Two years since the plague desceneded upon us
And we’ve struggled, lamented, and mourned the loss of so many pilgrim partners along the way
Yet we abide still
With the scars to show for it
Yet we abide still
Now we know the sustaining power of God up close
Not some remote theological concept
But life lived, with God and one another, life lived
So plague, though you tried to ruin us, though you tried to turn us against one another through fear
We aren’t having it
For through the sustaining power of the Lord God, we abide
We abide still
We need you Ash Wednesday THIS year, we need you more than ever
The obvious deformation of the world we knew
Including church paradigms, political parties, communication patterns, workplace rhythms, and educational systems
Clearly the former ways are not returning
So help us scream, rage, curse, rant, rave, mourn, cry, and indulge nostalgia one last time
Help us do whatever it takes to detach from what was
Liberating us from nostalgic illusions
Freeing us to actively participate in what’s emerging
Transforming us toward proactive, invigorated, followers of Jesus
Engaging the world that is and shall be
Sprinkling salt and shining light
So, let’s go all in this Ash Wednesday
Grieving what was one last time
Laying down snap back illusions
Taking up the call to proactively participate with God’s reshaping of this world around us
Sinners in the hands of a loving God
Scares us far more than Jonathan Edwards’ angry God
God’s complete, unrelenting, unconditional, extravagent love
Intimidating us so, melting our shame-based defenses
Shrinking back, we invent rules to narrow the flow, conditions for controlling
This complete, unrelenting, unconditional, over-the-top love
So terribly wonderful, overwhelming our senses, flooding our souls
Sinners in the hands of a loving God we are
Thanks be to God
Weary, trail worn
Too long in the wilderness
Peeling defenses which cope no longer
Naked before Presence
Surprisingly unashamed in love’s light
Deep, slow, strong breaths
No hurrying, no rushing
Enough, is more than enough
Being with the One
Blessed day’s work indeed
Though the earth shakes and the mountains tremble
Though the West burns while the East swelters
Though leaders tell lies in exchange for power
Though institutions are assaulted and assailed
Though pandemics feed on denial, preying on the vulnerable
Though yesterday’s answers and solutions are inadequate for new, more complex problems
There is One who remains able, faithful, and closer than a friend
There is One who inspires with hope and empowers with wisdom
There is One who draws forth the best in us, lifting our eyes to recognize a better way
There is One who gives new life, shaping us in the Way of Jesus
Thanks be to God, who is the One
7-29-21, Western wildfires, Jan 6 Police Officers testify, Delta Variant rising
Sometimes things spread like wildfire.
The Summer of 2021 was such a time. Literal wildfires were sweeping the American West. Each year, it seems, they are bigger and hotter, fueled by the warming climate. When I wrote this prayer, we were watching ordinary people flee their homes due to the extraordinary wildfires threatening their neighborhoods. It seemed like the entire Western USA was burning.
During this same season, officers from the January 6 insurrection at the Capital were telling their stories, testifying before congressional committees. Their stories were horrific. We watched the violence and chaos on television, but listening to these officers was chilling. We could still see the trauma and fear on their faces. It seemed like American democracy was burning away before our eyes, especially as some lawmakers practiced denial, ignoring, minimizing, or trying to normalize this outrageous event.
And then the Delta Variant was making its appearance. Though we enjoyed a season of reprieve regarding COVID, it wasn’t to last. This Delta Variant was on a slow burn, heating up later that Autumn, sweeping through the population.
I don’t know about you, but I am significantly helped by describing my experience with God through prayer. Laying out these horrific events before the One who has seen it all, brings comfort. God remains faithful and steadfast, regardless of our life circumstances. I’m reminded of the Psalmists who described mountains shaking and seas foaming, yet continued to trust in Yahweh. Perhaps this prayer is my attempt to reaffirm what we know…God is our rock and salvation, a very present help in times of trouble.
Thanks be to God, who is the One. Amen.
O God, we lay before you our work this day
Everything flowing across these desks and computer screens
Everything our hands touch and our bodies move
Everywhere our feet and vehicles take us
Every person we engage face to face or virtually
As we serve in your vineyard this day
Train our ears to reverberate with your slightest whisper
Train our hearts to beat in rhythm with your great love
Train the selective attention of our minds to notice your kingdom rising
Train our senses to fire with your pulsating energy running through all things
Train our courage to drop another resistance layer to your Holy Spirit
Train all our parts, knit together by you, to follow your lead this day
I glanced at the car next to me while leaving the Post Office, seeing this colorful magnet stuck to the back. A nice looking older lady stepped out and into the P.O. with her boxes and letters.
The juxtaposition of her appearance with the message proclaimed from the back of her car was striking. She looked so nice and kind, while the capitalized bold letters of her bumper magnet drip with hostility.
What is it people are communicating when they plaster magnets or stickers like this to their cars for the whole world to see? When we communicate, there’s the literal content of our message (We Say Merry Christmas), while the psychological message rides along. We can just hear someone nearly shouting the first two words, “WE SAY Merry Christmas!” Now, aren’t we in the Christmas mood after this cheery greeting? (Uh, no)
So why are Christian people plastering this statement on their cars, using the holiday to passive-aggressively act out their anger?
Reaction. This is no less than a reaction to the demise of Christendom; the loss of their religion’s cultural privilege. Here’s what I mean. Christian people in America age 40 and over grew up in a culture wherein Christianity was the favored child among religions in this country. No, the United States does not officially endorse any religion over another, yet those of a certain age understood that conversations about religion always actually meant Christianity in particular. This was the majority religion, enjoying many privileges and opportunities not necessarily available to others. That was the age of Christendom, when the Christian faith was interwoven with culture so closely there was little daylight between them.
Now, we are in a new era wherein Christianity is one among many religions in this USA. Persons who were used to being the majority, enjoying the privileges afforded their religion, are responding in various ways. Many Christians are managing themselves well, recognizing new opportunities to shine the light of Christ in our broken world. Others though haven’t really considered the effects of their reactions, purchasing car magnets like this one. Some of the messages I receive when seeing these bumper messages are:
- We are angry that other religions are receiving some of the attention we used to enjoy
- We are resentful because we have been dethroned as the golden child, having to move over and make room for others
- We are ready for to fight, trying to force our way back into the prime cultural position of the previous era
- We believe getting in your face with this bumper statement will help rewind time
So, what’s the effect? What does this do for the Christian Movement? Is this what Jesus had in mind for the Church when commissioning us to go and make disciples? How much does this reflect the Way of Jesus; his approach to loving people?
Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure these bumper magnets hurt the cause of Christ more than helping. I’m offended when I see it and I’m an insider. Imagining I’m an outsider, my perception of this car’s driver fits the images I see portrayed in the news….bitter, resentful, pouting Christians who are throwing a fit because they are losing their privilege. The beautiful and attractive love of God expressed through Jesus Christ which we celebrate at Christmas? I can’t see it since the anger volume is so loud.
So Christian people driving around with this bumper sticker or magnet, go outside and peel it off right quick. Don’t scare off those who may be curious about the Christ-child. Don’t confuse them about the Prince of Peace with anything but peace. They will know we are Christians by our love, not by our passive-aggressive posturing through bumper sticker statements.
But what to say and how much to say and how directly (or not) to say it. That’s their moral struggle.
It’s obvious our culture is at war with itself right about now. Pick an issue, any issue, and you’ll find people groups who believe their perspectives surely must be right. Even more, many of them believe their perspectives are gospel, THE spiritually fitting way to understand said issue. This means that all other perspectives must be not only wrong or misguided, but are spiritually unfaithful, or perhaps even destructive. In this kind of atmosphere people see the way forward in terms of binary categories…winners and losers, faithful and unfaithful, spiritually correct and incorrect.
This is the culture in which pastors are preaching and teaching. Then along comes an incident, well two incidents, like happened this weekend. More mass shootings. How many times have we prayed for victims? Aren’t we tired of praying without doing? Yet pastors know that speaking a prophetic word related to these shootings, calling people to action, will offend someone(s) in their churches. Racism, gun control, sin, immigration, political policy….each of these is a live dynamic contributing to the particular shooting in El Paso. Pastors know they will offend more than one group in the church when they say nearly anything about this particular shooting.
To complicate things, a quick read through my social media platforms this morning makes it clear that plenty of social media influencers KNOW what pastors “should” say. They communicate, either directly or by inference, what every spiritually responsible pastor would preach after this incident.
I’m not so sure. Yes, I believe the brokenness of humanity is on full display in these mass shootings. Yes, I believe many dynamics contribute toward shaping a culture wherein this kind of tragedy repeatedly happens. Yes, I believe pastors need to address the issues of our day. And, I also know what it’s like to be employed by a church who can terminate one’s employment at the drop of a hat. Though some denominations include safeguards and safety nets, pastors know they will sow the seeds of their demise with just the wrong word or statement. Feeding their families, paying a mortgage, providing for their children….these are real life considerations factoring into sermons. There are people in churches who will quickly move toward terminating their pastor when he/she contradicts their perspectives on how the world does or should operate. This is the reality of pastoral leadership.
So, the moral dilemmas of pastors are less often about money, sex, or fame. More often, week in and week out, pastors live in the tension between their consciences, the still small guiding voice, and the political realities in their congregations. Is it better to soften one’s prophetic voice and remain in place to continue the growth process with this congregation? Is it better to go all in, letting the pieces shake out as they may? What’s God’s guidance here, based on who God is as revealed through Jesus Christ? When your words don’t influence your family’s financial security, it’s easy to have opinions on what others should do.
Here’s my hope for pastors in this crazy age of cultural division. I hope there will be times when pastors don’t speak about the hot issue of the day, instead pointing to the enduring foundations of our faith, comforting God’s people with the awareness that we are part of the ongoing story of God. I also hope there are more than one occasion when a pastor risks it all, knowing he or she could not sleep well without having called out injustice, even when it angers the powers that be in the church. Which to do when? That’s the challenge of preaching in 2019; the ongoing moral dilemmas of pastors.
“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” -Tweet, July 14, President Donald J. Trump
What do we do when the United States President spews racism during his weekend tirade? First we may need to give ourselves a moment. We grow so numb to his rhetoric after a while, with the firestorms of his frequent tirades burning up our emotional responses until we become numbed-out. But after we catch our breath, and after accepting the fact that this United States President is spreading racism again, then we are positioned to consider a response. What might this mean for those who are pursuing the Way of Jesus, for those caught up in the Christian Movement? How might we respond to the national conversation about racism this time? What might we do to advance the cause of Christ in this current milieu? Allow me to share three suggestions about teaching opportunities presented to us by Donald J. Trump.
First, let’s talk with our children. If you have wee ones at home or if yours are grown and launched….either way, it’s a great time to talk with our children. It will surprise some that very young children will be in touch with Trump’s comments, at least tangentially. They may hear their peers on the playground yelling and telling others to “go back where they came from.” Any child old enough to engage social media is well aware of Trump’s racist remarks. So, this is a great time to talk with them about your values. Please tell them this is not the way decent people behave. Please tell them we follow Jesus who exercised respect for all people, since all are created in the image of God. Please tell them Donald Trump is not a good role model. Encourage them not to grow up and be like Trump. Remind them there is a better way; that what they are learning at church is real and actionable and preferable. Remember too that young children won’t remember another president. Share with them that Trump is an aberration; that most presidents have not been overtly racist. Share with them that aspiring to be the president doesn’t mean they have to become like Trump. The presidency can still be a viable way to serve people while also being a basically decent human being.
Second, let’s talk with our peers, colleagues, and fellow disciples. When we scratch below the surface, most of us are aware of latent racist thinking buried in our brains. Talking with others who can engage the race subject with us can help us uncover our racism, bringing what’s dark into the light of Christ. What if a black president were to make the same statement as did Trump? How would that change our thinking and responding? This is a great opportunity to dialogue with others about racism in this USA, surfacing questions like this. Of course it takes mature people to do this well. Mature or not, it’s a discussion begging for attention this week. Don’t let this golden opportunity to exhume our latent racism pass us by. Regardless of who the president is, we can discover a better way through dialogue with those we know.
Third, do something different. Anger is not the only response available to us after hearing Trump’s racism (again). Why did God give us the emotion of anger? One useful purpose is to alert us to injustice. Our morality rises up, energized by anger, instructing us to do something. So today, let’s do something different; and more. Rather than simmering all day, let’s look for those who are racially different than ourselves. Let’s reach across the cultural boundaries, engaging one another. Though we have a racist president, we don’t have to follow his role modeling. We can live a better story. We can live as followers of Jesus who taught us that even Samaritans (symbolic of an unacceptable person) can be good. So let’s reach out and be the change we hope to see in this whacked out world.
That’s being a disciple. That’s living in the flow. That’s DiscipleFlow.
Through the grace, power, and love of Jesus Christ, may it become so. Amen.