Ever-Present Absence

I am the baby of five.  But most who know me (with the exception of some childhood friends) only know of four siblings.  My in laws are my only sisters now.  They have never met Karen.  They have heard few stories.  They have seen few pictures.  It’s not that we wish to erase her from our minds.  It’s that she has erased herself.  Sometimes it seems unreal to recall her.  Was she really ever there?

My sister has been absent from our lives for over thirty years.  We have not heard her voice, seen her face, or touched her, in decades.  But, trust me, she is real.  She shared my childhood room.  She gave me the gift of sharing a bed with a bed-wetter.  (This just might play a large role in why our girls never, EVER had to share a bed.)  She made my passive brother so angry that he punched her in the nose while my grandfather watched (only responding with, “If you made him that mad you must have deserved it.”)  She stole my mother’s engagement ring.  She is the reason there was a patched hole in my drywall (caused by an enraged brother hitting that rather than her as she berated my mother, again.)  She is the reason I studied psychology.  Maybe I could figure out what was wrong with her?  Maybe I could solve the riddle of how one sibling could be so very opposite everyone else?

But I could not.  She was (and most likely still is) broken.  She repeatedly ran away, literally, from a family that many would have loved to join.  She lied compulsively.  She tried drugs.  She experimented with casual sex.  She drank.  She skipped school.  She failed classes.  She didn’t wish to work or follow rules.  She was the antithesis of all that my parents taught and modeled.

And yet, she is part of us.  She helped shaped our outlook.  She tested our love.      She pushed our limits.  She sabotaged grace.  She spat upon mercy.  She blamed everyone and everything for her troubles.  She broke my parents’ hearts.

And she is forever a part of me.

She taught me that the world is grey.  The black and white boxes we’d like to place everything in are figments of our imagination.

Good families are messy too.

Lost people sometimes know the way and simply choose to ignore it.

Running sometimes feels safer than staying.  Even when it is not.

Love is not a magical, fix-all elixir.

I confess that I had times when I resented the effort given to my sister.  I hated her for stirring tensions and hurt everywhere she went.  I kicked her when I rolled over onto a cold, wet spot in my sleep.  I resented admitting that she was my sister at school.  I enjoyed tattling on her.  I thought my parents weak for giving her so many chances.  Poor suckers.

Their hearts broke with every defiant word.  Their stomachs knotted with every hurt brought upon their other children by this untamed beast.  Their bibles stained with bitter tears.  Their lessons, scoldings, and love, fell with a thud on her deaf ears.  They felt ashamed to be relieved when she left home.  The tension vanished.  Mom’s stomach pains whisked away.  Dad’s sadness lifted.  But still, an ache sometimes stopped by to visit.

It’s all about free will. We are all free to make bad decisions.  We are all free to turn our backs on family.  We are all free to kick those who love us.  We are free to stubbornly walk toward our destruction.  We are free to judge others.  We are free to hate.  We are free to spit in the face of our creator.

I am not advocating that any of these things are good choices.  But, I am saying that we need to stop shaming others with memes about how good parenting is the answer to all societies’ ills.  It is not.  Loving parents still have limited reach.  Each time we blame everything on parents, we slap my parents and others like them across the face.  Parents of wayward children didn’t choose that path for them.  I could not completely control my children’s actions even when they were toddlers.  Could you control yours?

We need to stop kicking the addict that continues to fail.  Stop posting and forwarding memes of how they don’t deserve mercy for something they consciously chose.  Did they?  Have we lived their lives?  Have we seen the pain (or just plain bad choices) that started their addiction?  What good is served by us declaring that they got themselves into that situation and must get themselves out?  Have you ever tried to fight your way out of an addiction?  Have you ever tried to use reason and logic with a foggy brain?  Have you ever tried to rebuild trust while no one trusts you?  Do they deserve death because they have a battle that you don’t understand?

Yesterday I witnessed a baptism of a man who struggles with addiction.  His fight is not over just because he found faith in Christ.  My heart beamed as our pastor announced that this man will be leaving for rehab soon.  He openly acknowledged that this man has a fight ahead.  Love won’t fix it.  Faith won’t fix it.  They are both powerful tools in his healing.  But they are parts in a complicated whole.

Stop trying to make life black and white.  There are Christian addicts.  There are good atheists.  There are empty wealthy people.  There are joyful and content people living in the depths of poverty.  There are gay Christians.  There are faith-filled people who struggle with depression, worthlessness, and suicidal thoughts.  There are kind people who have racist leanings (and don’t recognize the disconnect).  There are people who fought their way out of poverty who despise the poor.  There are proud people who feel inadequate.  There are clueless people who feel proud.  There are Christians who are nasty and hurtful.  We humans are very complex.

Think of how much kinder our world would be if we actively looked at the people we see every day.  Have you looked into the sad  eyes of the man who smiled and said he was doing fine?  Did you see that?  Did you ask again and give him permission to admit he’s struggling?  Have you watched the chronic pain sufferer walk, move, sit, stand? Are they battling to maintain that smile?  Do you look at your coworker when they think no one is watching?  Does their expression sink and shoulders droop?  Have you checked in with the single parent to see if they need a break?  And then offered to take over while she goes for a walk?  Have you wiped away tears of someone broken by their own poor choices and not scolded?  Simply loved?  Simply helped pick up the pieces?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5:3-10, otherwise known as The Beatitudes)

We are to care for our neighbors, our sisters, our brothers.  That is an all inclusive list.  No exceptions noted.  No excuses given to release us from this duty.

And let us please start by refusing to play the blame game.  Let us help wherever others are at.  Messy.  Ugly.  Broken.  Angry.  Wherever the need is.  Let us walk toward it.  Because God likes to turn our expectations and desires on their heads. Christ loved the unlovable.  Christ touched the unclean.

Acknowledge the grey.  Admit the contradictions.  Hold hands instead of pointing fingers.


Echoes of distance

My mind has been troubled often recently with the changes that change brings.  Profound, right?  I am not only referring to the sometimes painful and difficult process of personal change.  I speak of the ripple effect to those we love.

I slowly have been stepping away from some of the conservative dogma that defined my youth for years now.  I blame it on my increased exposure to the people, places, and things that were often demonized and scary.  I blame it on the recognition that it is difficult to think of real, live, skin-covered humans in front of us as evil (or at least it should be).  I blame it on my increased willingness to question incessantly and dig deeply into scripture.

I blame the people I love.  The people who have been hurt by doctrine over grace.  Hurt by the theology of tradition.  Confused by those who follow a loving God (don’t we all say that?) yet harshly speak of others.  Hardened by those who callously state that they “love the sinner but hate the sin”.  (Can anyone show me where Christ suggested or modeled that approach?)  Would most humans want to be helped by someone who says that they hate something about them?  I have a hard time picturing me reaching out to someone who espouses that approach.

Allow me to stop here to stress that I have not denounced my faith in Christ as the true bridge between us and God.  That Christ is indeed God.  That we are all sinners.  We all mess up.  We all are weak in our own ways.  We all need the grace of God.  We all need forgiveness.  Forgiveness is freely given to all who ask.  These things remain.  But they are merely the beginning.  They are the tiny entrance to the path.

I have found myself oddly at odds with other Christians when I stress the importance of loving one another.  ALL one another.  When Jesus spoke the greatest commandment (to church leaders trying to trick Him) and it’s vital partner commandment, there were no exceptions.  He said to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  And the second commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Why do I quote this passage so often?  Because “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  That means all the rest of scripture bows to these words.  All scripture is secondary to this.  The Old Testament prophets are secondary to this.  The rules given to old and new believers are secondary to this.  Loves trumps all.

Before we speak–love.

Before we act– love.

Before we think–love.

Before we judge–love.

Before we quote scripture to condemn–love.

And before we love–God.  Otherwise we are incapable of doing the rest.

So why have I so often put my phone down with a defeated sigh after a conversation with someone who has known me a long time?  Why have I felt a growing chasm with some family and friends?  Why is my deepening commitment to social justice for the poor and marginalized seen as a betrayal of sorts?  Why are my questions of the status quo seen as personal barbs by so many?  I am still me.  I am still the same person they joked with for years.  The same person they greeted with a smile at church.  Only, not.

I am far less judgmental.  I am far less likely to shake my head at someone caught in the results of their poor choices.  I am far less certain that I have all the answers.  I am far more willing to reach out and help regardless of what circumstances placed that person in need.  That’s not my job.  I can ask so that help is more effective.  But I cannot demand anything.  I cannot insist on a willing audience for my views on faith.  I cannot, will not, demand that people behave in a way that I deem appropriate.  That, again, is not my job.  That is between them and God.  I can pray.  I can help.  I can speak when given an opportunity.  But only if first there’s love.

It’s a revolutionary change of perspective.  It’s a revolutionary way to live.  All based on the revolutionary example of Jesus.  And based on the very delayed realization that I am not the Holy Spirit.  Of course I always knew this.  But I didn’t really know it.  I used to decide that some people were more worthy of love than others.  Some were more worthy of help than others.  Some more worthy of grace.  But then I realized that Christ didn’t have a pecking order of sins.  He didn’t have a list of “must dos” for receiving His free grace and love.  He just loved whoever was placed in His path.  He just suggested that everyone put their rocks down and walk away when confronted with a question of law and justice.

We are to be the hands and feet of the revolutionary love of Christ.  God is to use those acts of love as a way of drawing others to Him.  I am not the one to convict of sin.  He is.  I am not the one that knows all that someone has dealt with.  He is.  I am not the answer.   He is.

The homeless drug addict is just as hungry as the homeless war veteran.  They both need food.  The poor child still needs clothing and soap no matter if they are poor due to a family medical crisis or to alcoholism.  She still needs to feel like she belongs in school.  The difficult teen needs understanding no matter if their belligerence is due to a feeling of entitlement or a feeling of worthlessness.  He still needs caring adults.

I may be the only love that someone feels today, this week, this year.  You may be the only grace that someone experiences today, this week, this lifetime.  And we cannot know what may come of it in advance.  Our love may help a young girl  ask for help out of an abusive relationship.  Our love may help an elementary boy feel less invisible and worthless in school.  Our love may stop a suicide attempt.  Our grace may give a new sense of resolve to an addict that stumbled, again, for the umpteenth time.    Our mercy may help the cheating spouse to finally admit their shortcomings and work toward resolution.

And we may never know what good God used our acts of love for.  And that is okay.  He does.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (I Corinthians 13:1-2 NIV)

Seems as if God is trying to tell us that love is a big deal.  Let’s listen, big.

And for those who seem concerned that I (and others like me) have lost my way.  I have not.

I have found it.


A Voice in the Wilderness

I grew up in a conservative Christian home, in a conservative Christian church, in a small, declining town.  I know the preferred language of the church.  I can play the role that people seem to want.  I can put on the face of the righteous.

But why?  Who are we helping when we act like all is grand?  Who is gaining from our pretense in having all the answers?  Who is reached when we rail against those who think or believe differently than we?  Where in Christ’s ministry did he demonstrate that false perfection is our goal?  Where in His life did He model judgement and rules as the righteous path?

The past year has brought unfathomable change to my life.  To my mind.  To my faith.  To my attitudes.  To my actions.  It has been (and continues to be) a difficult journey.  But the difficulty is found not in the renewed and refreshing interpretation of the Bible that I seem to keep finding.  The difficulty is in the reaction from the church.  The unwillingness to look at our beliefs and question if we are right.  The stubborn stance that we must hold fast our traditions even if they might  be wrong.  Are we fighting the good fight or just fighting?

Allow me to stop here and stress that I am part of a good church.  It is full of many believers who are trying to follow what they believe.  It is lead by pastors who demonstrate by their actions what it means to help others.  It is always searching for more possible ways to help our community.  People give.  People travel to help others.  But it is not perfect. It is full of imperfect people, just like every single church out there.

And yet I, and some others like me, have felt alone, isolated, judged.  I’ve seen the sidelong, raised eyebrow looks.  I’ve read the snarky condemnations online.  Most people happily bounce along the surface of their faith, of their thoughts, of their lives.  And that is ok for them.   Many people never really question why they believe what they believe.  Many are content to continue the script from the past generation.

I am not.

We are made with brains full of wonder, of questions.  Brains that wish to connect dots and make sense of life.  Why are we so willing to shut that off when it comes to faith?  Why are we so willing to just accept what men have taught us instead of searching for ourselves?  Why do we bury our heads when it comes to church history and how much theology has swung in wildly varying directions?  How do we expect to tell someone else what our faith is all about if we don’t understand it ourselves?

Here’s an example that I witnessed recently.  Why is it wrong for someone to question whether God could be both man AND woman?  Why not?  He created us in His image.  Why would that possibility make us so uncomfortable?  Isn’t God far larger and more complex than our minds can fathom?  Why do we keep Him in our human box?  Does that box serve a purpose other than our comfort?  I for one find it far more wonderful to have a God that is too big and too grand for me to fully grasp.

Or how about this:  Why is it so important for Christians to insist that being gay is a choice and not an inborn trait for some?  Who cares.  Our world is imperfect.  Scripture tells us that creation has suffered from the fall of man since the Garden of Eden.  We see differences in how people are born every day.  Why is this one so hard to accept?  I don’t know why my student was born imperfectly with cerebral palsy.  But he was.  I don’t know why my friend’s brain is wired for depression.  But it is.  I don’t know why my cousin’s child was born with a heart defect.  But she was.  Aren’t these physical examples of the beauty, fragility,  and imperfection of humans?  Can’t all of these people add greatly to our community with their unique and personal experiences?  Why can’t sexuality be the same?  People all have different gifts, different challenges, different traits.  They can ALL be used for the glory of God if we allow it.  All.  What can the life of that gay person teach us as they work out their faith?  What does that look like?  Are we willing to even ask?

Imagine with me an environment where people of all backgrounds, of all faiths, of all circumstances, could feel welcome and loved.  Note that I didn’t say anything about altering our core beliefs in the gospel.  There is no point to all church debate if we don’t agree that salvation through Christ is the centerpiece.  I simply said that all would be loved and welcomed.  The early church had an incredibly simple message.  The teachings of Christ were/are simple enough for a child to understand and follow.  Why do we muddy the water with man made rules?  Why create a hierarchy of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors and people?  Where and when did Christ do that?

Christ spoke incredibly clearly when He told the church leaders of His day what the greatest commandments were.  He said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 37-40 NIV).

If Christ is our example and final authority, then we should listen to His words.

If Christ is God incarnate and the final authority, then we should heed His words.

If Christ said that “all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” I’m thinking He meant it.  So, those who like to club people with scripture from the Old Testament and the Prophets—are those two vital commandments superseding what the Prophets said?  Because Jesus said they do.  When there is any question of what is more important in the Bible, we can confidently come back to this.  Am I loving how and who I am commanded to?  All the rest is secondary.  Love first.  That’s not my opinion.  That’s Christ’s.  His words.  His teaching.

Jesus’s ministry on earth was amazing.  It’s growth and following was explosive and committed.  Why were the crowds attracted to Him?  Did He teach rules and tradition?  Did He tsk tsk those who lived lives against God’s Law?  NO.  He loved.  He forgave.  He gave them new tools for living a new and better life.  We can never live up to His perfect standard.  But we can darn well try.  And we are commanded to do so.  We read the Bible.  We pray.  We love.  The conviction of individual’s sins is up to God.  Not us.

But Jesus was killed for His words and actions.  Yes.  By good, disciplined, traditional, religious people using the local authorities to do their dirty work.  “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him.”  (Matthew 26:3-4 NIV).  Not the atheists.  Not the liberals.  Not the drunks, or the gays, or the prostitutes.  Not the homeless, the poor, or the refugee.  The church leaders.  THEY sought to kill Jesus.

Make no mistake.  We humans are fairly stupid and stubborn.  The Bible is chock full of story after story after story of people messing up.  Often those people claim they are doing the right thing.  Or chose to ignore the clear teaching that they were doing the wrong thing.  So why do we like to pretend we are any different?  We can just as easily insist that we are doing the righteous thing as Saul did when he took the Ark of the Covenant into battle (basically to ensure victory).  God never told Him to do so.  And the Ark was stolen.  Oops.

So how do we know?  How do we check if we are on the right path?  We study scripture.  Relentlessly and deeply.  We pray.  We listen to God–even if it is different than the voices of tradition.  God is big enough (and small enough) to teach us what He wants us to know no matter our education, our background, or our original faith tradition.  We just need to ask Him to teach us.  We just need to be willing to listen.  We just need to be willing to change paths if we discover we have been wrong.  We never stop questioning if we are loving God and others above all else.

And the church as a whole needs to be willing to let people question, to let people ask, to let people wonder.  Otherwise, how do we know if we are fighting the good fight or just fighting?


Thorns Suck!

I live with chronic pain.  Literally.   I don’t mean that I personally suffer from it.  I mean I live with it.  It shares my bed.  It eats at my table.  It holds my hand on walks to the lake.  It haunts my thoughts.  It is always hovering dangerously close to my best laid plans.  It has an annoying knack of showing up when I can least afford the disruption.

Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that my husband is truly the one suffering.  He is the one with a drawer full of medications.  He is the one who enjoys a ridiculously small percentage of good days amongst the bad.   He is the one missing time with his children when he just isn’t capable of being near the sounds and light.   He is the one who pays with days of pain for that short game of basketball with his son.  He is the one who restlessly searches for the best position to sit or lie in to stave off debilitating pain in order to make it to his daughter’s concert.

Now, before you start searching the internet for holistic cures and special diets, kindly let me say–don’t.   I don’t want more well-meaning people telling me how omega 3 saved them or how kale changed their life.  I don’t want people looking at me with pity in their eyes.  And believe me when I say that my husband NEVER wants anyone to make a fuss over  him.  He barely wants people to notice that he is in the room (unless he is trying to get a laugh–then please pay attention).  And please don’t tell us that God won’t give us more than we can handle.  That’s crap.  He does it all the time.  He allows life to overwhelm us and stands with his hand outstretched for us to grab on.

I write this for those reading who are living with pain.  Or serious  illness.  Or depression.  Or any other challenge that just won’t let up.  God never said we would be free from struggles.  God never said we would be free from pain.  God never said He would answer our prayers in the way we deem acceptable or appropriate.  The Apostle Paul wrote of his “thorn in his side,” — “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”  (2 Corinthians 12: 8-9 NIV)  Paul was never healed from whatever it was that troubled him.  I have no doubt he would have preferred to be.   My husband may never be healed from his pain.  I have no doubt he would prefer to be.  I would prefer it.  That is not up to me.  That is not up to the doctors.  It is only God who knows why.  And it is up to us to trust that God knows best.

Some days I get angry as I drive kids in circles because he cannot help.   Some days I feel lonely as I parent while he hides in a dark, quiet cave.   Sometimes I wish to stomp around and slam pans around the cupboards.  Some days I can only sit and stare at the birds on the feeders.  And pet the dogs.  And pretend that I have nothing demanding my time.   Some days I eat just a few too many chocolate eggs because the creaminess on my tongue is the purest  joy I will have that day.

I apologize regularly to people for forgetting to answer an email, or text, or call.   Sometimes I lose track of what day it is.  I forget appointments.  I arrive at the last minute when I used to always be early.  I leave as soon as events end.  I used to stay and talk after concerts.  I miss that.  I like to talk. A LOT.   But now I’ve discovered a strange connection–the fuller my mind is, the less I say.  I frequently eat dinner in silence.  My desk grows stacks of papers that used to be neatly filed away.   I try not to notice the dirt  in the corners of the steps.  I’ve turned a blind eye to my childrens’ unmade beds.

You see, when you live with chronic pain, your life changes.  Your time with family becomes more vital than anything or anyone else.  Your to do list gets dusty sitting on the counter.  Your days are not your own.  Pain keeps the calendar.  Pain determines the family vacations.  Pain decides when you can just relax and enjoy your meal.  Pain decides which plans get canceled.  Pain can’t notice the worry in your daughter’s eyes because her father is lying down  in the dark again.  Pain doesn’t care if you have bread in the house (which may partially explain my compulsion to have a room full of food at all times.  Yes.  A literal room of food.)  Pain doesn’t care that you have a job to do.

My husband fights with every fiber of his being to ignore his pain and just live.  He tries.  He does things that he shouldn’t because he gets sick of pain controlling his activities.  He feels guilty when responsibilities fall on me.  He apologizes for falling asleep in the evening after fighting his way through work.  He silently suffers through games and concerts and movies just to be with his kids.  He gets depressed at the sheer exhaustion of life.  He gets angry at his lack of control over this.  But he keeps going.

And I guess that’s my main point.  We all keep going.  No matter the struggle.  No matter the confusion and frustration.  We keep going.  We are not special. We are not superhuman.  We are not alone in our suffering.  And we have God there with us every step of the way.  Sometimes He may get quite an earful  from me as I yell at the injustice.  Sometimes He may just listen to me cry.  Sometimes He has heard my husband moan.  And He knows what all that means.  He feels our pain.  He understands our anger at Him.  He sees it even if we won’t acknowledge its existence.  He smiles as I loosen my grip of control over my life.  He beams with pride at those moments of acceptance.  He nods when I am thankful for a day without troubles.  He knows what He is doing.  Thorns suck.  We’d like them all plucked out of our lives.  But at what expense? What would we miss if life were smooth and painless?

I know and love many who are living with pain; watching loved ones suffer with pain and debilitating diseases.  Know that you are not alone.  You are never alone.  And even though it doesn’t feel like it, God loves you and is holding out his hand to you.  Just grab on.

Is That Showing Kindness?

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5: 22-23 NIV)

I have read these verses many times in my life.  I have heard multiple sermons on these attributes.  And lately I have been challenged more deeply to question the evidence of such fruit in my life.  I have been wondering how much of this fruit is evident in the spiritual leaders of our day.  In the political leaders.  In our personal church bubble.

One question has been reverberating in my mind this week “Is it showing kindness when I ______?”  That was asked by my pastor this past Sunday.  He used a personal example of a specific situation that challenged him.  I immediately started a list in my head.  Is it kindness when I chuckle at someone’s outfit?  Is it kindness when I avoid looking at the homeless man at the stoplight?  Is it kindness when I stay silent if compelled to speak up in defense of someone?  Is it kindness when I ignore the sniffling woman at the lunch table because I’m busy?

And then my mind turned to leaders who have troubled me.  In I John 4:1 we are commanded to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”  Hmmm.  So, if a prominent Christian leader states that welcoming refugees in our country is “not a Bible issue” is he showing kindness?  Is he showing love?  Is he showing the fruit of the Spirit?  

If a politician championed by Christian organizations states that poor children should sweep the floors in their schools in order to get their free lunch, we should ask–Is that showing kindness?  Would we want our children to have to sweep the floor in order to eat? Is that what Jesus would have done?

When our president vilifies an entire group by creating a registry for their crimes, is that showing kindness?  When an entire religion and those that practice that religion are treated as evil, dangerous, and not welcome in our country, is that showing kindness?  Is that what Jesus would have done?  Is that what He illustrated in the story of the Good Samaritan?

If we find ourselves nodding in agreement when people say that the poor just need to get a job–is that showing kindness?  When we don’t wish to give to others’ children because “their parents shouldn’t be enabled”–is that showing kindness?  When we demand that people volunteer for 20+ hours a week in order to receive benefits–is that showing kindness?  What if that person has no transportation?  What if that person is caring for children or an elderly parent, or a sick spouse?  “We working people have to come up with childcare and transportation, so why shouldn’t they?”  Is that showing kindness?  Is that showing love?  (I will let the very genuine logistical issues with these ideas alone for now).

If we are less upset by someone’s murder because they are muslim, or foreign, or gay,  is that showing kindness?  Is that showing love?

If we say that we think it is wrong to help someone because they need to learn from their mistakes, is that showing kindness?  Is that what Christ did for us?  Does He make us work for His love, His forgiveness, His grace?

I think that what this all boils down to is that we have a severe lack of empathy in our country, in our culture, in our churches.  How often do we place ourselves in the shoes of another before casting judgment on them or their circumstances?  How often do we question if we would think or behave differently if it was a loved one and not a stranger?  How often do we ask ourselves what we would like others to do for us if we were found in the same circumstances?

If it was my family running from war and destruction, how would I feel when I learned that Christians didn’t want me living near them?  If caring for my elderly parents, or my sick husband meant that I couldn’t work, how would I feel when Christians said that God doesn’t like laziness (so I should work)?  If my child became a drug addict and we struggled together with all the mess and upheaval that created, how would I feel if I was silently judged as a bad parent by church people?  If my child was gay, how would it feel to hear preachers blame earthquakes and hurricanes on their behavior?  Yes, I have heard these arguments from Christians.   Yes, they saw no irony in those opinions.  Yes, they still held themselves up as loving and kind examples of Christ.   Is that showing kindness?  Is that showing love?

We are incapable of truly showing kindness and love (let alone all the other fruit of the Spirit) without some serious help from the Holy Spirit.  We humans are weak.  We will fail.  We will get our feelings hurt and then strike out.  We will cast judgment without a second thought.  But we cannot use these human shortcomings as an excuse for our bad behavior and attitudes.  We are to strive to be more Christ-like every day.  We are to give more of our time, our energy, our hearts to the things that Christ sees as worthy every day.  We are to genuinely ask for God’s help in following His example.  And when we finally see where we have been wrong, we are to be willing to change.  We are to want to grow.  We are to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge our screw-ups.  We are to see ourselves as no different in our humanity than the homeless man or the trans teen.

So, I ask, if someone was to ask you to explain your views on controversial topics of today–would you be showing kindness?  


What is Love? Really?

This afternoon our girls were chatty. They started out discussing silly teen antics of school kids. I listened and asked questions because these moments don’t show up that often. And then the discussion took an unexpected and unsolicited turn.

Our 16 year old  talked of a boy who talks with her in school. She is warm and friendly to everyone. She talks with kids that many ignore. He asked her one day, “I know you are Christian. I’m sure you won’t want to have anything to do with me anymore now that you know I’m gay.” She was surprised and reassured him that he was mistaken. “Why would he think that?” she asked me.

Our 13 year old told of a girl who asked her during the course of working on an assignment –“Are you Christian?” When our daughter said yes the girl said that she didn’t think that she was because Christians are usually mean.

These two tiny interactions speak volumes. They scream loudly of the anger, prejudice, judgment, and cloaked hate that people see in church people every day. THIS is how the church is viewed. THIS is what we have become with our boisterous leaders shouting against homosexuals, refugees, women who consider abortion, addicts, and all who are not perfect.

Allow me to stress that we live in a rural and predominantly conservative area. There are churches on many streets. Just two blocks from the school there are two churches across the street from one other. And still this is what people see. This is how people feel.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 37-40)

If Jesus chose to call this the greatest commandment, I think we Christians should be known for something quite different than what my girls told me today.

Unless there is a new definition of love, many are doing it wrong.

We Cannot Stop the Rain

I feel grieved today.  A heaviness sits on my shoulders as I fold the laundry.  A sadness envelops me as I drink my coffee.  My prayers get stuck with “Lord, I don’t know where to start.  I don’t know what to do.  What do You want today?”  I can articulate nothing more.  No fancy prose.  No flowery praise or well spoken requests.

I’ve made it no secret that I am opposed to the current president and his short sighted protectionist policies.  He troubles me.  The people surrounding him trouble me.  But this goes far, far deeper than that.

I am grieved by my friends and family who angrily attack when he is questioned.  I am troubled by those who see news pointing out his falsehoods or missteps as fake and mean spirited.  I am grieved when people shun those of us who voice opposing views rather than listen.  I am grieved that none of this behavior is taught in scripture.  Yet those who scream the loudest are my Christian brothers and sisters.  Do you not hear yourselves?  Do you not see?

I have repeatedly requested to be shown where in scripture we are told to find strength and guidance in politicians.  I hear only crickets in response.   I have quoted passages to show where my beliefs come from.  I have invited those who believe differently to please do the same.  Only crickets.  And yelling.  Lots of yelling.  And scolding of me the blasphemer, the heretic, the problem child.

You see, my pain today lies not in the treatment I’ve received.  Far better people have endured far, far worse–so please do not pity me or try to make me feel better.  My pain is for the people who put their hands over their ears, cover their eyes, and stomp their feet instead of listening.   I am one tiny voice screaming into the wind.  But the Maker of the Wind has spoken also.  And He is being ignored by the very same people that lash out at anyone who might dare question the president.   “Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils.  Of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22 NIV)  If we are to not trust in man then why are we to trust that our country will be returned to God by legislation?  Are laws not the works of man?  Is our land really to be healed by banning abortion?  Where in scripture does it say that?  Is our land really to be healed by holding homosexuals to a different set of rules?  Chapter and verse for that please.  Will God only help us when prayer is officially sanctioned in our schools?  Show me the reference to that teaching.

While those of us who see our role in this discussion differently have been admonished for not praying, we have prayed more than ever before.   We have taken to in depth study of scripture for guidance.  Constant prayer for wisdom.  Disagreeing with our leaders does not make prayer for them impossible.  Nor does it make it any less likely.  I pray for the president and for those in leadership.  But I do not pray for them to be blessed as it seems is the only acceptable prayer in many eyes (chapter and verse for that assertion, please).  I pray for God’s guidance, God’s wisdom, God’s will.  Not man.  Who is man?  Of what account is he?

For years I saw myself as a conservative Republican.  That’s what my family was.  That’s what the majority of my church was.  That’s what nationally known preachers are.  That was just the way it should be!  But this past presidential campaign made me truly examine what I stood for.  What I believed. What my faith says I should be concerned with.  I discovered that I could not match my political beliefs with my faith.  My faith says to care for orphans, the poor, the widow, the refugee.  My politics did not.  My faith says to love my neighbor as myself.  My politics looked down on my neighbor and told them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  My faith says to welcome strangers.  My party said that the “least of these” are not welcome here.  My faith says that “the first shall be last”.  My party says “America First!”  My faith says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  That one wins.  If I am to love the Lord with my entire being, then I am to be willing to change.  I am to be willing to reread scripture and listen–really listen–to what it has to say anew.  I am to be willing to start on a different path than I had been on previously.

So today I am grieved.  I am grieved for the ugliness and anger in my country.  I am grieved for the justification of vitriol on the basis of righteousness.  But most of all I am grieved by my fellow Christians who find it more offensive when someone disagrees with their chosen elected official than when someone disregards the commands to love, care for, and protect our neighbors.  I am heartbroken by my brothers and sisters who shout that we need to pray for our president while remaining silent on the willful lies he regularly employs.  I am gutted by those who have placed party loyalty over faith.  This is not about politics to me.  This is not about winning or losing.  This is about right and wrong.  This is about being willing to listen and to see beyond our own prejudices and thoughts.  This is about being able to disagree with  a president and not be guilted into silence.  He is just a man.  Who is man?  Of what account is he?

I am grieved for my friends and loved ones who have felt alone and abandoned by their church because of politics.  I am crestfallen when I hear of another whose faith has been called into question because they have differing political beliefs than the majority in their Christian circle.  Might someone point me in the direction of where that is justified in the Bible?  Sadly, I have found numerous people walking lives of genuine faith who have been shunned by the very people who should be supporting them.  All over politics.  I’m at a loss at how this can be justified.  I am stunned that a man would be defended more voraciously than God or His people.  I am horrified that this is what people see when they look at much of the church.  We are called to be examples of Christ.  Not defenders of politicians.  The world is watching for guidance during this troubling time.  Are we pointing them in the right direction?

A wise friend said to me this past week that he saw the church as a parallel to Noah.  Our job, like his,  is to prepare the ark so that people can be saved from the storm.  We are to point people to the way of salvation.  But, we have shifted our focus from building the ark to trying to stop the rain.  The storm is coming and that is not going to change.  Our world is not going to magically get better because of one leader.  It is ultimately misguided (although potentially well intentioned) to think that God wants to accomplish  His purpose through political means.  Jesus himself refused political power.  We cannot stop the rain.  But we can help our friends and neighbors be prepared for the coming storm.  We can lead them to the ark.  We can show them who we are truly able to trust without fail.  It’s not a president.  It’s the God who made the universe.  Why would we fight any differently?

Can You Hear Them?

Today more news has appeared about the new president’s plan to ban refugees from entering the United States.  His supporters cheer.  Keep our borders safe!  America First!  Those jobs are for US!  Let me remind you that those supporters included 81% of white evangelical voters.  I’m appalled.  I’m angry.  I’m heartsick.

So, today I ask for those 81% to please show me in scripture where there is evidence that Jesus kept refugees far from himself.  I ask you to point out where we are to stand by and just let injustice happen.  I ask you to direct me to those verses where we are to find our safety and security in politicians.

I’ll wait.

Or, let’s try a different approach.  How about point to evidence where Jesus just prayed for someone and did absolutely nothing to tangibly help.

I’ll wait.

If you call yourself a Christian, can sit idly by while seeing dust covered children fleeing from their bombed out homes, and STILL  give a thumbs up to an anti refugee policy—I’m at a loss.  The Bible is full of references to the command of helping the poor, the orphaned, the widowed, the prisoner.  Why are Americans exempt?  Why is the American church opposing the least among us?

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom:  She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.  They were haughty and did detestable things before me.  Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.”  (Ezekiel 16:49-50)

Don’t like that one?  How about–“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” (Isaiah 10:1-2)

Or maybe this–“He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.”  (1 Samuel 2:8)  Now why should we think we are to help?!  Silly.

Maybe you like Proverbs.  How about–“He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” (Proverbs 14:31)    I didn’t use the word contempt.  Take it up with God.

Well, maybe you’d like to be heard when you cry out for help.  Too bad.  “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” (Proverbs 21:13)

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  (James 1:17)  Oops.  Maybe James was mistaken.

But wait!  The Bible doesn’t say anything about refugees!  Um–“Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)  or maybe–“When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him.  The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born.  Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt.  I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

And one final damning passage to the protectionists among us–“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)  It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

Wake up Church!  Your calling is in front of you every time you turn on the news.  It’s there every time you hear someone make a blanket judgement of refugees, or Muslims, or the poor of this country.  Why are the “liberals” you so despise doing this instead of you?  Why are other countries helping refugees while the one “built on Christian principles” (that’s a debate for another day) is turning them away?

We are to pray for our nation, for our leaders, for those in power over us.  But we are to answer to a much higher power.  If we stand by and give our tacit approval of shutting our doors to those in desperate need, how can we still claim the name of Christ?

I’ll wait.


Privilege and Prejudice

I am a healthy, middle class, white, Christian, married, American, woman. My position in life is stable and secure. Perhaps.

My friend Meg can say all of the same things. She is a beautiful, classy, intelligent, and confident woman. She dresses in an elegant style all her own. Her family lives in a gorgeous house on a quaint street that is the envy of many. She has it all. Had.

Until one day when her husband was taken away from the family for a hidden criminal offense. He had sexually abused their one son. She never saw it. She never suspected it. She was completely blindsided. Her family was shaken to the core. Rumors swirled. Her kids lost friends. Meg lost friends. She found herself paranoid of every glance. Watching every interaction of her kids with everyone. How could this happen? How could her husband be two different people under one roof? How could she not see?

These are not easily answered questions. These are not easily mended wounds. It’s ugly finding your footing with such messy circumstances. But I’d like to point out some uglier facts. She lost longtime friends from her longtime church. She was judged by the very people she should have been able to lean on in her time of desperate pain. Now, granted, some probably stopped calling because they didn’t know what to say. But how could she know that? Was she just left to assume that she had been abandoned?

Let’s focus on a few things that happen when a loved one is incarcerated. Meg’s husband was the breadwinner for their family. She found herself in “the system”. She found herself looking for training and work (she had been a stay at home mom since the birth of their kids). Her kids had to learn to accept free school lunches and food stamps. She endured the looks of receptionists when processing public medical benefits (suddenly a necessity when all income evaporated). All of this was done under the watchful eye of Christians going “tsk tsk tsk. What a shame. We must pray for them.”

But how many did? How many brought meals to help stretch her now minuscule budget? How many sat by her in her now empty pew? How many supported her decision to stand by her husband through all the mess that HE created? Yeah. I know. That part is hard. I can honestly say that I don’t know if I could do it. And I believe there would be biblical support for her walking away. But (and this is ALL that matters), she chose to continue to honor her marriage vows. I’m fairly certain that this situation counts as “or worse” in those vows. She chose the insanely difficult task of reconciliation. Will her church friends stand with her when her husband is released from prison and her family adjusts yet again to another new normal? Or will they smile at them before gossiping in the parking lot?

What did Jesus teach about helping others in difficult circumstances? Lots. one example is the very famous passage in Matthew 25:35-36 where He said, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” That passage is followed by Him explaining to the confused ‘righteous’ people how they could’ve done such a horrible thing. Ignore Jesus when He needed them?!?! Jesus was never in prison?! We would NEVER treat the Son of God so poorly! “I tell you the truth, whatsoever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” And the entire teaching ends in verse 45 with “I tell you the truth, whatsoever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” But wait, I spoke too soon. He actually ended with “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Punishment for those who did not help when help was needed. Reward for those who saw the needs and acted. That seems fairly simple. (Yes, I do realize that we are not saved by our works. But Jesus was pointing out that our salvation should lead to good works.) Do we Christians really, I mean REALLY, care for the least of these? It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture like giving up your comfortable life to serve the poor in Calcutta. Jesus mentioned simple acts–giving a drink, giving clothes, feeding, welcoming, visiting. We are to do these things simply because we belong to God. He gives us our breath, our heartbeat, our minds, our path to Him. Is reaching out to the least really that much to ask in return?

I tend to think that those mentioned in this passage in Matthew 25 may not have been the most desirable crowd. Why did they need food, clothes, water? Why did they need to be invited in? Did they have nothing? Did they have nowhere to go? Were they dirty and smelly? And the prisoner is pretty obviously not the most highly revered in society. But we are clearly called to expose ourselves to the messy anyway. Jump in, roll up our sleeves, and get dirty with those hurting around us.

So what about Meg and those like her? There are more people touched by family in prison than we recognize. They hide in plain sight. They need our love and attention just like the prisoners Jesus told us to visit. They are often involuntary single moms. They get tired. They get discouraged. They need to just have some fun like “normal’ people do. The kids are silent scarred victims of the attached stigma. Why? Is it their fault? Do they have control over their parents? Or what about the reverse? What if a child is in jail due to drugs or other bad life choices? Is it the parents’ fault? Can YOU control your loved ones completely to behave as you want them to? We have each been given free will and no one, not one person, can control another’s actions. Goodness, even God throws up His hands sometimes and allows us to mess up royally. In Psalm 81:12 it says, “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.”

One other thing for those who still insist on judging “she HAD to have some idea”. Why? Would you know? Would you assume that your life partner was capable of something so dark? Would you see the signs that you were never looking for? Have you never wondered momentarily about a loved one and then pushed it out of your mind because “they just couldn’t”? We humans are quite proficient at blinding ourselves to things we don’t wish to see. And, we humans are also very savvy at hiding things from others that we wish to keep in the dark. Let us not assume how we would behave in such a situation. We have no way of knowing without ever being through it ourselves.

Meg also endured being told by a boss that she didn’t understand what kids from broken homes dealt with. She couldn’t know what living in the system felt like. She was far removed from them in her nice house and expensive clothes (all purchased second hand, by the way). Meg knew more than any training manual could teach. Her heart broke when the difficult student shared that she desperately wanted to visit her dad in jail but couldn’t because she didn’t have a birth certificate. And her mom didn’t have the money to get a new one. Meg knew how difficult it was to visit family in prison. She knew the strict rules. She knew that pain and dread. She knew. But she didn’t look like the stereotype of the person in “the system”. She didn’t look like a prisoner’s wife. But, you know what she told me once? She was surprised to see just how nice many of the visitors looked in the jail. Many looked like your neighbors, your coworkers, your friends. Just average people. Not the dregs of society we always assume.

So what are we to do? How are we to avoid hurting someone like Meg without even knowing it? How can we handle difficult and painful situations regardless of our own personal life experiences? What should we do when in doubt? “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That pretty much sums it up. No second guessing of people and situations we don’t understand. No wondering “how could that be?” If it is how we would like to be treated if we were handed a pretty rotten situation, then it’s probably a good place to start. It isn’t called the Greatest Commandment for nothing.

The Forest Through the Trees

I’ve often heard Christians quote 2 Chronicles 7:14. In fact, it was a rallying cry during this past presidential campaign. It reads, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Since tomorrow is inauguration day for a new president, my mind has been pondering much. My question is this—where in scripture does it ever say that such healing is to be accomplished through political means? Where does it say that political leaders are the answer to our problems? While I am not in any way negating this oft quoted verse, I’d like to suggest an entire passage for your consideration about what God truly desires from His people. Please look at what Isaiah 58 (ESV) says.

True and False Fasting
58 “Cry aloud; do not hold back;
lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet they seek me daily
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
they delight to draw near to God.
3 ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.
4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the LORD?
6 “Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
11 And the LORD will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.
13 “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the LORD honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
14 then you shall take delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

There is no mention of self protection here. There is no mention of fighting for our rights. There is no mention of people pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps to make the country great again. There is no mention of condemnation for the people of the land for laziness, poverty, homosexuality, abortion, or other popular things for Christians to attack.

Instead, there is condemnation for fasting (the act of depriving oneself of something -typically food- while seeking God’s guidance) with a lack of humility and with continued fighting. There is condemnation for seeking our own pleasure and for oppressing workers. I have been deeply saddened by the sheer level of anger, vitriol, and accusations from Christians these days. This anger is directed at all who dare to suggest that our answers are not in our political system. It is directed toward all who suggest that our incoming president is not necessarily wishing to do God’s will for our country. Wouldn’t we be better served if instead we looked at this unsettling time through the lens of scripture? Shouldn’t we as a church be able to find common ground to reach those who need to find God’s security and safety? Instead, we stubbornly say that God answered prayer and everyone who disagrees needs to get over it. Everyone who disagrees is wrong. “Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.” Why do we think God would be pleased with such behavior? And what makes us so arrogant as to claim certainty of God’s motives and actions?

Yes, there were Christian leaders arguing the virtues of the Republican candidate. Yes, there were prayer rallies for the election which stressed the platform of the Republican candidate. Yes, God is in control of everything. But that doesn’t mean He is our puppet to do whatever we wish. That doesn’t mean that the election outcome is necessarily God’s seal of approval on the man chosen. God’s ways are far beyond our knowledge and comprehension. God answers prayers as He sees fit for the fulfillment of His plan. He chose to give Israel King Saul after they begged for a king. This was done not as a reward, but because they had rejected God’s intended leaders. This was God saying ‘you asked for it, you got it’. He gave them what they asked for, but it set off a long series of troublesome events. Read 1 Samuel 8 for yourself. If God could put someone in power then that was not for the peoples’ benefit, why couldn’t he now? And for those who would claim that I am blaspheming the power of the Holy Spirit by suggesting such an answer to prayer–am I? Were there not people praying for the opposite outcome of the election? Were there not people praying to stop the Republican nominee? Were there not still more people who did little to no praying at all about it? Is it blasphemy to suggest that God heard all and saw all and chose to do what He saw fit, not what any one group of people demanded? I question this being God’s will because of the character and words of the man elected. But I cannot say with certainty that I am correct. Because I have a far less expansive understanding of what God is up to than God himself. We all do.

But back to Isaiah 58. What does this passage say about the fast that God would choose? The correct and acceptable way to seek God’s will? He said to “loose the bonds of wickedness, let the oppressed go free, share your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into your house, when you see the naked, to cover him.” Those things sound an awful lot like what Jesus commanded his church to do in the New Testament. “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.” Wow! Those are some pretty clear cut directions. Those are some obvious things to do to please God. Those are some things that no person of faith can argue with.

Those are not the things being spoken and argued in the political realm by many of my Christian friends. Do our political stances match our faith? Do our opinions find backing in the Word of God? Shouldn’t they? If we truly believe what we say we believe, then all aspects of our life should be in harmony with scripture. But, but, wiser men of God spoke differently!! Can famous Christian leaders go astray from God’s path? Of course they can! “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way:” (Isaiah 53:6a). Leaders can speak and act out of their own motives, just like we mere mortals. If we have decided that our leaders cannot be wrong, then we are holding them up as idols and we need to address that. They are mere humans like the rest of us. Can we Christians seek out opinions and people who confirm our own prejudices and thoughts rather than challenge them? Of course!!! The Bible is chock full of stories of people doing things their own way and then looking to God with confusion when things go awry. How arrogant we would be if we thought we were not susceptible to the same traps as every other human throughout the span of time!

So, now what? How can the church help heal the rifts that have been exposed everywhere? How can we be certain that we are doing the right things? We stop yelling. We stop insisting we are right on grey areas of life. We stop bashing those with a differing viewpoint. We stop complaining that our rights are being taken away. And we do what we are commanded over and over and over again in scripture. We set the oppressed free, we share our bread with the hungry, we bring the homeless poor into our homes, we “pour ourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted”. We, the Church, are missing the forest through the trees. This time in history could be a tremendous triumph for God. Not because of any political leaders. Not because our country has magically started down a better path. No. Because as always, God wants to work through His church, His people. What better way to point others toward Him than to tangibly show His love to all? What better way to be noticed as different than to actively seek out the hurting, the hungry, the lost, the refugee, the poor, the marginalized and to love them? What bigger contrast to the divisiveness of our society than to work together for the less fortunate? No matter who they are, what the believe in, or what they look like.

What better way to be heard in our prayers for our land than to do what God commanded us to do? We cannot pick and choose what passages of scripture we would like to follow. We cannot look to political leaders to fix our problems. And if we take the very difficult step to examine our beliefs and behaviors to see if they match then the reward is beyond our imagination. “then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”

That sounds pretty great to me. All for seeking Him and helping others without ceasing. No political affiliation required. No president can help OR hinder us in working for the least of these. It’s up to us. Every one of us.

***I know some will be tempted to rage and fume over what I have written today. I have a simple suggestion that you read the Bible passages mentioned and pray. Think. Read. Listen. Not to me. Not to any leader on the radio or TV. To what the words in the scripture say. Read the passages that lead up to and then follow the sections I mentioned. Be willing to listen and hear what those words say. Let yourself question and be unsettled. God can handle it.