventually. Of course the Romans cleverly co-opted the church, but the truth has been upending Romanizing stuff ever since. I hope our church gets better and better at upending. We don’t have a lot of power, but we certainly have Jesus.

One last picture. Archimedes (287-212 BC) was a genius inventor from the Greek colony at Syracuse. When we were in the Archimedes Museum in Olympia (another ancient extravaganza) we were so intrigued we went up to the second floor. In the farthest corner was a replica of a weapon designed by an Archimedes disciple.  It is an automatic bow and arrow machine, ancestor of the AR-15. If all of humankind’s inspiration is used for better killing, doesn’t the world need a Savior? If people think vague assurances by a couple of liars in Singapore makes us safer, don’t we need a Savior? My answer has always been, “YES!”

We have one. I am glad Paul did so well at introducing him to people. Eventually the word got to me, too. In a world where somehow we ended up with a Nero-like president, getting back to the basics of being the alternative makes an awful lot of sense again.

Standoff: We have treasure to apply to the trouble

There was another standoff on Saturday night.

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Michelle Wolf’s performance, which included a harsh skewering of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, left the media sharply divided over its level of propriety. — CNBC

White House Correspondents Dinner

President Trump did not go to the White House Correspondents Association dinner in Washington Saturday night (although Ivanka, Kelley and Sarah did). The headliner was comedian Michelle Wolf, and she took no prisoners. She was not really that funny, just kind of mean. For instance, with Ivanka watching this was her joke: “There’s also, of course, Ivanka. She was supposed to be an advocate for women, but it turns out she’s about as helpful to women as an empty box of tampons. She’s done nothing to satisfy women. So I guess like father, like daughter.”

In a speech that lasted for more than an hour, President Trump sought to reinforce his position as a Washington outsider victimized by a system threatened by his presidency. — Credit Tom Brenner/The New York Times

Trump rally in Washington Township, Michigan

The President was in Michigan having an oppositional event. And he did not take prisoners either, beginning with a harangue against the “dishonest people” in the media and the “phony Washington White House correspondents thing.” Following a string of tweets on Saturday morning that blasted Senator Tester, who made it plain that Ronny Jackson was unfit to head the VA, Trump told the crowd that “what Jon Tester did to this man is a disgrace,” and said that the concerns raised about Jackson were “vicious rumors” designed to “destroy a man.” The President also issued a threat: “I know things about Tester that I could say too. And if I said them, he’d never be elected again.”

It was a liar standoff. Mean people being mean. We apparently like that stuff. And if we stop liking it, Laurence Fishburn’s career may be severely diminished.

Will the church completely adopt standoff relating?

I hate to say it, but I think we like stand-off relating in the church, too.

The church tends to be very adaptable to whatever culture Jesus wants to redeem. Sometimes it is TOO adaptable and ends up sponging up than sponging out, sucking up poison instead of releasing antidotes. The church has been divided up by politics for years. Us Anabaptist types try to hold on to our third way, but we often end up mimicking the fights of the world and dividing up over them as if Jesus weren’t our unity. Our church is not immune from standoffs that end in walk outs that result in cut offs. In an era in which forgiveness is finally super relevant, we’re tempted to forget about forgiveness and go ahead and try to win the stand off or at least adapt to standoff reality as if it were reality.

A new book by Bill Schneider (you may have seen him on CNN) shows just how bad it has gotten. It is called Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable. He’s been covering politics since 1976, and in the book he traces the development of a massive cultural divide that developed over that time between what he calls “Old America” and “New America.” Old America privileges tradition, religion, guns, isolationism, “street smarts,” and whiteness; New America favors progressivism, the environment, gender and racial equality, globalism, education, and diversity. Trump, observes Schneider, did not invent this divide, he merely capitalized on it.

I think I joined the New America about 1974 in many ways. Thank God that was also about the time I was signing up for radical Christianity. I think many of us in Circle of Hope are members of the New America mainly because so many of us are new and the old America is old, but also because we’re diverse in many ways, we are living into climate change, and equality seems like it should be moot, not a fight.  I can only hope that people who start new can also get radical with Jesus, who is so old he always seems new.

We have treasure we should not squander

What I want to suggest is simple. In 1976 a lot of things seemed new in the United States, too, to us 20 somethings and the old stuff sucked. Latching on to Jesus made more sense then and it makes more sense now. After many years of sticking with faith, I can tell you it offers a lot more than the interchangeable solutions of the world. The alternativity of the church is the best hope for the world that keeps inventing new ways not to fix itself while totally believing the opposite is happening. Like Jesus says, “Every[one] who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matt. 13:51-53). We’ve got treasure that winning a standoff will not supply. From that treasure, we might even win a few standoffs. But even better, we would win if we lost them.

Our faith is more precious than the drama or despair of the present moment. Though we suffer great torment, we dare not give in to the temptation to pick up the fights and weapons of the world and squander the treasure we have to offer to the pains of our passing-away era. The healing alternativity of our faith supplies what is needed for the constant trouble of loving our mates, loving unfinished people in the church, and caring for coworkers and neighbors. It is certainly a better direction than creating and dying from a standoff. And the treasure of our faith applies generally. We care about every troubled person and the systemic issues that trouble them. But we care from a deeper place than any standoff demonstrates. If we can’t care from a heart that knows the love of God, I wonder if our “caring” is not more empty promises leading to more standoffs, just more lies from mean people.

Trump tempts Jesus-followers with the worst: revenge, lies, division

Last week I found myself saying (at least in my head), “Really? You are going to act in the church according to Trump’s playbook? You are going to remake our dialogue and maybe even our values into replica’s of Trump’s?” I’m not talking about “those people” out in some imagined countrified place; I’m talking about people in my own church going for revenge, participating in lies and creating division in the pursuit of power, justice for grievances and so-called “freedom.”

The postmodern/hypermodern era has been hard on us Jesus-followers. The state overwhelmed us, the corporations outwitted us and the local authorities decided it was best to marginalize us. When you listen to us, we often sound just like the masters we feel forced to serve. Our arguments sound like them. Our outrages mirror them. Our actions support them, or at least give them credence.

According to Peter Beinhart in The Atlantic, “over the past decade, pollsters charted something remarkable: Americans…were fleeing organized religion in increasing numbers. The vast majority still believed in God. But the share that rejected any religious affiliation was growing fast, rising from 6 percent in 1992 to 22 percent in 2014. Among Millennials, the figure was 35 percent.”

Some people applaud abandoning the dying church for a better rendition (Circle of Hope could certainly be tagged with this!). Others applaud the exodus because they think it will kill off the culture war that has been plaguing politics for decades. But after many have left the church, the warfare has not diminished one bit. It has become worse. A more “secular” population is more tolerant of gay marriage and pot legalization;  but, as Beinhart describes, “it’s also making America’s partisan clashes more brutal. And it has contributed to the rise of both Donald Trump and the so-called alt-right movement, whose members see themselves as proponents of white nationalism. As Americans have left organized religion, they haven’t stopped viewing politics as a struggle between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Many have come to define us and them in even more primal and irreconcilable ways.”

People often blame Evangelicals for supporting Trump. But not everyone who claims to follow Jesus actually does it (as Jesus made plain before he rose from the dead).  When the pollsters go looking for Evangelicals they find many who just claim the name. One last quote from The Atlantic: “Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church.”

Image result for speaking the words of god

I hope we are the church, not just going to one so the state can label us and pundits can argue about who is to blame for what. But I am writing this because I can’t be too sure. Sometimes we look remarkably like whoever made a convincing argument about what we care about instead of like discerning people eager to express the very word of God.

So I want to note three things today that Trump and his fellow-travelers on all routes of the road to destruction the U.S. is on seem to think is normal — three things things that are trying to creep into our church (and probably yours, too!).

Revenge is never good even if it works

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. —Jesus, Matthew 5:38-9

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. — Romans 12:17

Giving up revenge is at the core of Christianity, isn’t it? Our whole mission is reconciliation!

For Trump, revenge is religion. In 2011, he addressed the National Achievers Congress in Sydney, Australia. He told them the most important lesson they never teach in business school is this: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it.” He tweeted his faith as a proverb in 2013: “Always get even. When you are in business, you need to get even with people who screw you. – Think Big.”  He thought big this week when he pressured Attorney General Sessions to fire acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe days before his pension kicked in.

Sometimes we have discussions that can get rough like Trump. If someone does not agree with you, what do you do? Listen? Or do you make sure they understand the full, moral impact of not agreeing with you? We’ve had people gossip some retaliation in honor of one of the partners in a divorce. Some people have left the church over a comment they never even checked out with the perpetrator — they showed them! One man even told the newspaper about our sins. They were all getting even, and it did not lead to reconciliation.

Lying is for liars

You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” — Jesus to people without eyes to see, John 8:44

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,  through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. – Paul about people who undermine the truth in Jesus, 1 Timothy 4:1-2

Jesus, the truth, sets us free from the constant fighting with people who will say anything to get their way and achieve their self-interest.

Andrew McCabe’s firing caused John Brennan, former CIA Director and advisor to Bush and Obama,  to reply to Trump’s tweets like this: “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America…America will triumph over you.” Brennan gives us our vocabulary word for the day: “venality” — the quality of being open to do anything for money or whatever reward you seek.

Trump will say anything. He floods the airwaves with lies. The Washington Post keeps a lie-o-meter that reached the 2000 mark in January. James Lamond in Newsweek says that his lie addiction is also a page from Putin’s playbook. When normal lies don’t do the trick, Putin resorts to extreme ”whataboutism” and broadcasts full-scale conspiracy theories not based in any form of reality. Lamond references the invasion of Ukraine (where MCC began with its first relief effort in 1920). He claims that “after Russian-backed separatists shot down a commercial airliner, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, the Kremlin and its supporters in the Russian press advanced multiple alternative explanations for how the flight could have been shot down, including the possibility that it was an attack by Ukrainian fighter jets, that it was at the direction of the Obama administration, and even that the actual target of the strike was President Putin as part of a NATO-led assassination attempt. These were all, of course, lies.”

He sees Putin’s tactic in Trump: “The White House and its allies are using these same methods in their attacks on the Mueller investigation. There’s whataboutism around the funding of the Fusion GPS dossier. There’s muddying of waters by continually re-raising the Uranium One deal, a manufactured controversy that has been repeatedly and consistently debunked, as well as the fantastical claims of liberal bias at the FBI. And now we are seeing full-fledged conspiracy theories entering the mainstream, throwing around words like ‘coup’ and ‘assassination.’”

Image result for surely you will not dieThis kind of logic is creeping in to how we do theology. I know plenty of people who can deny any conclusion in a discussion by clever “whataboutism” (like “What if Jesus were really an alien?” or “Aren’t Oreos potentially offensive to diabetics?”).  Sometimes, especially when we dialogue about difficult or controversial subjects (which we do!), we have trouble even agreeing on what words mean. There is a power struggle for the dictionary — who owns the lexical rules and whose definitions, “ours” or “theirs” will empower the agenda?

It is a real struggle to “truth” together. People often assume some unknown, untrustworthy thing is happening behind the scenes. The more people whose secret lives get exposed, the more we suspect everyone. Paul calls us to stop lying, since we have put off our old selves and we are now members of one body. We are to stop negotiating with the snakes in our personal gardens — that lying voice that assures us that we are god enough to never die or condemns us enough to convince us it doesn’t matter what we do. It is hard to perpetually sort out lies on the way with the Truth, but we need to do it together.

Protecting our autonomy and rights while dividing up the church is deadly

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. — Romans 16:17-18

These are grumblers and malcontents; they indulge their own lusts; they are bombastic in speech, flattering people to their own advantage.  But you, beloved, must remember the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; for they said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.” It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions. — Jude 1:16-19

Jesus is bringing people together; he is holding everything together. Our instinct, as Jesus followers, is to do the same.

In a completely contrary fashion, relentlessly, Trump sows the seeds of division. Often we get caught up in the same mentality and presume division. Meanwhile, Jesus looks out over the world of beloved people and hopes for them to live together as beloved children.

Again, in the Washington Post, (owned by the richest man in the world) Jennifer Rubin talks about how most Americans agree that Trump is divisive. “From the beginning of his term, President Trump has pitched both his rhetoric and his policies to his base, not to the country as a whole. He has continued his baseless slurs on immigrants (coupled with a Muslim travel ban and crusade against so-called sanctuary cities) and pushed a tax plan that very obviously penalized Americans in blue states. He began his presidency with the most divisive agenda item — repealing Obamacare — rather than one that could have united Democrats and Republicans (e.g. infrastructure). He nominated extreme and unqualified Cabinet and sub-Cabinet officials who promptly went to war with their own departments.  He’s done more to accentuate tribalism (from backing failed Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore to accusing former President Barack Obama of sundry crimes and misdeeds) than any president in memory. He’s gone to war with the executive branch (the intelligence community in particular) and any independent source of truth or check on his power. You are either with him or a criminal, a traitor and a purveyor of “fake news.” He’s managed to deepen the country’s divide along ethnic, racial, political, philosophical, educational and geographic (rural vs. urban) lines.” This week he has everyone waiting with abated breath to see whether firing Andrew McCabe is the first step toward firing Robert Mueller and plunging the country into some darkness we can only imagine.

Many people who have been schooled by the cutthroat politics of the last decade or more are much more prone to finding a reason to pull apart than get together. Look at the divorces among us this past year. They are often characterized by the incapacity of the partners to work through real problems and come to a better future together. When the pastors ask everyone to learn unity, some people feel overwhelmed and retreat to some small version of their relationship circle. Try to make a Circle of Hope that can unite South Jersey with Philadelphia on the basis of a common covenant and mission when people are  tempted every day to divide – it is tough!

We will overcome temptation

Are we so unaware that we might unwittingly conform to Donald Trump’s playbook after just a year of his horrible leadership and immoral example? I have to say “Maybe” – I think he is influencing us. And, unlike John Brennan, I am not sure America will defeat him, since America is like him. Will we end up losing our faith over the most godless president ever? I seriously doubt it. But when we live out our faith we are tempted to react to the circumstances in new ways. We are getting barraged every day with the temptation to take revenge, live a lie, and divide up. Some of us are learning to hate, overstate and vacate — and we might even call it self-preservation!

Each of us matters; every action counts; and every drop of those poisons we ingest as the Body of Christ has to work its way out of the system. We get weak and preoccupied trying not to die instead of giving people life. We need to slap the Trump kool-aid out of whatever hand offers it to us. We are a strong body, but we live in a toxic environment — let’s be careful. The church in the United States has great resources — let’s be careful everyone.

 

The Sanchi, ice sheets, the Bible: Reasons to notice the crisis in Creation

Sanchi leaking all over Creation

This picture is the Iranian oil tanker Sanchi engulfed in fire in the East China Sea. On January 6 it collided with a Hong Kong-based tanker carrying grain and eventually sank eight days later. It was carrying 122,000 tons of condensate, a highly toxic and flammable mix of gas and oil products that is nearly impossible to clean up after a spill. The collision caused an explosion that sent thousands of tons of oil spilling into the ocean — at one point the spill was larger than the footprint of the Paris metro. The explosion killed all 32 crew members. It is still unclear what the impact on marine life will be. Globules of oil are washing up on the shores of Japan already. The substance can last in water for months and cause cancer and other complications at low concentrations. This spill is the world’s largest since the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which spilled millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. [See Reuters great graphics].

The day the Sanchi sank, the Trump administration was finding out that only one percent of the millions of acres newly opened up for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve were finding interested lessees. It was the first day Trump’s porn star affair became public. It was the day he attacked Democrats over DACA. And it was the day when it was revealed that Russian hackers were attacking the Senate. The U.S. newscasters were almost uniformly uninterested in the Sanchi, distracted by Trump’s skillful manipulation of the media for his ongoing reality TV show. This might be one of those huge disasters you never heard about because you live in the United States.

Creation is changing

Meanwhile, last month evidence came in about the thin Arctic icecap and never-before-recorded high temperatures there. The extended warmth staggered scientists. In February, Arctic sea ice covered 5.4 million square miles, about 62,000 square miles less than last year’s record low — the difference is an area about the size of the state of Georgia. Sea ice coverage in February also was 521,000 square miles below the 30-year normal — an area nearly twice the size of Texas. Sea ice is still growing, but whatever grows now is going to be thin and easily melted in the summer. The new heat released by the open, warming water impacts the jet stream which researchers think accounts for the weird winter storms in the U.S. and Europe.

Despite the alarming evidence, last year Trump backed out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, looking for a better deal. Mr Trump has called climate change a “hoax” in the past – one perpetrated by the Chinese. The President said in his June 2016 withdrawal announcement that the agreement put American workers,  particularly in the coal industry, at an “economic disadvantage.” The Paris Accord “as drawn and as we signed was very unfair to the US,” he said. But on January 10 he said the U.S. might get back in if he could correct the bad deal. He dithers while we needed to get serious twenty years ago.

It is all very bad news for the world, as I am sure you already think.

97% of publishing climate scientists agree that human activity, mainly greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change, only 28%-51% of evangelicals (depending on the survey) agree.  We might want to excuse their skepticism to some degree. It is true that some in the  environmentalist movement are so religious about “Mother Earth” that they scare away traditional people. And it is also true that some people promote climate change arguments because they want to make a buck on “green” technologies — they also promote skepticism. And then there is the Trump affect.

Artists call us to care for creation
The Caring Hand — Glarus, Switzerland

Christians don’t uniformly know whether they should care for the creation, for some reason. I think we, of all people, need to be at the front line. If you need help with your conviction, here are some Bible verses that reinforce the point.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15)

As the creation story goes, God gave humankind a command to tend, or keep the Garden. The Hebrew word for “tend” or “keep” means more than just keep it neat and tidy; it means “to guard” or “to watch and protect.” The other word in this verse that’s very important is “work” or as some translations more accurately say “to cultivate.” It is from a Hebrew word meaning “to serve.” So this verse could read: “The Lord God put them in the garden to serve it and to protect it.” Even if we did not have that verse, anyone feeling the earth with their toes instinctively knows its truth. Even if you don’t love the Creator, you know bad things will happen if you don’t take care of creation.

The nations raged, but your wrath has come, and the time for judging the dead, for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints and all who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying those who destroy the earth. (Revelation 11:18)

God cares about the creation. Some say he is going to destroy it all and give a new heavens and new earth to his followers. Since it is all going to burn up, why worry what happens to it? Others (like me) say that God intends to restore the earth and reconcile all creation to its rightful place in relationship with its Creator. We are either part of the restoration or the destruction.

Anyone who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and anyone who takes care of a master will be honored. (Proverbs 27:18)

This is a double proverb. If you tend the tree you’ll receive fruit. Are you tending a tree or just pillaging fruit? What’s more, the one who tends a fig tree will probably tend after other things as well. A master is looking out for people who can tend their own business well. That kind of person could oversee a master’s business. We might not be able to tend the world but we can tend our own little corner of it and do what we can where we live. We have a master looking for partners in redemption and our reputations begin in our own backyards.

You shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and no expiation can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. (Numbers 35:33)

God clearly commanded Israel to not pollute the land. The command here is to never pollute it with the blood of vengeance — sanctuary cities are being established! But even if this is not a direct word about never polluting the earth with carbon emissions and plastics, the principle can’t be ignored. The land must be stewarded and protected from what pollutes it.

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it. (Psalm 24:1)

In capitalist parlance, God holds the title on Earth and will hold us responsible for how we care for it. We are here by invitation. As we previously read in Revelation 11:18, those who abuse and destroy the earth will get justice. Knowing that the earth is not really ours, we should treat the earth with the respect of knowing it is God’s. The Lord is more than willing to share it with his beloved children.

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:49)

Jesus sums it all up with love. We are not excused from caring about what happens to our neighbor because of principle, profit or preference. If you suspect Jesus is just talking about caring for members of the Body of Christ, remember they are severely endangered all across the world due to everything from sinking cities to disappearing polar bears. Not caring is not an option.

One final verse: Psalm 46:2-3, “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Bad things are happening, but our salvation is not secured by undoing climate change. Undoing climate change springs from our love and our connection to our Creator in Jesus Christ, through whom everything was made. Redeemed people redeem the earth — or die trying, their destiny secure.

What does “pastor dominated” really mean functionally?

The Good Shepherd — Catacomb of Callixtus, Rome

We poll our Leadership Team once a year or so and they come up with the most interesting and useful stuff! They not only helps us think about ourselves better, they ask questions all sorts of people might ask if they ever got a chance. So this might apply to you and your church. Somebody asked, “What does pastor dominated really mean functionally?”

I am not sure where the person got the phrase “pastor dominated.” It is not like we have a proverb, or a line in the Cell Plan that says “We are pastor dominated” (as opposed to the undominated churches!). I’ve got a feeling I wrote it someplace. Because I have often said it when I was trying to be frank about how we operate. I don’t mean it in a bad way; I want to be pastor dominated. I want to be led. I need the leader.

Domination is almost a dirty word.

But I should use a gentler word than “dominated” shouldn’t I? I like things too colorful, I think (my grandchildren knew my favorite color was red before they asked me). I don’t think anyone in the  Untied States thinks highly of the word dominated, do they? Just look at the definition that comes up on Google:

“Domination” is “the exercise of control or influence over someone or something, or the state of being so controlled.”

That doesn’t sound so bad, right off, since parents obviously dominate their children for their own good, if they are a trustworthy parent. I have been using the word in a parental way. But the Google dictionary immediately uses the definition in a sentence like this: “evil plans for domination of the universe.” That sounds bad.

The synonyms given for “domination” are: “rule, government, sovereignty, control, command, authority, power, dominion, dominance, mastery, supremacy, superiority, ascendancy, sway.” That doesn’t really sound so bad. We need people in the lead and there are usually good reasons we put them there. I was using the word in a more discernment-process way, as if I had a love relationship with whoever was given sway. But the immediate example that followed the synonyms was “she was put off by the male domination sanctioned by her boyfriend’s family.”

Apparently the dictionary writers have never experienced a benevolent power, but have experienced a lot of untrustworthy dominators, especially men! When I was saying “pastor dominated” I assumed everyone was in Christ, who is Lord of the church, and “pastor” is just a function we recognize for the leader, who does indeed “dominate’ us in the sense that we listen to him or her and trust them to bring us together and lead as we have all discerned the Spirit wants us to go. The pastors are precious to us.

I think people don’t see dominators like I do

Of course, if I have a pastor who is dominating for the sake of domination, I am, indeed, in trouble. It is a common trouble, isn’t it? I don’t think anyone who has been around the church for long hasn’t met a leader who thinks leading is enjoying their supremacy and using command and control to exercise power for the sake of shoring up their weak ego or manipulating the system for their self-interest, conscious or otherwise. I have experienced that! I’ve probably done it! How could we not fear having such leaders when the White House staff acts so odd everyday under the leadership of a President who takes historical cues from Napoleon, apparently. If my pastor is unconscious, lazy, or does not serve me or us but serves their own interests instead, it is pretty disastrous. Then the leader of our dominion is a dominator like Google thinks they are, not a servant like Jesus.

I think I should not use the word anymore. But I still have to ask whether we ought to stick with how Jesus puts His own content into words or adopt the way the world uses words to describe its obsession with power. I think the person who asked the question, possibly, and certainly the people who wrote the Google definition are suspicious of everyone with power — maybe because they are are guarding their own! Paul appears to think very differently:

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.  And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. — Ephesians 1:20-25

There is power and Jesus uses it well. I am not trying to write the ultimate theology of power, here. But if you think Jesus is a ruler like Trump, you are mistaken. I thank God that Jesus is my Lord! I don’t have to diminish the word “Lord” because I am afraid of power or I think I have to resist God’s potential abuse of power to protect my autonomy and my own power! I gladly submit to the rightful king of the kingdom. I submit to his rule. Anyone who leads us is also submitted to his rule, or we are in trouble.

So what about the power to dominate?

The Bible writers talk about power all the time, and Jesus demonstrates what he thinks of earthly domination quite clearly. Paul says:

But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. — Romans 5:20-21

Isn’t he joyfully saying that it is grace that properly exercises dominion? It is sin and death that want to adjudicate who is wrong all day. If we are sure our pastors will dominate us for evil (or we just want to make sure they are properly suspected and surrounded by controlling policies), who is dominating, and by what power are they attempting to dominate?

We are called to live in trust of Jesus, who has been revealed as the power above all powers, ruling in truth and love. In his light, anyone who claims an inappropriate authority will be shown up for who they are, if not now, then in the end. I share Paul’s praise of Jesus:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. — Colossians 1:15-17

If anything is going to hold together in the church, it will be because Jesus is holding it together, not because we have everyone in properly-defined corrals for their unseemly power. One the contrary, we celebrate the power of Jesus unleashed among us.

So functionally, calling us “pastor dominated” (which I will stop doing, since Google has a lot of power) comes from an egalitarian place, since we are all listening to Jesus and following. The leader has a specific role in the body, not a right to dominate us in some antichrist way. They exercise leader power for our common good. We help them do this. We nurture, correct, encourage and love our pastors into their full capacity to move us, shape us, help us, and  teach us. We set them apart for a special role because we think they are given it by God, not because their innate power deserves it or demands it or because we are so foolish we can’t follow God without them. And that goes for all the other leaders we have unleashed — there must be 100 or more! They all lead because they are loved, not because they are greedy for power.

We know that any one of us might be called out to lead, if it were necessary. Would you do it? Probably. But, after all this, you might be afraid to heed the call because someone might tag you “dominating!” That would be trouble.

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We mostly have opponents because they oppose us, not because we are bad.

A few years ago, some of us were reading Psalm 109 together during our noon prayer time.  It may not be on your top-ten psalms list, so give it a try.

When we read it, we had a groupthink moment and ALL got the wrong impression about what was going on. When we heard verses 6-19, we thought the psalmist was pronouncing a long curse on someone! We suspected something like that was in the Bible, and here it was! It was hard to take thirteen verses of curse! We are nice, of course, and we at least keep our curses short.

Sometimes the Psalms feel a little rough to us, since we’ve all been taught to keep our emotions subject to our theories and politics. What’s more, a lot of us just don’t trust anyone, so we never share what we really think or feel. So all that angry, vulnerable poetry in the Psalms jars our sensibilities a little. This one seemed VERY jarring:

“May his children become orphans

            and his wife a widow.” (v.9)

Who would say such a thing!! We were uncomfortable reading it. How did THIS prayer get in the Psalms?

Oh, it is SOMEONE ELSE talking

The prayer had started off in a way we could relate to more easily:

 “In return for my love, they accuse me,

            though my prayer is for them.

And they offer me evil in return for good

            and hatred in return for my love: (Psalm 109:4-5)

That we could pray. We’ve all been abused and misunderstood. I’m not very good at seeing it — but I am sometimes hated. I’m usually shocked when I find out about what someone feels about me or says about me, but sometimes I do find out that I have an opponent who doesn’t mind taking me out behind my back. In return for my love, they hate me.

We thought what came next was the Psalmist pronouncing a long curse on the people who returned hate for love:

“Appoint a wicked man over him,

            let an accuser stand at his right…

Let his days be few,

            may another man take his post….

May his offspring be cut off,

            in the next generation his name wiped out”

It was going on and on. One of us finally said, “Whew!” Because we usually think – “If it is in the Bible, then it is an example for us.” If the Psalms are a prayer book, this is a wild prayer! But we were more than a little hesitant to say the prayer.

We didn’t understand that vv. 6-19 is a quote of what someone else is saying about the psalmist, not what he is saying about them. The prayer is about being taken out, being hated, being attacked by an evil person. He ends up crying out for mercy:

“And You, O Lord, Master,

            act on my behalf for the sake of Your name,

                        for Your kindness is good. O save me!

For poor and needy am I,

            and my heart is pierced within me.”

My realization after using this Psalm and studying what it really says is this: I can get surprisingly out of touch with the forces that are coming against me! Evil and its allies want me destroyed. You may have the opposite problem and think I am kind of nutty, since you’re effectively paranoid all day — so have some mercy. I had such a resistance to pronouncing a curse that I didn’t see the curse coming at me — even in the safety of my own prayer book!

Poor, needy, opposed — admit it

In Celtic Daily Prayer it says “Our society teaches us to be suspicious of what is good, and to listen passively to whatever is evil.” We are even getting used to Trump’s daily lies! We may not even be aware that evil is coming at us! Look at how so many have sacrificed children to screen domination and allowed porn to provide a generation’s sex education. When evil does come at us, we may invite it in for a drink because we are committed to being nice, or at least committed to appearing nice — “Who am I to judge whether any screens or sexual practices are unhealthy?”

I want to love and trust first, but I don’t want to be nice to evil. Even worse, I don’t want to impassively stew in what’s wrong until it cooks me.

So I recommend some appropriate drama today. Let’s pray it together: “I am surrounded! I am needy! Save me!” 2018 could be 2017 doubled, Lord!

Let’s be appropriately concerned that we might be mean to someone. But for those of you who are like me, let’s be appropriately aware that we have opponents. We’re doing good things and they will be opposed — so opposed that our opponents might wear us down or throw us into defensive apathy. Lord knows that if we keep harping on mass incarceration there is a domestic army willing to defend itself! We are made good in Jesus and we, because of that good at work within us, are dangerous, as far as the Lord’s opponents are concerned. They just might try to take us out. We just might need a Savior!

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Hurricane Harvey was not the distraction Trump imagined

Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Saturday, and is still doing damage. This unprecedented storm could have 3-4 more days to dump rain on the Houston area – up to 50 inches in some areas!

However, even headlines about Harvey have not been enough to make people forget all of the maneuvering that the Trump Administration did on Friday.

Donald Trump apparently thought Harvey would dominate the airwaves so he could do some things relatively unnoticed – like pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio, just as he warned he would do in a tweet not long ago. Political technicians call Friday’s ploy a “news dump.” In this case the president was using human tragedy for political gain. When asked about it, former RNC Chair Michael Steele said, “I can’t figure out crazy anymore.” Senate  Minority Leader Chuck Schumer  took to Twitter to accuse the President of using the storm as “cover,” and described that choice as, “So sad, so weak.”

The story of Arpaio’s pardon would not go away, despite the hurricane.  The conservative Washington Examiner, for example, published a very critical editorial under the headline, “Trump, once the law and order candidate, embraces lawless disorder with Arpaio pardon.” The editorial board of the Arizona Republic, Arizona’s biggest newspaper, declared that, “Donald Trump’s pardon elevates Arpaio once again to the pantheon of those who see institutional racism as something that made America great.”

If the administration is hoping everyone eventually forgets about all of this, it does not look like Arpaio is going to help out by fading away. Despite being 85 years old, and having been thrown out of office by the voters of Maricopa County, he says he’s considering running for office because, “I think I’ve got a big political message to get out.” If John McCain’s senate seat comes open, it would not be a surprise to see “America’s Toughest Sheriff” make a run at it.

like hurricane harvey

Why talk about this stuff?

It was a beautiful week last week in Pennsylvania. School is about to start. The church is ramping up to do great things. Why talk about Trump and some discredited racist sheriff from Arizona?

Here is one reason, as The Atlantic pointed out. Arpaio was not convicted of an ordinary crime, but of deliberately disobeying a federal court order and lying about that; but beyond that, during the litigation that led to his conviction for criminal contempt, he hired a private detective to investigate the wife of a federal judge hearing a case against his office.” Judges protect the rights of everyone in the United States – for a while yet. As Jesus followers, we are especially concerned for those who have no voice and few rights: the poor and oppressed – especially when the national sin of racism is prominent.

Another reason: Everyone in the news is teaching us, whether we are listening carefully or not. We are getting an idea of who we are from how our leaders act, even our children are learning about life from them. The news lets us know where we are now, and even more, it helps us discern where we need to go.

Right now, we are being led poorly and we need to go another direction. In all dire situations, in all times, the church needs to show where everyone needs to go. We never need to rely on elected officials to show us the way, but especially now, the leaders of the church should lead us to become an alternative to the madness. Trump is a big wind knocking down things that took a long time to build, and he, like Harvey, hits the poorest the hardest.

Here’s a final reason to listen to the news. Leaders need to listen. That means church leaders, parents, teachers, bosses, everyone. Trump is not listening. He is a textbook on lack of integrity. We need to take note. People may be briefly flummoxed by a narcissist, but they often figure out what’s going on. Even if they don’t fight back directly; they find ways to stop the process. So we will see where this all ends up. But, to be sure, a poor leader is bad for everyone. Beware! If you have responsibility, you need to wear it well. And don’t we all have some responsibility we should be taking seriously?

Is the movement finally starting? Keep praying and pushing.

When Donald Trump was elected, I hoped it was the final straw to break the power of delusion choking so many people here in the last days of the Empire. There is some evidence this week that my hope was not in vain. The Spirit of God is moving among us and in our region and people are waking up. Things are happening that remind me of the stories I have heard about Jesus appearing to Muslims in places where it is illegal to even entertain the thought of becoming a Christian. People who can’t trust and are afraid to think are meeting Jesus personally in ways that change them forever.

Movement: the Spirit poured out
Acts 2:17

The movement of the Spirit in our church never really ground to a halt, but it seemed to slow so much, we began to wonder if we were missing something or doing something wrong. Our “flywheel” was slowing down and we realized we had better get behind it and do some pushing so the engine of our mission would get back to speed. We have been doing that and things are changing.

But there is only so much pushing one can do. The movement of the Spirit in a group or society is a mystery that is more about prayer than technique. So I have been praying for us and praying for our region, country and the whole desperate world. And I am not alone. Many of us have been drawn to pray and we have even started groups to do it together.

Evidence keeps popping up that something is starting. I almost don’t want to talk about it, lest I be wrong. But it is hard not to appreciate the possibility.

Cell mates of all kinds

For instance, my pastor, Rachel, could not contain herself last week and had to share the good things happening  in our cells:

  • She visited our Spanish-speaking cell and sensed the presence of God so strongly it made her “choke back tears.” The members were opening up about their lives, sharing real struggles and then praying for each other and reading the Bible together. For some of them, it was all brand new.
  • At her own cell, her host “shared a growing sense that Someone is leading her into a future that she doesn’t know yet, and she is actually excited about that, because she’s discovering that God has better things in store for her than she had for herself. She’s being surprised by hope.”
  • Then on her walk home, she ran into three of Jimmy & Zoe’s cell mates who looked like something good had just happened to them. They had just prayed with two friends who asked to receive Christ right there in their meeting.

A deluded millennial

About the same time, I was looking around YouTube for this video when I ran into this one by Steve Bancarz. I understand about zero why anyone would listen to a YouTube personality or how they get a following. But here is this guy who apparently made a living selling “new age” philosophies through his website. Then he had this remarkable experience with Jesus, gave it all up, and started his new internet business: debunking his old one.

I almost never get through a fifteen minute video, but this one intrigued me. When it was done, I felt it might be a scam. But evangelical outlets like Christian Post and Charisma have been telling the story too. His experience is like ones reported by Muslims, in which Jesus came to him and convinced him to change. I think his fundamentalist connections are serving him well as he gets over his drug use. It should be interesting to see how he moves on. Is this how Jesus is going to penetrate the despairing, enslaved, avoidant and cynical millennials?

A burned out evangelical

Movement from outside and in
Ocean waves and brain waves

Finally, I have been reading an “earth” book I keep recommending to people who don’t have faith, or who are interested in the new atheist arguments: Finding God in the Waves. It is about a Christian who lost his faith but who also had a life changing experience with God at the beach one night. He became “Science Mike” on the podcast from the group known as the  Liturgists  who say, “We create art and experiences for the spiritually homeless and frustrated.” (I have not listened their podcast, I admit).  Gungor is also a “Liturgist;” you can click his name and get a ticket to hear him on August 1 at 1125 S. Broad.

In Finding God in the Waves, Mike describes how science convinced him faith is not only possible, but preferable. Here is a quote about what he found most convincing:

“Trying to describe God is a lot like trying to describe falling in love. And that’s a serious problem for people who doubt that God is real…The unbelieving brain has no God construct, no neurological model for processing spiritual ideas and experiences in a way that feels real. This is why Bible stories and arguments for God’s existence will always sound like nonsense to a skeptic. For the unbeliever, God is truly absent from his or her brain. …

[Unlike how Christians tend to view solutions to doubt] neurotheology treats doubt as a neurological condition and would instead encourage people to imagine any God they can accept, and then pray or meditate on that God, in order to reorient the person’s neurobiological image of God back toward the experiential parts of the brain.…This insight was the most significant turning point in my return to God. I now knew I had to stop trying to perfect my knowledge of God and instead shift toward activities that would help me cultivate a healthy neurological image of God – secure in the knowledge that this network would help me connect with God and live a peaceful, helpful life.” 

It all amazes me. The desperate immigrants and illegals, the millions who are deluded by spirituality without Jesus, the science-laden who think their disciplines exclude the possibility of God, all of them popped up in my own experience with a story about Jesus coming to them in a way they never expected. And now they are joined around our own table in an odd way, celebrating the life, death and resurrection of the Lord.

Pray and push. Move with the movement. I can tell you are doing it, so all I can say is that I am with you as you pray and push. I am with you as we celebrate how Jesus transforms people who never expected to meet Him.

Memorial Day lessons in Bruges

Thank God for GPS! We managed to squeeze our rental car through the medieval gates of Brugge (Bruges if you are coming from France instead of the Netherlands) and then navigate the cobblestone streets to our bed and breakfast. Every time we walked out our charming accommodation, I turned the wrong direction, but my phone delivered us. So we found our way to the significant sites where I learned a few stories of what happened in Bruges.

I am not writing this to tell you all about my trip to Europe; you can go to Brugge yourself sometime; Lord knows everyone else does. The city is so attractive, It is like Disney made Main Street, Belgium and dragooned people onto tour buses. With a chocolate store on every corner it’s irresistible.

Memorial Day is every day in Burg Square in Brugge

I’m writing to tell you one little story that seems appropriate for Memorial Day, when we remember people who have died in war. Belgium has been a big battlefield for about 400 years, so it seems appropriate to include them in our remembrance. Today, many of us will remember the valor and convictions of lost soldiers and the nobility of their sacrifice. Even when I think they were deluded and abused, I still respect their honor. Others of us remember how awful and senseless war is on Memorial Day, how it is a cyclical outbreak of evil that proves how much we need a Savior. No matter what it causes, gratitude or tears, I think turning the holiday into an excuse to BBQ is debasing what it means; not protesting the wickedness it signifies undermines our credibility as Jesus-followers; and just ignoring it diminishes our love. So let’s have a moment of seriousness, my friends.

My little story has to do with the war memorialized in architecture on Burg Square in Brugge — a war between church and state in Europe that is one of the many memories that make the church seem like a thing of the past throughout most of the continent.

We stumbled out of the bed and breakfast, disputing which way to turn, until I led Gwen the wrong way and Siri rerouted us. We were headed for Burg Square, the center of ancient Brugge, where we found the landmark (above) which Rick Steves told us would be the best vantage point. I opened my big, blue Belgium book, which flashed a “tourist” signal to the others in the square and began to read. A nice man speaking Dutch-seasoned English came up to us and began to embellish stories we had just started reading. One was about the two towers we could see from our vantage point. One was the tower on the church in the opulent Archbishop’s compound. One was the municipal tower connected to the civic authorities. Word is that the bishop made sure his tower was taller. The guide kind of sneered at the bishop and mocked the civil authorities because their fighting was so absurd. The constant fighting about which power would have the upper hand is embedded into Europe’s idea of the church.

On the same square was Brugge’s medieval claim to fame: the Church of the Holy Blood, in which resides a relic a Crusader brought back from the Holy Land – a vial of God’s blood. Periodically, this treasure is paraded through the streets for general veneration. We soon suspected that our friendly storyteller was working on a commission for being our unasked-for tour guide. So we told him we needed to make our pilgrimage to the afore-disparaged church.

Memorial Day for Billy with Trump, Murdoch, Palin
Billy Graham’s 95th birthday.

This memory sits in my mind like an indigestible bit of foreign food. I studied the investiture conflicts in history classes, but every time I run into the after-affects memorialized in European architecture I get a sick feeling. It is the same kind of queasiness I feel when Franklin Graham calls Trump God’s choice for president, or I hear of a white supremacist in Portland channeling the political zeitgeist by threatening Muslims on the train and then killing their protectors (about which Trump is so far silent, BTW). These kinds of actions are why people desert the church and and despise its search for coercive dominance. Gaining power does not mean justice. The only justice we’ll get is the kind Jesus distributes by the means he chose and chooses. When I remember war and the wars sponsored by the church, I get sin sick.

So, like I said on Friday, i expect to have some tears on my burger along with the ketchup today. It is a sin sick world and the leaders of the church, in general, let’s admit it, have been painfully susceptible to fighting for power in the name of Jesus while Jesus is fighting the powerful in the name of love. God help us to be the alternative.

Tears on my burger for Memorial Day

Memorial Day is not just a day to find great sales at Home Depot! It is a day on which those who died in active military service are remembered, traditionally observed on May 30 but now officially observed on the last Monday in May.

I usually observe it with tears,

This year I can especially remember the people, mostly young men, who were in active military service during World War I.  I just returned from Europe where, on a beautiful spring day, after cruising the back roads through the lush landscape of Northern France, Gwen and I made a pit stop at Verdun. We did not know there was such a beautiful museum dedicated to the long battle for the strategic territory between Germany and France.

Everyone seems to agree that World War I was one of the most useless wars ever. The curators of the collection we saw made sure we got that message.

The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was more than 38 million: there were over 17 million deaths and 20 million wounded, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history.

The total number of deaths includes about 11 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians. The Triple Entente (also known as the Allies) lost about 6 million military personnel while the Central Powers lost about 4 million. At least 2 million died from diseases and 6 million went missing, presumed dead. Disease, including the 1918 flu pandemic and deaths while held as prisoners of war, caused about one third of total military deaths for all belligerents.

Memorial Day in WWI
Fallen British and Australian soldiers in a mass grave, dug by German soldiers, 1916 or 1917

Let’s have some tears this weekend. Have a burger. Say you need to visit the facilities. Close the door and have a good cry.

The Verdun museum demonstrated, lest I forget, that the one-percent of the day got themselves into a ridiculous war, called upon the youth of their countries the serve the Fatherland, and let them die. As exhibit captions noted, once there, the soldiers knew it was a foolish, hopeless enterprise, but they had to defend their fellow soldiers. The war took on a life of its own, with little rationale except that it was being fought.

We have to note that our immense militaries, led by people like Trump, Putin and Duterte are bloated preparations longing for release. Trump berated NATO members this week for not spending at least 2% of their national income for military build up. No doubt millions more civilians will soon be forced to flee conflict, while their sons are convinced that blowing up others or themselves solves problems. It is happening in Syria, the Central African Republic and the the southern Philippines right now.

Make us peacemakers, Lord. Extract some tears from our hardened, apathetic hearts this weekend.

15 habits of success the rich stole from poor Jesus

Kevin Kruse of Forbes recently interviewed over 200 ultra-productive people including seven billionaires, 13 Olympians, 20 straight-A students and over 200 successful entrepreneurs. He asked a simple, open-ended question, “What is your number one secret to productivity?” After analyzing all of their responses, he coded their answers into the 15 unique ideas I’ve adapted for Jesus-followers who want to make a difference.

You might not be an entrepreneur, Olympian, or millionaire—or even want to be—but their secrets might help you to get more done in less time, and help you to stop feeling so overworked and overwhelmed. We church planters bite off more than we can chew as a matter of habit. In order to keep up with Jesus, we need to do the best we can with what we’ve got.

successful at being anxious

Make the most of your time

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. – Ephesians 5:15-16

Most of us are still working on organizing our days into hour and half-hour blocks on our calendar (if we can find the calendar!). Super successful people know there are 1,440 minutes in every day and there is nothing more valuable than time. Money can be lost and made again, but time spent can never be reclaimed. Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller says, “To this day, I keep a schedule that is almost minute by minute.” The idea is “You must master your minutes to master your life.” This is especially important if you want to be a super gymnast or millionaire. And it is especially relevant if you are your own master. But any human, locked in time for a while, knows that disciplining our time makes us more effective in accomplishing what we have been given to do.

Focus on one main thing.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:13-14

Our handhelds get us to multitask all day and soon the day has been like running ahead of a zillion demanding tasks. Productive people know their Most Important Task (MIT) and work on it for one to two hours each morning, without interruptions. (Those of us with children at home are fondly remembering such a time). Tom Ziglar, CEO of Ziglar Inc., shared, “Invest the first part of your day working on your number one priority that will help build your business.” What task will have the biggest impact on reaching your goal? We are interested in being whole people who reach the whole world with the whole gospel.  What needs to happen?

Get over to-do lists.

For I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, — Romans 16:7-9

Super effective capitalists schedule everything on their calendars. Maybe you don’t care about making money, but you would like to get something done. A study found that only 41% of items on to-do lists are ever actually done (if you make a to-do list, verify that).  And all those undone items lead to stress and insomnia because of the Zeigarnik effect. Highly productive people put everything on their calendar and then work and live from that calendar. “Use a calendar and schedule your entire day into 15-minute blocks. It sounds like a pain, but this will set you up,” advises Jordan Harbinger.

Imagine yourself overcoming procrastination

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.—Romans 1:13

Your future self can’t be trusted. That’s because we are “time inconsistent” (this used to be called, “fickle,” I think).  We buy veggies today because we think we’ll eat healthy salads all week; then we throw out green, rotting mush in the future. We buy a P90x because we want start exercising and the box sits unopened a year later. What can you do now to make sure your future self does the right thing? Anticipate how you will self-sabotage in the future, and come up with a solution to defeat your future self. Mentalizing about what you do to undermine yourself can turn those stumbling blocks into stepping stones.

Make it home for dinner.

I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. – Philippians 2:25-26

There is always more to be done, more that should be done, always more than can be done. If you can’t stop, you can never start. Successful people value more than work. Jesus followers value truth, community, worship along with family time, exercise, giving back. We must consciously allocate our 1,440 minutes a day to what we care about (i.e., put it on your calendar) and then stick to the schedule. If you don’t have a home, a dinner partner or a job, you have that many more disposable minutes; you don’t need to wait.

 Use a notebook.

 Take a scroll and write on it all the words I have spoken to you concerning Israel, Judah and all the other nations from the time I began speaking to you in the reign of Josiah till now. – Jeremiah 36:2

Richard Branson has said on more than one occasion that he wouldn’t have been able to build Virgin without a simple notebook, which he takes with him wherever he goes. In one interview, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis said, “Always carry a notebook. Write everything down…That is a million dollar lesson they don’t teach you in business school!” Ultra-productive people free their mind by writing everything down.

Process email only a few times a day.

Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. – Psalm 55:17

Some of us don’t process email at all, even if we are important to a task or a loved one. So that’s another issue. If you check it all day, just note that productive people don’t do that. They don’t respond to each vibration or ding to see who has parachuted into their inbox. Instead, like everything else, they schedule time to process their email quickly and efficiently. For some that’s only once a day. For others it is morning, noon and evening. As far as Facebook and other social media, they might delegate that.

Keep meetings short.

For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. – Colossians 2:5

Ideally, Jesus followers live in a perpetual “meeting” in the Spirit and are working in community, even when they are not in the same room. Our lives do not occur in our meetings, even though we love to meet. Love and truth is harder to achieve than profits, so sometimes a meeting will last all night. Mark Cuban says, “Never take meetings unless someone is writing a check” (but he also does Shark Tank). Meetings are notorious time eaters. They start late, have the wrong people in them, meander in their topics and run long. Many productive people avoid them whenever they can. Maybe you should hold fewer yourself, and if you do run a meeting, keep it short and pointed.

Say “no” – a lot.

Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. – Matthew 5:37

Billionaire Warren Buffet once said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” Another successful entrepreneur gives this tip: “If something is not a “hell, YEAH! Then it’s a “no!” There are only 1,440 minutes in every day. We make sure they count. Buffet is not that stingy about things, so feel free to disperse your minutes to the poor or however you are moved, just be sure to be moved.

Accept that things are often 80/20, not “fair.”

‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’  “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” – Mathew 20:13-16

The Pareto Principle teaches that in most cases 80% of outcomes come from only 20% of activities. Ultra-productive people know which activities drive the greatest results, and focus on those and ignore the rest.  All tasks are not created equal. All people do not deserve the same honor for being effective; they have to show they are effective. We may love everyone, but we are wise about who we entrust with what counts.

Collaborate as much as possible, accept half a loaf.

There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. — 1 Corinthians 12:6

Ultra-productive people don’t ask, “How can I do this task?” Instead they ask, “How can this task get done?” They take the “I” out of it as much as possible. Ultra-productive people don’t have control issues and they are not micro-managers. In many cases good enough is, well, good enough. They take half a loaf if it feeds their next steps.

successful at oppressing

Theme days of the week.

But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts;
they have turned aside and gone away.
They do not say to themselves,
‘Let us fear the Lord our God,
who gives autumn and spring rains in season,
who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.’
Your wrongdoings have kept these away;
your sins have deprived you of good.

“Among my people are the wicked
who lie in wait like men who snare birds
and like those who set traps to catch people.
Like cages full of birds,
their houses are full of deceit;
they have become rich and powerful
and have grown fat and sleek.
Their evil deeds have no limit;
they do not seek justice.
They do not promote the case of the fatherless;
they do not defend the just cause of the poor. — Jeremiah 5:23-8

Jeremiah needs to get in here near the end, because some people may be deluded by the ultra-effective people Forbes set up as examples. There are many more people who are ultra-effective at loving God and others, caring for the poor and evangelism. Forbes does not care about them, but they would be better examples. Nevertheless, I don’t mind appreciating brilliance wherever I see it — even among the damned and the destructive. Why should we bow before their rapacity and not have their wisdom serve our ends? So let’s finish this up and see if any of it applies to our ambitious goals.

Forbes’ highly successful people often theme days of the week to focus on major areas. Kruse uses “Mondays for Meetings” and makes sure he’s doing one-on-one check-ins. His Fridays themed around facts and figures and getting things today for the next week. Maybe you’d like to hear about Jack Dorsey’s themes; he is so effective he can be the CEO of Twitter and Square at the same time.

 Touch things only once.

In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,  which God will bring about in his own time — 1 Timothy 6:13-15

How many times have you opened a piece of regular mail—a bill perhaps—and then put it down only to deal with it again later? How often do you read an email, and then close it and leave it in your inbox to deal with later? Highly successful people try to “touch it once.” If it takes less than five or ten minutes—whatever it is—they’ll deal with it right then and there. It reduces stress since it won’t be in the back of their mind, and is more efficient since they won’t have to re-read or evaluate the item again in the future.

Practice a consistent morning routine.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly. – Psalm 5:3

It might surprise people that many of the highly successful people interviewed were eager to share their morning ritual. It is America in 2017, so someone figured out how to monetize what Psalm 5 has been giving away for free for about 2800 years and treat it as their own idea: Hal Elrod, author of The Miracle Morning, told Forbes, “While most people focus on ‘doing’ more to achieve more, The Miracle Morning is about focusing on ‘becoming’ more so that you can start doing less, to achieve more.”  Many of the successful agree. They start their day by nurturing their body with water, a healthy breakfast and light exercise. They nurture their minds with meditation or prayer, inspirational reading, and journaling. They are Jesus followers — most of them without Jesus, however.

Nurture your energy.

After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—Ephesians 5:29

You can’t make more minutes in the day, but you can increase your energy which will increase your attention, focus, decision making, and overall productivity. Highly successful people don’t skip meals, sleep or breaks in the pursuit of more, more, more. Instead, they view food as fuel, sleep as recovery, and pulse and pause with “work sprints.”

You have probably noticed the giant flaw in this thinking. Most of these highly successful people think they made all their wealth and power happen. The writer thinks following these common sense, biblical rules will make a person more successful like the super wealthy. It won’t hurt, of course. But millions of people are just as disciplined and wise, but are still poor and “unsuccessful” in the eyes of Forbes and the 1%. Some are just failures and will die trying to get into the club of capitalist proficiency experts. Others, like you, probably, just have different goals and your relationship to the world is different. We have an unhinged president who, by all accounts, is successful. You probably want to be less like him every day! But I can’t help thinking that we need to get better at doing the God-given things with which we are charged since people who are proficiently wicked rule us more efficiently all the time.

Chaos and creation for Holy Week: Demise and rise of your institution

No metrics exist to measure life without institutions, because they’ve been around as long as humankind. The first institution was the first family. The tribe was the first community. The first tribe’s leader was the first politician, and its elders were the first legislature. Its guards, the first police force. Its storyteller, a teacher. Humans are coded to create communities, and communities beget institutions.

So what institutions are being created now?

What institution does a robot make?
Look out Pizza Dads

When the present disaster is over, what institutions will have been created? Something is happening. CBS Sunday Morning suggested it might be created by robots. Gwen and I suggested it might be creating more anxiety and depression, the life disorders that can be associated with severe self-interest, a turning in on oneself, the mental illnesses of being alone.

Social prophets keep talking about chaos syndrome as the trickle down contribution of our present elites. In general, the idea identifies a chronic decline in  a system’s capacity for self-organization, especially the political system. It begins with the weakening of the institutions and brokers—political parties, career politicians, and congressional leaders and committees—that have historically held politicians accountable to one another and prevented everyone in the system from pursuing naked self-interest all the time. As these intermediaries’ influence fades, politicians, activists, and voters all become more individualistic and unaccountable (and anxious and depressed!). The system atomizes. Chaos becomes the new normal—both in campaigns like Donald Trump’s and in government actions like the House of Representatives considering healthcare.

Among the disintegrating institutions of government
Some of our reps in DC last night

Government is all most people think we have for an institution, but there are a lot more disintegrating before our eyes. There are four ex-Catholics for every new one in the United States, for instance. Local schools cope with chaos every day. We had people deployed to pray on the steps of our governments last night in honor of Jesus doing the same; it was very hard to find any radicals to believe in prayer, to believe in extravagant gestures of prophecy, or to believe they should even think about what disintegrating institutions are creating.

What is the solution to disintegrating institutions?

Frustrated people are trying to fill the vacuum left by disintegration. We don’t trust any news outlets, so like-minded “followers” and “friends” feed us news online. People sometimes barter on eBay, even start local businesses rather than bow to Amazon. Parents increasingly homeschool their children rather than expose them to under-supported public schools. But most of that is coping, not creating nourishing institutions. Any Sociology 1 student can tell you we need the organizing institutions provide; it’s how things get done. But by Sociology 2 they can probably cite a study that shows how many people despise all institutions; they even hate their church if they think it is institutional, since they don’t like “institutionalized” religion.

When people trust their institutions (you may not remember such a time), they’re better able to solve common problems. Research shows that school principals are much more likely to improve struggling  schools where people have a history of working together and getting involved in their children’s education. Communities bonded by friendships formed at church are more likely to vote, volunteer, and perform everyday good deeds like helping someone find a job. And governments find it easier to persuade the public to make sacrifices for the common good when people trust that their political leaders have the community’s best interests at heart. Institutions — even dysfunctional ones — are why we don’t experience common chaos.

The heart of the institution
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At least for a while we may not experience total chaos. I pray chaos does not engulf us. Which brings me to praying during this holy week. Some people  probably saw Jesus riding into Jerusalem yesterday as the perfect agent of much-needed, anti-institutional fervor. They will follow his movement all week as he upends retail business on Monday, invades higher learning on Tuesday, subverts family and social norms on Wednesday, performs alternative religious rites on Thursday with his subversive cell, defies government authority on Friday and undermines the supposed laws of nature on Sunday. They see him as a big ball of chaos. I agree that he is the great disrupter.

But all through this holy week  Jesus is doing a lot more than being an amazing individual who can stand against all forces, alone and in control. Much deeper, what is happening all week is this: Jesus is God, again brooding over the chaos and exercising his redemptive creative touch. What Jesus is doing, for anyone with eyes to see, is creating something new in the chaos of the fallen institutions. The main new institution he is creating is the church. One will not be able to summarize what he is doing in a sociology book; he is not institutionalizing something alongside all the other institutions. He is the metric by which life is measured — and his grace is new every morning, like this one. He is happening no matter what happens.

Last night our reps in Washington DC, Harrisburg, Trenton and Philadelphia prayed a common liturgy that restated the heart of our revelation in these troubling times. It ended with:

It all happens on a cross
it all happens at a state execution
where the governor did not commute the sentence
it all happens at the hands of an empire
that has captured our imagination
it all happens through blood
not through a power grab by the sovereign one
it all happens in embraced pain
for the sake of others
it all happens on a cross
arms outstretched in embrace
and this is the image of the invisible God
this is the body of Christ.

But can anyone still be part of the body of Christ? Are we so reduced we can’t connect? can’t covenant? can’t marry? can’t build anything together? Our church is living proof that is not so. We are doing it. But the chaos does not stop undermining us. Each Holy Week is a test of our capacity for living. If there are no holy people to experience the Holy Week, if no one makes the connection between what Jesus did and what He is creating through us, our institution isn’t the body of Christ, it is just one more thing we mistrust and destroy.