Maybe you aren’t disgusted enough just yet

road-mountains-street-countrysideSojourner. Exile. Pilgrim. Alien. Foreigner. Immigrant.

These are words that most uniquely describe God followers throughout Scripture and history. You might say such designations find their ultimate expression in Jesus’ words from John 17.16 “They [my disciples] are not of this world, as I am not of this world.”

But most Christians–in America, at least–are indistinguishable from the world.

Why?

Jesus is so clear. The prophets are clear. The apostles Paul and Peter and John are clear. James, the brother of Jesus is clear–friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God.

So why the willingness to get in bed with the world, to lay there, strewn about in an adulterous sprawl?

Maybe we aren’t disgusted enough. That’s Eugene Peterson’s answer in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. More accurately,

A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way.”

There’s Eugene. Whispering wonder into world-weary souls that have been consumed by consuming everything and having nothing to show for it.

Until you’re really disgusted with the pattern of wanting, getting, and regretting, nothing will change. Until the tastes of momentary indulgence and fleeting happiness are no longer appetizing, nothing will change. Let alone choosing the way of Christ. The Way that says the more of yourself you give away, the more you find.

How much more will you have to get, consume, envy, or lease before you are disgusted enough to change? And when that disgust reaches a tipping point, to what or whom will you turn as an alternative?

This turn, biblically speaking, is called repentance.

 

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Christian in America or American Christian: A distinction

Image result for american flag

I am a Christian.

I am an American.

God saw fit for me to be born into a great country as well as born again into a great covenant–that is, the covenant of grace.

In the midst of this tumultuous election season, replete with a variety show of interviews, articles, and debates, I find myself at a loss. To quote my fellow millennial/Gen Y folks, “I can’t even.”

The question for me comes down to which one of these phrases best describes me. In view of my life, my hope, my spending, my conversations–both in person and on the other side of a screen, which is more accurate? I am an American Christian–or–I am a Christian in America.

Is there really a difference? I think so.

I don’t believe “Christian” should really be modified by any adjective. But that’s another blog.

For me it’s about how I am to be Christian in America. The same would be true for a Christian in Africa, in Iraq, or in  Barbados. I believe a drastic blurring between these two  notions of Country and Faith is prevalent in Evangelical churches across the US.

The “American Christian” understanding, albeit painting with broad strokes, is predominant among self-identified Republicans, perhaps some Libertarians as well.

I don’t consider myself a Republican or Democrat or Libertarian or Whig. So it’s not about red state, blue state for me.

Where I see the grave disconnect is that point when identifying as a “conservative” equates to bashing leaders, not praying for leaders, and making soul-level judgments based on a veto or policy.

Lest my historiography fail me, the President of the United States does not sign on to be the protector of all things “Christian.” Religious liberty, yes. And I can argue that such liberty is being infringed upon. But for those buying into the rhetoric that a certain president will make life better for Christians, I simply don’t see it.  Moreover, what constitutes better? The Church has been thrown to lions and hung on trees since her inception.

I love freedom. And there’s no freer place than America, as far as I know. If Christians in America spent as much time praying for her leaders as bashing, condemning, or judging them, God would be honored in that. Perhaps God would honor those prayers.

As one pastor in Tennessee put it, “We have about as much chance of changing America battling over hot  button issues as we do of curing malaria by swatting all the mosquitoes in the world.” Not a lot of amens after that one.

What if–just try to imagine this, please–what if…

  • Evangelical Christians in America experienced as much angst  over poverty in the US and across the world as over politics?
  • Or if they expressed the same degree of indignation over their neighbors and coworkers not knowing the Lamb who was slain to make them sons and daughters of God?

Come Monday morning, would the same damning vitriol spit towards a person created in the image of God come out of the mouth that, just fifteen hours earlier, sang of God’s amazing grace?

It’s not easy to see oneself foremost as a citizen of heaven. In fact, everything about this world is aimed at blinding us from such a vision. But I know of no other way to live faithfully according to the gospel, since it is the gospel that informs all that we do, whether in word or deed.

Image result for crown and cross

The writer of Hebrews speaks to this tension of citizenship and identity,

These all (saints of old) died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. 14 Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland... 16 But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-14,16, HCSB)


 

Passe or Priceless: Psalm 119 and the Worth of the Word

I have been reading through Psalm 119 again in an effort to rekindle a hunger and desire for the Scriptures in a life giving manner. I tend toward an academic kind of reading of the Word, which has its place–though I would provide numerous cautions in that endeavor. But the kind of reading I was taught doesn’t line up with the message of Psalm 119.

The psalmist speaks of the unsurpassed joy of keeping the laws of the Lord, of walking in his commandments, of meditating on his precepts. The more we read his words, the more faithful to them we should be. And the more faithful we are to him in that way, the more our appetite for the Scriptures increases. Our spiritual metabolism, so to speak, ramps up as we apply what we read and are faithful in the things we know for certain (rather than getting bogged down in the uknown).

In Psalm 119 I read Spirit-inspired words like:

  • I will fix my eyes on all your commandments (6)
  • I will delight in your statutes (16)
  • My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times (20)
  • Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors (24)
  • I will run in the way of your commandments (32)
  • Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain (36)
  • My hope is in your rules (43)
  • At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules (62)
  • It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes (71)
  • The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces (72)

Okay, that last one…seriously? What would that be in dollars? The last I saw, a $20 gold piece was worth roughly $1400. So, carry the 1, divide the remainder into the square root…3,000 of those coins would be $4.2 million. Is the law of God’s mouth, in practice and lived out, better to me than $4,200,000? “Oh yes, absolutely! No doubt!” he exclaimed without flinching.

Then why do I not hesitate to push that law aside in order to justify my lack of action to care for the least of these? It takes me about $40 to sell out…let alone $4.2 million.

I’m pleading with the Lord to let me read his Word anew, with fresh eyes and an undivided mind. “Incline my heart to your testimonies, Lord.”

I want to desire the Word and long for it, more than a latte or new shoes. The video below is a reminder that what has become passe for us in America is still priceless to some:

What Does Christmas Say About Your Rights?

You’re reminded every day of the rights that you have (especially if you’re an American). You have the right to vote, to free speech, to a fair trial, to consume, to vote, and on and on.

But that first Christmas is when rights died.

Jesus had the right to enter the world a heralded kind and hero, wealthy beyond the world’s imagination, loved by all, recognized by all–whether by choice or force. He had the right to call on 10,000 angels to deliver him from the suffering and death he was born to endure. 

But when the Son of God became Immanuel, those rights died.

 

 

American Amnesia and Its Cure

In studying History “we learn to listen to voices that differ from our own” and are reminded that we are “part of a human story that is bigger than ourselves.” The quoted portions are from John Fea’s book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? I’ve just begun the book and will blog on it over the course of my reading. But those quotes in particular provide a segue into the topic at hand, namely, choosing to remember our history and thus overcoming amnesia.

The title of this blog suggests that the amnesia in question is curable. That is because the amnesia I speak of is a chosen one; it is a preference for the pragmatic and practical present over the unfamiliar and unsettling past (and unfortunately there is little connection between the two today).

Jason Bembry is a professor of Old Testament and this blog is basically a scaled down presentation of an essay he wrote on this issue. He begins by recounting examples from the OT in which Israel’s sins are laid bare for the world to see (and for us to read). In other words, there is great transparency when you read the history of Israel. Examples include: Abraham lying about Sarah being his sister to save his own rear (Gen 12:13 and 27:19); Judah impregnates a prostitute who turns out to be his daughter-in-law in disguise and declares she [Tamar] must be killed when finding out she’s pregnant (Gen 38:24), and the list goes on. Bembry lays out several of these types of “foibles” in order to make clear that Israel was constantly reminded of its darkest days. And such remembering would play a key role in moving forward.

America, on the other hand, is all about the future. In the words of professor and prophet Cornel West, Americans are particularly fascinated with the future, desiring to talk about the future as if the past did not exist. This is what Dr. West terms “historical amnesia.” The darkness of America’s past is dubbed by West “the nightside of our existence.” Of what does this consist? Patriarchy and classism, ripoffs of native lands, national haughtiness, jingoism (extreme patriotism/nationalism marked by aggressive foreign policy), xenophobia (an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange)–I would include racism in this latter category.

What is at stake in forgetting the nightside is we run the risk of recounting a one-sided telling of our past, says Bembry. It’s like “a triumphant symphony with no minor chords that benefits us and those like us.” Remembering these things can bring healing. Look at the example of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of post-apartheid South Africa. The success of such a commission hinged on transparency and honest introspection.

West uses the imagery of “blue notes,” those notes of dissonance in our past, to encourage us to listen carefully. Our past is riddled with uncomfortable truths. But examining those truths “will constitute positive steps in the direction of thwarting a regression toward bigotry…” West notes a particular danger, namely, that “efforts to tell the truth about America’s past fans and fuels underlying division along lines of race and class.” However, honesty always has risks. Nobody wants to promote any group as having their primary identity be that of ‘victim.’ But cannot people stand together and hold oppressors accountable? This is the question Bembry, vis-a-vis West, asks.

So what would such a practice look like in America? What would it look like to honestly, transparently, and vigorously remember our nightside? Is it possible that in following the lead of the Old Testament that our remembering could spur on a movement of redemption and reconciliation?

If you’re interested in the article–which does a far better job at explaining this and encouraging us to remember–follow this link and download the article for free. God’s grace.