Born Again This Way: Cruciformed

I write a blog that few people read with a message most people don’t want to hear.  I don’t white-wash it, sugar coat it, and I ain’t overly nice about it either.  I’m offensive.  I embrace being offensive.  Not because I want to keep you at arm’s length or run you off, not because I want to get in a good lick in the fight.  None of that.

No.  I want to be REAL with you.  And whenever you get to where you can actually HANDLE THE TRUTH, you will see what I mean, and we will get along fine!

You see, I am offensive because I was Born Again This Way.

What WAY was I born again?

Well, if you follow me to the white, middle-class, Protestant, American, Evangelical church I am most likely to attend and look and listen very carefully, you would be pardoned for thinking the way I was born again was to have a life of privilege buttressed by conservative politics and the salvation I find there, conservative financial stewardship and the salvation that offers, occasional blanketly judgmental speech all manifest in my owning at least one fine home, at least two fine cars, several of the latest electronic gadgets all with my sins kept private and unexposed.  I get to live this way here on earth (or at least strive for it), a life of “faith” in Jesus made possible by American might and superiority (thank you vets) all with the hope that when I safely die I get to “go to heaven” where I will enjoy eternal bliss.  Ideally, there won’t hardly be a speed bump between this life and the next.  Now, if I can just get those stupid liberals and all the minorities they brainwash with their lies to wake up and support this, then Jesus’s Kingdom will finally Come (or they can burn in Hell – either way is okay, actually).

There is precious little or no challenge to any of this where I go to church.  Even our charity and care for the poor is carefully constructed to insulate this privileged mindset and life I enjoy.  I volunteer four times a year to help feed the homeless.  I took the Premier Homeless Pseudo Church 101 class where professional social workers (the kind who love Jesus) taught me not to give my name and number to the homeless, not to be manipulated by them, and rather than giving food, clothing, and especially money directly to the poor, rather to give these things to them – the professionals – who know how to manage the poor and really help them without being manipulated into “enabling” them.  It just keeps everything more honest and simple, and with a million dollar budget, THEY can really do the Lord’s work!  It’s actually best if I not even shake the hand of those suffering from homelessness (we try not to belittle THEM by calling THEM “homeless” or “bums” or even “those people” because that can be so damaging).

My kids join a “service project” in Mexico or LA once a year where they build a house for the homeless and get sweaty one day, but spend the next three days on the beach, at the theme park, and visit the local mall where they hopefully don’t overspend my credit card.  But our church has built the youth group a gymnasium with a private coffee bar which makes Starbucks look like they don’t know how to market coffee, where the kids have a theater for movies and parties year round, and to top it all off they get the annual ski trip in the winter and summer camp in the mountains every summer.  God bless ’em, I want my kids to have all the very best Jesus has to offer.

This is the way I was born again, it seems, if you follow me to church.  This is the way my children are born again too, and hopefully we are ensuring this bliss for generations to come.  We are born again this way.

However, most of my spiritual ancestors from Bible times, the first, second, and third centuries, were all born again and arrested, thrown in dungeons, flogged, stoned (with rocks), crucified, thrown to lions, and burned at the stake.  They were born again THAT WAY.  Every last one of them was born again only to die, or risk death for having been born again THAT WAY.  (Too bad they didn’t live in God-blessed America!)

There is very little in common, aside from lip service, between my spiritual ancestors and myself.  They gave up their lives to belong to Jesus; I give up Jesus at the mere glance at a naughty picture.  They sold all their property and church leaders divided it up so that none of the poor lived in any need; I write a check and make the problem go away.  They were noted for their sexual purity, even though they too struggled with it, and sometimes failed miserably.  I try harder not to be a legalist than being true to my wife.  My ancestors gave up their rights (which they were never granted by Rome or anyone else anyway), and I claim my American “rights” are “God-given” and complain if there is even the slightest hint that some liberal agenda might make it so I don’t get to enjoy them.

On Jesus’s birthday, the astrologers brought him gifts fit for a king.  I, on his birthday, get something for myself while shopping for my wife and kids.  (What DO you get for the person that has EVERYTHING?  That is hard to do!)

Lady Gaga tells me I was born THIS WAY, and I think Jesus died so I could be born again this way too, but my spiritual ancestors were born again cruciformed, and I have no idea what that means.  I grasp for the red pill and swallow the blue one, and as no one notices, I can pretend I stand for something.  Jesus did not grasp at deity, but humbled himself to the point of death on a cross.  I refuse to humble myself, but I grasp at greatness every chance I get, and I promote our church that way too!  I have a thousand dollars to the new stained glass fund!

As you can see, there is no confusion here.  If my faith causes you offense, so be it.  We have this all figured out.  Come to church where I go, listen to Pastor Bates explain it.  He says it all better than I do.

Cruciform.  I was born again this way.

 

A Christmas Irony

Lubbock, Texas is covered in churches big and small.  Plenty of big ones with a sprawling complex, multiple buildings, landscaped lawns, stained glass, steeples, TV shows, playgrounds, gymnasiums, family life centers, sanctuaries, massive parking lots, day care centers, prayer gardens, websites, radio shows, TV advertisements, colleges and universities, sermon series, holiday celebrations, nativity scenes, and Christmas pageants.  And then dozens, if not hundreds, of smaller churches too.

The church historically has a celebrated, dominant position in the culture of Lubbock, Texas.  There is far more than just a few million dollars tied up in the church of Lubbock, Texas.  Church here is big business.

So I find it highly ironic going to the Christmas celebration/musical/pageant where people from all over town – all over the county – drive in with their fancy cars and trucks (Lexus, Cadillac, Mercedes, Hummer, Lincoln, Ford, Chevy, Dodge, Toyota and other imperial blessings) and jam the lots, fill the sanctuaries, and with apple cider and candles in hand, crowd around a memory of a homeless child, celebrated with professional grade music and stage productions.  All this for a homeless child.  The King baby sent by the God these people and all this culture and money are intended to worship and honor.

And this God sends this baby to Israel, a tiny, insignificant, obstinate, nation of strange people with strange customs in the backwater of the world’s greatest empire.  Celebrated originally by foreign astrologers from the far east and lowly, smelly, shepherds, and a few Jewish peasants so poor and oppressed that they could not afford a room even in their hometown, they keep the child in the barn and lay him in a manger, a feed trough.  (Oh, yeah. and celebrated by the Host of Heaven too!)

Isn’t this ironic?

And isn’t even more ironic that Lubbockites, citizens of the world’s last remaining, nuclear superpower drive down to the million dollar sanctuary to celebrate that ancient event and meanwhile “the least of these” – aka Jesus himself – may or may not get to sleep in a barn on the other side of the tracks?

Isn’t irony like that troubling to anybody?

Or am I just a freak for noticing and pointing this out?

I think we are missing something important here.

Here Is What I Live For

I have to admit, this is an ingenious use of trash. Quite a bang for the buck. Now if we can just get our church house door open, with these mats the poor can bring their beds with them and take refuge in Jesus.

The Mat Weavers Ministry

Due to distance, and how busy I am all the time, I often do not get to personally hand my mats out to the homeless. What happens is other people come get my mats and hand them out to the homeless at an event or something and send me back the pictures and videos.

Below is a video that was taken at a homeless event in Goshen, Indiana. This is what I live for. This is why we do what we do. Help the homeless. What we do is NOT a solution, its an INTERVENTION.

View original post

The Gospel of Tolerance

The Gospel of Tolerance?

There is no way I can say all there is to say about it.  There is no way I can say all that needs to be said about it.  It is a can of worms, Pandora’s Box.  You can’t undo it.  It is the gospel of 666 that passes for 777.  It FEELS good, sounds good, almost is good, and thus it gets a lot of people on it’s bandwagon, but it misses the mark all the same.

Can’t we all just get along?

I remember when Rodney King tearfully cried that message on the television.  Wow!  If ever there was a black man who deserved a hearing… surely it was… well, you fill in the blank.  Rodney King suffered intense injustice like soooooooo many others before and after.  Many who suffered quite a lot worse fates than him, but his tormenters were caught on video.  And when justice failed him, the streets of LA went up in smoke for days on end.  The chaos got so bad that it seemed ANY kind of peace was better than the HELL unleashed.  And so King cried out for TOLERANCE since justice was just too far out of reach.

Well, of course that is a dramatic example.  But I have another, a little closer to home.  We have this wonderful TV reporter here in Lubbock on the KLBK channel who does a superb job of reporting the news.  She is, as I hear it through the grapevine, an incredibly kind and charitable person who lives up to high standards of excellence.  She is no Rodney King, who suffered injustice alright, but who was not exactly the pure and innocent victim either.  No. Terri Furman, to my knowledge has suffered no injustice, but she is, it seems, almost angelic in innocence and purity.

Yet she too preaches the Gospel of Tolerance.

Furman hosts a regular segment on KLBK called “Intentional Living” in which she finds experts around town to weigh in on various social topics in what looks and feels like a benign attempt to help us all “just get along.”  However, just the teaser for this segment, which airs almost daily, looks, sounds, and feels like the next big sermon series from Pastor Bates down at First Church: “Do you feel like you are missing out on what life has instore for you?” she asks as part of her promo/teaser.

“Life with a new perspective”

“Living your best life everyday”

“Intentional Living with KLBK’s Terri Furman”

Here.  See for yourself:

And listen to this segment in which Furman introduces us to an “expert” from Texas Tech University, Amanda Wheler, who will coach us on how to make nice at the Thanxgiving dinner table.

Here’s the thing, Furman and her expert know all too well that these days people argue when they get together, and this happens at family gatherings a lot.  The arguments have a way of destroying the ambiance.  Our politics pit brother against brother!  If we talk too loosely, we will wind up proving how we hate our brother, our father, our mother as part of our political agendas!  This is (not in her words) a demon that destroys so much otherwise good family fun.  And Furman wants to go up against this demon with the Gospel of TOLERANCE.

She preaches, in as benign a way as she possibly can, the Gospel of Tolerance.

And it sounds good!  It sounds right!  If Uncle Ned and Dad can just refrain from talking about the impeachment hearings long enough for the tryptophan to kick in, then we can have a nice Thanxgiving dinner, and the world can rock along as it’s supposed to… as it is intended to… by… by… by who?  She doesn’t say.  But she is sure that “it’s nice to be nice to the nice,” to borrow a phrase from Frank Burns.

The Gospel of Tolerance is not the answer though.  As nice, as good, and right as it sounds, looks, and feels (and Pastor Bates has been making a mint off this kind of preaching for years now), it is not the Gospel of Jesus – the Kingdom of God.

Tolerating Jesus at your Table

Open your Bible to Luke 14.  Step away and read that chapter and then come back to this blog post.

waiting…

….

No really… I’m waiting…

….

Okay, did you read Luke 14?  Really???

Then you saw Jesus show up for a fine meal as a guest of a ruler of the Pharisees (v. 1).  Got the scene there?

It’s almost like Jesus shows up at Thanxgiving dinner.  This is a fine dining experience.  People are watching.  He has a chance to ‘make nice’ here, but he also has a chance to heal on the Sabbath.  This will be upsetting for the Pharisees, but Jesus seems to be game for it.

It’s not exactly talk about the impeachment hearings, but it is ever bit as controversial – maybe more!  As they say down at Joe’s Tavern, no talk about religion or politics allowed in this drinking establishment.  (Funny isn’t it?  How intolerant the Gospel of Tolerance is for intolerance?  Yeah, those of us who hate political correctness (this used to be just being polite when I was a kid) like to point this irony out as if it is a news flash! … seriously, we will tolerate abortion, genderbending and homosexuality, and all manner of leftist, liberal issues, but in the very name of tolerance we won’t tolerate criticizing any of them!)  Just get back to eating and drinking!

But Jesus ain’t having it.

He puts the screws to these Pharisees with his tough questions.  But he is just getting warmed up here.  He then tells a story about dinner guests taking important seats at the banquet (vv. 7-11).

Are you catching this???

Jesus is at a fine banquet and already upsetting the host and his friends when he tells a story about how people take their seats, and the story shames people who presume they are important and take important seats.  And he is telling this story to a bunch of self-important Pharisees AT A PARTY WHERE THEY JUST SAT DOWN TO EAT!

You catching this now???

Jesus is pushing their buttons.  And so far, these folx are TOLERATING him!  But this tolerance is covering some hard feelings under the surface.

(Let me just say that when it comes to Jesus, he isn’t into all that benign can’t-we-all-just-get-along stuff.  No.  He wants you to LOVE him, but he is going to show you where your own contempt is getting in the way of that.  And he ain’t nice about it.  He is digging around under your skin, irritating and hurting.  He won’t stop until you crucify him or your own flesh!)

So, just about the time Jesus has all the guests at this banquet all very uncomfortable about the seating arrangements they themselves sorted out according to their own pride, he next turns his attention to the host! (vv. 12-14).  Wanna please God with your parties or just schmoose your way up social ladders?

Jesus has now picked on guests and host alike at this party.  Practically everyone there is feeling the heat!  Just imagine sitting there chewing your food with this cousin at your Thanxgiving table going off LIKE THIS and you are still trying to save face, trying to keep the happy vibe that Terri Furman and friends are preaching so you can have your “intentional living.”  The food is getting hard to swallow!

And so in verse 15 someone there at the table tries to smooth things over with his benign statement: “Blessed is everyone who gets to eat bread in the Kingdom of God.”

It reminds me of the deacon from church who, when I confronted him and his Seeking Shalom class about how they are excluding the poor from our fellowship rather than serving Jesus, he tried real hard half a dozen times to say, “But [Agent X] we are really saying the same thing here.  I think we agree on far more than we disagree about.  Calm down and see it for what it really is….”

Yeah.

So what does Jesus say to this?

He tells another story at the party about people throwing parties.  And IF, and I will stick with IF, however I am inclined to concur, If this parable is in anyway allegorical, then the man hosting the party in THIS parable appears to be God himself who wants everyone to come to his PARTY OF THE APOCALYPSE!  This will be, not just “an” but “THE” epic party of all parties.  I mean as long as this idiot wants to bring up eating bread in the Kingdom of God as if it were just some benign way of smoothing out a bit of tolerance here, then Jesus is going to reveal what is really at stake and how idiots like this one are shortchanging themselves.

The man plans out a huge banquet and sends invitations to EVERYBODY.  But it turns out, so many of those invited are trying to live intentionally “their best lives now” and are too busy to really break free and come to God’s Party!  So the man (God), appearing to be a bit upset by this, sends the servant back out to find the poor, the crippled, the lame and blind – all the riffraff of society who aren’t in fact living their best lives now and who aren’t in fact living all that intentionally because in THEM he finds people who will actually show up!

And with that story, Jesus has now effectively, with some subtlety, told this idiot that he isn’t eating bread in the Kingdom of God, and he isn’t blessed either.

Now…

Granted, the scene shifts in verse 25.  We are no longer sitting at that party with that group of people at that Pharisee’s banquet anymore, BUT if you will examine closely how much this chapter and the next in Luke’s narrative have to do with parties, you will notice that this scene about counting the cost of discipleship is placed here nonetheless to bounce sparks off those party scenes.  And for our analogy here, we will play a bit fast and loose with it by implanting those statements in our Thanxgiving dinner gathering with our family.  Remember the one Furman highlights as part of her Gospel of Tolerance?

Yeah, that one.

The fact is: If Dad and Uncle Ned are in such a state of hate disguised as tolerance anyway, then they are only one or two steps removed from that phemon we find in the American Civil War – “brother against brother.”  We are, in fact, NOT just getting along in this world.  This is the world God created, and he created it to be ordered differently than the tolerance we so dearly champion which is really a devil’s lie.  It is 666 masquerading too easily as 777.  And if you want to get with your “true north” so to speak, then you must get with Jesus who upsets these little banquets we throw to honor ourselves and not God.

Now…

I encourage you to call the bluff on the Gospel of Tolerance, and maybe take these considerations to your next “communion meditative thought.”

Definitions Belong To The Definers (When Helping Hurts chapter 2)

As a white, middle-class, American male (of middle age too), there is no doubt that my understanding of, and empathy with, Toni Mitchell has its limits.  But the flip side is that my ironic respect is all the more important and powerful – especially since I tend to shy away from “worldly wisdom” even that found among preachers and Bible scholars.  I definitely prefer to quote the Bible, and when not strictly quoting the Bible per se to quote others intimately familiar with it… who teach people like me the depths of its wisdom for life in God’s creation.

I don’t know much about Toni Mitchell and even less of her important work, but I sense that considering worldly wisdom from time to time, the often shunned and overlooked source of black women is a good place to uncover the stuff I otherwise am apt to miss.

“Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined,” says Mitchell, and that suggests to me that these words are empowering to those who are otherwise tempted and even oppressed into accepting dominant views about themselves rather than the freedom to think and even be what God would make.

Why is this important to me?  What business does this blog have with such a quote?

Well, I am haunted by various aspects of the volunteer training seminars I have taken (such as the Seeking Shalom course published by The Lupton Center) and books I read (like When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert).  Anyone reading this blog knows that about me already, but there is this one tactic that seems to go with this kind of “Christian”-based poverty alleviation that has troubled me for some time, but which is shrouded in manipulations to the point that I have had a hard time putting my finger on it.  And that tactic is REDEFINING poverty and REDEFINING the poor themselves.  It turns out, according to Lupton, Corbett, and Fikkert (among others) that we have not really understood what poverty actually is and/or who the poor are.  Thus they set out to make a comprehensive REDEFINITION with which they then can advance their theses.

And THAT has me thinking of Mitchell’s quote: “Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.”

Despite themselves and the Bible and the poor, these books, these authors, these seminar presenters have constructed a view of the poor and of outreach to them with smoke and mirrors.  And honestly, IF their theses were really so accurate, then why… after a decade of their publications and their work.. why do will still have the poor with us?  IF their theses were so revolutionary and correct, why have they not solved the problems in the very neighborhoods and churches in Lubbock that have so thoroughly embraced these teachings?

They have not.

And in fact, poverty grows more and more every year no matter your definition.

But I want to look a bit more closely at this tactic and expose it.  For despite the devastating questions I just raised in the paragraph above, I am told by the shepherd at the church where I am a member that I can scream at the top of my voice, yet no one is listening (heck of a thing for a shepherd to tell a lamb in his own flock!).

But I am also aware that these books and seminars are very popular nationwide if not worldwide.  And though I have but a few readers, perhaps if I demonstrate the problem with the smoke and mirrors, dismantle (to the degree I can) the hype these books and their proponents enjoy, and maybe (especially) help you actually listen to Jesus (God’s Word), even if I borrow from Toni Mitchell along the way to get us there, then hopefully even the definers will reconsider their broken definitions and hopefully get excited for Jesus again.

One can hope.

I will devote the rest of this post to refuting When Helping Hurts particularly, and especially the arguments advanced in chapter 2 of that book: “What’s the PROBLEM?”.  If you are reading here AND have a copy of that book, please open it up to pages 51-73 and let’s talk about this bit by bit.

The book When Helping Hurts (WHH) is intended to be read and studied in groups to the extent that is possible rather than read quietly as an individual, and actually there is a very good chance that if you have familiarity or even a copy of it, that you obtained it in such a study group (perhaps at church).  We learn on pages 15-17 in the introduction that the authors pose initial questions at the start of each chapter which ideally will be discussed by the group studying the book together, and sure enough we have one on page 50 which I will quote for us now: “Take a few minutes to answer the following question: What is poverty?  Make a list of words that come to your mind when you think of poverty.”

Let’s pause a moment and think about group dynamics here.  I took a basic counseling class in college where our psychology instructor very powerfully and profoundly (is that redundant?) demonstrated for those of us in the class the sure fire way to get a group of people to clam up is to put them in a group and ask them a question that might require some prior reading or some interpretation to be defended.  It can even be quite simple stuff like: Was Moby Dick a good book?

If we ask something a bit more esoteric, it just gets worse:  Is Moby Dick a commentary on social problems of the modern era?

Get 5, 10 or 20 middle class Americans in a group, stand up at the podium and spring these questions on them and see who wants to go first.

Now…  In every group there is someone who has some level of expertise on whatever topic we spring on them.  However, unless that expert is known to be the expert and is well respected by all the others in the group AND happens to know THE RIGHT ANSWER to the question, then that expert is under pressure to perform.  The risk of looking foolish on the very topic she is the expert on is high.  So it is unlikely he will offer a quick response.  More likely she will let someone else take a stab at it and then help tidy up the communal wisdom after that.

Then there are those who are not experts.  They too recognize their limitations and typically hold off from making their offerings as well.

But there are two types that will likely go first in making an answer to the question.  The clown, who will break the ice with humor, and the nervous nelly who can’t handle the uncomfortable silence.  Neither of these is likely to offer THE RIGHT ANSWER to the question, but on the contrary is going to make it much more socially acceptable to be wrong.

And let’s face it.  The rhetorical effect Corbett and Fikkert are working for here is to dismantle previous notions about poverty, the poor, and how to relieve it/them.  The whole idea here is that you will offer an answer to this question and then change your mind about it later.  And if you get the whole group to grasp that idea, even without articulating it, then the presenter(s) have far more freedom to say whatever they  want.

Hmmm…

So… okay… go ahead and say whateeeeeeeeeever you want now…  I am all ears.

Yes.  There is a good chance many of you took the class with this book.  If you did, and if you followed this exercise, then perhaps you noticed (or perhaps not) that pretty much the idea of poverty and of poor people in general that you went into this study with got marginalized.  What you probably didn’t notice is that your ability to think for yourself did too.

Do you really NOT know what poverty is?

REALLY???

Okay, I get it.  You are on the spot just now.  (And you were when you took the WHH class too.)  And so you are not prepared to give a college level, text book definition.  I get it.  But you have been going through … what 20, 30, 50 years of life now and you didn’t know poverty when you saw it?  You didn’t recognize poor people when you saw them?

Don’t try to play retro-stupid now.  It’s too late for that.  You are smarter than Corbett and Fikkert give you credit for.  Sure we can enhance the technical language, no doubt, but stripping down your idea of poverty (and for that matter ALL of the INITIAL QUESTIONS in all of the other chapters too) are tactics designed to get you to rethink your whole approach to outreach ministry, to jettison what you were doing before in favor of something more “effective.”  And on the surface, that sounds good too, but if Jesus was taking the class with you and raised his hand and said, “Uh… but the poor you will always have with you, and you can do good to them when ever you like,” would you feel any different then about your previous efforts at outreach ministry which might now seem ineffective after reading this book?

If it comes down to being “biblical” vs. being “effective,” which would you choose?

So, looking into WHH chapter 2 now, notice where we start.  Not the Bible, but with the World Bank.

Now I hate to get too overly hostile right out the gate, but even IF we find worthwhile wisdom from the World Bank, isn’t their big thrust MONEY?  WEALTH??  MAMMON???  Consider for a moment, just the source here.  This isn’t wisdom of Jesus Corbett and Fikkert draw from; it’s not biblical, not even theological.  This is “worldly wisdom” in general from people who specifically serve Mammon as if he were the “bottom line.”

Now, to be fair, I found something worthwhile in Toni Mitchell at the start of this post, and she is not biblical either, so I am willing to give Corbett and Fikkert a hearing here.  But we really must consider a source as powerful as the World Bank carefully.  We just MIGHT find something worthwhile in their wisdom, but Mammon is already on record as no friend of Jesus.  Tread here carefully – I say.

So what do we learn from the World Bank?  Well, we learn that when the World Bank set out to rebuild war-torn Europe, they were “remarkably successful.”  Wow!  Look at that.  It’s right there in the first two sentences on page 51.

What did they do that was so successful?

Well, Corbett and Fikkert don’t actually describe that, but they do seem to allude to it by contrasting the effects of a “similar approach” when “assisting low-income countries.”  That method is then described as “lending them money on generous terms to promote economic growth and poverty reduction.”

Hmmm… “similar approach” both times.  Successful with rebuilding war-torn Europe, but “less than stellar” in the “low income countries.”  It worked in France (white people) but not in India (people of color).

OH NO!  I didn’t just inject RACE into this did I?  Shame on me.

Okay, have the court reporter strike that from the record.

(white people) and (people of color)

Good, now, with that bell unrung, let’s continue.

No.  Wait.  Wait just a minute.  We have yet another problem here, one that you gotta be sharp to catch.  Actually, you gotta read WHH all the way to the end without drinking the Kool-Aid.  Midway through chapter 9 of WHH (jumping way ahead of ourselves, I know) Corbett and Fikkert introduce us to “THE MICROFINANCE REVOLUTION” and thus microfinance institutions (MFI’s) which  specifically loan money to poor people at low interest for the purpose of promoting economic growth and poverty reduction.  This becomes the best method for poverty alleviation at the end of the book!  Yet it sounds like the “similar approach” to “low income countries” that did not work for the World Bank.

My question then (actually I have many) is why is this considered an “effective” way of poverty alleviation if it’s done in partnership with an MFI but not if done by the World Bank?

Corbett and Fikkert offer no answer, and it seems they are banking that you won’t notice the discrepancy and ask.

Hmmm…

So low interest loans, according to WHH, are the go-to, “effective” method of outreach ministry your church needs to look into as you serve the poor.  Low interest loans.

You know what passages of the Bible Corbett and Fikkert NEVER MENTION?

Exodus 22:25-27

Deuteronomy 23:19-20

Leviticus 25:35-37

Now, I gotta say, given these guys are addressing Christians and churches with their theses, AND given what these Bible verses command of God’s people, Corbett and Fikkert either need to drop the loans at interest idea OR find some hifalutin theory that justifies why they can sidestep these passages (and others).  But they don’t do either.  They don’t even try.  In fact, it looks like they are betting you don’t notice.

Hmmm…

So, where are we now.

Let’s get back to page 51.  We started with the initial questions defining poverty and the poor, and then we went to the World Bank for wisdom instead of the Bible.  We found that the World Bank had great success with their efforts and rebuilding war-torn Europe, but with “similar approaches” they had “less than stellar” results with “low income countries.”  Then we jumped to the end of the book and saw where Corbett and Fikkert actually endorse the “similar approach” after all, which on the one hand is now illogical, and on the other, since we are talking about loaning poor people money at interest here, is also anti-biblical since the Bible actually prohibits exactly that!

And we still haven’t got to the part where the book redefines poverty yet.  That comes a few pages later in chapter 2.  But if you think Corbett and Fikkert are just the cat’s meow when it comes to outreach ministry, then I am sure you think your money  is well spent on this book, and I need to keep working my way there so I can make my point.  So here we go…

So… at the bottom of page 51, we read about how the World Bank, being all perplexed about helping the poor and all (so why did we go there if they don’t know what they are doing?), they then turn to “the true poverty experts” (why didn’t we start here?), “the poor themselves.”

At this point Corbett and Fikkert offer 9 quotes from 9 different unnamed individuals from 9 different countries – each quote just 1, 2, 3 or 4 sentences long, each a unique and very personal brief description of their life as poor people.  These are the “poverty experts.”

Now… recall how we were asked, “What is poverty?” in the initial questions.  We were put on the spot then, and what ever our traditional idea of poverty is, we already sensed it is going to be challenged by Corbett and Fikkert (otherwise why write the book?).  Perhaps we didn’t come with a technical, college text-book level definition, but wait… neither do these experts.  The best they have going for them is that they are extremely subjective about poverty, not that they have studied it in some scholarly sense.

Yet somehow, and I think there is a lot of rhetorical manipulation and smoke and mirrors getting us to this point, but somehow Corbett and Fikkert make this appear all revolutionary and wise when on page 53 they say this:

Please take a few minutes to list some of the key words or phrases that you see in the quotes listed above.  Do you see any differences between how you described poverty at the start of this chapter and how the poor describe their own poverty?  Is there anything that surprises you?

This paragraph looks, sounds, even FEELS like a college course to me.  How about you?

I gotta say, as I deconstruct it bit-by-bit, I notice there is nothing technical about it as of yet, however, we have discovered it lacks good logic or biblical basis.  But somehow there is a smoke and mirrors effect which lends credibility to all this which just isn’t warranted, I think.  And this paragraph sure has the look, the sound, the feel of a college course to it where credibility, technicality, and expertise are found.

But let’s turn to the next paragraph now and see if we are onto something with OUR observations that Corbett and Fikkert never intended you to see.  Thus again I quote:

We (Corbett and Fikkert) have conducted the previous exercise in dozens of middle-to-upper-class, predominantly Caucasian, North American churches.  In the vast majority of cases, these audiences describe poverty differently than the poor in low-income countries do.  While the poor mention having lack of material things…

Whoa!  Stop right there.

Did Corbett and Fikkert say “conducted the previous exercise”?  That sure sounds college classy.  “Conduct”… “exercise.”

Hmmm… So all this smoke and mirrors is designed to look, sound, and feel like a college course.

Hmmm…

But wait… there’s more.

Did Corbett and Fikkert say “Caucasian…” and then contrast that with “low-income countries”?

Oh man.  We had the court reporter strike that idea from the record before, remember???  Probably not, because as we all know all too well, once the court reporter strikes something from the record, the bell is un-rung!

Before I let go of THIS point, let me say they seem to have described conservative Republicans there too.  And THAT, I bet, is the agenda being smuggled in this book and hidden by all the smoke and mirrors.  But more on that another time.

But look at that last bit.  The poor themselves, (remember earlier when Corbett and Fikkert chose to call THEM the “true poverty experts”?), well, those “experts” did mention “lack of material things” and Corbett and Fikkert just admitted it!  But they do so in such a way as to rhetorically discount it.  Just read the rest of the paragraph (I will let you read it for yourself) and see how it is discounted in favor for other features of poverty.

Look, I don’t mean to suggest the other features like “shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness” are of little or no consequence.  That is not my aim.  My aim is to put “lack of material things” back front and center in our definition of poverty.  After all, I think that is a pretty good definition even if we enhance it to make it more technically correct.  And not only do I think it, but Corbett and Fikkert’s own “true poverty experts” find it worthy of mention AT LEAST.

Okay.

This post is getting monstrously long, and we still have not got to the meat of the issue in this book that haunts me, though we are sniffing around the bushes under it, already.  WHH aims to redefine poverty, and we have been setting the stage for it, but let’s jump ahead just a couple of pages.  Let’s look at the bottom of page 56.

Notice the topical heading there in all caps which says, “POVERTY: A BIBLICAL FRAMEWORK.”

Oh, my…  five pages into this chapter and we finally get around to looking into the Bible?

Okay, to be fair, there is one passage of Scripture cited already, just two paragraphs back up page 56 there.  The citation is Isaiah 58:10.  You won’t catch me arguing against Isaiah, and in fact, Corbett and Fikkert’s use of this passage is good, however not on point with their agenda.  It is an aside, actually.  It is cited from the Bible as an authoritative voice encouraging us to be persistent in our care for the poor, which is good, but sadly Corbett and Fikkert have just described how even if we do everything right (according to the new wisdom they promote with this book), the help we give can be a “trial and error process” and “poor people are not always completely honest with themselves or others” (wait a minute!  I thought they were the “true poverty experts” though) and “it may take years to help people to overcome their problems” a process filled with “ups and downs in the relationship.”  Based on these observations, you need the encouraging word from Isaiah alright.

But you know what?  Just that description of all the haggard efforts you might go through with the “effective” methods this book teaches seems to undermine its own thesis!  I mean I could say all of that about poverty alleviating without following Corbett and Fikkert’s advice, so why bother with their advice???

But getting back on track here, we are finally getting to the biblical framework, and I am really excited about that!  After all, we have stopped off seeking wisdom with Mammon at the World Bank, with the poor themselves who are the “true poverty experts” (even though they are not always honest) and we have even taken in a quote from Cornell West (now there’s somebody my conservative Republican, Caucasian, middle-to-upper class brothers and sisters from North American churches love to hear from!), and I want to get into the Bible now.  Isaiah was nice, but surely there is more, a lot more!  Right?

Right.

So the first words we find under the topical heading in all caps, “POVERTY: A BIBLICAL FRAMEWORK” are….?

“In the Beginning”

and

“Bryant Myers, a leading Christian development thinker, argues…”

Think I’m being nit picky?

Maybe so.  Maybe I am just being totally unfair here.

You think?

REALLY?

Okay, let me justify myself.

First off, Bryant Myers is not in the Bible.

Apparently he is “Christian” alright.  But so was Dennis Rader – aka – BTK.  He was a deacon in his church and a serial killer that no one noticed was so thoroughly full of evil for decades.  But of course I am taking that point to an extreme.  Let me dial that back a bit.

Bryant Myers may be a Christian, and his opinion might be worthwhile, but we called this a biblical framework and put it in a book written to help churches do their outreach ministries.  I don’t know about you, but churches and Christians should, in my opinion, first and foremost consult the Bible about how to go about ministry.  That may INVOLVE best selling Christian books and authors from time to time, I am not against that, but then THOSE people should be consulting the Bible and teaching us to do that too.  No?

But here it is time to unveil yet another layer to this whole book, since Corbett and Fikkert bring it up AGAIN. (Actually, this is the first time they bring it up in chapter 2, so if you haven’t read WHH carefully for yourself before reading this post, you will be forgiven for not know it, but Corbett and Fikkert, and now Myers are all economic development gurus who happen to be Christians.)  So the thing here is this: Myers is not some Bible scholar we are consulting here, and he surely isn’t the Bible itself, which the topical heading almost seemed to promise us, but he is an economy expert.  (Not a “true poverty expert” of course, but this one went to school for his wisdom.)

Now… let me say something at this point which will put me and my kind in the hot seat, but I bet a lot of you will concur with it.  It may not be a universal fact, but a LOT of preachers, pastors, chaplains, and especially youth ministers are really lazy people.  They found a gig with low work and decent pay, or they found a way to get paid to play.  But ask THEM to write a dissertation on outreach ministry, and they are too busy schmoozing the teenagers with pizza and a movie and the annual ski trip.  There is a really good chance that one of these idiots introduced you to the book When Helping Hurts to begin with.  They have been stealing their sermons and devo talks off the internet for years.  The sermons they did write, they took from the self-help section, the psychology section, the social work section of the bookstore – or maybe from watching The Matrix and other cool movies.  The church has had a steady diet of self-help and psychology section baptized for church consumption since the 1970s, and the church has a good taste for it now.  Like eating at McDonalds, when you get used to it, you start to think that crap is good.

Well, these economic development guys didn’t do their Bible research either.  They too studied the self help and other sections and peppered their sermons with a few Bible verses they learned as kids pretty much.  However, I gotta give Myers more credit than all that.  He rises above – head and shoulders above – the cesspool of standard Christian scholarship floating around in our churches for the last couple of generations.  In fact, even though I have not, until now, let on, Myers insights here are rather powerful, and there is some pretty sound theology all up in this offering he makes.  The breakdown of the four relationships we all have with God, with Self, with Others, and with the rest of Creation… all this is very nuts -n- bolts theology regarding SHALOM.

However, the application phase of his offering reveals that even Myers is not as good as he should be, and certainly twists off into a lot of psychobabble.  We see this when we get out of the “biblical framework” which would have better been described as a theological framework, and we reach the bottom of page 62.  There the topical heading says, “WHO ARE THE POOR?”.

Who are the poor?

Now we are coming very close to redefining poverty and the poor.  Remember that initial question where we were asked, “What is poverty?” and told to list off terms that came to our minds?

Look what Corbett and Fikkert say under this topical heading:

Stop and think: If poverty is rooted in the brokeness of the foundational relationships, then who are the poor?

Due to the comprehensive nature of the fall, every human being is poor in the sense of not experiencing these four relationships in the way that God intended.  …[E]very human being is suffering from a poverty of spiritual intimacy, a poverty of being, a poverty of community, and a poverty of stewardship.  We are all simply incapable of being what God created us to be and are unable to experience the fullness of joy that God designed for these relationships.  Every minute since the fall, each human being is the proverbial “square peg in a  round hole.”  We don’t fit right, because we were shaped for something else.

Wow!  We sure made some leaps there.  We have now got the nuts -n- bolts of a new definition of poverty.  From early on, we have marginalized the idea that it involves the lack of material things, and now we are including EVERYBODY in the poverty as we talk about “poverty of spiritual intimacy”?  Oh man!  It sounds like Christian pot smoking to me.  “Poverty of being”?  Is that in ANY verse in the Bible?  Somebody pleas show me that verse!

But then on page 63 we find this sentence: “For some people the brokenness in these foundational relationships results in material poverty, that is their not having sufficient money to provide for the basic physical needs  of themselves and their families.”

WAIT … WHAT???

You mean we are back to talking about poverty as having something to do with the “lack of material things”???

Look.  Either I am just plain stupid, or this stuff ain’t really making sense.  You know what my answer was to the initial question?  (Glad you asked.)

“What is poverty?”  Corbett and Fikkert asked.  “Well,” I thought, “probably it is, or at least involves, the lack of material things.”  And when I listed off terms that came to mind… here was my list:

lack

of

material

things

Hmmm…  and despite all the hifalutin, jargon, and theology and smoke and mirrors, we are still talking about the lack of material things.  Some people are in need of stuff they cannot afford to obtain.  They are poor.  I knew this before opening this book.  My grandparents, R.I.P., knew this stuff and they died before reading this book.  And Corbett and Fikkert can’t seem to get past this old definition while trying to get me signed on for a new definition of poverty and the poor.

Hmmm … indeed.

But let’s tie up that other loose end here, the one about economic developers offering theology to the church and teaching ministry methods to Christians rather than the theologians doing this.  As I pointed out, Myers gave us some pretty good theology up to a point.  He did hinge it off just a bare minimum of Scripture references, but his follow through, his application phase is terrible, although at this point I am not sure whether to credit that part to him or to Corbett and Fikkert.  Look again at that last indented quote above.  “Due to the comprehensive nature of the fall….”  That one.

“The fall” itself is not a Bible word.  It is a theological construct, a shorthand way of labelling events the Bible describes.  So it is not entirely unbiblical, but not strictly biblical either.  At any rate, between Myers, Corbett and Fikkert, who ever we should credit here, they are right, in my view, to say there is a comprehensive nature to it.  That is good.

But let me ask you.  Just shooting off the cuff as a Christian who has some familiarity with your Bible, with Jesus, and with Christian faith in general.  What is the answer to the fall?  How is it fixed, reversed, redeemed???  Are we really going to redeem the fallen world with some low interest loans???  Or is that what Jesus’s Kingdom, his crucifixion, his death, burial, and resurrection all about?

How is Jesus’s Kingdom going to redeem poor people?  Isn’t that a much better, more biblical framework way to go here?  So isn’t all this theological psychobabble more a smoke screen and a way of smuggling economic development into our theology?  And at just what point are we going to wake up and realize we have Mammon at the center of our theology and our outreach ministry instead of Jesus?

Here’s the thing; and I took a loooooooong way around to get here too, but here is the thing:

One of the tactics I find in When Helping Hurts and Seeking Shalom and maybe a few other places too is all this business about redefining poverty and redefining the poor.  Somehow all that mishmash of redefinitions becomes the cornerstone this Bible believer rejects.

I think you already know what poverty is.  Maybe not in some technical definition worthy of a college lecture, but I think you been knowing it when you see and smell it.  I don’t think it needs to be redefined; that, I think, is a tactic used to confuse your best thinking about outreach ministry.  And when you get enough of smoke and mirrors on it, then you will be excused from loving the poor like Jesus.  Excused in your own mind, not in Jesus’s mind.

And here I started all this off by quoting Toni Mitchell.  Out of the nice things I have read about that woman, I never found anyone claiming she was a great woman of faith, not Christian faith.  But she seems to have been one who empowers black women especially to see themselves differently.  And so I can only go with her quote so far, but as far as that goes, it seems to fit.  It seems to address this tactic I find in the When Helping Hurts movement.  She says, “Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.”  And since the definers are plumb cuckoo, there is no need to get all caught up in “poverty of being” or any of that malarkey.

Thanx for reading this far.

Now do me a favor and go burn a copy of When Helping Hurts.  The world will be a better place without it, and you will be a better Christian without it too.

The Church Jesus Attended

In his 1999 book, The Bible Jesus Read, Philip Yancey sets out to explore the Old Testament for modern day Christians to consider again more closely since that collection of sacred texts is the one Jesus used in his “earthly ministry.”  Too many Christians today shortchange the Old Testament or even ignore it, but this is to shortchange or ignore the very texts Jesus found important.  It is to under appreciate the very things Jesus appreciated, and that surely is a damaging irony.

At a stroke, Yancey frees our Christian imagination with the mere title of his book, whether or not his thesis and exploration are of any value.  Just calling the Old Testament “The Bible Jesus Read,” already, and without further comment, causes thoughtful Christians to reevaluate their own care and appreciation for roughly three fourths of the Bible.  It is that crack in the prison wall behind which our imagination is locked up that I wish to exploit with this post as I take us into another sacred realm – the assembly of God’s people.

Right off the top, we must deal with the term “church.”  “Church” is an English word which translates a Greek word we find in the New Testament and not the Old.  Literally, the Greek word for “church” translates as “those called out.”  And with just these words in this paragraph, I am highlighting numerous complexities which will take us too far afield in this single blog post to iron them all out.  Therefore, I will over simplify, and openly claim here at the start, that I use the word “church” rather loosely, and not in it’s technical sense as regards linguistics and theology.  I am stretching the word to cover for, and stand in for, “synagogue,” “assembly,” “multitude,” and especially “temple” even though in specific technical and theological uses, those terms are in fact quite distinct from the “church” we find in the New Testament.  It might be more accurate if I used terminology such as “place of worship” instead, but I will ask more thoughtful and careful readers to grant me this slack as the word “church” will more readily open our Christian imagination (I think)..

I don’t believe this exploration is going to cause any real confusion at that level.  But if you see it differently, I invite your feedback.

So, where did Jesus go to church?  What was his relationship with the religious leaders there?  What was his interaction there?  And what was the interaction of his closest followers with the church Jesus attended?

Just couching the notion in this language exploits, I think, the same cracks in the prison which Christian imagination has so long been incarcerated and that Yancey makes famous with his book.  Right off the top, we know that Jesus did gather with the people of God for preaching, prayer, healing, eating, – worship.  And we know that while on a few occasions he met in the officially sanctioned places of worship, those experiences are heavily marked by conflict and confrontation to the point that “church” leaders (“religious leaders of their day” as they are more commonly known), have Jesus killed.  This simple observation is right at the heart of the New Testament.  Jesus gets into confrontations and conflict when he goes to church and when the sanctioned leaders there send delegates to pay him a visit at the places of worship he shares with followers in unofficial and unsanctioned places.  In fact, these events form a very substantial portion of the Gospels.

Demons in church?

As early as Mark 1:21-28, we find Jesus in Capernaum, entering a synagogue on the Sabbath only to be confronted by a demon!  As my old partner in street ministry, Special Agent D, is fond of saying, “Whoa!  Demons in church?”

Well, the synagogue is a precursor of sorts for the church, and functions very similarly, so yes, it does seem quite surprising to find demons there!  This observation is fair, but it is not a narrative necessity to Mark’s plot.  Mark takes it so matter-of-fact, but perhaps it is worth being alarmed by this feature nonetheless.  For Mark this scene is the first of several where the demons correctly testify to the true identity of Jesus where all the mortals fail to recognize the days of their visitations.  Perhaps the mortals see just a bum, but the demons see “The Son of God.”  But for our purpose presently, this happens among the assembly of God’s people gathered for worship!  And it is surprising, come to think of it, to find demons speaking up in church!  Apparently this is a regular feature of Jesus’s ministry throughout Galilee (Mk. 1:39).

Stirring up TROUBLE at home church

It seems the demons confront Jesus nearly every time he attends church.  In the next chapter, Jesus is retired to (presumably Simon’s) house again in Capernaum where a multitude gathers and Jesus breaks into a sermon.  This is not the officially sanctioned place of worship, but to the studious eye, we see Jesus transforming this fisherman’s hut into the very temple of God!  He is, after all, God incarnate in there, AND he is forgiving sins – something good Jews typically expect at the temple in Jerusalem, not a fisherman’s hut in Capernaum!

So this scene kinda counts.  It’s a deeply theological twist to get here, but the text itself points us right to it.  And sure enough, after making headlines around Galilee for a while, there is a delegate of scribes there at the fisherman’s hut that day keeping tabs on developments which seem at the very least curious, but perhaps more ominously disturbing to the establishment (the church).  Yet notice that the scribes don’t say a word.  They launch no critique of Jesus.  Jesus, though, can see what they are thinking privately written all over their faces, and HE calls them out for it.

Oh yeah, their private thoughts are very critical, but Jesus ain’t letting the sleeping dogs lie.  He pushes the issue and shows them up.  He is not ingratiating himself with “church leaders” here.  He is calling them out, putting them on notice, even giving them ammunition to use against him.  And while it is not a deadly confrontation, YET, Jesus firmly sets us on this trajectory and takes the initiative to carry his cross long before the idea occurs to his opponents.

I want to take care to point out the more powerful underlying observation here that is easily missed when studying this passage.  Sure there is a lot of joy and a marvelous healing.  Yes this passage says something about the persistence of the faith of the men who tear open the roof and lower their paralyzed friend through the opening.  Yes, we can see relative importance of the forgiveness of sins over the healing of the ailment.  All of that is there to be had, and usually that is about the depth of insight we take away from this passage.  However, put in the first century context of Jesus vis-a-vis temple, we see that Jesus is upstaging the temple in Jerusalem quite purposefully and therefore is upsetting the Jewish establishment and the elites in charge of it.  And he is doing so as a feature of his worship and ministry.  It is, thus, very prophetic!

When the hometown crowd wants to KILL the preacher!

Let’s move to the mission-launching sermon Jesus preaches according to Luke 4.  In the passage we find in vv. 16-30, Jesus goes back to his hometown synagogue.  He goes to his hometown church.  This is the place of worship he presumably is most familiar with and the people there most familiar with him.  He launches into his inaugural sermon which will define his whole mission and ministry.  It is a powerful sermon and seems to be a real crowd pleaser!  In fact, if he had stopped at v. 22, then we would call his preaching experience there a great success!  He preached a moving sermon which clearly and rightly divided the Word of God for the flock gathered there that day, AND they loved it!  They all spoke well of him and marveled at his message.

But then comes v. 23 and the rest of the passage.  The sermon elicits conflict very quickly and doesn’t end until his own hometown family and friends attempt to kill him for the fantastic sermon changes gears and confronts the people there with a level of spiritual examination they would rather not face.  All of this at Jesus’s own initiative.  It’s not like the crowd comes looking for trouble; it’s like Jesus is.  And boy he finds it.  He found the nerve and hammered on it until he had to leave town with everyone upset having tried to kill the preacher after church!

THROWING TABLES and TALKING SMACK

By now you should be thinking that going to church with Jesus is not about comfort.  That is, however, the measure I (and so many of my brothers and sisters) reportedly use in deciding where we will attend.  We actually “shop around” for a church where we “feel comfortable” and think that is “where God calls us.”  But that doesn’t seem to be the case with Jesus – at least not where church leadership is concerned.  If you are a cripple, a blind man, a beggar or bum and you follow Jesus to church, then you might not feel the heat coming off his confrontations, but if you are in leadership there, it seems you are probably in the wrong seat!

I could trace our theme through several other vingettes, I think, but for brevity’s sake (this is a blog post, not a dissertation), I will jump ahead to the main attraction – when God comes to his own temple.

You do know… don’t you?… that we Christians believe Jesus represents God in a very special way – in a way so very special that most of us claim Jesus is God in the flesh!  This means that when Jesus comes to the temple in Jerusalem, we have the truth to which passages like Exodus 40:34-38; I Kings 8:10-11 and Ezekiel 43:1-5 point.  God is moving in to his own house!  He is gonna be noticed!!  The temple elites set the tables this way, but God wants them that way instead!!!  (He can be funny that way about arranging the furniture.)

But how does Matthew portray this event?  Open up to Matthew 21:1-17 and watch, with Ezekiel, the glory of the Lord show up at church!

The event starts subtle enough.  Jesus sends two disciples ahead of him into Jerusalem to retrieve a donkey for him to ride.  It’s almost like Joshua (wait a minute, Joshua is Jesus’s real name) sending spies into Jericho before he … before he what?  Before he shows the nice folx at Jericho a better spiritual experience than they previously knew?

No.

He sends spies in to Jericho before he leads the armies of God into the promised land in victory over the inhabitants of the land!  And this Joshua of Nazareth is now sending spies into Jerusalem where they retrieve a donkey so he can fulfill the prophecy of old about Israel’s King coming to her on the donkey.  This is a hostile take over, but not hostile like the usual sense of hostile.  And sure enough all the little people see in Jesus God’s answer to Herod, that imposter king of the Jews, and they want to see him cleanse the Holy Place, the church, for God to conquer the inhabitants who defile God’s home.

Then Jesus, after making all the fanfare of entering Jerusalem as King, goes into the temple and immediately starts throwing tables around and picking the fight that will get him crucified.  Sure enough, Jesus shows up in church and finds the religious leaders making a mess of things.  And rather than saying two nice and affirmative things, subtly slipping in a little criticism, and then closing with another warm affirmation in order to ensure no one gets their feelings hurt, Jesus runs everyone out of the place as if the smoke and the glory of God entered the place and sent all the priests running.

And actually, Jesus is just getting started.  For much of Holy Week, Jesus returns again and again to the temple and preaches to the multitudes in town for the holiday worship services.  The religious leaders want to be rid of this God incarnate so they can get back to business-as-usual, but they fear the mobs following Jesus will riot (Matt. 21:26, 46), and so they must resort to trickery, trying to entrap Jesus in statements which will win the crowds back to them.  But Jesus starts preaching sermons about the “church leaders” (Matt. 21:45) that just ratchets up the tension all the more.

When was the last time you went to church and heard a sermon that calls out the sins of the leadership there?

Been a while?

That’s what Jesus does.

And it gets him killed.

I don’t have to tell you, I am sure, but the “church leaders” down at Second Temple Assembly of God hatch a plan with Judas Iscariot to betray him when there are no crowds around.  But ironically, that leads us to one more part of the climactic worship where Jesus goes to church: Golgotha.

Yes, Jesus has one more power play in his fight.  It’s the power of LOVE, and he transforms himself into the sacrifice at the heart of worship.  He picked a fight, alright, but he isn’t waging war by any of the standard strategies.  No.  He engineers a huge ironic upset.  He gets the people of God to crown him King of the Jews despite themselves.  And he does it in self-sacrificial love.

When was the last time you experienced that where you go to church?

Summing up some loose ends

No doubt my brevity in this post leaves so much more for us to explore and talk about which just cannot fit in this forum.  I can’t help but think about all the places of worship and gatherings of the flock to eat, pray, and preach (to worship) that we skipped over in this brief analysis, and sure enough we find conflict in them too (though not typically the if-it-bleeds-it-leads style of conflict you find on channel 9 Action News).  Jesus enters conflict with his own disciples on numerous occasions too, thus these we looked at are just some of the confrontations worship with Jesus highlights with “religious leaders” specifically.

Likewise, we would be mistaken to suggest that every instance of worship is all about conflict with no peace.  Keep in mind we have plucked only a few strings in the symphony here, but we are finding the very real, very biblical melodies which generally go not played where we go to church.  Jesus does bring comfort to his people on numerous occasions as well, and this post has not pursued any of that.

However, you probably don’t NEED me to paint a one sided portrait of THAT side.  THAT, you already have portrayed for you week in and week out, I think.  But rather, I acknowledge there is more to the story here while presenting you with the challenges which Jesus brings to church with him yet which most often “church leaders” of our day mute and distract us from seeing – probably so that we can be manipulated by them and they can secure their establishment.

But if you go to church where Jesus attends, you will find that dust never settles.

You know I think I need to end this examination of The Church Jesus Attends suggesting that Jesus is knocking at the door where you go to church.  It would be wrong of me to suggest that just because that temple in Jerusalem is corrupt that God does not enter it or does not care about it.  That is simply not the case.  We see at the end of Luke’s Gospel the disciples continue to worship in Herod’s corrupt temple.  We find in the book of Acts that the continued presence of Jesus among them manages to continue making waves with the “religious leaders” and that manifests in arrests and floggings.

We must not take a study like this and just presume it gives us license to up and leave the church we attend.  But it does legitimate the fact that in the conflicts which arise from Jesus in our midst, confrontations and conflicts with church leaders especially, we must not presume therefore that the Holy Spirit is not at work in them.  We may well suffer a flogging too, but if Jesus rides with you to church, you can expect conflict there, because believe me, church leaders are no more righteous today than they were in the first century.

Jesus stands at the door of the church and knocks (Rev. 3:20), and if we open up to him – show him our hospitality – he will come in and eat with us, even party with us!  This is the same Jesus who claims that the “least of these” brothers represent him in a very special way.  My thought is that if your church were to answer that knock and welcome the “least of these” in to eat, we will find Jesus turning tables in the church where he attends all over again!

 

…And The Poor Have The Good News Preached To Them (Matt. 11:5/Luke 7:22)

As a street minister with a heart for the homeless, over the last decade I have encountered numerous discussions about proper, or “effective,” methods of outreach.  Seminars, volunteer training, books, you name it.  Just how do you help the poor?  What works, and what doesn’t?  How do you make a difference?  What about practical help or spiritual help?  And in the last decade specifically the question of whether some of our methods actually do harm instead of helping has become the focus of major best-selling Christian books (When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert and Toxic Charity by Lupton, among others).

The issues are not just one monolithic concern, but several closely related concerns really, and actually none of them are new.  I recall even my grandparents from my youth observing on numerous occasions that if you give money to a beggar, they will most often use the cash to purchase booze, which is the thing that probably landed the beggar in a jam in the first place (or so goes conventional wisdom).  But of course, as a young minister starting out, I also recall the question: Which should you offer first – the meal or the sermon?  And what role does the sermon play, exactly?  For certainly, Jesus is the ultimate answer to a beggar’s problems, but how can the beggar really listen to the sermon on an empty stomach? On the other hand, if you feed a man a fish for a day, he will be hungry again tomorrow!  And anyway, lots of people are not needy and homeless yet don’t believe in Jesus, and Jesus didn’t make the difference in their lives.  So it’s hard to say just where the GOSPEL and where practical matters fit in to all of this.

And so outreach ministry is  plagued with these conundrums.  We go to the Bible and see the Good Samaritan tend to the wounds, pay the bill, and all that practical stuff, and somehow the Jesus-message seems to shine through those very sacrificial, yet practical and tangible offerings.  So maybe driving a wedge between the two ideals is a mistake.  But then how do you avoid that?  Are these people coming for the free food or for the spiritual nourishment?  What if we are just “enabling” people to use us for the perks?

I have personally spent many a night on the streets looking up at the stars amid encampments of homeless bums trying to sort through these matters for myself in my private thoughts.  While with them, I witnessed the crass ministry of a Baptist Evangelist who very openly manipulated people into listening to his sermon when he preached while his crew fired up the grill and created an inviting smell.  During his presentation, he handed out pencils and paper so that people could take notes on his sermon and then the pencil became a meal ticket afterward.  Anyone who did not take notes and did not have a pencil to give back to the volunteer did not get to eat.  Then I witnessed my fellow sojourners process that tactic claiming they loved the food but hated the minister!

Hmmm…  Was that the method Jesus had in mind?

As a Bible guy, I kept looking into God’s Word for guidance with this stuff.  The Christian best-sellers MIGHT be on to something, BUT if their theses ignored, opposed, or twisted God’s Word in order to produce their wisdom, then we can presume the Christian best-sellers got it wrong.  That was a rather safe and basic premise I worked with.

Over the course of time, as I pondered these things, the scene we find in Matthew 11:5 and then paralleled in Luke 7:22 began echoing in my mind and in my heart.  Both citations depict a scene where John the Baptist expresses some doubt about Jesus, and Jesus reassures John with a list of observations: The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the dead are raised… AND THE POOR HAVE THE GOOD NEWS PREACHED TO THEM.

Sit with that a moment.

This is the message Jesus sends to John in order to assure him he was on the right track, but it wasn’t giving me assurance with the conundrums of outreach ministry.

As I sat with that passage myself, my very first thought was: Wow!  I guess this really settles that one question about which you offer first.  In fact, I was struck by how the blind, the lame, the lepers, and the dead all get some powerful and practical help, but the poor are singled out for the sermon with no mention of giving them any money or even any food or any kind of practical help at all!  They seriously need, according to Jesus, a good sermon!

Hmmm…

This gave me cause for pause.

I had lots of kneejerk feelings about this by way of reaction, but I needed to sit with this.  So I did.  I sat with it a long time.  I tried to hear all the possible dimensions to it.  I didn’t much like it, but I needed to just let Jesus talk and try to absorb what He was saying rather than try to bend it to suit my desires or alleviate my fears.

Seriously, Jesus?  A sermon??  The poor get a good sermon, and John can rest assured that he spent his life serving Jesus, and it pleased God, and he knows this because the poor got a good sermon???

The practical questions would not let me go.  What if I meet a bum begging in a blizzard and he has no coat?  To be frank, I don’t want to stand there in that blizzard preaching!  I want to go inside where it’s warm too.  But if I am hearing Jesus right, then I need to just give this guy a good sermon, and then walk away.  Jesus is done with the matter.  Wow!

That just struck me as … well… cold!

But I didn’t want to give up on Jesus either.  I need to trust him even when it looks bleak.  So I began thinking: Just what constitutes this sermon?  I mean it must be some special sermon if the news is really all that good to a beggar with no coat in a blizzard!  Maybe I need to consider just what the content and CONTEXT of that sermon is more carefully.

CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT

The first 3 rules of good Bible study are: CONTEXT, CONTEXT, and CONTEXT, and of course, that opened my mind and heart up to that most important (and without it, deadly) question you need to bring to any passage of Scripture every time you engage the Bible: What is the CONTEXT here?

I mean, for one thing, I need only look to Matthew 25:31-46 to hear the SAME Jesus in the SAME book of the Bible outline how Eternal Judgment hinges on some very practical ministry shown to the poor!  And he doesn’t mention a good sermon in that scenario at all.  And Luke 14:13-14, another word from the SAME Jesus in the other SAME book of the Bible outlines Eternal Blessing just for inviting the poor and needy to your party!  Again with no mention of the good sermon!  But this list of good deeds and practical helps shown to these other needy people punctuated by the good sermon was the reassurance John the Baptist needed so he could face his own death with confidence in Jesus.

Somehow it became clear to me that if I didn’t work out the proper CONTEXT for this passage, and the relation of it to these others, then it would appear the Bible contradicts itself and twists itself, and then my faith in it might be pointless!

So I had more work to do.  But I sensed I was onto something.  For Jesus, it is important that the poor have the GOOD NEWS preached to them, and this was important to John the Baptist too.

Well I have done a little CONTEXTUALIZING of these remarks from Jesus for a while now, and while I think it was important for me to sit and wrestle with the idea that preaching a good sermon means there is something really powerful about the sermon, I have come to see that there is more to that sermon than just any old good news and there are more dimensions to the GOOD NEWS there than we typically think about.  And the wrestling match I was in with that original passage initially helped me to open my imagination so that I could see the CONEXT a lot more than I would have otherwise.

Another look at “THE GOSPEL”

Here’s the thing about GOSPEL:

In just the last two weeks I have found a number of bloggers talking about the GOSPEL, the GOOD NEWS, of Jesus Christ – defining it, analyzing it, all that good stuff.

These bloggers make good points in their lessons teaching us about the GOSPEL.  The Greek word for GOSPEL, which in English comes across as such a religious word, is correctly translated as “good news.”  The “GOSPEL,” a church word of our modern times, really just means “good news.”  It might be any good news as far as the linguistic CONTEXT is concerned.  As one blogger put it, when the word comes out that a new baby is born, that is “good news” for the grandparents.  And sure enough, a baby born is the exact content of the GOOD NEWS the angels bring to shepherds in Luke 2:11.  It is GOOD NEWS of GREAT JOY regarding the birth of Jesus!  The key thing there is that Jesus is the new born KING!  And that is not just ANY old “good news” about just ANY birth of ANY baby.  That is exactly what we celebrate at Christmas time.

So, as N.T. Wright teaches, the word GOSPEL, which as we said means “good news,” is good news of a very specific kind, of a very specific content, and it’s not used, in the biblical CONTEXT, to depict just any old good news, and not just any birth of any baby.  In fact, the word GOSPEL in the Bible is at least as much POLITICAL in nature as it is religious.  And, HISTORICALLY speaking, on the lips of Roman heralds who spread out over the whole known world announcing Rome’s gospel, it was in fact BAD NEWS to hear that “Caesar is Lord” if you didn’t want to be conquered by Rome.

At root, the specific content of the GOSPEL of Jesus Christ is the message that YOUR GOD REIGNS (Isa. 52:7).  When Jesus comes announcing the Kingdom of God and proclaiming the GOSPEL, he is telling Israel first, and subsequently the rest of the creation from then on (including us today) that God is King of creation, that he rules over us, and that CHANGES EVERYTHING.

Well, let’s face it; that is GOOD NEWS if you want to see the God of Israel in charge of the world, but it is bad news for any who don’t.  If you were Caesar, running around conquering the world for your own glory, sending heralds out to anounce to all your newly conquered subjects that “the war is over, I have good news, there is peace in the land because Caesar is Lord,” then you would not like it if some uppity Jew from Nazareth began proclaiming the GOOD NEWS of his Kingdom, and especially if he sent his heralds (St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. John – to name a few) all over your newly conquered empire with their GOOD NEWS which then undermines yours.

See what I mean?

All of that is part of the study of the word GOSPEL – or it should be.  THAT is the kind of thing the Bible depicts by that word, and it is political ever bit as much as religious.  It means there is a new KING in town, and this town ain’t big enough for two of them.  And in Jesus’s case, specifically, it means there is a new KIND of government, and new way of living as a citizen of this new KINGDOM.  And it is a way that puts the needs of others above one’s self, even above the political needs of one’s party, and even more yet it puts the needs of others above even the patriotic passions and needs of one’s own nation.

Can you see where this is starting to go yet?

The CONTEXT of Isaiah and Leviticus

Well, let me put that pursuit on pause just a moment and get back into the text of the Bible and chase one more level of CONTEXT for our original passage where Jesus comforts the soon-to-be-executed John the Baptist by describing how every needy type of people is getting their needs met while the poor are having the GOSPEL preached to them.

Let’s look at Isaiah 61:1-3 a moment.

1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

2  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;

3  to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

Notice here in the first verse that this is exactly the passage Jesus quotes in Luke 4:18-19 as he preaches his awesome, mission-inaugurating sermon in his hometown of Nazareth, where he outlines for his family and friends exactly what his mission is all about.  However, look a bit closer at the verses that come right after that in Isaiah (just to make sure we are really dealing with CONTEXT in a more thorough way).  And though this blog post has not led us through a complete exegetical study of the passage, we have now considered the biblical CONTEXT, the historical CONTEXT, the political CONTEXT, and the religious CONTEXT in which our first passage first holds its meaning rather than attempting to lift the passage out of CONTEXT and hold it in some mythical vacuum.

And here is what I see in the larger CONTEXT, especially with Isaiah’s own literary CONTEXT overlaying all the rest: THE YEAR OF THE LORD’s FAVOR is characterized by so much relief from suffering, relief from oppression, relief from broken hearted mourning and sadness.  The YEAR OF THE LORD’s FAVOR refers to the Jubilee and points us back yet again to Leviticus 25 where there will be trumpets blown, and a royal announcement and proclamation made at the end of every 49 years which brings GOOD NEWS to the poor about how their debts are canceled and all the property they ever lost will be returned to them because their GOD REIGNS.

In God’s Kingdom Rule, the government is a different KIND of government.  It is a government of restoration of property, of the cancelation of debt, of the release of prisoners and slaves.  To the other kingdoms of the world, those are the marks of anarchy, the relinquishment of control, and the endorsement of poverty and the decisions which lead to it!  But when Jesus preaches it, it means the world is ruled by LOVE.

The Good Sermon That WELCOMES the poor into a world ruled by LOVE

We sure came a long way looking at CONTEXT.

Are you still with me?

(I know this post is a bit long, but if you want to know the power of preaching a good sermon to homeless people, then I think it is worth it.  Don’t you?)

So where are we now?

We are looking at the full CONTEXT of Jesus saying to John the Baptist about how the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the dead are raised, and we are finding Isaiah’s YEAR of THE LORD’s FAVOR exploding from this reassurance Jesus gives to John in his moment of doubt, and we are looking closely at the GOOD NEWS the poor have preached to them which somehow compares with the direct healing and undoing of all the various ailments of all the various needy people, and considering how this sermon impacts the poor.

And here is the message we find bound up in all of that:

When the poor specifically have the GOOD NEWS preached to them, we find they are being told, that a royal announcement is being made to them, that their poverty is now ended.  They are welcome to avail themselves of the blessings of creation which they have been missing out on as the world was run by other kings and their other kinds of kingdoms.

We must take care not to reduce the sermon to this, but we must also take care not to overlook this very vital part either.  Let’s get the WHOLE PACKAGE, and not just the part we are comfortable with here.  It is vital to this GOOD NEWS preached to the poor that they are told, “WELCOME to God’s treasure chest!  We all share in it together.”  This is exactly the Eternal Life the rich man turned down in Mark 10, and it is exactly the communist sharing we find the Jerusalem church engaging in in Acts 2 and 4.

And if you are a bearer of this GOOD NEWS, it presumes YOU will play your part in sharing what you have as PART of the WHOLE PACKAGE, which ultimately tells us Jesus is LORD, and that His God Reigns now.  And EVERYTHING CHANGES – the captives and slaves are set free, the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are healed, and.. AND… and the dead are raised to life!  AND… AND… AND the poor hear the GOOD NEWS!

Now… armed with THIS study IN CONTEXT, how about we revisit those old questions about outreach ministry again.  What does the Bible say to those Christian best-sellers?  What does Jesus say about which comes first, the sermon or the help?  And what exactly is the GOOD NEWS the poor need anyway?

…And The Poor Have The Good News Preached To Them.

 

An Addendum To Introspection Post

(Disclaimer: Oh, man…  I don’t REALLY expect anyone to actually READ my previous post.  It is monster long, and meanders through a story I doubt few will find meaningful.  But I have been working on it for several days and writing it for two.  And the best scheduling opportunity for me to write came quite late at night, and I failed to add a couple of features to that post, or to even attempt to proof read it, before I published it with an absent minded click of the button behind groggy eyes.  But there are a couple of features I want to round out the story with for anyone interested enough to actually read the whole thing.  And so I will do that with this addendum post.)

In this post I want to write about part of my experience with the Cub Scouts and also about some influence the Karate Kid (yes the movie) had on me, on my ability to learn and the spiritual experience that produced for me which opens up my worldview a bit.

First the Cub Scouts

I joined the Cub Scouts in the second grade (I think).  It’s hard to remember all the details without convoluting some details with others, and so I am not certain it was actually the second grade, but I know I spent months (probably a whole academic year) observing older kids show up to school in their Cub Scout uniforms, and I was almost spell bound by that.

If memory serves me right, I was enrolled in the Scouts quite a while before I got my shirt and scarf.  The delay in that was a hard lesson in delayed gratification, and that is what I recall about it.  Hard to believe I would mistake that in my memory.  But I believe the uniform was a Christmas gift that year.  I remember feeling like I belonged to something special, that I was a part of the group, a select group of important people.

As a small child, I was also very patriotic, unlike now, and the overtones of such a uniform which seemed a precursor to military and/or police uniforms which I also admired, gave me a rich sense of being special.  I could stand in those lines at school, being quiet and still with my hands at my side and feel like I was serving my country!  I felt I was part of the Few, the Proud, the Cool Kids in fancy uniforms with shiny buttons, badges, and yellow scarves!  All just for the asking!  Who wouldn’t want this?

But I remember a glitch in the matrix when the Scouts held their annual rocket racer derby.  (I don’t recall what the gadget or the event was really called, but it was a little rocket sled type toy dangling from a wire and powered by an airplane propeller wound up with a rubber band.)

I remember all the boys gathered around and the fathers cheering us on.  The race facilitator set us up two by two in a tournament of races as everyone eagerly watched to see if their rocket was a winner or a loser.  When my turn came, I was front and center with a very good view of the action.  I watched as my rocket beat the other rocket, and I was so happy!  Except apparently the judges and everyone else there saw it differently.  My rocket lost.

Perhaps it was just wishful thinking.  I certainly learned to second-guess myself that night.  I know that.  I could not believe the defeat, but I had no wherewithal to challenge the judgment.  My dad apparent concurred with the judges.  It was me against everyone in their uniforms and their daddies too.

Years later, I would study in sociology about the test subject in the class room full of “pupils” who all claim the long line on the chalk board is actually the shorter line, and thus they were able to change the test subject’s reported perception of the lines through peer pressure.  I remember thinking back to that moment in the Cub Scouts and wondering if I had been so pressured.  I still felt cheated.  I did not see it like all the others.

To be honest, I question my own perception of that event.  I am not so paranoid to think that all the judges, all the other fathers, and all the other second-grade Cub Scouts conspired to cheat me in that race, but I also honestly did not see it the way anyone else did, AND I learned not to contest it that night.  It had a net effect of deflating, a little bit, my faith or even inspiration to be involved with the in crowd.  My sense of belonging began eroding.  A different perspective on things was coming to life in me.  One where I would accept that I am a loser.

Sometime after giving up my football fantasies, basically in high school, I began questioning all forms of competition.  When I say, BEGAN, that means I had not come to the conclusions yet, but I definitely was not part of the jock clique at school.  In fact, I ran with a crew that may have been a precursor to the “trench coat mafia” we heard so much about in the days following the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado a few years later.  My crew was no where nearly so dark and murderous or suicidal, but we were outcast types that did not seem to fit most of the other cliques.  And getting into a competition of nearly any kind was to face the prospect of losing, which was not appealing (except that I became a vicious Uno player (yes the card game)).

After becoming an adult, I even rethought voting in elections.  Campaigns are competitions.  The older I got, the more empathy I had for those I occasionally beat.  A friendly competition seems so healthy to those who imbibe EMPIRE, but to me it makes a loser out of either me (which I naturally hate) or out of people I love and admire (which is just mean).  Over time I began to try to image a world where rather than competing for anything, all the people around you actually set their selfish ambitions aside to try and compliment you – not to fulfill some narcissist fantasy, but rather so that the whole world could be in harmony.  This would mean that I would have to give up my selfish ambitions as well, so I could play my part in the harmony as well.

It all sounds like a glorified, leftist, feel-good dream you might have while smoking pot, but if you look closely into the Bible, you find it also comes very close to the Kingdom of God!

But I have said enough now about my experience with the Cub Scouts.  Actually, if I had meant that to really be ABOUT the Cub Scouts, then I would have a lot more to tell, and some of that might be relevant to this post, but actually, the Cub Scouts experience is just a touchstone for a much larger aspect of my life.  So let me turn now and talk about The Karate Kid in much the same way.

I am not really a fan of the movie, The Karate Kid.  But it did come out at a pivotal moment in my life and had a curious impact on some spiritual matters in some surprising ways.  Not just spiritual, as in some religious vacuum either, but spiritual as pertains to academic pursuits as well.

I doubt I need to tell any of my potential readers about the part of the movie where old Mr. Miyagi relents to young Daniel’s persistent request to learn Karate.  The old man agrees to it if Daniel will wash his car and paint his fence in what, to Daniel, appears to be a barter, a trade.  Work for lessons.  But old Miyagi insists that Daniel use very specific methods which seem unnatural for car washing and for painting, but the old man is eccentric and if the boy wants to learn Karate, this is his ticket.

Many years later, I was studying Koine Greek in college.  The first year of study is a slog of memorizing paradigms.  It is such a long, dry experience that many students opt not to take a second year of it if their degree plan does not require it.  But sadly that’s just when all those paradigms pay off and you can start to read and translate!

But slogging through the first part is a killer, and the guy who wrote the text book included a chapter where he talked about “the fog” of it all.  He insisted that if I would just trust the system and trust my teacher, despite the fact that what I was otherwise doing seemed to NOT make sense and had very little payoff – delaying gratification a very long time – that I would be fine in the end.

This was a new concept for me.

Trust the teacher.  Embrace the fog.  Trust that neural pathways were developing which much later would pay off.

Hmmm…

There comes a scene in The Karate Kid when Miyagi makes the deeply frustrated, and morbidly gratification-delayed young Daniel demonstrate “wax on; wax off” and “paint the fence” to demonstrate the body movements he had been for so long and pointlessly indulging so that his motor memory was engaged long before either his head or heart was.  And as he complies with Miyagi, Daniel discovers he has been learning Karate all along, and he is far more skilled than he dared to realize.

I had that experience with Greek.

I aced those classes too, and took 3 years of it.

My teacher was endeared to me, and the later part of my academic experience was nothing like the early days.

THIS, I think, is  trait we find in our Christian faith too, according to St. Paul.  The law was our tutor.  We trusted the One who gave it as we set out to practice it, and then when the time came, we were no longer under the law.  It was written on our hearts.  And all this smack talk about “legalism” seems to give that a bad name, in my book.

Wanta know Karate?  Show me wax on; wax off!

Wanta love God?  Invite the poor stranger into your hospitality!

Trust the Master, and find these things are mastered by you.

A Rare Public Display of Introspection

My wife claims I have some form or variation of Asperger’s Syndrome.  I have, to my knowledge, never been tested for it, and I am certain I never was so diagnosed.  And in my opinion, it is one of those vague diseases which even the experts don’t have settled.  It’s in that ill-defined grey area where enough experts see SOMETHING to it, but not enough and not well enough agreed upon to either clearly define it or treat it, and thus it seems one of those claims that is easy to abuse.  Perhaps my wife seeks to insult me or to excuse me – it is a handy claim for either motivation.

To be fair to her, this is not a claim she repeatedly makes.  In fact, even calling it a claim is a strong word for what she has done.  Actually, she has expressed wonder about it.  So, truthfully, this observation is even more wishy/washy than usual.

But I have sat with it.  I have given it thought.  And while I certainly have not determined this claim to be accurate, I have found cause for pause.

But before I go any further down that path, let me say this too.  I find in myself a tendency to err on the side of psychosomatic illness.  Not only that, but as I worked in the mental health field for a number of years, sitting in on plan-of-care discussions for countless patients, I found myself having extraordinary empathy with them, identifying their symptoms (usually to a lesser degree) in myself, AND I recall discussing this with the doctor and other professionals who confirmed that what I experienced in that was a common feature of the work we did.  But even more, since I came to the work trained in Christian ministry and theology, I thoroughly challenged the established views about “hyper-religiosity,” one of the symptoms our conferences often considered.  I am pleased to say that even though I did not persuade anyone to jettison “hyper-religiosity” from consideration, I was successful in limiting our use of it as a deciding factor in the care and treatment of individuals who exhibited it.

The fact is, and this observation is particularly true for mental health, the yard stick for “healthy,” “well,” or “normal” is established along imperial guidelines.  Basically, society has a huge say in whether you are crazy or not, and society is crazy!  So, as I look introspectively with regard to Asperger’s, I find so many slippages in the process that it almost seems not worth my time.

But…

But I have these funny little experiences which might be explained by the phenom.  And whether the diagnosis ultimately applies or not, just thinking carefully about it has illuminated some features of being me to me that I was not appreciating before.

The question then is… why blog it?

I don’t know.  It feels overly open to me, truth be told.  It feels vulnerable, and that is something I value in the abstract, but which is a lot harder to value in practice.  Thus in an effort to stretch myself, I hope it is worth the risk.  And anyway, perhaps it is so abstract as to not really matter anyway, but it might be useful to model a little vulnerability too.

Yet, somehow I think the observations I make about myself may add new dimensions to the picture of myself presented on this blog.  I am sure that IF I have a reader even remotely interested in this, they that reader will make up their own mind on that.  And who knows?  Maybe I will get a little feedback?

So one of the first things I am considering about myself is how that in the first grade, I somehow convinced myself, briefly, that my parents were plotting to kill me.  I don’t recall being overly concerned with the idea, but I am sure I entertained the idea for weeks, maybe months.

Who does that?  Especially in the first grade?  I finally convinced myself that the notion was absurd because it didn’t seem to me, after I really thought it through carefully, that my parents need to scheme and plot in order to do it.  They could make a plan, if it were needed at all, rather quickly and would have executed it by now.  Therefore, I must have been mistaken.  So eventually, I dropped it.  Still, I never discussed this with my parents at any point

That may seem dark, and it kinda is alright, except it’s kinda funny too, but the part that actually FEELs dark to remember is going to school and feeling lost.

You know that separation anxiety parents and young children have the first time the kid(s) go off to school and leave the parents?  It happens again at college, sorta.  That tough feeling of getting into the car and driving away with your baby left OUT THERE.  That feeling of deep loneliness as your parents drive away and now you have to look for that funny kid carrying the tennis racquet around who your mother thought looked cute, but who you are sure is not the person you want to be your best friend the rest of your life, but you feel desperate, and your hoping that maybe, just maybe, you will meet someone else instead…  Well maybe some of that is just me, but surely you get the idea.

Well, actually, I am talking about that first day of Kindergarten or first grade here.  Those moments where you watch your parents disappear around the corner and you are suddenly surrounded by strangers who think you need to do all these activities they have in mind.  That desperate moment never ended for me. Despite that the teacher comes over and takes you under her wing, and all, and tries to endear herself to you, and it works at first, but still it feels like a betrayal to accept comfort from your kidnappers.  And pretty quick, in a day or two, this teacher’s patience wears thin, and you find out all that endearing has its limits, but now you have all these strange kids you are supposed to compete with for the bathroom, or for attention, or for a swing on the playground.  And why am I really here?  Is it so I can stand in line and be utterly quiet all the time?  And sure, they told me to do that, so I do, but the three boys behind me don’t, and it’s as if they didn’t get the message.  But I want to please these people I don’t really know, and I sure don’t want them to start plotting to kill me, because they really might, and if they did, then I would never see my mom again.  And actually, that feeling NEVER really goes away.

See how that’s a bit darker?

When I was a kid, going to school felt like a rigged game designed to take me away from home and the people I knew just so I could be … what?  I couldn’t figure that out.  In Kindergarten, and first grade, they had nap time.  I never went to sleep at nap time, not even once.  I tried to be quiet and still, because that was the rule, but I laid there awake and bored to death wishing I could be home, and never fell asleep even one time.

We had milk time in the afternoon.  This was standard at nearly every school I ever attended in every state I attended them in, I think.  But I hated milk.  When I was a little kid, I would not drink the stuff.

I felt like I did not belong.  And some of these little things stayed with me always.

It’s not like every single day was just horrible.  I got to be the Rhine Stone Cowboy in the first grade play, and that was kinda cool.  And I had two girl friends in the first grade too, and it was hard juggling those relationships all in the same room without upsetting one or the other, but I don’t think I was nearly as invested in either young lady as I was amazed that somehow such a notion got mentioned.  And anyway, even though part of me liked the idea, I was filled with a conflicting ick factor about girls at the same time.

But I went to four, count’m, four different first grades over the course of two years because I was a first grade drop out!

No really.

And while there is no doubt there was far more to that story going on behind doors I was not privy to, I know that I was overwhelmed with anxiety in the second first grade I attended – second because we moved a lot when I was growing up – and partly because I started school a year earlier than was actually my real age group, so the kids were generally about a year older than me in my class.  But I recall rumors about a “whipping machine” they kept in the principal’s office.  And I am sure I am not the first or only kid who ever heard of and feared such a rumor, but add that to my stress too.  It was said that they strapped kids to a conveyor belt with their butts up, and paddles, chains, and laser beams would emerge at various intervals to blast away at your tender, first grade booty.  So, I was mortified when one morning I was summoned to the principal’s office.

As I recall the experience, though, the man who was our principal, asked me to take a seat in one of the two chairs stationed across from his desk.  Then he rose from his seat behind that desk and walked around to sit in the other seat next to me, but there was a small table between the chairs, a table with a lamp, and under that lamp was a small dish with some individually wrapped chocolate candies.  The man offered me a candy, and then proceeded to discuss with me whether I wanted to continue attending school.  As soon as he made it clear to me there was a real option to drop out, I only needed a minute to consider how I need not even go back to that classroom to gather up belongings.  With a phone call, my parents could be there in minutes, and I could walk out and never return.

I was a first grade drop out.

The next year, we lived in a different town, and I went to a different school with all different kids and teachers.  And a few months later, I was in yet another first grade in a different school.  I felt like I was in a revolving first-day-of-school door somewhere in the twilight zone.

I have a memory, a snapshot in my mind, of a school yard, but I can’t remember which one or where, but the buildings are red brick, dark, and it’s cold as I stand there on the sidewalk waiting for the line to move.  I don’t know any of these people, but they are sure I am supposed to be reading books about Jack and Jill and learning words and songs, but some of the words and songs are different and some of the rules are different, and the temperament of some of the people is different, but I am supposed to be … what?  I was supposed to read this?  Sorry.  I don’t know these words, and I am afraid to ask.

I remember breaking down in tears one day in the third grade.  I totally lost it.  I went to sobbing uncontrolably.  Suddenly this teacher was at her wits end with me.  She shamed me, as I sobbed in front of the class room.  I had no tissue, and suddenly the snot began to flow.  A huge globby of snot bubbled in my nose, and them broke in a stretchy, stringy, cord that dared to reach the floor when suddenly the teacher howled at me and shoved a trash can under me to catch the mess.  I can’t recall if it was the next day or a week later, as I was utterly intimidated by this woman and tried so very hard not to ever draw her attention again for ANYTHING EVER, she found some reason to relive the moment in a mimicry of me, stretching our her arm to demonstrate the long string of snot she had to dodge.  I was mortified twice from the one incident.

At this point, I don’t remember or know a soul from that town, the school or that class anymore.  But I remember that horrible moment from that place.  I wonder how I learned anything.  I have no fond memory of the third grade.

I don’t remember much about the academics from those early years, but I do remember the reading-exercise books with the little slide rule to cover the correct answer at the edge of the page, and as you went line by line, you could read and guess, then move the cover to see if you got it right, and it all felt … lonely to me.

That seems funny to say, but learning to read felt lonely to me.  Being held accountable by strangers to do this very esoteric stuff, to be the one kid (it seemed) who took seriously the orders to sit and be quiet, to stand still and keep my hands to my self while we waited, and we were constantly waiting for something, and constantly waiting until everybody got quiet, and I had that part mastered in the first half a second, but we had to wait five minutes here, two minutes there, twenty or thirty times a day for the kids who never seemed to master it.  And it felt like a big disjointed circus that I never would have signed up for if given the choice, and that one time I was given the choice, I opted OUT.

But socially?

I learned that in every town there was a kid in every class who stunk.

I remember William, the kid in the first and second grade who had a brace on his leg sorta like Forrest Gump’s.  I remember feeling superior to some of those kids and inferior to others.  I remember learning that every time you move to a new town with all new people, there seemed like you would meet someone at the new place who reminded you of someone at the old place, but of course there was no use trying to explain the way that someone new made you feel when that happened.  It was just a little phenom just for me, and no one else, except that as I got quite a lot older and began comparing such notes with my sister and parents, I discovered it is a natural phenom, but one most people experience very rarely.

But by the time I got into the fifth grade, and in the fifth grade my family settled into that town and school for five years which made it feel like HOME to me until that got ripped away, or more accurately I got ripped away.  But how could I see that coming the first year we lived there?  I didn’t.  But anyway, there was this important feature to one of my academic experiences which took me many years into adulthood to recognize.

My math teacher was trying to teach us to instantly recognize the basic arithmetic problems.  So she gave us timed tests with simple multiplication problems or division problems.  I can’t remember how many of them appeared on one quiz or how long we were given, but I am guessing a page full with maybe 15 – 20 problems of the most basic and simple kind like we had learned the previous year.  Not usually the MOST simple ones, like 2 * 2, but 2 * 7 or 3 * 6.  Stuff like that.  She wanted us not to calculate them, but to instantly recognize them because we focused on them so often.

It was a concept I never got.

Pretty quick the other students were finishing their quizzes in the one or two minute time frame, but I was still sitting there calculating rather than instantly recognizing the basic problems.  I had it in my head that math was meant to be calculated, not recognized.

Hmmm… I still have to calculate some of them.  I am sure that if I sat down today and worked on it just one or two days, I could master that.  But of course I have no real need to do math quickly or to rely on the simple figures instantly recognized.  My field of work does not require that of me, and so it’s pointless now.  But it was such a burden on me then, and I never even understood the concept my teacher was working toward.  I was bummed out when she criticized me for calculating and wasting time.  I couldn’t imagine what she was griping at me about.

I got in a remedial reading class.  They took me out of my usual class with all my classmates for an hour every day and I joined a special ed class for reading.  I wasn’t humiliated by that, but I didn’t realize for a long time that I was in the stupid-kid class either.  I just found the class mostly frustrating.  I would rather not have to spend yet more time working on this hard work that had little or no interest to me.  Sitting there launching into the assignment of reading silently amid a class of silent readers, I would start reading and try to comprehend the first two or three sentences and suddenly I could hear other kids turning pages, and I realized I was getting left behind.  When the reading time was up, I had spent more time worried that I was still trying to read page four or five when the rest of the class had pretty much finished the chapter.

I was a terrible reader.  I could recognize most of the vocab words and spell them pretty well, but string them together, and I started bogging down in slow mode.  Reading aloud was embarrassing.  I would stumble over every third or fourth word.  I hated that part.

I fantasized a lot.  That doesn’t make me terribly unique, of course.  I can’t help but think that Neil Diamond, one of my parents’ favorite musicians, had a famous song about doing that as a kid, and I likewise identified with him.  However, I didn’t fantasize so much about castles and kings and dragons and things as I did about living homeless when I grew up.  I have no idea why.  But I recall even as a youngster, even before jr high, scouting out bridges and overpasses where you might seek shelter if need be.  That part seems unique.  But I also fantasized about football too.  I was sure I would grow up and play for the Dallas Cowboys.  I don’t recall ever working out how I would do that AND be homeless, so I probably never entertained BOTH fantasies at the same time.  Although, I recall frequently my fantasy about football ended in injury rather than touchdowns.  Hmmm… Seems somehow even my fantasy life was telling me I didn’t belong there really.

So I was not a good football player.  I was not very athletic at all, actually.  Not a well coordinated physical condition for one thing.  And so in jr. high as I tried my hand at the sport, I quickly found myself on the B team – even the C team.  However, by my eighth grade year, my coach told me he would allow me on the A team if I wanted it, but I would not likely get much play time.  So if I chose the B team, I might have more fun.

Of course most of the kids I played against were a bit younger and less experienced than me at that point, but I took him up on that.  I recall making a fantastic play once on the B team.  I threw a block that knocked one kid off his feet and caused him to trip the next guy, so it was a domino effect!

It was not until a few years ago that I began to realize that that is how I learn best.  If I can manipulate a learning situation so that I can get a dry run and then go back and learn it again with the class behind me, I tend to do very well.  If I go through once with the regular group, and then you turn me out expecting me to use what I learned, I will spin my wheels a long time before even simple things become clear to me.  This is a notion you don’t really want to bring up at the job interview, but if it’s possible to accommodate this about myself, I have a way of coming from behind to shine, and I have done it in several areas of my life.  However, I really must be given this extra space, and indulged a bit of extra time.

I did this with college.

When I left high school, I was the only one of the grandkids on one side of my family to even complete and earn a diploma at all.  When I went into college, I could not understand how I got so lost between the lectures and the tests.  I was sure I had been listening, but once the test was in front of me everything seemed so foreign that I felt like the teacher and the school was trying to pull a fast one on me.  The only problem with that theory was how unreasonable it was, but the feeling of the experience was like that nonetheless.  So I threw in the towel on college for a decade.

I took a job at the local hospital for a short time, in the X-ray department.  I developed the X-ray films in the dark room.  And I recall one of the surgeons, a young doctor, who was starting out his young family brought his young son to work with him a few times, and this 7 year old boy followed his dad around making rounds with patients wearing his own child-size white coat.  When I saw that, it suddenly clicked for me.  That is a sure fire way to become a doctor!  Not the only way, and not the way most people do it, but for those who have that advantage of it being the family business and who follow quite literally their parents around like that, a child had a tremendous leg up on the game!

This had me recalling my own experience with my dad on a couple of treasured occasions.  I look back on it now, and think, Wow!  This happened when I was in the first or second grade, right during some of the darkest years of my academic life.  But it so happens that my dad was a college student off and on during my early years, and I had occasion to accompany him to a class.  As I have made clear above, I was quite capable of sitting still quietly in school, so I was no discipline issue for my dad as he sat there taking in a lecture, writing his notes, and trying to learn.  And there I was right next to him, sitting quietly, not saying a word.

Funny thing is… I was listening to the lecture.  I still remember some of the important ideas expressed there, and I wasn’t even taking notes.  I was just sitting there pleased to be next to my dad.  Absorbing what he was absorbing.

I remember watching that doctor and his son and suddenly thinking, Hey!  Why couldn’t I have been allowed to go to school with my dad?  Sure it would be a huge exception, and would bend and break a lot of rules, but I would have been getting a college education in the first grade!  I was learning there too!  And with better creativity in this system which was otherwise failing me and has proven to fail thousands upon thousands of young minds in the last three generations, I could have excelled right where I was otherwise failing!  There is something really rich about sitting there learning at your father’s side!  Something the ancients knew all to well, but our fancy modern systems are just blind to, it seems.

Anyway, shortly after all that… I went to work for General Motors as a test driver on their proving grounds and found myself learning to drive complex test schedules with some great success.  This had a lot to do with a decade of maturity since high school, no doubt, but I was seeing that I was mastering material quite well.  Also, I was buddied up with a man in his fifties who had been a long haul truck driver for years, but wanted a steady job close to home, and I watch him struggle to learn a new trade -even if there was a lot of crossover and similarity.  I watched him break down in tears and finally give up, while I, the young buck, was learning so easily what he couldn’t master.  After that, I decided to give college another chance.

By this time, I was interested in a Bible education.  That has all kinds of stuff to do with FAITH, and so I was willing to lay my life on the line for Jesus and go study professionally what ever I could learn.  I had an idea then that I really might – even probably would – fail, but I was gonna give it my best and stay at it as long as they let me.  Of course I was ten years older than my old high school self, so when I got there, I wasn’t nearly as interested in all the social activities and hype of college as I was in Jesus.  I was willing to be a total nerd even.  So I showed up early to every class, sat front and center, asked a lot of questions, took a lot of notes, and visited my profs during office hours at least twice a semester for every class.

But I was still feeling totally overwhelemed.

And one day I got a flyer in the mail asking if I was a struggling student wanting help.  It was a program for kids with learning disabilities or some other documented disadvantage or even a first generation student.  The problem was that even after testing, I didn’t technically quite qualify, but I came close to qualifying due to my poor reading and math skills, AND I begged to be let in.  So, they greased a few gears, bent a rule or two for a good cause, and let me in, and I showed up for the tutoring EVERY day.

I used all of the tutors at least a few times, but the “study skills” coach, a tennis coach (he was my funny guy with the tennis racquet in college, it turns out) wound up being my best friend that first year, and he encouraged me and guided me every single day.  We became quite close.  And I will never forget the day grades were released that first semester, even before I had the chance to see them Coach Kelly bumped into me at the HEB store smiling from ear to ear and asked if I had seen my grades yet.  I had not.  He told me I got straight A’s!

I am still stunned by that to this day.

But I went on to do that every single semester I was there.

And after that first year, Coach Kelly hired me to work as a tutor for him, and I became the first student to graduate from that tutor program with top honors.  And on graduation day, my teachers had nominated me for a University Scholars award which meant they hung a medal on my neck for my success as a student in that school!

I could seriously go on and on in this vein.  But I am starting to exhaust myself with the telling of all this stuff.  But you know?  Like I said up at the top.  The society sets the rules for what is crazy and who is crazy.  But that is crazy, since society is crazy!  I am not at all convinced that I am Asperger’s Syndrome, or that if I am it is such a bad thing.  But I am a unique person with some unique issues which when addressed with care and diligence help me to shine.  I don’t think its asking to much to address some of these things with care.  The ROI is huge!

And if that is true for me, it is true for others.

Worth considering when you see a bum on the street corner.

 

 

The Gall of American Politics

Let me be up front with a detail which may well make many potential readers here click off this blog before reading even another sentence.  (That has never stopped me from speaking (writing) my mind before, so why change it now?)

When it comes to presidential politics (especially),

I AM NOT ON YOUR SIDE.

Of course that hardly matters at some levels since I don’t vote.

I have been accused of being LIBERAL several times before.  I won’t hide the fact that I have a number of sympathies with Liberal causes, but neither will I deny that being labelled as such does sting me personally.

I have been accused of being CONSERVATIVE several times before too.  And actually, that is a term I would use to describe myself, alright, but I dreadfully hate the confusion that seems to cause in recent decades.  And actually, even though it is a term I would use to describe myself, I am not overly comfortable with it anyway.

There.

Is anyone left still reading?

Just you.

You and the crickets.

Now, I invite you, my lonely reader, to join me in the rest of this post.  It is lonely in here, but I am very glad someone found this message washing ashore in the proverbial bottle.  It’s probably lonely over there on your island too.  Though I do not have ANY expectation that just because you are still reading here that you will approve of my post, much less agree with it at all.

Now that we have come this far, let me just say that I respect people who refuse to vote for a pro-abortion candidate.  If you are a single issue voter, or if this is just too big an issue among others to give it a pass, and you thus vote against abortion out of a sense of morality, then I respect that.

I am not quite there with you, but I respect that.  (I don’t vote at all, because I find it makes losers out of either my neighbors or me every time, and I find a sense of morality there.)

However, you can put me down as a “never Trumper.”   I suppose, I am a “never Clinton” too, actually, in a sense, however, when I was young I voted for Bill Clinton, so technically that is not accurate.  But I looked at the field of presidential candidates for the 2016 election with as much interest as anyone, and there for a while both sides were producing numerous candidates, yet somehow America was only satisfied with scraping the very bottom of the barrel for the two most divisive (I think Trump just barely edged out Ted Cruz on this) candidates from the whole lot of them.  IF there is anything to admire about either Hillary or Donald, and I say IF like its a big word, then those admirable things are so deeply overshadowed by the divisiveness and bitterness that I think the demons, the principalities and powers, are making fun of us humans despite ourselves.  A vote for either of these candidates was far more a slap in the face of the opposition than it ever could be as a stand for something to believe in.

I am absolutely disgusted with Trump’s presidency.  I am willing to not be a sheer hater and will say that a few things either turned out interesting or even worthwhile on his watch, but by far this grandstanding, narcissist, “Two Corinthians” quoting, self-professed “pussy” grabber is not a good leader of anything, much less the free world.

BUT…

But here’s the thing:

Pretty nearly half the nation thinks he is worthwhile OR is willing to overlook enough of his malarkey to support him anyway.

Now think about that very seriously for just a minute.  Think carefully, because there are all manner of implications that come from that, and some of those implications clamor to the foreground of your enflamed passions before you soberly notice a couple of very important things just quietly and stubbornly sitting there unattended, and which as long as they continue to do that will keep stoking the demon-fires of American politics until civil war breaks out and pestilence with it.  And then there will be no America left to Make Great Again unless China, Russia and maybe India says so.

And anyway, since so many of my “brothers and sisters” in Christ insist that they can and should vote and even speak out on these matters, then demon possessed leadership might just matter to the church too (at least one would think).

Here’s what I am getting at, and yes this is a bit complex, but not that complex really.  Mostly you have to let go of your contempt, and that is not complex.  Hard?  Yes, but not complex.  But once that is out of the way, the rest of what I am saying becomes fairly simplified.

The thing is that our politics are less and less about the ideals they purport than about the slap in the face of the opposition.  

Look.  I liked Obama.  I think he was a caring leader.  Idealist and all.  I even think he did a pretty good job – especially considering the begrudging opposition he faced every day of his presidency.  His character mattered, and he and his wife took the high road.

I did not vote for him.

He was not the candidate that I liked best either.  And I even think that our nation was “not ready” (as we say) to have a black president, which to my way of thinking inhibited his ability to govern as well as he otherwise was already capable because so much of our electorate is just that immature about it.

But the opposition opposed him EVERY STEP of the way and never gave him or his governing agendas ANY oxygen.  They begrudged the man and everything he stood for, and HE WAS A MAN OF PRINCIPLE.

This makes me recall that other president previous to him who was so “principled” too.  G.W. Bush, claimed to be principled, AND I think he meant to be largely.  I found a lot to complain about with him, especially the needless wars.  I blame him for ISIS, not Obama.  No doubt Obama could have played the hand he was dealt differently, and may well have headed off the ISIS problem, but ISIS was in the deck Bush dealt from!  But I gotta say, Bush was in a whole other neighborhood of presidency than Trump.  And in my view, Bush’s biggest limitation was Cheney.

But you know what?

I remember how absolutely HATED Bush was!  Even on his inauguration day, the motorcade was pelted with eggs from his opposition!  He hadn’t done a single thing as president yet except wave at the crowds, but the haters turned out to show their disrespect!  And though Bush enjoyed far more peace from his opposition than Obama did, he showed incredible respect and grace to Obama when Obama was elected.

Now we have a president who shows no such respect or grace AND whose appeal to many is the fact that he doesn’t respect his opposition.

Oh the gall of it all!

This is bigger and deeper than mere partisan politics.  This is hate.  Mass hate.  And the hate has been brewing and growing and deepening for most of the course of my life.

Democrats and Republicans have fought side by side in defense and advancement of American ideals in wars all over the world.  Liberals and Conservatives have braved bombs and bullets side by side, bled together, died together, and paraded together for generations before, but the last two or three generations have begun ripping apart the fabric of the tapestry of American politics like nothing seen since the Civil War.  And this growth in evil will eventually stop one way or another.

Do you really think that if you get rid of Trump with impeachment that you have achieved anything?  You will embitter the opposition just that much more!  You will have the favor returned to you in spades!  O wait, that’s what is happening right now!  The other side did this to Clinton, and whether this time seems justified or not, it still is turn about, and will only achieve more and more and more hate.  But really, now, just say Trump is gone come February.  You now have nearly half the nation pissed off at the other half still, and now they are out for blood!

Seriously, and I am talking to Christians who think they need to vote and/or speak out on these matters here especially… show some respect to those you oppose.  OR be willing to sacrifice your way of life and very likely your life too.  This is not how you Make America Great Again.  This is how you make a Civil War again.  And a civil war in today’s world will weaken this nation enough as to invite China and Russia to come help us straighten it all out.  And as you can see, Russia isn’t waiting for an invitation to meddle in our politics.