Category Archives: People

villains

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Fall is here (well only by namesake here in Tennessee). But the season has arrived and with it some of my other favorite things. No, the pumpkin spice takeover is not one of them; but baseball playoffs are. And this year my beloved Boston Red Sox are in the ALDS against the dastardly, villainous, maligned, evil empire known as the New York Yankees (Even as I type that name I have a sneer on my face). And last night was beautiful! The Red Sox handed the Yankees their worst ever loss in the postseason in fifty-four playoff appearances. It’s so good when we get to see the bad guys lose, and lose bad. And my favorite thing about all of this…? It’s just a game. At the end of the day I don’t hate (actually hate) the Yankees or the Georgia Bulldogs or the Jacksonville Jaguars or any of the rivals to the sports team I claim fandom to. In fact, if I set down to a meal with C.C. Sabathia or Aaron Judge we would probably get along just fine and find more things that we have in common versus things that divide us…even if they do wear the cursed pin-stripes. All I know is it’s a good thing that this narrative of good guys vs. bad guys is only played out in sports and sports rivalries.

Okay, so I used hyperbole to prove a point. It’s amazing how our cultural and even global narrative has become accustomed to an us versus them paradigm. It’s so much easier to understand who we are as long as we know who we are not. And the conversations and divides have become so sharp that we fail to see that we are all in this together. This thing we call life, this existence that happens on our planet is a shared experience and regardless of how we want to think about the other person and their experience, we all breathe the same air. In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul has this to say about our shared humanity, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.” – II Corinthians 5:15-16 We can’t regard each other from worldly points of view because Christ died for all. The great Catholic social activist and theologian Dorothy Day put it this way, “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” Our narrative of villains and otherness and separation and divide really has no place when we know Christ and His Kingdom.

In his essay The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis had this to say about our encounters with our fellow humans, “You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours…our charity must be a real and costly love …next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.” In short, everyone we encounter is God’s image in flesh destined for eternal glory or eternal separation and this is who we interact with on a daily basis. There truly can be no villains or otherwise, but forgiveness and grace and mercy must reign over us and through us as we seek to be Christ’ ambassadors in this world. Is this easy? No. It’s much easier to write people off as Democrats or Republicans or Liberals or Fundamentalists or Progressives or Conservatives, etc. But as Christians, we don’t get to do this [full stop]. I must always strive to see every person as Christ would see them…even if they are wearing a New York Yankee’s hat. So may you and I treasure each other today. Because how we treat the creation says an awful lot about what we think of the Creator.

 

Photo by Yucel Moran on Unsplash
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in so many words

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Those of you who know me well, know that I love the outdoors and I love music. In fact, one of my favorite things are outdoor concerts…I just usually can’t afford them. Yesterday was another one of those can’t afford them days, but I made the most of it. While clearing brush from my fence line (a task probably a few years overdue) I kept my phone near by and kept the Avett Brother’s playing as loud as it would go. Much of the time I sang along as well which I’m sure was not pleasant for many within earshot. There is one song that whenever it comes up always strikes me with how poignant the lyrics are. The song is called Ten Thousand Words and the main chorus goes like this, “Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different, We love to talk on things we don’t know about.”And even though this song came out almost a decade ago, the lyrics are just as meaningful in our world today as they were then. The underlying truth in that line is what gets me…especially as someone who earns his living primarily talking.

Talking, especially about something we may not know the whole story about, is something we seem to be rather fond of these days. Proverbs 15:2 says, “The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” I don’t like to often think of myself as a fool, although I think I have been called worse, but I am not sure that I always speak from a completely informed platform. I try to pride myself on being culturally relevant and savvy; I study scripture and commentaries for Biblical insight; and I am a social scientist regarding the lives of my students and the environment in which they live. I even started listening to more podcasts to seem more informed about the subjects I tend to engage in with others. But there are still limitations to what I am able to collect in terms of information. I still haven’t walked in everyone’s shoes and I still am unable to see things from their perspectives completely, so maybe there is space to check myself before gushing out my opinion on everything.

What’s sad is when people have no consideration for the others’ beliefs or convictions. We attempt to speak truth/judgment upon them without fully knowing their story. I believe as Christians that we have a message which is of dire importance that we must share with people, but if we don’t know our message well, if we don’t know our audience, if we have no consideration for who they are and where they come from…then we might as well be gushing folly. Paul says it this way in his letter to the Ephesians, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29. So maybe we could all use that check on our words. And I know I may fall into the category of being like most people who don’t know what they are talking about…but I think we all know better.


boxed in

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This morning I write surrounded by boxes. It really is amazing how much stuff we humans acquire. Here’s a test for you. If you think yourself a minimalist, just try moving once. It really can be mind boggling. So here I sit surrounded by cardboard and chaos. But it really is a picture of something much larger than myself. Over the last almost sixteen years of marriage my wife and I have had the privilege of living in Tennessee, Florida, Michigan and Texas. And you know what we’ve found? People are beautiful and amazing and incredible no matter where we live. We have found more in common with people we never thought we would connect with because of our ability to experience different cultures and communities all over these United States. The scary thing is that it seems like these days we are led to believe there is more that separates us than unites us.

But let’s be honest for a moment. The way in which many of our lives are lived today only helps to contribute to the ease of which we are divided. We listen to the same news sources, we dine and discuss with the same folks, we read the same literature, we go to church with similar minded people and we rarely break out of our routines. We are boxed in more so than my current writing environment. And so, if we are led to believe that there is more that separates us, than unites us, then it becomes easier to embrace as a mindset. In his travel book Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain had this to say about living our lives boxed in, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” And honestly, you don’t have to travel across the world to gain these perspectives…sometimes you just need to go to the other side of town.

We who claim the title of Christ should be very careful how our worldviews cause us to perceive one another. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes this, “Since you have taken off your old self with its practicesand have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” – Colossians 3:9b-11 Because of Christ these labels that society is quick to pick up and employ do not exist anymore. We don’t see each other through the lenses of mass media or liberal or conservative or democrat or republican or citizen or refugee or rich or poor or whatever the dividing line might be. We see all as if we are seeing them as Christ in flesh. But in order to do that we have to get outside of our boxed in worlds and realize Christ has called us to so much more. So I sit this morning surrounded by boxes…but I know they are about to lead me to new people to love through Christ.


ground rules

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So I know this may not come as much of a surprise, but I love having fun. I love playing games and being crazy. But one of the most important things you have to take into account when having fun is you have to make sure everyone understands the rules. As recently as this week, I was part of one such occurrence. This Monday was our annual Memorial Day picnic for our church. Since it was going to be roughly about 1,000 degrees outside, my wife and I decided to fill up water balloons to bring to the park for the kids. But before the battle could ensue, I had to make sure everyone understood the ground rules. No hitting anyone in the face. Little kids this is your bucket and big kids this is your bucket. Make sure you step five steps away before you begin to throw. And thanks to these simple ground rules, everyone had fun, no one got hurt and we all were able to cool off for a little bit.

I feel like lately though, we as adults have forgotten how to have fun and get along. Even in the church we have allowed ourselves to succumb to worldly division and talk that just doesn’t belong. Remember Paul said to the Philippians once upon a time regarding the world and the church that, “Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven.” – Philippians 3:19-20 So to help us on a little refresher course and make sure everyone gets along, I decided to help us out with a few ground rules today.

  • In the Kingdom of God, it is never okay to refer to other children of God as animals. Regardless of what someone has done, Jesus died to save us all. Sure in Scientific classification we are all animals, but this is the church and not science class. Therefore let’s all refer to each other as humans or even brother or sister.
  • In the Kingdom of God it is never okay to compare a person of color, particularly an African American, to a monkey or an ape. This is not only dehumanizing but historically very racist.
  • In the Kingdom of God we don’t fly or promote symbols that are linked to racism. And although you may claim the flag of the Confederate States of America is historical in nature, it was a history that fought to keep my son in chains and for the right to own people. Let’s keep it in the text books and out of our yards or off our clothing.
  • In the Kingdom of God it is never okay to refer to women as gals or chicks or anything that would make them feel less than the equally gifted and called children of God that they are. And let’s also stop blaming them for the violence, abuse and even rape that for centuries has gone unreported, even in the church.
  • In the Kingdom of God we don’t think less of anyone because of their country of origin or their international and/or undocumented status. We seek to be Christ to all because at some point someone was Christ to us.
  • In the Kingdom of God we seek to know a person’s name and award them their humanity regardless of their perceived status. A whole lot of misunderstanding and hurt will be avoided if we simply get to know each other.

I know sometimes that people think the world has become insane or difficult to manage, but these ground rules really aren’t that hard to follow. At the end of the day if we simply start treating other people as if we are all one, instead of us versus them, we would get a lot further. After all, Paul said in his letter to Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28 And if you are still struggling as to how to implement these simple ground rules, maybe we can take it back to the words of Christ himself, “Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 I hope this all helps. Now go out there and have fun and love people for the children of God they are.


run its course

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I have a trait that my wife absolutely hates (man that’s a harsh way to start off a blog post). But it’s true. Although she loves me completely, she hates that I am an anti-panicker. What I mean by this, is that in situations in which she thinks I should be reacting quickly and highly stressed, I actually am taking my time and trying to think through every possible outcome and scenario…thus, an anti-panicker. Case in point: yesterday our 5-yr-old was on his 5th day of the flu and didn’t seem to be making any improvements whatsoever and we were getting worried. Also, thanks to the compiling voices and paranoia from social media we were getting even more worried, so we decided it might be good to take him back to the doctor/ER. As soon as my wife decided, that meant it was time to go and since she was sick herself, I needed to take him. But here I am thinking about all the other scenarios. What about the other kids? What about me being at school? Should I just wait a bit? You know…not panicking. Eventually she prevailed though and I ran him to the ER to find out that it was still just a terrible flu and that it needed to run its course (which is still never fun for a parent to hear, but I suppose is better than pneumonia).

Now when it comes to the state of the world around us, I guess I am a bit of an anti-panicker as well. Which drives others around me nuts. I have friends who are incensed about the political state of things. I have friends in the church constantly terrified about where things are going. I know people who think we have to have some sort of drastic resolution yesterday to heal the state of our planet. But I have a slightly different approach. At the conclusion of the Montgomery Bus Strikes, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quoted 19th-century abolitionist and Unitarian minister Theodore Parker when he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I like to remind myself of this quote when it seems like everyone around me is falling into borderline hysteria. The arc, the whole, the entirety, the full story bends towards justice. Maybe after all, there is no need for panicking, but for allowing the moral universe to run its course.

Now I’d like to clarify something. Does anti-panicking mean we do nothing? By no means. I like to remember a quote from John Wesley on the matter of engaging the ills of the world, church, society, culture, etc. when it comes to this. “Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.” In the gospel of Luke, Jesus said it in this way, “Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.” – Luke‬ ‭6:27-28, 35-36 I don’t think panic and hysteria and unhinged anger ever accomplish what we wish they would. But I do think goodness changes everything. And I’m reminded once again that the arc of the moral universe may be long, but it bends towards justice and as we do good we can safely let it run its course.


resolved

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How many of us actually expect to keep them? I think the success rate, at least according to the internet (and everything out here is true), is roughly around 8%. Yet every time a New Year rolls around we find our selves resolving to be better. Whether it is kicking a bad habit, losing weight, becoming more healthy, etc., it is almost a rite of passage into a new year to resolve to augment our behavior in some way that will make us better. Somehow the idea of a fresh start is just the spark we need to radically alter who we were just yesterday…kind of sounds silly in print. And yet I find myself wanting to be a part of the crowd when it comes to self-improvement. But one resolution has always plagued me a bit.  It goes like this; “I resolve to draw closer to God.”

Now at face value this is a great resolution. Who wouldn’t want to draw closer to God? I know I do. I think the problem is how we go about it. We think somehow that drawing closer to God is something that is achieved on an individual level. As if he can only be encountered in my resolve to be personally accountable to His presence. And although I realize that we need time alone with God I believe that if we want to draw closer to God it looks a little different. Frank Weston, the one time Bishop of Zanzibar in the Anglican church wrote the following more than a hundred years ago:

You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle if you do not pity Jesus in the slum. … It is folly, it is madness, to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacrament and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating Him in the bodies and souls of His children. . . . You have your Mass, you have your altars, you have begun to get your tabernacles. Now go out into the highways and hedges, and look for Jesus in the ragged and the naked, in the oppressed and the sweated, in those who have lost hope, and in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus in them; and, when you have found Him, gird yourself with His towel of fellowship and wash His feet in the person of His brethren.

Here is what I think I am trying to say. If you really want to resolve to draw closer to God this year then resolve to draw closer to the people He died for. By sharing God’s love and life with others we find a way to encounter God like never before. Jesus himself put it this way in Matthew 25:38-40 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’.” So by all means resolve to draw closer to God this year. It could be the greatest resolution you make. But be certain, it can never be done within the walls of your own safety and security. Rather it is only through reaching out in Christ’ love to those who haven’t been encountered yet for the Kingdom. Here you will truly draw closer to God.


but that’s not what I meant

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One of the most important things I’ve come to learn over the last couple of years from being a senior pastor is the ability to be vulnerable. And it really began with a realization of how little control I have over what people hear me say. You see, I say…well and I even write a lot. Even if you just take into account this blog, I’ve written over 65,000 words over the last two and a half years. But I’ve come to realize that I really have no power when it comes to people interpreting my words. I’ve been taken out of context, misquoted, and even lied about. And if it was done to the right audience, then no amount of pleading, arguing or even explaining will sway my words from being misunderstood. I wonder if any of the Biblical writers would feel this way today?

You see, one of the things we as Christians love to do is to latch on to a singular verse and use it for our causes or motivations without considering what we might be doing to the original meaning and context. One of my favorite verses that this is done to is Philippians 4:13; you know, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” You see it on t-shirts, work-out equipment, necklaces or even football player’s face tape. But when Paul was addressing the Philippian church, he had something drastically different in mind. Listen to the context here, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” – Philippians 4:11-12 Paul’s declaration of being able to “do all things” had more to do with powerlessness than power. It had more to do with vulnerability, than strength. It had more to do with contentment in adversity, than accomplishment.

Today my mind goes out to the thousands who have been displaced by Hurricane Harvey in Houston. Philippians 4:13 truly would be a life verse for them. For they have had to leave their homes and and all they know. They have had to accept the help of friends or even strangers. They still may encounter hardships and hurt that they aren’t even aware of yet. There will be trials, temptations, frustration, pain, anger, denial, etc. over the next few days, weeks, months and maybe more. You know, it sounds a bit like this, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” – Philippians 2:6-7 The reason that Paul could declare that he could face hardship and troubles through Christ’ strength is because he knew Christ endured it for his sake. The reason we can endure that which is about to come next is because we know Christ has endured it before.

So may you find encouragement today in reading and understanding the bigger context. And may you find strength in vulnerability, power in weakness, contentment in hardships and the ability to continue moving forward because of Christ and His example.


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