How should we then live?

2 02 2021

It was sitting in the “to read” section of my bookshelves for years, yet for some reason I never got around to picking it up. And while I donated it, unread, to a local used book store when I moved eight years ago, the title is one that remains stuck in my head still today. I might even say that it ‘haunts’ me; and I choose that word because the way I see so many people living today does, in fact, haunt me.

Evil is the only word to accurate;y describe the actions of White Christian Nationalists today: those who have been rightly labeled ‘homegrown terrorists,’ and who have been declared a greater threat to America’s national security than anyone or anything else. We should be haunted by such people! What kind of faith leads to the kind of behavior that was displayed on January 6th, when with “Jesus Saves” signs in hand, a seditious mob, full of professing Christians, rioted in and looted our nation’s Capitol? Surely, it is not too harsh to say ‘only an evil one!’ Racism is their unifying ideology, and their desire for this nation is nothing less than a return to what they consider to be White, Christian, heterosexual norms. And anyone who would dare stray from those norms is considered to be unAmerican.

And what about the misinformation that such people spread: completely incapable of even ‘speaking the truth,’ let alone doing so ‘in love’? While people always have and always will interpret data and science differently, rejecting and denying them for one’s own political power grab and personal gain, is nothing short of sinful. That too should haunt us. Because while exposure to a diversity of opinion is actually one of the things that makes us stronger, both individually and as a nation; facts are still facts! And when people lose their grasp of truth, and when large segments of the population knowingly perpetuate misinformation and disinformation, evil is left to reign.

But above all, nothing should haunt us more than a religion or a patriotism that is rooted and grounded in cruelty and coldness! It’s not just a lack of kindness and compassion that we see in Christian Nationalists today, but we continue to witness attitudes and actions that are blatantly hurtful and hateful, vindictive and violent. Such behavior has become an acceptable norm, rather than a condemnable exception; and it not only flies in the face of Jesus’ life, but it moves us and our society further and further from anything that might come close to resembling the kindom proclaimed by the Christ.

So . . . “how should we then live?”

Is that really a hard question to answer? Do we really need a book to tell us?

I certainly don’t want to be too simplistic, or in any way minimize the wisdom of Francis Schaeffer. But it seems to me that if we just look to Jesus, the answer to this question will be quite clear.

First, we should live in ways that are boldly and intentionally anti-racist: that resist and push back against ways of being that perpetuate systemic and institutionalized forms of harmful discrimination towards people based upon the color of their skin. Second, we should live in ways that are honest and truthful, and that promote authenticity in our relations with one another. And finally, we should live in ways that show kindness and compassion to everyone – even those we may not like or those who we think may think may not deserve it!

It’s really not all that complicated. ‘How should we then live’ is one of the easier questions that life poses. And frankly I think most of us know full well how we are to live. The bigger question is do we have the courage to do so! Do we have the wisdom and strength to be a people striving to live anti-racist lives; always seeking truth, and speaking it to power; and doing it all with the love of Jesus burning in our hearts? Do we have a faith that will allow us to put down our books, and to live the way Jesus did?

I hope so.

Schaeffer remains one of the intellectual giants of American Evangelicalism, and his books have become classic bestsellers. But if we have to make a choice between reading about the Christian life, or living the Christian life, dare I suggest we donate our books and start living. Because living like Jesus is the only thing that has the capacity to transform this world. And that, is how we should live!

It’s Inauguration Day America – Happy Easter!

20 01 2021

Some might think it odd for a pastor’s favorite Easter song to come from the likes of Nina Simon and Michael Bublé. But for me, nothing communicates the new life that Jesus brings to our lives and to our world like “Feelin’ Good.” Written in 1964 for a British musical, the song lifts up images from creation, and sentiments of the heart, that ring poignantly true to my understanding of resurrection. And today, on the inauguration of our nation’s 46th president, my thoughts are being drawn to this important theological concept.

Birds flying high, you know how I feel
Sun in the sky, you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel

Regardless of how one feels or what one thinks about the past four years, today marks the beginning of something new. And the newness that we celebrate today is nothing short of Easter-like. Like the tomb and the grave that Christ-followers remember on Good Friday – the bleakness and hopelessness of yesterday, the pain and the grief of the past – this day, all of that is forced to step aside so that morning might come to America. As the sun rises on our nation’s capitol, which two weeks ago was full of violence and evil, today we can open our eyes to a bright new day, full of potential and possibilities.

Fish in the sea, you know how I feel
River running free, you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree, you know how I feel

On the outside, the world may not feel as though much as changed. Racism will continue to deny America’s claim of ensuring liberty and justice for all; and sexism will continue to hold back and hold down more than half of the US population. The rich will continue to get richer, while the poor will continue to be marginalized and thus remain powerless in the face of an idolized and idealized capitalism. And democracy will continue to be threatened by the misinformed, the undereducated, and those whose lives are controlled by fear. But, even with all of our imperfections, America remains ripe for transformation. New life is waiting for anyone and everyone willing to reach out, grab hold of it, and begin to live into the Spirit’s promised ‘heaven on earth.’

Stars when you shine, you know how I feel
Scent of the pine, you know how I feel
Oh, freedom is mine, and I know how I feel

No! Our trust is never put in human rulers or earthly kindoms! The empires of this world and the leaders they create are never the well-spring of our hope nor the birthplace of our joy. Never-the-less, we stand firm on the words of the Psalmist: “Blessed are those who reject the path of violence, who refuse to associate with criminals, or who even sit with people who belittle others.” Presidents and prime ministers, kings and queens can either resist God’s work in the world, or they partner with the Spirit to bring about a better tomorrow. And today, we trust the later to once again become a realty in this nation that we love.

So Happy Easter America. I know it’s only January, but he’s still risen. It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life for me.

And I’m feeling good!

Glenda is wrong!

8 01 2021

With the clear and decisive election of Joe Biden in the 2020 election, I had been hoping that I would never again have to type the name of “45” in any of my blogs! But as with anything-Trump, such hope-filled dreams always end in a frightening scene from your worst nightmare. And so today, less than two weeks before the inaugurations of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, we are still being forced to deal with a petulant, infantile narcissist: pouting over his defeat, perpetuating lies and conspiracy theories, and perpetrating seditious and tyrannical behavior that will only further mar his legacy of deceit and deception.

Like Glenda, the good witch from “The Wizard of Oz”, I want to simply say, “Be gone, you have no power here!” But while Trump, and Trump’s power, will be severely limited once he leaves office later this month; “Trumpers” and “Trumpism” will be around for a long time, and their power will be long-lasting. There are still 70 million Americans – just over 1/5 of our population – who fail to see the evil they encourage. There are still far too many radical, right-wing extremists in Congress who stand, not for, but against the very ideals that have the potential to make America both good, and great! And there are still far too many Republicans who remain whimpishly silent in the face of this President’s assault on Democracy and the very fabric of American society. But most tragically, there are still far too many White Churches, full of the people most responsible for the election of Donald Trump and for the validation of his racist worldview, that aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. For while their unwavering support for the actions of this administration have only further shortened their already a declining life-span, the death of American “Christianity” is still a long way off. And so the power of the White Church will continue to drag down American society.

Theologians and sociologists will likely study this phenomenon for generations to come, but I am confident that one of their conclusions will be that clergy need to shoulder much of the blame for the events of the past four years. For we have not only permitted the promulgation of a distorted version of the Gospel, but we have perpetuated it, and for generations. WE are the ones responsible for the state of the American Church today. And we are the ones who have made the Trump presidency possible. And therefore WE are the ones who need to be leading the charge for change.

But . . . that charge, must be more than a call to pray!

Like the disingenuous words of so many in the current administration, who finally, after the White Terrorism of this past Tuesday, terrorism that resulted in the desecration of the US Capitol, dared to condemn the actions of this President, the call to prayer by some of America’s clergy is too little too late. Pastors and preachers, who for the past four years have had nothing to say about the actions of this administration, should continue to remain silent, for they have lost the right to speak up now.

If over the past four years we have not preached on sermon on the politics of Jesus; if we have not led a Bible Study on the treatment of immigrants and refugees; if we have not done a Children’s Sermon on kindness and compassion, bulling and name-calling, or lying and telling the truth; if we have not sent a ‘get-out-the-vote’ postcard to a resident of Georgia, or attended a rally with a member of our congregation, or protested beside a person of color; if we have not read a book on racism or White privilege . . . if all we have done is written and read beautifully crafted prayers, imploring God to bring about the Divine will for creation, then such a misguided understanding of prayer disqualifies us from being able to call people to it! We have no right to speak up now. And something as simplistic as a call to prayer only harms our witness, as well as the witness of people of faith everywhere!

Embracing the misguided belief that politics does not belong in the Church, or that Jesus never challenged the theology of empire, demands that we reconsider our understanding of the Gospel. And allowing our fear of offending a certain segment of our congregation, or valuing ‘niceness’ over the promotion of Christ-likeness, demands that we reexamine our calling.

Like the Wizard of Oz, God has given us minds so that we can think, hearts so that we can love, and courage so that we can face the evils of our day. To America’s clergy I say the time for change is here. With a new administration comes a definite shift in power. But the power of White Supremacists and Christian Nationalists, the power of violent racists and right-wing extremists, the power of Trumpers and Trumpism remains. Fortunately, while Glenda is wrong and evil continues to have a great deal of power, the power of the Gospel is greater. And we who dare to preach the Gospel need to carefully steward our gifts, channeling the power of the Spirit for the glory of God.

Over the past four years, White Evangelicalism has signed its own death warrant. Thankfully! So now, we Whites who are left in the Church need to stand with our BIPOC siblings in the faith community, and work with them to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Following their lead, we need to work together to dismantle racism and eradicate White privilege; and as one body, the Body of the risen Christ, we need to be bold in our speaking truth to power. In the power of the Spirit, a power that transcends all other power, we need to strive to build a world where God’s will is indeed done . . . on earth as in heaven. For only then will be able to look into the eyes of the evil that we saw on Tuesday and say, “Be gone. You have no power here!”

The Church isn’t closed this Christmas!

23 12 2020

For more than nine months now countless businesses, offices, restaurants, and schools have been forced to close their doors. Adults have been working from make-shift home-offices set up on dining rooms tables, and children have been going to school in their bedrooms, at newly-made study cubicles quickly thrown together by desperate parents. For a variety of reasons, most of which are appropriate and acceptable, life as we know it has been dramatically altered: all in an attempt to accommodate measures sought to ensure the health and safety of the American people. The Coronavirus pandemic has literally shut down communities, and its impact on our society will be felt for years to come

But let’s be clear, the Church is not closed this Christmas. In fact it’s never been closed. Most of our congregations have been asked not to gather together for worship in large numbers; but we’ve not been ‘shut-down’ as some would have us believe. The Church, and worship for that matter, are so much more than what happens in our buildings on Sunday mornings and Christmas Eve. Which is why throughout 2020, the ministries of so many churches have not just continued uninterrupted, but in many cases have grown and developed to become more than they were pre-COVID-19. And while most of the Presbyterian pastors and Presbyterian Churches that I know understand this, many Christian congregations do not! So it’s important for us to be clear about a few things.

First, congregations that have not worshipped in-person for the past nine months are not being denied their constitutional rights, nor are they being in any way oppressed by the government. Most Churches have chosen not to engage in any activities that might put their people at risk. We know that worship is how we live our lives Monday thru Saturday, and not just from 11:00 – 12:00 on Sunday mornings or at midnight on Christmas Eve. So while gathering together for praise and prayer is part of worship, it is indeed just that – part of worship. And although that part of worship can be extremely meaningful, we have made the conscious and intentional choice to put that part of worship on hold until it is safe.

Second, because the Sunday morning experience is just part of a congregation’s worship life, we have chosen to focus on other ways of worshipping God, ways that are actually more faithful to the mandates of Scripture and more reflective of the teachings of Jesus. The prophet Isaiah makes it clear that the fast God desires is “to loose the bonds of injustice, to share our bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into our homes, and to clothe the naked.” THIS is our worship; and these are the activities in which countless congregations have been engaged throughout 2020. When it comes to all of our religious and denominational rites and rituals that come with most Sunday morning gatherings, God could not be less impressed! For faith that does not amount to more than spending an hour in our buildings for what we call worship, is not the faith we desire. Do we really dare believe that coming together, so that we can sing to Jesus, and tell him over and over again how much we love him, is in any way reflective of Micah’s call “to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly?” Have we forgotten what God asks of us?

Finally, NOT gathering in large groups, even for things as important as Bible Study and Christian Formation, reveals a Church that is not only “not closed,” but one that is actively aware of and engaged with the world around us. It reveals a faith community that is open, and mindful of the context in which it is seeking to model the way of Jesus: caring for others and putting the needs of the most vulnerable before anyone and anything else. It reveals a faith community that is eager to minister in ways that reflect our desire to serve, and not just be served; and that is seeking to care for the least among us. Further, we do all of this with masks and in small groups, not because the government tells us to, but because we know this is what Jesus would do! We make sacrifices for the common good because we know that this is how our faith calls us to live; and we do not resist communal attempts to prevent others from getting sick because we think that those attempts are somehow a violation of our crazy political ideologies or worldviews.

No, the Church is NOT closed. It remains open! Wide open! And this Christmas, we invite you to join us for worship: not by getting all decked out in your holiday best to show up in a worship service on Christmas Eve; but rather, like Mary, by becoming a “Christ-bearer” to the people in your life. It’s not too late to become a Secret Santa to one of your “senior” neighbors. Or perhaps you might team up with a friend and prepare a meal for your local shelter; or take a plate of homemade Christmas cookies to that friend who is all alone. This year, worship may mean something as simple as putting on a mask when you go to the grocery store, or rejecting the selfish lies and agendas of those who would have us believe that this pandemic is nothing more than some kind of grand, world-wide, conspiracy to hurt or control people! This is how the Light that is Christ shines in the midst of a pandemic, and it’s how we share that Light with others.

As I walk the campus of the church I currently serve, I can’t help but notice how empty it looks. But we are far from closed. In fact, our congregation is as active as it has ever been! This holiday season, our people have fed more than 50 adults in our community dealing with mental illness. We have prepared Christmas Dinner bags for more than two dozen needy families; and each Friday night in December we are providing dinner for up to 50 people in our local shelter. We are collecting hats, gloves, and scarves for a local non-profit; and we proclaiming the reality of Emmanuel, God with us, online, in word and song, week after week after week. Our light is indeed shining in the darkness, and darkness shall never overcome it.

No way! The Church is definitely NOT closed this Christmas. We’ve never been closed. So enjoy the holidays. Keep the light that is you, shining brightly for all to see. And until we’re all able to once again meet safely for in-person worship, may the hope, peace, joy, and love that are Jesus, fill each and every corner of this pandemic-ridden world!

Merry Christmas Church!

Denmark: So much more than its pastry!

30 11 2020

No bakery in America makes anything that even comes close to the pastry made in Denmark – not even Trader Joe’s! Their Kringle is good, but it simply cannot stand up to what is found in every bakery, on every corner, in every town, in the world’s oldest kingdom!

Danish pastry is light, flakey, not too sweet, crunchy along the edges, and oooh . . . just writing about it makes my mouth water. The poppy seeds on the Teabirkes, the shortbread and raspberry jam of a Hindbaer Tar,; and the smooth custard of a Lindse, all contribute to a confection that puts Krispie Kream to shame. Even places like Nothing Bundt Cakes or Duck Doughnuts cannot compete! Upon my arrival in Denmark I quickly become a ‘one-a-day’ pastry kinda’ guy: two or three, if my wife lets me.

But Denmark is so much more than its pastry. I’m not sure I realized that when I first studied there back in 1982, but over the past 38 years I have come to see Denmark as one of the kindest and most compassionate nations on the face of the earth. That is likely why it is so often said to be one of the happiest!

At first glance, Danes can quite easily appear cold and aloof. They are an extremely private people: not in a ‘leave-me-alone-I-want-nothing-to-do -with-you’ kind of way; but rather they are simply a people who don’t need to be the center of attention. Most Danes quietly go about their days, thoughtfully, intentionally, and without any pretense or fanfare.

But when you get to know the people and the culture, Danes are some of the most caring people you will ever meet. Some, often the most arrogant among us, look at Denmark and notice the way they care for children, the elderly, and everyone in between, and all they are able to see is what they’ve been told to call socialism. But if we’re honest, we Americans really know nothing about socialism, and thus we continue to be manipulated in ways that cause us to fear it.

Most Danes however, look at their society and don’t so much see a form of Democratic Socialism, as they see a form of national civility. They are a people who simply want to take care of one another: and so they strive to make sure that everyone has food on their tables and a roof over their heads. They seek to ensure that everyone has the chance to go to school and get an education, and that the medical care people want and need is available to everyone, especially when they grow old. Danes have worked hard to create a society where no one ever needs to worry about the basic necessities of life: and that includes mental and emotional health as well. Everyone gets 5 weeks of vacation each year, and couples having children are given a year of maternity and/or paternity leave. Music, art, and beauty are valued; and caring for creation and being good stewards of the earth are central to their way of life.

Now we in places like America are often quick to point out the problems with such a society. High taxes lead us to believe that everyone is forced to become dependent upon the state. But the Danes I know don’t see things that way. For them, it’s not about government taking care of everyone, as it is about everyone taking care of one another! They know that THEY are the government, and that their society as a whole is better when everyone has their basic needs being met. Wealth doesn’t need to be ‘redistributed’ because their understanding of the common good insures that it is always distributed in such a way that ensures equity for all and poverty for none.

No country or nation is perfect – we all know that. People are people and governments are governments. We’re all broken and flawed! But some nations and people call upon their better angels more easily and more often than others, and Denmark is one of those places. This tiny nation of 7 million people has much to teach us . . . and about so much more than pastry. But . . . if pastry is where we need to start: sign me up! Because there’s no better place to begin!

A Revelatory Vote

2 11 2020

Her words were important!

Regardless of your thoughts about her husband, Michelle Obama has more kindness, compassion, wisdom, and grace, than most should even dare to expect from a First Lady. And her speech at the 2020 Democratic Convention, while more political than ever, needed to be heard.   

“Being president doesn’t change who you are,” she said, “it reveals who you are. (And . . . ) a presidential election can reveal who WE are too!” 

After four year’s of suffering through the presidency of 45, I am more convinced than ever that tomorrow’s election is more about who we are, than who he is! So what will the results reveal? Who are we? Who am I? Who are you?

My vehement and vocal opposition to the presidency of Donald Trump has little to do with politics. And for the past four years, my concerns have not been about partisan party platforms, nor about anything having to do with what it means to be either a Republican or a Democrat. Rather, my concerns have all been about those things that define the character of our nation and our people. For this is where the 45th President has fallen so egregiously short; and this is one of the reasons tomorrow’s election is so important. Because in the words of Michelle Obama, it will reveal volumes about who exactly we are as Americans!

Are we people who truly believe that all lives manner, which must therefore include the lives of our Black siblings, and our Muslim siblings, and our immigrant siblings; or are their lives not important because they may not look, believe, or think as we do?

Are we a people who know how to support our police officers, while at the same time recognizing the justifiable outrage that comes when innocent Black men continue to be violently killed on the streets of our cities by those who are supposed to protect us?

Are we a people who truly value life; and not just the lives of the pre-born, but the lives of all children, including those on the border and those living in poverty, those with no health care and those struggling with their sexual identity?

Are we a people who seek to treat everyone – women, fallen members of the military, and even our fiercest enemies – with dignity and respect, regardless of whether or not they like us, or always agree with us?

Are we a people who value truth and science, who embrace knowledge and wisdom, and who reject hate-speech and fear-mongering?

Are we a people who remember the lessons we learned in kindergarten – that we don’t call people names, that sometimes we say ‘I’m sorry!’, and that playing nicely and learning to get along is not a sign of weakness?

And are we a people who value those aspects of American life that always have been and that always will be truly great; but who also realize that like every nation, we are far from perfect, and that the American story is no more exceptional than the story of any other people or nation?

Friends, these days, too many of us appear to be living with our eyes wide shut! For generations – from Seneca, to Selma, to Stonewall – Americans have sought to proclaim a vision of what is right and just, and to move our nation in that direction. And while we’ve not always succeeded, we have not given up on that vision. In the words of civil rights icon Ruby Sales, there have always been Americans who have known that our collective future depends not upon our ‘i-sight’, but upon our ‘we-sight’! Sadly, however, many appear to be blind to what has been happening in our nation over the past four years. The common good, as well as our common humanity, have been forgotten; and today, most of us are just exhausted.

Needless to say, the time has come for it all to end!

Our nation is longing for champions of “freedom and justice for ALL.” Our country is begging for patriots dreaming of a nation where people are “judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Where have all the good people gone – the people who are not afraid to be kind, and caring, and compassionate; people who are not fearful of knowledge, education, and wisdom? Where are all the good people who once touted the importance of ‘family values’, and ‘a thousand points of light’? Where is the ‘kinder, gentler nation’ that Republican’s used to talk about; the ‘compassionate conservatism’ that once was the hallmark of the GOP? Could it be that what we actually need today is fewer Americans seeking to make America great again, and more great Americans seeking to make America good again?

Yes, tomorrow’s vote will be one of the most revelatory votes of my lifetime. Who are we America? Once again, it’s time to decide. Please don’t let me down! For the sake of all that is right, and holy, and good, let’s not let one another down . . . again!

Deplorable? Hmmm!

20 10 2020

It was an inappropriate comment! Hillary Clinton’s calling half of Trump’s supporters a “basket of deplorables” was so much more than a regrettable comment. That kind of language, particularly from a presidential candidate, must always be condemned. If we didn’t learn it in kindergarten, then surely the last four years have taught us that words matter, and that name-calling never enhances communication nor encourages understanding between segments of the population that are at odds with one another. Hillary’s justifiable attempt to call out the racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic portions of the “MAGA” community was lost, all because she did so in such an offensive way.

As a follower of Jesus I believe that no one is deplorable! In the eyes of God no PERSON is ‘deserving of condemnation,’ which is actually what ‘deplorable’ means! But actions? At times actions MUST be condemned. And today, four years after Hillary made that claim against Donald Trump’s supporters, their actions must declared to be nothing less than deplorable. And even that, is putting it mildly!

For almost four years now we have had a president who has done nothing but attempt to monopolize the news-cycle with anything and everything that would draw attention to himself. Fact-checkers of every ilk have revealed a pattern of daily lying, and leaders of both political parties have expressed concerns about his ineptitude. He continues to stoke the worst sides of American culture: White privilege, patriarchy, Islamophobia, homophobia, selfish consumerism and narcissistic consumptionism. And he reveals his lack of character and integrity whenever he opens his mouth! His attitude and behavior are far too often, nothing less than deplorable.

Needless to say, continuing to support this man, after four years of him revealing who many of us have known him to be, is also deplorable! Sacrificing the office of the Presidency by putting such a poor example of what it means to be an American in the White House, because of some naïve attempt to turn back the clock on Roe v. Wade, as if the will of the vast majority of Americans regarding a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her body, is deplorable! Continuing to selfishly support a man simply because of a concern for one’s own stock portfolio, or individual IRA or 401K, is also deplorable. And lest anyone reading this might possibly be a subscriber to the nonsense called Qanon, the belief that Donald Trump might be about some kind of grand scheme that could bring about good for anyone but himself is not just ignorant, but it too is deplorable. But most tragically, for anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus, refusing to acknowledge the mockery he has made of the Christian faith, and believing that one can, or should, ever overlook a person’s unGodly character, simply because we think they might further our political agendas, is . . . yes, deplorable. It is like getting into bed with the devil, and such action must always be condemned.

Failing to hold Donald Trump accountable for his failure to defend the constitution – with regard to voting rights, freedom of speech, the right to peaceful protests, and standing up to enemies both foreign and domestic — including Russia and White Pseudo-Supremacy — is deplorable.

Refusing to acknowledge his ignorance on the world stage, his marring of America’s reputation in international settings, and his failure to renounce the world’s most abusive and oppressive dictators, is deplorable!

Accepting his manipulative ways when it comes to disingenuous support for the military and military families, for religious freedom, and for the BIPOC community, is both ignorant AND deplorable.

And accepting his inexperienced, inept, and ill-informed leadership, as well as that of so many of his appointees, in so many important areas of American governance, is deplorable.

Over the past four years I have worked hard to try and understand how anyone could have voted for this man. I’ve spoken to his supporters, read countless articles and books, and watched interview after interview with those eager to “make America great again.” Some simply disliked Hillary too much to cast a vote for her. Others rightly thought Trump was the only one who could advance the evangelical part of the conservative agenda. And, like many Democrats who only vote for Democrats, some Republicans were only willing to vote for another Republican. There are all kinds of reasons people voted as they did in 2016, and not all of those reasons were deplorable! Nor were all of the people who voted for Trump.

But if after witnessing this administration’s assault on American life over the past four years, people are still willing to declare an allegiance to Donald Trump, then deplorable is a more than appropriate way to describe the politics of such people. Further, regarding Donald Trump as God’s ambassador, or any kind of Divine gift to America and the world, is nothing short of sin. It is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit; and like any sin, needs to be acknowledged and confessed.

No! No person is deplorable. But actions are. And this president and his administration have offered up a basket-full of a deplorable actions. As such, is there really any better way to describe any continual and on-going support of him, or his administration? I don’t think so. Deplorable actually sums it up quite well.

Court over Country?

6 10 2020

For four years I’ve listened to many Republicans tell me how much they dislike our current President; and I’ve listened to many Evangelicals make it clear that their support for Donald Trump was not based upon his character, integrity, or Christ-likeness. Many of these people have even embraced with me, as well as with the vast majority of Americans, the belief that Donald Trump was unfit for the presidency; and that his moral, ethical, and character flaws were nothing less than offensive. But these sentiments were always minimized when these people placed them alongside their concern for the future of SCOTUS – the Supreme Court of the United States.

Abortion and immigration laws, freedom of religion and particularly Christian exceptionalism, limited government and free markets – all of these issues are continually making their way to the highest court in our country, and they are issues that rise above any concerns these people may have had about the President’s ignorance and incompetence. Transforming America’s lower courts has been a goal of the Republican Party for years; but now, with a Republican in the White House and Republicans controlling the Senate, the opportunity to refashion the Supreme Court was about to become icing on the GOP’s legislative cake.

Well, it now seems as though the Right has succeeded! In a few weeks we will likely have the court they have longed for, and a conservative majority will be established for generations to come. So now, can we please think about something more? Can we now, please, focus on something deeper, something dare I say, even more important? Can we now, please, think about the very nature of our democracy, and the character of country? Please!

First off, we all know that this president is not the brightest bulb in the closet! He doesn’t read, knows little about our constitution or the history of our democracy, and half the time can’t even put together a complete sentence. And while these realities may sound trite to some, he is the President of the United States of America! And there is nothing ‘great’ about ignorance and incompetence.

Second, he has surrounded himself with lawbreakers! No president in our history has had more indictments against advisors and/or friends than Donald Trump. Further, no president in our history has had so many defectors from his ‘team’ than Donald Trump; nor so many defectors who were so quick to write and speak out against him upon their departure. Seeing what they saw, and knowing what they now, has frightened far too many of them . . . so much so that they are now supporting Joe Biden for president.

Third, he and his family are out for no one but themselves. Whether talking about inauguration crowd attendance, portraits of himself that have been purchased for his properties, his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, or any of his own bloated accounts of his record as president, Donald Trump is only interested in Donald Trump. Surely you know this, right? And his failure to pay federal income tax, whether through legal means or not, only puts on display for all to see, his disdain for our nation’s goals and our nation’s people!

Fourth, don’t we all also know that the Russians have got to have something on him? There is no way he would continue to coddle Putin unless the threat of personal exposure was being hung over his head. “Golden showers” are likely the least of Donald’s concerns, and his behavior prior to becoming president has compromised his judgement and put American security at risk every single day.

Fifth, and for me most important of all, the character and integrity of this man must be shunned. AND, it forces us to call into question the character and integrity of his supporters. For while deplorable may not be the appropriate word to describe them as a group, it is a more than appropriate word to describe their actions. His vulgar language and misogynistic behavior (including his cheating on all three of his wives!), his blatant racism and refusal to acknowledge the historic racism of our country — they are all signs of a morally bankrupt old man. And the White House is no place for such an individual, and the Cabinet is no place for anyone who would chose to follow him.

Now please notice that I have not even raised any policy issues, for I am well aware that there will never be agreement in this country on so many of the issues that have always divided Republicans and Democrats. But in spite of those differences, we have always been able to come together on issues involving the character of our President and the honor due the office. And sadly, that has not been the case for the past four years because of GOP concerns about the court. And I get that. I even accept that.

But now you’ve got your court. So please, can we return our focus to our country? Can we agree that politics aside, this crude and narcissistic ‘reality TV’ star is in no way deserving of the office he has held for the past four years? Can we at least agree that he certainly not worthy of holding it for another four? Can we put someone in office who will not intentionally stoke division and incivility among the American people, but who will rather work to serve ALL Americans and seek to find common ground upon which we might ALL stand? Can we elect a president who will restore our shattered image around the world, and who can speak and behave in ways that make us proud to call ourselves Americans? Can we please work to ensure that the occupant of the White House knows the difference between strength and arrogance, between compassion and weakness, between convictions and . . . bluster?

You’ve got your court. So please, can we now focus on our country? Because the three-ring circus that has gone on for the past four years has got to end! We’re all tired. And the time has come for all of us, to come together, to build, back, better!

The lynching of Jesus

16 09 2020

“Jesus didn’t so much die FOR the sins of the world, but BECAUSE of the sins of the world!”

I don’t know where I first heard that phrase, but it continues to resonate with my ever-expanding theology of the cross. The life of Jesus was simply too much for the broken system into which he was born, threatening both Rome, as well as the Jewish authorities of his day. His affinity with the poor and his affection for the marginalized were upsetting to an empire that sought to privilege only a select few; and his willingness to expose the hypocrisy of the religious elite was doing harm to the religious nationalism that was central to faith of Israel. His message of love and grace was a threat to the law and order of the Jerusalem power brokers; and his calling out the Scribes and the Pharisees for their hardness of heart was a blasphemous affront to their religious elitism.

All of this put Jesus on the cross. One might even say that each attempt to silence his will and way in this world was a nail that held him there. For that is what sin does. Sin crucifies the Christ: again, and again, and again. Sometimes it does so slowly and subtly, other times more overtly and quite aggressively; but either way, sin always attempts to stop God’s ever-flowing streams of justice and righteousness. It halts, at least temporarily, the bending of the universe’s moral arc, and it hinders the coming of God’s kindom, where God’s will is done “on earth as in heaven.” That is what sin did 2000 years ago when Jesus was physically crucified on a cross, on a hill outside of Jerusalem; and it is what sin continues to do today, in cities and towns all across America!

Every time people of color (who by the way, look far more like Jesus than most White Americans!) are mocked in racist jokes, slandered in racist epitaphs, or belittled in racist slurs, a crown of thorns is placed on the head of Jesus. When young Black men are innocently lynched at the hands of frightened and over-aggressive police officers, or by biased and bigoted vigilantes, nails pierce the hands of Jesus. And every time we White people watch, shake our heads, and wonder why everyone can’t just play by the rules — OUR rules — a nail tears the flesh of Jesus’ feet.

Growing up, this was how I often heard preachers and teachers talk about sin. The sins were very different, but the results were the same. Back then I would be putting a crown of thorns on the head of Jesus if I drank or smoked. The nails were the more serious sins: thinking about sex to much, being promiscuous, or listening to things like Exile’s “I want to kiss you all over.” (One has to wonder if the church’s pre-occupation with sex is why people like Jerry Falwell are so messed up!)

Fortunately, according to this sin narrative, my role in putting Jesus on the cross was minimal. I was a ‘good’ boy! But therein lies the problem. For too long the Church has regarded sin as personal moral failings, and far too often those failings were all about sex — actions, as well as thoughts! And all the while, other failings, particularly those of a more corporate, or systemic nature, were overlooked. People just needed to be ‘good’, and have a ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus. And if they did, salvation would be theirs for the taking.

But today, at the risk of overlooking the great variety of sins that plague our world, American racism is crucifying the Christ over and over and over again. Lynching people of color — like Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Jacob Blake, Daniel Prude — perpetuates the lynching of Jesus. And as I rightly learned more than 40 years ago, it’s not just blatant racist acts that crucify Jesus, but racist thoughts as well. Every time we look at a Black person in a hoodie and lock our car doors; and every time we see a group of Black boys coming toward us and cross to the other side of the street; we are crucifying Jesus. Such racist behavior and the attitudes which motivate it, continue to give power to the systemic oppression of people of color, and embolden the purveyors of structures that oppress all those who do not look like me.

All of this is to say that whenever we refuse to embrace the anti-racism of our day: every time we resist the call to name our bias, or fail to use our privilege for those who have been marginalized because of the color of their skin – perhaps even reject our privilege altogether, we participate in the lynching of Jesus. And when we allow the violence of a few protesters to distract us from the cause of the vast majority, who are doing nothing more than peacefully crying out for justice, we pound the nails in to the hands of the Messiah. So the American Church can no longer remain silent on this matter. What we have done to people of color: from the stealing of Native American land, to the internment of the Japanese during WWII, to the systemic oppression of the Black community for 400 plus years, is nothing less than an on-going, continual, and daily lynching of the Christ. And the time has come for it to stop.

Two thousands years ago, on the outskirts of town, Jesus suffered the pain of a cross for three-plus hours. Here in American, from sea to shining sea, people of color have been suffering on the cross of racism for 300-plus years. So when will we White people cry out with the words of Jesus, “it is finished!” “Enough is enough!” “We are not going to do this to our Black siblings any more!”

Naturally, some of us will choose to close our eyes to such sin. Some of us will continue to distract ourselves by denouncing the protesters as dishonoring the flag, or by advancing a form of Christian nationalism that is not willing to push against a brand of ‘law and order’ that only applies to some people. But let’s be clear. When we do, we lynch Jesus again, and again, again! And when the crowds in which we find ourselves cry out that “all lives matter,” we shouldn’t be surprised that those words sound eerily similar to the cry of another crowd.

You remember it! “Crucify him!”

We’re depressed. Here’s why.

3 09 2020

Like many of you, I’ve lived my entire life being quite comfortable with peoples’ differences. My American family has Roman Catholics and Protestants, Republicans and Democrats; and my Danish family has Pentecostals and Lutherans, devout Social Democrats and staunch fiscal conservatives. I have friends and colleagues from different countries and backgrounds, all with different tastes in food, music, and clothing. And in the four different churches I have served, I’ve sought to faithfully pastor congregants with differing views on everything from Scripture, to budgets, to the music used in worship.

Many of us have lived lives full of great diversity. And for most, while that diversity has sometimes prompted intense and hard conversations, it has almost always wound up expanding our thinking, broadening our perspective, and enriching our lives. It has made us wiser: more tolerant, more inclusive, and more respectful.

But sadly, four years ago, this all began to change. And that is why today so many of us are so depressed!

Most of us aren’t clinically out of whack (although sometimes it may feel that way!) but there is an ever-present, and at times an all-consuming sadness, that lurks in our souls. And it rises up within us every time we turn on the evening news, read the headlines in the Washington Post and the New York Times, or open our FaceBook newsfeed.

Today, peoples’ differences appear to be greater than ever. But sadly, our differences are not revealing the rich beauty of the world’s diversity. Rather, they are revealing the broken, fearful, and selfish side of humanity; and that reality is destroying our relationships. We see our country being torn apart by a megalomaniac, and that concerns us greatly. But in the midst of his terror, relationships are being destroyed. That is what has counselors and therapists working overtime these days. And that is what has so many of us, so depressed.

Consider some of the differences we’re dealing with today: lies vs. truth, law vs. justice, and politics vs. principle.

First, far too many people we love have chosen to overlook the daily lying of the current administration. They have been willing embrace leaders who don’t just avoid truth-telling, but actually punish truth-tellers. And while every administration plays with the facts, and while both political parties expediently determine what information will or will not be shared with the public, no administration in our lifetime has so boldly lied to the American people the way this administration has. And fact-checkers on both sides of the aisle agree on this. News is not ‘fake’ just because someone in power doesn’t like it. And ‘alternative facts’ are not even a real thing! That such terms have even entered into our vocabulary is depressing.

Second, law and order – a term that was used all the way back in 1962, when Officer Krupke in “West Side Story” sought to deal with the racism of the Jets and the Sharks – continues to distract people from the importance of “liberty and justice for ALL!” So when family and friends, particularly those who claim to be followers of Jesus, cannot spot the INjustice of implicit bias and White privilege, we are rightly concerned. When they are so distracted by what they perceive to be the anarchist and unpatriotic challenging of American values, values that are in fact no way reflective of the nation our Founders sought to establish, we are are rightly disturbed. And all of that is depressing.

And third, when people we care about are so willing to put their political agendas ahead of everything else, including both the very principles that we all believe to be at the heart of this great American experience, values like equity, respect, and the common good; but also the principles lifted up in the Christian Scripture, values like kindness and compassion, goodness and grace – when both of these sets of values are sacrificed for one’s own political agenda, we are stunned and bewildered. One simply cannot overlook the President’s lack of character and integrity solely because we think he has the power to advance our politics. The ends do NOT justify the means; and that so many don’t yet get this, is just depressing.

The current state of American politics is not normal! Lying, not just misinterpreting or misrepresenting facts, but unabashedly lying, is wrong. Always! Ignoring the injustices of this nation that we all love and call home because of some pejorative understanding of law and order, is also wrong. Always! And sacrificing the most basic principles of our democracy and our faith because of some narrow and narcissistic political agenda, is wrong. Always! And when people we love, the people who raised us and the people we thought we knew, embrace such ideologies, depression is actually the least of our concerns.

Never the less, the depression is very real; and that is what so many of us are feeling these days. Depression over relationships strained, relationships tested, and relationships lost.

So to all of you who are depressed, know that you are not alone. I am too! And while at times we may be tempted to think that we simply should have kept our mouths shut . . . remember that silence IS consent. And as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty of some, but the silence of others.’ Racist comments, sexist jokes, and religious bigotry, can never be tolerated or accepted; and if we don’t speak out, who will?

You may also be tempted to think that it’s your fault the politics of our day has broken, or perhaps even ended, a relationship. But don’t do that to yourself! Relationships require mutual respect and admiration in order to remain strong. And while they can survive without those two important characteristics, those relationships will never be as strong as when they are present. Losing respect and admiration for another is not your fault. Unfortunately, it’s just life!

Finally, you may also be tempted to think that the burden of restoring the relationship is on you! And it may very well be. But it may not be as well! Remember that just as people change, so too do relationships. And just because we may be grieving what was, doesn’t mean we can, or even should, go back. In fact, when we see people for who they really are, we can never go back. We can continue to love, but we can never go back. And that too is why so many of us are so depressed.

Author and poet Octavia Butler, a wise woman of color who left this world far too soon, at the age of 59 back in 2006, wrote the following: Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.

It’s sad when people we don’t know, don’t do this. It’s maddening when people we do know, can’t do this. But it is depressing when people we love, won’t do this!

So hang in there friends. Depression is like grief. It comes, and it goes. We just need to be patient.