HATING FELLOW AMERICANS IS A TERRIBLE STRATEGY FOR SUCCESS

It’s too bad the founding fathers didn’t have the foresight to create a constitutional clause or amendment dictating that Americans all pull together.   People decry partisan politics, and I get it, but we have had political parties forever, yet we also had a “union” of sorts.  And no doubt when you are in the election cycle, you by hoping your favored candidate wins, you thus by default hope the opposing candidate loses.  That part was practically built into the process, and it’s been with us from the start.

Did George Washington get 100% of the vote?  Really??  Every single one???

It’s hard to imagine today that there were any other contenders, but there were.  Not only that, but at least some Americans hoped for a different leader, but they got George.  And once he won, the nation rallied behind him as well as history.

But that feeling of contempt, that sore loser mentality, crept up in the process eventually.  Politics never have been overly congenial.  There has always been at least a scuffle in the shuffle, and look at Abe Lincoln!  A Republican, no less, who became a champion of… of… of… – well let’s call it pre-civil rights.  He also became president at our most divided point in history.  There were plenty who did not vote for him, who were willing to tear the union apart after his win, even some willing to kill him.

Yet history puts him in the unifying column.  He is a favored president.  “Savior of the union” they called him.  Everyone today claims him as “ours.”

But certainly by 2009, when Rush Limbaugh proclaimed he hoped President Obama would fail at the job, this animosity which was somehow allowed as fair game during the election, spilled over into the running of the country.  This was open hate.  This is the same attitude as a wife-beater gone over to the If-I-can’t-have-her-no-one-can murder/suicide of power politics.  Limbaugh* made it cool to hate fellow Americans.

Yeah, it was there under the surface long before he championed it.  Between lobbyists and political opponents skewering opposition with policies or scandals, we all knew it was there.  But after Limbaugh/Obama, it ceased to have any shame.

Now hate is our way of life.

We hate one another as a matter of pride.  Flag waving hate up and down the streets.  Contempt for fellow Americans sells tee shirts, bumper stickers, and coffee mugs.

Wow!  Democracy.  Love it or leave it – huh?

I am tempted to try and speak to the broader American public about this.  I fantasize starting a political movement we might call PULL TO THE CENTER or CUT OUT THE HATE.  In this fantasy, the confrontation with hate will shame voters and partisans into a fresh conviction, a new self-examination and reflection, not to persuade liberals to conservative agendas or conservatives to liberal agendas, but to root out the superfluous hate and contempt.

You know… like “Say something good about the opponent” or more directly inventory the weightier issues and separate them out from lighter ones, and stop the antagonizations of lighter ones.

I mean really… Look at the 2016 presidential election with me a moment: Why did the whole thing just have to boil down to a choice between Hillary and Donald?  Why THOSE TWO??  Even Cruz was such a lightning rod, and he was a heavyweight contender for much of the cycle.  And I don’t care how much you might love Hillary (about a third of this nation does), the moment you make her a real contender, you piss off nearly half the nation!

Some of her reputation may in fact not really be deserved, but that is beside the point!  The point is that if that candidate wins, half the nation loses! and loses hard!!  This puts her in a category with Donald and Ted.  Either one of them, if they win, makes half the voting public into sore losers.

Does anyone remember John Kasich?

He presented as something of a centrist.  We might all lose a little, but no one would bear the burden of losing hard if he had won.  He actually said he wanted to care about the issues that mattered to both sides.  But American voters did not give him a chance to find out because we were too busy hating Hillary, Donald, and Ted, and our hate produced Donald as a winner and half the nation as losers.

And I remember the shock of his win!  This was yet another Republican victory where the electoral college robbed the popular vote it’s win.  BUT that little rule was agreed upon before we went into the election, and so we all abided with it.  Still, the shock was hard on everyone, winners included!

But I remember people saying, “Not my president.”

I’m not suggesting that liberals were the first to ever rally behind that sentiment, but it was the first time that statement ever got up such a steam in my life experience.  Yeah.  That was liberals saying that!  It was a sore loser syndrome.  But it was only an expression of pain, not a threat to national security, per se.

Four years later, turnabout was just not fair play.  “Not my president” and the sore loser syndrome turned into open rebellion.  Of course, it followed four years of open gloating and showboating.

Yeah.  I see all of that, and I dread it too.

But, alas, I am a Christian seeking help from God for this.  But I find his people are largely behind it – being sore losers, showboating, fanning the flames of hate and contempt and rebellion against the state. (Remember when Republican politicians were preaching Romans 13 just a few years earlier???)

Now WE are the fickle haters.

NOW I am really worried for America.

My fantasy is a misplaced desire, really.  Yes, it would be nice if the US Constitution had a clause or amendment about pulling together, but that document isn’t worth the God-created paper it is written on.  What we really need is LOVE.  Christian love which is patient, kind, humble and willing to bear burdens.

We need Christians to stop the hate in our own hearts.

You Christians have a kingdom to seek first.  You will not find it hating fellow Americans.  But hating fellow Americans is a sure-fire way for Rush Limbaugh’s desire for our president to fail to become our reality.

There may be an official separation of church and state, but the state cannot be blessed of God if YOU choose hate over love.  On the contrary, America’s best chance at blessing is for you to love your enemies and fellow Americans.

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*No doubt my post seems to slant toward blaming Republicans for this problem.  While it is the “Christians” I particularly hold to account with this observation, I am mindful that as far back as Vietnam protests, liberals expressed hate and contempt for authority, for conservatives, for Republicans too.  I in no way give THAT a pass, though I don’t see much there to confront with my post.  In the interest of fairness, though, I am happy to make note of the fact that Republicans are not alone in this problem, and arguable did not start it.  In fact, my personal observations over the course of my life suggest that conservatives have endured decades of contempt with restraint before giving in to “the dark side.”

MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE’S “SATAN’S CHURCH”

(CLAIMER: First things first here: Jesus is Lord not Donald Trump.  I need that on the record, and I am willing to die saying it.)

I really wanted to write a post dealing with race and racism as a white man.  I will shelve that for now because MTG hit me with fresh offensive headlines yesterday that need to be addressed.  Yes, Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is known primarily as a humble, Jesus-loving, devotee of a crucified savior, thinks that the church (Catholic Church to be specific at that level) is not only out of line for helping needy immigrants, but specifically out of line for using federal money in the process, but even more she wants to insult and/or defame the church as an instrument of Satan.

Yeah.  She put religion and state together in the most heinous way, set herself up as judge, and didn’t stop until she attributed church work to Satan.

That is so boldly caustic and inexcusable as to need addressed.

Now… I don’t wish to be one more offended voice in the cacophony of contemporary politics, nor do I wish to be a hater.  I don’t want to be a liberal either, but my seat among conservatives has been taken, leaving me nowhere to sit among them (and maybe that is a good thing in the grand scheme too).

No, I don’t wish to push the political football down the field for either side or to slaughter a politician for doing what we vote them in to do.

Instead, I want to piggyback off her comment and ask you, dear reader, to THINK it through carefully.

“A house divided cannot stand.” -Jesus

A church reaching out in loving ministry to poor, needy, marginalized people in the name of Jesus simply cannot be from Satan.  On the contrary, the passage where we find Jesus saying this line is a scene where his political accusers claim he too is from Beelzebul.  (Yeah, MTG, it’s been tried before, and look out because THIS is the “unforgivable sin” you are flirting with.)

We are talking now, not so much about offensive language, and certainly not about American politics (certainly not in some shallow, surface level).  Instead, we are talking about a divided house.  The house of God.

I will leave it to YOU, dear reader, to make the connections.  Ask in a comment, if you need to do so.  But if you want to talk about Satan’s church, then explain “Cowboy church” to me.

I am a Catholic.  I am not taking some personal offense to MTG because she picks on Catholics.  For that matter, I am not a “good” Catholic.  I come from a different faith heritage, actually.  But I am certified Catholic as part of my personal effort to find UNITY in the house of God.

As far as my personal taste for these things goes, I LIKE Methodists – even those liberals who get all gooey about LGBTXYZ!  They taste better in my mouth.  But my heritage never was part of that one.  We broke with the Christian Church who broke with Presbyterians.  My faith family tree descends through other branches than Methodist.  But nearly all of us can trace our way back to Catholic, and I did not want to merely run off and join something I LIKEd, but rather to be a part of healing the breach my fathers and grandfathers helped create.

Let us undivide the house!

Let us love immigrants and homeless and sojourners like God outlines in the Bible and not call it Satan’s work.  Let us get at the same communion, the same Jesus, and claim the LOVE of God which our world needs far more than it needs even one single Republican.

Somebody leave me the AMEN.

I LOVE MY KIDS

(Disclaimer(s): As a general rule, I try to “speak for myself” and not others.  In this post, I use the first-person, singular pronoun (as I do in numerous other posts) even though it would be better rendered plural.  I don’t mean to discount Mrs. Agent X in the slightest; I just leave open the high possibility that she might describe some important details very differently or might not appreciate some aspects of the things I say.  But she doesn’t blog here.  So, let the “we” be understood where necessary.)

Here at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners, our family blender “goes to eleven.”*  Not only is it the case that Mrs. Agent X and I both come from previous marriages with kids involved from that earlier time, but we have been known to take in strays over the years (blurring the boundary lines unofficially) as well as foster/adoption (which is official).

Everyone in this home comes to it with “baggage.”  That baggage is different for everyone, and each person’s pain is unique.  In fact, we are all pretty much walking disasters, thrust together in love, hoping we can honor our commitments and thus honor God with our very broken lives.

I find it uncommon for people to blog about their foster/adoption families.  I expect because most people don’t do it.  However, of those who do it and blog about it, I find it common to detail the trials, the cost of discipleship, and the unique baggage that comes with kids from troubled families.  I totally approve of that, and I hope it educates the wider world on such matters.  Those who do it well never cease to inspire me.

I, however, am leery of posting those things.  I do it some, but I am still leery about it.  I almost could convert this blog from a focus on street homelessness to foster kids, and it would make a lot of sense to do that.  But I don’t want my kids to grow up and find that I document all the trials that would shock the average blog reader.

To you, that is education.  To them, it is personal.

Oh… and there is a sense, coming from that blogging process, that I am somehow an expert.  After all, it’s me telling you things you don’t know.  And while there is some truth in that, it totally betrays the fact that I am no better than a bug on the windshield of life myself.

Okay, that’s a bit extreme.  But not by much.  Let me say this: one of life’s training moments that prepared me for adoption life was years before I got into reaching out to the homeless.  I had found a cheap whore from the streets who needed love (not quick sex, but a healing touch from God) who was suffering with HIV, schizophrenia, and from being a lost lamb.

I recall the first time we met, I gave her a Bible and watched her shuffle up the street in a bathrobe and slippers at about 1 a.m.  As she disappeared into the night, I felt my effort and give was so very futile.  Surely, she needed more.  Surely, God called more out of me.  Surely, Jesus would have more for her than a Bible, a prayer, and a sanctimonious goodbye.

A year or two after that observation, I recall having her in our home to celebrate Christmas with our family, and we kept her for three days.  All the little things we did like find usably long cigarette butts for her to smoke, providing her a coffee can out on the back stoop where she could smoke them, and food, gifts, and some of our own clothes to wear during her stay were important.  But the part that stands out to me is that moment when we turned off the light, saying goodnight to her from the doorway (almost tucking her in!) and listening to the words of welcome come from my mouth as I said, “We are so happy to have you here with us tonight, blessed not worrying if you are okay or loved.  You are wanted here.”

I have no way to measure the impact those words had on her heart, but I definitely felt power leaving the pit of my stomach as they came out my mouth.  Something truly holy happened just then.  I was not worthy.

What is the mark of success?

If my kids graduate high school, is that a success?  Can I sit back and finally say I achieved something good when they walk across the stage, shake the hand, and take a diploma?

Or will in only be a success when we do this for a college graduation?

My kids still range between 0 and 5 years old.  I will be an old man, assuming I am still alive, when the youngest finishes high school, assuming we reach that benchmark.

Will it be a success when my kids get baptized?  Will it be a success when they find Jesus in prison?  (There’s a nightmare I suffer even now!)

Is JOY a success?

I mean, coming from where we started, is a single day filled with blessed joy a success?

I hope so.  We have a few of those.

I love my kids.

They share none of my DNA, but somehow, in God’s providence, he made me their “Pops.”  Every single one of them came to me as addicted infants.  There are numerous developmental delays, emotional and cognitive issues, and only some of them have the same skin color as me.  The challenges are not “normal” for “normal” families – and those kind bust up in divorce ALL THE TIME!

But we have these little victories.  Two of them are finally, finally, finally potty-trained!  (Well, sorta.)  And I have found there is a rich bond that develops between people during prolonged potty training.  A lot of frustration too.  We get down to the bottom of me!  We find out what I really think and feel!  And I am not such a pretty person either!!!

But then we have success!  Poop in the potty!!  Call the relatives and take a picture!!! (Not.)

Okay, but we do throw a small potty party among ourselves (this after a lot of small pity parties too).  There are prizes to be had.  Prizes and praises.  We are endeared to one another.  We fought hard together to reach this milestone, and we are all old enough to remember it for life!

I teach my kid to wash himself in the shower.  He is learning to rinse soap out of his hair.  That is more tricky to learn than I realized.  He is learning to dry off with a towel.  He is learning how hard it is to pull up your pants if you don’t dry off good enough.  Sometimes, we get to the bottom of him!

But my boy is so sweet.  When his meds are working properly, you can’t beat him.  He wants to help with EVERYTHING.  And he is helpful.  I tell him he has a shepherd’s heart.  He has ugly squabbles with the younger kids frequently, of course, but you should see him share.  When it’s his sister’s turn to go to the store and he gets left behind, he tells me it is “heartbreaking.”  That is his word for it.  And when I tell him she will be heartbroken if she doesn’t get her turn, he thinks about that and gives up his seat.

He takes initiative.

When we sit down to eat a meal together, three kids sit in highchairs with food stuck on fingers and faces.  My boy takes the hand -n- face rag and starts cleaning up the babies and then gets them down even before I am ready.

He is smart too.  Don’t let the delays fool ya.  He is not as fast to learn a lot of the standard lessons as other kids, but he has an uncanny knack for geography.  Mama (Mrs. Agent X) works in one of the big hospitals, one of the biggest landmark buildings in town.  And my boy can spot it as a dot on the horizon from miles away, and seems to always know where he is in relation to it.  He’s been telling us as much ever since his speech delays relented two and a half years ago.

There’s a lot of success in all that.  There’s a lot of joy in it.

If I died today, and if my kids were put back into the hopeless “system” where I found them, and if the joy in their lives disappeared with me, you can’t take away the progress that has been made, the joy that has been enjoyed, the milestones that have been met.  You can’t take that away from us.  You really should see the victory that has already been won.

I don’t live MY life anymore.

I don’t even want MY life after this.  I am, of course, still adjusting to it.  A lot of my dreams die hard.  Though I didn’t appreciate it before, I don’t think I really want to live in a house that doesn’t have crayon marks all down the wall through the hallway.

When God enters his house, the Good Book describes how the smoke comes with him and drives out the priests and all those attending to the worship there.  When the Ark of the Covenant takes a tour of Philistine villages, they find their lives are a mess too.  When Jesus comes into Herod’s temple, he also drives out the money changers and makes a mess of the place.

It’s like the banker/janitor (deacon) from church once told me as I apologized for feeding Poptarts to hungry urchins I brought to worship from the projects while he was cleaning the crumbs and ground in jelly off the pews right under the “no food or drink in the sanctuary” sign: “It’s just a sign Jesus was here.”

“It’s just a sign Jesus was here,” he said.

That’s some profound insight.  What would you give to have Jesus come eat dinner at your place tonight?

I am not worthy of the joy, the success, the love I find in my kids.  And really, they are NOT MINE, but God’s.  They are mine on loan – maybe.  And somehow, through all the good, the bad, and the ugly, God makes us family and gives us love.

I love my kids.

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*A nod to This Is Spinal Tap.

I WANNA ARGUE WITH FOOLS

Don’t you?

Isn’t that the problem?

At least part of the problem?

Allow me to start this thought (this post) with a bit of humility.  I don’t know it all, and the point of this post (if it can be boiled down to a single point) is above my paygrade, but even though I think thinking is important, I don’t think it’s the end-all/be-all.  While love is humble, patient, and kind, it is not unreasonable – though it is no slave to reason either.

I am entirely open to wise ones and idiots stopping by to straighten me out here.  Who knows?  You might enlighten me.

I live in an ultimate reality – one in particular.

As a Christian, as a disciple, as a lover of God, I spend my days and nights running my observations and thoughts through a kind of grid.  I study all the same (for the most part) subjects in school as everyone else with a liberal arts education.  I watch most of the same movies, TV shows and news reports as everyone else.  I read some of the same books, though that is starting to stray into some niche realities.  But I funnel my observations and experiences through a grid which acknowledges God, resurrection, love, and peace.

So far, that is a pretty fair description of a lot of other “Christian” people.  If that is the extent of our faith, we are not merely apt, but pretty much left with no alternative but, to argue our points.

That grid I run these thoughts through is a worldview lens, and it has not remained unchanged all my life.  Even as a Christian, major changes to it have come up along the way.  I used to hold to a typically American version of Christian faith which believed in a pie-in-the-sky type grid.  The point of life, I thought, was to not get overly entangled in this sinful world as I develop a laser focus on Jesus and going to be with him (when I die) in some “heaven” somewhere else untouched by the dirt of creation.

This worldview was “Christian” sorta.  It honored Jesus in some deeply broken ways that denied the goodness of creation and the redemption of it.  It diminished the meaning of salvation to something palatable for modernity, allowing me to be thoroughly double-minded and not even know it.

Eventually, this worldview was challenged, and I made major changes.  But even now, I recognize I am a work in progress.  I don’t have it all figured out yet.  There are some deeply mistaken bits of my worldview that keep me from seeing life clearly.  I nonetheless believe that God was gracious with my old worldview and is gracious with my new one.  So, I don’t get too jammed up about it, yet I am not satisfied with smugly sitting back to enjoy his grace with my broken worldview and then stagnate in it.

Well, I have chased that bunny far enough for this post.  Allow me to say I conduct this worldview review in a world of sociological “constructs of reality,” of political “slants,” and of “my truth/your truth” relations.  I was a modernist trying to be “Christian” when I came into this world, now I am a post-modernist trying to be “Christian.”

The Cold Modern World Where I Live

This is the general scheme of my thought world where I do my world viewing.   I am sure there are more epistemological levels to it than I am currently voicing, but it’s already getting pretty deep – for me anyway.  And yet, I have an underlying trust/faith with which I appeal to God through Jesus.  Epistemology is not devoid of LOVE.  The modernist worldview has no use for love.  In fact, the modern worldview, for all it’s awesome contributions to life (lightbulbs, vaccines, and automobiles to name a few) got us here with a grid of cold indifference.  There are no miracles in the modern worldview, instead of love being responsible for life, we have survival of the fittest.

Ignoring love did not make love go away.  Additionally, though humanity remains dazzled by the power of modernity and the unifying force of it, we have learned there are some parts of life (important parts too) modernity cannot explain.  Some thinkers bust out the cracks in this modernist prison of worldviews and rush headlong into all manner of witchcraft or new age bohemian mysteries.  Such communities seem to thrive, at least spiritually, though they do so as parasites on modernity (in my estimation).

Such quarters/communities continue benefiting from the same lightbulbs, vaccines, and automobiles as the rest of us, but deny adherence to convention.  And while witchcraft might stick in the craw of some, it still looks like a wonderful liberation – one in which the marketplace of ideas (and the marketplace of goods and services too) is only too welcoming and affirming of whatever wild notions of life you can conjure up for your “truth.”  (Still beholding to the bottom line, the almighty dollar, but sure… anything goes!)

Modernity’s Spiritual Parasites

How else do you explain Motley Crue (yeah, the rock band) for instance?

Yeah, when I was a kid, Motley Crue made a celebrated “art” and “career” of sheer hedonism, of self-centered decadence that endangered themselves and others (was deadly, in fact).  Yet they were the authors of bending all manner of realities I previously thought were bedrock foundations for life on earth.  These guys were heterosexuals, but wore women’s clothes and makeup, danced around making fools of themselves while indulging every possible sexual fantasy I could conjure up (and then some) while thumbing their nose at authority, at convention, as they took hold of the wheel and determined their own life on their own terms.

You could hardly be more “rock -n- roll” than that.  You could hardly be more “American” at some levels.

You wouldn’t know there was any pain in their lives for years to come.  For a long time there, it seemed they established their own utopia.  Thus, such a lifestyle looked like an exciting option to my teenaged worldview (tempered only by a heritage of Christian faith which was under assault from all quarters, though I had no idea).

I had to grow to middle age before I could look at that rock band and notice that such a lifestyle, if indulged by all, would not be sustainable.  In fact, such an idea would be a nightmare, and now that I am grown up, the little I read, hear about, and see about that group, as those same people reflect on their lives, I find they suffered greatly along the way in the midst of that party life.  Something I could not see when I was young.

If I could go back in time from here and now and find those boys as they were starting out in their bohemian influence on the world, what could I possibly say that might win them to Jesus?

“Hey, man.  This life you are about to embark on with all it’s booze, drugs, women, money, fame, party, and influence – where you will be celebrated for every dumb thing you do – is a huge mistake which will cost you personally and will damage the world in countless ways.  But if you look into Jesus, I am sure you will find healing for your soul….”

Yeah.  That sounds like the truth, but a wheel-spinning truth with no traction.  If I could go argue with these fools today, I don’t think I would get my foot in the door.

I never actually tried to live my life by their “truth,” but I certainly admired it a few times.  There’s no doubt there were moments where their impact on my imagination influenced decisions in my life.  And this particular rock band was never a favorite of mine!

I don’t think my grandparents ever knew the name Motley Crue.  I doubt my parents did.  But I sure did.  But just imagine who I would be today if my parents and grandparents had been sold out fans of that group!

(I imagine such scenarios now that I am a foster/adoptive parent.  My kids come from parents and grandparents who were fans of such influencers.  The alternative realities give no feasible footholds from which to establish a beachhead and then argue for Jesus.  I can try to argue with a stoned “mother” of six who gives up her baby to my home, but I don’t see that achieving anything.  I can give all kinds of unheeded advice, or I can feel scorned after the fact and say “I told you so…” all to no avail.)

Alternative Realities Presenting Over the Course of My Adult Life

But let’s move off such an easy example for a moment.  I can jump right into politics too, but allow me to cut a little deeper than simply attacking Q Anon for giving alternative realities which simply destroy previously shared realities at will.  But already, I have said enough to demonstrate there is far more at work in the differences I have with Q than merely the news channels I watch on TV or search on the web.

I think the first time I was confronted with these political realities at such a visceral level was with the O.J. Simpson verdict after the Rodney King beating-trial and subsequent LA riots back when I was still a twenty-something.  I saw what happened to Rodney King on video tape just like everyone else.  I was a white American confronted with what previously had been a hidden reality.

Did that mean that all white cops always beat up all black suspects (or drivers pulled over on the side of the road)?

No.  Of course, not.  But it was so outlandish, it nonetheless revealed how possible such a scenario was/is and how easy it had been (before the pervasiveness of video cameras) to cover it up.  There was an underground reality there which people like me were suddenly exposed to for the first time.  I saw the injustice of it for myself and on the face of it.

But then the reality of that beating got ran through a grid of white justice, and those cops all got off!

Now… I am white enough, and law enforcement supportive enough, to see some mitigating circumstances due to the training which led to that injustice.  I really am.  But – BUT – I still see it as an injustice.  I still think that normal, good people should have enough moxie about right and wrong not to engage in such things as Rodney King’s beating, and if – IF – caught up in it, to have the moxie to confess it, repent of it, and seek restoration.

None of that was the outcome of the white justice grid that crime was run through.  At the end of the day, white made “right” and black could just suffer white “truth.”

Hmmm… a video tape confrontation should have led to justice for all, but instead it changed our reality of what justice means.  (I think that’s a problem, btw.)

I watched that and felt it was a shame.  I even had great sympathy with the rioters.  I was disgusted with the beating of Reginald Denny, but at a systemic level, I had to see that “turnabout was fair play.”  Still not justice, but fair.  I was particularly glad to see some black faces try to save Denny, and even more thrilled to see Denny be so peaceful and forgiving after it.  I felt both of those “truths” reflected more clearly the real truth of God.  (But maybe that was just me.)

Yes, at the end of the day “fairness” and “justice” bifurcated.

Still, the part that troubled me most was when shortly after that riot, O.J. Simpson was found not guilty.

Now… bear with me on this point, because personally speaking, Johnnie Cochran was something of a hero of mine.  I did not happen to champion his cause, but I was enthralled with his method.  The way he presented an alternate reality was absolutely mystifying!

Nevertheless, the part that troubled me (and still does) is how that I sensed quite clearly that despite the racist cops investigating that crime, the evidence nonetheless bore out Simpson’s guilt.  But AT THAT TIME, practically all black people I knew (which was few and anecdotal then) or knew of were telling me they were absolutely convinced of Simpson’s innocence.  They were just sure he did NOT do it!

As a white man, I was even more troubled in that I sensed deep in my spirit that Simpson’s acquittal was driven more by the LA riots than by evidence or justice.  White justice isn’t supposed to be influenced by such things.  Oh… and white justice was supposed to just be JUSTICE, not particularly white, for that matter.

But you know what?  Turnabout is fair play.  Those cops who beat Rodney King got off, now Simpson got off too.  LA burned in riots after the first verdict, and in NONE of these cases did I sense any real justice.

Meanwhile, I live(d) in America.  We called it justice – as best we could.  But really, it was a mess.

And underneath even that, I found people (black people) looking me straight in the eye calling Simpson’s verdict just.  I believed (for the first time in my life) they believed that.  We were not living in the same reality.  The fact that Simpson got that verdict and that people could believe it was justice meant to me that we fundamentally have some cracks that go so deep into the bedrock of our shared foundation that I cannot see them and likely never will.

I want to argue the case!  With fools.

I want to argue based on THE EVIDENCE, but even I feel the injustice of it if that is all I have.  After all, turnabout is fair play.  Two wrongs don’t make a right, but one wrong and one right is still not fair play either.  That cannot be justice either.

Hmmm…

By the way, my other favorite lawyer of that general time frame was Bill Clinton.  He was not my favorite because of what he stood for, on the contrary, I despised his behavior – especially with Monica Lewinski, but his defense!  My God!  “That depends on what is is” is just stunning.

It was like ripping a page out of Beavis and Butthead.  How dumb could you get?  And yet, like Teflon, the accusations didn’t stick, not really, and so another lawyer with an alternative reality worked his magic, and I was enthralled.  (At least this one didn’t alienate me from black people!)

Post Apocalyptic Elections and Pandemic (Past Experience at Work in Today’s Alternative Realities)

It is now, after making mention of those instances from my young adult life, that I reframe my experience(s) with politics and pandemic of recent times.  I note that we now have a plethora of videos where cops mistreat, harm, and/or kill black people, and only recently is this without impunity.  But now to stand for justice over blue on black is to tear the nation apart.  To stand for old fashioned values is to be a racist insurrectionist.  (How do I be a good white person today???)

As a white man with white values (although with white values tempered by fairness – I hope), I can see how hostile all the alternative realities are to my heritage or even to any central position we might adopt.  As long as your justice is my Motely Crue, we will never speak the same language.  I might argue with you, I might want to argue with you – especially since I see so clearly BOTH how close we are to the same page on the one hand AND that I have clarity in the one or two places where you don’t.  But that just renders me arrogant and angry!  (If you would just sit and listen a moment, I am sure I can straighten you out without any more bloodshed.)

But somewhere back there was a tipping point.  In fact, it’s hard to say it was a point at all, but we are past it now.  The barbarians are at the gate.  If we don’t do something drastic, Rome will fall in a day.  The stakes are higher now than they were when Rodney King was taped taking the wrath of white justice on the roadside.  We finally hold at least a few cops accountable now, but our country is eating itself alive for the trouble!

Hey, I think it sucks that automobile manufacturers and steel mill workers are out jobs, and I want to see some of that come back too!  How did it get to be that just because I want our cops to treat all citizens with care and respect (and by all, I mean including blacks) that I suddenly am against bringing back the mill?  Why can’t I be both?  And why am I threatened by Marjory Taylor Greene or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez if I care about BOTH of these issues?

Meanwhile, I talk about Jesus like some impotent jerk on the street corner shouting at passersby, “Sir?  Sir??  Ma’am???  Have you heard the word of God?”

Man, I am shouting like a joke at people who have important business at the office.  And in this joke I AM THE JOKE!  They don’t have time, even if they do have the interest.

(By the way, a word to you liberals at this point (and no… this is not an exhaustive point, but part – PART – of the point you don’t seem to get), when you treat conservatives perpetually like the butt of your jokes (SNL?  Steven Colbert??  Jon Stewart???), you breed contempt for you and your sense of reality which gives birth to scorn!)

(Oh, and also, btw, for you conservatives at this point (and no… this is also not exhaustive, but part of the point you don’t seem to get), if you are into Jesus, your scorn, anger, and hate – your righteous indignation – does not either represent Jesus or speak meaningfully to those you with whom you have this conflict.  Your wagons are circled, and you are only a porcupine even to those liberals who MIGHT want to be reasonable with you… Just sayin’.)

Then there is the matter of my “tone.”  People already don’t like me or want to hear from me for personal reasons, or that I stink.

Then there is the matter that I am wrong about some stuff, and currently I don’t see those things.  So, I am either stupid or not the best resource.

Then there are those who sincerely are too angry to listen, in addition to being too busy.

And at the end of this long list of kinds of people and reasons for not listening are the haters – and there is plenty of them.

Remember those boys who dragged James Byrd Jr. to his death?  Yeah, they weren’t going to listen to me or Mr. Byrd on that fateful night.  They had some blind rage going, and you can’t shout reason loud enough to be heard over that.

Like the scene from Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”  But even that is too simplified.

The Jesus Card

Look.  This post is already needlessly too long.  But such is any good book on reason.  All I have done is slowly come to reasonable observations about these alternate realities.  Even the modern worldview was a new reality 300 – 400 years ago.  So, there have been others, many others, but of course modernity is the King Kong of realities, but it’s being gutted by bohemians and barbarians of every kind and by sympathizers of bohemians and barbarians.

I mean, if we all became homosexual, we would need science to make reproduction for us, or else we will all die out.  Science is from that cold worldview that gave us survival of the fittest.  But if we all want to live in that same worldview, it will lead to death.  The world, and that worldview, NEEDS some of us to live by some different world order or else the world cannot go on.

Deciding which worldview and world order provides a substantive and sustainable situation is, in the marketplace of ideas, up for grabs still, but that marketplace is not just innocently sitting there unattached to this or that worldview.  Not really.  No, even the marketplace of ideas is an invention of someone trying to “make nice” while making a buck.

There is a “THE TRUTH” alright, but it’s not actually “OUT THERE.”  The TRUTH is relative, and to know it (him?), you must relate!

Ahhh… but now I am playing my Christian card, huh?

Yeah, I suppose I am.  But then I don’t think there is a legitimate way not to do that, and not because I am merely biased this way, but because as one who believes the world was created in LOVE by LOVE and ordered for LOVE, I think you get a little cosmic dirt on ya in the process of thinking about all this stuff.  I think that any arguments with fools without LOVE is nothing more than noisy gonging around.

That’s what I think about thinking.

In fact, I am not against thinking or arguing (the fact that I write this post at all would betray that idea if I espoused it), but I believe that the demonstration of long-suffering love makes the difference.  Even more, I think that the thinking and arguing is secondary to the acts of love.  I stand a better chance of winning the argument by sheer love without words at all than I do in talking you into being a Christian or into seeing the beating of Rodney King as unjust.

Hmmm… the thinking and arguing are still somehow involved, but not nearly the primary thrust the modern worldview would have you believe.  Also, I note that the love must be patient, and might be required to suffer heavy losses before it wins.  The love there might have to be bigger, heavier, longer, wider, higher, and deeper than me.  It will surely outlive me.  But I might just manage to be involved with it as it systematically dismantles all other “truths.”

The ultimate construct of reality belongs to God.

IS IT RIGHT TO DO GOOD OR HARM, TO SAVE A LIFE OR TO KILL ON ORTHODOX EASTER SUNDAY?

I have long been a student of Mark’s Gospel particularly.  And though there are parallels to consider, that passage in Mark 3 where Jesus heals the man with the withered hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath is a particularly potent scene, few I know realize.  On this Orthodox Easter Sunday, as the worldwide press observes the likes of Vladimir Putin celebrating Easter as he slaughters Ukrainian men, women, and children, I want to take the observation just a little deeper.

Am I the only one seeing this?  “The media” wants to juxtapose Putin’s holiday worship with his killing.  “The media” is uncovering this apocalypse!

While all my friends and family are busy loathing “the media,” “the media” are busy juxtaposing worship with killing, and I think that is quite apocalyptic.

Don’t you?

What does Jesus say about it?

This has me thinking of Mark 3 today.  I have led several people through a study of Mark 3, both in Sunday school and out.  In my experience, when we arrive at the terrible question Jesus raises there about whether it is lawful to do good or harm, to save a life or to kill, on the Sabbath, my Christian friends are all too eager to run to the Jewish law.  “What does the Talmud say?”  What is the law on Sabbath keeping?  What did Israel’s elders and teachers, the Rabbis, say about it?

And that is, of course, a good source of information.  We will want to incorporate that.  But it is not actually where the rub is to be had.

Israel’s law, God given at root, would have you do NOTHING on the Sabbath.  To say we will do good is already to encroach on it.  There are lots of good things you can do, but you have six days of the week in which to do them (see Luke 13:14).  But Jesus seems insistent about healing this man and doing so on the Sabbath.

Now… my good Christian friends seeking legal background/case law from the Rabbis on this are quick to note that there are accepted exceptions to the Sabbath law.  If your ox falls in a ditch or if your house caves in – basically, if life or property is in danger – then you have an exception.  You can save a life.  But this withered hand does not qualify for that loophole.

I don’t know about you, but if Jesus wants to be peaceful in this hostile situation, he really can wait until the next day to perform this healing miracle.  The man’s withered hand can wait another day.  But Jesus isn’t interested in waiting.  Instead, he urgently wants to confront the hostile situation with his healing love, and it will get him into hot water.  The end of the pericope tells us that the Herodians and Pharisees (normally political strange bedfellows) unite against him to “destroy” him.

And anyway, who said anything about doing harm?  Who said anything about killing??  Why is Jesus bringing these notions to bear on the confrontation???

Hmmm…

This has me running to I Maccabees 2:40-41 (and actually the whole contextual story in which that passage is found).

This is a bit confusing, I think, for Protestants who have no use for the Apocrypha, but keep in mind that even if some of these texts are not worthy of canonization, they nonetheless set the New Testament stage.  Jesus knew these texts, and I believe this one is an important background for Jesus’s confrontation in Mark 3.

The Maccabees (especially Judas (one of the Maccabee brothers)) become legendary warriors among Jews of the intertestamental period.  In fact, Judas, in some respects, is the first in a long list of “messiahs” or maybe messianic wannabes that stretches out over most of a 300-year span of Jewish history.  Jesus Christ, the Messiah Christians claim as the one true Messiah, falls fairly close to the middle of that span which ends about 150 years after Jesus with bar Kochba, who was endorsed by Rabbi Akiba.

Think of it.

Judas was a hero.  He became the boogey man of the empire and basically won Israel independence with lasted more than 100 years.  His work opened up Israel’s messianic hopes during the time of speculation foretold in the prophecies of the Book of Daniel.  Winning independence for his people surely marked him as a contender for God’s special anointed – sort of right in line with King David of old.

We find his story in the opening chapters of the Book of I Maccabees.  And one of the main features there is the stress the people of God put on following God’s law.  Right when the empire comes to desecrate God’s people and law, the true believers would rather die than trespass it – especially things like circumcision, diet, and Sabbath keeping.  In fact, these three laws particularly came to demarcate the true believers from the traitors.

In fact, those who refused to obey the empire and cling to God’s law paid dearly.  If a mother was found having her baby circumcised, they killed the baby and hung it from her neck as she was killed in turn.

Just imagine the temptation to fail God’s law – to fall short of the glory!  You and your baby could live, but if you chose to honor God, then you would die a most tragic death.  For those families that chose death over dishonor, they became the “true believers” – as I call them.  Those who chose dishonor were traitors of their people and their God.

This is the setting for Judas Maccabee, who we find is one of the greatest war heroes of all Israel’s history.  He and his family were among the zealous true believers who stood up against the evil empire, risking it all.  But he also proved to be a valiant strategist who could kill more imperial troops than ever imagined.  The empire actually became scared of him!

But there was something of an Achilles heel in his strategy.  In fact, it came to light in the passage I cited above.  The empire came after the Jews on a Sabbath day, and these same zealots who could whip your ass on Friday or Sunday would not lift a finger to save their own lives on Saturday because they were zealous for God’s law.  So, after the first Sabbath battle, when so many great heroes were lost so easily, Judas and his army reassessed, and they decided it was necessary to kill on the Sabbath.

Now… all of this happened roughly 150 years before the Jesus you and I follow came into that synagogue confronting Pharisees.  It’s also a bit confusing because the hero’s name is Judas, and we are familiar with another Judas (Judas Iscariot) who was a traitor to Jesus and not a hero at all.  So, it is important that you sort those things out if you are going to follow my drift here.

Thus, I ask you to consider, for a moment, the American Civil War of the 1860s.  All across the South, for 150 years since that war, good southerners are apt to name their sons after General Lee.  How many boys do you know with Lee for a middle name to this day?  IF you can fathom that, you can see how Judas Iscariot got his name too.

But that leaves us with one more wrinkle to iron out.  Jesus is asking these confrontational questions about “do harm” or “kill” seemingly out of the blue.  But that is not actually the case.  As I stated before, Jesus, and basically all of his contemporaries, were very familiar with I Maccabees.  And this deep irony posed there about whether it is lawful to kill on the Sabbath.

These true believers had been willing to die for God’s law suddenly became willing to break the law in order to kill so that they could then obey it.  That is a concept that does not actually compute EXCEPT for the fact that Judas and his brothers won the war and won independence from the empire!  God seemed to have blessed this exception to the law!  But it still is a matter of ongoing debate down through time.

Think of such an ongoing debate in our culture today.  If I say the words “Roe v. Wade” to you, I instantly tap into an ongoing debate that you already have an opinion about.  I might argue the point with you in the comments on this blog.  Then if a thousand years from now, digital archaeologists uncover our debate, they will have to piece together the background of it, whereas you instantly know what I am talking about.

When Jesus asks, “Is it right to kill on the Sabbath?”, he is tapping into an ongoing debate which you and I must contextualize.  I think I Maccabees does that.

So, here we have Jesus in a synagogue for weekly worship, healing a man in an unlawful manner, upsetting Pharisees who are zealous for the law, but those same men are from that camp who would endorse a messiah who would break the law to kill on the Sabbath!  And in fact, at the end of the pericope, they go out, still on a Sabbath, and plot Jesus’s destruction!  That is how they wind up spending their Sabbath!  Jesus, on the other hand choses to break a Sabbath law (much like he did at the end of chapter 2 in Mark, btw), only he is doing good!  This choice puts this Messiah in company with those who died for God’s law – including those mothers who died with their dead babies hung from their necks!

Jesus is juxtaposing hearts in worship!

That is essentially what “the media” is doing today with Vladimir Putin!

And I want to join “the media” in this one.  I also want you to search your heart on this Sunday (for most of us the Sunday AFTER Easter) and decide how you want to approach Russia and WWIII.  In fact, how do you approach Democrats for that matter?  Are you doing good or harm?  Do you want to save a life or kill?

Jesus is confronting us today!

If it wasn’t Jesus’s way even after what he knows about Judas Maccabee, then we now know where we stand too.

Are you joining with Herodians and Pharisees to destroy Jesus too?

Think about it.  (Carefully.)

LUBBOCK CHURCH SUPPORTS ADOPTION

(Disclaimer: I don’t really know how to tell a short story – at least not without spending a lot of time editing.  So, please bear with me if this seems to meander a bit.)

Last Sunday, Easter Sunday, I found myself in a highly unusual conversation after lunch.  It was unusual for a number of reasons, mostly for who engaged me and the hope she offered.  You wouldn’t know it (unless you are psychoanalyzing me) from the blog, but I don’t have a whole lot of face-to-face conversations about the things I tend to write about.)  And on this occasion, my sister-n-law and I got to talking.

She was a member of the same church I was that split a few years back, and since that time, many of us have not settled down in a new church home – not very settled anyway.  It turns out she and her family have not either, and they have visited quite a few churches by now.

But she has been visiting an exciting assembly lately, one with a pastor I know by reputation (at least in part).  Actually, I have a story on him (a story in which he plays a key part for a flat character) – a story which is so incredible, it is hard to believe.  I have often wished for a chance to talk to him and see if he will validate the things I have heard.

Well, I told her my story, which is quite exciting, and she revealed to me that she is visiting his church as of late, and she went on to say that she’s been meaning to tell [Mrs. Agent X] – her sister – and I about a new ministry program that church is developing for adopting kids.  The church wants purposely to support and promote foster/adoption through prayer, finances, labor, and encouragement in very strategic ways.

Wow!

As an adoptive parent in this town pretty much in over my head, having upset the congregation where I am a member so bad that they “ghosted” me three years ago, and doing the work 24/7 with next to no support, she “had me at hello” – so to speak.  I was interested.  This is a church that has my respect on a couple of fronts already (criticism too, though), and now they are looking to serve the same kids I serve and help those of us who serve in serving them.  (Too much use of the word “serve” there?)

Yeah.  So, I am interested.

She sent me a link.

I followed up by poking through it.

Here’s what I find:

First off, I am impressed that this church is focusing a lot of money, work, assets, and all they have to utilize on this particular ministry.  (This, and they already lead the city in various other areas of ministry as well – one of them being serving the poor and needy (homeless) too.)

Secondly, the church has a great reputation as does their pastor.

Thirdly, this new emphasis on adoption comes on the heals of Lubbock’s newly voted policy to become a “sanctuary city” for the unborn.  I find it highly insightful that they make the connection here; if you actually end abortions, you can expect an uptick in demand for foster/adoption care.

(I am not sure, but I think this church is behind one of the major crisis-pregnancy counseling services in town already.)

That is all praiseworthy stuff!  It’s all very exciting.

Here’s the rub:

Actually, the rub is sort of a two-part thingy.  First off, as I read through the website promoting this adoption endeavor, I find not only that the church is reacting to the Proposition A vote which designates Lubbock as a “Sanctuary City” of the unborn, but the rhetoric appears to support that as well.

If you read, and if you understand, the post I wrote a year ago on that vote, you know that the issue is near and dear to me as well, but that I am not in favor of the proposition.  I do not support the political ploy.  The upside is that maybe – MAYBE – the new ordinance will save a life.  Maybe it will save many lives.  I am all for that part of it.  However, it does so by lording it over the gentiles, something Jesus clearly says not to do.

(Caveat (or is this another disclaimer): By way of comparison, SOME of my conservative friends are unhappy with the way President Joe Biden managed to seat Justice Jackson due to her race and gender.  And that is ironic, to say the least.  He, in essence, breaks the laws his own politics put in place in order to achieve the very thing those broken laws are meant to do, but fail at achieving.

Now, this is all the more complicated since SOME of my conservative friends who are unhappy about that ostensibly are unhappy, not because the new Justice is black and female, but because of the measures taken to ensure we got a black female for the position.  Basically, they are splitting hairs, and it comes off disingenuous.  And I get it.

It’s a fine, fine line there to walk trying to be mad about her appointment to the court and not appear racist!

Now, apply the same dynamic to me and my opinion here.  We stopped some abortions (that remains to be seen but is, in essence, beside the point anyway).  Ostensibly, I am happy about that (and I am), but the how of the measure troubles me.  (There, I hope you followed all that.))

Okay, if I have made that clear, I will be surprised.  But if you are still here and still interested, then surely I did.  But here’s the first part of the rub then: it appears to me, based on the rhetoric, that the church doing this wonderful work, supports the “Prop A” measures taken to end the abortions.  I cannot know this part for sure, but there was no indication otherwise.

At the very least, the rhetoric of this church caters to those conservatives who pushed for, and voted in, the ordinance, and does so without any measurable confrontation regarding the way it is done.

We have a hateful and hate-filled political climate in our country ripping the nation apart.  Abortion is one of the “issues” I share a passion about too, so I get it – at that level.  But when we use it as a political stick to beat liberals with, and when we “lord it over” others, we become clanging cymbals and noisy gongs.  Our love is worthless banter, and not love at all.  It is just more hate.  We give up our particularly Christian voice on the issue.

The “Christians” of Lubbock need to think that through.

But I won’t begrudge a saved life!  So, I swallow this pill with bitter sweet taste.

But here I have a sister-n-law promoting this church to me, and I already have quite a sticking point.  Perhaps I could visit the pastor personally and iron out where we stand.  Then I could lodge my complaint.  Or I could withhold my complaint and just be happy the glass is half full.  (But is it a half-full glass if we reduce ourselves to noisy gongs???)  I could just play nice to get along.  (Is that what the kingdom of God is like???)

I don’t know.  I welcome comments!

But there’s a second part to this rub too.  The other part is that according to the link my sister-n-law sent me, all the focus and energy of this new ministry program is geared, not to families who already adopted, but to families who MIGHT adopt.  In fact, at every turn in the program, as I read through the philosophy, the policies, the logistics and all that, it manages to just miss being a real fit for my family.

(This is not quite accurate.  I have one child still technically a foster kid who is due to be adopted soon, and so if we joined now, I might just make it under the wire on that one.)

So, it could be that if I visit the pastor privately with questions and concerns on this part of the rub, there might be exceptions made, a widening of policies, that kind of thing, and we might find support and care for our family which surely would be helpful!

(Another caveat: We don’t really NEED money.  Certainly not at this time.  Before the next eighteen years is up, there may be a few times some donated money would help, but we don’t foresee ongoing financial need here.)

I sense my words here paint a petty picture of either me or the church of Lubbock.  It could be me.  I often stop to consider that.  However, I always remember that for all the “love” the church boasts, when it comes to opening the doors to the poor, there is always, ALWAYS, ALWAYS some fancy way of sidestepping it.  And thus, the poor are left to sleep on the pavement in our “love.”

I walked a mile in those shoes, and I find that unacceptable.  That’s not really love.  And when I spoke up about it, I got shunned, kicked out, and ghosted by Lubbock churches.

(Three times, bit/twice shy, as they say.)

OH… YEAH… AND WE ARE “A SANCTUARY CITY” FOR THE UNBORN… REMEMBER THAT?

Yeah… see the previous post WITH this one…

Just last year, Lubbock ran Planned Parenthood out of town on a rail.  We became the first in the nation (I think) to designate ourselves as a “sanctuary city” for the unborn.  That was a vote.  A vote driven by “Christians.”

Meanwhile, if a child is blessed to be born, he/she faces a stronger likelihood of being abused in this locale than any other in the whole state of Texas!

What exactly is it we “stand for” here???

LUBBOCK COUNTY HAS THE MOST CHILD ABUSE IN TEXAS

Can you believe it?

Surely that’s “fake news” -right?

Well… I heard it on the local TV news.  (Of course, the weather-forecaster(s) there predicted rain twice this week, better chances the second time, but instead we got a severe dirt storm, so…, really…, I don’t know.)

Back when I moved here, we led the nation (the NATION!) in STD’s.  (They call them STI’s these days (unless that has changed again since last I heard).)

Yeah, and we are about as “Christian” as it gets here in Lubbock.

Think something is broken in our self-image?  (I mean something more than the bones of infants???)

(Yeah, cheap shot, huh?)

Well, if your wife works in the PICU, one of the main places where small abused bodies go for healing, and you see her struggling with PTSD from it, then it doesn’t seem like such a cheap shot.  (Just imagine how cheap it seems if you are her, and you don’t have to imagine the things she sees.)

Come on, Lubbock.  We can do better than this.  I think it’s time for some confession and repentance.  We are not representing Jesus anything LIKE we think.  Repent and trust in the Gospel of God.  The kingdom of God is at hand.

(Somebody give that sermon the AMEN.)

THE CHURCH’S RX FOR WWIII

“War is hell,” or so they say.  It’s most definitely an expression of hate, fear, dread, contempt, mistrust, and anger (among other things).  A lot of people are gonna die.

The church in many ways is almost the antithesis of war.  The church certainly comes with a mission almost diametrically opposed.  The church comes to storm the gates of hell which cannot prevail.  The church comes with a mission for peace and love, of trust, hope and love, of patience, forgiveness, and love.

The church today is not nearly as interested, it seems to me, in storming the gates of hell and prevailing there as it is in joining the war effort of hell.  The church is too busy siding with… siding with “The Americans” or “The Allies” or “The Republicans” or … or… or… who now?  Donald Trump???

This factionalism is deadly to the church, yet anymore, the church seems to think it is life-giving for America, or that this factionalism is okay with God in our nation, or worse yet that he endorses it as though the church needs to do it for nation’s sake.  Hey, I’m just distilling what I read in the news.

Old Story #1

There’s a story (I’ve blogged it before) about David Lipscomb (most of you Christians never heard of him except a few in Tennessee or a few (like me) who studied Restoration History in school) who owned a farm near Nashville during the Civil War.  His farm is now the site of Lipscomb University.  It’s also the site of the Battle of Nashville.

As the story goes (at least as I regurgitate it), Lipscomb refused to take sides in the war.  He had church brothers and sisters in both the North and the South, and his allegiance was with Jesus and their family unity rather than any small-minded thing like national identity, policy, or agenda.  He would preach blistering sermons about church unity asking the brethren how they could make widows of their southern sisters and orphans of their northern brothers’ children.

As legend has it, he was so staunch and vocal as to raise the hackles of a lot of folx on either side, and eventually even the likes of Nathan Beford Forrest (founder of the KKK) sent a spy to listen to him preach one Sunday to determine if Lipscomb was with the North or the South.  According to the legend, the spy returned to Forest and reported that he did not know if Lipscomb favored either the North or the South, but it was clear he stood with Jesus.

Wow!

That’s a church attitude our world is in sore need of today, y’all.

They say that when the war came to Nashville, the battle started at one side of Lipscomb’s farm and ended on the other, yet Lipscomb stayed home during the fight.  He turned his home into a hospital for the wounded and treated soldiers from both sides.

That took some kind of moxie.

Actually, it took the love of Christ to do that.

There’s uncommon valor, and then there’s Christian love.  Lipscomb shows us that.

There are, of course, a number of things we can do as a church today to wage peace at the gates of hell and prevail there – even in the face of WWIII.  The strategies we have are largely symbolic, but that in no way means they lack substance.

Old Story #2

I recall another story (I’ve posted this one a time or two also on this blog also) told by a preacher from Shoreline, Washington when I visited his church on July 4, Sunday, 1999.  That preacher was Milton Jones who spoke about how he was a young campus minister at the University of Washington way back in 1979 when suddenly the news headlines were flooded with the Iranian hostage situation.  Like everyone else in the country, Jones watched in horror as the Iranians took our embassy hostage and led them out in blindfolds.

Jones told of how he met regularly for prayer with a group of young ministers, and this news item quickly became the dominant topic of discussion in their meetings.  These young ministers all the way up in Seattle, Washington felt impotent.  What could they possibly do to help the hostages in Iran?   Yet that is all they wanted to do.

Well, of course, they decided to pray on it.  And after some prayer, the idea hit one of the boys, a school as big as UW might have some Iranian students.  If there were any, they surely would not be feeling very welcome in the US about then.  Maybe these ministers should reach out and check on them.

Sure enough, they found a roster with two young women attending school from Iran.  They went to their apartment and knocked.  And they found the women scared to open the door, scared to leave the apartment for school, for work, for food.  And this opened an opportunity then for ministry.  The Christian boys scheduled themselves to escort the women everywhere they went and did this for months.

The women came to rely on the ministers, and one of them eventually felt called to convert from Islam to Christianity.  Being only too happy to baptize her, it wasn’t until she was rising up from the water that one of them asked whether this would put her life in jeopardy upon her return home.  It did.  She literally gave up her life for Jesus.

Suddenly, the boys began fighting to get her asylum in the US, which at that time became particularly hard to do for Iranians!  But if this girl went home at the end of her semester, she would be put to death upon arrival.  They were desperate.  But after going to court on her behalf, she was granted asylum and eventually became a US citizen.

That is good church work storming the gates of hell.

We need more of that kind of thing today.  Today especially.  The people of God need to mobilize for this fight.  Not to go shoot and kill people, but to glorify God.

Let me state very clearly at this point that I personally feel a deep burden for Ukraine.  My best friend from college is from Ukraine (though he is American now).  I never visited the place, but I have this personal connection, and I feel shocked by the cruelty I find there in the headlines night after night just like so many of my neighbors.

I too feel an urge to travel there and fight.  Not that I am a good soldier; I’m not.  Not at all.  But I FEEL that urge.  The injustice is sickening to me.

I applaud all the care for Ukraine I see at turn after turn between fundraisers, charity, kindness – especially for refugees.

But now is the time to think about Russians.  Russians are people too.  In God’s kingdom, Russians and Ukrainians are brothers who lay down their lives for one another in love.  How can my church in Lubbock, Texas glorify God in such a way that at least some Russians as well as Ukrainians see that?

I propose hospitality.  (It’s not the only way, but I will propose it.)

If you can host a Russian in your home to the best Christian love and charity you can offer, NOW is the time to do it.  If you can host a Russian and a Ukrainian, all the better.  Let us come to the Table the Lord prepares in the presence of enemies, and let’s see God there.

Please pray on such things.  If you can’t find a Russian, pray for one and consider inviting a Democrat.  Who knows?  You might just bring some healing there at that gate of hell if you do.

We are up against WWIII now.  This term for it pervades headlines every single day as the world seeks answers in “sanctions,” “sending weapons,” or in testing nuclear missiles.  Seriously, the whole world turns out looking for answers in such things, but you are the church, the body of Christ.  You have bigger agendas and more mysterious tactics.  You have the love of God which the gates of hell cannot prevail against.

WATERMELON PIZZA RECIPE

Here at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners, you never know what might appear on the menu for dinner.  (Did he say menu? (Disclaimer: There is no real menu for dinner at FBHWOS.  That’s not a real thing.))  I am certainly not the only cook nor the best, but I am, in some seasons, the main cook.  And we are known for experimentation.

But we always cook with love and welcome as the main ingredient.

Waaaaaaay back before we played host to foster children, this home hosted street homeless – especially one winter in particular.  There was this one married couple who were our main featured guests during that time, and after spending night after night with us for about a month, they put their nickels and dimes together and insisted on treating us to supper.

They bought all the needed items to make chili (if I recall it right), and then they took over the kitchen.  I don’t recall how good the food was, but I definitely tasted the love in it.

The main thing I remember is how vulnerable we felt as these nice people wanted to express their gratitude with a token of favor they might return us.  They took over the kitchen, our kitchen.  But they worked hard to produce a meal, a feast, we all enjoyed together.  It was a unique experience.

It’s a strange feeling to have guests in your home even normally.  All manner of little things are different.  Someone needs a bathroom in the night, and you hear unusual noises as a guest bumps around in the dark looking for the door.  That kind of thing.

But when you host strangers (who does that???) or even friends of a strata you normally would not expect to keep in your home over night (like a homeless couple from church) in your mind, you start assigning meanings behind certain noises.

Allow me to illustrate: I recall a time when my grandfather came to visit back when I was a child.  He spent several nights with us, but every bed in the house was taken, yet he had a cot mattress he placed on the floor.  In the night he was bitten by a bug which he believed to be a scorpion.  The hunt for the critter woke the whole house, but no one held any level of suspicion about the interruption of our slumber.  He was Grandpa!  He was one of us.

On the other hand, a homeless couple waking in the night in need of the bathroom, bumping a lamp off the end table in the dark, rouses not only sleepers, but suspicions.  Of course, the explanation for the noise was simple enough that the suspicion was quickly quelled, but… had it been Grandpa, there would not have been any at all.

Why do I mention any of that?

Oh, yeah.  Watermelon Pizza.

Okay, I am getting to that.

So… here’s the thing: I’ve come to see just how biblical and how world-transformative hospitality shown to strangers really is.  In fact, maybe I don’t actually see it for all it’s worth yet!  (Heb. 13:2, anyone???)

Yeah.  There’s a vulnerability there, a mystical vulnerability.  You make yourself vulnerable to strangers so you can entertain God.  Basically, you make yourself vulnerable to God, and he comes, not merely into your heart (like asking God into your heart in some esoteric and metaphoric exercise of “faith”), but into your home, among your loved ones, getting his hands on your stuff (yeah, into your heart in THAT sense).

Hmmm… Hebrews 13:2.

It turns out I am not alone in seeing Abraham and Sarah packed up in that verse.  John Koenig, a leading, Christian, Bible scholar attending to hospitality sees it too (among others, (Christine Pohl and Joshua Jipp)).  I only mention him so that I can demonstrate that I am not alone, not out on some theological limb by myself here.  When the writer of Hebrews instructs Christians to show hospitality to strangers because “some have entertained angels unaware,” he has Abe and Sarah in mind specifically.

There’s a lot of things that connection holds together, really, but one I want to point out is how much Bible is now framed between these two passages.  That’s a lot of history and content between these two passages that very nearly frame the whole world.  That might not seem like a particularly strong observation at first, but it is the simple way of getting to the same point: hospitality plays an integral role in God’s redemption of creation all through history.  Hebrews 13:2 reveals this is how we too might just host God in our fallen world.

There are many features to hospitality, some more important than others, some optional while others are necessary.  For instance, it’s not hospitality if you are not welcomed, and usually that involves an invitation.  The most central feature of hospitality is the shared meal.  It would be a gross miscarriage of kindness if I invited you to my house at lunch time to watch my kids and I eat while not sharing some with you.

In fact, no one even thinks of such a thing – it is so repugnant.

That is no one thinks of it except in a religious setting.

But let’s put hospitality in the religious setting where it belongs.  At the center of the worship assembly is the Eucharist, the meal God gives us, the meal that actually is his own broken body and spilt blood.  Jesus is meeting us THERE!

We see in Luke 24:35 that Jesus is revealed to his hosts in the breaking of the bread.  His hosts invited a stranger to stay and eat with them, thus they entertained the Risen Lord unaware (unaware that is until the breaking of the bread) putting them in company with Abe, Sarah, and the assembly addressed by the writer of Hebrews.

But wait, there’s more!

This not only puts those disciples in the good company of Abe, Sarah, and the writer of Hebrews, but also in company with Lot, with Rehab, with the seventy elders of Israel on the mountain with Moses, and with Manoah and his wife (among others).  We see these people hosting and eating with God and finding salvation.  This stuff is literally everywhere in the Bible, each story, each passage stitching a theological quilt of redemption covering everything!

But wait, there’s more still!

Notice that Jesus sends out his disciples (in one passage the Twelve, in another, the Seventy) instructing them to “take nothing with you… stay with those who host you… eat what they serve….”  Their mission trip is about spreading the gospel and casting out demons!  In fact Luke tells us, upon their return from the mission, that Jesus saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning!  And by far, most of the instruction for these disciples about their mission is not how to preach, not how to raise money, not how to be a good leader, not how to build a program, not how to do charity, not even the miraculous power of casting out the demons.  On the contrary, Jesus instructs them to be good guests of the hospitality they will enjoy as they proclaim and cast out demons.

Hmmm…

This is already starting to sound like something far afield of the formal education and training I paid (and still pay) for to prepare me for Christian ministry.  It also is far afield of my experience with worship where the meal is reduced to a crumb of cracker and a thimble of grape juice – hardly a meal – and where it is closed off from the guests, the strangers, I am supposed to invite.

Okay… so… Watermelon Pizza.

We sometimes, in this house, find ourselves short one or two ingredients for this or that dish we intend to prepare for the next meal.  Sometimes we find substitutes and “make do” with what we have.  Sometimes we just get a little playful and make strange messes.  I recall one time when we cooked rice, all steamy and fluffy, and then added it to the cake mix to see how it would be eating a “rice cake.”  (Don’t try it.  Take my word for it.)

What can I say?  It was fun trying it.  But in the end, it was basically just a mess that no one wanted to eat.  I have made several cakes that didn’t really get eaten that way.  But that’s another story.

One of the meals we tend to like a lot, and one we get creative with frequently, is homemade pizza.  They used to have a pizza joint in Abilene when I was in school there that made a specialty pizza that was just not like anywhere else I ever found.  The place is gone now, but their house pizza was legendary, and so they opened a couple joints in Dallas too.

I have no idea why the place closed up.  It was always packed when I was living there.  So sad to see it gone.  And sometimes I try to experiment and approximate their pizza.  I have never perfected it.  I don’t know what their secret was, but I have tried some weird ideas in my pursuit of pizza happiness.

But it dawns on me that I would never, never, never top a pizza with watermelon.  I wouldn’t use peanut butter either.  In fact, I wouldn’t use Lucky Charms either (though Ranch Style Beans is surprisingly not too bad!)

I know, because I could plainly see most of the toppings on that Crystal’s Pizza, what they topped it with.  However, the recipe for the crust and/or the particular season salts they used still escape me.  But… but can you imagine putting watermelon on your pizza?

Yeah.  That would be a mess.  Wouldn’t come close to Crystal’s.  It would destroy any effort at pizza, I think.

This is why I am talking about hospitality so much.  The way we do church and ministry is just not really like what Jesus sends his disciples out to do, not like he himself does, not like we find all through the Bible.  St. Paul establishes churches all over the empire, and it’s not merely incidental, I think, that they meet in people’s homes.  They are “house churches” as we would call them today.

There is something deeply redemptive about hospitality, but we seem to prefer training preachers and pastors to be good speakers, leaders, and well versed in fundraisers.  We prefer a grand cathedral to a humble, hospitable domicile.  We prefer the “mall of god” to Aunt Bea’s kitchen table.

Jesus goes ahead to prepare us a room.  He is preparing a room for his disciples who bring the gospel with them to the world, who are prepared to bring the gospel because they TAKE NOTHING WITH THEM.  They come needy, expecting to stay.  The church is told to host strangers, because in so doing they will host God and his angels.

There’s an interplay there.  A mystery of salvation, the same salvation that saved Lot from hellfire and saved Rehab when the walls came down.  There’s a vulnerability elicited there between strangers as a guest learns to trust the host who will feed and lodge them and as the host learns to trust a guest to be gracious in receiving hospitality – also watching for God to be revealed in them!

Funny thing: When we engage in authentic, risky hospitality, strangers (even if they don’t speak the same language) know something about the roles they undertake vis-a-vis one another, and they honor the vulnerability eliciting more and deeper welcome into each other’s lives.

You don’t get this with Watermelon Pizza.

Hmmm… and yet there is still loads of room in this for a bit of playful experimentation.