Self Inflicted Martyrdom

Today I have a heavy heart.  I have been on a long journey to readjust my path based more closely on what the Bible says we are called to do.  I have found this journey both exciting and exhausting.  It is simultaneously freeing and joyful while being filled with a sense of constant loss.  Loss of long-held beliefs.  Loss of ability to float along the unexamined tide of Christiandom.  Loss of respect for old leaders who have chosen anger and fear over love and grace.  Just…loss.

I have been renewed by discovering the simplicity of Christ’s teachings.  Love all.  Show grace to all.  Let God work on people’s hearts and minds.  Be willing to tangibly help others, sacrificially.

I have been saddened by how often the church does not mirror these teachings.  Rules.  Lack of acceptance of differences.  Forcible lecturing  of “our ways”.   Crying out about a perceived loss of “our rights”.  Budgets strained by the “needs” of the church rather than the community which they serve.

My heart is not heavy for me today.  My heart is heavy for several people I love.  I have watched their trust in the church as a place of health and healing…dissolve.  I have seen the hurt in their eyes when recounting the venom spewed at them when they dared to ask questions.  Just questions.  Or, worse yet, I have listened as they talked of their fear of asking questions.

These people I love have come directly up against the claim of love and grace presented with narrow minds, immovable opinions, and…no love or grace.  When faced with the words  being quite contrary to actions seen it is difficult to soothe troubled souls.  The life of Christ and His beautiful example has been overshadowed by the present blind hypocrisy.

I have often told people that it is ok to ask questions of God.  It is ok to get mad and yell.  It is ok to have doubt.  He knows anyway, so we might as well be honest.  I’ve told people that God is big enough, powerful enough,  and wise enough to draw us to Him even when we don’t know who  or what we are searching for.

But today those truths are harder to trust.  Today those truths are connected to the journey of people I love instead of myself.  So I worry.  I hurt.  I grieve.

I am incapable of wiping the tears from their eyes with any genuine advice to live by.  I cannot say “Trust God” when that is exactly their struggle.  I cannot say “dig into more scripture” when they now wonder if there is anything to be found in those pages.  I cannot say “pray” when they have been told repeatedly that they should feel connected and emotional when they pray when all they feel is….nothing.  I cannot say to talk with some other friends when those are exactly the people who have made them feel less than.

For some of my loved people, church has become a hospice instead of a hospital.  It is a place where faith and love go to die instead of where doubt and fear go to heal.  It has become a place of hollow music sung without reflection and words spoken but not heeded.  It is a place where we can lie about our commitment to others, our commitment to God, and our willingness to grow.  We can hide under the umbrella of the good christian while never offering any goodness to anyone standing in the rain.

It is a place where we say we must love others but we must support a president who lies, mocks, and accuses.  It is a place where we must “die to self” yet continually “fight for our rights”.  It is a place where the poor are blessed (according to Jesus’s beatitudes) yet the poor are seen as lazy and deserving of where they find themselves in life.  It is a place where we cry out about the sanctity of life while cheering  the turning away of refugees.

It is a place where those who embrace Christ’s teachings of submission and turning the other cheek in all of life are mocked as weak.  It is a place where life-long elders can say, without irony, that we should let addicts die after two doses of the drug to revive them.  Then they had a second chance.  I am at a complete loss for where Christ’s example would back that up.  And yet I have heard it with my own ears.  I have read it with my own eyes.  Calloused and hard hearts toward real, actual, skin-covered humans struggling with a horrible addiction.  Such is our current Christian rhetoric.

Church is a place where we teach our youth how to share their faith with others before teaching them how to live their faith.  It’s easy to pass on rehearsed answers to genuine faith questions.  It is not so simple to just let those questions be.  It is far scarier to encourage the journey to be personal and in one’s own time.  That involves an inherent loss of control (which, quite honestly, we never had in the first place).  Church is a place where we really don’t trust God.

I have listened as one said they could not accept that Jonah was swallowed by an actual fish.  This made them a bad believer.  This meant that some other Christians thought they had weak faith.  But why?  Can’t we learn from the story of Jonah even if it is an allegory?  Can’t the teachings of scripture have just as much power even if they are stories used to illustrate lessons in language understood by those being taught?  Why get hung up on a minuscule argument?  Can’t a big God speak through direct history AND figurative language?

We argue that God is male because the Bible uses male pronouns.  Who chose those pronouns?  During which translation did they appear?  Is it not more realistic to say that God is too big and too complex to be either exclusively male or female?  If not, I’m wondering how we women can claim to be made in His image (as we church folk are taught).  Isn’t God big enough to either create the universe in six days OR set things in motion that created the universe over millions of years?  Why must those who wonder be seen as lost and lacking faith?

So today I sit here with several beloved souls on my mind.  Beloved people who have been damaged by the church.  Beloved people who are struggling to find faith in something to trust again.  Beloved people who are hurting as the ground shifts beneath them.

No, this is not the handiwork of an evil enemy preying on their minds.  It is the direct result of being treated as inferior for being divorced.  It is the direct result of being taught to use your talents for God, but only if we approve of your methods and opinions.  It is the direct result of  the anti-LGBT post by the loving Christian being read by the gay teen.  It is the direct result of the horrific abortion images posted by pro-life Christians being seen by a woman who had made that painful decision in their youth.  It is the direct result of famous church leaders stubbornly defending a morally bankrupt presidential administration while atheists shake their head in disbelief.   It is the direct result of Christian’s refusal to honestly examine their beliefs, motives, and behaviors.

We, the church, are our own worst enemy.  And until we realize that and work toward repairing our self-inflicted wounds we will continue to be less and less and less vital in our communities.

 

 

 

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.